Sunday, April 22, 2018
Bruno Sammartino, an immigrant from Italy who was heavyweight champion of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) for a record 11 years in the 1960s and ’70s, died this week at age 82. His death was announced on the website of WWE, the organization also known as World Wrestling Entertainment, a successor of the WWF.
In his prime, Sammartino was one of the most popular performers in wrestling. He wrestled in Australia, Spain, Mexico, Canada and Japan, and often drew gates of 20,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York, where he had more than 200 matches.
Sammartino was born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy in 1935. When he was four, his father immigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During World War II, his mother hid Bruno and his siblings from German soldiers in a mountain called Valla Rocca. During this time, his mother would sneak into their German-occupied town for food and supplies.
When the Sammartinos later arrived in the United States, Bruno spoke no English and was sickly from the deprivation of the war years. This made him an easy target for bullies in high school. He turned to weightlifting and wrestling to build himself up. Bruno's devotion to weightlifting nearly resulted in a berth on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team.