Bruno Sammartino Interview 2003

bruno Sammartino wrestling interviewThe following interview features former WWWF world champion the “Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino. The always outspoken Sammartino talks about his career, returning to the WWE, Vince McMahon, and more. The interview was taped August 2, 2003 and was previously broadcast on Pro Wrestling Radio.

Eric Gargiulo: I understand you had some surgery recently? How are are you doing?

Bruno Sammartino: Yeah, it’s unfortunately due to the way we abused our bodies when we were younger. This was my second and very major back surgery, but I am on the mend, and back doing some training, so I am coming a long really good.

Eric: Do you still work out and keep in shape?

Bruno: I work out everyday. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I usually do road work. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I have a gym at home in which I work out with the weights.

Eric: I ask Bruno about comments Mick Foley made a few weeks back on my program about he and Vince’s relationship. Mick said that he felt Vince had a special place in heart for Bruno and would like to have him back and honor him.

Bruno: Well, if I understood you right you said that Mick Foley said that McMahon has a special place in his heart for me? Let me tell you what a special place he has in his heart for me. Do you remember a couple of years ago the A & E documentary about the history of pro wrestling? If you saw that documentary, my name never appeared once in the whole two hour special. Everybody and their brother was mentioned except me, and I hope this does not sound egotistical but I dominated the game for about twenty years. My understanding from very reliable people involved with the show was that Vince McMahon insisted with A & E that they would not mention or do anything with me, because if they did, than he would not only not give them any film clips, his talent, or himself. So they had a choice to make, whether they brought me into this documentary and do away with McMahon and all that he had to offer them, or me, so they made the choice to go with him. He went out of his way to do this, so that is the kind of special place that Vince McMahon has in his heart for me. The other project which I understand, and this came to me from reliable sources involved with Madison Square Garden sometime ago, was that they wanted to induct me into the Madison Square Garden Hall Of Fame. This was before the present owners took over, who are doing a special on me by the way. The old owners wanted to induct me, but again McMahon used his influence not to let that happen. So, I don’t know what Mick Foley is talking about. I think Mick Foley has been dropped on his head too many times while working for McMahon.

Eric: Mick also joked that when Vince recently showed clips of you on television, that he showed the clips because he knew it would annoy you.

Bruno: I don’t know where Mick Foley is coming from, I have to repeat, I think Mick has been dropped too many times on his head while working for McMahon. First of all, I never watch wrestling anymore. I have not watched wrestling in many, many years. Second of all, if he did do that why would it annoy me? It doesn’t annoy me. That does not make any sense. I will tell you the truth about what I think. I think that McMahon has been doing rather poorly from what I read in some reports with the Securities and Exchange commission when it comes to stocks, etc. My understanding is that his business has been doing pretty bad, and let me tell you about Vince McMahon. When Vince McMahon is doing great, when business numbers are very high, Vince McMahon is not the easiest guy to deal with in my opinion. That is where he shows his arrogance of blocking you out of a hall of fame, the Garden, or something else. Like I mentioned earlier about him blocking me out of the documentary. When things are going really bad, Vince McMahon becomes a little more humble and he is willing to try anything that may give him a spark. For example, Roddy Piper was pretty rough on him too, but he brought him back, because he thought maybe Piper would light a little spark. Vince brought Hogan back, he brought Sable back, and they even contacted me. A guy named Kelly, to do the Confidential program, which of course I turned it down. That was not because McMahon has a soft spot for me or anything like that. It is because when things are not going well, he is willing to try anything that would be positive for his business. I guarantee you that if he was doing great, he would have never tried to bring back Hogan, Piper, Sable, or contacted me to do one of his shows. That’s McMahon, and I don’t think Foley has a good read on what McMahon is really all about at all. I think I know Vince a little bit better than Mick Foley.

Eric: It is ironic that you mention Hogan and Piper, because they are already gone.

Bruno: What happened was when he brought them in, he found out there was not going to be any big spark, any rejuvenation of his business in bringing back something new, so he sees that and finds a way to get rid of these people. Hogan, he was making a total idiot of the guy. Vince went far enough figuring that if he kept it up that Hogan would eventually have to quit, instead of firing him. Piper, he used the excuse of firing Piper for what he said during that interview on the HBO show. Let me tell you something, if Piper was really getting hot for McMahon, Vince would have ignored the interview. He wasn’t, so that was his way of getting rid of Piper. Saying that he was firing Piper for what he said during that interview. The reality was that Vince was disappointed, because he thought that bringing back Piper may mean something.

