Wrestler of the Day – August 17: Bruno Sammartino

Today’s wrestler is the original WWF superstar: Bruno Sammartino.

Bruno started in 1959 and the earliest I can find for him is 1963 in what might be the WWWF in Buffalo. I’m assuming this is the whole match.

Bruno Sammartino vs. Hans Schmidt

Bruno easily wins a forearm battle to start and knocks Schmidt out to the floor. Back in and Schmidt chokes with the tag rope and pounds away in the corner. Bruno is stomped down and has his head rammed into the buckle. He fights back but gets his hair puled to put him right back down. Some big forearms put Hans back outside and the stalling begins. He comes back inside and they slug it out until the bell rings, presumably for a time limit draw.

Rating: C. This is a hard one to rate as we didn’t see most of the match (fairly obvious given how fast the match ended) but what I saw wasn’t all that great. The interesting thing here though is how aggressive both guys were. This could have passed for your modern power brawl if you didn’t know what era it was from, which says a lot when this is over fifty years old.

We’ll jump ahead to the end of Bruno’s WWWF Title reign for this match from July 25, 1970 in Philadelphia.

Bruno Sammartino vs. George Steele

Gorilla Monsoon, the host of the tape this is from, says this is from sometime in the 60s but isn’t sure exactly when. That would likely be because it’s from the 1970s but he’s close enough. Back then Steele was a top heel so this would have been a big time fight. The cage is weird looking as it’s more or less wire walls rather than a traditional cage. Steele has riot gear police officers bring him out. This is still escape rules. Naturally the commentary is from the 80s rather than back in the day as there likely wasn’t commentary done for this originally.

This is clipped to an extent. Bruno hammers him as this is probably the culmination of what was a major feud. Steele looks identical to what he would for the rest of his career. Steele actually gets a low blow before eating a turnbuckle. He rubs the stuffing into Bruno’s eyes which blinds him but George won’t just leave. Apparently Styrofoam stuffing is blinding. This is in Philadelphia according to Monsoon.

Bruno gets rocked by Steele for a good while as the camera and lighting is really different here but of course at the time no one knew what to do from a production standpoint as this was a very new idea back then. Bruno Hulks Up as Steele pounds away and then runs as Bruno can’t be hurt. Sammartino destroys him by ramming him into the cage a bunch and then climbs out.

Rating: C-. Nothing great here but seeing something from this far back in time is always cool. Steele didn’t change a bit in about twenty years and was still completely awesome the whole time. This was a pretty ok match but the clipping didn’t help. Bruno was completely awesome in cages and this worked ok but at six minutes shown, how into a cage match can you get?

Here’s a fairly famous match from MSG on January 18, 1971.

Bruno Sammartino vs. Ivan Koloff

The footage is very old and of low quality so the details might be sketchy here. Also the match itself ran about fifteen minutes but only eight minutes of footage exists. Koloff grabs a quick headlock to start but is backdropped down as the champion escapes. A slam and an armbar put Koloff down but he grabs a headscissors to escape a cover. Bruno gets monkey flipped down but takes over with an armbar.

We’re clipped to later in the match and another armbar by Bruno. Either that or the referee has developed the powers of teleportation. We’re clipped again only seconds later to Koloff holding Bruno in a bow and arrow hold. For the third time in about 30 seconds we’re clipped to Bruno trying to escape the hold but Ivan holds him in place. Again we’re clipped to Ivan cranking on the hold even more. Bruno finally escapes the hold and turns it into one of his own but Ivan makes the rope.

They circle each other a bit and we’re clipped to them circling each other again. Bruno grabs a headlock but gets shoved off and shoulder blocked down. Koloff grabs another headlock and we’re clipped to Bruno being shoulder blocked down again. Bruno hooks a drop toehold into a leg lock but we’re clipped to further in the same hold. The champion stomps on the leg but we’re clipped to Koloff choking away. We’re immediately clipped again to Koloff stomping on Bruno before sending him hard into the corner.

