Former WWE (WWWF) champion Bruno Sammartino recently sat down with me for an exclusive interview. Bruno shoots hard on a variety of topics. We spoke for over 90 minutes about everything from his thoughts on the WWE Hall of Fame, to Ric Flair’s criticism of Bruno, and even sparring with Sonny Liston.
Bruno is beyond a great interview, he is just a fascinating man. Here is a guy that has never stepped away from his convictions. Here is a guy that walked away on the top of his game and never sold out for the easy retirement tours, the nostalgia act, or a cheap parody. Here is a guy that truly represents the American dream. Bruno came over from Europe in the war with little education and became a success. As Paul Orndorff said, “Bruno is up there with sports’ great heroes like Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Babe Ruth.”
On the WWE Hall of Fame – Today I get a lot of mail that comes here. I would say that maybe two out of twenty letters that I get, they tell me stuff like, “You know Bruno you are being stubborn, you aren’t being fair to the fans who supported you, you should go into the WWE Hall of Fame regardless of your feelings towards Vince McMahon because you owe it to the fans to go to the Hall of Fame and by not going you are being disrespectful to the fans.” But then I get the majority of letters I kid you not the others say, “Bruno, we respect you for standing by what you believe and we’re behind you,” very, very supportive. The people that feel that I am doing an injustice to the fans, in a way I feel bad that they think that way, but if they only thought about it, in all honesty what is the WWE Hall of Fame? Is there a building that they can go and take their kids or whatever to the Hall of Fame to show them this or that? You know what I’m saying? All it is, is that when they have their WrestleMania the Hall of Fame is the day before and they make DVDs and McMahon sells them. I’m not knocking them for this it’s business, and then he sells those DVDs all over the world and they make a lot of money from it but that’s what it is. How do you get picked for the Hall of Fame? Well they decide. They say, “Well who do we want this year? Let’s pick so and so and so and so.” Look at some of the people in it. Refrigerator Perry and than you have Pete Rose, he’s in the Hall of Fame. I mean if people thought about it, what kind of a Hall of Fame is that?
On being a heel in Japan – Well the fact was that it was Japan and (Shoei) Baba was the big deal and all that kind of stuff, hey. We were going to wrestle in a stadium so naturally I had to do my part (laughs) to fill that place up. They were interviewing me and I said, “Well sorry to say when I wrestle Baba there’s going to be a lot of tears from these Japanese audiences because I’m really going to do him in”, something to that effect I can’t remember word by word what I said, but yes I did some kind of a strong villainous type interview because we were going to be in a pretty good sized stadium and sometimes that sells tickets.
On whether he thought Ivan Koloff was going to have a longer title reign – I didn’t think he would have years, but maybe a year or close to it. I never expected it to be just a couple of weeks or whatever it was. I don’t know anybody who expected that. I sure did not.
On sparring with Sonny Liston – At the Y where I used to train, they had a ring where three days a week they would do boxing and three days a week would be for us on the mat. The boxing coach was a guy by the name of Al Quayle who was a tremendous fighter in his heyday he was a top contender as a light heavyweight he never quite made it to the top because we had a guy at the time Billy Cohn who was the top gun at the time. Al Quayle was a terrific guy, he used to watch me workout and he said to me, “I was just watching you in there with that wrestling stuff and you really have fast hands. Did you ever think of trying boxing?” I said, “No. I like boxing and I’m a fan, I watch it on television but I never.” He says, “Why don’t you try it, why don’t you let me work with you a little bit?” I said, “Nah I like wrestling and weight lifting.” He says, “What have you got to lose?” I said, “Okay.” I started working out, he started having me do a little shadow boxing, hitting the bag, skipping rope, and all of that kind of other stuff. Before I knew it I started sparring with a few guys and he was impressed most by my ability to take a punch. I could take a pretty good amount of blows and not go down or be affected by them and that impressed him. He said to me, “You know anybody that could take shots like I’ve seen you take here and not even flinch, if you could be taught the proper skills you could really do something. I have a connection in New York, you’ve got nothing to lose, I want them to look you over and see what they think.” We go to New York and Sonny Liston I didn’t know anything about him at the time, absolutely nothing. He had been in jail and he was out of jail, in Stillman’s Gym working out, and there was a priest with him. I don’t know the whole story but he was kind of there to keep him straight because evidently he had been in trouble in his young days, I don’t know the whole story but anyway. So anyway they put me in the ring with him to spar and to be perfectly honest with you Eric I was throwing punches wild and stuff. Obviously he was more skilled. Evidently, he had a background in boxing and stuff like that before he went to jail. The skills were there and he would counter and to be honest (laugh), he hit me a lot of times and I don’t think I ever nailed him because I was throwing a lot of punches all over the place and he was blocking and countering and so forth. So they came to the conclusion that I needed a lot of work to be a boxer, but they were impressed that I could take really good shots. They wanted to get me a job at the shipyards during the day to make a living and then at night I’d be training at Stillman’s Gym. I had to really speak up and I told Al Quayle who flew up with me, “Look, I could never be really good at this because this is not where my heart is. I love two sports, wrestling and weightlifting and I want to continue with those two. I will not give up weightlifting.” I was told I had to give up weightlifting altogether if you were going to train for boxing. I said, “No I will not do that because I loved the competition.” I competed in both Olympic lifting and power lifting and it never interfered with wrestling. So with that, that was the end of my boxing career.
