This article was originally published as a series in the Bagpipe Report and is reprinted here in its entirety with the permission of the author and Bagpiper Publications editor Charles Maclauren.
The 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 living legend!
Bruno 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 he lived.
His 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.
That 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. And 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.
Throughout 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 legend."
Bruno had also introduced the fans to two proteges 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 cage match.
Spiros Arion 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.
Arion 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.
Opponent 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.
Then 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.
Throughout 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 Zbyszko.
Bruno 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.
Stan Stasiak, George "The Animal" Steele, Bruiser Brody (seen on the right in this shot), Tor Kamata, Ernie Ladd, Killer Kowalski, and Ken Patera (shown here on the left) 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.
11/17/73: Bruno Vs. Ivan Koloff (MSG) Bruno defeats Koloff before 22,090 with Gorilla Monsoon as special guest referee at 21:14
12/15/75: Bruno Vs. Ivan Koloff (MSG) Bruno retained his title by defeating Koloff in a 15 ft. high steel cage match in 11:46 before an sellout crowd of 26,350 plus 4,253 in the Felt Forum.
2/2/76: Bruno Vs. Superstar Billy Graham (MSG) A sellout crowd of 25,600 plus 3,100 watching on closed circuit in the Felt Forum saw Bruno defeat Superstar Billy Graham when referee Danny Bartfield stop the match at 17:55 because of several cuts inflicted on Graham by Sammartino.
3/29/76: Bruno/Parisi Vs. Graham/Koloff (MSG) Bruno teamed up with Tony Parisi and defeated Ivan Koloff and Superstar Graham before 21,004 fans at Madison Square Garden.
4/26/76: Bruno Vs. Stan Hansen (MSG) Stan Hansen defeated Bruno when the referee stopped the match after Sammartino suffered a cut above his eye and suffered a fractured vertebrae after receiving "The Lariat" before a stunned audience of 17,493.
6/25/76: Bruno Vs. Stan Hansen (Shea Stadium) After 10:19, the grudge match between Bruno & Hansen was settled when after being tossed out of the ring four times bloodied & bruised, the bad man from Borgia, Texas fled the ring with blood streaming from his face and with his manager The Grand Wizard right behind him. The crowd booed hansen after he left and Sammartino stood alone in the center of the ring with his title belt held high over his head.
12/20/76: Bruno Vs. Stan Stasiak (MSG) Bruno defeated the man he regained the WWWF title from, Stan "The Man" Stasiak before a sellout crowd of 22,090 at Madison Square Garden in a "Sicilian Stretcher Match". This was Bruno's 23rd successful title defense at the Garden since he regained the championship in 1973.
3/7/77: Bruno Vs. Ken Patera (MSG) In this, their third outing against each other Bruno emerged victorious in his match against the Olympian strongman Ken Patera. With Gorilla Monsoon as Special guest referee and before 26,492 fans with an additional 4,400 in the Felt Forum.
6/27/77: Bruno Vs. Superstar Billy Graham (MSG) In one of their last few rematches, 22,090 plus 4,000 fans in the Felt Forum paid to see Bruno try to regain his title from the newly crowned champion Superstar Billy Graham. Both wrestlers fought to a time limit draw.
The program kicks off with a review of the Steiner vs. Mr. and Ms. Page situation.
Hardcore Hack (the Sandman) vs. Damien - Hack comes to the ring wrapped in barbed wire and carrying his kendo stick and declares (Raven like) that all of his matches will be noholds barred. Damien knoks his opponent down with a clothesline as he enters the ring and then complains about hurting his arm on the barbed wire (I have heard that Hack's barbed wire is made out of rubber). Tenay tells us that Damien is somewhat of a hardcore star in his own right in his native Mexico. Hack is tripped up by his own "barbed wire" during the early going then gets untangled from it as the match progresses. The fight goes quickly to the floor where Damien is draped over the guard rail then hit with a flying leg drop off the apron. Hack brings his opponent and a chair back into the ring. Damien wrests the chair away but then climbs the corner only to be hit in the knee by the kendo stick. Back on the mat, Damien gets the stick and uses it but Hack puts him down with a rather authoritative Russian leg sweep and takes the pin. Cut to commercial.
We review stills from the SuperBrawl main event as we return.
Hector Garza vs. Psychosis - Garza is showing a little heel streak in this one. He starts out by whipping his opponent to the ropes then holding onto his hair as he rebounds so that he slams his head on the mat. Moments later he bounds to the top turnbuckle and throws a spinning dive which is met in mid air by a drop kick. Out to the floor they go and Psychosis hits a suicide dive. Back in the ring, he goes for another top-rope dive only to be caught and powerslammed. He recovers quickly however and hits the missle drop-kick. Garza also shows some resilliance and stands his opponent up in the corner to deliver some chops. This whole match has been in see-saw mode. Garza scales the corner once more and gets upset and straddles the top rope. Again the advantage changes momentarily only but now Psychosis is in the ascendancy. He gets a Frankensteiner off the top then follows up with the Guillotine to get the win. Cut to commercial.
More PPV stills - from the Tag Team Title matches this time.
