I always know whenever I interview Bruno Sammartino that I am going to get a heck of an interview. Just like his matches, Bruno Sammartino always delivered the best quotes and interviews. In all of the years of conducting pro wrestling interviews, Bruno Sammartino is far and away the best guest I have ever interviewed.
For every teenager that knows John Cena, 10 adults over 50 know Bruno Sammartino. From the mid-1960s to his retirement twenty years later, Bruno Sammartino sold out pro wrestling arenas all over the world. In his prime Bruno Sammartino was just as recognizable as fellow pop culture and sports icons Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, and Frank Sinatra. In the eyes of pro wrestling fans, Bruno Sammartino was the “King of New York.”
I have interviewed Bruno almost a dozen times over the years on my Pro Wrestling Radio show. The listeners of my show can never get enough of the former WWWF world champion as can I. In this interview Bruno tackles a variety of subjects. Everything from the Chris Benoit tragedy, steroids in pro wrestling, Hulk Hogan, fighting NFL players with the Iron Sheik to wrestling a monkey is addressed in this fascinating conversation. Like his many sell out main-events in Madison Square Garden, Bruno Sammartino once again delivers another memorable interview.
Eric Gargiulo- The pro wrestling world is embroiled in controversy when it comes to steroids. However this is nothing new to you, since you have been speaking out against steroids in wrestling for over twenty years.
[adinserter block=”1″]Bruno Sammartino – You know what’s really tragic Eric? When I came back as a color commentator and I saw what was going on I couldn’t believe it. You know how much of it (drug abuse) had been going on. Before that I am sure there were some people that were into some things, some substances but now it seems like. One time I said 95%, and someone said more like 99%. That’s how ridiculous it was and the thing is this okay. I got out of there (the WWF). I didn’t want to stay with what was going on. I just didn’t want no part of that. I became outspoken for one reason, even though I became the enemy to a lot of the wrestlers and promoters of course. Because already there had been two, three deaths, drug related deaths. I really believed that if something didn’t happen that this number was going to grow and grow and grow. And for the next two years as you remember, I was on the Larry King Show, Donahue Show, Geraldo Rivera, I did Inside Edition, Hard Copy, Entertainment Tonight, radios, newspapers, I gave it my all trying to bring attention to a problem that I really believed at the time that was going to get a lot worse. Well, it all went to deaf ears and after two years I thought, “Hey, I gave it my best show, my conscious is clear, I’m leaving. I’m going on with the rest of my life.” Well you know what? Now, since the Benoit situation this drug thing has popped up all over again. I don’t know if you have seen the book Wrestling Babylon, by Irving Muchnick. In there he posts 86 wrestlers that have died. He tells you the date, their age, everything. I thought that was the height. Now, Dave Meltzer and this Doctor Lano have been doing research and they have come up with 119 names of wrestlers that have died in the past fifteen years. Now I know a lot of the fans probably don’t care. They want to see wrestling, and they look at it like what they do is their business. I think it’s sad and tragic because I think that this is a killing mill. Something has to be done to stop it and I hope that I hope with this latest situation that happened. Not only with Benoit, but with Sherri Martel, Brian Adams, this guy Wellington from Canada, four more deaths like this. I would hope and I’ll tell you the positive thing in my mind. You have this Stone Cold’s former wife and she’s been speaking all over about how abusive he was, they called it roid rage or whatever. She had to have the police and all this kind of stuff. And then this other lady who’s husband died a year ago. Here she’s talking about the roid rage and the beatings she took and all of that kind of stuff. Now this Terri Runnels has come out and she’s talking about the same kinds of stories and all of the other drug situations that she was involved in. I think that the more that these people come out, the more attention that it’s going to bring to this horrible situation, and something I think maybe, just maybe will be done. But do you want to know what’s really sad Eric? There is this guy Kennedy, one of the wrestlers. He wrote a big letter criticizing all of the critics saying that they are just bitter, washed-up, has-beens, nobodies, this and that. It’s idiots like this that don’t even understand or appreciate that the people who are speaking out that eventually something positive may come out of all of this. It could be his own life that he may be saving. Because when you let 119 deaths, whatever the cause of all of these deaths were, and how many of them were really drug related and all of that. You would think that they would welcome some kind of scrutiny over this organization so that if the drugs could be eliminated, these deaths would be eliminated. So instead of being grateful for these people speaking up as they are, they are being very critical of these people and I think that that is pretty sad.
