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Bruno Sammartino

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Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino

Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Introduction:


"The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino is the longest reigning WWE Champion of all-time. His two title reigns lasted over 11 years. That is almost double of the amount of time that the number two man on the list, Hulk Hogan, has held that title. Despite selling out Madison Square Garden 187 times and his two lengthy title reigns, Bruno Sammartino is not a part of the WWE Hall of Fame.

The Horrors of War:


Bruno Sammartino was born on October 6, 1935, in Abruzzi, Italy. When he was a young child, his father moved to Pittsburgh for a job but then fell out of contact with the family when the war began. When his town was taken over by the Nazis, Bruno's family was forced to hide in a secret refugee camp on top of a mountain. While on the mountain, his mother was shot in the shoulder while trying to get food for her family. She survived but Bruno almost didn't. He contracted rheumatic fever. When he arrived in America after the war, he weighed only 83 pounds.

Weightlifting:


Due to his small frame and his speaking of broken English, Bruno found himself picked on. He eventually discovered weights and became a dedicated weightlifter. He performed strongman stunts and was discovered by a wrestling promoter when was on a local television program showing some weightlifting techniques. Bruno made his pro wrestling debut in 1959. He began his career wrestling for the Pittsburgh territory which he eventually bought during his first reign as WWE Champion. Within months, Bruno was appearing in main event tag team matches at Madison Square Garden.

The First Title Reign:


Vince McMahon split away from the NWA in 1963 and created what is now known as the WWE. After having some difficulty drawing crowds, he reached out to Bruno Sammartino who was wrestling for the Tunney family in Toronto. Bruno used to work for Vince but was blackballed from the NWA at the time due to a controversial situation involving a show he had unknowingly failed to appear for. Bruno returned to New York and won the WWE Championship from Buddy Rogers in a match that lasted less than a minute. Bruno became so popular during this title reign that he was granted a private meeting with Pope Paul IV. After almost eight years as champion, Bruno's first reign ended at the hands of Ivan Koloff. This title reign is still the longest in the history of the WWE Championship.

The Second Reign:

In 1972, Bruno Sammartino fought for the title against WWE Champion Pedro Morales in a match at Shea Stadium. Legend has it that the match ended in a 75-minute draw, which would make it the longest match in WWE history. Bruno became the first man to regain the title in December of 1973 when he beat Stan Stasiak. This reign lasted until 1977 when he lost the belt to Billy Graham. His most famous feud during this era was against Stan Hansen. Stan fractured Bruno's neck in a match at Madison Square Garden in 1976. Bruno returned to the ring a few months later and beat Stan Hansen in a match at Shea Stadium.

Feud With Larry Zbyzsko:

Even though he was no longer the champion, he was still a main event star. His biggest feud without the title before his first retirement was against his former student, Larry Zbyzsko. Larry challenged his former mentor to a scientific wrestling exhibition but lost his cool and hit his mentor with a chair. The feud culminated at the 1980 Shea Stadium event. Bruno beat Larry in a Steel Cage Match. That was the third of the three famous Shea Stadium shows that Bruno was a major part of. Despite what Hulk Hogan claimed in one of his autobiographies, it was Bruno's match which drew the crowd to this show, not Hulk's. Shortly after this match, Bruno retired from wrestling.

Return to Wrestling:

Bruno returned to the ring in the mid-80s to help propel the career of his son, David Sammartino. Bruno was in the corner for his son at the first WrestleMania event and then started teaming up with his son. Despite his son leaving the company shortly afterwards, Bruno found himself in main event feuds against the biggest stars of the era including Randy Savage and Roddy Piper. Around this time, Bruno was also a co-host of Superstars of Wrestling with Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura.

Retirement:

In retirement, Bruno has been an outspoken critic against the WWE. Not so coincidentally, Bruno was not inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame until 2013.

WWE Championship Wins and Losses:

5/17/63 Madison Square Garden - won the title from Buddy Rogers
1/18/71 Madison Square Garden - lost the title to Ivan Koloff
12/10/73 Madison Square Garden - won the title from Stan Stasiak
4/30/77 Baltimore Civic Center - lost the title to Superstar Billy Graham

(Sources Used Include: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, onlineworldofwrestling.com, wwe.com, My Life Outside the Ring by Hulk Hogan, National Wrestling Allianace by Tim Hornbaker, and Slam Sports)

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