Coliseum Video - Bruno Sammartino: Wrestling's Living Legend
by Scrooge McSuck
- In Memory of Bruno Sammartino (October 6, 1935 – April 18, 2018). Having grown up as a fan starting at the very end of the 80's, I obviously am too young to have seen anything Bruno Sammartino did as it happened. For the longest time, I could easily say his involvement in the WrestleMania 2 Battle Royal was the only match I'd see him wrestle until I was well into my teens and got into the tape trading market. Despite the lack of watching his matches, Bruno's reputation was still kept alive in publications, even when he was on bad terms with Vince McMahon. He was a two-time WWWF Champion, combining for 11-years as the Champion throughout the 60's and 70's. His loss to Ivan Koloff is legendary, with the story being the crowd went so silent at the site of him losing that you could literally hear a pin drop. After bowing out of the Championship picture, he engaged in a classic rivalry with Larry Zbyszko, who looked at him as a mentor, both in and outside the ring. Bruno's time with the WWF came to a conclusion shortly before WrestleMania IV over the handling of his son's release and a growing frustration with the drug abuse behind the scenes. Bruno's rivalry with the lack of morals in wrestling was almost as legendary as his runs as WWWF Champion. It wasn't until 2013 that Paul Levesque reached out to mend the fence between Bruno and the WWE, bringing him in not only as a member of the Hall of Fame, but an ambassador for the company.
- "Mean" Gene Okerlund is in the control room to host this official release from Coliseum Home Video. He'll be joined by the man who is the subject of the program, Bruno Sammartino. Okerlund runs down some of the action we're going to see in the next hour, including names like Baron von Rashke, Roddy Piper, and Killer Kowalski, among others.
Bruno Sammartino vs. Nikolai Volkoff:
From the October 25th, 1976 card held at Madison Square Garden. Sammartino is in the middle of his second reign as WWWF Champion. Unlike his first that spanned nearly EIGHT YEARS, this one only lasted four. Match is joined in progress. Nikolai is identified as a youngster (at 29 years old, I'll accept it). They fight over a knuckle-lock, with Nikolai having the early advantage until Sammartino drives a knee into the face. Sammartino grabs an overhead wrist-lock and transitions into the arm-bar. Whip to the ropes and Volkoff gets the better of a shoulder tackle. He goes to the well once too many and gets taken over with an arm drag. Volkoff continues to display his strength advantage, fighting from being down on the canvas to pinning Bruno down for a series of two-counts. Volkoff with boots to the chest. Sammartino fires back with rights and rams Volkoff into the turnbuckle. We cut ahead in the action to Bruno grabbing a side headlock. A shoulder tackle sends Bruno through the ropes, but he recovers to regain control, slamming Volkoff face-first into the canvas. Bruno keeps putting the boots to his fallen opponent, ignoring the warning of the referee. Bruno peppers Volkoff with a flurry of rights and lefts, followed by a rake of the face with the bottom of his boot. Volkoff with a headbutt to the midsection to put Bruno on his back. We cut ahead again, with Bruno reversing a whip to the corner and rolling Volkoff up at 8:15 (shown). Nothing flashy, but a believable style of work. 1970's WWWF action is an acquired taste, and not for modern fans if you're not willing to adjust the scale and accepting the style of the era.
Bruno Sammartino vs. Baron von Rashke (w/ Freddie Blassie):
From the March 28th, 1977 card held at Madison Square Garden. Baron von Rashke is probably better known for his run in AWA. Rashke attacks Sammartino from behind and chokes him with his robe. Whip to the corner, von Rashke takes him over with a hip toss and drops an elbow for a two-count. Sammartino with a boot to the midsection and an uppercut. Whip to the corner and Bruno dives in with a knee. He unloads with a flurry of strikes, concluded with a knee to the side of the head that sends von Rashke retreat for a breather. Back inside, Sammartino with a side headlock. von Rashke catches him off the ropes with a slam for a two-count. Bruno fights from his knees and sends von Rashke to the ropes for a back drop. We cut ahead in the action, with von Rashke stalling on the floor. Bruno lays into Rashke with more rights and a running boot to the chest that traps the Baron in the ropes. Baron takes control, going to work with a nerve hold. We cut ahead to Bruno fighting free od the hold and putting the boots to him. Whip to the ropes and Bruno with a hip toss into a cover for two. Rashke with a slam but he misses an elbow drop. Bruno with a shoulder tackle for two. Bruno with a series of rights, and there's a lot of space between his fist and Baron's face on some of them. They take the action to the outside. Rashke traps Bruno in the ropes and smacks him with a chair for the cheap Disqualification at 8:20 (shown). Post-match, Chief Jay Strongbow, Tony Garea, and Larry Zbyszko come out to escort von Rashke from the ring. Another match that's a good showcase for the era, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the match with Volkoff.
