In a subsequent
story, Roy McHugh of the
Pittsburgh Press sought to illuminate that particular
issue. "They don't allow blood capsules anymore," he quoted Leo Porco,
Pennsylvania deputy athletic commissioner, as saying. "It has to be human
He also quoted
former State Athletic Commissioner Paul Sullivan: "Capsules are hard to
handle and splash all over. So a guy will throw another guy into a ring post or
hit him with something, and the victim holds his hand above his eye as if in
agony. While it's up there, he nicks himself. They have a simple way of doing
it—sharpen a fingernail or use a little slice of razor blade."
But Bruno admits
to no more than disdain for sportswriters. "In some cities wrestling gets
good coverage only when writers get a percentage of the gate. Why pay a
newspaper? I don't need any publicity. My fans will come anyway." He is
really hurt, however, by the lack of official recognition in his own home town
of Pittsburgh, particularly at the annual Dapper Dan banquet honoring the
sportsman who has most enhanced the name of the city.
"Ask them in
Australia who Danny Murtaugh is," says Bruno. "Ask them in Japan about
Red Manning. But ask anywhere about Bruno Sammartino and everyone will know.
They honor Stan Musial because he was born near Pittsburgh. But no one in
sports has done more for Pittsburgh than Bruno Sammartino, and they have never
honored me with their big award."
No wonder Bruno
is pained. For eight years his has been the undisputed top name in American
wrestling. In 1963 he won the championship, folding Buddy Rogers into a
backbreaker, a Sammartino specialty, in 47 seconds. Between that victory and
his loss of the championship last January, Promoter Ace Freeman says,
"Bruno really defended his title every time he fought. Somebody figured out
after he lost his belt that he defended something like 1,063 times." He
captured and voluntarily relinquished the world's tag-team championship eight
times while protecting the singles crown.
impressive than his won-lost record is his attendance record. At New York's
Madison Square Garden Sammartino has racked up a string of 100 consecutive
sellouts; at the Boston Garden he receives a standing ovation whenever he
climbs into the ring; on his last trip to the Far East he sold out more than 40
houses from Tokyo to Melbourne. There has been a Bruno Sammartino radio show
and a Bruno Sammartino Purse at Suffolk Downs. Last year he earned $130,000,
and in the past decade he has grossed more than $2 million.
All this, but no
major award from Pittsburgh's Dapper Dan Club! Bruno consoles himself with the
affection of his public. "It is wonderful to know that the fans love me as
they do," he says. "After all, I am not a Clark Gable. I am not a
streamlined gladiator. I am short and squat and homely. But what a beautiful
experience to step in the ring and hear all the people cheer."
5'11" with a 58-inch chest, 21-inch biceps and a 38-inch waist, is a
mushroom of muscle wedged into a size 56 suit. He was born 34 years ago in the
village of Pizzoferrato in central Italy, where he played hooky from school to
wrestle in the cellar of a neighbor, Giovanni Batisti. "Giovanni was once
the Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestling champion," Bruno says. "He taught
me everything. 'Keep your interest, Bruno,' he told me, 'and someday you will
war I wore rags. There was no food, and we had no shoes. Our town was bombed,
and I ran to the mountains with my family. It was terrifying. Then we came from
Italy, when I was 15, and I mowed lawns and began doing construction
work—anything. I helped build half of the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, and
I could hardly speak a word of English."
arrived in the U.S. he did not even qualify as a 97-pound weakling. He weighed
in at 93 pounds and was suffering from malnutrition, but he began lifting
weights at night at the Young Men's Hebrew Association. "All through high
school," he says, "I wrestled whenever I could. It was hard to get
competition. I beat everybody." In 1959 he decided to solve this problem by
turning professional, and 3� years later he had the world championship.