Sammartino: Wrestling's Living Legend
place: New York's famed Madison Square Garden.
The time: May 17, 1963. He wore the world's heavyweight
championship belt for the first time in his life,
four years after turning into a professional wrestler.
Since then he had held that title for fourteen
years, undefeated except on one occasion in 1971.
He was a consummate athlete, and he commanded
respect from friend and foe alike. He held a wrestling
attendance record in Australia for selling out
twenty-one consecutive nights and he once drew
in an estimated crowd of 40,000 fans in a bull
ring in Caracas, Venezuela. It's no surprise that
Bruno Sammartino is truly known as wrestling's
was born in Abruzzi, Italy and immigrated here to
the United States at age 15. His lifelong dream since
age 8 was to become a wrestler. He idolized a Greco-Roman
wrestler named Batisti who represented Italy in the
Olympics in the 30's. He loved amateur wrestling,
but he said it's not really a spectator sport because
it didn't have any thrills or surprises. In pro wrestling,
you have to add a lot of stuff to make it exciting.
While going to high school during the day, Bruno worked
out constantly at a local gym in Pittsburgh where
first job while living here in America was as a construction
worker and during the evening he wrestled at various
arenas. He finally turned pro in 1959. Then on May
17, 1963, Bruno defeated Nature Boy Buddy Rogers to
capture the WWWF Heavyweight Wrestling Championship
and from that night on he successfully defended his
title with such enthusiasm and tenacity that no other
wrestler could ever hope to defeat him.
is, until he met "The Russian Bear" Ivan
Koloff. Koloff became the new heavyweight champion
by defeating Sammartino on January 18, 1971 in Madison
Square Garden. It was a night of humiliation for Bruno
and a night of victory for Koloff who boasted and
bragged about how he became the only man to ever defeat
Sammartino, and that Bruno was no living legend.
from that night emerged a devastating feud that would
become historic in the annals of professional wrestling.
Koloff subsequently lost the title to Pedro Morales
at Madison Square Garden a month later on February
8, and Morales held the belt for two years, then lost
it to Stan "The Man" Stasiak. Stasiak held
the title for a mere nine days before losing to Sammartino
on December 10,1973. The living legend then became
the first two-time WWWF champion.
his entire career, Bruno has met and fought challenger
after challenger and emerged victorious in the WWWF.
Most of his matches have been grueling and sometimes
have ended in controversy. But no matter the outcome,
Bruno has defended his title with such tenacity that
he truly lives up to being called the "living
had also introduced the fans to two protégés
that he had trained: Larry Zbyzsko and Spiros Arion.
Zbyszko was also from Pittsburgh and became an almost
identical wrestler to Sammartino. He was very successful
and talented during his WWWF tenure, and even won
the tag team championship along with Tony Garea by
defeating the Yukon Lumberjacks. But he always thought
he was in the shadow of Sammartino, and decided he
didn't need to follow Bruno any longer, resulting
in a bitter rivalry. This teacher vs. student feud
ultimately ended before an excited crowd at New York's
Shea Stadium when Bruno defeated Zbyszko in a steel
Aaron was another friend who became one of Bruno's
bitter enemies. Spiros was born in Athens, Greece
and had been wrestling since he was a teenager. He
was a fan favorite and had also become a very good
technical, scientific wrestler during his time in
the WWWF. Spiros became friends and eventually a tag
team partner with Bruno. During their brief partnership
they were very successful as a tag team, but it wasn't
about to last. Aaron had his mind tainted by Freddie
Blassie, who somehow convinced Spiros that Bruno was
jealous of him and that he was not to be trusted.
The confused athlete would eventually dump Sammartino
as his tag team partner. After an incident which involved
Bruno, Spiros and Chief Jay Strongbow, Spiros sided
with Blassie and viciously turned on Bruno. However,
the two unsuccessfully tried to wrestle the title
from the living legend.
after opponent, feud after feud, no one could take
the title from the waist of Sammartino. Wrestlers
from Ivan Koloff , The Executioners, Cowboy Bob Duncum,
to Nikolai Volkoff, The Valiant Brothers, Waldo Von
Erich & Buggsy McGraw fought fierce battles but
in the end Sammartino emerged victorious.
it happened, in Philadelphia on May 1,1977. Bruno
Sammartino has been defeated and lost the heavyweight
championship to Superstar Billy Graham. The reign
of wrestling's living legend was over. Bruno would
never again regain the championship he so proudly
defended for 14 years.
his career in the WWWF, in every championship bout
that Bruno fought in at Madison Square Garden it was
to record crowds. Bruno's claim to fame was that during
his career he had never lost a steel cage match. Bruno
also became the only wrestler in WWWF history to ever
wrestle in Shea Stadium....twice. Once in a rematch
between the master of The Lariat, Stan Hansen and
in a steel cage match against his former pupil Larry
had survived against every hold & maneuver his
opponents used on him: "The Lariat", "The
Heart-Punch", "The Claw", "The
Axe", and "The Swinging Neckbreaker",
every kind of match from a "Texas Death"
& "Russian Chain" to even a "Sicilian
Stretcher" match and he still held onto the title.
Managers like The Grand Wizard, Fred Blassie and Captain
Louis Albano continuously dogged the trail of Sammartino
plotting his defeat in their quest for the gold.
Stasiak, George "The Animal" Steele, Bruiser
Brody, Tor Kamata, Ernie Ladd, Killer Kowalski, and
Ken Patera all faced the mettle and wrath of Bruno
and realized the he would never go down in defeat
and that he had more heart and determination than
any wrestler they would ever face. There will never
be another wrestler like Sammartino, he honored and
cherished being world champion than any wrestler wrestling
today. He truly will forever be known as wrestling
true living legend.
Legends: Bruno Sammartino profile
Museum: Bruno Sammartino - Photos & Bio
Bruno Sammartino profile