WWE History Vol. 2: The magnificent career of Bruno Sammartino
Who is the greatest WWE champion of all time?
This is a loaded question, and certainly subjective by its very nature. Not only is the question up to a matter of the individual tastes of wrestling fans and critics, but you also have to ask in what way was the champion great?
For example, Hulk Hogan was one of the most popular champions of all time, both in the WWE specifically, and pro wrestling in general. But the Hulkster is regarded as having, at best, adequate ring skills.
Then you look at a man like Brock Lesnar, who has enjoyed lengthy title reigns with sporadic appearances. While the average wrestling fan may rankle at his limited schedule, they cannot deny his mainstream appeal.
But, despite the numerous fantastic champions over the decades of WWE's existence, there is one which stands head and shoulders above the rest. That champion was Bruno Sammartino, the Italian born grappler who defeated Nature Boy Buddy Rogers in under a minute to capture his first WWE championship.
Bruno held the title for a staggering two thousand, eight hundred and three days. His reign stretched from the 1960s into the 1970s, during which time he was always the babyface hero defending his title against the villain of the month.
In this edition of WWE history, we look back on the life, legacy, and the amazing championship reign of Bruno Sammartino, the Hall of Fame member who helped make wrestling what it is today.
Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino was born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy, to Alfonso and Emilia Sammartino on October 6, 1935. The youngest of seven children, he was sickly in his extreme youth due to the deplorable conditions of Italy under the reign of the brutal Mussolini dictatorship.
At the age of four, he emigrated to the United States with his family. As an immigrant child who spoke little English, and being relatively puny due to the deprivations of war, he was a frequent target for bullying by his peers.
In order to stave off the bullies, Sammartino turned to amateur wrestling and powerlifting. His sickly frame soon gave way to a bulked up, magnificent physique which remains impressive even by modern standards. At first, it seemed like Sammartino was destined for a powerlifting career. He nearly made the US Olympic team in 1956, though he lost his spot to eventual gold medalist Paul Anderson.