Yet, there was a 25-year stretch when Sammartino and Vince McMahon were enemies as “The Living Legend” went from famed performer to outspoken critic.
Sammartino’s ring days were essentially done in the late ’80s, but he was still connected to the WWF as a commentator and through guest roles.
But Sammartino grew disgusted with the infiltration of steroids that appeared to take over the sport and the outlandish storylines McMahon turned to during the infamous Attitude Era.
“I’m hoping some wrestling-minded people will come back into the scene and perhaps start back from basics, get some good-looking athletes, get away from the steroid crap and painted faces,” Sammartino told Lee Banaka in a 1991 interview, via Bleacher Report.
Sammartino had a sporadic role with WWF’s main competition, WCW, and squared off with McMahon in several public forums including “Donahue” and “Larry King Live.”
As Sammartino stayed away, McMahon oversaw WWF’s skyrocketing popularity. Stars like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin carried the sport to a ratings goliath. Beer drinking, sexual innuendos and middle fingers became the norm for telecasts.
“I didn’t care for Steve Austin because of his mouth,” Sammartino said. “He was a very, very vulgar individual and anybody who is like that I can never be a fan of. So, any of his positives were overshadowed by the negatives.”
After years of rebuffing WWF — now WWE — Sammartino accepted a spot in the Hall of Fame in 2013. Ironically, it was Triple H who initially came to prominence as the leader of DX — the faces of the Attitude Era — who convinced him to return. Leading up to his induction, Sammartino said he had yet to speak to McMahon.
“Now, yes, as you said he is the boss, so I feel that from my conversations with Paul Levesque (Triple H) and the agreements we’ve come to and so forth, I do believe he had to speak to Vince, and Vince of course had to agree,” Sammartino told Bleacher Report in 2013.
“But as far as myself, I will see him for the first time at Madison Square Garden at the Hall of Fame. But I have not talked to him, and as far as I know, there aren’t any plans for us to talk until we meet in person at that time.
So when that time comes, we shall meet in person and if he wants to bury the hatchet as the old saying goes, I commend him for the changes that he made.
“I criticized him before, and I will give him credit because these changes could not have taken place without his approval. So, you know, I have to be fair too here.
So, when I meet him I will shake his hand and I will tell him, ‘Hey, I’m willing to bury the hatchet, I didn’t like what you did before, but I like a lot of what you have done since, so I’m willing to put our past behind us.’”
Levesque, who is McMahon’s son-in-law and an executive vice president for WWE, had convinced Sammartino that they had implemented stricter steroid testing and that the changes were evident.
“When he contacted me, I was curious, wasn’t convinced, but after a while he started telling me about not only about the drug program and how strict they were, but he started talking about how they were making it more family friendly by doing away with the nudity and vulgarity and the profanity and all that,” Sammartino said.
McMahon and Sammartino would reunite before his induction and the hatched was, in fact, buried. Sammartino told “The NB Show” that the two embraced during a private meeting and both were satisfied with the direction of the sport. When Sammartino died at the age of 82, McMahon had nothing but kind words for one of wrestling’s pioneers.
One of the finest men I knew, in life and in business. Bruno Sammartino proved that hard work can overcome even the most difficult of circumstances. He will be missed. #RIPLivingLegend pic.twitter.com/PNDuQ31Phd
— Vince McMahon (@VinceMcMahon) April 18, 2018