Bruno Sammartino



Bruno Sammartino
Real Name:
Bruno Romano

Stats: 5' 10" 265 lbs.
Born: October 6, 1936

He was the most popular pro wrestler of the 1960's and early 1970's and helped to put the WWF on the map and spent his career trying to bRing honor and pride to an often sleazy profession. Bruno Sammartino would ultimately become the longest running champion in the WWF history.

Bruno Sammartino was born in Abruzzi, Italy and and learned the basics of wrestling as a child. He immigrated to the United States when he was a teenager and began engaging in boxing and weightlifting. He decided to try his hand at professional wrestling in 1959 After a few years learning the ropes, Bruno was able to team with Whipper Billy Watson to win the International Tag Team championship in Toronto, Canada in 1962.Having championship experience prompted Bruno to hit the big time and he entered the WWWF as a challenger to the WWWF World Champion, Buddy Rogers. On May 17, 1963 he got his chance and defeated Rogers to become the WWWF World Heavyweight champion - it was a title he would hold for the next seven years.


Bruno was a fighting champion, putting up the belt against all comers, including Killer Kowalski, Classy Freddie Blassie, Gorilla Monsoon, Waldo Von Erich and George "the Animal" Steele. Bruno defeated all of them and occasionally competing in tag team action, teaming with Spiros Arion to win the WWWF tag team championship in 1967. Nicknamed the Italian Strongman, Sammartino possessed enormous brute strength and a heartwarming charisma which drew fans to him. When he wrestled in huge venues (especially Madison Square Garden), they always sold out with almost everyone in attendance rooting for him. His fans felt that he was fighting for them often against evil competitors or overwhelming odds. Notable amongst these was a match against the 600 pound behemoth Haystacks Calhoun. That he beat Calhoun was not so much a surprise as the fact that he lifted the huge man off of the ground and bodyslammed him to the mat.

On January 17, 1971 the unthinkable happened. Sammartino was pinned by Ivan Koloff after the "Russian Bear" struck him from the top rope with a Russian Leg Drop. After almost eight years as the WWWF champion, Sammartino found himself off of his throne and decided to take some time off. After a brief period of relaxation, he popped up in the World Wrestling Association and teamed with Dick the Bruiser to defeat Ernie "the Big Cat" Ladd and Baron Von Rasche for the WWA tag team titles. While in California, he also won the Los Angeles Battle Royal in January 1972 and then decided to make his return to the WWWF.

Returning to the WWWF in 1972, Bruno first teamed with Dominic DeNucci to capture the WWWF International Tag Team belts and then set his sights on the Heavyweight title once again. Sammartino took on then champion Pedro Morales in a rare "face vs. Face" match in front of a packed house in Shea Stadium in New York City. After more than an hour, the match ended in a draw. After Morales lost the title a few weeks later to Stan Stasiak, Samartino defeated Stasiak on December 10, 1973 to reclaim the WWWF title. His second reign would last four years as he fought off the likes of Koloff, Ken Patera, Bruiser Brody, Professor Tanaka, Ox Baker and Bobby Duncan. On April 26, 1976, Sammartino seemingly met his match against Texan Stan Hansen. The match was stopped because of profuse bleeding by Bruno but most memorable about the match was that Hansen leveled Sammartino with his famous "lariat" maneuver and subsequently broke Bruno's neck. In a rematch later that year, Bruno exacted his revenge and retained his title.


Sammartino's second title reign ended in Baltimore, Maryland on May 1, 1977 when he was defeated by "Superstar" Billy Graham. Bruno subsequently took some time to help another wrestler from Pittsburgh named Larry Zbyszko. Zbyszko ended up turning on his mentor setting up a heated cage match in Shea Stadium (which Bruno won). He would go on to meat the challenges of newcomers Rowdy Roddy Piper and Adrian Adonis while also teaming up with his son David for tag team action. After twenty years of headlining the WWWF, Sammartino had a number of bitter disputes with Vince McMahon , Jr. and left the promotion. After occasional appearances in other promotions, Bruno finally hung up his tights and retired from the Ring.

In the years since his retirement, Sammartino became disenchanted with the transition pro wrestling was making into "sports entertainment" and withdrew from any involvement in it. Professional wrestling, however, owes a debt of gratitude to the man who, for man observers, brought respect to the sport.

 


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