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.
During his childhood, Sammartino’s family hid from German soldiers in a mountain called Valla Rocca, during the latter stages of World War II. In 1950, he moved to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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.
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 and 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.
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.