It’s fair to say that David Sammartino never reached the same heights as his legendary father Bruno. While his father is one of the biggest names in wrestling history, David was largely featured in preliminary matches if he wasn’t with his more famous father. In this latest piece we ask Whatever Happened to David Sammartino?
Like many other fields, wrestling history has second generation talents that fail to reach the heights of their more famous father.
For every Dwayne Johnson there is a Tiger Ali Singh and Scott Putski.
One performer that had a tougher task that many was David Sammartino, the sun of WWE Hall of Famer the legendary Bruno Sammartino.
In Bruno’s two decade run with the WWWF, he held the World Championship for a total of over 11 years including a record breaking 2803 day run with the gold – a record unlikely to ever be beaten.
He was the face of the WWWF and Vincent McMahon Snrs. biggest drawing superstars.
In 1980, Bruno’s son David debuted as a wrestling picking up where his father left off by feuding with Larry Zbyszko, his father’s former protege, on the independent circuit.
Four years later he was signed by Vince McMahon Jnr’s WWF. By this point his father was commentating on WWF shows, largely as a result of legal action from Sammartino over monies owed to him from gate receipts.
David received a large push upon his arrival and often teamed with his more famous father. it is often speculated that McMahon used David in order to get his father – who was still a huge draw – to wrestle on WWF TV.
The younger Smmartino appeared at the innaugural WrestleMania against Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake which ended with a double count-out. Post match Bruno, who was in his son’s corner, brawled with Beefcake and his manager Johnny Valiant.
This resulted in several tag team matches pitting the Sammartinos against Beefcake and Valiant. When Bruno was involved, David’s matches were placed near the top of the card and sometimes even in the main event. However, when his father wasn’t involved David’s matches tended to be at the start of shows.
Increasingly frustrated by his lack of progress, David left the WWF several times only being brought back thanks to the assistance of his father.
In 1986, after quitting once again, Sammartino went to Verne Gagne’s AWA – then a rival of the WWF. He was thrust, largely to his name, into the main event scene receiving several title shots against then AWA champion Stan Hansen – in losing affairs.
Several years later he returned once against to Vince McMahon’s WWF but his run was shortlived. After only a few months, he was fired for punching a fan who had spat on him. Both he and his father have speculated that the fan was a plant to try and get David fired. It was during this second run that the “phantom submission match” against Ron Shaw, that Brian recently wrote about, took place.
In 1990, Sammartino began wrestling for Herb Abrams Universal Wrestling Federation in California. He also competed for AJPW in the same year.
He drifted out of wrestling and returning in 1995 when he joined NWA New Jersey. While there he challenged Tommy Cairo for the NWA North American Championship twice – losing both times and left that promotion soon after.
The following year he re-emerged from hiatus in WCW where he competed in the promotion’s Cruiserweight division. He would only wrestle twice for WCW losing a Cruiserweight title match against Dean Malenko on Nitro and a dark match win over Rex King.
Throughout the 90s his relationship with his father was strained. After leaving the WWF, Bruno was very critical of the direction of Vince McMahon’s company particularly the use of steroids. It was later admitted by David that he, too, used steroids during the 90s.
Unlike other second generation wrestlers, it wasn’t his lack of wrestling prowess that went against him. If you watch his WrestleMania match against Brutus Beefcake you will see that he is a very good technical wrestler. He was simply never able to escape the shadow of his father, what could have been otherwise.
In a 1998 interview with Post Gazette, Bruno spoke about his relationship with David saying “When I refused to put on the tights again, my son never forgave me. He hasn’t spoken to me since. I resented that he didn’t understand.”
When pressed on his son, Bruno said “To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what he is doing. That’s the sad part about it. We have such a close family and to have this situation happen.”
David was also interviewed and stated he hadn’t seen or talked to his father in nine years. “It was a series of things – personal. It’s very tragic. He’s my dad. I loved him. He was a big inspiration to me. He was the best there ever was.”
Sammartino is currently semi-retired and has worked as a personal trainer since 1996. He occasionally dons the trunks to take part in in “Legends” events, appearing alongside several other veteran wrestlers.
His last match was for International Wrestling Cartel ‘Night of Legends 2010’ in a victorious effort against Larry Zbyszko.
You can read all previous ‘Whatever Happened to?’ pieces here.