Arnold Furious: Given that his era was such a long time ago, it’s easy to forget the popularity of Bruno Sammartino, not to mention his longevity. He was the WWWF’s biggest star from the point where they broke away from the NWA in 1963, until the end of his second reign in 1977. For the vast majority of that time he was either WWWF champion or thereabouts, with his first title run lasting an unbeatable eight years. He initially retired in 1981 and became extremely bitter about the WWF’s direction, though he did return in 1984 for a run alongside son David. Bruno’s post-WWF career has seen him oppose the WWF/E at every turn, constantly criticising them in public.
Bruno Sammartino vs. Nikolai Volkoff
24th October 1976. Madison Square Garden. Gene Okerlund immediately lies to me by saying its 1975. This is during Bruno’s second world title run, which lasted over three years. This goes back to Volkoff’s time as a legitimate main event threat. Long before Vince turned him into a comedy sideshow and then a jobber. He’s big and strong and he cheats so Bruno just grabs a body part and outwrestles him. Bruno’s selling of Volkoff’s strength is absolutely vital to the crowd buying into Volkoff as a title threat. At one point they run into each other, with Bruno hitting with more force and yet he bounces back through the ropes. That’s one of the keys for being a long term champion; making challengers look legitimate. The word “Flair” springs to mind. While Bruno is technically solid, he’s not flamboyant but he is charismatic. Volkoff doesn’t have the stamina to keep up with the champ and when he’s lying on the mat trying to recover Bruno is strolling around, fit as a fiddle, laying the boots in. Volkoff isn’t a much better worker in his prime compared to the mid 80s or anything but he’s more agile and able to keep up with a world champion. Bruno, at times, wrestles rings around him though and gets a roll up out of the corner to retain. While Bruno was able to sell Volkoff as being a worthy opponent he couldn’t create a sense of danger. Volkoff was just too easy going. He didn’t have the ambition or determination to actually beat Bruno.
Final Rating: *½
Bruno Sammartino vs. Baron Von Raschke
Another title defence from MSG. This time from March 1977 and towards the end of his second run. The Baron attacks from behind before the match gets underway, and any pretence of having a wrestling match goes out of the window in favour of a brawl. Bruno can’t like the Baron much as he hardly sells for him. As a fan of Irish whips and armdrags, when done correctly, you have to admire Sammartino’s execution. He makes certain aspects look authentic. It’s a level of effort to maintain the work that you don’t get from modern wrestlers. I know it was a different era but the difference between Bruno’s Irish whips and practically anyone from 1990 onwards is huge. Baron gets a little bit of offence in, but it’s mainly an extremely long nerve pinch, which Bruno sells by stopping using his left arm. Bruno gets his foot caught in the ropes and the Baron hits him with a plastic chair from ringside for the DQ, which was stupid as he’d got the champ hurt and then got himself disqualified. Sammartino tried hard to get this over but Baron’s offence was a little too tedious to inspire fear in the fans. He didn’t even attempt the Claw!
Final Rating: *
Bruno Sammartino vs. Ken Patera
This is from August 1977, MSG, and after Bruno had lost the title to Superstar Graham. Patera had taken a run at Bruno when he was champion and come up short. Despite his amateur credentials, in power lifting, Patera was hated as a wrestler. Like against Volkoff, Sammartino uses his superior conditioning to dominate the match. Patera does have some power to fight him off but Bruno wears him down. Bruno seems keen to prove he can match Patera for power and one of his kick-outs sends Patera flying across the ring. Patera does have his devastating full nelson but when he goes for it, Bruno kicks off the buckles and pins him. A solid contest but at 12 minutes it was hardly the epic they were shooting for. A lot of the New York matches were too short for the storylines they were trying to tell. Great finish though and one that would be re-used by Bret Hart with the sleeper instead of the full nelson against Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII and Steve Austin at Survivor Series 96.
