Sunday, April 01, 2007

March Matchups: Bruno Sammartino vs. Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair

Welcome, back ladies and gentleman! This is the moment we have all been waiting for - in honor of Wrestlemania 23 which takes place tonight at 7 - this is our main event in this series that we have called, "March Matchups." The "Rangers In Seven" Arena is filled to the rafters, and although we won't break the indoor attendance record set by Wrestlemania III (93,173), we will come close. I just haven't finished counting, but I'll get there. The excitement is just too much for all of us right now, I hope it will last...For one final time here at "March Matchups," let's hook 'em up!

"Triple Threat Legend of Legends Match"
Bruno Sammartino vs. Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair

I only got to see "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino wrestle a handful of times in the mid to late '80s. Mostly, I heard him weekly doing color commentary with Vince McMahon and Jesse"The Body" Ventura on Superstars of Wrestling. But Bruno's reputation was carved out long before I was even a thought. Bruno Sammartino was born in Italy on October 6, 1935 and is well-known for being the longest-reigning champion of what was then called the World Wide Wrestling Federation (W.W.W.F.). Bruno held that belt across two reigns for over 12 years in total. He also had the longest world championship reign in professional wrestling history.

Incredibly, Bruno sold out Madison Square Garden a record 187 times as he was a constant headliner in the '60s and '70s.

Sammartino first got going in wrestling back in 1959. Legend has it that he is the only man to body slam Haystacks Calhoun. What's so great about that you ask? Well, Calhoun reportedly weighed 600 pounds. I have no idea how accurate these weights are with wrestlers, but let me assure you Calhoun was a giant.

Bruno wrested the W.W.W.F. World Championship title away from "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers on May 17, 1963, in just 48 seconds. Buddy Rogers for years made the ridiculous claim that he had suffered a heart attack before the bout with Sammartino. But Rogers never missed any time after his wrestling match with Bruno, so I think his claims were highly unlikely. This first championship run by Bruno was an incredible feat. He held the World Championship for seven years, eight months, and one day, which is the longest continuous world title reign in wrestling history. That record will never be broken, I believe. The reason being that wrestling is so much different now. It's not really beneficial to keep one guy on top for that long. Yes, it makes him appear invincible. But it doesn't help to put any other guys "over" with the fans. Still, it does show how much of a "sell" Bruno was.

Bruno's first reign featured legendary feuds with Gorilla Monsoon and George Steele throughout the '60s. However, on January 18, 1971, Sammartino lost the title at Madison Square Garden to Ivan Koloff.

Bruno bounced around from territory to territory after his title loss. Even heading overseas for a while. But Bruno regain the W.W.W.F. Championship, by defeating Stan Stasiak in December of 1973. His second run as champ showed Bruno to continue to beat all comers. The likes of John Tolos, Bruiser Brody, Ken Patera, Bugsy McGraw, Baron Von Raschke, Ivan Koloff, Superstar Billy Graham, Don Leo Jonathan, Angelo Mosca, Ernie Ladd and Nikolai Volkoff were no match for Sammartino, according to His second title run lasted three years, four months, and twenty days ending on April 30, 1977 when he was defeated by Superstar Billy Graham. Bruno travelled around again after that loss, and fought N.W.A. World Champ Harley Race to a one-hour draw. He returned to what was then called the W.W.F. and had a long feud with Larry Zbyszko, whom Bruno tutored for a while.

Shortly after his feud with Zbyszko which headlined a card at Shea Stadium, Bruno, who was billed as being from Pittsburgh, P.A., started doing color commentary on W.W.F. broadcasts. Many felt that he was being used by Vince McMahon because of his notoriety. Others, however, believe that Bruno was being a good sport so that his son David would get a push. His son, was a horrible wrestler and really had no business being in the ring to begin with. But got somewhat of a push as a result of being the son of a legend.

As wrestling changed so did Bruno Sammartino. The more popular the W.W.F. became, the more sour Bruno was. He eventually left the Federation and the few times he granted interviews were to bash Vince McMahon and the W.W.F., and although he had some valid points, he came off to many as a bitter, jealous man. These days Bruno only makes appearances on the indy circuit, mostly as a special commentator.

Bruno Sammartino is honored as a member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (inducted in 1990) and the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame.

