Many view Bruno Sammartino as one of the greatest stars to ever grace a WWE ring. Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, years after his retirement, as he did not want to be part of the HOF. Long-time rival and real-life friend, Larry Zbyszko, talked him into being inducted into the HOF. This induction came just about five years prior to his unfortunate passing in 2018.
Throughout his illustrious career, Sammartino sold out Madison Square Garden a record number of times — 187, according to WWE. This is not the only impressive accomplishment of Sammartino during his time with WWE, as he currently holds the record for the longest WWE Championship reign in history at 2,803 days. Sammartino defended the WWE Championship successfully for nearly eight years between 1963 and 1971, with many of those defenses coming at MSG.
Every reign started somewhere, and Sammartino’s began in an extremely quick fashion.
Sammartino is the longest-reigning WWE Champion in history
On May 17, 1963, Bruno Sammartino made history by defeating Buddy Rogers for the WWE Championship — then known as the WWWF Championship — in Madison Square Garden. In winning the title, Sammartino became the second WWE Champion in the company’s history and did so in just 48 seconds.
Rogers would not get his rematch for the WWE Championship following this loss, as Sammartino went on to defend the title against a litany of challengers. Some of the men Sammartino defended the title against were legends like Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon, and George Steele. Over the course of his record-breaking run, Sammartino successfully retained his title 653 times, including 62 defenses in MSG alone.
Sammartino finally lost the WWE Championship in January 1971 to Ivan Koloff, who he had successfully defended the title against on 12 occasions prior to this matchup. To this day, the closest anyone has gotten to matching Sammartino’s record-breaking reign in WWE is Bob Backlund, with his WWE Championship reign lasting a total of 2,135 days.