Eric: What are your thoughts on Vince wrestling the last few years?

Bruno: Not only that, I have not seen any of that. People that have seen him tell me how roided up he is. He’s all juiced up with the steroids and crap. That blows my mind. What is wrong with that guy? He has to be around 57 years old. At that age to be putting these chemicals in his body? I honestly do not watch it, but I have a few people that always call me and tell me what’s going on. I don’t know why, I guess they think I am interested? The stories I hear about what Vince does, his daughter, his wife, and what the son used to do, I mean it sounds to me like anything goes with that family. Anything and everything goes with them. I hear the disgusting things about him dropping his pants right on television and saying, “Kiss my behind” to whomever, and his daughter I understand was right in the ring watching this, I hear his wife is getting beat up? Talk about the Osbournes, this is one really screwed up family!

Eric: I had Killer Kowalski on my show a couple of years ago and he spoke very highly of you. He mentioned that the two of you really enjoyed working each other because the both of you liked to go at a high pace.

Bruno: I always respected Kowalski because of the great shape he was always in. I don’t know how much of the people outside of the business pay attention or look at that, because you look at different guys, and I wrestled a lot of different people. It was a great challenge all of the time with Kowalski, I always prided myself in keeping myself in great shape, and of course understanding who was in great shape among the wrestlers, my peers at that time, everybody knew what kind of shape Kowalski was in. You would always test yourself to see what kind of shape that you were in, when you would wrestle Kowalski. He always wanted to dominate as far as stamina, so when he and I wrestled, there was mutual respect, and he and I really went at it. It didn’t matter whether it was a fifteen minute match or a one hour match, the pace was the same. To me, it was always a great challenge, because I had great respect for a guy that kept himself in such shape, and Kowalski certainly did, he is one of the guys that I have the utmost respect for, always did.

Eric: The late Lou Thesz wrote in his autobiography about a proposed series of title vs. title matches between you two. He claims that the idea fell through because he demanded too much money. Is there any truth to his claim?

Bruno: First of all, I hate to say things when somebody is not alive to defend themselves. The reality is that there is no truth to that at all, and I will tell you exactly what happened. The reason that the match did not come about was because of me, and I will tell you why. When Vince McMahon and Toots Mondt, Toots and Vince were partners, met with Sam Muchnick and others. I don’t know who was in the those meetings, I understand that Thesz was in one or two of those meetings, I was never invited to any of the meetings, so I did not know what was going on. I don’t know if you ever heard the name Phil Zacko? Phil Zacko got me in his office one day in Washington, Phil and I got along really well, I liked Phil a lot and I think he liked me. He said to me, “Bruno, I think you out to know that there are a lot of meetings going on about the unification of the title between the NWA and the WWWF. Of course, you know that you are the guy that they want as their one and only champion. I am telling you because in the meetings they are having, the thing that is holding the deal up is that Sam Muchnick is demanding so many dates per month that he could book you to National Wrestling Alliance territories, and Vince and Toots need so many dates, and this is the stumbling block. I said to him, “Don’t I count in here anywhere about what I have to say about any of this?” He was telling me that Muchnick wanted something like eighteen dates and McMahon said, “No, I had to have eighteen dates.” This was going to be like a thirty-one day month that would be divided amongst them if they could agree to this, and that meant that I would be on the go every single day, and there would be no days off for me. I called a meeting between Toots and McMahon and I said, “Look you guys are having all of these meetings about unifying the titles? From what I understand, the stumbling block is who is going to get me on what dates? Let me one thing clear, real clear! I don’t care who gets how many dates, but be sure of one thing. Right now, I see my family two days out of the month, every other Sunday. I can’t continue that way, I want four Sundays out of the month.” At the time, I had a wife, one son, and my parents were getting way up there in age. I said, “That’s not much asking for one day a week. I don’t care whether you want to give Sam Muchnick twenty days, and you keep four or six days, whatever. Work it out, but four days a month are mine. “Well, when they heard that, Vince and Toots. Toots was never for this first of all, he never liked the idea. Toots said to Vince, “The only reason why they want to do this is because we are doing so great, and they are not doing well at all. Their champion is not drawing, and Bruno is hot. Why do we even want to do that? Why don’t we stay the way we are? We are doing great, so let’s keep going this way.” But, Vince was the guy who liked the idea of unifying the titles. Anyway, when these four days were cut out of their agreement, and they met again, Toots and Vince said to them, “The kid is talking twenty-six days, so that means thirteen days each.” McMahon said, “I can’t go with thirteen days, we have too many major clubs in the Northeast. I need more than thirteen days from the champion. If we only have twenty-six days of the month, the most we can do is ten or eleven days.” Muchnick said, “No, that won’t work.” What Thesz wanted (Raising voice), according to Vince and Toots who told me later after the deal fell off, he wanted that if we wrestled, I won the match, and became champion, he wanted to get out of the business after a while, and he wanted to get out with some good paydays. He wanted us to wrestle each other, return matches in all of the major cities around the country, and that was it. Afterwards, years, and years later, I am hearing all of these other stories about how Thesz did not want to drop the belt to me, he wanted to lose the belt to Dick Hutton, and he told Sam Muchnick that if he made the match he would go in the ring and beat me (Shoot). I heard so many crazy stories that I don’t know what is true, and what is not. But what I told you is the fact, it is exactly what happened.

