There are few names in the history of professional wrestling that carry the history, gravitas, or respect from fans and workers alike as that of the “Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino.
The “Italian Strongman” turns 81 years old today, and to celebrate the occasion WDN‘s latest Throwback Thursday entry is digging deep into the vault of the WWE Network to find eight of Bruno’s greatest matches and moments currently available on the service.
While Hulk Hogan is credited with taking the World Wrestling Federation mainstream in 1985, it was Bruno Sammartino who put the territory on the map and lead it from the dark ages to national prominence, becoming the first true “Superstar” in company history.
Of the recognized World titles of the era, Bruno Sammartino’s combined days as champion, 4,040 days over two reigns, ranks second behind Verne Gagne (10 AWA World titles, 4,677 days) and ahead of Lou Thesz (three NWA World titles for 3,746 days), while Sammartino’s first WWWF World title reign from May 17, 1963 to January 18, 1971 (of which no footage is found on the Network), ranks first all-time at 2,803 days, ahead of Thesz’s first NWA World title reign of 2,300 days and Gagne’s ninth AWA World title reign of 2,625 days, records that will never be surpassed.
— “Non-Title Match” (WATCH)
Mr. Fuji w/The Grand Wizard of Wrestling vs. Bruno Sammartino(WWWF Heavyweight Champion)
WWWF All-Star Wrestling #155 ● September 21, 1974 (TAPED: January 23, 1974)
Bruno Sammartino’s earliest match on the Network is a recent addition to the service with the unfortunate passing of Mr. Fuji. The match was taped in January 1974 but not used until September, when Sammartino and Fuji were actually feuding. A true WWE classic, this match helped keep Sammartino strong while establishing the late Mr. Fuji as a worthy foe.
— WWWF Heavyweight Championship – “Texas Death Match” (WATCH – 10:12)
“The Golden Greek” Spiros Arion w/Freddie Blassie vs. Bruno Sammartino(c) w/Arnold Skaaland
WWWF on HBO ● March 17, 1975
Spiros Arion had been a popular babyface during his first run in the WWWF territory from 1966 to 1969. A three-time WWWF U.S. Tag Team Champion, Arian retired the WWWF U.S. Tag titles in July 1967 with his partner Bruno Sammartino. Arion’s babyface return in 1974 ended when the “Golden Greek” beat up Sammartino’s protege Larry Zbyszko, sparking this feud. Their first meeting, on February 17, 1975, ended in a DQ after Bruno repeatedly pushed the referee. The controversial finish of this match set up a final showdown between the two on April 14, 1975 at Madison Square Garden in a “Greek Death Match”, a submission match (currently unavailable on the Network), which Bruno won with a single-leg crab. This match is a perfect example of all the things that made Sammartino a superstar in the Northeast territory, and a solid illustration of American pro wrestling transitioning from the cliches of the 1950’s and ’60’s into the brave new world of the modern era.
— WWWF Heavyweight Championship (JIP) (WATCH – 1:20:09)
“Superstar” Billy Graham vs. Bruno Sammartino(c) w/Arnold Skaaland
WWWF on HBO ● February 2, 1976
“Superstar” Billy Graham debuted in the WWWF on August 26, 1975 at the Championship Wrestling tapings in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was an instant sensation. Though Graham would work Bruno Sammartino off and on in tag matches for the rest of ’75 it wasn’t until early 1976 that their first feud over the WWWF Heavyweight title took off. Their first big match took place on January 12, 1975 at Madison Square Garden which Graham won by count out. This rematch, the first two and a half minutes of which are missing due to technical difficulties at the time, is a realistic tit-for-tat strong man war the likes of which we seldom, if ever, see today. Aside from regional house show matches this match marked the end of the first Bruno/Graham feud. Graham would leave the WWF in May of 1976 to rejoin the National Wrestling Alliance.
