To many fans, Bruno Sammartino is the greatest champion in the decorated history of the wrestling business, and the honor of being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame is long overdue.
The living legend took time to sit down with the boys of Ring Rust Radio in an exclusive interview found here (some language NSFW) to discuss his WWE 2013 Hall of Fame induction, his strenuous relationship with Vince McMahon and so much more.
There is still a small contingent of fans that do not believe that Sammartino was the greatest champion of all time, but that is an opinion most smart wrestling fans scoff at. Even current WWE champion and legend The Rock admits that Sammartino is the GOAT, even going so far as to say that the former superstar is one of his heroes (Twitter):
Dwayne Johnson @TheRock
Congratulations Bruno Sammartino: 2013 #WWEHallOfFame You're the greatest @WWE Champion of all time. Thank you for paving the way. #Hero2/7/2013, 6:40:25 PM
When The Rock claims that Sammartino is the greatest of all time, the entire WWE Universe needs to realize the magnitude of this legend’s aura and the importance of his induction into the Hall of Fame after all this time.
Sammartino’s induction will likely go down as the biggest event in WWE Hall of Fame history.
For the full audio interview, click here or use the player located at the bottom.
Why Sammartino Decided to Accept the Honor Now
Ever since his retirement in 1988, Sammartino has been at odds with the WWE and CEO Vince McMahon because of the way the company was heading in the 1980s. Sammartino was very outspoken about the issues with the WWE, and he refused to work with the company until things changed.
Things have changed dramatically in the WWE over the last decade, and with the help of Triple H, Sammartino has seen the light and understands that the company has matured in its philosophies:
Time went by, and I was contacted by the WWE, which was Paul Levesque—better known as Triple H. When he contacted me, I was curious, wasn’t convinced, but after awhile he started telling me about not only about the drug program and how strict they were, but he started talking about how they were making it more family friendly by doing away with the nudity and vulgarity and the profanity and all that. Well they’ve convinced me that they have changed and they convinced me—Paul Levesque has—that they want to be family friendly and the plans to go ahead is to do even more so, and I liked everything he had to say. Putting everything together is what made me want to go in.
The WWE Universe can’t forget that Sammartino is 77 years old and has a different mindset about the product and how it should be presented. He's the definition of "old school."
While many fans want the return of the "Attitude Era" and the cruder nature of that programming, Sammartino and the WWE know that steering the company in a more family-friendly direction is best for the long term success of the business.
Sammartino’s Relationship With Vince McMahon
The strenuous relationship between Sammartino and McMahon is well documented—from speaking out on The Donahue Show in the early 90s to rejecting every Hall of Fame offer before this year—and the tension still exists all these years later.
McMahon and Sammartino have yet to speak through this entire process, leaving the possibility that their first face-to-face meeting in years could happen in Madison Square Garden on the night of the Hall of Fame induction.
The animosity lives on, but Sammartino realizes that the product has changed for the better. Whether this scenario actually comes to fruition or not is anyone’s guess:
Well, first of all, I have not talked to Vince McMahon at all. In the past six months that I have been speaking with Paul Levesque, I have never once talked to Vince McMahon. Now, yes, as you said he is the boss, so I feel that from my conversations with Paul Levesque and the agreements we’ve come to and so forth, I do believe he had to speak to Vince, and Vince of course had to agree. But as far as myself, I will see him for the first time at Madison Square Garden at the Hall of Fame.
But I have not talked to him, and as far as I know, there aren’t any plans for us to talk until we meet in person at that time. So when that time comes, we shall meet in person and if he wants to bury the hatchet as the old saying goes, I commend him for the changes that he made. I criticized him before, and I will give him credit because these changes could not have taken place without his approval. So, you know, I have to be fair too here.
Sammartino sounds like a man that doesn’t want to hold this grudge anymore. He has watched the product and feels it is much improved over where it was when he voiced his concerns.
Considering the number of tragedies and deaths that have plagued the professional wrestling industry since its inception, Sammartino fought publicly to make the business safer for all of those that followed in his footsteps.
Much of the reason the WWE was forced to make such drastic changes over the years is because of the valiant fight from Sammartino and others that helped clean up the issues with the industry.
Despite the mutual issues the two men had over the years, times have changed, and McMahon and Sammartino must shake hands in a very public forum to ensure the world sees them bury the hatchet on what was a dark period in WWE history.
Who Sammartino Would Like to Induct Him
Now that the living legend is finally getting the honor of being inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame, the excitement over who will be the one to induct Sammartino has the fans across the world speculating on which current or former superstar will be selected.
Sammartino told the WWE that he would let them decide who would induct him if the company knew someone that would appeal to a broader audience, but there were a few names that the wrestling great had in mind if it were up to him:
If it were me, there would be a number of names I’d want; that I think would be fitting I should say. It could be [Larry] Zbyszko as you mentioned, could be a Koloff because he’s the one I lost the title to the first time, could be Bill Watts because I certainly have a history with him in this business as well, it could be a good friend of mine that I like very much—we come from the same neck of the woods—and that would be Dominic DeNucci. You know, but if they choose someone that they feel is more appropriate because of their 126 markets around the world and they think they might be more important, then I wouldn’t argue with them. I’d be fine with that too. As of right now, it has not been determined on who it’s going to be.
Who inducts Sammartino will be one of the more interesting aspects of the road to WrestleMania 29, but the options he provided would be excellent. The WWE will obviously have a few ideas of its own, but one idea really struck me personally as something I would love to see.
The best decision the WWE could ever make would be to have Vince McMahon as the surprise presenter for Sammartino’s entrance into the Hall of Fame.
McMahon could continue to avoid Sammartino before the show—teasing the idea that there is still tension—and when it would be finally revealed that it’s Vince presenting, Madison Square Garden, and even more so Sammartino, would be stunned.
That would be McMahon’s chance to bury the hatchet and give the most emotional induction speech in WWE history. The speech, followed by the first face-to-face meeting between the duo in years and their embrace, would be a moment that defines the Hall of Fame.
No matter who inducts the living legend at Madison Square Garden, the fact that the greatest champion in wrestling history is finally getting the honor he so richly deserves is satisfying as a wrestling fan.
It’s about time Sammartino got the credit he worked so hard to earn.
For more wrestling talk, listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot topics you just can’t miss (some language NSFW).