For decades Bruno Sammartino kayfabed the public. But in this interview, conducted by David Skolnick in 1998, Bruno finally opens up and tells all about his wrestling career.
- How did his 1963 title victory over Buddy Rogers mirror the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels double-cross?
- Did Buddy Rogers really have a heart attack shortly before that match?
- What are his personal feelings about Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, and other wrestling legends.
- What would it take for Bruno to work with Vince McMahon again?
- Why does he think Larry Zbyszko was a better talent than Ric Flair?
This questions and many more are answered in this ground breaking interview available only in Wrestling Perspective #71 & #72.
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Copyright Notice: This excerpt is Copyright © 1998 - 2006 Wrestling Perspective and may not be quoted, reprinted or distributed without written persmission from Wrestling Perspective publishers Paul MacArthur and David Skolnick.
In this excerpt, Sammartino discusses some of the sticking points between him and Lou Thesz.
Wrestling Perspective: You've had some comments recently about Lou Thesz's book and Lou's comments about yourself, Primo Carnera and Antonio Rocca. What were your feelings concerning Lou before the book came out?
Bruno Sammartino: Before the book came out, I never had any bad feelings or bad experiences with Lou Thesz. I respected him for what he was to the business. Like anybody else, there were people through the years both pros and cons. There were people who spoke very highly of him and some not so. But that goes for anybody. What bothered me about him and the book, not so much with me because I'm here and I can defend myself, but he spoke of Rocca and Carnera and the Englishman, Bert Assarati, in a very, very negative fashion. I resented it. I lost a lot of respect for the man. I knew Rocca personally. We were tag-team partners in New York and we wrestled each other in New York.
Wrestling Perspective: Let me interrupt you for a second. Looking through your book, you had a couple of good things to say about Rocca, but you were also critical of him.
Bruno Sammartino: But about the Latin-type (lucha-libre style) and a little jealousy. I was speaking of his talent. I'm not speaking of the person and what type of person he was. Before I became a professional wrestler and saw him, I was quite impressed with those acrobatics moves. When I got to be a wrestler and saw him all the time, at that point, as impressed as I had been, I felt there was too much of that and not enough wrestling as far as I'm concerned. But to this day, I've always said I'm told they are great acrobats and fine, I believe it. But he used to do things that were quite amazing. He'd be standing there and make a leap and he'd be on your shoulders. He could do it from almost a standing position and boom, he'd be on your shoulders. It was quite amazing. Yeah, there are guys who will criticize me for different things I've done in the ring, my style. That's okay. I have no problem with that.
With Thesz, that's not what bothered me. He was criticizing the person as to what kind of a man he was. Same thing with Carnera. Then he had some things to say about Assarati. What I'm saying is that I knew Rocca a heck of a lot better than Thesz. I spent a lot of time with Rocca. We were tag-team partners in New York. We toured South America together. We were in the same territory for a long time. Carnera was also a tag-team partner in my rookie years. He was getting up there in age. He wasn't in really the best of health anymore. But he was a name and I was not in those years. I was honored to be his tag-team partner. The idea was he was the attraction and I was his tag-team partner and it was expected of me to spend more time in the ring. But by the same token, I had heard so much about Carnera and I spent a lot of time with him. We stayed in the same hotel, we would go to the restaurant and eat and talk to him. To give you a quick little story about Carnera to tell you what kind of a heart the man had. You've heard of the restaurant in New York called Mama Leone's?
Wrestling Perspective: Yeah, I grew up in Staten Island.
Bruno Sammartino: Okay, so you know better than I do those places. He and I were going to go to dinner at Mama Leone's. When we approached it, there was a man sitting on the sidewalk with his hand out selling pencils; a beggar. He had two missing legs; very obvious. To show you the man Carnera was, he dropped some money in there. We both did. When we went to eat and they saw us and at the time all Italians were working in the place and they took care of us. I saw the man with some tears in his eyes. I asked him, we spoke in Italian, "Primo, what's wrong? What's the matter?" He said, "All this food and there's a guy out there with no legs begging hoping that people will take a pencil and drop a buck. He probably can't raise enough money to eat. Life is cruel sometimes." He had tears in his eyes. This was the kind of guy he was and the kind of heart he had. If you ask people who knew him, they'd say people took advantage of his good heart financially. He was hurt many times because of his good heart. So to have Thesz knock him like that. Then he said in the book that he made his peace with Rogers so everything was well, whatever that meant. Well, God rest his soul, but let's not compare Buddy Rogers with Rocca or Carnera as far as their reputation in the business. Not too many guys had a worse reputation in the business than Buddy. There's other things. Thesz doesn't get along with Karl Gotch. He didn't get along too great with Danny Hodge. But these guys are all living and well. How come he didn't speak of them what he feels of them? I know there are bad feelings.
Wrestling Perspective: If you take it from a viewpoint of them as people, you're right. You can't criticize their wrestling ability.
