Celebrating Italians In Wrestling | Among the Best in the World

Pro wrestling manager and fellow Italian Chazz Moretti spoke highly of his culture and heritage as he was celebrating Italians in wrestling. On his Facebook page, he had posted the following wrestlers of Italian wrestlers, either of born Italian or of Italian-American descent.

Thus far, Moretti shared that among the names that were of Italian culture are the following: Mario Mancini (WWE), Nancy Benoit, former ECW champion Taz, former ECW tag team champion Perry Saturn, former AWA tag team champion Frankie DeFalco, Randy Macho Man Savage, Former ECW tag team Champion Pitbull #2 Anthony Durante, former WWWF/ WWE United States World Tag Team Champion’s “The Sicilians” Tony Altomare and Lou Albano.

Celebrating Italians In Wrestling

It also included Canadian Italians such as former WWF/ WWE Canadian champion Dino Bravo, former NWA tag team champion Toni Rose Donna Christenello, former AWA World Women’s Champion Betty Niccoli, referee Mike Tutor, and WWE Hall of Famer Gorilla Monsoon.

The history behind Italian American Heritage and Culture Month in the United States of America is celebrated by the proclamation of the President and Congress to honor the achievements and contributions of Italian immigrants and their descendants living in the United States, particularly in the arts, science, and culture.

This proclamation was led by the Italian Senator Tate Downs. Events are held throughout the month to celebrate and educate the public about Italian-American history and culture. It was first celebrated in 1989.

The heritage month is in October to coincide with Columbus Day, the American national holiday traditionally celebrated on October 12, now celebrated on the second Monday in October. Heritage Months are usually proclaimed by nations to celebrate centuries of contributions by a group to a country and within the authority of the Executive Branch. President George Bush Sr of the United States also issued a proclamation in 1989.

As an Italian myself, this sparked my interest in investigating my family lineage and looking up other Italian pro wrestlers. When I was young, my grandfather was a WW2 Navy veteran who fought in the Pacific Ocean on a destroyer.

When he discussed the war, he would usually deflect and change the subject when he would talk about something horrific that happened. I think it was his way of coping with the drama that he dealt with.

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When he would change the subject, he would bring up Italian heroes such as undefeated heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano, the Dimaggio brothers Vincent Dominic, and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee/ New York Yankee great Joe Dimaggio.

My grandfather would discuss how our family immigrated to Ellis Island in New York City. For years, many generations of hard-working Italians were suppressed and were forced to have backbreaking hard labor jobs.

Before my grandfather fought in World War II, he would help deliver milk at 6 am and, later that day, work in the tobacco fields. According to the Library of Congress, more than 4 million Italians had immigrated to the United States by 1920, representing over 10% of the nation’s foreign-born population.

The official definition of an Italian Americans is Americans who have full or partial Italian ancestry. According to the Italian-American Studies Association, the current population is about 18 million, an increase from 16 million in 2010, corresponding to about 5.4% of the total population of the United States.

The largest concentrations of Italian Americans are in the urban Northeast and industrial Midwestern metropolitan areas, with significant communities also residing in many other major U.S. metropolitan areas.

My grandfather, when he would get down he would talk about what he would call “The Italian Superman” Bruno Sammartino. Back then, I didn’t know what Bruno looked like, and my grandfather didn’t have a photo of him.

But he would verbally sculpt this real-life superhero. He was a beacon of hope for a very suppressed group, the “Italians,” who, at the time, were fighting constant stereotypes, making it difficult for them to move forward in society.

Bruno Sammartino, unlike some on this list, was full-blooded Italian. Bruno was the youngest of seven children. He was born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy, to Alfonso and Emilia Sammartino on October 6, 1935.

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At that time, Bruno was one of the strongest men in the world, and it was said was almost chosen for the 1956 United States Olympic Weightlifting team; instead, Paul Anderson won the gold medal. In 1959, Sammartino set the then-world record in the bench press with a lift of 256 kilograms (565 lb) without elbow or wrist wraps.

When he brought the bar down, he did not bounce it off his chest but set it there for two seconds before attempting the press. He trained in wrestling with Rex Peery, the University of Pittsburgh team coach.

Bruno would have legendary feuds with WWE Hall of Fame Inductee Killer Kowalski,  WWE Hall of Fame Inductee Roddy Piper, Magnificent Maurice, Hans Schmidt, Giant Baba, and Bull Dog Browser.

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My grandfather would highlight Bruno’s uncanny strength, always reflecting on the legendary time when he picked up 600 lb Haystacks Callhoun. He would express that because of Bruno, the Italians were finally embraced by society when he beat Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, the first ever WWWF/WWE champion, in under 40 seconds on May 17, 1963.

Bruno held the title for 2,803 days, the longest consecutive streak in professional wrestling history.

He also told me about one of the saddest days in Italian-American on January 18, 1971, when “The Russian Bear” at Madison Square Garden Ivan Koloff beat Bruno Sammartino, ending the streak. The stocky 300 lb. Koloff ended Bruno’s streak with a devastating Russian leg drop from the top rope.

