Bruno Sammartino and Ivan Koloff each reflect on the night Koloff went from pretty much being an unknown (by his own account) to almost starting a riot when he ended Bruno’s almost 8-year reign as world champion.
Ivan Koloff – “It shocked me to see this kind of reaction from the fans. I thought something happened to my ears.”
“Bruno Sammartino was my hero.
He was a legend—a legend in the sense that he was so well-liked by the people. Just to be able to wrestle him was a thrill in itself, let alone in Madison Square Gardens for the belt.
I enjoyed wrestling him very much.
Even after close to ten years of experience in wrestling myself, I still had butterflies. I was very excited and nervous about being in there with him.
We sort of complimented each other. He was maybe an inch or so taller than me, but we were both stocky, and also we complemented each other in terms of style.”
“It had been eight long years as champion, and my schedule had been so hectic, you just couldn’t believe it. I traveled overseas a lot to Japan and Australia – you name it, I went everywhere. I was so beat in so many ways; I was never one to even take an aspirin. I worked in pain.
I was just so exhausted…”
“A lot of people don’t realize, the rings up there in New York; the boxing rings with four ropes, they’ve got to be a lot more stable – not so much spring, otherwise the Boxer’s legs would give out. So consequently, wrestlers taking being back-drops and suplexes and stuff like that it ended up taking a toll on the body a lot more.
So I really believe Bruno, wrestling nearly every night for seven and a half years, plus being the champ and having the pressure on him to draw money. He needed some time out.”
Watch Ivan Koloff Ends the Almost 8-Year Title Reign of Bruno Sammartino at Madison Square Garden, January 18, 1971:
“It shocked me to see this kind of reaction from the fans. The Garden was sold out, and yet, you could have heard a pin drop. I thought something happened to my ears…”
“I end up winning, one-two-three with a knee-drop off the top. Man, everything went so quiet. Can you imagine it? A sold-out Garden. They couldn’t believe Bruno got defeated after seven years as champion. Finally, [the referee] raises my hand, but he says, ‘Go back to the dressing room, you’ll get the belt there.’
They were afraid of a riot.”
Bruno Sammartino – “People were crying and telling me how much they cared for me. That’s what made me feel bad. I had made them feel so sad.”
“When I was on the way to the back, people were crying and telling me how much they cared for me. That’s what made me feel bad. I had made them feel so sad.
As far as losing the title, that wasn’t such a bad thing. Because to me, it meant I could be at home with my family and could rest up my body. It also meant that after a layoff, I could go back at my own pace.”
“Imagine how it feels to wrestle your own hero and win the belt?
It was definitely a gift to my career because I went from an unknown, pretty much. I had the Canadian championship three years before that, but I really hadn’t accomplished a lot other than that.
I felt sort of bad for awhile [being the one to end the Bruno era], but I didn’t feel bad for too long!”
These stories may also interest you:
- Ivan Koloff – WWE’s Shame Behind Him Not Being in the Hall of Fame
- Pedro Morales – WWE’s Forgotten Champion
- Nikolai Volkoff: Farewell to a Legend, Hero, and Friend
Sources used in this article: Bruno Sammartino Prodigy chat with fans on solie.org, Mid-Atlantic Gateway interview with Ivan Koloff, In Your Head Online interview with Bruno Sammartino
The quotes above were compiled by Matt Pender and shared here with thanks to our friends over at ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ Facebook page.
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