'I felt like we were all at a funeral': Remembering the night Bruno Sammartino lost the WWE Title

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January 18, 2014

Finally, when it appeared that Bruno was set for another win, Koloff caught Sammartino with a knee, knocking the wind out of the champion. Bruno quickly fell to the mat, totally dazed. Koloff, sensing the kill, quickly worked his way through the ropes and onto the ring apron. Next, he began climbing the corner ropes and perched himself on the top strands, one leg on each side of the ring post. I was in the perfect spot to get this action shot — and I did. Koloff came off the top with a devastating knee drop to do what no other challenger had been able to do all those years before. In a matter of seconds, referee Kroll made the three count and raised Koloff’s arm, declaring him the new WWE Champion.

Kroll made sure he posed Koloff with his arm up in victory for me. I looked around the arena. You could hear a pin drop. It was dead silence as the new champion left the ring with Albano behind him. Bruno was now sitting up in the middle of the ring with Skaaland just above him, asking if he was okay.

Read an exclusive interview with Bruno and Triple H

I remember seeing Bruno’s fan club president, Georgian Orsi, sitting in the front row, crying. Many other fans wept as well. I felt like we were all at a funeral as Bruno left the ring. No one knew what to say.

I hustled back to the dressing room and, after waiting a few minutes, knocked on Bruno’s dressing room door. He invited me in and agreed to an interview.

“What can I tell you, Bill?” he said. “You wrestle a man like Koloff many times and sometimes that man has a better night than you do. I don’t know what else to say.”

When I questioned him about going into the match with broken ribs, he said, “I don’t want to take anything away from Koloff. He beat me tonight and so let it be.”

I ended the interview there as I felt Bruno wanted to get dressed, leave the arena and head home to his family in Pittsburgh.

See photos of every WWE Champion in history

As I left Sammartino’s dressing room, the braggart Albano grabbed my microphone and for 10 minutes shouted about how he trained Koloff for this match and then demanded I take the first posed photos of Ivan with the title.

On Jan. 19, 1971, the New York Daily News reported the result of this match and published photos of fans crying as they mourned this incredible loss.

It was one of the most historic times in sports-entertainment. And I was there.

Bruno Sammartino Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Ivan Koloff Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles

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