Legendary Pittsburgh wrestler Bruno Sammartino dies at 82

RAW interview with Dominic DeNucci about Bruno Sammartino

Legendary Pittsburgh wrestler Bruno Sammartino died on Wednesday. He was 82.

Sammartino grew up in Italy, but moved to Pittsburgh in 1950. He held the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Championship title for nearly eight straight years, which remains a record to this day.

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When he first came here, before his wrestling days, Sammartino was a laborer who actually helped build the original Channel 11 studios.

Sammartino went on to perform many feats in the ring.

He held the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) title for 12 years, the longest anyone has held the title. He survived a broken neck and went back to the ring to fight again. He sold out Madison Square Garden 187 times.

Sammartino was more than a wrestler. He also miraculously survived World War II when his Italian village was overrun and his family escaped to the mountains.

After that, he came to Pittsburgh, which is where he got his start in professional wrestling.

He called it quits in the 1980s when he saw a growing problem with steroids, alienating him from the sport he helped make popular.

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He stayed in Pittsburgh and eventually made peace with the WWE and was inducted into its Hall of Fame.

Wrestling fans around the world are remembering the legendary wrestler.

On May 17, 2013, Allegheny County recognized Sammartino and the County Council declared that day Bruno Sammartino Day. 

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald issued a statement on Sammartino's passing.

"We are saddened by the loss of Bruno Sammartino, a Pittsburgh legend and iconic figure. He came to Pittsburgh as a young man and through hard work and perseverance gained national and international acclaim. He has always made us proud. He embodied Pittsburgh and served as one of the greatest ambassadors for this region.
"This is a great loss for those of us who are of a certain age who remember his accomplishments and achievements in the ring. Growing up, Bruno always made us proud that he was from Pittsburgh and made us prouder to be from Pittsburgh too. "In the last few years, I've had the privilege to get to know Bruno as a man who was extremely proud of his Pittsburgh roots and heritage.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time. We hope that it provides some comfort to them to know how lucky we feel that Pittsburgh became home to him and his family, and that we had him as a Pittsburgher for as long as we did."

In August 2017, a statue was unveiled in his hometown of Pizzoferatto, Italy.

From the closest of friends to wrestling fans, Sammartino left a huge impact on so many lives.

Dominick DeNucci wrestled with him and they traveled the world together.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto also issued a statement on the passing of Sammartino:

"Bruno Sammartino was one of the greatest ambassadors the city of Pittsburgh ever had. Like so many of us, his immigrant family moved here to build a new life, and through his uncommon strength and surprising grace he embodied the spirit of Pittsburgh on the world stage.
Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are of sitting in the basement with my grandfather on Saturday mornings and watching Bruno wrestle. They both came from the same part of Italy, and when my grandfather – who was five-foot-eight – would watch Bruno wrestle he became six-feet-ten.
I consider it a great personal honor that Bruno and I later became friends.
I join all other Pittsburgh residents in saying 'Thank you, Bruno' and we will miss you."

"I know he's helped out a lot of people throughout the years," said John Defazio, Allegheny Council president. "I think he was a big asset to wrestling. He sold out Madison Square Garden more than anybody in the history of the Gardens."

WWE tolled the bell 10 times in Sammartino's memory at a live event in South Africa, which is a traditional tribute in the wrestling world.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced yet.

Pittsburgh sports teams also showed their appreciation on social media for Sammartino.