BADDEST MOFOS EVER: THE ITALIAN STALLION BRUNO SAMMARTINO
Back in the day, if a guy was a wrestler, he was a bona-fide badass. The sport, which grew out of what were essentially MMA fights with less striking and more wrestling (catch style), was filled with bad mofos who ate big, lifted big, and lived big. They were living proof that the Paul Bunyans and Spring Heeled Jacks and other men with skills so mad that they are often considered the fanciful bullcrap of legends or conspiracy could have existed. I realize that the same cannot be said for the modern era of wrestlers, since other than the Rock being ridiculously jacked and charismatic, none of them seem larger-than-life to the point of being supernatural.
Back in the day, however, it was commonplace to hear stories like the fact that Andre the Giant drank 106 beers in a night, or Ken Patera and Masa Saito beat the crap out of 16 cops at once and then missed the verdict of their court case because they were out at a bar getting drunk and asleep in the courtroom, respectively, or any of another dozen wrestlers one could name off the top of their head who did everything better than the rest of us to a point where it isn’t just not a competition- we’re just participating in two different universes with two entirely different types of physics (Schwartz, Professor).
Firstly, it was from this era that the longest reigning WWE Champion in history, holding the WWE Title for 2,803 consecutive days, known as the Italian Superman, came. Bruno Sammartino, who presided over what he perceived as wrestling’s fall into “the chemical years” (of which Hulk Hogan’s apparently the evil figurehead), was so beloved by Italians and wrestling fans that they went quite literally berserk when a a heel who turned on him, stabbing him, smashing his cars, flipping over his cabs on the way to fights, and at one point a mobster friend of Frank Sinatra’s even offered to shoot “Classy” Freddie Blassie on Sammartino’s behalf. Secondly, saying Bruno Sammartino was the ultimate babyface is like saying that James Ellsworth is the least physically impressive wrestler of the modern era– it goes without saying, and seems like an understatement even as it’s somewhat hyperbolic.
Furthermore, Bruno was an Italian immigrant who had spent two years in the arctic environs of mountains of Italy (from age 7 to 9) running around like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man with a sharp stick and dining on dandelions and wild animals (DeLuca). Yeah, so when you’re telling your sob story on Instagram about how a rough childhood and broken home are the reason you have a sub 350lb bench. Take a big step back and literally eff your own face. Big Bruno was so malnourished in his formative years that he only weighed 80 lbs. at age 15. That year, Meanwhile, Sammartino arrived in the US, the docs prescribed him a diet of meat and potatoes with a side of heavy lifting (holy hell, I was born in the wrong goddamned era) and it proceeded to get real af.
Let that sink in for a second- Sammartino lifted and ate so hard that he went from 80 lbs. to 225 in four years with no steroids, so the next time you’re watching some dickhead on YouTube screaming about how everyone’s on steroids, just thumbs down that video, eat a steak, and go bench press until your eyes bleed.
By the time he was college-aged, the 16-year-old 105lb neophyte lifter kid without a word of English in his vocabulary had become a weight room monster with a scholarship offer for wrestling from the University of Pittsburgh and went on to win a bunch of lifting titles. Sammartino basically treated being the best at everything the same way most people act when they’re finishing a delicious sandwich- it was just what he did, and he neither sweated little stuff nor bemoaned any “hard times” that befell him.
For instance, one of his favorite memories is travelling to an annual Strength and Healthpicnic and competition in York, PA in 1957. In the era before people abandoned their pride and set up GoFundMes to pay for their travel costs, Sammartino slept on a goddamned park benchand then proceeded to wipe he goddamned platform with his competition. He then repeated that process over and over, and by the time he was 22 be had won Mr. Allegheny in bodybuilding, set a world record for the bench press, and boasted the following lifts:
- 565lb Bench
- 625lb Squat
- 675lb Deadlift
- 365lb Olympic Press
- 270lb Snatch
- 370lb Clean and Jerk
Bear in mind when viewing those numbers that powerlifting didn’t officially exist at this time, and the power lifts were just three of 72 lifts contested in odd lift meets at the time- it’s not as though these guys specialized in them unless they just loved the ever-loving hell out of them.
The man was an absolute Milo of Croton-style beast of a pro wrestler, and while looking like a beardless Zangief, he racked up the following sick accomplishments as a wrestler:
- 133 consecutive sell-outs in Madison Square Garden
- 75 consecutive main bouts in Boston Gardens.
- 21 straight sell-outs in Australia (a record that may still stand)
- the largest crowd (90,000 people) in Japan (at least until 1972)
- the record of 125,000 in India (at least until 1972)
- the only pro wrestler to sell out the Bull Fight Arena in Caracas (50,000 in attendance).
- the record for total gates around the world (Deluca)
Bruno Sammartino’s All-Time Best Lifts
- Bench Press– 315lbs for 38 reps (Tatar)
- Bench Press– 330lbs for 33 reps right after hitting a max of 500 for the day (Twichell)
- Bench Press (Competition, with a flat back and two second pause)– 565lbs
- Floor Press– 545lbs (Willoughby 133)
- Strict Curl– 235lbs (Willoughby 138)
- Olympic Press– 410lbs (Willoughby 133)
- Deadlift– 705lbs (Willoughby 377), though he never trained it because he thought it was bad for the back (Twichell).
