Bruno Sammartino is, hands down, one of the greatest wrestlers to have ever stepped inside the squared circle. His matches and feuds with the likes of Killer Kowalski, Freddie Blassie, Gorilla Monsoon, Billy Graham and Larry Zbyszko are legendary. Sammartino's 4,040 days spent as WWE Champion is a feat no one will ever come close to breaking.
In March of 1988, Sammartino left the WWE. Since his departure from the company, he has received numerous offers to join the WWE Hall of Fame. Sammartino rejected each of those offers, until finally accepting the honor earlier this year. The reasonings behind his refusal to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame centered around his idea of what the WWE product should be, as opposed to what it actually was.
Sammartino has gone on record many times stating his displeasure for the road that Vince McMahon has led the WWE down. He was not a fan of the "drug culture" that was taking over the business when he returned from his first retirement. On this episode of the Phil Donahue Show, he speaks infrequently on the perceived drug issue. Sammartino also did an interview with Dan Abrams following the death of Chris Benoit. In this interview he mentions how he has been trying to push the steroid problem to the forefront for years.
Aside from the drugs, Sammartino did not like the way the wrestling product evolved. He took issue to the nudity, language and crudeness the the WWE turned to in the late 90's and early 2000's. On an Inside The Ropes podcast, he reveals his feelings in regards to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Sammartino remarks that, "I didn't care for him because of his mouth," and that "anything else he has positive [is] out-shadowed by the negative."
For almost 25 years Sammartino has refused to associate himself with the WWE product because he did not care for it. He has refused to be a part of DVD deals, licensing deals and any other offers WWE made in attempt to highlight his career.
In the meantime, he allowed multiple independent documentaries to be released about his life and career. Sammartino even appeared in a recent TNA DVD where he praised the abilities and accomplishments of Kurt Angle. The same Angle that has been linked to his own drug issues in the past.
I am all for having your own beliefs and sticking to them, but Sammartino seems to think that his ideals are bigger than the business. Just for the record, they aren't.
Steroids and performance enhancing drugs are an issue in many sports. If Sammartino truly believes that this wasn't an issue while he was wrestling, and only became one after, why essentially hold WWE hostage? What gave this man the right to speak down on a business that was very good to him, and refused to be enshrined in their Hall of Fame? The Hall of Fame wanted him to honor his greatness, his current view on the company was irrelevant.
In 2008 Sammartino accepted induction into the World Wide Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame. During an interview at this event, he makes a remark that he likes the WWWA because, "you can take your kids, and your mother." So, are we to believe that drugs are not a problem in the WWWA? Are we to believe that none of their wrestlers have ever used steroids or PED's? This also must mean that they have never had questionable story lines or characters. Apparently this is the case because Sammartino would never be a part of a Hall of Fame where such things were happening.
If I had to guess, I would say that Sammartino didn't watch much wrestling during the "Attitude Era" days. He obviously was somewhat aware of the happenings given his opinion on Austin and his knowledge of nudity and such.
If it were not for that era, there might not even be a WWE. It's not all that far fetched to think that if the WWE chose not to push the envelope, instead of WrestleMania 29, we would be preparing for Starrcade.
It's amazing that Sammartino is incapable of understanding that wrestling was it an all-time high in popularity at that time. Even if he didn't agree with some of the company's actions, he should at least value the fact that the 'Attitude Era' elevated the product into the main stream.
In an interview for CBS Pittsburgh, Sammartino was quoted saying,
"Being that they made those changes, now that they want me in there so badly I absolutely accept it because they did what I wanted them to do."
The WWE did not shift to the PG Era for Sammartino. The WWE has not made any of their recent changes for Sammartino. The reason the WWE wants him in the Hall of Fame "so badly" is because of his career accomplishments and his impact on the industry. Sammartino holding out and essentially boycotting them for as long as he did was ridiculous. Having an appreciation for the business is one thing, putting your beliefs and wants over that business is another.
For 25 years Sammartino essentially spat in the face of the WWE. Throughout all of this the WWE deserves a great deal of credit because in the end they only wanted what was right. The right thing is that Sammartino should be in the WWE Hall of Fame. The wrong thing is the road that Sammartino has traveled to reach this point. The man is undoubtedly a legend, he is also undoubtedly out of touch.