Eric: Can you talk about your brand new website, Brunosammartino.com?

Bruno: Well, thank you. I went back to Italy, and was honored with a wonderful statue, a sports facility named after me, and the home that my Mom and Dad built, the home that I was born in was made a historical landmark. This was all very flattering and they made a big day out of it, and everything was filmed. It was just a phenomenal day, something I never expected in my life, it was really impressive. We got this all on film, and on my website we got Mark Coppola, the brother of Nicholas Cage (The actor), and what we did was had him interview me, since everything was in Italian, so we could explain everything that was going on. That is one of the things that is available on the website. The other thing is called, “The Boys are back.” We filmed this at a restaurant in New York, and it was a bunch of wrestlers, and this should be interesting to fans. We talk about the inside of wrestling, what I am talking about is that each guy had some experience. For example, I was blackballed when I was a rookie all over the country (See my first interview with Bruno for the entire story), and some other guys had different experiences, some pretty cruel. They all talk about different things that they had experienced with some promoters throughout their careers, and I think fans will find this really interesting. There is another feature called, “Legends never die.” This is another film that won’t be ready until the fall, with Piper, Foley, Denucci, and many others. Than of course we have the book, the book that everybody is always asking me where they could get, my autobiography. Well, we reprinted the book and now it is available through the website, along with autographed photos. I don’t know if you saw the forty-year edition of Pro Wrestling Illustrated? Well, they named me the number one guy, so I decided to put that on my website as well.

Eric: Hulk Hogan wrote about the Shea Stadium show in his book that he worked with you and Larry Zbysko. Hogan insinuates that it was likely he and Andre that drew the big crowd that night. What are your thoughts on his comments?

Bruno: Oh my God, what a joke. Did you know that he and Andre wrestled each other in White Plains, NY, a place that only holds about 3,500 people, and they drew 1200 people, and that was the main event. They put that match someplace up in New England, and I will never forget what Vince McMahon said, “Gee, I thought by putting this guy because of his size with Andre that it would be big box office. Darn it, what a disappointment.” That is when he lost faith that Hogan was not going to do anything here (In the WWWF), and get rid of him. For Hogan to say something like that, how ridiculous? If you were around at that time, Zbysko and I wrestled everywhere, without Hogan on the card, without even Andre The Giant, and we turned away here in Pittsburgh, PA an estimated 4-5,000 people. Madison Square Garden, we turned away a lot of people. Boston, everywhere we went we turned away people. I never cared for Hogan, I have made no bones about it because he talks about what he contributed to business. This is a guy that used to come in and talk about the prayers, the vitamins, and the training. Then, we find out that he was nothing but a steroid freak as it came out in the courts. It goes to show you the ego of some of these people, for him to take credit for that, what a joke, anybody that was around at that time, knew the feud with Zbysko and I, and saw how hot it was everywhere we went, for him to make a claim like that, it just shows you what I have always said about him is that he is full of himself.