Texas Death Match: Bruno Sammartino vs. Ken Patera:
From the August 29th, 1977 card held at Madison Square Garden (happy negative 8th birthday to me). Sammartino is no longer the Champion, having dropped the belt to Superstar Billy Graham. Joined in Progress, with Sammartino in control, pulling back on a chin-lock. Sammartino lets go to put the boots to the back of Patera's head. Sammartino with a flurry of rights and lefts in the corner. Patera comes back with boots to the midsection and a rake of the eyes. Whip to the corner and a slam. Patera misses an elbow drop but recovers quickly enough to land the follow-up attempt. Whip to the ropes and a shoulder tackle sends Bruno through the ropes. Back inside, Patera with a series of fist drops to the back of the head. Bruno rolls away from one and slams Patera's face into the canvas. Whip to the ropes and Bruno with a slam for two. Bruno with more boots to the face and a back drop for two. Patera is slow to his feet but manages to beat the referee's count. Patera levels Bruno to take control and comes off the ropes with stomps across the back. Patera with a slam and knees across the chest for two. Bruno wins a slugfest from his knees and pounds away in the corner. Whip to the opposite corner and Patera tries to bail. He hooks a Full Nelson from the apron, but Sammartino pulls him back into the ropes and kicks off the turnbuckle to land on top for a three-count at 8:07 (shown). Not enough violence for a Texas Death Match, and I don't accept the excuse it was 1977.
Bruno Sammartino vs. Killer Kowalski:
From the April 29th, 1974 card held at Madison Square Garden. I'm never a fan of jumping around in the years when the tape is on one specific subject. I guess they wanted to open the tape with someone currently active (Volkoff), but I'm probably nitpicking something that doesn't mean much to any sane individuals. Joined in Progress, with Sammartino putting the boots to Kowalski, clipping the knee. They jockey for position on the canvas, a polite way of saying "what the hell are they doing". Kowalski takes control with a nerve hold. Bruno avoids an attack from the top rope and plants him with a slam for two. Bruno grabs a double chicken-wing, but Kowalski gets to the ropes to force the break. Bruno unloads with knees in the corner. Kowalski fights him off with clubbing blows to the chest and applies a claw to the stomach. He comes off the middle rope with a stomp and goes back to clawing at Bruno's midsection. Bruno has enough of that, scooping Kowalski up and beating him over the top rope. Kowalski regains control and knocks Bruno out of the ring with a dropkick. That must be the 1974 equivalent of a tope. Back inside, Kowalski with a slam for two. Kowalski pounds away in the corner and bites the forehead, giving Bruno an excuse to blade in full view of the camera. Bruno starts no-selling Kowalski's strikes, basically Hulking-Up. He pounds away with rights as the crowd goes WILD. Whip to the corner and Bruno continues to dish out the punishment. They trade blows and eventually the referee throws the match out at 9:04 (shown) in a completely ridiculous finish. It wasn't flashy, but I enjoyed it, minus the finish.
- We have a history lesson on Bruno's career, including when he defeated Buddy Rogers for the WWWF Championship in 1963, lifting the 600-pound Haystacks Calhoun off his feet, and wrestling Pedro Morales at Shea Stadium.
- We jump to the "modern era" of the WWF (modern as in around the time of the video cassette's release)...
- Piper's Pit from the October 21st, 1985 card held at Madison Square Garden. Bruno Sammartino wants the interview conducted without Bob Orton creeping behind them, no doubt anticipating an attack. He doesn't take kindly to the number of insults Piper dished out, leading into a brawl. Piper attacks him with a chair, but Bruno recovers to clear him from the ring. This leads us into...
