The wrestling world is saying goodbye to one of its biggest stars. WWE announced Wednesday that Bruno Sammartino had died. He was 82.
Known as “The Italian Superman,” Sammartino joined his immigrant father in Pittsburgh from Italy following World War II and began lifting weights, according to a statement released by the WWE. Professional wrestling promoter Vincent J. McMahon helped propel Sammartino into a star in sports entertainment, but it was his victory over Buddy Rogers at Madison Square Garden in 1963 that won him the WWE Championship. He held the title for nearly eight years — the longest reign in the organization’s history.
Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a member of the 2013 class after turning down previous offers to do so, according to ESPN. He accepted after seeing changes made in the organization, such as performing drug tests on athletes and stopping the use of profanity.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden is the biggest thing in my life,” Sammartino told ESPN. “Anytime that people feel that you accomplished enough to enter into a Hall of Fame, of course this is a tremendous, tremendous thrill for me. I had a lot of my success due to appearing at the Garden. I wrestled there over 200 times, it’s where I won the title, and it’s where I picked up 630-plus pounds of Haystacks Calhoun.”
Fellow wrestlers flooded Twitter with condolences upon hearing of Sammartino’s passing.
“RIP Bruno,” wrote Hulk Hogan. “Thank you for loving and living our business,only love.”
“Bruno is indirectly responsible for where I am today. Growing up in Pittsburgh, he was my father’s hero, and sparked my dad’s passion for the business that he passed on to me,” Corey Graves added. “I was lucky enough to spend some time with Bruno, and the man exemplified class.”
Back in July, musician Bruno Mars shared a photo with his namesake holding a replica championship belt.
“I was nicknamed after this professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino. Tonight in Pittsburgh I had the honor of meeting him!” the singer captioned the image.