RF Video Shoot Interview with Bruno Sammartino

This was filmed in 2007

The interview was conducted by Eric Gargiulo

It runs at two hours and forty-six minutes long.

Bruno talks about being born in Italy and how during World War II, his father went to America and got stuck over there as he was with his mother and siblings and had to retreat to a mountain as one-third of his town got killed. Bruno said he did not see his father until he was 15 years old when he moved to America. He talked about his mom would sneak down the mountain to go to the land and get some food to bring. He said a lot of people died as it was freezing cold on the mountain. Bruno himself got sick and actually failed a physical that kept his family in Italy and how he weighed 80lbs when he came to America.

His dad bought as house in Pittsburgh that cost $6,000 that was in rough condition and a huge difference from the villa he lived at in Italy but he was just happy to be out of Italy at that point.

He went to school to learn English and said he got taunted and beat up daily, along with his brother. Bruno’s dad went to the school to tell them what was happening so the school let them come in fifteen minutes late and leave ten minutes early to help prevent the others from beating up Bruno and his brother before and after school.

On how he got into weightlifting, someone from school took him there and he became infatuated and wanted to look like the weightlifters and said that he cut lawns and did what it took to afford a gym membership to the YMCA. Bruno said that despite barely being able to lift anything he saw that this would be something he would be good at and quickly gained confidence.

Bruno started to become better at weightlifting and even got sponsored by another YMCA that he joined. He then talks about how this tied into his wrestling career as in 1958, he went to Oklahoma City and became the North American Weight Lifting Champion. That gave him some notoriety and when he got back home he met Bob Prince, who was the voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, went to the same YMCA and saw Bruno lift and wrestle on the mat, invited him on his TV show where Rudy Miller of the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (which later became the WWWF) saw him and asked around the studio the next day if Bruno could wrestle and it turned out that a classmate of Bruno told him who he was then Miller spoke with Bruno and invited him to Washington D.C. to become a pro wrestler. Bruno said he was interested but also was weighing an offer from Art Rooney, who asked him to tryout for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a lineman. Bruno asked Rooney what he could make as they told him $7,000 while Miller told him he could make $30,000 wrestling and that was all Bruno needed to hear as he wanted to get as much money as possible to help out his family.

When he went to Washington D.C., Bruno was told to wrestle a few veterans guys in a gym and one of them told Bruno that he had a big future in the business. He trained with Angelo Savoldi and Arnold Skaaland along with other guys in the company for about two months then started to work shows at the smaller arenas.

Bruno is asked about the importance of “shooting” in wrestling at that time. He said that it was very important as some of the old-timers would purposely fuck with guys who they felt did not pay their dues and “backdoored” their way into the business because they did not want guys who would get their ass kicked by fans in a fight. Bruno said that a few of the vets messed with him in the ring at the beginning.

He talks about Vince McMahon Sr. and Toots Mondt putting him in a match against Haystacks Calhoun in the Madison Square Garden in which Bruno slammed him as the fans went mental. Calhoun was announced as 601lbs at the time. Bruno earned the “World’s Strongest Wrestler” moniker

Shortly after that, Buddy Rogers came into the territory with his guys and played politics, something Bruno had no clue how to play. Bruno said that he quit as they were asking him to do things he did not want to then when he tried to wrestle elsewhere, he found out that he was blackballed as the athletic commissions kept on telling him that he was suspended. He finally went to Pittsburgh but did not beg for his job and went back to work as a construction worker as he did not want to play the game. One night after work he went to a show run by Pedro Martinez and saw Yukon Eric, who suggested he go work in Canada for Frank Tunney as the territory was in bad shape and they had a big Italian population in the area. Tunney spoke with Bruno, who told him that he did not want to get there and find out everyone else badmouthing him would lead to a firing. Tunney agreed as Bruno went to Toronto the following week.

Bruno started to talk with the press in Toronto and gained some notoriety. He then spoke again with Vince McMahon Sr, who told Bruno that what happened was in the past and that he would be the future. He then asked what it would take to get him back as Bruno said he would come back to wrestle Rogers for the World Title. When asked about Rogers claim of having a heart attack, Bruno said that everyone knew it was a joke and talks about how the territory was dying and Rogers went to a show in Pittsburgh and saw the arena, which held 19,000, had about 1,500 people and Rogers told the athletic commission that he was having chest pains and they would not allow him to wrestle, where he left the hospital with a clean bill of health and wrestled afterwards then when he lost to Bruno in 48 seconds he left to work for the Sheik in Detroit.

