He became the beloved heavyweight champion of the world.
His 187 sellouts of Madison Square Garden as the marquee attraction is still a jaw-dropping statistic. He had a falling out with the WWE but was inducted into the hall of fame in 2013. Bruno Samartino with Steven McMahon. According to CBS Pittsburgh, Sammartino died peacefully with his wife and his twin sons, Darryl and Dan, by his side.
Sammartino struck a cord with those who could relate to his struggles, including Peter Gene Hernandez, whose father nicknamed him "Bruno" by his father due to the resemblance to Bruno Sammartino.
After leaving Italy with his family following the World War II, Sammartino settled in Pittsburgh. The proud Italian's background resonated with fans from all walks of life.
Sammartino began lifting weights as a young man and grew to become one of the strongest men on the planet.
Bruno Sammartino was the longest reigning champion in the history of wrestling, and his career set an example for the many champions that would come after him.
"Bruno became an overnight sensation, connecting with not only fellow Italians, but also Latinos, Greeks and Jews, successfully bridging the gap in America's melting pot of wrestling fans". Bruno's first reign remains the longest single reign for a champion in WWE history at an astonishing 2,803 days, for a grand total of 4,040.
During his title reign, Sammartino defended his strap against names such as Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon and George "The Animal" Steele.
Sammartino took the title from Buddy Rogers at Madison Square Garden on May 17, 1963, before relinquishing the belt after a loss to Ivan Koloff on January 18, 1971.
While Sammartino did spend some time disagreeing with the changes being made in the WWE, he did reconcile with the organization, and was finally inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2013. It was that night that Sammartino headlined and sold out Madison Square Garden for the final time.
Family friend and former wrestling announcer Christopher Cruise said Sammartino died Wednesday morning and had been hospitalized for two months.