Bruno Sammartino "The Living Legend"
Chris Yandek - New Era Of Wrestling & The Sports
is without a doubt wrestling's living legend today.
Bruno Sammartino sure has achieved everything you
would want to as a two time WWWF World Heavyweight
Champion. But more importantly he is living well,
and still working out while being 67. I had the opportunity
to speak to Bruno in a very long biographical interview
of his entire career.
off how are you?
am happy to say I am doing great. I just went through
some major back surgeries, but everything went well,
and I am back doing to pumping iron, so everything
went well, and everything is doing well."
are your thoughts on the WWE and the wrestling business
in general today?
think I have made my point pretty strong. I am not
sure, but I bet you or some other people saw me on
the Phil Donahue show or Larry King Live with Vince
McMahon, but my point is that I have been on many
shows speaking about the changes in wrestling since
I left, and frankly I am not a fan of it at all. I
am very disappointed in the direction that they took
wrestling with the nudity, vulgarity, and profanity.
It was very upsetting to me to be perfectly honest,
and the worries to do, all the deaths that are drug
related, and then again it's very sad to watch the
business I was in for 23 years come down to where
are your thoughts on Vince McMahon Jr., as far as
where he has taken the wrestling business, and you
also had your chance to work with Vince McMahon Jr.,
as a color commentator? How different is he from Vince
Vince McMahon Sr., to be perfectly honest, there were
times when him and me didn't agree on things. I was
very anti gimmick, and to a certain degree he preferred
some of it, but I wouldn't even compare him to his
son. I don't think so. I did some color commentating
to Vince McMahon, Jr. from 1978 to 1981, and we worked
well as a color commentating team, but it was the
old style wrestling. I retired in 1981, and then Vince
McMahon, Jr. called me to come back after his father
passed away, but I came back and saw all these changes,
and told him I just didn't care for it, and it was
time for me to move on."
May 17th, 1963 you defeated Buddy Rogers in 47 seconds
to become the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion at Madison
Square Garden. What are your thoughts on that night?
that was quite a night. The place was sold out, but
back when they called it the felt forum. It was sold
out downstairs and held another 4,500 people. That
night was great for me because for the first year
or two I had been kinda struggling, but then I went
to Canada for a year and a half and did well. When
I was offered the chance at Madison Square Garden,
two things came to mind: first, how the crowd received
me, but also a little bit of nervousness, and I was
a little concerned about that because I didn't know
if the fans would accept me. As time went on I got
more and more confidence and the arenas doing well.
I had come from being born in Europe and knowing nothing
but misery, hunger, and pain, and all of the sudden
I am the top gun over here. I sometimes wondered if
I had dreamed it all. It was great."
promoters Toots Mondt and Vince McMahon, Sr. literally
dragged Buddy Rogers out of his hospital bed, took
him to the garden, put the new belt around his waist,
and sent him to the ring for the quick pin by you.
Do you think that was fair to Buddy Rogers, and even
possibly disrespectful to the wrestling business that
a man with a heart condition was dragged out of his
bed by the promoters to lose a title to you, and could
not have been done at a later date?
is not one ounce of truth in that. This was Buddy
Rogers after losing the belt who made these claims
in a couple appearances that he made. Let me tell
you a little story that happened here in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. I used to come home from Toronto, Canada
twice a month every Sunday because we would be at
the Maple Leaf Garden shows every other Sunday. They
had a show at the Civic Arena, but those were the
days of the Buddy Rogers era, and Vince McMahon Sr.
