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Website woos Sammartino fans
By STEVEN JOHNSON - SLAM! Wrestling


TOTOWA, NJ -- Of the nearly two dozen vendors at August's FAN SLAM! wrestling convention, the one that garnered much of the attention was the one with the fewest items to sell. Chalk up that phenomenon to the unflagging popularity of long-time WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino.

FAN SLAM!, held in suburban New Jersey on August 23rd, was a coming-out party for www.brunosammartino.com, an information and merchandise website devoted to the longest-reigning world champion in history.

"I didn't intend to come here to sell anything," protested Stu Levitan, a New York-based memorabilia dealer who is marketing the site for the wrestling immortal. "I just wanted to get an idea of the interest level," he said.

Within minutes of setting up shop, though, fans were "trying to buy everything I had, including this poster," he said, waving his hand at an oversized Sammartino display.

Levitan, who collected e-mail and street addresses for marketing efforts, cameaway more convinced than ever that the mere mention of "Sammartino" is magic to wrestling fans.

"It's like 'DiMaggio,'" said Levitan. "You don't need to say the whole name. All you have to say is 'Bruno,' and everybody knows who you're talking about."

The website should rouse stirring memories for fans who cheered Sammartino in is memorable tenures as WWWF world champion from 1963 to 1971, and 1975 to 1978.

It also should introduce the native of Italy to a generation of wrestling aficionados. Most importantly, though, the site is designed to "get him back in control of his name again," Levitan said.

Sammartino, who lives in Pittsburgh, has been relatively quiet since he hung up his tights in the mid-1980s. He long ago broke with Vince McMahon over the style and direction of professional wrestling, and is both well-known and oftencriticized for his "protection" of the inside aspects of a business that now harbors few secrets.

As a result, every statement he makes in public and private settings is sliced, diced, and parsed on Internet boards. That's why Levitan, who met Sammartino through business dealings, is focusing on products that offer the mat great's perspectives in and out of the ring.

"What we're doing is not a stack of signed 8x10s," he said. "I know we have to do some of that because people expect it, but I don't have the least interest in that."

Instead, initial offerings will include a second edition of Sammartino's autobiography, originally issued in 1990 with co-author Bob Michelucci.

Also coming out are a pair of DVDs that differ from standard wrestling match compilations. "The Boys Are Back" is an unrehearsed discussion between Bruno and contemporaries such as Dominic DeNucci and Nikolai Volkoff over a hearty feast of pasta and wine.

That production delves into the little-known blacklist that drove Sammartino out of the United States in the early 1960s and on to the mat wars in Canada.

Another DVD, entitled "La Roccia," follows Sammartino as he visits his childhood home of Pizzoferrato, Italy.

Levitan also is planning releases for Japan, where Sammartino was a headliner.

"I don't think there's going to be a reconciliation with McMahon, and Bruno's not wrestling any more," Levitan said. "But people still remember him so fondly that hopefully this will give them something to enjoy."

The SLAM! Wrestling Sammartino collection:

  • Oct. 1999: Sammartino no fan of McMahon
  • Oct. 1999: Sammartino admired Monsoon
  • Sep. 1999: Sammar tino the Living Legend

    Steve Johnson is a long-time fan from Virginia who grew up watching the stars of the Buffalo promotion, and doing up a newsletter with results.