Final Rating: **¼
Bruno Sammartino vs. Killer Kowalski
From April 1974 and early in Bruno’s second title run. Again in MSG. Bruno’s House. Kowalski is perhaps better known by modern audiences for training Triple H. Shame he insisted on using such bad moves, like the abdominal claw. Massaging another man’s stomach isn’t the most manly of moves. I’m not keen on Kowalski’s habit of taking a knee while selling either. He does have a great looking punch though. That smacking of fist on Bruno’s skull sounds like Rocky punching meat. He absolutely hammers Bruno in the head for about 90 seconds causing an obvious bladejob. Bruno’s subsequent comeback draws enormous pops from the Garden, the biggest reaction on the tape. I feel bad for Killer, who falls around the ring looking uncoordinated. The ref decides that they’re not supposed to be punching each other this much and calls for the bell. The pounding in the corner alone with worth seeing this match for.
Final Rating: **½
Piper’s Pit, from October 1985. Sammartino had returned to the WWF to do an angle with his boy, David, and the WWF smelled money putting him in with some of their top draws. Bruno is smart, compared to most wrestlers, and immediately realises Bob Orton being out here in Piper’s corner FOR AN INTERVIEW, is blatantly a setup, and tells him to amscray. Piper gets his jollies making fun of Bruno’s age, looks and weight loss. Bruno won’t bite on anything and gets little subtle jabs back at Piper’s skirt and big mouth. Piper gets fed up and calls him a “stupid wop” so Bruno punches him out and Piper gets the last word with his chair to set up the feud.
Bruno Sammartino vs. Roddy Piper
The actual match takes place in Boston a few months later. Bruno maintained his condition into retirement so even though he’s old, he’s still mobile. They start out brawling until Bruno pushes the ref over and APOLOGISES. You just don’t see that. Piper uses the opening to punch Bruno in the nuts. Piper bleeds all over the place and keeps trying to get counted out, but Bruno throws him back in at every turn. Eventually the bloody Piper has had enough and Bob Orton runs in for the DQ. Way too short but a wonderful brawl.
Final Rating: **
Bruno Sammartino & Paul Orndorff vs. Roddy Piper & Bob Orton
This is actually before the Piper’s Pit segment and from September in Boston Garden, with its wonderful yellow floor. You can understand Vince pushing for more from “his” era and this is a decent choice. Everyone is energised and the brawling is really fun. There’s a bit where Piper hits Bruno with a chair and he feeds him the back. It might not have been obvious back in the 70s but here, it is. Bob gets in one of his legendary cast shots to prevent the piledriver and Orndorff kicks out. Interesting that while Bruno was being used extensively for house shows, he hardly appeared on any PPV events during his 80s WWF run. I wonder if that was deliberate on Vince’s part to give the fans what they wanted on house shows and give them what Vince wanted on PPV to get his product over. I like Orndorff backdropping out of the piledriver as it’s his move and he recognises the setup. The brawl spills outside and Piper beats the count, and Bruno loses on count out. They certainly worked hard and everyone is pouring with sweat after the bell. The heat Piper brought was matched by the popularity of the faces. Everyone’s a winner.
Final Rating: ***
Steel Cage Match
Bruno Sammartino vs. George Steele
A cage match from way back in 1970 and it’s at the Spectrum in Philly. Bruno bleeds all over the place and it’s like the tape is stuck because Steele just kicks away at him in the corner in the same place. Over and over again. Steele gets rammed into the steel, if you’ll forgive the pun, and Sammartino walks out of the door to retain.
Summary: Considering the amount of material they had in the archives, it’s a pity the selection is so thin for this tape. The Piper feud is covered nicely, as you’d expect being the most recent, but his first title run receives a clipped up match against George Steele and that’s it for 8 years. It’s also a little disappointing that two of his four matches from the second run don’t have finishes. And one of the ones that does, Patera, is after he’s lost the belt. The WWF didn’t quite have a handle on how to do a profile tape until later years, and it shows with their selections for this tape.