Bruno Sammartino: He speaks of people who are dead, who cannot defend themselves in any way, shape or form. That's what I resent. And Bert Assarati, everybody that I've known including Karl Gotch said the guy was an animal when it came to the ring. Thesz makes him out to be a guy he could have mopped up the floor with. Karl Gotch told me around 1961 or '62 that he'd been in the Olympics for Germany and when he went to England to wrestle Assarati, he got an inferiority complex. Assarati was a great submission wrestler. He went to Wigam, England, to a guy named Kelly, who was a specialist at submission wrestling because he was so devastated at how this guy had handled him so he wanted to be good at submission wrestling. Here comes Thesz making this guy, who's also dead, out to be like he wasn't really anything. I've never met a human being who met Bert Assarati who wasn't in awe of him as to how ridiculously tough he was.
Wrestling Perspective: The impression I got from Thesz's book was Lou thought Assarati was a complete idiot when it came to doing business. I'm not sure he questioned his toughness.
Bruno Sammartino: Well, I thought he did in the book. I thought he did. He questioned his toughness too. My whole thing is this, it just bothered me. Assarati I know from people who knew him well and spoke to me for years. Rocca and Carnera I knew well and I've known quite a few other people in this business who were not the most honorable people who Thesz knows well. I knew these guys. It's not him talking about their wrestling style.
Wrestling Perspective: And you wouldn't even dispute that with Carnera and Rocca. But personality-wise, you spent a lot of time with them and they were nice guys.
Bruno Sammartino: Absolutely. They had faults. I have faults. I don't know anyone who doesn't have faults. But basically they were very decent human beings and I just resented that of him and I don't know why he would even talk about stuff like that in a book. Especially about people who were extremely popular and are no longer around to defend themselve
Wrestling Perspective: He also mentioned in the book that he and Muchnick were looking to do business with McMahon in a match with you. Is his interpretation of those events close to yours?
Bruno Sammartino: I don't know his interpretation, but I'll tell you exactly what happened. I'm the one who turned it down and I'll tell you why. Meetings were going on and I had no part in any of the meetings. It was Toots Mondt, Vince McMahon, Sam Muchnick and from what I understand, Thesz was invited to a couple of these meetings. I was the only one not invited. The thing was this. I was doing phenomenal business in the Northeast. I had made shots here and there, San Francisco, Los Angeles and some other places. They wanted to unify the title; have one champion. Thesz was getting up there in age. Well, what happened was as it was in New York with me, I used to go home two Sundays out of the month. The reason was Frank Tunney, who for me was one of the nicest promoters I ever met if not the nicest, in fact, I know he was the nicest promoter I met and worked for. He was very good to me. He gave me a break when I was blackballed all over the United States. I had to go to Canada. He got calls trying to put the kabosh to me, but he was going to judge for himself. He told me all of this after I'd been there for months and he got to believe I was a pretty good guy and I did good business with him and we became good friends.
When I left to go to New York, because I was getting a good break there, Frank Tunney asked me for a favor. Frank Tunney used to run the Maple Leaf Garden on Sundays every second week. He asked me if I would come and work the Maple Leaf Garden every second Sunday. In my heart, I couldn't say no to the guy. I had been there for over a year-and-a-half, closer to two years. He had given me a break when I was in really bad shape. I had a wife and a kid and I was in really, really bad shape. There's no way I could have said no to him. So as a result, I'm going to Canada two Sundays out of the month. So all I've got is two Sundays out of the month with my family.
When I heard of all these meetings, on that Thursday when we used to have live TV in Washington, D.C., I called Toots and I called Vince McMahon and Willie Gilzenberg, the other party involved, I called them to a private room that they had. I said to them, "I don't know what's going on because whatever you people are dealing with I'm being left out of it. But if what I'm hearing is true, you better know where I stand on this thing before we have any real problems. I understand that right now the problems you have with Sam Muchnick and you is you want 17 days of the month of me and Muchnick says he wants 15 days of the month. So you guys are compromising. What you are forgetting is how about me? I have a wife. I have parents who are still living. I have a family in Pittsburgh and as it is right now, I'm going home twice a month. If you guys think I'm going to lose those two days out of the month because you guys want to book me 32 days out of a 30-day month, you guys are crazy. I'm going to work out, even with Frank, who I like and respect, I'm having a problem. I'm not getting home enough and I need four Sundays out of the month."
As kind as Frank had been to me, I'd been doing this for a couple of years and I figured he would understand. I have a family. So when they heard me and I made my stand loud and clear that no way was I going to work on Sundays. "Book me or work out whatever arrangement you and Muchnick want. But four days of the month are mine and my family's." It was at that point that Vince McMahon said, "Well, Sam said he can't go for less than 15 days. We're doing such great business here. Why should we jeopardize our business here for the unification of the title." Toots Mondt said, "Well, I told you I was never for it in the first place." Because I was going to be the guy. So with that, they told Muchnick, "We better keep things as they are." They told the truth. "Bruno wants Sundays off. He has a family now and he's worked for Tunney two Sundays out of the month" and blah, blah, blah. That's how the deal was killed. I don't know what Thesz claims, but that's the fact. That's exactly what went down.
Bruno is just getting warmed up.
There's much more in this great two part interview.
This is without a doubt the most candid interview Sammartino has ever done ... it's a long one, clocking in at over 14,000 words.
The story of how he won the WWWF Title is of such historical importance, you owe it to yourself to read it.
Any true fan of Bruno wants this interview!!!
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