WWE CEO Vince McMahon attended the funeral for one of the most popular wrestlers in the industry’s history, Bruno Sammartino. The funeral for Bruno Sammartino was held on Monday in Ross Township, Pennsylvania, and as seen in the video below, Vince McMahon and his daughter, Stephanie, joined the legend’s friends, fans, and family before heading to St. Louis for Raw. If it wasn’t for the legend’s contributions to the wrestling industry through the ’60s and ’70s, it is a great possibility that the WWE wouldn’t be the same company that it is today.
Bruno Sammartino was born in a small Italian village in 1935, and his family had to escape the village when the Nazis occupied it. After hiding in snow-covered mountains and barely surviving the elements, Bruno eventually ended up in Pittsburgh with his father. Though Bruno considered Pittsburgh his home, it was at New York City’s Madison Square Garden where he became a legend.
“Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers was the first-ever World Wide Wrestling Federation Champion (now the WWE), and on May 17, 1963, Sammartino beat Rogers at Madison Square Garden for his first title reign. Nicknamed “The Italian Superman,” Sammartino appealed to the city’s immigrants and he had drawing power that the company had not seen before. Sammartino sold out Madison Square Garden dozens of times through his eight-year run as champion. At the time, he headlined the Garden more times than any other athlete.
After losing the belt to Ivan Koloff in 1971, Sammartino became champion once again in 1973 after he beat Stan “The Man” Stasiak. Bruno would hold the championship until 1977 before dropping it to “Superstar” Billy Graham. Sammartino holds the record for the single longest reign as champion and the record for the longest combined reign.
However, the legend would stay away from the company for decades. Bruno did this because he didn’t like the adult-oriented programming of the WWE’s attitude era and, as Bleacher Report documented, because Bruno Sammartino was wary of the “rampant drug use” within the company, including steroids. After the WWE instilled strict rules within their new wellness policy and changed their platform to more family-friendly programming, the relationship would begin to mend.
In 2013, Bruno Sammartino was inducted into the hall of fame in the house that Bruno helped build, Madison Square Garden. Reportedly, Vince McMahon and Bruno Sammartino shared a big hug at the WWE Hall of Fame and, after some deep conversations, buried the hatchet from the past.