“Superstar” Billy Graham (c) w/ The Grand Wizard vs. “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino w/ “Golden Boy” Arnold Skaaland for the World Wide Wrestling Federation Championship, Special Guest Referee Gorilla Monsoon – Madison Square Garden, August 1st, 1977
In 2013, after years disassociated from the organization he helped build, Bruno Sammartino was finally inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and would appear in front of the crowd at Wrestlemania 29 the next day. This sticks out in my mind because I attended that Wrestlemania, got there early, and stood by one of the four entrances that the talent was using. Early is of course relative, and by the time I was there I only saw three wrestlers enter the building: Kofi Kingston, The Rock and Bruno Sammartino. I can’t honestly say that Sammartino has the kind of emotional effect on me that Randy Savage or Bret Hart did, but the same can’t be said for my father. The three names I heard most from him growing up were Antonino Rocca, Gorgeous George and, you guessed it, Bruno Sammartino. This connection made the moment something special and his Hall of Fame induction more than just another part of Wrestlemania’s pageantry. Sammartino was the physical embodiment of the company for nearly two decades, and probably should have been the first one in.
This match finds Sammartino at the end of his consistent run in the WWWF, holding the title for over eleven years, cumulatively. Having lost the title to the arrogant Graham in April of the same year, the pair had been feuding ever since. Sammartino would never regain the belt that he built, but this remains one of the most memorable moments in his illustrious career. Outside of the feud, another important plot point was added into the mix, Special Guest Referee Gorilla Monsoon. According to the informative commentary by Vincent K. McMahon, Monsoon volunteered for the role, so he could both handle the enraged superstars and allow the wrestlers to get a little more aggressive than they would normally be allowed to.
Boy do they.
Admittedly, matches in the seventies tended to be on the, uh, slow side. While they certainly provided the foundation for the style today, they don’t often match it. Here, that isn’t the case. Graham vs. Sammartino is a textbook example of not only how to utilize the groundwork you’ve laid, but how to make the most of the immediate premise as well. Monsoon was there to let the action go overboard, and it does. Don’t expect any moonsaults, but this match moves quick. There is a simple brutality to the action that works. These are heavyweights and you believe every move has a massive impact. Visually, both men appear as titans. Graham, perhaps more suited for the wrestling world a decade later, looks like a Masters of the Universe figure come to life, with the personality to match it. Bruno was the massive, former construction worker that he had always been. Nothing flashy, but as intimidating as his heelish foe. As mentioned, the two probably couldn’t win a sprint, but they sure could hit hard for the duration. Though Sammartino would soon shift to a part-time role, you don’t see it here.
This match, along with an excellent collection of the late Sammartino’s matches, is available on the WWE Network.