Eric Gargiulo- I agree. If you really want to look at it, the people like yourself who are out there speaking up aren’t speaking up for you. You guys and girls are speaking up for him, his family, his co-workers, and the other wrestlers that will come after him.
Bruno Sammartino –Absolutely. Not only that, there are young guys that want to get into the business and the mentality is, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, because I know. I talk to young people all of the time. They think that if you want to get into the big-times, you have to get juiced up, because that’s the look that they want. This is the mentality, why? Because they see the stars on television and that’s what they are, a lot of them are all juiced up. The sad thing is that a lot of parents don’t understand that by having their kids look up to these guys, I remember kids at the arenas since I came back as a color commentator in 1984. Kids that are 6, 7, 8, 9 years old with their parents exposing them to nudity, vulgarity, profanity, as if this is okay and normal behavior, and then for these kids to look up to these guys, and the parents should understand that their kids know about steroids, and if they believe that steroids can help them look like these people who look like heroes to them, they are going to get involved with this thing and they want to be like them, they want to be the wrestlers, therefore it continues. It continues because the more who get involved with these drugs, the more deaths you are going to have. What’s also been shocking to me Eric is that when and I’ll call him an idiot. This Kennedy writes this letter criticizing so many people, what’s sad is that they took a poll and 50% are resenting Kennedy for the view that he’s taken. 50% say that he’s right and it’s their business what they do and these people are bitter, critical, has-beens or what have you. I thought to myself, “How pathetically sad that these people just don’t get it.” It’s illegal, my goodness instead of criticizing these people, why not look at all the deaths that have taken place around you idiot. These were people like you, they’re dead, and they’re very young and they are all dead! And you want to defend what’s going on? You have to be a pathetic, pathetic creature who doesn’t know from anything.
Eric Gargiulo- You made some great points when you went toe to toe with a Congressman on the Dan Abrams show. You called him out for being too late with his attention to pro wrestling.
Bruno Sammartino –Well yeah, how many times have there been in the news, a year ago was what, Guerrero? Then you saw Mr. Perfect, there have been time, and time again when you see in the papers and the news about another death, then you find out it’s a drug related death. Where were these people? Like I said to him, they’re investigating baseball, they’re investigating football, they’re investigating other sports and that’s fine. That’s fine because these investigations may allow these other sports to be cleaner, and maybe to avoid deaths like we’ve had in wrestling. But my God aren’t wrestlers human beings? You hear all of these wrestlers dying, how could they not look into it to see what they can do so this will stop? We can start and these deaths can stop, the deaths can disappear, so many broken hearts, children losing their dads, women losing their husbands, and all of these tragedies. I find it appalling that all of this time and nobody’s done anything.
Eric Gargiulo- You also made a great point when Congress bragged that they investigated baseball and football and you asked, well how many deaths have there been in baseball and football? You had a list of 119 in pro wrestling.
Bruno Sammartino –Exactly and it’s not like their shocked because, “Oh we didn’t know about any of this?” Of course they knew about all of it. It’s been written up, it’s been reported, all this kind of stuff. The problem is and this just a personal opinion here. Baseball, football, these are the great sports that get the publicity every single day because they are America’s sports. They like to be involved with that because of course they are on television everyday because of these hearings, but wrestling? Well, wrestling isn’t looked upon like these other sports. Therefore if these people die, “Well it’s not of the same importance.” I mean that’s almost the way that one has to interpret their behavior.
Eric Gargiulo- What are your thoughts when Bret Hart comes on television and when asked about steroids in wrestling says, “Well if there is, I don’t know about it.”
Bruno Sammartino –Oh my God, you know somebody told me that and when I heard that I didn’t believe it. I said, “I don’t believe that he would say that.” They said, “I’m telling you he said that right on television.” You know what? I don’t know why a guy like Bret Hart would say that? I don’t understand any of it, or these people trying to do damage control, maybe because they are trying to get back with the main organization or do they really believe that? I mean, how can they possibly believe that when they were in it during the time when all of this was going on? I mean if Bret Hart looked at me in the face and said, “Well I didn’t know that was going on” I would laugh in his face because I knew darn well that he knew what was going on cause he was right in the midst of it all. These people, I don’t understand what motivates these people to come say these idiotic things that they say?