Bruno Sammartino vs. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (w/ Bob Orton Jr.):
From the December 7th, 1985 card held at the Boston Garden. Sammartino is a spry 50 years old at this point, having come out of retirement to try and help advance his son's David's career. Joined in Progress, with Bruno laying into Piper with rights and sending him into the turnbuckle. Bruno follows him to the floor and sends him to the post. Back inside, Bruno throws him into the turnbuckle again and lands a boot to the midsection. Bruno accidentally knocks the referee aside, and while apologizing, gets taken down with a low blow. Piper lays into Sammartino with a flurry of right hands to the side of the head. Bruno fights from his knees (VINTAGE BRUNO) but Piper slows him with a rake of the eyes. Piper with a right hand, knocking Bruno through the ropes (another vintage Bruno spot) and sends him into the barricade. Bruno makes the comeback and prevents Piper from running away. They end up brawling in the aisle, with Bruno repeatedly tossing him back in the ring. Piper regains control, keeping things basic. Bruno makes the Superman Comeback, but Bob Orton runs in for the DQ at 5:00 (shown). Bruno tries to remove the cast from Orton's left hand, but the numbers game eventually catches up to him. This leads us into...
Bruno Sammartino & Paul Orndorff vs. Roddy Piper & Bob Orton Jr.:
From the January 11th, 1986 card held at the Boston Garden, a direct result of the previous match. All four men brawl in the ring to kick things off, with Bruno and Orndorff getting the better of things. Piper gets caught in his own 2-on-1 disadvantage and knocked silly, playing ping pong. Orndorff is sporting a cast of his own and whacks Orton with it. Double Noggin Knocker to Piper and Orton as the referee finally restores order. Orndorff uses one of the tag ropes to choke Piper and fends off Orton trying to make the save. Orndorff plays to the crowd before tagging in Bruno for the big pop. Orton takes control, and now Piper's brave enough to tag in. He slaps Bruno around, of course only when his arms are held behind his back. Bruno chases him around the ring and gets attacked from behind by Orton. Piper with a wooden chair across the back as things break down again. Back inside, Bruno lays into Piper with rights and lefts to the midsection. Orton's distraction allows Piper to rake the eyes. Whip to the ropes, Bruno ducks a clothesline and continues to beat the crap out of Piper. Orndorff in with a loaded forearm from the top rope. Orton comes in to save Piper from a Piledriver, hitting Orndorff across the back of the head a la WrestleMania 1. Orndorff reverses a whip to the corner and takes a shot at Piper on the apron. Piper blocks a sunset flip until Orndorff pulls the tights down. Orndorff counters a piledriver attempt from Orton and hot tags Sammartino. He lays into Piper with strikes and tosses him to the floor. Piper avoids a chair shot and thumbs the eyes before rolling back in to pick up the cheap Count-Out victory at 8:40 (shown). Energetic and entertaining match.
- Hitting the WABAC Machine one more time...
Steel Cage Match: Bruno Sammartino vs. George "The Animal" Steele:
From the July 25th, 1970 card held at the Philadelphia Arena and you can tell the video quality is from a bygone era. I feel like we've seen this one on several other releases. We're Joined in Progress, with Steele in control, clawing at Bruno's face. Whip to the corner and Steele with boots to the chest. Bruno makes the slow move from his knees to his feet, taking boot after boot, and goes into his Superman comeback. He pulls a scared shitless Steele off the cage and lays into him with strikes. Whip to the corner and Bruno with more rights. He yanks Steele off the cage again and sends him into the ring post. He sends him into the post again, and casually exits the door for the victory at 3:40 (shown). Not much to judge here, as it was cut down to the ending with Sammartino's signature comeback. Winning that definitively was cool, though.
Final Thoughts: Considering the time of release (early 1986), there wasn't much of a precedent set for compilations like this (that would take two more decades to master). For a 90-minute cassette, it was a nice showcase of some of Bruno's older matches, combined with newer stuff that focuses on his rivalry with Roddy Piper. As it is, I've seen much worse, and the edits of the footage from the 1970's is probably for the better. Mild Recommendation, as long as you know what you're getting.
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