was trying to get me to come back because he saw my
success in Canada. I told him that the only way I
would come back is if he put me in the ring with Buddy
Rogers for the title. I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
in that territory, and Vince McMahon, Sr. was near
bankruptcy because that was how poorly this place
was doing. Pittsburgh has a new arena, which was the
Civic Arena that held 19,000 people, and Buddy Rogers
came in with a big cigar strutting around, and by
the time it was 8:00pm he went to look at the audience,
and the place was empty. I don't think there were
1,500 people in the joint. Buddy Rogers was a funny
guy, and he thought he wasn't going to wrestle under
these conditions, and back then we didn't have contracts
like today, but more or less we strictly got paid
on the gate. When Buddy Rogers saw the attendance
he wanted to get out of there, and he told the doctor
he felt a funny pain on his chest, and then when the
doctor heard that he called Paul Sullivan who was
the head of the state athletic commission, and the
doctor who was at every show said to Paul Sullivan,
'I am checking Buddy Rogers blood pressure and I am
listening to his chest and everything sounds ok, but
he claims that he has a pain in his chest. I don't
know if I should allow him to go in the ring.' When
Pat Sullivan heard that he immediately stopped Buddy
Rogers from going to the ring, but he also informed
all the state athletic commissions that he was revoking
his license until they found out if in fact there
was a problem. When Vince McMahon, Sr. and Totts Mondt
heard about this of course they got him to come to
Washington, DC, and they put him in a famous hospital
over there. Buddy Rogers was examined and re-examined,
and they couldn't find a thing wrong with him, and
then after that his license was reinstated. If you
remember two weeks before the Madison Square Garden
show I wrestled him on TV in Washington, DC that was
live TV that went to New York. Buddy Rogers was wrestling
every day, and he was not in a hospital. To renew
your wrestling license every single year you had to
go before the state athletic commission, and get a
long physical exam, and I knew guys who couldn't wrestle
for reason or another, and they wouldn't renew their
Thesz in his book Hooker said about you, 'In fact,
he was a very limited performer with almost no wrestling
knowledge; his in ring product was limited pretty
much to strength moves and brawling. He never became
a star outside of his territory, but within this area,
he was the absolute king, the "Living Legend,"
as he was called, and his success had a lot to do
with incredible personal charisma.' What are your
thoughts on that?
always liked Lou Thesz. I wrestled him in Toronto,
Canada where we wrestled for one hour. When I first
came to this country the school that I went do didn't
have wrestling, but one of my friends was friends
with the coach at the University of Pittsburgh. I
used to walk from Shemi High School to the Pittsburgh
Field House at the University of Pittsburgh where
the Pittsburgh wrestlers trained. I worked out with
the Pittsburgh wrestlers for four years, and then
after that I was offered a scholarship for wrestling,
but it was going to a year to year scholarship where
I had to prove myself wrestling wise and academically.
I wasn't concerned wrestling wise because I was doing
well, but academically I was concerned because I couldn't
speak a word of English when I came to this country.
It wasn't a piece of cake for me going through high
school with learning the language, reading, and so
forth. I was barely a C student. I remember some of
the Pittsburgh wrestlers would complain that they
would be up at 4:00am, and I thought if it was hard
for these guys, then what would my chance be to make
it when I was struggling in high school? My father
at the same time knew an Italian contractor, and my
dad thought that learning a trade was the greatest
thing in the world. This guy told my dad that he could
me in to the carpenters union because that was the
easiest union to get into, and he could get me in
as an apprentice. After wrestling with all this for
a while I decided to go in carpentry, and while I
was doing construction I still went up and wrestled
at Pittsburgh. That is Lou Thesz's opinion and that
is fine, but I wonder how he came to determine that
because there are other wrestlers who might tell you
differently. I just don't know where he got those
opinions, but when I wrestled Lou Thesz I thought
I had a good match with him. I think anyone whoever
wrestled me would tell you I was in great shape in
the ring. I guess I would answer by saying I fully
respect but disagree with Lou Thesz on his thoughts
1965 you were supposed to have a title versus title
match with Lou Thesz that never happened at Madison
Square Garden, and it would have unified two of the
three important existing titles, and made important
money for everyone involved if it would have occurred.
It would have also been featured on closed circuit
TV, and you would have been the planned winner. What
are your thoughts on the match that never happened?
never happened because of me. They didn't let me in
on such plans that were made a Vince McMahon, Sr.,
Totts Mondt, Sam Muchnick, and others were meeting.
I really am not sure who was there. I know that Lou
Thesz was in one or two of those meetings. I was never
in any meeting, and nothing was discussed with me.
