WWE delivered the huge news today that it will be inducting Bruno Sammartino into the company’s Hall of Fame this April, apparently ending--at least for one night--a bitter rivalry that stretched over a quarter century.
There had been indications in recent weeks that WWE had made some progress in mending fences with Sammartino, who left the company in the mid-1980s after a storied run that included two runs with the WWE championship that totaled more than a decade.
As Bruno made clear in this 2009 interview I conducted with him, it would take a small miracle for him to return to the WWE fold. Sammartino went as far as to say that he thought he’d be “prostituting” himself if he accepted induction into the Hall of Fame.
So what’s changed since then? A dollar figure is probably one thing. Sammartino said when he last met with Vince McMahon in 2005, McMahon offered him a paltry $5,000 to agree to go into the Hall of Fame—an amount that Sammartino rightfully found offensive, especially considering the six-figure-plus sums they offered to celebrities like Mike Tyson to be part of the Hall of Fame.
Whereas WWE may be used to having all the leverage when negotiating with former talent, who are all too happy just to be featured on television and get a small pay day, it was a very different case with Sammartino. He’s never felt like he needed the recognition of the WWE Hall of Fame to give his legendary career meaning. On the other hand, the WWE Hall of Fame very much needed Bruno Sammartino if it is was ever to be considered “legitimate.” More so than anybody else, Sammartino’s omission from the Hall of Fame stood out as glaring.
And so I’ll bet WWE finally came to the table with a respectable sum of money to bring Sammartino back—likely part of a package that would include proceeds from a DVD box set, other merchandise sales, and maybe some kind of consulting contract. I’d imagine it would have to be at least in the six-figure range, although a seven-figure sum would be money well-spent.
But money wasn’t the only thing keeping Sammartino from coming back to WWE, which he has denigrated for years as being vulgar and filled with drug users. According to a story published on WWE.com. Triple-H, who has been handling negotiations with Sammartino, showed him footage of the current WWE product and convinced him that things have changed.
In fact, it’s a good bet that this deal would never have been made were it not for Triple-H, who is well-respected among several wrestlers from Sammartino’s generation for being a traditionalist, and also a protégé of one Sammartino’s greatest opponents, Walter “Killer” Kowalski.
However the deal got done, I’m glad that it did. Because most modern WWE fans probably never heard of him, Sammartino’s return probably won’t make a much of a difference to WWE’s bottom line, outside of some older fans who might buy a ticket to see Sammartino’s return to Madison Square Garden and pick up a copy of a Sammartino career retrospective DVD.
Still, whatever it cost Vince McMahon—both in money and in crow-eating—bringing one of WWE’s most important historical figures back into the fold was a worthwhile investment.