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October 20, 2008

Breakfast with Bruno

I have had a number of cool experiences writing about pro wrestling for The Baltimore Sun and other publications over the past 15 years, but listening to Bruno Sammartino tell stories about the old days over breakfast just might be the coolest of them all.

I met with Bruno yesterday morning at a hotel in Elkton, where he had spent the night after participating in an autograph signing along with Tito Santana and Nikolai Volkoff at a mall in Newark, Del., Saturday. Before heading up to Bruno’s room to conduct a videotaped sit-down interview with him, I had the tremendous honor of breaking bread with wrestling’s “Living Legend.”

He truly is one of the classiest individuals you’ll ever meet in or out of wrestling. I had done a Q&A with Bruno over the phone a while back, but I had never spoken with him in person until yesterday. Still, he greeted me as if we were old friends.

We were actually supposed to do the interview on Saturday at the mall before the signing, but due to time constraints, it didn’t happen. Even though it was no one’s fault, Bruno was very apologetic about any inconvenience that re-scheduling may have caused me.

It actually couldn’t have worked out any better. For someone like me who started following wrestling right around the time that Bruno began his second reign as WWWF champion in 1973, engaging in an informal conversation with him about his contemporaries such as Killer Kowalski, Don Leo Jonathan, Gorilla Monsoon and Ken Patera is something that I will never forget.

At one point, Bruno told a story about the time he taught a hard lesson to an opponent who didn’t want to do business. He said he caught the guy in a front facelock and cinched it in tight. Bruno told him that either he was going to say “I quit” loud enough so that everyone in the arena could hear it, or else, well, let’s just say it would be in his best interests to do so. His opponent wisely decided to do things the easy way.

After we wrapped up the interview in his room, Bruno wanted to demonstrate the front facelock on me so that I could truly understand how it effective it was. How could I say no to Bruno? Well, actually I did, but he insisted, saying, “I give you my word that I won’t hurt you.”

So I leaned over and the strongest 73-year-old in the world locked me in the hold and squeezed, turning my head in an awkward position that was quite uncomfortable. Fortunately for me, Bruno does know his own strength. After releasing me, he explained that if he were to yank upward when applying the hold, it “would break any man’s neck.” I certainly wasn’t going to argue with him.

I will be posting the first part of the video interview with Bruno within the next day or two. The whole interview lasted about 50 minutes, as Bruno discussed the late Kowalski, his feud with Larry Zbyszko and their famous cage match at Shea Stadium, what he thinks about Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, his impressions of a young Vince McMahon, why he turned down a chance to be NWA world champion, why a proposed match with Muhammad Ali never happened and more.

I want to give special thanks to former WCW announcer Chris Cruise for putting me in touch with Bruno, and BK Entertainment’s Bryan and Karen Martin, who organized the signing at the mall and worked with me in setting up the interview.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 9:19 PM | | Comments (24)


we're not worthy , we're not worthy ! Hail Bruno !

Re: Bruno applying a front facelock to Kevin - what do a #2 pencil and Kevin's neck have in common ? :)

Thats an awesome experience Kevin! I was a little young to remember Bruno in his prime. I came on board when Bruno was doing color commentary on the Sat morning broadcast.

Kevin will use this whole front facelock thing as a reason to turn heel on Bruno next time they meet and proclaim himself the new Living Legend.

You heard it here first.

You missed a great opportunity to take Bruno to Sabbatino's! Now that would have brought back some memories.

We share great admiration and respect for Bruno. Looking forward to the video!


Why do you look 15 years older in your picture with Bruno then in the one at the top of the page?

RESPONSE FROM KEVIN ECK: Ouch. Let me see if I can come up with some excuses, I mean, answers:

A. The photo on top as well as the head shot that runs in the newspaper is me with my natural hair color (dark brown). In the picture with Bruno, my hair is cut closer and it's bleached I do that every few months. Makes me feel like Scott Steiner, but everyone tells me that it makes me look older.