He talks about his favorite opponents. Bruno said Gorilla Monsoon was great and talks about how they wrestled a 90 minute match at MSG and how Bruno accidentally cracked two of his ribs within the first 10 minutes. He says that Killer Kowalski was always in excellent shape and always respected him for that. He also said he had great matches with Don Leo Jonathan and Ivan Koloff.

Bruno talks about how he promised to wrestle for Tunney in Toronto and would go there as a way to pay him back for giving him the chance to wrestle again.

About the pain he suffered, Bruno said he never believed in taking anything, even aspirin, because you have to be aware of your body. When he felt he could not give it his all, he decided to step away as he did not want to disappoint the fans.

He talks about how after his second title reign, he wrestled part-time for all different territories for a few years until Vince McMahon Sr. called him back and offered him a one-year deal that would have him wrestle the major shows then Vince kept on convincing him to stay longer and that was when he broke his neck.

With a broken neck, Bruno was asked to come back soon to wrestle against Stan Hansen, the man who did it, as the company was hurting financially at the time due to a deal to show the Muhammed Ali vs Antonio Inoki match on closed-circuit that ended up tanking. Bruno said Vince Sr. kept calling the hospital and the nurse would have to pick up the phone for him as he was unable to do so himself. Bruno talks about how the doctor heard about this and asked to speak to Vince when he called and picked up to tell him that they did not even know if he could walk again. Bruno got released after a month and started to lightly train then told Vince he could make the match as he did not want to see the company go under.

Bruno talks about losing the title to Ivan Koloff and how he thought the crowd would boo loudly but he found out the fans were shocked and saw some of them cry when he walked backstage as Bruno said he felt bad about that but also wanted the giant weight of being champion off of him at that time.

He talks about his match against Lou Thesz in Canada and thought it was good. Bruno then said he was surprised about the story in Thesz’s book about the deal of unifying the belts (NWA & WWWF) and how Thesz himself wanted more money as the reason it did not happen, saying it was not true at all. Bruno said that Toots Mondt and Sam Mushnick were meeting about unifying the titles as the WWWF was getting bigger and featured in more magazines. He then said one guy in the company told Vince and Toots they should talk to Bruno as Mushnick wanted 17 dates a month while Vince wanted 18 days a month which would make it a ton of work for Bruno. He then told Vince and Toots at TV tapings that he did not care about the dates but was getting only two days a month to see his family and that he wanted at least four days off to see them. Toots then immediately got up and told Vince that they should want no part of unifying the belts because the NWA wants Bruno because they have an older champion who is not drawing as much anymore. Bruno found out later that Vince and Toots told the rest of the NWA they were not going to sacrifice their other dates for this to happen and that was what really happened as Vince did not want to give up four Sundays of Bruno on the card.

When asked about who he traveled with, Bruno said he traveled with Arnold Skaaland and Dominic DeNucci a lot. Bruno said that he always got around with Arnold.

He is then asked about Dusty Rhodes claim in his book about how he was more popular than Bruno in New York and how one night leaving a bar in New York, Dusty got mobbed for autographs instead of Bruno, who claims that is nonsense as he never hung out with Dusty once.

Bruno said that Bruiser Brody looked impressive but did not know him all that well. He said that he didnt get very close to any of the wrestlers so he does not know how they were outside of the ring but said their matches were respectable and felt terrible when he heard about his death and how tragic it is that the case remains open today.

On his relationship with the “Rat Pack,” Bruno said that one day he was told that Jilly Rizzo wanted to meet him so he did and Jilly invited him to his club, even providing him transportation. Bruno said he had no plans and Jilly had a car waiting for him so he met various actors, musicians and comedians like Tony Bennett, Ann Margret, and Don Rickles to name a few along with the Rat Pack.

About Superstar Billy Graham’s claim in his book that Bruno told him that business was so hot and good that he should fake a knee injury to avoid dropping the belt to Bob Backlund, Bruno jokes that he much have amnesia because he does not remember that at all.

He talks about Larry Zbyszko and said he felt that Larry felt that since being his protege that no one would take him seriously on his own. On Hogan’s claim that he and Andre were the draw of that show, Bruno said that Vince Sr. tried them out on their home to headline and drew only 1,200 to White Plains, NY. Bruno then goes off on a tangent about Hogan, calling him an “idiot” about claims of taking wrestling out of “smoke-filled buildings” and how he and others before him wrestled in the big arenas well before he came around. He then calls him out for taking steroids.

When he returned as a color commentator in 1984, Bruno said that after a little while he felt that it was going in a bad direction and saw more steroid and drug use and decided he no longer wanted to be associated with it anymore. He then said he didnt think Vince Jr. was interesting in wrestling and wanted more of the sports entertainment, focusing on TV and the PPV business as Bruno said there is no reason for the fans to pay to see the show at the arenas because it is no different than the matches you see on TV. He then talks about the ridiculous angles and how it turned off older fans who were loyal.