Ivan keeps punching and kicking away and we’re clipped to him doing more of the same. This is one of the most clipped matches I’ve ever seen but for footage over 42 years old, there’s not going to be a much better option available. Koloff pounds away even more and we’re clipped to Bruno making his comeback with right hands to the ribs and a kick to the same place. A slam by Sammartino gets two and we’re clipped to him holding Ivan in a chinlock. We’re clipped again to a cover by the champion but Koloff is too close to the ropes.

We’re clipped again to Bruno hammering away and getting two off a punch to the ribs. Another clip takes us to Ivan in a chinlock again and another clip takes us to later in the same hold. The hold gets two and we’re clipped to Ivan sweeping Bruno’s leg out. We’re clipped yet again to Ivan doing the same thing before we’re clipped to Ivan kicking Bruno in the chest.

A fourth clip in fifteen seconds sees the referee accidentally being knocked down by Koloff in the corner but he’s right back up. Ivan slams Bruno down in the corner and goes up top, dropping a knee in the stomach of the champion. He covers Bruno and history is made as we have a new world’s champion for the first time since 1963.

Rating: C. The rating is based on what we were able to see. While it’s certainly not as intricate or flashy as the matches we regularly see today, there was definitely an energy to the match and nothing looked terribly bad. The problem here of course is the ridiculous amount of clipping, but from what I understand we saw about half of the match here, which is more than I’ve ever seen before.

We’ll jump ahead again to a tag match from some point in 1973.

Bruno Sammartino/Dick the Bruiser vs. Baron Von Raschke/Ernie Ladd

Baron and Bruiser get things going here with Von Raschke hiding from Dick’s right hand. Some shoulders put Baron down and a middle rope stomp is good for two. Ladd makes the save and Bobby Heenan is losing it. Bruiser hooks a chinlock and we’re clipped to Bruno coming in to face Ladd.

Bruno sends the much bigger Ladd into the buckle and knocks him over the top with a single right hand. He puts the boots to Ladd but gets shoved down by the Baron. Bruiser grabs Von Raschke by the face and sends him to the floor before doing the same to Ladd. Back in and Heenan breaks up a cover before Bruiser backdrops Baron. A cover gets two but Von Raschke gets his foot on the ropes…..which the referee pulls off and counts the three for a pin.

Rating: C+. Again better than I expected here though I’m assuming the referee was a bit crooked. This was a very different era where you could win a match on a backdrop and no one would think anything of it. Again I really like the energy out there and it made for a more entertaining match than I was expecting.

Here’s another match from the WWWF in 1974 on TV from Philadelphia. Bruno is champion again but I think this is non-title.

Bruno Sammartino vs. Mr. Fuji

Some armdrags put Fuji down to start and he looks shocked by Bruno’s speed. Fuji goes to the eyes like a true heel should, only to get whipped hard into the buckle to keep the champion in control. A slam puts Bruno down but he kicks away and grabs an armbar. The hold stays on long enough that we get a replay of the last few moments. Fuji comes back with another slam but misses a running splash.

We’re in the third armbar in five minutes and it’s time for another replay. Fuji comes back with a pectoral claw so Bruno just nails him in the jaw. It’s foreign object time and a rake to the eyes with whatever Fuji has is enough to take over. Bruno again comes right back with a knee to the ribs so Fuji goes to the eyes again. Vince: “There’s no telling what’s in the tights of Mr. Fuji.” Fuji goes up top but gets slammed down for two. A backdrop is enough to pin the evil Hawaiian.

Rating: D+. See what I mean about the times being different? If nothing else, the lesson we learn here is don’t get backdropped in the 1970s. The match was pretty dull with armbars that were long enough to air replays. To be fair though this was just a TV match so not a lot was going to happen.

Here’s the first ever cage match in MSG on December 15, 1975.

WWWF World Title: Bruno Sammartino vs. Ivan Koloff

This is inside a steel cage and is called the first ever cage match in Madison Square Garden. You can only win by going out of the cage. Koloff attacks to start the match but Bruno fires off right hands to send Koloff into the cage. Bruno sends him chest first into the buckle and fires off some knees to the face to keep control. Vince calls Koloff the favorite to win the match for some reason. Bruno pounds away even more and sends Ivan face first into the cage wall again.

