Bruno Sammartino, a WWE Hall of Famer who is not only known as "The Living Legend," but is seen by many as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, has passed away. He was 82.
Sammartino, who was born in Italy, came to the United States in 1950. After taking up weightlifting as a way to bulk up against the numerous bullies that he came in contact with, Sammartino shined, almost making the 1956 U.S. Olympic weightlifting team. While he also did some bodybuilding, he pursued wrestling, training at the University of Pittsburgh (due to his high school not having a wrestling team). After impressing many with his moves and stunts, Sammartino was put on TV, where he was seen by wrestling promoter Rudy Miller, who recruited Sammartino to be a pro wrestler.
Through the late '50s and early '60s, Sammartino competed in a number of federations before winning his first heavyweight championship for the World Wide Wrestling Federation (which eventually became today's WWE) on May 17, 1963 from "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. Sammartino managed to take the belt from Rogers in 48 seconds, and held the WWWF Heavyweight Championship until January 18, 1971. That 2,803-day reign (which factors out to seven years, eight months, and one day) is recognized by the WWE as the longest reign of their heavyweight championship, ever.
Sammartino held the Heavyweight Championship for a second time, this time holding a reign of 1,237 days (from December 10, 1973 to April 30, 1977). That would give Sammartino the longest combined reign as WWE Champion, holding the title for an astonishing 4,040 days. For some perspective, the second-longest reigning champion is Hulk Hogan, who was a WWE Heavyweight Champion for 2,185 days.
Sammartino's eleven-year reign as champion is the longest reign of all time, regardless of the the wrestling organization. During his time on top, Sammartino was a major draw, not only headlining the first pro wrestling event at Madison Square Garden, but selling out the Garden 187 times. Bruno also packed houses outside of New York City, bringing in 35,000 people to see him battle his former protégé Larry Zbyszko at Shea Stadium inside of a steel cage.
Fun fact: Bruno Mars' father was originally from Brooklyn, New York. As the story goes, Mars (born Peter Gene Hernandez) resembled Sammartino so much that his father decided to start calling him "Bruno" around the time Mars was two years old.
While Sammartino did spend some time disagreeing with the changes being made in the WWE, he did reconcile with the organization, and was finally inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2013.
CBS Pittsburgh is reporting that Sammartino passed with his wife and kids at his side; he's said to have been battling illness for months. After the WWE offered their condolences, many Superstars posted messages about Sammartino on social media.
Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man...— Triple H (@TripleH) April 18, 2018
A true friend...and one of the toughest people I've ever met.
My thoughts are with his entire family. #RIPBrunoSammartino #AmericanDream
I will always have an enormous amount of respect & admiration for Bruno Sammartino. I can’t thank him enough for always being kind to me & taking time to have a genuine conversation. Condolences to his family & loved ones.— ShinigamE (@WWEBigE) April 18, 2018
Bruno Sammartino is a wrestling Legend— Tommy Dreamer (@THETOMMYDREAMER) April 18, 2018
Honored to have had many conversations with him
When I was w/him I knew I was w/pure class & greatness
Celebrate his life watch 1of his matches today
I was humbled he even knew my name
I'm very sad pic.twitter.com/RfD1XIQYo9
Nothing today can happen without what he did back then. Rest in power and thank you Bruno Sammartino. pic.twitter.com/JEuHPUh3fJ— Cody Rhodes (@CodyRhodes) April 18, 2018
I had no idea that Bruno Mars' name is an ode to Bruno Sammartino.— Corey Erdman (@corey_erdman) April 18, 2018
R.I.P. to a wrestling legend. pic.twitter.com/phSOjB0cVk
Rest in peace, Bruno Sammartino. And thank you.