Bruno Sammartino by Rob Schamberger © 2013 Rob. All rights reserved.

Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino painting by Rob Schamberger

Acrylic and spray on 30″ x 40″ canvas

Bruno Sammartino is the greatest WWWF/WWF/WWE wrestling champion of all time. This is an objective statement that is not up for argument. The Italian immigrant came to the US following World War II, where he built up his body to fend off the bullies that so mercilessly preyed upon him. He soon found himself doing strongman stunts, that caught the eyes of Philadelphia’s wrestling promoter. Learning the ways of the squared circle in Philly, he soon went to work for the then-WWWF. After making his name in the tag division with Antonino Rocca, in 1963 he found himself in contention for the Heavyweight Championship. He defeated the company’s first-ever champion Buddy Rogers in a dominating 48 seconds, informing Rogers in the ring that the planned DQ finish was not going to happen, and that they “can do this the easy way…or the hard way.”

Bruno would go on to hold the title for seven years, eight months, and one day. This reign stands still as the longest in the history of men’s professional wrestling, and is a feat that is not likely to be broken any time soon. Two years later, he came back to win the title again, holding it for 1237 days. Now obviously wrestling matches are pre-determined and the champion is named by the promoter, so let’s get that nonsense out of the way. I get that. Let’s talk about what’s real here: Bruno was such a monster draw in the US Northeast that it made sound business sense for him to stay the champion that long. That’s seven years, eight months, and one day for the first reign, and 1237 days for the second of constant touring, continuing to draw profitable-sized crowds. It’s simply unheard of in the entertainment business. If you lived in New York during this time, you knew who Bruno Sammartino was, because out of 170 appearances at Madison Square Garden, 127 of them completely sold out. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Bruno had likely his most famous feud with Superstar Billy Graham, with the Superstar beating him by cheating to end his second title reign. Their confrontations drew huge crowds everywhere they competed. Sammartino’s other most legendary feud was with his protege Larry Zbyszko, after Zbyszko violently turned on him. In 1980 the pair nearly sold out the open-air Shea Stadium in near-freezing conditions, outdrawing the first confrontation between Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan.

Bruno would continue to sporadically appear for the WWF during the early 1980’s until deservedly retiring from the sport. He was a vocal critic of the drug culture around wrestling at that time, and has refused to be associated with the now-WWE due to that and what he felt were inappropriate storylines. Sammartino rocked the wrestling world this year when it was announced that he will be inducted into the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame class and has resumed his relationship with the company that he can be credited with making so successful during the 1960’s and 70’s. He will be inducted by his long-time friend Arnold Schwarzenegger.

About the piece: For such an important figure in the history of wrestling, I knew that I had to do something special. I limited the color palette to make his impressive frame pop, then used a sponge brush with black house paint to bring in his trademark body hair. I then added the graphic circles which are more associated with modern graphic design because I wanted to show that he transcends his time period and remains as important and vital today.

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