Bruno stomps away on the back of the head before sending him into the cage again. All Bruno so far. Ivan comes back with a kick to the stomach to take over and now Sammartino tastes the steel. The champion comes back with more right hands and sends Ivan into the cage yet again. Bruno fights back with right hands and pulls Koloff back in as he tries to escape. The ring is especially loud in this match. Ivan goes face first into the cage three times in a row and make it four.

Koloff gets a boot up in the corner to put Sammartino down before dropping the top rope knee onto the champion’s ribs. Ivan is bleeding from the forehead. Bruno pounds away and hits a knee to the chest to keep Ivan in trouble. They seem to mess up a spot before colliding in the ring. A knee to the ribs staggers Ivan and Bruno sends him into the cage once more. Koloff is rammed into the cage again and again before being sent hard into the corner.

Ivan is now between the cage and the ring as Bruno turns up the aggression even more. He sends Koloff head first into whatever metal object he can find before choking with his boot. The champion rakes his boot over Koloff’s eyes and sends him into the cage yet again. There are two more shots into the cage before Bruno climbs out of the cage to retain his title.

Rating: D+. This was a rather short cage match and it was a glorified squash at the same time. Koloff was soundly defeated here which was the entire point of the match. Still though, it wasn’t incredibly exciting as the majority of the match was Bruno ramming Ivan into the cage over and over again. That being said, the fans loved Bruno and that’s the point of the game.

Another title defense from March 1, 1976.

WWWF World Title: Bruno Sammartino vs. Ernie Ladd

Ladd is a 6’9 former football player who was a powerhouse in his own right. The video is labeled as being from Madison Square Garden but it doesn’t look like that arena whatsoever. Ladd has a taped up thumb that the referee wants to take a closer look at. A quick armdrag by Bruno sets up an armbar but Ladd makes the rope. Bruno tries the same combination again and gets the same result. Ernie grabs a quick bearhug and Bruno is in some early trouble.

Ladd gets him down to the mat for a two count with the hold and puts his feet on the ropes for extra leverage. He gets caught too many times though and the referee finally breaks the hold. This time Ladd starts choking away but moves around fast enough to avoid the referee from seeing him. A big slap to the face puts Bruno down again. The champion comes back with a bunch of right hands including one that knocks Ladd out to the floor.

That goes nowhere so Bruno pulls him back in and whips Ladd into the corner. A backdrop puts Ernie down and there’s a boot to the head. Ladd is on the mat holding his head before getting back up and hitting the champ in the throat. A headscissor takeover gets two for Ladd but Bruno comes back with punches and knees to the ribs.

Sammartino rams Ladd into the buckle a few times but misses a charge into the corner. Ladd hits a football tackle to drop the champion and then does it again. A slam puts Bruno down and drives the taped thumb into Sammartino’s throat. Ernie goes up top for a splash but only hits canvas though, giving Bruno the pin to retain the title.

Rating: C-. While this was a somewhat more energetic match than some of the other ones that we’ve looked at, it’s still a pretty slow paced affair. Ladd was a huge power guy which doesn’t quite work against a smaller (5’10) powerhouse like Bruno. The match was decent enough though and it got a good reaction from the crowd, but it was still kind of dull to sit through. It’s a very different kind of wrestling that not all fans are going to like which is understandable.

Time for another pretty famous moment from Baltimore on April 30, 1977.

WWWF World Title: Bruno Sammartino vs. Billy Graham

The ring is especially wide here for some reason. They feel each other out a bit and Graham easily shoves Bruno around. Now Bruno shoves back and grabs an armbar for good measure. Graham makes the rope and heads to the floor for a bit before returning for a test of strength. Bruno goes down to his knees twice and even gets his shoulders counted a few times. The champ fights back and sends Graham to the floor to reset things a bit.