Eric: What are your thoughts on Larry Zbysko alleged claim to the name “Living Legend,” and his lawsuit against the WWE due to Chris Jericho calling himself by that name.

Bruno: Zbysko is suing somebody because he is calling himself the Living Legend? See, I don’t understand how stuff like trademarks work. I can tell you this, they were calling me the Living Legend in the 1960s, before Zbysko ever came into the picture. I don’t understand it, he is suing McMahon? I did not know that. Wow, to be honest with you I am kind of surprised that he would actually sue somebody over that. I guess, since I was the first I should protest or something (Laughs)? First of all, that is ridiculous because I never called myself the Living Legend. Do you know how that started? In the 1960s, one time in New York, we sold out Madison Square Garden, 20-21 times in a row, and one of the magazines, or the paper, I forget which. The writer said, “This guy is already a legend, a Living Legend.” After that, somebody picked up on that and they began announcing me as, “Wrestling’s Living Legend.” Other magazines began to pick up on the name also, and than it spread all over the world. It is not something I initiated, I believe Larry initiated that himself.

Eric: Superstar Billy Graham claims that after your cage match in Philadelphia, PA, you suggested that he work an injury going into the title match with Bob Backlund. Is that true, and if so was that something based on Buddy Roger’s heart attack claim?

Bruno. Boy, either I am losing my memory or what. I don’t remember that. I did not know Backlund well. I am not going to lie to you, when I saw Backlund a couple of times, I am not going to tell you that I was over-impressed with him in the ring. Bob seemed like an all right guy, but in the ring I was not sure that the fans would flip over him. Buddy did not fake a heart attack in the ring, that is something that he was saying well after he lost the title. I wrestled him on television, anybody that goes back to that era when I took the title in 1963, then they will remember that Madison Square Garden used to run on Monday. The previous Thursday, I was scheduled to wrestle in Washington on a live television show that aired in New York. My opponent had not shown up, it was all a promotional thing to make sure the Garden was going to sell out, and Buddy popped up and said, “Well, I already beat my opponent, if they let me wrestle him now, I will show the people that I do not have to wrestle him on Monday.” So, we wrestled on television and I beat him with the back breaker, it was a non-title match. Of course, that made the match for the following Monday a title match. My point is, when we wrestled he had caught me with a drop-kick, a scoop slam off the rope, etc. Then he wrestled nightly all the way up until our match in Madison Square Garden. You know, when I hear these stories they blow my mind. Another thing is the State Athletic Commission, my God, in those years the State Athletic Commission in New York was pretty strict. If they sensed anything was wrong, you were out, you did not wrestle. It’s nonsense.

Eric: Was there ever any discussion during your comeback in the mid-late 1980s about a possible match with Hulk Hogan?

Bruno: No, let me tell you what that comeback was all about, because I did not want any part of it. In all honestly, when I put the tights back on I was very angry, and disgusted. What happened was that he tried to get my son to put the tights back on, because I would not have anything to do with it. He told my son, “Gee that is too bad, because if your dad put on the tights, I’ll make a tag team with you and him.” In other words, like a big deal. David was gullible, believed in him, and came to me saying, “Dad come on put on the tights, I will do most of the wrestling. I know you are hurting. This could be my break, this could be my break.” Well, I don’t want my son to say later that he had a chance to get somewhere, but did not because I wouldn’t cooperate. I said to him, “David I will put on the tights, but this is nonsense. If he wants to give you a push, he doesn’t need me to put on the tights. He can push you like he pushes all of the other wrestlers.” Anyway, I put on the tights and what happened was when we wrestled a few times, we wrestled in Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia too. When I fulfilled those dates and I was not wrestling anymore, David went right back to being a preliminary wrestler, and David would get upset and disgusted. Later, when David wanted to come back after he cooled off knowing he acted harshly, well McMahon said to David that in order for Vince to bring him back, he would need me to put on the tights again. Let me tell you the shame of it all, they talk about how hot wrestling was back then.

