|Birth name||Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino|
October 6, 1935 |
Pizzoferrato, Kingdom of Italy
|Residence||Ross Township, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Spouse(s)||Carol Sammartino (m. 1959)|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Bruno Sammartino|
|Billed height||5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)|
|Billed weight||265 lb (120 kg)|
Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino (born October 6, 1935) is an Italian-born retired American professional wrestler. He is best known for his work with the World (Wide) Wrestling Federation (WWWF/WWF), which is now known as WWE. He held the WWWF (World) Heavyweight Championship for over 11 years (4040 days) across two reigns, the first of which is the longest single reign in the promotion's history (2803 days).
Sammartino's wrestling style was more mat-oriented which was typical of wrestlers from his era. His brawling, power moves, and personal charisma helped him become the most popular American wrestler in the 1960s through the mid 1980s. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 6, 2013, by his longtime friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- Early life 1
Professional wrestling career 2
- Studio Wrestling–Pittsburgh Promotion (1959–1974) 2.1
- Capitol Wrestling Corporation 2.2
- New York and Toronto 2.3
World Wide Wrestling Federation 2.4
- First WWWF Heavyweight Championship reign (1963–1971) 2.4.1
- Second WWWF Heavyweight Championship reign (1973–1977) 2.4.2
- Later WWWF/WWF career and initial retirement (1978–1981) 2.4.3
- Return to WWF (1984–1988) 2.4.4
- Post-WWF career 2.5
- WWE Hall of Famer (2013–present) 2.6
- Backstage incidents 3
- Other media 4
- Personal life 5
- In wrestling 6
- Championships and accomplishments 7
- References 8
- External links 9
Born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy on October 6, 1935, Sammartino was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. Four older siblings died during his time in Italy. During his childhood, Sammartino's family hid from German soldiers in a mountain called Valla Rocca, during the latter stages of World War II. During this time, Sammartino's mother, Emilia, would sneak into their German-occupied town for food and supplies. In 1950, he moved to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his father had already lived for several years.
When Sammartino first came to America, he spoke no English and was sickly from his experiences of surviving during the war years. This made him an easy target for bullies in school. Sammartino wanted to build himself up physically and became devoted to weight training. Bruno's devotion to weightlifting nearly resulted in a berth on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. He was edged out by Paul Anderson – who outweighed Sammartino by 70 pounds. In the early years of Sammartino's career, he was measured at 5'10" and weighed around 280 pounds.
Bruno set a world record in the bench press with a lift of 565 pounds in 1959. Bruno completed this lift while not wearing any elbow or wrist wraps. When he brought the bar down, he did not bounce it off his chest but set it there for two seconds before attempting the press. Sammartino also competed in bodybuilding and won "Mr. Allegheny" in the late 1950s.
His high school, Schenley High School, did not have a wrestling program, but he worked out with the University of Pittsburgh wrestling team under storied coach Rex Peery. Sammartino became known for performing strongman stunts in the Pittsburgh area, and sportscaster Bob Prince put him on his television show. It was there that he was spotted by local wrestling promoter Rudy Miller, who recruited Sammartino for professional wrestling. Miller knew that Sammartino could easily be marketed as an ethnic strongman, and that he would appeal to Italian immigrants who supported wrestling.
Professional wrestling career
Studio Wrestling–Pittsburgh Promotion (1959–1974)
Sammartino made his professional debut in Pittsburgh on December 17, 1959, pinning Dmitri Grabowski in 19 seconds. On December 23, he defeated Miguel Torres for the local Spectator Sports promotion in Pittsburgh. He soon became extremely popular, appearing frequently on the local TV wrestling program, Studio Wrestling.
In 1966, Sammartino bought the Pittsburgh-based Spectator Sports promotion which promoted in the Tri-State area of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. The promotion was a stopping point for national stars such as Bobo Brazil, as well as featuring local talent like Johnny De Fazio, Tony "The Battman" Marino, and an early Sammartino protege John L. Sullivan (who later gained fame as Johnny Valiant). The Pittsburgh promotion was truly independent, ran its own storylines and had its own tag champions – despite the use of Northeast's based promotion World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF, currently WWE) talent. Before the Civic Arena was built, Spectator Sports held their big Pittsburgh shows at Forbes Field – the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Capitol Wrestling Corporation
Sammartino's first match in Madison Square Garden in New York City was on January 2, 1960 against Bull Curry (who was substituting for Killer Kowalski). Within six months of his debut in wrestling, Sammartino was headlining at Madison Square Garden (starting in tag matches, teaming with Antonino Rocca).
