Friday, May 4, 2018

The Passing of The Living Legend - By Jim Duggan

     Once, while being interviewed, Bruno Sammartino described his mother as his biggest inspiration. "She was my absolute hero," was how Bruno described the woman who was forced to flee to the mountains with her three young children when the Nazis invaded her village during the second World War.  For over a year, Bruno, his mother and two siblings were forced to eat dandelions and snow while their small Italian village was occupied.  It's not hard to see how much Bruno admired his mother.  It's even easier to see why Bruno Sammartino was a hero to many people, particularly to Italian-americans. His greatness as an athlete was exceeded only by his greatness as a person.
     On April 18, 2018, Bruno Sammartino passed away at the age of 82.  Not only was he was one the greatest wrestlers to ever enter the ring, he was widely considered to be one of the strongest men of his era.  When he came to America as a teenager,  he was literally a 90-Lb. weakling. It was after he began lifting weights that he developed into one if the biggest and strongest men of all-time. His best lifts include a 565 Lb. Bench Press with a two second pause. According to David Willoughby's book, "The Super Athletes," Bruno was capable of performing a Press ( while lying on the floor) of 545 Lbs. He also did a Military Press of 410 Lbs., as well as a strict Barbell Curl with 235 Lbs.  According to Willoughby,  "In all probability, if Sammartino had not chosen to concentrate on wrestling, he would have become a champion performer in the three official Powerlifts." David Willoughby was not given to exaggeration or expressions of hyperbole. Bruno was truly powerful, and was recognized as much for his great strength as for his stellar wrestling career.
     As a wrestler, he was one of the most popular champions ever to grace the "squared circle." He held the title longer than any man before or after. He sold out Madison Square Garden more than any other wrestler. When I broke the news of Bruno's passing with former members Bruno's Health Club, Chris Newins, one of the very first members to join Bruno's, made the statement that if it wasn't for Bruno, there would probably be no WWE today. "Bruno actually saved the old WWWF when it was tanking. As champion, he saved the company." While wrestling scholars ( if there is such a thing) might debate that last statement, there is one thing of which I am certain. There would have been no Bruno's Health Club if not for Mr. Sammartino.
     Larry "Bruno" Licandro idolized Bruno Sammartino. He even followed in Bruno's footsteps and wrestled professionally for a short time in the late 1970s. When Larry opened his own gym in the 1980s, it was only fitting that it would be named for the "Living Legend." I trained at Bruno's Health Club from 1983 through 1988. I can safely say that the memories of that gym will stay with me always.
     I am also proud to say that I have a special memory of meeting Mr. Sammartino back in 2000.  That year, the Association of Olde-time Barbell and Strongmen (AOBS) honored Bruno for his contributions to the Iron Game.  The line of people waiting to meet Bruno wrapped around the room.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, wanted to meet the Living Legend. He was gracious to everyone, and posed for pictures with just about everybody. A real gentleman. When I finally got to meet him, I had asked him to sign a copy of his autobiography that I had brought with me. When I mentioned to him that the pen that I handed him was the same one that John Grimek had used to sign my program a few years before, he seemed genuinely honored. He definitely had an appreciation for Iron History because he mentioned that he was proud to be mentioned in the same breath as the the great JCG.  During his acceptance speech, Bruno mentioned that he always loved lifting weights, and wished that he could have pursued it.  Unfortunately,  back then, as it is today, there was no money in hoisting the steel. But that didn't stop him from dedicating his life to building his body, and making himself as strong as possible. He was very appreciative of what lifting weights had done for him, and was very grateful for his legion of fans.
     If you have the opportunity to get your hands in a copy of his autobiography, I encourage you to read it through to the end. It definitely is inspiring. There are two passages that stand out in my memory.  In the Foreword, Bruno summarizes how much he appreciates the life he was able to build in this country. "For me, it is a privilege to be an American."  That just about says it all. Later on in the book, there are words that will resonate with everyone who supports this website, and believes in the principles of drug-free training. On page 186, Bruno states: "I'm proud to say that I never used or condoned the use of steroids."  Strong words from a great man.
RIP Bruno.
   
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BODY • MIND • SPIRIT

Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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