The wrestling world was saddened to learn of the passing of Bruno Sammartino. At the age of 82 years old, Sammartino left the world after creating a legacy that will be remembered forever. He was one of the most popular performers in the history of the industry and his streak as Heavyweight Champion will likely never be beaten.
But, Sammartino offered much more to the wrestling world than just being its champion for eight years. At working-class hero who represented his hometown of Pittsburgh but was beloved in New York and around the globe, the industry as we know it today wouldn't be what it is if not for the Italian Superman.
Sammartino's impact in wrestling will be felt for generations to come. A WWE Hall of Famer, a friend, a hero and a sometimes controversial inspiration to many, few may leave a mark as big as he did.
Sammartino proved that you can build an entire industry around one man. His nearly eight-year reign as Heavyweight Champion of the world was unprecedented, and it opened the door to the idea that a man like Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin could be the face of a promotion and take it to new heights.
He was born a scrawny kid in a small Italian community and came over to the U.S. where he gained strength and size, but never lost the perception as a man who had to overcome insurmountable odds. It could be argued the idea of a babyface getting taken to the cleaners until finally finding that resilience to make the big comeback so often seen in matches today was made famous by Sammartino matches.
When he won the championship off of Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds in 1963, he didn't lose it again until a whopping seven years, eight months, and one day later. That is unheard of in a day and age where wrestling is on multiple times per week with the title often changing multiple times per year.
Wrestlers today can only hope to reach half the lengths of the storied runs that a man like Sammartino did. If you get even close, you're a first-ballot Hall of Famer any day of the week.
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Sammartino was never a bad guy. The closest he came was when he left WWE (WWF at the time) and was outspoken for his distaste for what the wrestling industry had become. His fight against steroids and banned substances, namely how Vince McMahon was pushing bigger and strong at the expense of the wrestlers and their families was legendary.
For close to 15 years, Sammartino would trash the theatrical style of wrestling and the drugs associated with it to anyone who would listen. While he wasn't responsible for the Wellness Policy that exists in WWE today, without Sammartino holding WWE and McMahon to task, perhaps the pressure to do something about drugs wouldn't have been so great. Sammartino wasn't always ethical or truthful in his approach, but he was loud and at the time, that made a huge difference.
It was this distaste for "wrestling" that made him decline invitation into the Hall of Fame for years.
With the news of Sammartino's passing today, just do a quick search of his name to see how many of today's wrestlers he affected. Countless WWE Superstars shared their thoughts of the man who inspired them to become what they are today. From fellow Pittsburghers like Kurt Angle and Corey Graves to old-timers like the Iron Sheik and Ted Dibiase, there are countless people who have taken the time to thank Sammartino for the example he set and the path he carved. Even Vince, who was rumored to still have issues with the hero many idolized, took the time to show his respect and mention how instrumental Sammartino was to the industry Vince catapulted into a global phenomenon.
Arnold Schwarzenegger may have said it best, "Bruno Sammartino was a legend. He was the American Dream personified. From his childhood in Italy hiding from Nazis to selling out Madison Square Garden 188 times as the biggest star of professional wrestling, he was a hero in every stage of his life."
Legends like The Rock, Steve Austin, and Mick Foley have pointed to Bruno as someone they tried to emulate. Even signer Bruno Mars credits Sammartino for his name as Mars' father nicknamed him that after seeing Bruno wrestle.
Today is a sad day for wrestling and sports fans. Simply put, Bruno Sammartino was one of the biggest stars in the long and storied history of Madison Square Garden, a legend in every way. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today and always. pic.twitter.com/pKG1SZypWd— MSG (@TheGarden) April 18, 2018
While wrestlers everywhere remember what a strong influence Sammartino was, perhaps no mark was left on one person or one organization in the same way Sammartino helped make a name for New York's Madison Square Garden. He sold out that venue an astonishing 187 times and deserves some credit for making that building as famous as it is today.
Even though Sammartino was Italian and lived in Pittsburgh, he was very much New York's son and fans loved him. That label is huge considering New York is widely seen as the hotbed of North American wrestling.