Ernest (the Splat) Miller (w/Sonny Oono) vs. Stevie Ray - Miller is still using Glacier's entrance extravaganza even though he doesn't like it much. Guess he wants to get a return on his investment. He runs through his usual rant (booooring...) and gets Stevie Ray - who makes his entrance as we cut to commercial.
Miller issues his standard warning which Stevie ignores (of course). They lock up and Stevie shrugs his opponent off with ease. MIller can't seem to get anything together against this monster until he slips in a low blow to gain the initiative. After taking a few shots, Stevie returns the favor but Miller sucks it up and comes roaring back with karate strikes. Stevie absorbs the hits and employs his own fancy footwork to turn the tables. Oono tries to interfere but gets caught and clobbered. Miller is still struggling to his feet when Vince runs out and plasters Stevie with his own slap jack.
Video review of the backstage Horsemen attack on the new Tag Champs after the match Sunday. Cut to commercial.
Video review of the US Title match from Nitro followed by another commercial.
Raven/Kanyon vs. Villano V/El Dandy - this is the return of both these guys to WCW since the skits started. Raven brings his sister to the ring with him. Raven is still whining - now he is complaining about Hack's and Bam Bam's usurpation of his "Hardcore" rules matches. Kanyon takes the mic to add his two cents worth - the same old call and response schtick. Villano has a score to settle with Raven - who put his brother out of action for several months. Dandy faces Raven to start and fares not well - Raven's sister is looking decidedly Luna-like. Kanyon comes in and Villano tags in immediately afterward. The second Luchadore does no better then the first. There is clearly no contest here. The announcers are having an argument over whether Raven's depression is real or not. Meanwhile, Villano has finally turned the tables on Kanyon. Raven comes in with a chair, which Villano grabs away but then Kanyon runs the chair back into Villano's face. Raven then comes in and puts the Evenflo DDT on him and gets the pin with a cavelier cover. On the outside, Kanyon is setting up a table. He attacks Dandy and lays him out on it so Raven dive out and drive Dandy through it. Cut to commercial.
Stills from the Goldberg/Bigalow match as we return.
Blitzkreig vs. Juventud Guerrera - this newcomer (who cut his teeth out here in California) had a very good showing against Rey Misterio a couple of weeks ago. Juvey loses the first exchange and ends up out on the floor. He returns to the ring and they have a furious exchange of moves which ends when Blitzkreig is head scissored to the floor. He recovers immediately and knocks Juvey to the floor and then hits a spectacular somersault plancha from the inside out. Back in the ring, Juvey is in the mood to slow down the pace but not too much. They are flying around the ring agin in no time. Blitzkreig hits a succession of standing moonsaults including some twisting ones. Juvey comes back with a Frankensteiner off the top but injures his own leg as we cut to commercial.
The two are criss crossing at high speed as we return. On the thirst pass, Juvey hits a devastating clothesline and gets a two count. He grabs a side headlock on the mat then releases the hold and gets a tiltawhirl into a sidewalk slam. He puts his opponent onto the top turnbuckle again then drop-kicks him to the floor. Juvey hesitates then follows him out. Blitzkreig is rolled back in then Juvey hits a Guillotine but hurts himself again. He comes right back with a German suplex and gets another 2 count. Blitzkreig wins the next two exchanges with a suplex and a tiltawhirl back breaker but still no cigar. He throws a moonsault and hits Juvey's upraised knees. He then misses a spin kick and gets suckered into a Juvey Driver and pinned.
Stills from the Misterio/Konnan vs. Hall/Nash from the PPV then cut to commercial.
Rey's win over Nash is reviewed following another airing of the new Konnan video. Someone emailed me recently saying that the other rapper with Konnan is Rey Misterio but it's not. It's the same guy who did the last video with him.
Bret Hart vs. Disco Inferno - what is this? Put Bret Hart in ridiculous matches month? Disco makes a mockery of the Canadian anthem then wisely circles the ring once and bails out to start. Hart just waits him out. Disco returns, circles backwards again then bails a second time, then a third time. Finally they lock up and Hart allows himself to be bulled into the corner so he can clobber him. Disco falls out of the ring this time. Hart follows and throws him back in then goes to work on him as we cut to commercial.
Hart is still all over his opponent as we return. He dumps Disco out again and works over his head by banging it against various artifacts at ringside. back in the ring, he continues his assault. A Russian leg sweep gets him a two count. Hart chokes his opponent then gets a finger in the eye. Disco now is having his first offensive flurry in the match. He is relentless but Hart is just waiting him out again. He suckers Disco into the corner then starts working on the left leg - his usual pattern leading to the Sharpshooter. He applies a figure four to soften him up. The announcers are talking about a big announcement coming from Ric Flair this coming Monday. No doubt he will announce a rematch for the World Title - probabley at Souled Out. Heenan is hinting at a retirement speech...but don't count on that. In the ring, the Sharpshooter is causing Disco to tap out. Fade to black...
See you Monday. Until then...
At least that's the way I see it...
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
This page is a personal tribute and is in no way connected to any of the wrestling promotions mentioned on it. It is dedicated to the Dean of Wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie. Copyright 1998 - Jump City Productions