SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
In a business birthed on carnival grounds and built on the concept of separating the consumer from their hard-earned coin with a fixed finish, it can be difficult to find someone genuine. After all, con artistry breeds intriguing characters and professional wrestling certainly isn’t lacking in the realm of eccentrics and oddballs. That’s what makes the business so fascinating and honestly, a great reason as to why I love it so much.
But there was also Bruno Sammartino.
Like Lou Thesz before him, Bruno gave the world of professional wrestling an injection of credibility, but he added an authentic sense of relatability to the working class. While Thesz established himself as the suit and tie pro who took his craft seriously, Bruno did the same but with a “roll up your sleeves and get to work” mantra that was applicable to every race, creed and color. “The Italian Superman” was larger than life, but also personified life for any group that found themselves struggling to cut their own swath into the stars and stripes that symbolized the American Dream.
I was busy doing morning coverage for WrestleZone.com in Bloomfield when the news broke of Bruno’s passing on Wednesday and besides losing my breath, a lot of thoughts circulated through my mind. One being the story of how my great grandfather whom I never met used to watch him on the television and curse in Italian at any villain who would do Bruno wrong. Another was going through the sadness of losing a role model Another was how he was taken too soon. The man was 82 years old and I still thought that. With as great of shape as Bruno kept himself in, I took for granted thinking that he had at least ten more revolutions around the sun.
And me, being a non-native Italian in Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, I thought how embedded Bruno was in the fabric of this neighborhood. Despite him growing up in South Oakland, I’d hear tales of the local bocce players hosting parties at Pleasure Bar with Bruno as a guest of honor. My landlord whom I live right above has an autographed picture of Bruno hanging in her office. And as I was readying to leave the cafe I was writing at, I saw two elderly regulars sharing a smartphone to watch a news package on his passing. The world of professional wrestling heart was broken, but so was Bloomfield’s and so was Pittsburgh’s.
After doing four hours of coverage on such a close to home topic, it took me a while to wrap my head around what I wanted to write regarding Bruno. And it came down to this:
Bruno Sammartino defined what it was like to truly be an American in his childhood, in his adulthood and in his career as the top wrestling act in the United States. Bruno cut his own swath in the middle part of the 20th century and there is no reason to think he didn’t lay the brick down for all of us to do the same in this century – no matter race, creed or color.
Just be genuine.