The reason why McMahon wanted me to put on the tights again, for example this was in 1985, and already in Boston, they were starting to do poorly. He thought by coming back in Boston, with me putting on the tights, the way that I drew Boston, that it would give his club a lift. He did it in Pittsburgh, he did it in Philadelphia, he did it a number of places. The point to that is, Hogan that they shoved down the people’s throats and was supposed so hot, Hogan could never carry any club for any length of time. If you put Hogan in Boston once, you could not bring him back 3-4 times in a row, because than both he and Boston would be dead. Because he could not carry a club, same thing with Madison Square Garden. If you look at Hogan’s record, he did not wrestle in Madison Square Garden more than 2-3 times a year at that time, because Vince McMahon knew that Hogan was not the kind of a guy that you put in there month, after month, for twelve shows out of the year. He could not do that anywhere with Hogan. Because they did not have one individual, like we used to have in the old days who was hot enough to carry a club, he would try and load up with different people, this and that, and how did business turn out? How often to do they run in the Garden now? How often do they run in your town, Philadelphia? They come here to Pittsburgh 2-3 times a year. What does that tell you? They do not have anybody that can carry a club. Despite what people may think about who is hot, and how is not, they do not have a single guy that they can say is hot, that they can put in Philadelphia for twelve straight months, and consistently draw a crowd, or in New York, or anywhere else. There is nobody in the WWE like that.

Eric: Were there ever any plans to put you and Backlund in the ring together?

Check out Pro Wrestling and MMA DVDs, shirts, swag, books, and more in the Pro Wrestling Radio Store.

Bruno: No, because at that time my career was just about over. In fact, you talk about Hogan? I was supposed to wrestle Hogan on two different occasions, and each time they had to use Sgt. Slaughter to substitute for him because he did not show up. I am sorry if there are Hogan fans out there that may resent any of this, but let me tell you something, Hogan in my day, he would have been in trouble, because he was never conditioned to go any type of distance, he absolutely was not conditioned. You talk about Kowalski and how we pushed each other, if you went with Hogan at the pace Kowalksi and I used to go, five minutes and he would be dead, he would not be able to go. He looked impressive, you know with the chemicals that they take, that is one thing but that is not legitimate muscle conditioning, these people, when you use those kind of ways of getting in shape, that is not legitimate conditioning. He was not in the kind of shape to go with someone that could go the distance. I honestly believe that when he canceled out of our matches, he had seen me wrestle a number of times, and I really think he was concerned that he would not be able to keep up, and he would embarrass himself.

Eric: What kind of influence did Toots Mondt have on the success of the WWWF?

Bruno: Toots Mondt was an equal partner with McMahon, and even though McMahon was the guy that you saw all of the time, Toots stayed in the background, but when they had their meetings, Toots had every much a say as McMahon, because they were equal partners, but Toots preferred to stay in the background. He did his meetings in the offices, but you would not see him at Madison Square Garden, in the papers, or on television like you would see Vince sometimes. Toots was a great, great wrestler in his hey day. Toots had a great amateur background, tough guy, and as a pro was very good. He was an old timer, because he was in his 70’s when I came into the scene. Toots was a tough old horse, anybody that knew anything about the wrestling game had enormous respect for him. He got old, he wanted to go back to St. Louis and retire, and sold his fifty percent interest.

Eric: What are your thoughts on Mil Mascaras?

Bruno: You know what, I honestly never really got to know him too much. When I wrestled in California, Los Angeles, he would be on the card. I never had any conversations with the guy, I never got to know him at all, I don’t know what kind of a guy he was, I never knew anything about him other then just to see him on the card. I never got too close with too many of the wrestlers. There are only a few guys that I ever got close too. I liked to travel a lone. When I went to Japan or Australia, I always traveled alone. I ever traveled with someone in Japan it was with my friend, Dominic Denucci. When a promoter would call to book me, I would ask them, “How about using Dominic for the couple of weeks that I am there?” They would accommodate me, they were very good to me that way.

Eric: Was there ever any kind of struggle between you and Vince, Sr. over doing business with Antonio Inoki and New Japan Pro Wrestling?