B. We snapped that photo literally seconds after Bruno had me in a front facelock, which left me a little disheveled.

C. I had gotten less than three hours sleep that day. Actually, since starting the blog, I've gone from averaging about eight hours of sleep to about four or five.

D. The picture at the top of the blog and the one in the paper are shot by professional photographers and done in a studio with good lighting. The shot with Bruno was done by a friend and the lighting was bad.

E. I'm 41, and as Steiner once told me, "No one beats father time."

I didn't realize you went Mr Kennedy on us.

The picture made you look gray.

You look a little thinner though from when your blog photo was taken, so thats good.

RESPONSE FROM KEVIN ECK: Some of the boys at the indy shows I go to call me Hardcore Holly.

As for being thinner, here's the story with that. That photo is about three years old, and at the time, I was taking Creatine. As you may or may not know, Creatine makes you retain water, so while your biceps will get bigger, your face will get puffier. I'm sure Jack in Hebron knows all about this stuff.

Nicely chosen words there Kev in your response to Elevation in regard to your bleached hair making you "feel" like Scott Steiner . ( I thought you were going for the Bobby Eaton look ).
Should we call you the Booty Daddy ?

RESPONSE FROM KEVIN ECK: Only my freaks get to call me booty daddy.

Hey Kev , get back on the creatine ! (just joking) . You look HUGE in old picture .
The only thing I used powdered creatine for was as a creamer substitute in my coffee .
... Kev knows the rest of the story .

by the way kev, while you sport the bleached look , I sport the bruno (bald) look .

This conversation veered off into areas Kevin never thought it would.

Very cool, Kevin. I got the chance to interview Terry Funk on Monday for an upcoming show he'll be at, along with Mick Foley, in my area. Thanks for addressing the photo. You looked a little sleepy.

Elevation : we set 'em up , Kevin knocks 'em down . Or vice /versa .

... more specific , your "traps" look huge kev .

RESPONSE FROM KEVIN ECK: I was training with a powerlifter at the time and he helped me bulk up. Later I changed my training to try for lean muscle rather than mass. But enough about me.

Great interview with one of the all-time class acts in any sport or entertainment field and a guy I have had the privelege of meeting a couple of times over the years. Would love to get in touch with you sometime as I enjoy your writing on wrestling and am a fan from about the same era who went to college with Bruno's nephew and have interviewed him for my own pro wrestling column in the Shamokin, Pa. News-Item. If you get the chance, drop me an e-mail some time. All the best, Bill

Kevin ( you must tire of my drivel ) you mention how well Bruno treated you . Much of that goes to Bruno being Bruno , but don't sell yourself short . Surely Bruno knows of your work and you should be proud of the respect that he shows you .
You've earned it Kev and your reputation speaks for itself .
We all wish we were in your shoes . Well maybe not when you have to review TNA .

Eck is the Chris Masters of the Baltimore Sun.

Kev , changing your routine gearing for a leaner physique is wise at your age .
At age 50 , and 5'10" 240lbs., my powerlifting training and , ahem , cough , cough , "creatine " use have probably not been conducive to a healthy ticker .

Thank you for the interview, Kevin. I'm 45 years old and to this day, Bruno remains my all-time favorite.

I saw him many times at the old Capital Centre including the night Bruno and Larry Zbyszko sold out the place for the very first time for wrestling in a lumberjack match. There were 20,000 people at the Capital Centre that night and Bruno was all over the mainstream news in the week leading up to that bout. Thanks again!

Elevation , where did that come from ???? (lol)


It was just a joke about Kevin's deflating muscles, not his reporting quality.

Kevin will never post a photo of himself again .

I was a huge fan of pro wrestling in the early 70's and vividly remember Bruno's style. He always tried to take the match away from wrassling back to real wrestling. He is truly a class act.

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About Kevin Eck
The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
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