Why Bruno Sammartino had to turn down WWE's Hall Of Fame invite

Bruno Sammartino won't agree to be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame while Vince McMahon is still alive. Photo via swiftwj of Flickr.

That WWE management would want Bruno Sammartino to be inducted in their Hall Of Fame before WrestleMania 29 in New Jersey is not surprising. After all, he's by far the biggest retired company star that made his name in the Northeast not already in and it will always lack credibility while he's excluded. But I wonder why they even bothered asking him. Anyone who knows the history between Sammartino and Vincent Kennedy McMahon should have realised that he would politely decline once again.

Much has been made of Sammartino's distaste for the silly sports entertainment sideshow McMahon turned the "sport" of professional wrestling into and him seeing through the WWE Hall Of Fame as a cheap con to make more money off the legends that paved the way for McMahon to be a half billionaire. But, as Dave Meltzer alluded to in this week's Wrestling Observer Newsletter, it's probably more that he could not live with himself if he ever did business again with somebody who treated him so badly in the past:

HHH reached out to Bruno Sammartino recently in regard to the Hall of Fame in 2013, but Sammartino turned down the invitation. My impression is that neither side wanted it out, but Sammartino did make a point of saying HHH was a gentleman about the approach and very nice about it, but it just wasn't something he was looking at doing.... They had a nice talk and HHH asked if he could consider it and he'll call back in a week. Sammartino said that he didn't want to lead anyone on because he wasn't interested. HHH called back and gave him a pitch, but Sammartino turned him down, saying he's at the stage of life where he doesn't want to do anything that he will have regrets about doing, and if he accepted, he would have regrets. He explained to HHH his reasons.

Those reasons likely had to do with the fallout from Sammartino's last stint in the WWF and how Vince McMahon responded to Bruno becoming an outspoken critic of the company's rampant drug abuse and sexual improprieties in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

McMahon basically emotionally blackmailed Sammartino into donning the trunks once again in early 1985 after being retired for over three years, saying it would be good for his son David's career. Of course, that was just a ploy to prop up business in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston while Vince was in the midst of national expansion. David was largely kept in prelims when he wasn't tagging with his father, which led to longstanding resentment on his son's part when his WWF career inevitably fizzled. Indeed, to this very day, it is believed that David rarely speaks to Bruno.

Bruno eventually grew tired of Vince's demands and being surrounded by a bunch of junkies; so worried was he that he would get caught in a car with someone with drugs on their possession that he refused to travel with anyone on the active WWF roster of the time, instead coming to an arrangement with McMahon for him to be always escorted by road agent Chief Jay Strongbow. Having enough, he quit his role as an announcer with the company in 1988 and largely kept quiet until he felt compelled to speak out when the WWF's longstanding problems with steroids and sexual harrassment got national attention in early 1992, the latter of which was covered in depth by Politico in 2010 when Linda McMahon first stood for election.

It all came to a bitter head when they butted heads on Larry King Live in March of that year. Vince McMahon, fighting to save his promotion from the deluge of bad publicity, threw Bruno under a bus, openly mocking him and trying to make him out as the bad guy for not disclosing his concerns to WWF management while he was still working for the company. The tactic succeeded, as Bruno quickly lost his cool, allowing Vince to look like an unfairly picked upon business owner dealing with a ranting ex employee with an ax to grind, aided by King's sympathy to McMahon's plight.

As Dave Meltzer detailed in the March 23rd Wrestling Observer Newsletter, he was forced to sit between Bruno and Vince on the Donahue Show a few days later, so bad was the heat between the two:

Sammartino was frustrated with McMahon's lies on Friday and was begging everyone to make sure McMahon wasn't allowed to sit next to him because he was afraid of his temper.... About ten minutes before show time, Donahue came into the Green Room (waiting room for guests) and all the guests present were in one room. The tension was incredible in the room when McMahon walked in. I don't know if I've ever been in a room where an aura of mutual hatred so filled the air. I believe I was the only one who even acknowledged McMahon and I don't think he made eye contact with anyone else in the room, nor visa versa.

Twenty years later, I'm sure Bruno could sit next to McMahon without wanting to take a pop at him, but doing business with him when he's financially secure and doesn't need the ego boost is quite another matter. Simply put, I can't see Bruno ever going into the WWE Hall Of Fame while his nemesis Vince McMahon is still living, he's far too principled to change his mind on this matter.

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