Italian-born American professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino passed away in his sleep at the age of 82 on April 18 2018. Sammartino was best known for his work with the WWWF(World Wide Wrestling Federation) where he held the WWF World Heavyweight Championship for 2,803 days. This has been recorded as the longest single reign in the promotion’s history. His second reign was for over 11 years (4,040) days.
Bruno was born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy on October 6, 1935. His parents were Alfonso and Emilia Sammartino. He was one of seven children, four of his siblings passed away during his early childhood. When he and his family came to America they did not speak a word of English. Due to his inability to speak English and his sickly physic he was bullied in his school life.
Bruno turned to weightlifting and wrestling to build himself up and devoted his life to weightlifting. He almost got a berth in the 1956 U.S Olympic Team but it went to Paul Anderson. Among his many accolades, he even set the world record in the bench press with a lift of 565 pounds in 1959. He also became known for performing strongman stunts in the Pittsburgh area.
Bruno made his professional wrestling debut in Pittsburgh on December 17, 1959. He faced and pinned Dmitri Grabowski in a record-setting 19 seconds. On May 17, 1963, he pinned “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers to win the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion in 48 seconds. Some of his most memorable matches include: against Stan Stasiak for the WWWF Championship in 1973, Killer Kowalski, WWWF Championship in 1974 and Superstar Billy Graham, WWWF Championship in 1977.
Sammartino’s last match was at a WWF house show in Baltimore on August 29, 1987. There he teamed up with Hulk Hogan to defeat King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang in the main event. After that, he continued his job as a commentator for a year till 1988 when he retired from professional wrestling.