Where Wrestling's Regional History Lives!
- Bill Camp
When I last left the World Wide Wrestling Federation Vince McMahon, Sr. pulled the promotion out of the National Wrestling Alliance, and declared Bruno Sammartino their new World Champion, but Tony Santos’ promotion out of neighboring Boston, MA was moving in. Fortunately, Bruno Sammartino was a good champion and a big drawing card. It was probably his drawing power that helped keep Tony Santos at bay for so many years.
Sammartino’s first World Title reign still stands today as the longest in American pro wrestling history. He held the championship for an unbelievable 7 years and 6 months. That distance of time lasts longer than Lou Thesz’s first NWA title reign of 6 years, 4 months; it betters what some consider the first ever claimant to a unified World Title, George Hackenschmidt’s title reign of 6 years, 5 months; and it just eeks past Verne Gagne’s longest title reign of 7 years, 3 months. Indeed, to find a longer title reign one must travel to Europe where Otto Wanz defeated Don Leo Jonathan on September 1, 1978 and held the Catch Wrestling Association’s version of the World kingpin until losing it to Big Van Vader (then wrestling as Bull Power) on March 22, 1987 for an unbelievable 8 years, 8 months.
However, Sammartino did more as the WWWF World Champion than
just hold onto the gold longer than anyone else in the hemisphere.
He also helped clear up the World Title picture to a degree by
heading into other areas and defeating other World Champions. He moved into Los Angeles and defeated their version of the
kingpin, Fred Blassie to unify those belts.
Then he headed just north to San Francisco where he upended a
world champion named Ray Stevens. And
to expand on something I mentioned last week, Bruno defended his WWWF
title far outside the Northwest territory it maintained as a strong
member of the National Wrestling Alliance.
He was traveling, not only to the West Coast, but also north of
the border to Canada, and even traveled to Japan and Australia to defend
the coveted belt. At one
point, even Verne Gagne challenged Bruno to meet him in his hometown of
Minneapolis, MN. While the challenge was never answered, it was obvious this
was another attempt of Verne’s to make a competing federation’s
champion look bad.