My grandfather explained it to me, comparing it to almost losing a loved one.

“Everyone was in shock. We couldn’t believe it. You need to remember this man was our hero. Bruno gave all of us Italian Americans hope,”

– Carl Annino Sr.

After several years of hiatus, on December 10, 1973, Sammartino regained the then WWWF/ WWE Heavyweight Championship by defeating Stan Stasiak.

However, during his second reign, on April 26, 1976, Sammartino suffered a neck fracture in a match against Stan Hansen at Madison Square Garden.

Hansen botched a move and dropped Sammartino on his head. After two months, Sammartino returned and faced Hansen in a rematch on 25 June 1976 at Shea Stadium, which was televised.

Despite Sammartino wrestling with a broken neck the match was later awarded 1976 “Match of the Year” by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Sammartino’s injuries eventually got the better of him and he had felt he could no longer continue as champion due to constant pain because of his injuries.

On 30 April 1977, he was defeated by Superstar Billy Graham for the title. Bruno’s second title was approximately 1,237 days.

All-American Bob Backlund eventually defeated Superstar Billy Graham, beginning a new era and title reign. According to the online publication Inside The Ropes, Bob’s title reign went from February 1978 to December 1983.

However, there were a couple of controversies within that five-year reign, wherein some observers questioned the uninterrupted nature of it.

This only validates that Sammartino’s title reign will be a record that will never be broken. Bruno Sammartino retired in 1987. However, he has been inducted into numerous Hall of Fames, such as the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996), WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2013, George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2019 and in 2013 he was inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another key Italian in pro wrestling who was full-blooded and originally from Italy is trainer/promoter/ and professional wrestler Angelo Savoldi. Born Mario Louis Fornini on April 21, 1914, in Castrocielo, Italy, and died September 20, 2013) in Parsippany, New Jersey at the time of his death, he was known as the world’s oldest retired wrestler at 99 years of age.

New York promoter Jack Pfefer. Pfefer christened him “Angelo Savoldi”, and billed as the brother of Joe Savoldi, and he began wrestling in 1937. By 1938, Savoldi was regularly wrestling throughout the Northeastern United States.

During World War II, Fornini joined the United States Navy. He later worked in Puerto Rico, becoming the first American to main event in that region.

It was in the 1950s that Savoldi became a star in the Oklahoma region as a junior heavyweight (a term for lightweight). Wrestling as a heel (villainous character), he held the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship three times between 1958 and 1964.

In Oklahoma, Savoldi feuded with Olympic Silver medalist Danny Hodge. On May 27, 1960, Savoldi and Hodge were facing off in a match. The feud was so heated that Savoldi was stabbed with a pen knife by an angry fan who turned out to be Hodge’s father.

He retired in 1972, and despite having a championship career, it was when Savoldi decided to become a promoter and trainer that he made the most impact. Savoldi finished his in-ring career with WWWF/ WWF.

He became a key person in training wrestlers who have had Hall of Fame Careers.  In the 1970s, Savoldi was a minority business partner in the WWWF/ WWE.

In 1984, Angelo, with his sons Mario, Tom, and Joseph Savoldi, established International Championship Wrestling (ICW) in the Northeastern region. ICW acted as both a great developmental territory and had many WWE, WCW, ECW, and NWA legends as regular members of the roster.

A few accomplishments and honors Savoldi won were the Art Abrahms Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club in 2003, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004, and the National Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame class of 2011,

In 1984, Angelo, with his sons Mario, Tom, and Joseph Savoldi, established International Championship Wrestling (ICW) in the Northeastern region.[2] Joseph was a featured wrestler for the promotion. Angelo received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club in 2003 and was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004.

Based on extensive research, this is a list of various pro wrestlers who either are full-blooded Italian or half throughout the world.

  • Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame Inductee Dominic DeNucci (WWE, NWA)
  • ECW original Angel Orsini
  • Jeanne Basone, original GLOW Girl
  • referee Joey Marella (WWE)
  • Paul Roma (WWE, WCW)
  • Antonio Rocco (WWE)
  • Little Nunzio (ECW, WWE)
  • Big Nunzio (ECW)
  • Big Vito (WWE, ECW)
  • Big Dick Dudley (ECW)
  • Bubba Ray Dudley (ECW, WWE, IMPACT)
  • Disco Inferno (WCW)
  • Bull Montana
  • Velvet Sky (IMPACT, NWA)
  • Women’s Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee Madusa (WWE, WCW AWA)
  • WWE Hall of Fame inductee Hulk Hogan
  • The Bella Twins Bri and Nikki Bella (WWE)
  • Former WWE tag team champion Mike Rotunda (WCW, WWE, NWA)
  • Tony DeVito (ECW
  • Former WWE Champion John Cena

Chazz Moretti recently had to have surgery to remove his leg. We wish him a speedy recovery.