Back in and they fight over a top wristlock with Billy taking control again. Bruno fights back again and takes over with an armbar of his own. The challenger fights up and hits a knee to the ribs, sending Bruno down for some more stomping in the process. Graham goes to the throat to keep the advantage but misses a running knee in the corner. Bruno pounds away and Graham is busted open.

Billy comes back with a whip into the corner and it’s off to a bearhug on the champion. Bruno is in trouble all of a sudden but he fights up from his knees on the much taller Graham. Right hands to the head break the hold and there’s a hard whip into the corner by the champion. Now Sammartino hooks a bearhug of his own but Billy gets a rope. They fight in the corner with Bruno in full control. The referee tries to break it up though, allowing Graham to trip Bruno’s legs out from under him and roll Bruno up with his feet on the ropes for the pin and the title.

Rating: C. This wasn’t too bad but more importantly it showed what Graham could do in the ring. He was insanely powerful and had a flashy look as opposed to the bigger than average but still relatively normal look that dominated wrestling in the 70s. This was Bruno’s last match as champion and he went out in a pretty good way.

And a rematch on August 1, 1977.

WWF Title: Bruno Sammartino vs. Billy Graham

Gorilla is the guest referee for this one and good night is he huge. He shoves Graham around for trying to jump Bruno before the bell. He has no issue with Bruno doing the same though. Gorilla is also doing the voiceover thing here and says that more or less anything goes here. For the second time he says he’s 423lbs at this point. He won’t count Graham out because he says he’s not ending a title match with a count out.

Bruno was limited in his offense but at the same time that’s all you have to do. I think this is in Toronto but I’m not sure at all. Graham gets the feet and gets something from under the ring. Ah it’s a rope. Bruno chokes him with it and Gorilla isn’t as adamant about stopping that. According to Gorilla this is in MSG also but there’s no way given how this arena looks.

The idea here is that Bruno just wants the title back and Graham is trying to find a way to escape with it as his power isn’t working this time as Bruno might be stronger and is at least just as strong. Bruno works on the knee and hooks a half crab. We get a clip again as the hold is broken. That kind of sucks the drama out of matches and I’m not a fan of it at all.

Graham throws in a low blow and Gorilla seems to be ok with it. On the commentary he claims it might have been in the thigh. Yeah the hand being up around the trunks of Bruno really looks like a thigh shot Monsoon. Graham goes up top and misses a knee and Bruno is all fired up again. Ok never mind as he eats post. Billy goes out and gets the belt which Gorilla steals as well. Shame he didn’t do it before the belt hit Bruno’s cranium.

Bruno is BUSTED WIDE OPEN as I channel my inner Gorilla. Graham hits the floor to leave so Gorilla throws him back in the ring. Well you can’t say he’s not active. He says if you look hard enough in the rule book it’s in there. Graham might be busted too and now he can’t get back in the ring.

Gorilla won’t count which is kind of funny. Bruno is ALL FIRED UP and there’s the bearhug again. And there’s a shot to Gorilla but still no DQ. Now that Gorilla’s shirt is just covered in blood he has no real choice but to stop it. It’s kind of hard to question that and he points out that he didn’t have much of a choice.

Rating: B-. Another brutal fight here with all kinds of blood out there. Feuds back then were based more on what happened in the ring rather than what happened on the mic so it’s a very different kind of style. This was a pretty fun match though as Bruno just beat the living tar out of him and Graham kept trying to cheat no matter what he could do. I liked it though.

Time for one of the biggest feuds ever at the time. Starting on January 22, 1980.

Larry Zbyszko vs. Bruno Sammartino

Now THIS is some legendary stuff. This is the original match where it’s more of an exhibition than a match. Basically Bruno is the teacher who taught Larry everything he knows but Larry wants to prove he can hang with Bruno. This is from January of 1980. This is going to be all feeling out/nice guy stuff until the very end. Sammartino takes him to the mat with a drop toehold and has dominated the entire match so far.