On February 18, 1961, Sammartino faced Chick Garibaldi in an afternoon match at the Sunnyside Gardens in New York. During the match, Sammartino bodyslammed Garibaldi and immediately noticed his opponent's eyes roll up inside his head. By the time the ref checked on the fallen wrestler, he was dead in the ring. It was later determined that Garibaldi had died from a heart attack. In the movie Legends Never Die, Sammartino stated that it took him many years to get over that incident.
New York and Toronto
After tiring of low payoffs and broken promises, Sammartino left Vincent McMahon Sr.'s Capitol Wrestling Corporation to join a rival New York promoter and former McMahon Sr. partner Kola Kwariani. Kwariani's hold on New York soon weakened because of low attendance and athletic commission pressure to curb violence. In an effort to increase attendance, Kwariani had Sammartino wrestle his tag partner Antonino Rocca twice during this time. Sammartino was then told by Rudy Miller to jump back to McMahon.
Sammartino found himself with even fewer dates and payoffs than the first time he wrestled for McMahon. He gave notice to McMahon that he was going to San Francisco, and its large Italian population, to wrestle for promoter Roy Shire. Very soon after arriving, Sammartino was informed by the local athletic commission that he was suspended. Unable to find work across the country (because every state athletic commission honors suspensions given by other state athletic commissions), Bruno headed back to Pittsburgh to work as a laborer. Sammartino found out that his suspension was due to his skipping a match he was booked for in Baltimore. He was also booked to wrestle in Chicago that same night. In his autobiography, Sammartino states that he believed McMahon set him up, by double-booking him and not informing him of his match in Baltimore, as a way of punishment for working for Kwariani.
On the advice of wrestler Yukon Eric, Bruno contacted Toronto promoter Frank Tunney hoping to take advantage of Toronto's large Italian population. Despite McMahon trying to blackball him there as well, Tunney decided to take a chance. Bruno made his Toronto debut in March 1962 and very quickly, with the help of self-promotion in local newspapers and radio programs, became an attraction. His ability to speak Italian also ingratiated himself with that immigrant population. With Canadian legend Whipper Billy Watson, Bruno won his first championship in September 1962, the local version of the International tag team title. Soon, he was in demand by other promoters in different Canadian territories.
During his tenure in Toronto, Bruno wrestled and beat the (then) National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Champion Buddy Rogers for the title. Rogers was unable to continue after being accidentally butted in the groin while attempting a leap frog. Sammartino refused to accept the title under the circumstances.
Sammartino also wrestled NWA Champ
- Bruno Sammartino at the Internet Movie Database
- Bruno Sammartino's profile on WWE.com
- Bruno Sammartino Interview
- Hornbaker, Tim (2012). Legends of Pro Wrestling: 150 Years of Headlocks, Body Slams, and Piledrivers. Sports Publishing.
- Davies, Ross (2001). Bruno Sammartino. Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 23–24.
- Togneri, Chris (December 24, 2010). "Bruno Sammartino: Mountain of strength". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved December 24, 2010.
- sammartino, Bruno & Bob Michelucci (1990). Bruno Sammartino: An Autobiography of Wrestling's Living Legend. Sports Publishing.
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter. August 21, 1995.
- Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 16.
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter. July 6, 1992.
- Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 113.
- Ross Davies (2001). Bruno Sammartino. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 77.
- Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 211.
- Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 309.
- Cawthon, Graham (2013). the History of Professional Wrestling Vol 1: WWF 1963 – 1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Bruno Sammartino v. Capitol Wrestling Corporation and Vince McMahon. Wrestlingperspective.com (August 26, 1983). Retrieved on 2012-09-29.
- Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 620.
- "Where legends are displayed". Classicfigs.com.
- Dvorchak, Robert (March 26, 2010). "Dapper Dan: Malkin, Sammartino, Penn State volleyball claim awards". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
- Robinson, Jon (February 3, 2013). "WWE to induct Bruno Sammartino into HOF".