Eric Gargiulo- Did you ever regret not playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Bruno Sammartino –No I have no regrets and I’ll tell you why. When I was given that opportunity back in 1959, see a lot of people look at sports today and they hear about these million dollar contracts. You know, I came from Europe, I barely got through high school, I have no education or background to speak of about that. When the Steelers offered me this, they were going to go to camp that summer and I asked them right out. “If I make the team, how much can I make as a lineman?” Because I was 270 pounds at the time, so that was big in those days, today they go 350. Back in the fifties, 270-275 pounds was a big guy. They told me right out, if I made the team I could make anywhere between $6,000-7,000 per year. Frankly, I wanted to help out at home, my father was old and he had to retire, so when wrestling came along they offered me about $35,000 for the first year. I made that choice strictly economic because we had struggled in our lives and I wanted to be in a position to help out at home, so I had to go where the money was better and wrestling most definitely gave me a better offer.
Eric Gargiulo- I spoke to Paul Orndorff about you and he had a lot of complimentary things to say about your. What are your thoughts on Paul Orndorff?
Bruno Sammartino –I appreciate that very much and let me also tell you about Paul Orndorff, why I respected him. Paul Orndorff admitted that he used steroids. I know he admitted it to me, he told me about it, and he was very resentful when Hulk Hogan went on the Arsenio Hall show and said he only used it one time, he hurt a bicep and the doctor gave him a steroid injection. He didn’t like that and I of course was angry, because he called me liar. Well then what happens? In 1994 when they had that trial and they showed all of those receipts that Hogan had signed, then he had to admit that he had been using steroids for well over twenty years. At least some men like Orndorff were man enough to say, “Hey I did it” and there were other guys like this Marc Mero who’s been speaking out says, “Yeah I did it so I know what it’s about. I know what it can do” But those guys like the Hogans and the rest who denied it were among the biggest users. Those kinds of people I have no use or respect for because like even Billy Graham. I told him one time, “You know it’s people like you that have used it and have come out and said they’ve used it, it’s people like you who should speak up to the youth of America to let them understand how dangerous these things are, and nothing is worth getting into it. Then you would be doing a great service to the youth of America. But by denying it or suggesting it’s just this or that, you’re doing nobody no good at all.” I appreciate people who come out and are honest enough to say what they did and admit it and advise others to be aware because these are very dangerous chemicals.
Eric Gargiulo- I once heard you tell a story about wrestling an orangutan on Dave Meltzer’s show. Can you talk a about that?
Bruno Sammartino –Well yeah, that was here in Pittsburgh before I became a wrestler. I was doing amateur wrestling then but I was a construction worker. I was an apprentice carpenter making $2 an hour. You have to understand that this is going back to like 1956, or something like that. I was a real young guy, the carnival was in town and they had a wrestling monkey and they said if you could last five minutes with the monkey, they would give you $25. Well you know when you’re working for $2 an hour, $25 for five minutes sounded like a lot of money to me. So I took on the challenge and I fought that orangutan for fifteen minutes and I have to be real honest with you. I got the worst of that fight in that cage. The monkey won I think, because when I came out I was marked up a heck of a lot more than that monkey was.
Eric Gargiulo- And I recall you saying that all of your buddies came down to watch.
Bruno Sammartino –Oh yeah, everybody came down to watch. We were building the Hilton hotel here in Pittsburgh, it must have been about 300 guys and they all came over to watch and they were all rooting me on. But that orangutan, I’ll tell you what I have never seen anything so powerful. I tried to get behind it, you know like an amateur move thinking that maybe I could get him off of those bars and get him down on the floor. But when I finally got behind him, that thing was swinging around the cage like it had a flea on its back. I was like 265-270 pounds, unbelievable strength those things have and it was a big orangutan too, believe me that thing was big. The cage wasn’t that big, it displayed its strength, and I got beat up pretty good.
[adinserter block=”2″]Eric Gargiulo- A couple of years ago Hulk Hogan put out his autobiography. In the book he takes credit for drawing the big crowd at Shea Stadium underneath you and Zbysko. What are your thoughts?