Bruno keeps putting holds on Larry and then lets them go which is an odd choice of offense. Larry grabs an abdominal stretch but Bruno powers out of it. Half crab goes on Bruno but Larry lets it go. Sammartino grabs about his fifth hold and lets go of it too. They try a crisscross and Larry gets tossed over in a hiptoss. He’s getting very ticked off here.

Apparently Bruno said he’d only wrestle defensively in this match. Larry heads to the floor to cool his head and Bruno looks the other way for some reason. Larry comes back in and in the biggest heel turn ever at this point, DESTROYS Bruno with a wooden chair. There is blood all over the place. This was shocking and came out of absolutely nowhere. It also set up the hottest feud of the year which we’ll get to the blowoff of in a second.

Rating: C-. The match itself means nothing as the heel turn is the whole thing. This was one of the biggest angles ever and is still a huge turn that works to this day. They would feud over the summer and would blow it off in front of about 40,000 people in the infield of Shea Stadium. We need to get to that now.

Now the blowoff from Showdown at Shea. For this match, bare in mind that it’s from the WWE 24/7 version. Michael Cole and Mick Foley did not do commentary for a match in 1980.

Larry Zbyszko vs. Bruno Sammartino

Wrestling 101 here: Bruno was the mentor, Larry decided he had surpassed the teacher, teacher kept being the star, student attacks the teacher, they go to a baseball stadium and have a wrestling match in front of 36,000 people in a box with no lid on it. Tale as old as time. Old school cage here, as in the kind they have now. NUCLEAR heat on Larry. Bruno gets the only entrance of the night.

We even get clips of Zbyszko’s heel turn which is WAY rare. Bruno jumps him to start and Larry hits the cage 3 times in about 5 seconds. You can only go through the door here and not over the top for no apparent reason. Apparently Larry talks about this match to the point of annoyance. Low blow gives Larry a chance to breathe as this has been very intense so far.

Foley makes another interesting point: Bruno headlined all three Shea shows and only once was world champion at the time. That’s saying a lot. This is the first match with an angle and the crowd clearly knows it. We get into a discussion about whether Bruno would be successful today and the commentators say yes because he was the people’s man. You know, like that blue collar guy that represented the hard working everyman who didn’t like his boss. Someone you could have a beer with. Or maybe a case of them if you get what I’m talking about. Yeah I think Bruno would have worked today.

Almost all Bruno so far. Now we talk about Stan Hansen inspiring Foley to sleep with his wife. Ok then. We hear about Larry and Foley driving together and Cole says how would they get a word in edgewise? Foley says he only talks over Cole because he’s smarter than Michael is. Nice line! Bruno’s arm is bleeding so Larry punches away at it. After nearly ten minutes Larry makes the first attempt at the door, naturally not getting there.

We get into a semi-argument over whether or not Foley ever worked out. Foley seems genuinely pissed off about that and I can’t say I blame him. Bruno wakes up and beats the heck out of Larry, kicking him in the head one more time and walking out to win it definitively. Bruno beats on him some more after the match ends

Rating: C+. Solid match for what it was supposed to be which was a big time brawl. The fans loved it and Bruno decisively won. What more can you ask from them? This was a blowoff to a feud and that’s what they did. There’s nowhere for this feud to go from here and it ended. That’s what gimmick matches are for. LEARN THIS RUSSO!

We’ll jump ahead to Bruno returning to the WWF after a few years away. Here’s a grudge match inside a cage on February 8, 1986.

Adrian Adonis/Randy Savage vs. Tito Santana/Bruno Sammartino

Wild brawl to start with Adonis vs. Santana and Bruno vs. Savage. Savage is the IC Champion at this point. You only win with both guys getting to the floor. They’re MOVING out there. Apparently the door is only going to be opened upon request. So it’s like a shave around the ears? Bruno, an old veteran of cage matches, stops Savage from trying to escape.

