Bruno Sammartino, the longest-reigning champion of the World Wide Wrestling Federation, will be inducted into its hall of fame this year, 25 years after he left the sport.
The Italian-born Sammartino had turned down multiple requests to allow his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame years earlier, saying he objected to how the sport was being conducted under the leadership of WWE CEO Vince McMahon Jr.
Sammartino had wrestled on the circuit while Vince McMahon Sr., who founded the American World Wide Wrestling Federation (later shorted to WWF, then changed to WWE), was at the helm.
In an interview with CBS' local Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA
on Monday, the wrestling legend explained his change of heart while discussing the WWE culture in the 1980s and 1990s.
"So much steroids and unfortunately other drugs involved in that. And I was very appalled by that. I hated seeing the game that I had been in for all those years come down to that. We started having some deaths and so forth, reported due to these drugs," said Sammartino.
The wrestling great told CBS that he challenged the WWE
to clean up its act, which he claims they've begun to do, having recently hired Pittsburgh neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon as its medical director.
"And they do very strict drug testing. And just from watching it now, I can see that these guys are not on drugs," added Sammartino.
Last April the WWE Hall of Fame reached out to Sammartino again, according to the retired wrestler, and this time he accepted.
"Being that they made those changes, now that they want me in there so badly I absolutely accept it because they did what I wanted them to do."
The announcement was celebrated by wrestling enthusiasts.
"When I read the name, I got goosebumps. A smile on my face. It was one of those moments as a pro wrestling fan where you can't believe what you are reading. As if hell just froze over," wrote Arda Ocal, a sports writer for The Baltimore Sun who covers wrestling.
Sammartino will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 6 in Madison Square Garden, where he will be joined on stage by other retired wrestlers, including Bob Backlund, Mick Foley and Trish Stratus.
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