Bruno said he was booked to wrestle Hogan but he did not show up so Sgt. Slaughter took his place. He believes to this day that Hogan knew he could get blown up in ten minutes and wanted no part of that.

He talks about his son David coming to the WWF and how he ended up wrestling occasionally as business was not good at that point. Bruno then said that guys were going up to his son, suggesting he get his dad to wrestle as he would get pushed as well. Bruno told David he was older and that hard work would get him pushed but they were having issues between them so he agreed but when it was done, David went back to the bottom of the card. Bruno said he was disgusted by what he saw in the locker room and wanted out of it all, even saying that he felt his heart was not in it to begin with and how the business passed him by at that point. He then tells how he sold of Boston with Savage while Hogan could not sell out that arena as the champ at that point. He did give credit to Paul Orndorff for being a hard worker.

More on his son David as he talked about how Vince Jr. fired him after hitting a fan, which Bruno said he never should have done, but then talks about all of the problems that the other wrestlers had, including Randy Savage who hit a 13 year old fan in Florida.

Bruno said that he did a tour of Texas and Phoenix and how he told Vince he did not want to ride with anyone as the drug use was so rampant that he did not want to get pulled over with someone who had that in their possession. Vince then made a deal for him to ride with Chief Jay Strongbow, who was clean.

When he called to quit he said that he called Vince a bunch of times and was never able to reach him and told everyone but him he was leaving.

On Mick Foley’s claim that Vince McMahon as a soft spot in his heart for him, Bruno says he loves Mick and jokes about how he took too many bumps to the head as Vince does not a soft heart for anyone and only wants him in his Hall of Fame because of all the fans complaining about Bruno not being there as he felt Vince never planned to put him there as he wanted to pretend that he did not exist. He then talks about Vince’s attorney calling Bruno’s and how he spoke with Jim Ross, who he likes. Bruno then said that he talked to Vince after being subpoenaed for the “Living Legend” lawsuit against the WWE brought on by Zbyszko and had no intention of accepting the offer but did get a chance to get some things of his chest as he told him he did not have any respect for the older generation of wrestlers and if he ever wanted to bring him back they would have to show him the same respect he does for the celebrities he brings into the company because Vince low-balled all of the legends when bringing them back but gave guys like Pete Rose six-figure deals to appear. Bruno then said that Vince put out how he was hostile and that was why he was not in the Hall of Fame.

Bruno talks about how Vince would not allow his name mentioned on the A&E pro wrestling documentary as Bruno told the producer on the phone that to allow someone to distort the documentary speaks volumes of what Vince and A&E are all about.

He is asked about Ric Flair saying that Bruno never impressed him in the ring and how he never drew outside of the Northeast as Bruno talks about selling out arenas in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Georgia, St. Louis, and in Japan Bruno was the headliner of the shows that Flair worked the undercard. He then tells us how Flair vs. Hogan couldnt sell out MSG when they wrestled each other. Bruno then says that he laughs when people call Flair the greatest worker ever as he did the same match every time. Bruno does credits him for working hard and bumping a lot then talks about while not the most talented himself, he wrestled different style of matches depending on his opponent. Bruno then questions where he drew outside of the Carolinas as Flair first came to the WWWF to work in the preliminaries while Bruno worked as a headliner even outside of the company.

Still speaking about Flair, Bruno said Flair’s claim of trying to shake his hand only for Bruno to turn his back on him is the biggest lie in the world. Bruno said this was the day he had a meeting with Vince and how he was speaking to a few people backstage at RAW and saw Flair about 20-25 feet away and walked towards him. Bruno said that Flair then took off like a child and said people were even commenting about that as he then talks about Flair being a terrible ambassador for wrestling for exposing himself frequently and nearly arrested for evading income tax, even back in the 1980’s. Bruno said he heard Flair constantly bragged about affairs he was having while married.

Bruno talks about steroids briefly and how they have led to more deaths in wrestling than in any other sport.

He said that Vince Russo’s claim in which he was negotiating with WCW in 2000 were false and has no idea where they come from.

On Vince Jr. wrestling, Bruno said he knows Vince uses steroids as his lawyer told him so and that he is insane at his age to be taken those and he must have something missing at his stage in life to be getting into the ring.

When asked about becoming a referee for a match in WCW for the Thunderdome match at 1989 Halloween Havoc, Bruno said that Gary Jester called him and he was not interested because he never thought he was a good referee but then Jim Herd called and gave him an offer that he could not refuse. He was asked to come back to make periodic appearances but that never happened.

