Joe Babinsack talks Bruno Sammartino

Almost as long as I’ve been writing pieces for this website, I’ve had the honor of being able to call Bruno Sammartino on usually a weekly basis, discussing most topics surrounding the industry, learning from his unique perspective on business and life, all of which continue to awe this Pittsburgh area born and raised wrestling fan.

 Sure, it borders on hero-worship to continue to speak about Bruno’s knowledge, his demeanor and his insights. Sure, it makes me even less objective about certain subjects (greatness, wrestling ability, drawing power), but then again, I don’t know of anyone who uses “objective” and “professional wrestling” in the same sentence except for Stu Saks.

 Not to unduly criticize him. Nor do I intend to unduly criticize anyone else, but of all figures in this business, to question the integrity of the Living Legend is to question professional wrestling reality itself.

 All things considered, that reality is the pathetic nature of the industry these days and the glaring difference between “Old School and modern era versions of the business.

But there was a time when fans believed, and because of that investment, and because of the understanding of the nature of the sport on multiple levels, that Bruno excelled at the sport he called his profession. The impeccable legacy the man, a guy that Mike Tyson must call “Mr. Sammartino” and which makes me rethink calling him “Bruno” considering that level of respect.

But Bruno would insist on being called by his first name, as he does with Mr. Tyson. It has been a momentous year for Bruno, that’s for sure. The anniversary of his first WWWF (yeah, now the WWE) World Heavyweight Title came and went in May without much ado on his part, but the County of Allegheny did provide some festivities on May 17th. And then there was that interesting ceremony in early April that the world was talking about.

 Afterwards, the interviews were numerous and the demands taken on his time were more than he anticipated. But even he admitted some satisfaction to it all. While Bruno has never sought the spotlight, the response of the MSG crowd, the various media across the globe and the generations of fans who both saw him and knew of him, respected him and understood his legacy, admired him for his longstanding stance and apparently realized the reasons why things changed.

Because, in the end, it wasn’t Bruno that caved to the “Attitude” of the WWE, it was the WWE that moved from raunchiness to a softer, PG side. Ironically, when the current headlines feature a big MTV event and a child star who has completely transformed from her Disney past.

Not that the WWE is Disney these days, but neither is it featuring a Rated R Superstar. Sure, there’s John Cena, but we’re also living in a summer of baseball headlines for all the wrong reasons. And there are certain levels of testing that truly cannot be measured.

I was trying to fit in a Bill Simmons/Grantland quote, but stranger still I found some fascination in Camille Paglia’s Salon piece, in part touting the Real Housewives over the “snarky scripts and fake cool of today’s TV shows”.

Then again, there’s WWE Divas to blow up another comment, but Paglia’s point about “the old Hollywood flair for knowing how to situate bold, dynamic personalities in tangible four dimensions” is spot-on about the cardboard cutout style, personalities and most every aspect of mainstream wrestling.

 Did I just use the word “flair” in a Bruno piece? By the way, I’m told there was a meeting between Bruno and Ric at WrestleMania Weekend, with congratulations and condolences exchanged.

But the more “surprising” story about Bruno was a lack of a big announcement from the WWE Movie Division. “Surprising” was the description of Scott Rosenfelt about the project, but he also explained to me that there remains interest by other prospects… a number of them.

So the movie project remains in play, but perhaps not by what I once assumed was the obvious backer, and continues to seek a studio. Which brings to mind a quote by Steven Spielberg, in his relatively recent pow-wow with George Lucas about the state of that entertainment industry:

“You’re at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250m in one film for a real shot at the brass ring than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal – and even maybe historical – projects that may get lost in the shuffle” Steven Spielberg

Ironically, telling stories in the ring is a concept lost on most of the modern professional wrestlers. But even worse these days is the mainstream creative inability to comprehend that "The idea of creating characters you can empathize with is a goal to be reached”, to toss in another Spielberg quote. Can anyone imagine Bruno Sammartino walking into an arena and getting booed by anyone in the crowd? Considering the rabid response to many a heel who hurt Bruno in the ring, I’d imagine that a modern day heel fan transported to that era would quickly understand the danger.

 Does anyone not understand that, after an eight year reign, the crowd at MSG was completely incapable of reacting when the unthinkable happened and Bruno lost to Ivan Koloff? We live in an era where personal character in the wrestling ring went out of style when Kurt Angle had to be a heel because he was an Olympic Champion, where building rematches is done by thematic PPVs (or at least it was for a while) and where decisions are made on wrestling that consider the reaction of the fans at the most minimal input.

 So many decisions are made that propel professional wrestling on a course that any sense of analysis and trending shows is heading in the wrong direction. So many things have been tried, but the most obvious ones are the ones that succeeded long ago, but for some strange reason they are never tried.

 And yet, there’s the legacy of Bruno Sammartino, and his life that is truly the “American Dream”, and who’s character remains impeccable despite the nature of his profession, and a fading understanding of what the business was once all about, and his insight into storytelling and more importantly, his uncanny ability to create empathy from the fans. That’s a lot to think about. Meanwhile …

 Bruno is enjoying his summer and gearing up for a return trip to the “Old Country” (which he says will be the last, but I recall something along that line last year, too).

Those interviews still seem to be coming, but anymore my phone calls are being interrupted at 8pm because the Living Legend is spending a lot of time with Carol, watching TV movies (the ones with no nudity, vulgarity and profanity … of course!)

   Joe Babinsack can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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