Even Adonis is running so you can tell they’re serious here. Bruno is beating the tar out of Savage here. I love the way he throws boots. This was actually a hot feud as Bruno came out of retirement to feud with Savage which in reality was a way to get his son some spots on TV. Tito makes a nice save to keep Savage in the door and Bruno crotches Adrian just because it’s fun. Gorilla says his wish just came true. I don’t want to know what that means. Tito is busted and it’s not bad.

It’s kind of odd to see someone use a kick as their main offense when you’re so used to seeing punches being the main thing. Savage goes for a double axe from the top but runs into the fist of Santana and the heels are in trouble. Savage is bleeding BAD. He manages to stop Santana though.

Adonis goes up and dives off the top, hitting Sammartino with a knee drop. Unfortunately that’s because he botched it for the most part and kind of fell off the top of the cage onto Bruno. Savage gets a leg over the top but runs into the taco salesman from Tijuana. The heels are slammed together allowing Bruno to get out the door and Santana over the top to end this.

Rating: A-. Sweet goodness this was a war. They beat the living crap out of each other and none of the four ever stopped at all. Bruno could bring on the violence when he wanted to and apparently he wanted to do so here. This was a very good match with all four guys working very hard and never stopping once in about ten minutes. I liked it.

Another cage match on July 12, 1986.

Bruno Sammartino vs. Roddy Piper

Not a title match here as this is from the mid 80s. We’re in Boston here. Gorilla and Jesse talk about the experience you get in cage matches. Jesse wonders what you can actually learn in there which makes sense. Piper wears a Bears shirt which is around the time that the Bears beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He also hangs posters in the cage which is a nice touch.

Bruno comes out and goes straight for Piper, sending him into the cage. Piper is bleeding maybe a minute in. Bruno shoves the poster in Piper’s face as this is a big beatdown. This was another big feud as Piper had totally not respected Sammartino as most young heels didn’t so Vince set this up before cutting almost all ties with Bruno. Granted that was mutual so that’s not a fair criticism.

Piper gets a low blow to save the match and barely has his shirt off yet. Sammartino has to make a big save to keep Piper out as he might be busted open too. Piper seems more like he’s just trying to escape while Bruno wants punishment. And there go Roddy’s trunks. Ok then. Bruno kicks away and they slug it out. Jesse has kind of stopped talking here.

Roddy goes up and Bruno pounds on his supple Scottish balls. That’s not quite enough for Bruno to get out but Bruno grabs a wooden chair as he’s trying to leave and blasts Piper in the head with it to win. Jesse says that was cheating but it’s a cage match so whatever I suppose.

Rating: B-. Not bad here and a bit longer than the previous one. Bruno was fun to watch and the fans always reacted to him. This was a veteran giving the young loudmouth a beating and that’s something that is always going to work. Nothing great but a fun match either way.

We’ll wrap it up with a match in Boston on January 7, 1987.

Intercontinental Title: Randy Savage vs. Bruno Sammartino

Savage hides behind Liz to start and Gorilla is freaking out on commentary. Bruno finally gets in a shot and sends Savage into the corner to put the champion in early trouble. Some right hands put Savage down and he hides behind Liz again. Bruno of course won’t swing with a woman in front of him so Randy gets in another cheap shot to take over.

A top rope ax handle drops Bruno on the floor and another drops him in the ring. Bruno comes back with his standard kicks to the ribs and Savage is in trouble. Another kick to the ribs drops Savage but Bruno ducks his head and takes a kick to his own face. A collision sends Savage to the floor and he brings in a chair for the DQ.

Rating: D+. This was just a brawl for the most part but the live crowd would have liked it a lot more than someone watching nearly thirty years later. Bruno was just a nostalgia act at this point but he certainly didn’t embarrass himself. It was entertaining enough though and that’s all this was supposed to be.

I don’t know what you want me to say. The guy sold out MSG something like 200 times. I think that speaks for itself.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @kbreviews and pick up my new book of on the History of ECW Pay Per Views at Amazon for just $3.99 at:

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1 comment

  1. Liam Fenech says:

    And now he has his own (well deserved) Wwe Network Collection About time nice one Bruno!

    [Reply]

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