Hulk Hogan. The name is synonymous with pro wrestling. The 54-year-old, former W.W.E. superstar took wrestling from pool halls to setting indoor attendance records (Wrestlemania III when Hogan fought Andre The Giant). Hogan is recognized by the current A.W.A. as being a two-time holder of the A.W.A. World Title. The A.W.A. is where Hogan was able to cultivate his image. He had a run in the W.W.F. from the late 70s until about 1982, before going to Minnesota and the A.W.A. Hogan has stated that he was ready to quit wrestling before going to wrestle for Verne Gagne who headed up the Minny promotion. At his W.W.E. Hall of Fame induction speech, Hogan says that his two biggest breaks happened in the early 80s when he met his future wife and when he was offered a role by Sly Stallone in Rocky III.

Hogan would win the W.W.F. World Title in early 1984 and hold that belt until February 1988. The only reason he would drop the title is so that he could pursue movies. Although he has appeared in several flicks, none have really achieved great box office success. Hogan, however, has found a second career in his reality show, Hogan Knows Best.

Hulk Hogan had a couple of reigns in the W.W.F. as World Champ before jumping to W.C.W., which was owned by Ted Turner. Thus, they had the bucks to match Vince McMahon and so were able to lure many of McMahon's top talent away.

Hogan would turn heel, or bad guy, in W.C.W. mostly because the fans had become tired of him as a "good guy." Hogan had a tremendous run in W.C.W. and was World Champ six times. In total, he was the W.W.F. champ six times as well.

Hulk Hogan transcends the "sport" of pro wrestling, and any of the young guys today such as Edge, Randy Orton, and John Cena will credit him for their success. However, Hogan gives all of the credit to Vince McMahon. As a wrestler Hogan would use his power and brawling ability to win matches, but also had a pretty good repertoire of moves when he was allowed to use them, which he was able to do predominantly in W.C.W. and when he would venture over to Japan.

Today, Hogan is busy with his show and his daughter's music career.

Ric Flair was a two-time W.W.E. World Champ, a nine-time N.W.A. World Champ, and an eight-time W.C.W. World Champion, not to mention numerous other regional and tag team titles. Flair, 58, still competes in the W.W.E. on Monday Night Raw. He beat Dusty Rhodes in 1981 for his first World Title in the N.W.A. However, he nearly did not get to ever becoming a wrestler. Flair, was a passenger on board a small airplane which crashed in North Carolina in 1975. He was told he would never wrestler again due to severe neck damage. However, Flair was resilient and proved that he could overcome many odds by becoming one of the best wrestlers ever.

Flair represented the old N.W.A. very well. In those days, there was the W.W.F. in the northeast and then a bunch of territories scattered throughout the U.S. which fell under the umbrella of the National Wrestling Alliance. Flair would wrestle all the top performers back then including, Harley Race, the Von Erich family, Ron Garvin, Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, Magnum T.A., Ricky Steamboat and more. Flair's persona was that of a playboy who could do great interviews and in many ways reminds me of Al Pacino. Flair often criticized Hogan for the fact that the Hulkster would often wrestle in bouts that went 15 minutes, 20 minutes most. Whereas, Flair was known for wrestling in matches that went to a one hour draw.

So who wins this bout? Well, there are many factors to consider. Bruno Sammartino was a brawler who exhibited brute strength. He also could wrestle in marathon bouts that went one hour or more. However, Bruno never brought wrestling out of the smoky pool halls. Flair was great, no question about it. There isn't a wrestler who fought from the late '70s to the current time, whom Flair has not met in the ring. The problem with the long matches that he would engage in, is that quite often they were filled with "rest holds." What is a rest hold you might ask? That's when one guy has another in a headlock or something that gives them both time to take a breather. Flair is a guy who fought them all and had no problem going from territory to territory and even to Japan to defend his belt. But that's because the N.W.A. would allow him to. Hogan took wrestling to heights that were unthinkable. He revolutionized the entire world of pro wrestling. I believe that if Hogan came back today to wrestle, the fans would still want to see him win a title - he's that well-respected. Wrestling will never see a guy like Bruno have championship runs like he did; it won't see a guy like Flair with great interviewing skills and also a guy who could wrestle any style; however, wrestling will also never know a guy like Hogan again either. The Hulkster made wrestling fun for so many people and brought fans into the arenas like never before and out of their seats cheering as if they were watching the most charismatic, electrifying person ever to compete in a ring. You know what? They were. The winner of this bout and in my book the "Legend of Legends," the one and only Hulk Hogan.

Keep it in the Ring!

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