About his current fitness routine, Bruno said he is done to about 215 lbs and does weights three days a week and “road work” three days a week too, all at the age of 71.

Bruno talks about being grateful for all his fan support and always appreciates them as without the fans it would not be possible to do what he did, stating he probably would have remained a construction worker. He also talks about being shocked at the fan support he receives now long after he was retired and how much he appreciates that now.

When asked about his match against Chick Garibaldi, who ended up dying of a heart attack during the bout, Bruno said that they had wrestled for about ten minutes and as soon as he slammed him, he went to cover but noticed Garibaldi make a gargling sound and his eyes rolled in the back of his head so he waved over the doctor from the State Athletic Commission and he finally came in and shot him up with adrenaline then stretchered him to the back as Bruno volunteered to massage his chest in order to revive him until the doctor told him that he was dead. Later on he found out that Garibaldi had clogged arteries that led to his death and it was not the result of the slam but Bruno said that haunted him for months as he could not get that out of his head.

He is asked about if he ever felt cheated on his pay as Bruno joked about how could that happen in wrestling with all of the honest promoters then said he had a deal that paid him a percentage of the house (which was 9%) and that there were times in which he and Vince Sr. got along great and other times where they did not. He talks about being short-changed at times as well and how some other promoters treated him fairly while others did not at all.

On if he was surprised that Hogan and Flair as still wrestling, Bruno said he was but has no problem with them doing so and who is he to tell them to get out of the business.

Bruno talks about meeting Kurt Angle a few times and respects him for his achievements but does not know him all that well and feels bad for him due to his injuries and how he became dependent on painkillers as a result as Bruno talks about how pills just mask the problems while comparing guys to today who get put through rehab for injuries while the guys from his era were treated like dogs and how they were told to wrestle anyway due to the fact they were advertised on the show. Bruno felt like he shortchanged the fans when he was wrestling while injured as he could not give them everything he had.

He gets asked about the rumors that he is bitter as Bruno said that he wishes he was younger but is a happy and grateful guy. He also talks about spending 20+ years on the road and was grateful to retire and spent time with his parents, who lived to be in their late 90’s and how he has beautiful grandchildren and is even able to go to Italy once a year. Bruno also talks about how despite all of the health issues he had as a child and after all he went through he got to come to the greatest country in the world and became a wrestler. He then said the rumors of him not liking the wrestlers today couldn’t be further form the truth as he does not even know many of the guys but that he does not like the direction that Vince Jr. went with wrestling and hates how steroids impacted the business and believes wrestling belongs in the big arenas. He says that wrestling turns him off today and he does not bother to watch it anymore.

Bruno talks about how he tries to be a good ambassador to wrestling as he loves it and wants to make sure to conduct himself in a professional manner.

Final Thoughts: I thought this was a terrific interview. Some watching this or even reading the recap might think that Bruno is bitter but I never got that feeling here. He seemed to hate what Vince McMahon did to wrestling and was disgusted by the drug use in the locker room when he returned in 1984 as a commentator. Like he said, he does not know the wrestlers today so he did not comment on them one way or the other. And Bruno seems like a happy guy as he talks about his family and laughed and joked a lot during the interview and was relaxed but he did shoot straight and did not pull any punches at all here. Bruno comes off as a guy who is passionate about everything he does. And how HHH managed to get him to agree to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame is a minor miracle. Maybe HHH should head over to the Middle East to negotiate a peace treaty?

It was also fascinating to hear about the hardships he faced growing up as a child. His childhood in Italy sounded like a living hell until he made it to America, where he got the shit kicked out of him when he started school. His story is fascinating as this guy worked his ass off to get everything. Even at 71 years old here he was in tremendous shape, both physically and mentally as his mind seemed solid and memory very well intact.

He certainly has a disdain for Vince McMahon Jr. and Ric Flair. Bruno was not a fan of Hogan, either. Other than that, Bruno really didnt comment on anything else as he even said he did not hang out much with the others, preferring to be at home.

In closing, I highly recommend this interview as I became a big fan of Bruno as a person. Gargiulo did a great job with the interview itself and it certainly helps that he has interviewed Bruno many times in the past.

You can purchase the DVD of this interview for $20 at RFVideo.com by clicking on the link below:

http://www.rfvideo.com/shootwithbrunosammartino1.aspx

Or you can download a digital copy at RFVideoNow for $9.99 by clicking on the link below:

http://store.rfvideonow.com/downloads/bruno-sammartino-shoot-interview/