Photo from Wikimedia Commons
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino died on Wednesday, April 18. He was 82.
Born in Italy, Sammartino was WWE's biggest star during the 1960s and 1970s, when the company was known as World Wide Wrestling Federation or WWWF (and later World Wrestling Federation or WWF).
He was the longest-reigning WWE Champion in history, holding the belt for over 7 years, from May 1963 to January 1971. He won the belt from "The Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, then defended it against the likes of Gorilla Monsoon, Killer Kowalski, "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd, and George "The Animal" Steele.
Sammartino won the WWE title a second time in 1973, and held it for another 3 years and 4 months.
He appeared in the first-ever WrestleMania in 1985 and competed in next year's event.
He left WWE in 1988, and became critical of the company due to the use of steroids among some of its wrestlers, as well as WWE's "edgier" creative direction at the time.
But after over two decades, he and WWE mended fences. Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.
'Great, wonderful' icon
Tributes poured in from the wrestling industry for the iconic "Italian Superman".
WWE chief operating officer Triple H – who was instrumental in Sammartino's return to WWE – called Sammartino a "true icon, legend" and a "great, honest, and wonderful man."
Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man... A true friend...and one of the toughest people I've ever met. My thoughts are with his entire family. #RIPBrunoSammartino #AmericanDream — Triple H (@TripleH) April 18, 2018
Many wrestlers cited Sammartino's influence in their careers, and listed him among the greatest of all time.
Bruno was a true champion. He was known for his love of his family, this business, and our country. A huge loss. My prayers are with his family. #RIPBrunoSammartino https://t.co/qC84FJx99w — AJStyles.Org (@AJStylesOrg) April 18, 2018 Forever a champion. Rest In Peace pic.twitter.com/f3ywW4opje — Bret Hart (@BretHart) April 18, 2018 Devastating news for the wrestling world. An Icon amongst Icon’s, Bruno Sammartino has passed away. RIP Bruno. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today. — Ted DiBiase (@MDMTedDiBiase) April 18, 2018 Sad to hear that we lost a great one #BrunoSammartino today. Thoughts and prayer go out to his family. — Dustin Rhodes (@Goldust) April 18, 2018 Nothing today can happen without what he did back then. Rest in power and thank you Bruno Sammartino. pic.twitter.com/JEuHPUh3fJ — Cody Rhodes (@CodyRhodes) April 18, 2018 I will always have an enormous amount of respect & admiration for Bruno Sammartino. I can’t thank him enough for always being kind to me & taking time to have a genuine conversation. Condolences to his family & loved ones. — ShinigamE (@WWEBigE) April 18, 2018 Growing up, my grandfather Stu Hart would ALWAYS talk about Bruno Sammartino and what an incredible wrestler he was. I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet Bruno and tell him how much he meant to my grandfather and the entire Hart family. We will all miss you, Bruno. pic.twitter.com/Dclu5hMGa6 — Nattie (@NatbyNature) April 18, 2018 One of the GREATEST of all time, Bruno Sammartino has left us. I was a huge fan of this legend as a kid, Bruno was a massive influence and inspiration on my career from a far. Condolences & prayers to his family. #RIPBruno pic.twitter.com/qMxQKcuJYO — TAZ (@OfficialTAZ) April 18, 2018 Very saddened by the news of Bruno Sammartino’s death. The term Legend gets thrown around a lot, no one in wrestling deserves it more than Bruno #RIP — Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) April 18, 2018
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.