Bruno Sammartino –Everyone who read that and heard that almost laughed. Again, when you use drugs for too many years maybe half of the brain gets burnt? First of all, Zbysko and I if anyone knows the history of that we didn’t just wrestle Shea Stadium. We wrestled the Garden, we wrestled Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore, and everywhere they turned them away by the thousands. Hogan was in that one show, at that time he was really a nobody and in fact he should have continued to say that a week or so later they put the same match as a headliner. Him against Andre the Giant in White Plains, NY that holds 4,000 people and they had 1,100 people. Vince McMahon SR got rid of him because he saw him, at the time when it came to regular wrestling before the gimmicks and all of this other stuff, he let him go. He brought him in because he was a big guy, 300 pounds or whatever, and he thought maybe because he was having a hard time with shipping Andre to different parts of the territories because you have to understand, with Andre the situation was similar to that of Haystacks Calhoun. Promoters would take these guys maybe once or twice a year and they would only use them for a couple of weeks. Because of Vince McMahon Sr. was in charge of Andre the Giant he would sometimes have difficulty because if he called California and they said, “No, we just had him here three months ago” or the Carolinas, so Vince now had to keep him in his own area and he was trying different ways to keep his popularity. Because he is not the kind of guy, when you have Haystacks Calhoun, Andre the Giant, they were special attractions. They were not the kind of people that you could put on in the arena week after week or month after month, or year after year. So when Hogan came around, I think the Samoans or somebody introduced him, Vince McMahon thought that maybe somebody his size might mean some box office with Andre. But in reality, it absolutely did not work at that time. It did not work and Hogan then went away, I don’t know where he went for a while but then he went up working for Verne Gagne in Minneapolis. So what he says in that book may be in his dreams, but the reality is that at that time he was not that big of a deal in wrestling at all. In fact like I said McMahon he was so disappointed, every place they put him in with Andre because they bombed, they bombed every place that they put them in and they gave him his walking papers.
Eric Gargiulo- When you did commentary with Jesse Ventura and Vince McMahon, did you ever have any friction with each other?
Bruno Sammartino –No because when it came to dressing up for the thing, McMahon on the door it said “McMahon and Ventura” I didn’t exist. So I had to get dressed in other dressing rooms and just go on the air with them. They knew. I wasn’t very popular then because they knew I was already against everything that was going on, with what I was seeing, I couldn’t walk away right away because I had a contract unfortunately, due to my own stupidity for not letting a lawyer look at it and so I was kind of stuck for a period of time. I got out as soon as I could but the relationship was not good, so backstage they would have names on the door to dress and they would just have Vince and Jesse, and Bruno’s name even though I was one of the three commentators wasn’t on that door so I had to find elsewhere to get dressed up.
Eric Gargiulo- The Iron Sheik once told a story about you backing him up in a fight against a bunch of NFL players in a dressing room. Is that true?
Bruno Sammartino –Well, let me stop you right there it wasn’t a bunch of football players it was a football player, it was a running back, they called him Rooster, he was a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He went onto the Canadian Football League after the Steelers cut him. He was the only player. There were six guys, they came in, I wasn’t wrestling I was doing commentary and I happened to see them, I heard someone holler my name and they were in an area that I know they weren’t supposed to be in. Now at this time I’m like 51, 52 years old when this went on. I said, “Hey, guys what are you doing here, if the security sees you than you might get in trouble. You’re not supposed to be back here.” The one guy who was the former player he said to me, “Yeah, you’re Sammartino?” I said, “Yeah.” He stuck out his hand to shake my hand so I shook his hand, and he starts squeezing my hand and he’s looking at me and I looked at him and I said, “Well what do you think you’re doing?” He said to me, “You’re nothing but a washed up old man.” So I responded, “Well not too washed up to take care of you.” So with that he took a swing at me, I blocked it and I nailed him and he went down, the others joined so I’m fighting all of them, and you know how long are you going to last at my age against 6 or 7 guys? So the Sheik happened to be taking a shower after his match and he heard all of the commotion and when he came out of the shower room he saw just me fighting all of these guys, and I have to say he came out, he was just right out of the shower, he came right out and he joined right next to me and no bragging but the two of us kind of cleaned house over there but that’s a true story and he was the only guy that came to help me.
Eric Gargiulo- What advice do you have for high school athletes just starting to lift weights and exercise?