- Squat (Competition)– 685lbs (Twichell)
- Snatch– 270lbs (both his snatch and clean and jerk were hamstrung by the fact his elbows wouldn’t lock out fully, which he attributed to malnourishment while living in the Alps)
- Clean and Jerk– 370lbs
Not too shabby, especially considering the fact that he was fanatically drug free and trained in a time before supplements, and he put up his 565 benches on a rickety homemade bench with no uprights (Tatar). His workouts were legendary, and weren’t spurred by anything but Sammartino’s imagination, his defiance against gravity, and his titanic brass balls.
Therefore, he fueled his lengthy, brutal, and frequent workouts by eating his ass off. At 5’11” and 270lbs, Bruno had to have been a big eater, and according to interviews, he’d routinely put away 24 lamb chops or four pounds of steak at one sitting and eat breakfasts of 12 eggs. Moreover, a loaf of bread, a whole box of cereal, and two quarts of milk (Rouvalis). Arthur Saxon himself would have been proud of Sammartino’s total unwillingness to approach the dinner table with anything but contempt for food, because at every meal Sammartino’s goal was stuff as much food down his gullet as humanly possible.
Obviously, Sammartino wasn’t overly concerned with showing up at competitions ripped to shreds- he was about looking so physically imposing his opponents had to wear Depends into the ring and with being so superhumanly strong he made legendary strongmen look like bitches. Given the fact he lifted 3 days a week, did calisthenics another two days a week, ran 8 miles a day, and wrestled six to seven days a week, however, Sammartino was training to a point where he’d likely have dropped dead of starvation eating any other way.
As it stood, his diet was exactly what the doctor ordered, because Sammartino was so goddamned strong that he was capable of “doing amazing feats” at a moment’s notice, like, press slamming 605lb Haystacks Calhoun so hard that he caved in the center of the ring (Deluca, Rouvalis). That is a feat even the legendary Paul Anderson couldn’t pull off- at one point he tried to lift Haystacks and failed harder than Tara Reid at sobriety.
By this time, you and I are two wholly different species if you’re not dying to know how he trained. In wild departure from the manner in which people approach training today, Sammartino didn’t simply follow a bullcrap, cookie-cutter program developed by and for candy asses. For example, he honed a routine over the years that proved to be as successful as it was brutal.
“I WAS WORKING OUT THREE, SOMETIME THREE AND A HALF, HOURS A DAY WITH WEIGHTS. I WOULD WORK OUT IN THE MORNING BECAUSE I WANTED TO BE VERY RESTED UP FOR THE WRESTLING MATCHES AT NIGHT. SO I WOULD DO A WORKOUT, THEN HAVE A LIGHT BREAKFAST, AND THEN I WOULD GO TO BED FOR A FEW HOURS. I WOULD EAT AN EARLY DINNER NO LATER THAN 3:00 SO THAT IT WOULD BE FULLY DIGESTED BY THE TIME I WENT IN THE RING. SO YEAH, I WORKED OUT VERY HARD AND HEAVY, BUT I ALWAYS USED TO TRY AND TAKE A COUPLE HOURS NAP AFTERWARD JUST TO RECOUP AND REST UP” (WUEBBEN).
Bruno Sammartino’s Power Routine(Twichell)
Bench Press– 10 sets, working up in 2-rep jumps to his max (I’m guessing 2 sets of 10, 2 sets of 8, 2 x 6, 2 x 4, 1 x 2, 1 x 1). His 11th set was a death set with about 65% of his 1RM for the day.
Floor Press– 5-7 x 3 with ~550lbs (see pic above, because it’s different than what I’ve done as a floor press)
Incline Dumbbell Presses– 5 x 5 (heavy as hell- when he was training withthe legendary Karl Norberg he was using 150-pound dumbbells)
Incline Laterals– 5 x 5 (again heavy enough to make your eyes bleed, 125-pound dumbbells)
Cheat Upright Rows– 6 x 6-7 x 205lbs
High Pulls (to the navel)- 6 x 3-4 x 400-425lbs
Squats– 8 x 3-5 reps x 650lbs
Strict/Military Barbell Curl– 10 x 10 x 135 to 175 pounds (he’d also occasionally do cheat curls with 225)
Bruno Sammartino’s Travel Routine(Twichell)
In other words, training is a bitch on the road, and Sammartino stopped squatting after a while because it hurt his agility and his knees, he had a routine of three basic exercises.
Bench Press– 10-12 x 3-5 starting around 300lbs and work up to a single with maximum poundage, followed by a death set.
