We got another “when hell freezes over” moments in wrestling this past week, when ESPN.com reported that Bruno Sammartino would be named in this year’s WWE Hall of Fame induction, to be held at Madison Square Garden. For those who know little of Sammartino’s history, he was the longest-reigning champion in WWWF/WWF/WWE history….with two title reigns lasting 11 years.
But his estrangement from WWE has been 25 years long. Sammartino walked away from the WWF and for the most part, wrestling on a national scale…after he called WWE on the rampant use of steroids and other PEDs, as well as bigtime recreational drug use that became epidemic in the company; not to mention his lack of comfort with the Attitude Era.
Sammartino had been a frequent and loud critic of WWE and Vince McMahon for many years. It’s said he didn’t even watch wrestling on television in recent years. The lack of names like Bruno Sammartino and Randy Savage were a reason that many critics didn’t consider WWE’s Hall of Fame any more than a company Hall of Fame.
Well, even with his father-in-law’s legendary stubbornness…in this case concerning Sammartino, Paul Levesque would not give up the thought of adding more credibility to its WWE Hall of Fame by adding Sammartino. When Wrestlemania was scheduled for the New York area in 2013. Levesque started courting Sammartino. Levesque told Sammartino to start by turning the television on.
“When I looked at the wrestling end of it, the wrestlers, I thought, ‘Wow, there is a change,’” said Sammartino. WWE also brought in University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon as its medical director. Not accidentally, Maroon happens to be Bruno Sammartino’s surgeon.
The courtship continued and continued until last Monday’s announcement last Monday afternoon on ESPN.com:
“Bruno Sammartino is to professional wrestling what Babe Ruth is to baseball.
The legendary grappler is the longest reigning WWE (then-WWF) champion of all time, with two title reigns spanning an eye-popping 11-plus years. And his legacy of headlining Madison Square Garden more than 200 times is what turned the Italian-born brawler into a worldwide sensation.
So it’s only fitting that Sammartino will be the main attraction at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony on April 6 at MSG.
Bruno Sammartino is being named to the WWE’s Hall after decades of feuding with Vince McMahon.“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame at Madison Square Gardens is the biggest thing in my life,” Sammartino said in an exclusive interview for ESPN Playbook. “Anytime that people feel that you accomplished enough to enter into a Hall of Fame, of course this is a tremendous, tremendous thrill for me. I had a lot of my success due to appearing at the Garden. I wrestled there over 200 times, it’s where I won the title, and it’s where I picked up 630-plus pounds of Haystacks Calhoun.”
And while Sammartino had turned down the WWE’s previous offers of inducting him into its Hall of Fame due to a well-documented feud with the wrestling organization’s CEO and chairman Vince McMahon over a wide range of issues — from Sammartino not liking the sexually-oriented direction the product took during the Attitude Era to Sammartino’s criticism of drug abuse by members of the roster back in the ’80s — it was WWE executive Paul Levesque (aka Triple H) who stepped in and finally changed the legend’s mind.”
Along with the changes in the ring-style and WWE’s drug testing, Sammartino cited the “family friendly” emphasis in WWE programming on recent years as reasons he finally accepted the invitation.
There is interested speculation as to who will do his introductory speech at the Hall of Fame. Names suggested have ranged from Dominic DiNucci to Larry Zybysko. Something tells me that Sammartino’s wishes will be accomodated, given how hard it was to get him to this point, and the mainstream press that has surrounded the announcement of his induction.
Until next time….
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