Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino is an Italian-American former professional wrestler, best known for being the longest-running champion of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), holding the title across two reigns for over 11 years in total, as well as the longest single WWWF Championship reign in professional wrestling history. Born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzi, Italy on October 6, 1935, Sammartino was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. Four of Bruno's older siblings died during his time in Italy. During his childhood, Sammartino's family hid from German soldiers in a mountain called Valla Rocca, during the latter stages of World War II. During this time, Sammartino's mother, Emilia, would sneak into their German-occupied town for food and supplies. She once was captured and another time shot in the shoulder during such trips. Eventually, Sammartino caught rheumatic fever but was nursed back to health by his mother with hot blankets and leeches. In 1950, he moved to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his father Alfonso had already lived for several years.
At a young age Sammartino became devoted to weight training. Sammartino became known for performing strongman stunts in the Pittsburgh area, and sportscaster Bob Prince put him on his television show. It was there that he was spotted by wrestling promoter Rudy Miller, who recruited Sammartino for professional wrestling. Sammartino made his professional debut in 1959, pinning Jack Vansky in 19 seconds. Also in 1959 Bruno married his longtime girlfriend Carol.
Sammartino's first match in Madison Square Garden in New York City was January 2, 1960 against Bull Curry. Within six months of his debut in wrestling, Sammartino was headlining at Madison Square Garden. Sammartino made major headlines when he became the first and only man to lift the 640 lb Haystacks Calhoun in a match. He won the WWWF World Championship title on May 17, 1963, defeating "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in just 48 seconds. Sammartino kept this title for seven years, eight months, and one day and it still stands as the longest world title reign in wrestling history. A record that will most likely never be broken. Sammartino defended the belt all over the world, including Australia, Spain, Mexico and Japan. Bruno was honored with a private audience with the Pope in the Vatican during this period.
On January 18, 1971, Sammartino lost the championship at Madison Square Garden to Ivan Koloff. The crowd was so stunned into silence that Sammartino thought his hearing had been damaged. After the pin Koloff slowly walked across the ring while the ref raised his hand three times. The announcer came into the ring with the belt but fearful of a riot, did not present it to Koloff. Koloff left the ring while Sammartino stayed inside to keep the crowd's attention off Koloff. As Sammartino left the ring, people started crying. On December 10, 1973, Sammartino regained the WWWF Championship, defeating Stan Stasiak. He defeated contenders such as Bruiser Brody, Ivan Koloff, "Superstar" Billy Graham and Nikolai Volkoff. His second title run lasted three years, four months, and twenty days. In early 1977, after suffering a broken neck, Bruno informed Vince McMahon Sr. that he was done with his second title reign. It ended on April 30, 1977, when he was defeated by "Superstar" Billy Graham in a controversial ending. Graham illegally had both feet on the ropes while pinning Sammartino. Sammartino's last major run came during the mid-1980's and his most notable feud during this run was with "Macho Man" Randy Savage. In late 1985 and early 1986, Sammartino engaged in a feud with Rowdy Roddy Piper and Bruno defeated Piper in a steel cage match at the Boston Garden.
Sammartino's last major series of matches came in the summer of 1987 against The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Title. Although he dominated the matches against the champion Honky, Sammartino never won the title, winning most of his matches by count out or disqualification. Sammartino's final WWF match saw him team with Hulk Hogan to defeat King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang. He continued doing commentary for the WWF until March 1988. Bruno Sammartino is, and will always be, the only 11-year, first ever 2-time WWWF champion. Bruno headlined New York's Madison Square Garden 211 times and sold out MSG an astounding 187 times during his career ! Through all these years this astounding record has never been broken by any other sports or entertainment figure. With sheer will and determination Bruno overcame many obstacles throughout his personal and professional life to become one of the most popular and respected wrestlers of all time, he made pro wrestling, himself and the WWWF household names throughout the world earning him the title of wrestling's "Living Legend." Sammartino and his wife of over 50 years, Carol, have three sons - David, Darryl and Danny. They also have four grandchildren, three boys and one girl. Today, Bruno and Carol continue to live a happy life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.