- Caldwell, James (April 6, 2013). "WWE NEWS: Hall of Fame 2013 report". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- Caldwell, James (October 7, 2013). "Caldwell's WWE Raw Results 10/7 (Hour 1): Battleground PPV fall-out, WWE Title match to continue at next PPV, one "firing," Bruno Sammartino, more". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
- Caldwell, James (March 28, 2015). "WWE Hall of Fame report 3/28". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- Muchnick, Sam (2011). Wrestling Babylon. New York: ECW Press. p. 55.
- Watts, Bill (2006). The Cowboy and the Cross:The Bill Watts Story: Rebellion, Wrestling and Redemption. New York: ECW Press. p. 72.
- Iron Sheik and Bruno Sammartino fight in locker room story on YouTube. Retrieved on September 29, 2012.
- Flair, Ric (2005). Ric Flair: to Be the Man. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 63–64.
- Kato, Matthew (January 7, 2014). "New WWE 2K14 DLC Introduces More Superstars".
- Rouvalis, Cristina (October 28, 1998). "Wrestling with fame: Bruno Sammartino still a hero to fans". Post-gazette.
- "Finishing Moves List". Other Arena. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
- Video on YouTube
- "Bruno Sammartino Hall of Fame 2013". International Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
- "Pro Wrestling Illustrated Award Winners Inspirational Wrestler of the Year". Wrestling Information Archive. Retrieved July 27, 2008.
- "PWI 500 of the PWI Years". Willy Wrestlefest. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
- "W.W.A. World Tag Team Title (Indianapolis)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- World Wrestling Association (Indianapolis)
- World Wide Wrestling Federation / WWE
World Wide Wrestling Alliance
- Hall of Fame (Class of 2008)
Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum
- Class of 2002
Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Match of the Year (1972) Battle royal on January 14, Los Angeles, CA
- Match of the Year (1975) vs. Spiros Arion on March 17, New York, NY
- Match of the Year (1976) vs. Stan Hansen on June 25, Queens, NY
- Match of the Year (1977) vs. Superstar Billy Graham on April 30, Baltimore, MD
- Match of the Year (1980) vs. Larry Zbyszko at Showdown at Shea in a steel cage match
- Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year (1976)
- Stanley Weston Award (1981)
- Wrestler of the Year (1974)
- PWI ranked him No. 200 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- Maple Leaf Wrestling
International Sports Hall of Fame
- Class of 2013
Championships and accomplishments
- "The Strongest Man in the World"
- "The Italian Strongman"
- "The Living Legend"
- "The Italian Superman"
- Signature moves
Sammartino has been married to his wife Carol since 1959 and they have three sons, David, and fraternal twins, Danny and Darryl. They are also grandparents of four grandchildren. He and his wife have lived in Ross Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh since 1965. Sammartino has a strained relationship with his son David.
On March 24, 2007, Bruno received the Key to the City in Franklin, Pennsylvania as part of IWC's Night of Legends 3. On April 6, 2013, he received the Key to the City in Jersey City, New Jersey. May 17, 2013 was declared "Bruno Sammartino Day" in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In 2013, Sammartino appeared as one of the Board of Governors in the nationally-televised 69th Annual Columbus Day Parade. Later on in the event Sammartino arm wrestled Grand Marshal Joseph Perella in a losing effort.
Bruno is included in two DVDs summarizing his career and life: Bruno Returns to Italy With Bruno Sammartino (2006) and Bruno Sammartino: Behind the Championship Belt (2006). Both were only released in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bruno is honored on the Madison Square Garden walk of fame.
On July 26, 2004 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, what came to be known as the "Who snubbed who?" non-confrontation with Ric Flair occurred. Flair denigrated Sammartino's wrestling ability in his book. Flair claims Sammartino refused to shake his hand at the event; Sammartino says Flair saw him coming down the hall, turned, and rushed away.
