1. The Living Legend
I’m an olde, olde man… but even I’m not old enough to have been a Bruno Sammartino fan. The temptation was strong to relegate the WWWF’s ‘Living Legend’ to second place, and place the Dream first – but I’m engaged in writing The Truth with these articles, and The Truth of the matter is that no one, living or dead, has ever held a wrestling crowd’s heart and soul in their hands like Sammartino.
One of the greatest icons of all time, Sammartino held the World Heavyweight title on two occasions, which may not seem like a lot compared to someone like John Cena… that is, until you realise that the first reign was from May 17th 1963 to January 18th 1971, over seven and a half years. In total, his two reigns cover eleven years (or 4,040 days).
Sammartino was the most popular wrestler in America for twenty years, a man whose personal charisma and character were such that he rivaled, if not exceeded Hogan’s popularity in the 1980s. But while Hogan performed as a superhero type, a huge no-selling babyface superstar, Sammartino was a blue collar favourite, the icon of families across half of America.
His epic feud with former protege Larry Zybysko in 1980 made Zybysko a star and proved that Sammartino’s time wasn’t over. Bruno was, though: still so over, in fact, that heel Zybysko would be regularly assaulted for the unspeakable crimes he’d committed against the people’s favourite. He was stabbed, beaten and once, the taxi he travelled in was attacked and overturned.
Sammartino was to wrestling what Ali was to boxing. He drew crowd exceeding 30,000 at Shea Stadium not once, but three times. New Yorkers were so hot to buy tickets to his shows at the Garden that a closed circuit television was installed next door so that people who couldn’t buy tickets could see him wrestle and so not riot. He brought families of all races and classes together.
There’ll never be another wrestler quite like him, especially these days with the eradication of kayfabe.