Colleagues and Fans Mourn the Passing of WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino

On Wednesday, the pro wrestling world mourned the death of one of its most iconic trailblazers in Bruno Sammartino. WWE confirmed the Hall of Famer has passed away at age 82 after facing health issues over the last two months.

The legendary figure was respected by peers and fans alike, idolized in a similar way as Babe Ruth is to baseball. An argument can be made that Sammartino was the first WWE superstar, dating all the way back to the late 1950s just as television was taking off. The proud Italian’s background resonated with fans from all walks of life.

Below, see how some of those within the business took to social media to pay their respects and remember his history-making contributions:

Originally working for Vincent J. McMahon’s World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), he was a surefire box office draw right into the 1980s. He went on to defeat inaugural WWWF champion Buddy Rogers a few years after his first match in 1963, holding the title for more than eight years. His second reign began after getting retribution against Ivan Koloff and lasted more than three years.

Sammartino sold out the famed Madison Square Garden in all its incarnations a remarkable 188 times, the last time being in 2013 when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by one of his biggest enthusiasts, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The same year, he would be inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame. His last big in-ring match happened in 1980 when he battled protégé Larry Zbyszko inside a packed Shea Stadium. The years after Sammartino transitioned into a broadcasting role.

Even more inspiring than the success and longevity of Sammartino’s pro wrestling career was his backstory, which sounds right out of a movie.

Here was someone who endured the hardship of losing his sister and brother, and escaping the Nazis to live with his father in Pittsburgh. Speaking virtually no English when he arrived in the United States in 1950, Sammartino put in the work to become a success and prove the American Dream was real.

Sammartino struck a cord with those who could relate to his struggles, including Peter Gene Hernandez, whose father nicknamed him “Bruno” by his father due to the resemblance to Bruno Sammartino. Today he is better known as Bruno Mars.

WWE honored Sammartino with a bronze statue, but he was also honored by his hometown of Pizzoferrato, Italy. He was able to travel there last year for the unveiling of a 10-foot statue. Sammartino’s childhood home was also reformatted into a museum with the main wing of a local medical center named after his mother Emilia.

Matches, interviews and moments from Bruno Sammartino’s wrestling career can be found on WWE Network