Bruno Sammartino –The main thing is that there are a lot of temptations out there today. A lot of kids think that they can have the edge if they take some kind of drug. Did you know that they took a survey? The high schools in the United States of America, there have been 11 million high school students who are either on or have used steroids or some enhancement drugs. That is scary and it goes to show you how young people are that know about steroids and how much they are being used. I would tell anybody, listen I came from the old country, I was there during the war, I almost died, I had fever, I laid on the floor with my mom taking care of me with some blankets and stuff for three years I was deathly sick. When I came to America I was 14 years old, weighed 82, 82 pounds, I’m telling you this because when I started exercising and I got better and I started getting healthier and stronger, and I drove myself, who the heck ever heard of steroids and stuff like that back in the early fifties? I came to America in 1950 and I was a skeleton, by 1958, 1959 I’m 270 pounds. So my point is that this nonsense that you cannot do it unless you get on drugs, that’s a bunch of nonsense. If you’re willing to work hard, make some sacrifices, and dedicate yourself you can do it. Listen, I set a record in 1959 565 pounds on the bench press with a 2-second pause on the chest. That stood for some years. I did it naturally. I’ve known a lot of steroid users that could never touch that weight. My point is yeah with steroids you can make quick progress, your muscles will grow a lot quicker this and that but there’s a lot of ill effects. Your heart, a lot of these people die of heart attacks when they are very young because the heart is a muscle and the heart doubles in size, they took an autopsy on Eddie Guerrero and they said his heart was twice the size of what it’s supposed to be. The liver, the kidneys, all of these things are affected so I say to any young guy, “You want to be a football player, you want to be a wrestler, you want to be a weight lifter, just be prepared to dedicate yourself, work hard, eat properly and it’ll come, and you can do it the natural and healthy way.
Eric Gargiulo- Do you have any plans for the Hall of Fame?
Bruno Sammartino –Boy oh boy, I have tried to make it very clear to everybody and I wish that people would understand my feelings. I’ve been so against what they’ve done to wrestling and some of the ugly things that have been going on, the drugs and all of that kind of stuff, that I just don’t want my name associated at all with that organization and therefore I’ve been so critical of them that I’d feel like a total hypocrite if then all of the sudden I’d go into their Hall of Fame and accept that because when you’ve been as critical as I have, and my views were so strong against the drugs and the nudity, the profanity, the vulgarity, there’s no way that I would want to be a part of that Hall of Fame. I just don’t want any part of it and I will not go in and I would hope that people would understand my feelings on that.
Eric Gargiulo- Do you have your name trademarked to prevent the WWE against inducting you without your consent?
Bruno Sammartino –I don’t know what the law is on that Eric. I really don’t know if they could do it, they probably could but I don’t know. That’s something that I’d have to look into because honestly I don’t know if there’s such a law that says they can or they cannot. I don’t know.
Eric Gargiulo- How different do you think things would be if Vince McMahon Senior were still alive?
Bruno Sammartino –If he (Vince Jr.) ran the wrestling like his father ran it, if any way I could contribute, help out, whatever possible way I could help out with new talent or whatever, I absolutely would. But with the way it is today, I would not get involved in any way, shape, or form because I don’t believe in it and after all, you know you can’t just get into something for the payday, you have to get into it because you believe in it and you feel comfortable being in it and so forth. If wrestling was the way it were in my day, any contribution I could make and any way I could participate to help in any way, shape, or form absolutely I would.
Eric Gargiulo- Do you ever watch MMA or the Ultimate Fighting Championship?
Bruno Sammartino –I’ll be honest with you. I’ve only seen it maybe once or twice. I’m not real familiar with it, I hear a lot about it, I hear that it’s growing tremendously. I hear that they do very well pay-per-view wise and these people are obviously very talented. From what I understand it’s growing, getting bigger all of the time, so it must be something I guess I’ll have to tune in a little more and learn more about it. It’s a tough sport from everything that I hear about it.
Eric Gargiulo- How is David doing? Do your grandchildren watch wrestling?
Bruno Sammartino –Well I have three sons, I don’t know if people realize that and one of my sons Darryl has a son, his name is Bruno Sammartino II. My other son Danny has two boys Anthony and Vincent and David’s got a girl named Ashley. Now David lives in Georgia because that’s where his home is. He married a girl from Georgia many years ago, he’s a personal trainer now, I don’t know if he watches wrestling much but I can tell you this of my other two sons. They don’t let their children watch wrestling and by the way, they both wrestled. Darryl wrestled not only in high school but in college, Danny wrestled in high school but they never thought of going professional and no, they don’t allow their kids to watch the present day wrestling.
Check out a different Bruno Sammartino Interview on YouTube.com – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfgw69JBUdY