When Bruno was about 51 years old, he was involved in an backstage fight with a former football player. Six men were backstage at a wrestling show in an area that was restricted. When Sammartino spotted the men, he told them that if security saw them in this area, they might get in trouble. Dave "Rooster" Fleming, a former CFL player with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, stuck his hand out to Sammartino. When Sammartino went to shake his hand, Fleming began to squeeze hard. Sammartino asked him what he was doing to which Fleming replied "You're nothing but a washed up old man." Sammartino responded "Not too washed up to take care of you." Upon hearing that, Fleming took a swing at Sammartino but it was blocked. Sammartino then punched him and knocked him down. Sammartino soon found himself fighting the other five men at once. At this time, The Iron Sheik was in the showers after his match and heard the commotion. He immediately jumped in next to Bruno and the two wrestlers proceeded to "clean house" according to Bruno.
In his autobiography, The Cowboy and the Cross: The Bill Watts Story: Rebellion, Wrestling and Redemption, Bill Watts tells of witnessing a backstage incident between Sammartino and Gorilla Monsoon. Watts wrote that Monsoon "soon found himself in deep water" when messing with Sammartino. He did not go into further detail on the incident out of respect for Monsoon.
In the late 1960s, Sammartino was involved in a fight with former PA Athletic Commissioner Joe Cimino. Cimino was new to his post and intervened in a match finish involving Bruno. Bruno took a shot at Cimino in the ring and the argument continued backstage. Bruno ended up in a screaming match with Cimino on Pittsburgh's local Studio Wrestling program. Cimino suspended Bruno for a month. Sam Muchnick mentions the incident in his book, Wrestling Babylon.
Sammartino appeared on the October 7, 2013, episode of Raw and received a birthday greeting in his hometown of Pittsburgh. On March 28, 2015, Sammartino inducted Larry Zybzsko into the WWE Hall of Fame.
In 2013, Sammartino accepted an invitation for induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, after having declined several times in prior years. He finally accepted the offer to join because he was satisfied with the way the company had addressed his concerns about the direction of the business. The ceremony took place at Madison Square Garden on April 6, 2013, and Sammartino was inducted by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
WWE Hall of Famer (2013–present)
On October 8, 2011 Sammartino briefly returned to the professional wrestling scene as a special guest when he joined a wrestling show held in his honor by Adriatic Wrestling League, an Italian pro-wrestling promotion.
On March 25, 2010, Sammartino was honored at the 74th annual Dapper Dan Dinner, a popular awards and charity fundraising event in Pittsburgh, with a lifetime achievement award, for which fellow former Studio Wrestling personalities Bill Cardille, "Jumping" Johnny De Fazio, Dom DeNucci, Frank Durso, and referee Andy "Kid" DePaul were all present.
On October 28, 1989, Sammartino made a special appearance at the NWA PPV Halloween Havoc, where he was the special guest referee in a "Thunderdome" cage match which featured Ric Flair and Sting taking on Terry Funk and The Great Muta. Sammartino ended up exchanging blows with Muta at the end of the match and ran him off. Sammartino also worked several World Championship Wrestling events in a minor analysis role in the early 1990s.
Sammartino began doing commentary for Herb Abrams' upstart Universal Wrestling Federation as it attempted to go national and compete with the WWF, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), and World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW).
After leaving the WWF, Bruno was an outspoken critic of the path McMahon has taken pro wrestling, particularly in the use of steroids, other illicit drugs and borderline obscene wrestling angles. In the last stage of his career, he refused to travel with the younger wrestlers for fear of being stopped in a vehicle containing drugs. McMahon provided wrestler-turned-road-agent Chief Jay Strongbow as a travel partner. He appeared in the media in opposition to the WWE on such shows as The Phil Donahue Show, Geraldo and CNN.
In 1986 Sammartino competed in a 20-man battle royal at WrestleMania 2 in at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. The battle royal featured not only professional wrestlers but also professional football players. Sammartino was eliminated by Killer Kowalski protege Big John Studd. Later on in 1986 Sammartino teamed with Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and Santana in a 6-man elimination tag team match against The Hart Foundation and then WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion The Honky Tonk Man. Sammartino was the sole survivor of the match pinning the Honky Tonk Man for the win.
Sammartino also engaged in a feud with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper after Piper insulted his heritage on a segment of Piper's Pit at Madison Square Garden. Sammartino faced Piper in both singles and tag matches. Sammartino teamed with Paul Orndorff in his matches against Piper, while Piper would tag with his "bodyguard", Ace "Cowboy" Bob Orton. Sammartino would eventually get the upper hand in the feud, by defeating Piper in a steel cage match at the Boston Garden.
