After setting a world record in 1959 by bench-pressing a mammoth 565 pounds, Sammartino caught the eye of Vincent J McMahon, and moved into the world of wrestling.
In all, Sammartino held five championships in WWE and earned "Match of the Year" honors five times from Pro Wrestling Illustrated (1972, 1975-77, 1980). He was inducted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He sold out Madison Square Garden 187 times and captured the hearts of fans as one of the longest-reigning world champions for WWF, holding the belt for almost 8 consecutive years. He held the title until 1971. The second title reign lasted more than three years.
Sammartino remained a fan favorite into the 1980s before becoming a broadcaster and mentor for his son David.
Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino was born in Italy in Pizzoferrato. Sammartino's Italian heritage, brute strength and good-guy charisma helped make him an instant star in the northeast.
During his title reign, Sammartino defended his strap against names such as Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon and George "The Animal" Steele.
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Sad news. Bruno Sammartino has passed at 82. His Hall of Fame induction can be seen in the video above. An argument can be made that Sammartino was the first WWE superstar, dating all the way back to the late 1950s just as television was taking off.
The wrestling world lost a true icon on Wednesday with the passing of Bruno Sammartino, and his death resonated with many current wrestlers who realize the role Sammartino had in blazing a path for them.
"My thoughts are with his entire family".
Thank you, Bruno Sammartino, for everything you gave to us. He was a champion's champion.
- Frankie Kazarian (@FrankieKazarian) April 18, 2018At Wrestlemania 30 I had the chance to meet Bruno Sammartino. "A true role model and hero", he wrote. One of Pittsburgh's all-time great sportsmen and great people. And where do you tank Sammartino amongst the all-time greats?
Not long after his departure from the WWF, Sammartino and McMahon became foes, with Sammartino heavily criticizing McMahon and eventually working rare dates for the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW).