David Sammartino is doing just fine.
Although the year is young, reconnecting with Sammartino after 30 years is going to be a personal highlight difficult to equal, or better.
I searched for Sammartino’s contact through social media. At first, I couldn’t find any account with his name. I remembered his wife’s name, and searched for her. Bingo! Success. A message to David’s wife led to his calling me.
And the rest is what I hoped for.
It is as if Sammartino and I spoke a week ago. His voice is the same and he will be 61 years old in 2021. This May, I turn 62.
I had so many questions to ask, but didn’t want to bombard him with all of them. The Sammartinos’ daughter is 34 years old now, and mom to two adorable daughters of her own. I remember when the Sammartinos first became parents.
How time marches on.
Sammartino, the eldest son of the late “Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino, still lives in suburban Atlanta. That’s where he was living when we first met in 1986 in Gardner, Mass., as I was a writer and photographer for the wrestling magazines.
My friendship with the late WWE Hall of Famer Walter “Killer” Kowalski is how I came to meet with David Sammartino for the first time. After retirement from the ring, Kowalski settled in Reading, Mass., just 16 miles north of Boston. He operated a wrestling school for years, and eventually began running his own shows throughout New England.
The Gardner show, in July, took place in a hockey rink. The names booked on the show were David Sammartino, “Dr. D” David Schultz, and “Luscious” Johnny Valiant. David and “Johnny V” went way back. Johnny trained with Bruno, and was around the Sammartino family from when David was child.
With David and I close in age, I felt comfortable approaching him in the dressing room about taking some photographs of him for a newsstand magazine. I wanted to write a feature on the younger Sammartino, and now would have the shots that I would need.
Immediately, I found David to be honest about the way the WWF — and the wrestling business — was changing. By night’s end, I asked him for his phone number, and promised to send him some of the pictures I shot.
The next time we crossed paths was at Kowalski’s show in Bellingham, Mass., a couple months later, in September. Having sent some of the pictures I took in Gardner to Sammartino, I was surprised, and proud that he had taken one of them and made 8x10s of it to be sold at shows.
I gained Sammartino’s trust. I listened to his views, and respected him for taking a stand on what he thought was right. He and his dad weren’t talking at the time. One evening, sometime after the September show, Sammartino called. We must have been on the phone at least an hour.
He filled me in on why he wasn’t communicating with his dad, and others associated with the WWF, many who he had known since being around the company as a child. I really treasured Sammartino’s honesty, and the fact that he trusted me enough to open up.
Today, Sammartino, as when I first introduced myself to him, is anything but full of himself. He has never used his famous wrestling last name, at least I never saw or heard it, to get an advantage. He’s comfortable in being David: a husband, father and, yes, a grandfather.
He is far removed from being part of WrestleMania I in 1985. On that show, David, accompanied to the ring by Bruno, was booked in a match against Brutus Beefcake, with Valiant in his corner.
When Sammartino returned to the WWF in 1987 or ’88, he was booked for a show near my home, in Clinton, New York. His opponent was Terry Gibbs. I was excited for him to be back on tour, with a steady income for his family, and to see him from the seats.
I brought my neighbor’s three children with me to the Clinton Arena show. They loved wrestling, and were thrilled to get to see the WWF stars up close. Plus, they would get to see Sammartino before the show. When David arrived in the parking lot, I was happy to see him.
It had been six months or so since I last spoke with him in person.
Today, Sammartino is hovering around 150 pounds — by choice.
He still works out, but not at the same pace as when he worked the territories. Pro wrestling these days doesn’t interest him; the product has changed significantly since he last wrestled in the early 1990s. “If I was in the business today, I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said.
Sammartino is content away from the spotlight, and the shadow of “The Living Legend.” During our recent phone call, I did ask about his mom, Carol, and the passing of his dad in April 2018, and brother, Dan, in November 2018. Dan’s twin, Darryl, is still around. I didn’t press for details; that isn’t for me to know, and that wasn’t part of why I wanted to reconnect.
David and his wife have been married more than 30 years. Applause. People today, especially those with a connection to the wrestling business, just don’t succeed like them anymore. He tells me his friends know he was in wrestling, but from what he was saying, it’s not a big deal, or something Sammartino wants to shout about.
Wrestling was what he did. It isn’t who Sammartino is.
I’m hoping for wrestling conventions to pop up after the pandemic is history, and that Sammartino is booked to appear. I will be there with my camera (only now it’s on my phone), and a handshake/hug at the ready.
Thirty years really can seem to fly by when you’re having a good time, especially when I’m talking with my friend David Sammartino.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Hear both David Sammartino and Don Laible on John Arezzi’s Pro Wrestling Spotlight show on Saturday, February 13, 2021, at 6 p.m. ET. You can listen to the show via Facebook and on his YouTube channel.