THE BRUNO VORTEX
The following passages actually appeared in a major daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, regarding wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino, a Pittsburgh native:
* In 1963, after he was shut out of U.S. wrestling shows because he refused to take dives, Sammartino was wrestling out of Toronto as a Canadian champion.
* Then promoter Vince McMahon Sr. needed someone to go up against World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Buddy Rogers. It would be in Madison Square Garden, the epicenter of the wrestling universe, on May 17, 1963.
"When we were introduced in the center of the ring, I told Buddy to forget whatever they told him was going to happen. I told him to do his best because I was going to do my best," Sammartino said.
Seconds after the opening bell, Sammartino scooped up the champion and body-slammed him to the canvas.
Then he hoisted Rogers onto his shoulder and applied a closing hold known as the pendulum backbreaker.
"I told him to give up or I was really going to break his back," Sammartino said.
Uh, "refused to take dives?" Co-opting the Lou Thesz-Buddy Rogers title change story, tossing in a threat to actually do grievous bodily harm for good measure? Treating pro wrestling – from any era – as legit?
It’s all part of being sucked into the Bruno Sammartino vortex.
To be fair, the Post-Gazette is honoring Sammartino at its annual Dapper Dan Dinner, a charity fundraiser. It’s easier to sell tickets if you have Sammartino’s cooperation, and the only way to get Sammartino’s cooperation is to agree with/print everything he says, even if it’s totally ridiculous. Especially if it’s totally ridiculous.
There’s a lot about Sammartino that’s legitimately legendary. Tremendous draw, almost at the level of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan. Solid ethnic babyface. Dedicated to his craft.
But, at 74, his bitterness when it comes to wrestling has made him absolutely mental. Bruno tells anyone who will listen that it was real when he did it, then criticize latter-day fakery and glitz in the same breath. Bruno doesn’t protect the business, he protects himself, considering himself somehow noble in the process.
To clarify: Bruno Sammartino was never involved in a pro wrestling match – not one – where the outcome wasn’t predetermined, where the promoter didn’t pick the winner. That includes his WWWF title win over Rogers, which lasted just 48 seconds because Rogers had suffered a mild heart attack not long before. Rogers never again wrestled regularly save a brief comeback in the late ‘70s.
But Bruno claims it was a shoot. He may even actually believe that.