If you're a longtime WWE fan, chances are you just screamed out "IT'S ABOUT TIME!" That would be in refernce to Bruno Sammartino finally being inducted into the historic WWE Hall of Fame. The announcement was made during the live "Raw" episode on Monday night in Atlanta.
For several years, Sammartino had repeatedly turned down offers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He did not approve of the way that professional wrestling was progressing, with the storylines, drug/steroid allegations, and over-the-top theatrics. WWE had tried to induct him on numerous occasions, but he would have none of it.
Over the past few years, WWE has toned down their content. They've strayed away from the popular Attitude Era thinking, and have returned to a form of their original style geared more towards family entertainment. This played a major role in Sammartino finally agreeing to be inducted.
Sammartino holds the current record for longest continuous championship reign in men's wrestling history. He first won what was then known as the WWWF Championship (under the World Wide Wrestling Federation banner) in 1963, defeating "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. He would hold on to the title for an unprecedented seven years and eight months.
In 1973, Sammartino regained the title from Stan Stasiak. It slammed the door on Stasiak's extremly short nine-day run as champion. He would hold the title this time until 1977. He lost the title to "Superstar" Billy Graham. His second run let to a multitude of injuries, including a broken neck against Stan Hansen.
Many fans throughout his career feel that he help make Madison Square Garden into the wrestling spectacular it has been over the years. On April 6, he will return to MSG and be enshrined into a class that will include former WWF Champions Bob Backlund and Mick Foley as well as former Women's Champion Trish Stratus.
Sammartino had the following to say, regarding his decision and how it came about:
In talking to Paul Levesque (Triple H), I made it clear, I've had issues with WWE and wrestling in general, because there were other organizations. I didn't like the direction they had taken. It was bothersome to me. I’m an old-school guy. I spent 25 years in this business.
But after talking to Paul, and him explaining to me the changes they've made in their program, and how they've hired a doctor like Dr. Maroon, who is a world-renowned neurosurgeon, who also operated on me, and now that he has been put in charge of the company’s wellness program and their drug testing, that impressed me. I know what kind of a man he is, and he is a giant in that field, so I take my hat off to WWE because they took such huge steps to make things better for the wrestlers themselves and making sure they are healthy to perform. That was very, very important.
But as Paul explained to me, WWE made a lot of other changes. There’s no more profanity, there’s no vulgarity in the current product, and that stuff had bothered me as well. When Paul first spoke to me and told me all the changes, I started watching it again, and I was very convinced that they are doing amazing things. I see the wrestlers and all the changes they made. There’s no profanity, there’s no vulgarity, and it’s a family-friendly program. That’s what it used to be, and that’s a huge role in the whole factor.
In response, Levesque spoke of the importance of having Sammartino inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
From a legitimacy standpoint, it’s important for us to get Bruno in. He’s one of the biggest names there has ever been in the business. So for us to not have him in there, for the legitimacy of the whole thing, it was a major issue.
For me, the more important thing was that nobody deserves to be recognized for being a big star and paving the way for the stars of today more than Bruno. Everything that we have today in the business, Bruno was a cornerstone of that foundation. He truly is a living legend.
As we started getting into Hall of Fame season, it’s almost like this storyline wrote itself. To have Bruno Sammartino brought into the Hall of Fame in Madison Square Garden, a building he sold out more than anybody in the world, that’s a remarkable achievement. It was an opportunity to honor Bruno, but it was also an opportunity for our fans.
The 2013 Hall of Fame class will be inducted on Saturday, April 6 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This will take place the night before WrestleMania 29 in New Jersey.