Strict/Military Barbell Curl– 10 x 10 x 135 to 175 pounds
Standing Laterals– I’m assuming 5×5 as above, but he didn’t specify in the interview)
Bruno Sammartino’s Beginners Routine (Kubik)
In addition, everything was done through online courses or published in magazines. You know that, candy-ass, cookie-cutter course you bought off some nobody for far too much money? Further, think of correspondence courses as the same thing, except they almost invariably came from someone who had accomplished something in the strength world. In other words, the following routine was Sammartino’s recommendation for beginners, so the volume is low. Everything is done with a single warmup set and followed by 3 sets of 6 reps. Weight work was done three times a week, with the bodyweight stuff done on two of the off days.
Squat– 3 x 6
Bench Press– 3 x 6
Barbell Curl– 3 x 6
Behind the Neck Press– 3 x 6
Upright Rowing– 3 x 6 (with a two second hold at the top)
Sit-Ups– 3 x 6
The bodyweight work for two off days (working up to sets of 100 on squat pushups and 15 on pullups):
Hindu Squats– 1 or 2 sets
Hindu Pushups– 1 or 2 sets
Behind the Neck Pull-Ups– 2 sets
Sammartino kept training even into his old age because that’s what badasses do in retirement. The following is the routine he followed in the picture above, doing it three times a week along with a seven-mile daily jog.
Lat Pulldowns– 5 x 15 x 130lbs
Lateral Raises– 10 x 15 x 40lbs
Bench Press– 7 x 8 x 150-250lbs
Dumbbell Bench Press– 5 x 10 x 100lbs
Dumbbell Curl– 10 x 10 x 40lbs
Overhead Tricep Extension– 4 x 15 x 40lbs
Leg Extensions– 5 x 20 x 125-160 lbs
Leg Raises– 75
Alternate Leg Raises– 75
Bicycles Crunches– 100
By the time he was 77, Sammartino’s routine had changed somewhat, but still outpaced your average 20-something athleisure-wearing Instagram superstar. Once a badass, always a badass, it seems:
“THREE DAYS A WEEK I DO ROADWORK. I HAD HIP REPLACEMENT, AND THE DOCTORS TELL ME I CAN WALK AS FAST AS I WANT, BUT I’M NOT ALLOWED TO RUN. SO I POWER WALK. I DO BETWEEN FOUR AND FIVE MILES. THEN I COME HOME – I HAVE A WELL-EQUIPPED GYM DOWNSTAIRS – AND I DO ABOUT 800 LEG RAISES AND LEG CRUNCHES FOR STOMACH WORK, AND THEN I STRETCH A LITTLE BIT. AND THAT’S IT.
MEANWHILE, THE NEXT DAY, I WORK OUT WITH THE WEIGHTS. NOW, DO I LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS ANYMORE? NO, I’M 77, AND MY WEIGHT IS NOT 275 ANYMORE. I’M 215 NOW, MAYBE 220 WITH MY CLOTHES ON. FOR EXAMPLE, ON BENCH PRESS, I DON’T GO HIGHER THAN MAYBE 215 FOR REPS. FOR SHOULDER WORK I DO 35-POUND DUMBBELLS FOR SIDE LATERALS. NOTHING REALLY HEAVY ANYMORE, BECAUSE, #1, I’M OLD; #2, I’M NOT AS HEAVY AS I WAS; AND #3, I DON’T WANT TO PUT TOO MUCH STRESS ON THE JOINTS AT THIS STAGE OF MY LIFE. ABOVE ALL, I USE WEIGHTS THAT ARE COMFORTABLE FOR ME” (WUEBBEN).
Lest you think Sammartino was simply a huge, strong guy and a pushover outside of the ring, that was about as far from the truth as any natty bro’s vociferous claims about how natty they are. Sammartino was still willing to throw hands after he retired, and one of his backstage rumbles is legendary. At the age of 51, Sammartino was a commentator rather than an announcer. Spying six large non-wrestlers backstage. After that, Sammartino approached them and told them they were going to get in trouble with security. One of the six, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, grabbed Sammartino’s hand and tried to play the old hand-squishing game to “prove his dominance” in the same way wusses like Neo-Nazis and those “men going their own way” idiots would attempt to.
Then the man uttered what were luckily not his last words, telling Sammartino he was washed up and sucker punching him. Sammartino, being the Italian Superman, knocked that dude out with a single punch and proceeded to fight the other five single handedly, until the Iron Sheik jumped out of the shower and into the fracas bare-assed naked. The two of them proceeded to stomp the ever-loving hell out of the six men and presumably went off to share a grilled steer and a couple kegs of beer (and given it was 1980’s Iron Sheik, I’m guessing at least an 8-ball of coke).
To sum it up, none of us are going to be Bruno Sammartino because there’s only one Italian Superman, and he just died. We can, however, do our best impression of that bad mofo and honor him by eating a hell of a lot more and training a hell of a lot more, because judging by the standard that man set in just four years of training, we have all failed to come within screaming distance of our potential. Nothing whatsoever should stand in your way in becoming the best possible version of yourself, and anything you tell yourself is a reason why you can’t get huge and superhumanly strong is just a goddamned excuse you’re made because you’re a whiny bitch.
In conclusion, You have literally no excuses to make. Go make it happen.
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