In the early hours of April 18, 2018 fans all over the world got the terrible news that famed wrestling champion Bruno Sammartino had passed away from illness at the age of 82. Bruno had been part of the landscape of wrestling since the late 50’s and those who are part of the business as fans, executives, wrestlers, or anything else took a moment to say goodbye.
But who was Bruno? For many fans, he was a name of how Vince McMahon’s father Vincent Jess McMahon Sr. was so successful in the 60s and 70s. Those old enough to remember him in his glory years were now older as well and passed on the story of Bruno Sammartino on to the next generation. Stories of the Italian Strongman have been passed for parents to kids, to their kids, and so on now for over 50 years.
Why not one more?
Bruno wasn’t the start of what we now call the WWE. Bruno hadn’t even started wrestling yeat when Vince McMahon Sr. started his claim in the Northeast part of the country called the Capitol Wrestling Corporation in the early 50s. Bruno didn’t enter the picture until the later part of the decade. He wasn’t the sparkly showman that many others of his time were, or that would define McMahon style wrestling in later days. He was tough, Strong as an ox, and he got over with the people. His Italian routes going back to World War II played big to audiences on the East Coast, especially the areas that had a lot of immigrants from other countries to the United States. Those people were his base, but it didn’t stop there.
This is the match where Bruno Sammartino wins the WWWF Championship from Buddy Rogers in Madison Square Garden on May 17,1963.
When Vince Sr. broke away from the National Wrestling Alliance monopoly in 1963, largely because the NWA Champions of the day weren’t drawing as well in the age of television wrestling, especially on the east coast. Vince Sr. took his territory covering from the top of Maine all the way down to Washington D.C. and renamed it the World Wide Wrestling Federation. As while the famous showman “Nature Boy” Buddy Rodgers was champion in the beginning, soon enough Bruno was crowned champion after a match that lasted less than 60 seconds. Despite rumors of Buddy’s health and ability to keep going at that point (With a rumor of a Heart Attack shortly before the fight), that is the way to put over someone strong to be your top guy. You wouldn’t see that in today’s wrestling climate.
Bruno Sammartino held that title from 1963 until 1971. Think about that. He was a top draw and conquering hero to fans for 8 years. He only relinquished the mantle, not because of dwindling numbers along the Northeast area, he let it go because he was tired. I would be too. He passed the belt on to “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff (and he onto Puerto Rican Star Pedro Morales) But Bruno was still the top dog. He was still the draw that brought people in. Vince Sr. then begged Bruno to be the champion again and he became the WWWF Champion for the second time in 1973 and held onto it for nearly 4 more years! He kept going until 1981 when he announced his (first) retirement and started a company of his own in his home of Pittsburg for a few years.
But he wasn’t done.
He ended up back in the WWF now working for Vincent Kennedy McMahon Jr. in roughly 1984. Oddly he did so because he had found out that Vince Sr. had been ripping him off financially during his second run with the belt. He stuck around in various forms until 1988. He then proceeded to bury the McMahons and everything they did to Wrestling. That changed recently when he began to talk to the company resulting in him being part of the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.
He was a megastar in wrestling to one generation, a harsh critic of what it had become to another, and was finally a rewarded hero to many to yet another. No matter how they knew him, he was a name that was part of professional wrestling for over 60 years and numerous generations of fans.
So Thank You, Bruno. You will be missed.