The professional wrestling world is in shock as one of it’s biggest stars in the history of the sport, 2x WWE World Heavyweight Champion Bruno Sammartino, had passed away peacefully following health issues, surrounded by his wife and children. Bruno Sammartino was 82 years old.
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino has passed away at age 82. https://t.co/B8nUabP0oh
— WWE (@WWE) April 18, 2018
The man who would become the longest reigning World Champion in pro wrestling history and became the living embodiment of the American dream, started off with a life that seemed destined for anything but. Born in Pizzoferrato, Italy in 1935, Bruno was the youngest child of a family that included seven children. His father had moved to Pittsburgh in the United States for work, leaving his mother to raise the seven children during the Second World War. Throughout the war, Bruno’s mother would hide the children in the mountain village of Valla Rocca, sneaking into German occupied villages for supplies. Following the end of the war, they would finally reunite with Bruno’s father in the Pittsburgh, but at a terrible loss. Four of Bruno’s siblings died in Italy.
Bruno was a sickly child who turned to weightlifting to strengthen his stamina and it paid off in dividends. He narrowly missed out on a spot on the 1956 US Olympic team, but in 1959 set a world record for bench press at 565 pounds. He also worked with the University of Pittsburgh wrestling team, performing strong man spectacles around the city, before he was approached for a life in the biggest spectacle of them, professional wrestling, in 1959 as well. By 1960, he was wrestling in Madison Square Garden and working for Vince McMahon Jr.‘s Capitol Wrestling. But by 1961, Sammartino departed the organization over poor pay, heading back into other NWA territories, including Maple Leaf Wrestling in Toronto. In 1963, McMahon lured Sammartino back to Capitol Wrestling, now rebranded as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and he was immediately thrown into the main event to challenge the inaugural champion, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. After a few unsuccessful attempts at the title, Bruno finally defeated Rogers in 48 seconds at Madison Square Gardens on May 17, 1963. With a strong influx of immigrants to the New York area following the Second World War, Bruno Sammartino became an icon to the United States new citizens. The formerly underappreciated and voiceless members of the new American society rallied behind the Italian champion and Bruno Sammartino dominated the New York area, selling out Madison Square Gardens an astounding 187 times.
His first reign as WWWF World Heavyweight Champion lasted an unprecedented 2,803 days, breaking the previous record of 2,300 days held by NWA World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz from 1949 to 1956. Bruno held the WWWF title from 1963 through 1971, before losing it to his hand picked successor, Ivan Koloff. The high demand at the top had taken a toll on Sammartino, mentally and physically, and he needed to take some time off to recuperate. He worked a limited schedule for the next few years, including some stops in All Japan, returning full time in late 1973, where he regained the WWWF World title from Stan Stasiak, which he held for another 1,237 days before passing the torch to “Superstar” Billy Graham in 1977. Following his loss in the rematch, Bruno went into semi-retirement, working more showcase matches with the WWWF. He had a brief resurgence in an epic feud with his protégé, Larry Zybyszko, in 1980, before retiring from in-ring competition in 1981. He would return to the WWF (since renamed due to Vince McMahon Jr. taking over the company) to work on commentary, but departed in 1988. He became a strong advocate against the increasing gimmick laden and violent style of the WWF and then WWE, before reconciling with the WWE family for his Hall of Fame induction in 2013.
An integral part of not only WWE history but professional wrestling history, Bruno Sammartino was an inspiration for an entire generation who came from the battered fields of Europe post-War and the living embodiment of the American dream for everyone. A true Living Legend indeed during his time on this Earth, and an absolute icon forever more.
Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man…
A true friend…and one of the toughest people I've ever met.
My thoughts are with his entire family. #RIPBrunoSammartino #AmericanDream
— Triple H (@TripleH) April 18, 2018
RIP Bruno,thank you for loving and living our business,only love HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) April 18, 2018
ONLY 1 LEGEND BRUNO SAMARTINO. HE THE REAL OF THE REAL. MY HEART BREAK. HE TOUGHEST SHOOTER. MOST OVER LEGEND EVER. ONE DAY IN THE MSG WE BOTH BREAK 10 FOOTBALL PLAYERS BACK THEY TRIED TO MESS WITH HIM. FOREVER HE CALLED ME THE LEGEND. I LOVE HIM FOREVER. GOD BLESS YOU BRUNO pic.twitter.com/dHB5rg6t5O
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) April 18, 2018
Forever a champion. Rest In Peace pic.twitter.com/f3ywW4opje
— Bret Hart (@BretHart) April 18, 2018
Growing up, my grandfather Stu Hart would ALWAYS talk about Bruno Sammartino and what an incredible wrestler he was. I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet Bruno and tell him how much he meant to my grandfather and the entire Hart family. We will all miss you, Bruno. 🙏♥️ pic.twitter.com/Dclu5hMGa6
— Nattie (@NatbyNature) April 18, 2018
Nothing today can happen without what he did back then. Rest in power and thank you Bruno Sammartino. pic.twitter.com/JEuHPUh3fJ
— Cody Rhodes (@CodyRhodes) April 18, 2018
— Chris Jericho (@IAmJericho) April 18, 2018
Sad to hear that we lost a great one #BrunoSammartino today. Thoughts and prayer go out to his family.
— Dustin Rhodes (@Goldust) April 18, 2018
Very saddened to hear of the passing of Bruno Sammartino. Walter”Killer” Kowalski always spoke so highly of him. An absolute legend in our industry in every sense of the word. They just don’t make men like that anymore. Godspeed sir. 😢
— Frankie Kazarian (@FrankieKazarian) April 18, 2018
Very saddened by the news of Bruno Sammartino’s death. The term Legend gets thrown around a lot, no one in wrestling deserves it more than Bruno #RIP
— Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) April 18, 2018
Devastating news for the wrestling world. An Icon amongst Icon’s, Bruno Sammartino has passed away. RIP Bruno. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today.
— Ted DiBiase (@MDMTedDiBiase) April 18, 2018
I will always have an enormous amount of respect & admiration for Bruno Sammartino. I can’t thank him enough for always being kind to me & taking time to have a genuine conversation. Condolences to his family & loved ones.
— ShinigamE (@WWEBigE) April 18, 2018
Bruno Sammartino is a wrestling Legend
Honored to have had many conversations with him
When I was w/him I knew I was w/pure class & greatness
Celebrate his life watch 1of his matches today
I was humbled he even knew my name
I'm very sad pic.twitter.com/RfD1XIQYo9
— Tommy Dreamer (@THETOMMYDREAMER) April 18, 2018
Bruno is indirectly responsible for where I am today. Growing up in Pittsburgh, he was my father’s hero, and sparked my dad’s passion for the business that he passed on to me.
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Bruno, and the man exemplified class. #RIPBruno
— Corey Graves (@WWEGraves) April 18, 2018
Saddened by the passing of the great Bruno Sammartino. I had only been wrestling a year when I met him, just south of Pittsburgh. It wasn't the "stars" of USCW that drew people out that night, it was the chance to just see Bruno in person & shake his hand. pic.twitter.com/Qkufw2gaDh
— Mike Quackenbush (@MikeQuackenbush) April 18, 2018
— Rusev (@RusevBUL) April 18, 2018