Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino was one of the most popular wrestlers of the 1960's and 70's. Sammartino held the WWWF (now WWE) championship for over 11 years during the course of his two reigns.
Sammartino relied on a mat-oriented style, but he was also a great brawler. He was very charismatic and was a huge favorite in the New York area. His "gimmick" was just himself, no frills, just Bruno.
Sammartino has been very critical of Vince McMahon, the WWE and wrestling in general. Despite this stance, he's one of those guys who still commands respect.
I first met Sammartino in the hallway at the hotel hosting a wrestlers reunion. We talked for a bit and I felt like I had just talked to one of the older Italian guys in the neighborhood of my youth. I basically walked in with him and we went to his area, where we talked a bit more.
Like I have written before about today's fans, most of the crowd was more interested in younger stars. Admittedly, Sammartino's own actions have pushed him away from the wrestling scene, but a man like this should still hold a place of honor on the wrestling scene. The man was wrestling's biggest draw for nearly 20 years. He almost was wrestling.
We discussed Italian food and Abruzzi (his birth place and that of my ancestors, too) and then I thanked him for his time. He grabbed my hand strongly and thanked me. The man was pure class.