Phil Zacko who was a friend of mine told Vince McMahon,
Sr. and Totts Mondt to talk to me, and see what I
thought about it because I found out later that Sam
Muchnick the head of the NWA was demanding 17 days
out of the month for the champion to use to book on
their shows. Vince McMahon Sr. thought there were
too many major clubs in the Northeast, and wanted
to have to have the champion for at least 18 days
a week. The big problem was the days as far as who
was going to get what days. I called a meeting together
with Toots Mondt, Vince McMahon Sr, and Phil Zacko,
and I said, 'I know you have been having this meeting
about the unification of the titles, but let me make
one thing perfectly clear, I don't care who gets how
many days, but remember I am on the road all the time,
and I do have a wife and a kid. I want all four Sundays
in the month off, and my parents are getting old,
and I need to go home and be with my family.' That
took care of everything. I know that Totts Mondt was
never crazy about the idea. He told he was against
it because we were doing so great at the time, and
it was the NWA who wanted to do this because they
weren't doing so great. Vince McMahon, Sr. told Sam
Muchnick that they wanted the champion for 18 days,
but the least they could do was 16, and Sam Muchnick
wasn't going for 10 days since I already requested
not to work the four Sundays of the month, and that
is what killed the deal."
head promoter Sam Muchnick could have easily forced
Lou Thesz into this match, but if he did Lou Thesz
says in his book, 'It only means I'll do what you
order me to do. I'll take the match. But I won't lose.
It will be a contest, and I'll simply go out there
and beat him. If you want to order me to this match
to take this match with Bruno Sammartino, then I'll
have to do it. What I'm telling you, though, is I
plan to beat him. You know and Vince McMahon, Sr.
and Toots Mondt know and I'm sure Bruno Sammartino
knows I can do it, too.' What are your thoughts on
all of that, and as far as if that match would have
happened, and Lou Thesz would have done a real contest
have never heard that, but I do believe you. My answer
would have been very simple. If that is how he felt,
then let him do what he says he is going to do. I
am willing to go in there, and see if he is right
or wrong as far as what he says he is going to do."
are your thoughts on Toots Mondt and Vince McMahon,
Sr. as the wrestling promoters for the New York office?
the beginning it was a bad experience, but when I
became champion it was ok. There were a lot of things
we didn't agree with, but it was ok. I don't want
to make it sound like it was terrible because it wasn't."
January 18th, 1971 you were defeated by Ivan Koloff
and lost the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship,
which was a title you held for eight years. Do you
think people were surprised when you dropped the title
weren't surprised. They were in total shock. I thought
something was wrong with me because when Ivan Koloff
came off the top rope with his knee across my throat
he did land pretty hard, and I thought that something
happened to my hearing because if Ivan Koloff was
the villain, I expected boos, and I couldn't hear
a single thing. Arnold Skaaland came over to help
me up, and I said, 'Arnold. Something is wrong with
my ears.' Then he said something to me and I heard
him well. As I was walking back to the dressing room
a lot of people were literally crying saying that
they still loved me, and that made me feel awful.
It made me feel bad that those fans felt sad. I was
looking ahead because when I lost the title it would
give me time to go home and recuperate. They had me
going seven days a week and I was hurting. Anyone
who knows me knows that I would never take an aspirin
or pain killer in my life, and I was really hurting
as I needed time for myself to heal my body. I didn't
not expect to the fans to be upset like they were."
December 10th, 1973 you won the WWWF World Heavyweight
Championship one more time with a victory over Stan
Stasiak in Madison Square Garden. What are your thoughts
on that night?
didn't want any part of it. This had been going on
for quite a while. After losing the belt to Ivan Koloff,
I really started to love the business again because
Sam Muchnick would call me to come to St. Louis, and
I wouldn't accept any other matches for that week.
I teamed up Dick The Bruiser in the Midwest, and we
would go to Chicago, Illinois, Indianapolis, Indiana,
and I would take those two days with him, and nothing
else. I would go to Japan for ten days, and then I
wouldn't take any bookings for ten days after I got
back. At times my body felt good and I loved the business,
but when Vince McMahon, Sr. approached me about taking
that position again that I wanted no part of, and
Vince McMahon, Sr. said, 'All I am asking for is one
year so we can get someone really ready to take over
that position.' I told Vince McMahon, Sr. one year,
but one year went to two, and they were still searching,
and two went to three, and then I broke my neck in
a match with Stan Hansen. I then told Vince McMahon,
Sr. that if he didn't get someone real quick that
I was retiring. In 1977 Superstar Billy Graham came
into the picture."
