WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino has passed away at the age of 82 on Wednesday, April 18. Sammartino, also known as The Italian Superman, is widely considered to be one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time. In 2013, Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Sammartino grew up in Abruzzi, Italy, living under Nazi occupation during World War II. Sammartino and his family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1950. He was eventually discovered by Vincent J. McMahon, the father of Vince McMahon, the current CEO of WWE. Sammartino was the WWE Champion (then WWF) for more than 11 years across two reigns. His first remains the longest single reign in the wrestling promotion’s history at 2,803 days. Sammartino retired from in-ring competition in 1981 before joining Vince McMahon in the booth.
Over the course of his extensive career, Sammartino had famed rivalries with wreslters such as George “The Animal” Steele, Gorilla Monsoon and Killer Kowalski.
Bruno held the WWE Championship for nearly eight years — by far the longest reign of all time, and a record for all professional wrestling champions, no matter the organization. A household name all over the country, the beloved hero defended his title in legendary rivalries against WWE Hall of Famers Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon and George “The Animal” Steele.
In early 1968, Sammartino headlined the first wrestling event at the brand-new Madison Square Garden, just eight days after it opened. The Garden truly was the house that Bruno built, as he sold it out an astounding 187 times. When he lost the title to Ivan Koloff in 1971, grown men in the crowd were seen weeping, but on Dec. 10, 1973, Sammartino became the first two-time WWE Champion and held the title for an additional three-and-a-half years.
On Aug. 9, 1980, Sammartino defeated his former protégé, Larry Zbyszko, inside a steel cage at New York City’s Shea Stadium in front of more than 35,000 people. The heated grudge match broke box-office records for wrestling events, and Bruno retired from the ring the following year. Bruno returned to WWE in the mid-80s as a broadcaster alongside Mr. McMahon and as a mentor for his son David, who was just beginning his grappling career. Now known as The Living Legend, Bruno also engaged in several rivalries with a generation of WWE’s greatest villains, including “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and The Honky Tonk Man.
During his career, Bruno Sammartino helped sell out Madison Square Garden 188 times. Sammartino is survived by his three sons and four grandchildren.