At the inaugural WrestleMania at a sold out Madison Square Garden in 1985, Sammartino was in his son David's corner, for his match against Brutus Beefcake. The match ended in a double-disqualification after the Sammartinos began brawling with Beefcake and his manager Johnny Valiant. He returned to in ring action soon after with his son, as they wrestled against Beefcake and Valiant at Madison Square Garden. The Sammartinos also teamed against Paul Orndorff and Bobby Heenan in various arenas. Despite being in his early-50's, Sammartino frequently proved to be in much better physical shape than his opponents, often leaving them "blown up" by the middle of the match.
It was during this time Sammartino found out through Angelo Savoldi, a recently fired office employee of Capitol Wrestling Corporation, that he had been cheated by Vince McMahon Sr. on the promised gate percentages for his entire second title run. Bruno filed suit against McMahon and his Capitol Wrestling Corporation. The suit was eventually settled out of court by McMahon's son, Vince McMahon Jr. after his father had died. Part of the settlement included Sammartino returning to do color commentary on WWF television in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars for what amounted to nineteen days of work.
Return to WWF (1984–1988)
Sammartino retired from North American wrestling full-time in 1981, in a match that opened the
On January 22, 1980, his former student Larry Zbyszko turned against him on the World Wrestling Federation's Championship Wrestling show. Sammartino, shocked and hurt by Zbyszko's betrayal, vowed to make Zbyszko pay dearly. Their feud culminated on August 9, 1980, in front of 36,295 fans at Shea Stadium. As the main event of 1980's Showdown at Shea, Sammartino defeated Zbyszko inside a steel cage. In his autobiography, Hulk Hogan claimed that his match with André the Giant was the real reason for the huge draw at Shea Stadium, however the feud between Sammartino and Zbyszko sold out everywhere in the build-up to the show. In contrast, Hogan and André headlined exactly one card in White Plains, New York before they wrestled at Shea. They drew a paltry 1,200 in a building that held 3,500.
After his second reign ended, Sammartino leisurely toured the U.S. and the world. He wrestled then NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race to a one-hour draw in St. Louis. He also wrestled and defeated Blackjack Mulligan, Lord Alfred Hayes, Dick Murdoch, Kenji Shibuya, and "Crippler" Ray Stevens.
Despite a very long series of re-matches against Billy Graham, Sammartino was unwilling to regain the title. His final attempt was in Philadelphia, just a few days before Graham was scheduled to lose the title to Bob Backlund. The Philly match was the only documented instance of Sammartino losing a steel cage match. He lost by accidentally knocking a bloody and battered Graham through the cage door.
Later WWWF/WWF career and initial retirement (1978–1981)
In early 1977, after suffering the broken neck and many other ailments, Bruno informed McMahon Sr. that he was done with his second title reign. It ended in Baltimore on April 30, 1977, when he was defeated by Superstar Billy Graham. In a controversial ending, Graham had both feet braced on the ropes (which is illegal in pro wrestling) while successfully pinning Sammartino.
During this time, on April 26, 1976, Sammartino suffered a neck fracture in a match against Stan Hansen at Madison Square Garden, when Hansen improperly executed a body slam and dropped Sammartino on his head. He managed to wrestle for an additional 15 minutes and did the planned finish of a stoppage due to blood. After two months, Sammartino returned and faced Hansen in a rematch on June 25, 1976 at Shea Stadium, which was on the closed circuit TV undercard of the Ali vs. Antonio Inoki match for WWWF cities. The match was rated 1976 Match of the Year by a number of wrestling magazines. Subsequently, after a chance to recover and train, Sammartino scored decisive cage match wins over Hansen around the WWWF circuit.
On November 5, 1975, Bruno was a guest on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder.
Eventually, on December 10, 1973, Sammartino regained the WWWF Heavyweight Championship by defeating Stan Stasiak who had won the title from Pedro Morales nine days earlier in Philadelphia. In his second reign, Bruno defeated contenders such as John Tolos, Bruiser Brody, Spiros Arion, Ken Patera, Bugsy McGraw, Freddie Blassie, Baron von Raschke, Waldo Von Erich, Ivan Koloff, Superstar Billy Graham, Don Leo Jonathan, Angelo Mosca, Ernie Ladd, Big Bob Duncum, and Nikolai Volkoff. He also encountered old foes Killer Kowalski and George Steele. His second title run lasted three years, four months, and twenty days.