April 26th, 1976 you lost to Stan Hansen in a match
where he ended up breaking your neck in Madison Square
Garden. What are your thoughts on that?
was kinda frightening. If I remember right then sixth
and seventh cervical vertebras were damaged, and I
came within a millimeter of being paralyzed from the
neck down. That was a very frightening situation,
and to make things worse while I am in the hospital,
Vince McMahon, Sr. got involved in the match between
Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali. I was supposed to
be in that match with Muhammad Ali, but Vince McMahon,
Sr. couldn't raise the six million dollars, and the
Japanese sure did so that's how it ended being Antonio
Inoki. That match was a box office disaster. Vince
McMahon, Sr. at this time had committed so much to
the Northeast as well. Vince McMahon, Sr. contacted
me in the hospital and said, 'If I don't make the
match between you and Stan Hansen, we will be going
into bankruptcy.' I said, 'How can I do that when
I have this gadget on my head?' He said, 'The match
is three months away, and by that time you will be
a lot better.' After I left the hospital and went
home he called me and said, 'You don't have to do
anything. We will make the match real short, and it
will save the company. Without this match the company
is going to go under.' The closed circuits made great
business on the match, but everywhere else worldwide
they died with that match."
April 30th, 1977 in Baltimore, Maryland you lost the
WWWF World Heavyweight Championship to Superstar Billy
Graham. What were your thoughts on that match as it
ended your last run as the world champion?
was glad because I didn't want part of one year much
less four years. Some people thought I retired, but
I never retired like people thought the first time.
I just wanted to go at my pace, and I wanted to choose
where I wanted to go in the territories. I went where
I wanted to go at my own pace, and now I was going
to the same thing here. But then came 1980 when my
neck went was bothering me, and I was having some
back problems for quite some time. I stayed around
long enough in 1981 to wrestle in Meadowlands against
George Steele on October 4th, and October 5th I boarded
a plane, and for the next ten days I did a tour of
Japan, and I was done and retired."
are your thoughts on the cage match at Showdown at
Shea Stadium on August 9th, 1980 when you defeated
one of your former protégés, Larry Zbyszko?
was a good match, but it wasn't as good as the matches
I had with Ivan Koloff. I had my first cage match
with Ivan Koloff in Madison Square Garden, and I thought
that was the best cage match I was ever in, but the
one in Shea Stadium was great because we had over
44,000 to 45,000 people there. The reaction from the
people was awesome. I have to say it was a great cage
match, but it was at the end of my career. I hope
it was as good as I thought it was, but I never thought
it was good as the Ivan Koloff match."
are your thoughts on your son David Sammartino as
as a wrestler I thought his mechanics in the ring
were very good. For one thing I think it is fair to
say that I don't think he was given the full opportunity
to see how far he could go. Would he have gone far?
I really don't know. David was good in the ring as
far as his mechanics, but as far as his interviews,
which are very important, he wasn't the best at, and
wrestling was changing drastically. It became more
important than just to be a wrestler. You have to
be more of a gimmick, and I don't know if he could
have played in that part. I don't think he would have
done well as a character playing something than he
already had been. I think he would have had a better
chance to make it my days than in the new era day."
currently have three original movies under your belt.
Tell me about all of these including Legends Never
Die, which features Roddy Piper.
Piper as you know went back to WWE, and you listen
to him in this particular tape you would have never
thought that he would go back to the WWE because he
was very open about his feelings. Mick Foley was pretty
out spoken, and Ivan Koloff, and some others. I like
the other one which is called The Boys are Back, because
it's a lot of wrestlers talking about their experiences,
but you see some of the on goings with the promoters,
talent, bitterness, feuds, suspensions, black balling,
and things like that. It is different guys talking
about their experiences including myself because back
in 1961 I was black balled."
are your thoughts on Hulk Hogan?
don't care to say much about him because you're getting
into the chemical age, and I am not a big fan of Hulk
can you tell us about your experiences working out
at Mid City Gym in New York City?
I started working out there the owner was a good friend
by the name of Tom Minichello who would come in and
work out with me. You could run into anyone in his
gym like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergio Oliva. It
was a great gym that was so well equipped that it
wasn't one of these beautiful places where you have
all these machines. This was a place where you trained.
It had the Olympic bars and dumb bells. This was a
gym for people who were real serious about their training."
it true that you had one of the best bench presses
of your time, and in that gym it was not uncommon
for you to bench in excess of 315 pounds for 40 repetitions?
did 330 pounds for 38 repetitions non stop. I did
565 as my best with a two second pause on the chest."
can you tell us about Mark Tendler and Lou Sedan ?
Were they your training partners?
Mark Tendler worked out, but he wasn't a guy who handled
those kinda weights. I would bump into him once in
a while, and he had a lot of jobs, and he would come
in for a short workout and do some curls or whatever.
