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Posted in: LOP Hall Of Fame
2017 LOP Hall of Fame Inductee: Bruno Sammartino
By Steven Bell
Apr 2, 2017 - 9:30:56 AM

Bruno Sammartino
Class of 2017

The world is at war.

In Nazi occupied Italy, a young family struggles to survive. Having been forced to evacuate their own home the wake of the invasion of their small village amid panic, gunshots and the fallen bodies of their fellow villagers too slow to avoid the onslaught, they trekked their way up a nearby mountain in an effort to avoid detection. There they lived, often surviving on nothing more than wildflowers and melted snow, for 14 months as the war raged all around them.

The father of this family, Alfonso, had immigrated to the United States a few years earlier in an attempt to make some money to send home to his struggling brood while hoping to set up a life away from the perils of war torn Europe. He had been cut off from all communication with them when the war had reached their native Italy, leaving only the matriarch of the clan to fend for her multiple children in the face of these almost insurmountable odds. Survive she did. When the youngest of the family fell ill from malnourishment and the sheer desperation of their living conditions, she would trek down the mountain to sneak into the now Nazi occupied village to search for any and everything that may help him thrive, constantly under fear of certain death were she to be discovered. She came close, even taking a bullet in the shoulder once as she slipped quietly in the night from their now former family home, but she somehow always managed to make the 24 hour trek to return to her broken family.

That sickly, malourished boy was named Bruno Sammartino. Despite the odds being stacked against him and legitimate fear that he wouldn't survive their ordeal, just as four of his six siblings had fallen before him, young Bruno dreamed of a better life. Of being reunited with his father, making his way against any and all odds. Bruno dreamed of freedom.

In 1950 his dream finally came true, as the war had ended and the Sammartinos were able to finally join Alfonso in America. Despite being small, frail and sickly upon their arrival, Bruno never lost sight of his dream, never forgot the struggle and perseverance of his parents to help him survive. Bruno never forgot what it meant to truly live.

By 1956 the once frail Bruno was a weightlifting champion, falling just short of making the Olympics. By 1959 he was setting world records for the bench press and a bodybuilding champion. By December of that same year, his world and the world of professional wrestling would be changed forever when he set foot into the ring for the first time.

The accolades are all very well known and are simply staggering. Bruno won the WWWF Championship for the first time in 1963 and would go on to hold the title for an unprecedented 2,803 days. That's over 7 and a half years. For comparison, that 2,803 days almost twice as long as the combined days of John Cena's 16 reigns and almost a full year longer than the combined days of Ric Flair's 16 reigns. He would go on to win the Championship a second time in 1973, only to hold it for another 1,237 days before losing the title for the final time in 1977. That's a combined 4,040 days as Champion, in excess of 11 years in total.

11 years.

The numbers don't tell the entire story, though. Just as history cannot be truly appreciated unless it has been lived through, to truly acknowledge Bruno's achievements one must look back to the world in which those 11 years encompassed. Bruno Sammartino wasn't just a wrestling champion as we know them to day, or even as we knew them in the 1990s or 1980s. Bruno wasn't on top of his territory for so long because he owned it, as was the case with many of his contemporaries, nor was he the champion for so long because he was the territory's only viable star. To the contrary, business in that era was booming for Vince McMahon, Sr.'s World Wide Wrestling Federation. Names like Freddie Blassie, The Sheik, Pedro Morales, Chief Jay Strongbow, Ivan Koloff, Bobo Brazil, Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon and even a young Andre the Giant were huge draws and names that live in rarefied air even to this day.

Bruno stayed on top because he was a hero. Not a hero in the modern sense, playing to the fans and warding off evildoers with a wink and a smile under the umbrella of what is widely known and acknowledged to be "sports entertainment". No, Bruno was a legitimate hero, an icon, to a rabid fanbase of pro wrestling fans. Fans who saw within him the reflection of their own struggles and those of their parents before them. In a territory, the Northeastern United States, that was and is to this day perhaps the greatest example of the US's melting pot society, Bruno Sammartino wasn't just A hero. Bruno Sammartino was THEIR hero. Bruno Sammartino was more than a man. He was a living example of what could be accomplished by the hard work and perseverance of someone who refuses to just lay down and die in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. Bruno Sammartino was an inspiration.

For the record, for those who like to point predominantly at numbers to determine legacy, he was also a massive draw. While numbers vary as to the amount of cards he headlined and how many sold out, what doesn’t vary is the fact that WWWF events at Madison Square Garden headlined by Bruno sold out in excess of 80% of the time. Regardless the method through which such things are measured, Bruno Sammartino was an undisputable giant within the professional wrestling industry.

He still is. Some 40 years after his final days as Champion, Bruno still stands as an example of strength and triumph for millions who still vividly recall living his story, his accomplishments, his legacy. Like Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth or Jim Brown, if you mention the words "greatest of all time" in the right mix of company and you'll still find those who will fight you over the fact that nobody is, was or ever has been Bruno Sammartino. Looking at the man's accomplishments, it's frankly difficult to argue otherwise.

From a sickly, fearful young boy, hiding from the Nazis while surviving on diet of flowers and snow atop a mountain, all the way to a paragon of strength and triumph, as valid and vivid an example of living the American Dream as one is likely ever to find, Bruno Sammartino has become many things over the course of his 80+ year journey.

Son. Father. Survivor.

Superstar. Champion. Inspiration.

Icon. Hero. Legend.

It is our distinct pleasure to welcome into the Lords of Pain Hall of Fame, The Living Legend, Bruno Sammartino.