Second WWWF Heavyweight Championship reign (1973–1977)
Later in 1972, Sammartino was asked back by McMahon Sr. to regain the title. After refusing McMahon's initial offer, Sammartino was offered a percentage of all the gates when he wrestled and a decreased work schedule that only included major arenas. Soon after, Bruno and champion Morales teamed up for a series of tag matches. In a televised match, Professor Tanaka blinded both men with salt and they were maneuvered into fighting each other. When their eyes cleared, they kept fighting each other. Two weeks later, all syndicated wrestling shows in the WWWF showed a clip of Morales and Sammartino signing a contract for a title match at Shea Stadium. When McMahon gestured for them to shake hands, both wordlessly turned and walked away. On September 1, 1972, Sammartino and Morales wrestled to a 75-minute draw at Shea Stadium in New York.
Meanwhile, on January 14, 1972, Sammartino returned to Los Angeles, California for the first time in five years to participate in a 22-man battle royal. The battle royal included competitors such as Rocky Johnson, Mil Máscaras, John Tolos, Haystacks Calhoun, and Ripper Collins. The final two men left in the ring were Collins and Sammartino. After brawling for about five minutes, they noticed that they were the only ones left. After Sammartino bodyslammed Collins several times, he then applied the bearhug. Collins submitted and Bruno was the $11,000 winner of the third annual Olympic Battle Royal. This battle royal marked the first time that The Wrestler, an "Apter Mag", had fans vote on Match of the Year. It went on to become the Match of the Year for 1972.
On January 18, 1971, Sammartino lost the championship at Madison Square Garden to Ivan Koloff. After the pin, Koloff slowly walked across the ring while the ref raised his hand three times. The announcer came into the ring with the belt but, fearful of a riot, did not present it to Koloff. Koloff left the ring while Sammartino stayed inside to keep the crowd's attention off Koloff. As Sammartino left the ring, people started crying. Three weeks later, Pedro Morales beat Koloff to win the title; Sammartino congratulated the new champion as he was announced.
Sammartino headlined cards that filled both
Rogers retired prior to their scheduled title rematch on October 4, 1963, in Jersey City, NJ's Roosevelt Stadium. Sammartino instead that night had his first match against new #1 contender, Gorilla Monsoon (Monsoon won on disqualification). Sammartino kept this title for seven years, eight months, and one day.
Rogers and Sammartino did face each other two months later at Madison Square Garden in a tag team match, with Rogers and Handsome Johnny Barend defeating Bruno and Bobo Brazil 2 falls to 1. Sammartino did not trust Rogers and the two did not work together very much during the match. Rogers pinned Sammartino for the third and deciding fall.
He won the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship on May 17, 1963, defeating "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds. Distraught and surprised Rogers quickly left the ring. Rogers claimed until his dying day that he had suffered a heart attack a week before the match and was dragged out of a hospital to have the match. Bruno has said (and other wrestlers on the card verify) that all wrestlers were examined and passed by the State Athletic Commission doctor that night as was customary in those days. Bruno has also pointed out that if Rogers was sick, he never took time off from his schedule after he lost the belt. Others have pointed out that Rogers worked mainly in short tag matches until his first retirement one year later (he would later return for two brief comebacks, and much later as a manager).
First WWWF Heavyweight Championship reign (1963–1971)
World Wide Wrestling Federation
Eventually, promoters Toots Mondt and McMahon Sr. cleared up Sammartino's suspension by paying his $500 fine. After many weeks of phone calls with McMahon trying to lure Bruno back, Sammartino demanded a title match with Rogers.
Meanwhile, McMahon Sr. was having a tough time drawing fans with newly created World Wide Wrestling Federation Champion Buddy Rogers in New York. Promoter Willie Gilzenberg appeared on Washington DC TV; referred to a non-title match in Canada; and "returned" the belt to Buddy Rogers (which thus created the WWWF belt). It was also mentioned that Rogers lost to Thesz in a one fall bout; NWA rules specified that the title could only change hands in a 2 out of 3 fall match. Thus, Rogers had not legitimately lost the title.
Thesz recounted the matches as nothing special.