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

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February 06, 2013

WWECLASSICS.COM: Who are some other opponents who come to mind?

BRUNO: Ivan Koloff was great. I had a lot of great matches with him. And a guy named Don Leo Jonathan. He was 6-foot-7, 350 pounds and he moved like a cat in that ring. And he was strong as a bear. I had some great matches with him. You mentioned Gorilla Monsoon. Here’s a guy who was 420 pounds and one time in Madison Square Garden we wrestled for an hour and a half in a one-fall match, nonstop to curfew. Toru Tanaka, the 300-pound Japanese wrestler, I had some great matches with him. Big Bill Miller was another guy — 6-foot-6, 340 pounds, from Ohio. He was an All-American football player and a national wrestling champion. He and I wrestled many, many long matches. All of these guys were super great and when I look back, I feel so privileged that I had the opportunity to go in the ring with all of them.

(RARE BRUNO PHOTOS)

WWECLASSICS.COM: Three of your biggest matches came at the events known as Showdown at Shea against Pedro Morales, Stan Hansen and, of course, Larry Zbyszko in a Steel Cage Match. Many historians consider those shows the predecessor to WrestleMania. What was it like to wrestle at that ballpark with those three matches in particular?

BRUNO: I was thrilled with that first match with Pedro Morales and I’ll tell you why. When I first suggested it to Vincent J. McMahon, he never believed a match like that would work with two popular guys. No villain. But I always believed if you went in there and gave the proper match, people would enjoy it. When Pedro and I went in there, we went for one hour and 18 minutes in a nonstop match under the worst conditions. I think it was Sept. 30 and we happened to get hit with rain. It was cold. It was lousy, weather-wise. But there was not one punch thrown, not one kick thrown, it was a lot of good wrestling maneuvers. It gave me a great thrill because I wanted to show promoters who came from around the country that it could be a match that a lot of people would really love and enjoy. And they really did.

WWECLASSICS.COM: How about the match against Stan Hansen?

BRUNO: Stan Hansen was a different ballgame. I broke my neck wrestling him in Madison Square Garden. I spent a month in the hospital and for a while it was touch and go because the doctors told me I came within a millimeter of being paralyzed from the neck down. Vincent J. McMahon kept calling me at the hospital because he was very concerned. They had a match scheduled between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki. The thing turned out to be a dud. They just weren’t selling tickets. But Vince had invested a lot of money with closed circuit, so he wanted to schedule a return match between me and Stan Hansen. I wasn’t in the best condition, but I came out of the hospital and started to train because there was not much time. I always used to get goosebumps in Madison Square Garden, because as soon as I started making my entrance, people would be chanting my name. “BRU-NO! BRU-NO!” But at Shea Stadium, when I made my entrance to the ring, those people gave me such an ovation; I never heard anything like it. That was quite an experience and they really ate up the match.

WWECLASSICS.COM: What was it like to wrestle your former protégé, Larry Zbyszko?

BRUNO: The Zbyszko thing was a different story. He had been my protégé, and then, of course, came the double-cross. So when we went to Shea Stadium, the place sold out. We had more than 35,000 people and the people, my God, they were absolutely so anxious and responsive to everything. They just went wild that night. It was crazy, the way those people reacted. It was a Cage Match, and you wanted to be there to experience it. It was just awesome. When I walked out, the whole place stood up screaming like you can’t believe. These are things you don’t forget. These are memories I’ll always have with me. There were only three shows in Shea Stadium and I headlined all three of them.

(WATCH: BRUNO’S CAREER HIGHLIGHTS)

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