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.