Bruno: Yes, I was in Japan with Baba when he first started, I helped him out by appearing for him, I was already well established in Japan, so I helped him out when he went on his own, and broke away from his other organization. Baba always treated me great, his organization was always very good to me. When McMahon started doing business with Inoki’s organization, he wanted me to switch over, and start doing business with his organization, because they came in and talked to McMahon and they told him they did not like the idea I was going for Baba. McMahon and I went around and around about that, but I would tell McMahon, “No, I was with Baba before this Inoki thing started. I am not going to switch, why should I? This is a different country.” He says, “Yeah, but you work for me.” I said, “I’m sorry I work for you. I didn’t tell you to go do business with Inoki. You had a chance to go do business with Baba, and you chose Inoki instead. You made your choice, and I make my choice. I am staying with Baba.” I stood my ground, I stood my ground very strong on this, and I remained with Baba.

Eric: What are your memories of your matches against a very young Bruiser Brody?

Bruno: Bruiser Brody was a big guy as you know, I think he weighed around 300 or so. I had not heard of him too well, but I heard that he was an impressive guy. I wrestled him in Madison Square Garden, and after that a number of times. At that time when I wrestled him, it was not much of a match, more like a brawling type of a match, you know? He was young, but her certainly caught on, because he became well respected in different places like in Japan. I am going to tell you, that when I heard about what happened to him in Puerto Rico I was absolutely shocked. I just could not believe that anything like that could possibly happen, and I felt very bad. I liked Bruiser Brody, I really did. The first time I wrestled him in Madison Square Garden, I did not know him from Adam, but after that I got to wrestle him a number of other times. I was in Japan one time and, surprise! I go in the dressing room, and there was Brody. I got to talk to him a little bit, and I got to like him. In fact, in Australia 1977 he was in Australia with me. I got to know him better overseas, then I got to know him here. From what I heard of him, he was a good guy.

Eric: What are your thoughts on the state of the business following WWE’s purchase of WCW?

Bruno: That is a tragedy because who loses out? The wrestlers do. In my day, when you had so many different territories, if you wrestled for Vince McMahon for a year or two, and now you were an undercard guy and were not happy, there were so many other territories you could go to, and become a headliner. You had choices, so many different places you could go. Now you don’t, and McMahon, I don’t care how big his organization may be, he can only use so many wrestlers. That means there are a lot of wrestlers that are either no longer in the business or always looking for work on the independent shows. In my opinion, it has been a horribly destructive thing to the business, the fact that there is just one existing major organization. That is sad, that really is, just a tragedy, because in the old days the wrestlers had a lot of options. It certainly gave opportunities to the younger guys just starting to come into the business and grow, because they could move from territory to territory, and grow. To me, it is the demise of professional wrestling.

Eric: What are your thoughts on the recent plague of neck injuries in the WWE?

Bruno: That is amazing to me, and I will tell you why. Because, when I wrestled back in those days, those rings were like concrete, we used to use the same rings that they used for boxing. The rings had no give and were hard, and that is why a lot of the old timers had hip replacements, back surgeries, things like that. When I was a commentator for McMahon, I went into one of those new rings, and I thought to myself, “My God, if they had these rings when I was wrestling, I could have wrestled for forty years.” They were like trampolines, but no matter how soft the rings are, some of these people there are doing these acrobatic moves, I do not care how much give there is in the ring, if you are doing somersaults, and these flip-flop moves, and you come down wrong, or you are outside of the ring and a guy comes flying on to you from inside of the ring, you are supposed to catch him or whatever they do now with these acrobatic things, going the wrong way could easily hurt something. It is not because of the rings, nobody should be getting hurt with the kind of rings they have today, I think it is just the moves, and some of the crazy things they try and do, and I think it is more of that than anything else.

Eric: Thanks for coming back on the show, you are the best. Best of luck with the brand new website, brunosammartino.com.

Bruno: Eric, thank you so very much. I enjoyed your show before, and I enjoyed it today, and I hope we will get to do it again soon.

Bruno’s autobiography, Bruno Sammartino: An Autobiography of Wrestling’s Living Legend.

The collectible WWE Classic Superstars Series 10 Bruno Sammartino Action Figure.

See Bruno Sammartino vs. Superstar Graham and Killer Kowalski on the WWE – The History of the WWE Championship DVD.

Grab discounted WWE DVDs, merchandise, t -shirts, figures, and more from the WWE Shop on Amazon.com

© 2011 – 2013, Pro Wrestling Radio. All rights reserved.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Speak Your Mind

*