— WWWF Heavyweight Championship (WATCH – 1:13:52)
Bruno Sammartino w/Arnold Skaaland vs. “Superstar” Billy Graham(c) w/The Grand Wizard of Wrestling
WWWF on MSG Network ● June 27, 1977
By 1977 Bruno Sammartino was looking to slow down. At the age of 40, with 11 combined years as WWWF Heavyweight Champion, Sammartino’s days as the top touring star were quickly coming to an end. Upon returning in March 1977, and after a short jobber push on WWWF TV, “Superstar” Billy Graham dethroned Sammartino for the very last time on April 30, 1977 in Baltimore, Maryland. The loss reinvigorated Sammartino’s career, though, and the rematches across the territory became must-see attractions. This rematch from Madison Square Garden drew an impressive 22,090 fans to the arena and another 4,000 to the Felt Forum (now know as the Theater at Madison Square Garden) to see an absolute classic war. For those that think all there was to Bruno was kicking and punching, this match is must-see.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 24:10)
Ken Patera vs. Bruno Sammartino
WWWF on PRISM Network ● March 25, 1978
Sammartino had just wrapped up his feud with “Superstar” Billy Graham at the February 18, 1978 Philadelphia Spectrum, losing (for the first known time) a steel cage match to Graham. Bruno took some time off from the U.S. scene to work Puerto Rico and series of classic matches with Gorilla Monsoon. This match marked Bruno’s big return after the Graham feud, a return many fans hoped would lead to another title reign, and reignited a feud these two waged over the WWWF title the year before in 1977. Part wrestling match, part brawl this is another Sammartino classic. Bruno’s career continued to wind down in the late-’70s. After the legendary feud with Larry Zbyszko in 1980, that culminated in the classic cage match the third and final Showdown at Shea, Bruno slowly brought his full-time career to an end.
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 25:54)
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino
WWF on NESN ● December 7, 1985
A lawsuit over back pay during his second run as WWWF Heavyweight Champion brought Bruno back to the WWF at the September 11, 1984 Championship Wrestling TV tapings in Poughkeepsie, New York to commentate as the settlement was paid out. Soon, however, Bruno was managing and teaming with his son David and working the odd singles match here and there. On August 24, 1985 in the Philadelphia Spectrum, while acting as guest referee in a match between Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, Sammartino was assaulted by Piper and Bob Orton, Jr., leading to a series of tag team matches between the four men, including a cage match on October 26th in Philadelphia. This match marked the first one-on-one encounter between Piper and Sammartino and is, though short, one helluva fight.
— “Tag Team Steel Cage Match” (WATCH – 1:13:50)
“Adorable” Adrian Adonis & WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Tito Santana & “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino
WWF Prime Time Wrestling #74 ● July 28, 1986 (TAPED: July 12, 1986, WWF on MSG Network)
The story in this match goes back to June when Bruno, acting as special guest referee in an Intercontinental title match between Tito Santana and Champion Randy Savage, was attacked by Adrian Adonis. The four would meet in a tag match at the June 14, 1986 MSG card where Savage and Adonis won by count out, which led to this steel cage showdown a month later which is easily one of the best tag team steel cage matches the WWF has ever delivered. A bloody, wild match, this is one is everything steel cage wrestling should be.
— WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship (WATCH – 1:14:35)
“The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage(c) w/Miss Elizabeth
WWF Prime Time Wrestling #101 ● February 13, 1987 (TAPED: January 3, 1987, WWF on NESN)
While the Savage/Bruno angle cooled after the tag matches of the summer, it was reignited after Randy Savage attacked Ricky Steamboat, seriously injuring Steamboat’s throat. In a post-match interview with Bruno, Savage bragged about how proud of himself he was for injuring “The Dragon”. Sammartino snapped and tried to choke the Intercontinental Champion out, setting their feud in motion. This match was the first televised match of the feud and had a far better story than the later “lumberjack” match, and was proof that at the age of 41 Bruno was every bit as good as the younger, top caliber roster the WWF was putting together at the time.
Sammartino would have his last WWF match, a tag team victory with WWF Champion Hulk Hogan over King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang, on August 29, 1987, though Sammartino would continue to commentate until the March 12, 1988 edition of Superstars of Wrestling (taped February 19, 1988), after which the “Living Legend” would leave the WWF for good, not returning until 2013 when Bruno was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
There may not be much of Bruno Sammartino on the WWE Network at this point in time but, as the cliché goes, it’s quality over quantity.
These eight matches are true classics in every sense of the word, and are but mere glimpses of the legendary, one of a kind career the “Living Legend” had in WWE. So, if you’re already subscribed to the WWE Network, join us as we celebrate the “Italian Strongman’s” 81st birthday by checking out these classic matches and moments and letting us know what you think.
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Until next week, see ya at ringside!
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