Bruno Sammartino, the longest reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion, is headed to the WWE Hall of Fame. The announcement was made last night during an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. Sammartino held the prestigious championship from 1963 until 1971. The legendary Italian athlete also had a second run with the belt for a shorter, but still impressive four years from 1973 until 1977. Sammartino retired from wrestling in 1988.
Sammartino has often been described as the Hulk Hogan of the 60s and 70s. His massive popularity amongst northeast wrestling fans was immense. Despite being of Italian heritage, his persona crossed barriers and he was popular among many ethnicities. He is often cited as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.
The induction into the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame may come as a surprise to many longtime wrestling fans and sports journalists. Since he left World Wrestling Entertainment, which was formerly the World Wrestling Federation, Sammartino has been a vocal detractor of Vince McMahon and his circus. The barrel chested grappler spoke out against McMahon during the late 80s sex scandal involving ring boys and upper management. This includes appearances on national television, exposing the business as a sex and drug crazed atmosphere. He also weighed in on the steroid trial for Vince McMahon in 1994, and was outspoken during the Chris Benoit double murder suicide tragedy.
Bruno Sammartino started his pro wrestling career in an era before cable television, when wrestling territories still existed. In his run as champion for Vince McMahon Sr., the popular fan favorite sold out Madison Square Garden over 200 times. An unbreakable feat for any wrestler nowadays. When Vince Jr. took over for his father, he ushered in an era of wrestling that many veterans such as Sammartino, did not agree with. This same staunch opinion is what stalled negotiations between the WWE and Bruno back in 2004.
The riff among Bruno Sammartino and Vince McMahon has not been sewn. According to sources, it was Triple H who was able to persuade the hot headed New York native to accept the induction. Sammartino is still not a staunch supporter of today's sports entertainment atmosphere but thinks that they have made strides in making their product less lurid and detrimental.
Bruno Sammartino will step into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 6th at the house that he built, Madison Square Garden. Sammartino is expected to be the headliner of the event, but he is also joined by former WWE Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund and Mick Foley.