Sammartino to be inducted into HOF
Hell officially froze over last week in the world of pro wrestling when WWE announced that living legend Bruno Sammartino would be inducted into the company's Hall of Fame on April 6 at Madison Square Garden on the eve of WrestleMania.
After almost fifty years of frequently strained relations between Sammartino and the McMahons (Sr. and Jr.), it was apparently Triple H who was able to broker a major business deal that resulted in the longest reigning company champion and most famous wrestler of his era accepting an invitation to the hall that he had declined repeatedly in the past for a variety of reasons that his most ardent fans both understood and respected.
In interviews for the WWE website and on wrestlingobserver.com, Sammartino offered a number of reasons for changing his mind at this point in time. Although he had been a frequent and outspoken critic of what the WWE product had become since his retirement, including sounding warnings many years ago about the dangers widespread steroid and recreational drug use could have for wrestlers that proved to be sadly accurate and disassociating himself completely from the business due to some of the embarrassing angles and antics of the "Attitude Era," Bruno had indicated in interviews over the years that he would be open to a possible return only if he felt WWE made the necessary changes that could again allow him to be associated with a company and business for which he had worked so proudly during his career.
Triple H reached out to Bruno a while back and established a respectful relationship with the former champ, gradually assuring him that today's WWE had learned from mistakes of the past and was now a family friendly promotion that also goes to considerable lengths to look out for the health and well-being of the wrestlers it employs.
It didn't hurt that Dr. Joseph Maroon, a respected surgeon who had done back surgery on Bruno that Bruno credits with sparing him from not only being stuck in a wheelchair, but being able to resume a regular and ambitious workout regimen, was put in charge of the company wellness program with respect to concussion issues and pretty stringent drug testing.
Helmsley was also trained by former frequent Sammartino opponent Walter "Killer" Kowalski, a man for whom Bruno seemed to have a great deal of admiration and with whom he had done considerable successful business in the ring during the 1960s and '70s. Helmsley, a real student of the wrestling business and someone who seems to have a great deal of respect for its history, was able to convince Sammartino that this year's setting of Madison Square Garden, which Sammartino sold out as a headliner more than any other individual in history, was the perfect place for the living legend to be recognized by the current generation of wrestlers and wrestling fans for his incredible contributions to the industry.
Despite the resolution of the concerns mentioned above, there is no denying this surprising change of heart was also very much a business decision for both sides. Bruno acknowledged the standard payment of $5,000 given for induction, but speculation is that there may have been another financial payment for gate percentages felt owed from way back and that this also opens the door for him being involved with future DVD productions, possible work for projects related to Classics on Demand (or the new network if it ever gets off the ground) and anything else that would make sense for both sides to work together on, in the near future.
The WWE Hall of Fame gains some much needed credibility as it will finally include the man who should have been the very first one inducted during the very first year it was started. People can no longer point out that Drew Carey, Warner Wolfe, Pete Rose and Vince Sr.'s chauffer are in (the celebrity wing for the first 3), but not the man who held the company heavyweight championship for an unfathomable seven and a half years the first time and almost four years during a second reign.
Sammartino is one of the most revered and respected men in the history of the business for a variety of reasons. He has a documentary on his extraordinary life that could be out soon and a movie script that has been written, but not yet filmed. They reportedly plan to put a statue of him up in Pittsburgh near the site of the old Igloo, another building he sold out frequently during his wrestling days.
His accomplishments and the integrity with which he conducted himself after such a perilous young life where he barely survived the Nazi occupation of his home and village should make for a riveting documentary that wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans alike can appreciate. The standing ovation he received from the live crowd last Monday at Raw in Atlanta when his induction video played on the Titan Tron spoke volumes when one considers it is 25 years since he left WWE television and that none of the people in the building likely ever saw him wrestle in person.