Lou Sedan took it seriously and was a good wrestler.
He was very respectable in the weights that he handled,
and he trained regularly."
are your memories of Tony Cosenza, Rocky Johnson,
and Tom Minichello who owned Mid-City gym, which was
a hot bed for wrestlers to train in New York City?
Cosenza I didn't know in his prime because he was
a little bit older then me. I knew him well, and was
as nice as a guy I have ever met, and I always heard
he was a pretty strong guy and a good wrestler, but
I never saw him live or worked out with him. I know
he was a very strong guy. Rocky Johnson was more of
a body builder to make his body look good. I used
to compete in Olympic style lifting and power lifting,
so if you're competing you're doing heavy training,
and if you're a body builder then you're training
to perfect the body, and its a whole different training
altogether. Some of them had great physiques, but
they were not great listeners as they were just body
builders. I thought that Tommy was a real classy guy,
and ran a great gym, and for a little guy of 160 pounds
he was strong, and I saw him push 300 pounds over
the bench, but he was as a guy, and fair as a guy
you would ever want to meet. I was a judge in many
of the contests he had when Arnold Schwarzenegger
won the Mr. Olympia. I got a kick out of seeing all
these great body builders and was one of the judges."
you know strength game legend and historian Vic Boff
who recently passed away?
met him a few times. He was quite a guy. He was 87
years old when I met him. He was such a heck of a
guy who had a sharp mind talking about old timers.
He was just a library of knowledge of the whole weight
lifting game and a nice guy."
role did strength training play in your wrestling
I first came from Europe I was an 80 pound weakling
and 14 years old, and me and my brother were always
being picked on, and there was this Jewish kid by
the name of Maurice Sime who felt bad for us said
if we came to the YMHA, that he would show us how
to work out with weights. The first time I went there,
and I touched the weights I thought this was for me.
It was almost an instant addiction, and I started
really training, and then they had a wrestling program
so that's how I got interested in that. I would go
every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and work on the
mat. I became in love with Olympic lifting, Olympic
wrestling, and power lifting."
message do you have for aspiring athletes that will
keep them away from bad influences such as steroids?
have done so much of that as far as trying to talk
to kids in schools, and the young minds have such
a young hurry to get there, and become the best they
can be, and sometimes you can talk and talk to them.
I would say two things, number one when you build
your body by using these chemicals you are not a building
a legitimate body, and for example if these guys have
to get off the chemicals, then their body deteriorates
like they haven't worked out in two years. I remember
when I was in California I went to the Gold's Gym,
and I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger, and how deflated
he was that he hadn't touched a weight for about a
year. The other thing is supposed to be healthy, stronger,
and better. I imagine you have heard about Superstar
Billy Graham, and there have been so many young deaths
due to these chemicals. I guess they always think
it will happen to the other guy and not me. I was
very open about my thoughts on steroids when I did
announcing with Vince McMahon, Jr. in the WWE, and
they didn't like that. They're going to do it any
way they can and not listen."
you currently workout?
naturally do work out. Right now I do six days a week,
and on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I have a gym
here, and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I hit the
road. After I broke my neck I went down from 275 down
to 248. I got into running a whole lot after retirement.
I can still do the 100 pound dumb bells for bench
pressing, and 50 pound dumb bells for curling. I don't
train like the old days."
do you think of today's crop of wrestlers? Are they
all show and no go?
you mentioned some of these wrestlers today I wouldn't
know who you were talking about. I just don't watch
it because I love this business, and I am very bothered
by it. One of my kids once told me to turn on the
TV and Steve Austin is the world champion, and he
is chugging beer and every other word is getting bleeped
out, they had someone crucified once or buried alive,
and Vince McMahon once has his pants down, and he
wants this little guy to kiss his ass. I am an old
timer, what is there to understand? Do you consider
this stuff appropriate stuff?"
advice would you give to aspiring wrestlers and what
they need to do to succeed?
I think it's very hard because in my day we had about
20 to 30 different territories, and right now it's
only the WWE. I see it as a very bleak time for someone
new to become a professional wrestler."
thoughts, and your thoughts on your website
think it is going good. We made new prints of my autobiography,
and we do have a lot of different things over there."
Sammartino official website
to the interview with Bruno Sammartino
Era of Wrestling
Yandek - 31st August 2002
Yandek - 4th July 2003
Yandek - 10th December 2003
Roddy Piper - April 2003