Exclusive interview: Bruno Sammartino and Triple H discuss WWE Hall of Fame

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February 06, 2013

WWECLASSICS.COM: Bruno, when you won the WWE Championship for the first time from Buddy Rogers, it was actually at the old Madison Square Garden, which no longer exists. What was that night like for you?

BRUNO: I had been wrestling in Canada for a little more than a year at the time and was contacted by WWE to give me an opportunity to wrestle Rogers. I came back to New York and wrestled Rogers on May 17, 1963, and beat him with the backbreaker. We went 48 seconds. And like when I lifted Haystacks Calhoun, I thought the roof was going to pop off the Garden. That was the very beginning and after that, I was in Madison Square Garden every month.

WWECLASSICS.COM: What was your travel schedule like in those days to keep coming back to the Garden?

BRUNO: I’ll tell ya how Vincent J, McMahon treated me with the Garden. If I had to go to Japan or Australia or a country in South America, which we went to in those years, I would always leave the day after the event at the Garden to make my way to whichever country it was. I wouldn’t be going home from there. After three weeks in a country, I would make my way right back to New York to be there in time for the Madison Square Garden show that was coming. I never missed a Garden show in all those years. So the Garden has been very, very special for me and I must say, I owe great gratitude to Triple H for really making all of this possible. I’m very grateful to him.

WWECLASSICS.COM: And I think a lot of fans are very grateful as well. On the night of your match against Ivan Koloff when you lost the WWE Title, there was a famous reaction in the Garden. Legend has it that the crowd fell silent. What do you remember about the reaction being in the building?

BRUNO: It was something that I never expected. I cannot tell you what it did to me. We had a great match. It was a lot of action. At that time, we were both big. Ivan was about 290 and I was 275 and we were moving like two lightweights. But when the end came, he caught me with a bodyslam after a knee in the midsection. He went up on the top rope and came down with a knee drop on my neck and the referee counted, “One, two, three.” I thought something happened to my hearing because I couldn’t hear a thing. Everything was so quiet. Then my manager, Arnold Skaaland, came in the ring and asked me, “Bruno, are you all right?” And I heard him very clearly and thought, “What’s going on?” I expected to hear a lot of boos because I was pretty popular and Koloff was the villain. Slowly, I get up and it was so quiet it was spooky. Finally, I started making my way out of the ring and people were literally crying as I was going by. They were saying, “Bruno, we’ll always love you. You’ll always be the champion. Nobody’s better than you.” It touched me so deeply that when I went in the dressing room I was really depressed. I always busted my behind because I wanted people to go home happy and say, “Wow, what a great night.” But that night, when I saw that reaction, it saddened me that people felt so bad. I felt awful. I sat in that dressing room for a long time. I never expected that.

(WATCH: BRUNO’S GREATEST RIVALS)

WWECLASSICS.COM: To say you were “pretty popular” is the understatement of the century. You faced off against so many legendary guys: Stan Hansen, Gorilla Monsoon, Pedro Morales, Spiros Arion, Killer Kowalski, as you mentioned. Who was your toughest opponent and are there any matches that stand out above all the others?

BRUNO: The guy who was my toughest opponent, because he was an amazing man — and Triple H thinks the world of him — was Kowalski. The first time I wrestled Kowalski, I was 23 years old and he was 33. He was in such great condition that a lot of guys didn’t particularly care to wrestle him because he had great stamina and the matches could go pretty long. So when I had to wrestle Kowalski, many, many times throughout this country, we wrestled one-hour draws. It was great because for me, it was this great challenge. Here’s this guy that I had the utmost respect for and to go toe-to-toe with him for a whole hour, you felt like, “Hey, I have to be in pretty great shape to have done that.” That’s how great he was. Walter really sticks in my mind more than anybody.

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