NEW YORK — WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino has died, World Wrestling Entertainment announced Wednesday. He was 82.
Sammartino, who stood 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed about 270 pounds, caught the eye of a professional wrestling promoter in 1959 after bench-pressing 565 pounds, according to the WWE.
“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,” the WWE said in a statement.
The Italian-born wrestler later became the second-ever WWE Champion, defeating Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds in front of nearly 20,000 fans at the old Madison Square Garden.
Sammartino held the WWE Championship for eight years — “by far the longest reign of all time, and a record for all professional wrestling champions, no matter the organization,” the WWE said.
In 1968, he went on to headline the first wrestling event at the new MSG.
“The Garden truly was the house that Bruno built, as he sold it out an astounding 187 times. When he lost the title to Ivan Koloff in 1971, grown men in the crowd were seen weeping, but on Dec. 10, 1973, Sammartino became the first two-time WWE Champion and held the title for an additional three-and-a-half years,” the WWE said.
Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013 by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“It was the 188th and final time that Sammartino headlined and sold out Madison Square Garden.”
Additional details about Sammartino’s death were not immediately available.
He is survived by this wife and three children, sportingnews.com reports.