WWE Superstars, Legends and Hall of Famers react to Bruno Sammartino's Hall of Fame induction
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Bruno Sammartino’s forthcoming induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. One of the squared circle’s original superstars in every sense of the word and long revered as a true gentleman outside the ring, the longest-reigning WWE Champion in history was also the Hall’s most high-profile holdout. Years ticked by and class after class of inductees was announced with The Living Legend’s name conspicuously absent from the ballot, a result of personal reluctance on behalf of the old-school Superstar to return to the company he helped build.
For a while, it seemed like the Hall was doomed to live on absent one of its most deserving members. But it should be no news by now to say the wait is over and Sammartino will join the likes of Mick Foley, Bob Backlund and Trish Stratus in the 2013 induction ceremony on April 6. Adding to the significance of the event is that the ceremony itself will unfold in Madison Square Garden — the very arena where Sammartino won his first WWE Championship and The Living Legend’s personal stomping grounds (he sold out the building an unprecedented 187 times) during his time in the squared circle.
In other words, Bruno Sammartino is finally coming home, and the world could not be happier to see him there. The news of Sammartino’s induction was greeted with enthusiasm by not only the likes of ESPN, The Sun (U.K.), CBS and The Baltimore Sun, but also the various veterans of the WWE locker room. Apart from congratulations via Twitter and Tout from Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett (“well-deserved”), Cody Rhodes (“speaking on behalf of Goldust and my father — ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes — congratulations, Bruno Sammartino, Hall of Famer”) and Divas Champion Kaitlyn (“way to go, slugger”), The Living Legend’s induction has brought on benedictions from New York natives, in-ring veterans and fellow Hall of Famers alike, each of whom have been lining up to pay homage to the longest-reigning WWE Champion that has ever lived.
The Brooklyn Brawler — no stranger to the Madison Square Garden crowd himself — believes the induction will be a special moment. “I think it’s great that Bruno Sammartino is being inducted into the 2013 Hall of Fame,” he said. “As a child and even as a teenager, I always idolized him. It’s a privilege to have been in the ring with Bruno Sammartino, and he’s more than deserving of being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. I think the reaction and the sentiment from all the WWE Universe is gonna be tremendous.”
New York native Tommy Dreamer, who witnessed Bruno’s legendary Shea Stadium clash with Larry Zbyszko in person, concurred. “It’s great that Bruno is being inducted into the Hall of Fame; it’s long overdue,” he said. “To see him change his attitude about WWE is awesome. I credit Triple H with reintroducing Bruno to today’s WWE. I’m really glad he’s back as part of the WWE family.”
Sammartino’s reach spreads far beyond the New York connection, as former ECW announcer Joey Styles noted. “As an Italian-American whose family is also from the Abruzzi region of Italy, Bruno Sammartino was and is an inspiration,” Styles said. “The haunting story of his childhood in German-occupied Italy during World War II is even more amazing than his wrestling career. Back in high school, my paesans and I had a very bare bones gym above my friend’s garage that was adorned with posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Lou Ferrigno, Lee Haney and, the only non-bodybuilder who inspired us to load more weight on the bar, Bruno!”
As a practitioner of the old-school wrestling style Sammartino embodies, Dory Funk Jr. — already a Hall of Famer along with Terry and Dory Funk, and the NWA Champion around the same time Bruno was WWE Champion — was also among those singing Sammartino’s praises.
“I was always a fan of his, what he did for professional wrestling, what he did for New York City, what he did for WWE at the time and for Vincent J. McMahon,” Funk said. “And when I heard he was being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, I said to my wife, ‘That’s it. The WWE Hall of Fame is really going to be big this year.’ ”
Funk went on to say that this Hall of Fame ceremony in particular would have been incomplete without the inclusion of The Living Legend.
“I think Bruno really had to be part of it,” Funk added. “Maybe not before [it came to MSG], but it’s really nice to have him now, I think it’s terrific.”
WWE Hall of Famer Howard Finkel chimed in with his own message for the first two-time WWE Champion. “Bruno was at the top of his game for many years and I’m thrilled that he will now be receiving the fruits of his labor with his induction,” Finkel said. “Welcome to the club, champ.”
Sammartino also received homage from some of WWE’s contemporary Superstars and even one of his fellow inductees, Trish Stratus.
“Bruno being inducted is long overdue,” Stratus said. “It’s like how the Hockey Hall of Fame would be incomplete without Wayne Gretzky; Bruno being inducted makes the WWE Hall of Fame complete. I'm absolutely honored that I'm going to be inducted in the same class as one of our industry’s greats.”
The Rock — currently holding the WWE Championship that Sammartino carried for years — took to Twitter to give his tribute.
“Congratulations Bruno Sammartino: 2013 #WWEHallOfFame,” The Great One tweeted. “You’re the greatest @WWE Champion of all time. Thank you for paving the way. #Hero.”
Even Michael Cole and JBL stopped bickering long enough to pay homage to Cole’s boyhood hero.
“I don’t know what has happened in the past between him and sports-entertainment, but Bruno Sammartino belongs in the Hall of Fame,” JBL said. “He sold out the Garden 187 nights. Most people go their entire career without 187 appearances in the Garden. Phenomenal record, what Bruno Sammartino did.”
Cole, a native of The Empire State, agreed with his broadcast partner. “[Bruno Sammartino] did so much for the Italian-American community in the Northeast — New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, all over the Northeastern part of the United States,” Cole concurred. “He became a hero for so many people.”
But the most moving tribute came from 2011 Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, whose best friend Triple H was instrumental in sealing Bruno’s inclusion into the Hall and whose candid, thoughtful remarks perfectly encapsulated The Living Legend’s long, strange journey into WWE’s most hallowed echelon.
“As a Hall of Famer, I feel that, respectfully, the Hall of Fame takes on a legitimacy [with Bruno] that, could be argued, was not there before,” Michaels told WWE.com. “The entrance of Bruno Sammartino is an example of the exclusivity, prestige and honor that should be the hallmark of any Hall of Fame.”
That’s a hard act to follow, but for what it’s worth, allow us to join in the chorus. Congratulations, Bruno. It’s good to have you home, and we’ll see you on April 6 for Madison Square Garden sellout No. 188.