On Ric Flair’s comments about Bruno in his book – Somebody heard me something negative about him and asked me, “How come?” You know what? Ric Flair, I never said anything negative about Ric Flair for years, but in the last couple years yeah I have been negative on Ric Flair and I will tell you why. I ignored the different things that he said about me for example. He said, “Sammartino, the only place he means anything is in New York. What’s the big deal? Nine million people there, I could sell out Madison Square Garden when I’m 55 years old.” Now this is about twenty-five years ago when he made these kinds of remarks. I let it go. I just didn’t respond to that. Then, again he says that I didn’t mean anything anywhere outside of New York and again I let it go. But then I understand he wrote some derogatory things about me in his book, not that I ever read his book but this is what I understand. Then here in Pittsburgh where he thought I had read the book which I did not where I had that famous meeting you remember with McMahon. I saw him out of the corner of my eyes and I actually started walking towards him to say hello and when he saw me he turned around and took off. Later he said in an interview or something that he tried to shake my hand and I turned my back to him. That was the straw as the old saying goes. Hit me once, hit me twice, but then I’m going to hit back and anybody that knows me knows that I won’t take too much of that. So I did. Here is a guy that talked about the population of New York, what happened? When they (WWE) brought him in and they were going to set the world on fire with him and Hogan do you remember that? They bombed! J.J. Dillon was one of the match makers and he himself told me how they had to change the whole program because they were shocked, so disappointed, they went to Madison Square Garden and they drew 9,000 people. That’s a disaster! And they had to cut the program. They were going to have them wrestle for three shows (matches) and they cut it short. Boston, Philadelphia, everywhere they went they killed the program because they were drawing so poorly. Here’s the point. I knew Ric Flair when he was working out of the Carolinas. I would never say, “Well Ric draws in Charlotte but he doesn’t draw anyplace else.” How the heck did he know my career, my schedule, every night where I was wrestling what I was doing? For him to make a stupid remark like that, I thought, “Who is this guy to be critical of anybody?” Here’s a guy who twenty-five years ago was kept out of jail by Jim Crockett because he hadn’t paid taxes in years and they were going to put him away. Crockett worked out a deal with the government to pay him off. This is the same guy who recently did the same thing and McMahon had to work out the same deal with the guy. This is a guy who had a lawsuit for exposing himself on a plane to an airline stewardess. I’m saying to myself “Who is this guy to go picking on people, criticizing people with his track record?” Give me a break! Why is he wrestling at 60? In my day nobody made a lot of money, you know prior to this explosion that happened in sports and that goes for baseball, football, wrestling, hockey, they are all making big bucks today but back in those days whether it was football, baseball, nobody made a lot of money. I mean we made a very good living don’t get me wrong. But he stayed in long enough at the time when the big money came in, you know with the Ted Turners, etc, and from what I hear and I don’t know his affairs. He has to wrestle because he was one of these guys who did ridiculous, foolish things and squandered his money all of the time. I guess he thinks that you don’t get old or that kind of money will keep coming forever but it doesn’t. I think at 60 years of age with the obligations, because what he’s been married three-four times, he has alimonies, I don’t know if he has child support, but when you have these kinds of commitments and I don’t know whether he’s paid the IRS but I know they were taking so much out of his pay to take care of that, I guess he needs to keep going to keep his head above water with all of the foolish moves that he’s done. The bottom line is, “Hey Ric, don’t go knocking and criticizing people when you’ve lived the kind of life that you’ve lived.”
Listen to the entire 90 minute uncut interview with the Living Legend Bruno Sammartino on Pro Wrestling Radio by clicking here. Bruno talks more about Andre the Giant, MMA/UFC, his opponents during his 1985-87 run, Ray Stevens, Ken Patera, and this Day in Bruno Sammartino History.
Order Bruno’s autobiography, Bruno Sammartino: An Autobiography of Wrestling’s Living Legend by clicking here.
Check out the collectible WWE Classic Superstars Series 10 Bruno Sammartino Action Figure by clicking here.
See Bruno Sammartino vs. Superstar Graham and Killer Kowalski on the WWE – The History of the WWE Championship DVD by clicking here.
Bruno Sammartino vs. Giant Baba – N.W.A. International Title March 3,1967
Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.