WWWF World Championship
Bruno Sammartino is the greatest world champion in the history of professional wrestling. He held the World Wide Wrestling Federation title for more than 11 years, from 1963 to1971, and again from 1973 to1977.
Bruno only gave up his championship when he wanted to, and there was one championship belt he decided never to let go. Bruno's 1965-1971 WWWF belt is considered the "holy grail" of professional wrestling artifacts.
The International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame is proud to enshrine this beautiful and priceless championship belt as the centerpiece of our museum collection.
Scroll down to learn more about Bruno's Belt and its journey to the IPWHF.
May 17, 1963
Bruno Sammartino defeats Buddy Rogers
THE LIVING LEGEND IS BORN
Chants of “Bruno! Bruno! Bruno!” from 20,000 fans at sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York City reverberated from the rafters a record-setting 187 times during his wrestling career. It was no different on the night of May 17, 1963, when Bruno Sammartino defeated “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers to become the WWWF World Champion.
That victory in 48 seconds began a 2,803-day reign that stands today as the longest in history, by far. Bruno would again hold the WWWF Championship for another 1,237 days, from 1973-1977.
"The incredible first reign of Bruno Sammartino itself qualifies the 1965-1971 WWWF World Championship belt as one of the most significant objects in the history of professional wrestling. Yet few people know all the history behind Bruno’s belt and why some have called it the 'holy grail' of professional wrestling artifacts."
Seth Turner, IPWHF President
10 Reasons why Bruno Sammartino's 1965-1971 WWWF Title Belt is the 'Holy Grail' of Pro Wrestling Artifacts
1. Bruno's First title belt was stolen
Bruno's 1965-1971 version of the championship is the oldest surviving title belt officially created for a champion of World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, which is today the largest and most successful professional wrestling company in the world. The belt first placed on Bruno's waist in 1963 had actually belonged to Buddy Rogers and was defended in other promotions as a United States title before Rogers brought the belt to the newly formed WWWF where it was briefly used as his makeshift world championship. After Bruno defeated Rogers, just one month later, the first official WWWF (WWE) World Championship was designed.
On September 27, 1965, Bruno wrestled Tarzan Tyler in Madison Square Garden. Following the match, thieves smashed a window and broke into Bruno’s car while he was having dinner. They got away with the 1963-1965 version of the WWWF Championship. That first belt has been missing for over 50 years and, though still considered stolen property, it is unlikely to be recovered.
2. Bruno's belt was briefly worn by Ivan Kohloff
On January 18, 1971, Ivan Kohloff won the WWWF World Championship and secured his legacy in professional wrestling lore by pinning Bruno Sammartino. Ivan was awarded Bruno's own title belt and carried it for several weeks during his championship reign.
3. Bruno presented his belt to Pedro Morales
On February 8, 1971, Pedro Morales defeated Ivan Koloff and was presented the 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship belt by Bruno Sammartino. Technically, this means three of the first four World Champions of the WWWF wore the same belt; however, Bruno’s belt was retired and replaced by a significantly lesser-quality belt for Pedro Morales, which did not last long. Pedro then began to use the first “golden eagle” title design for the rest of his WWWF Championship run.
Remarkably, Pedro Morales’ original golden eagle belt was procured from a pawn shop in Manhattan in late 1974/early 1975 for $75 by renowned wrestling historian, Tom Burke. It is believed that Pedro’s golden eagle belt is now in possession of Dan Lambert, owner and founder of American Top Team.
4. Bruno made a film to tell the story behind his belt
In 2006, Bruno Sammartino personally commissioned an autobiographical documentary film, Bruno Sammartino: Behind The Championship Belt. This film comprehensively covers the life and career of Bruno Sammartino, and his struggles to become wrestling’s greatest champion. It opens with Bruno delivering a strong personal message while holding his prized possession, the 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship.
5. WWE commissioned a statue of Bruno wearing his belt
On April 3, 2014, Paul “Triple H” Levesque revealed an official WWE statue to recognize “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino. Of all the statues created by WWE, including André The Giant, Ultimate Warrior, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, only the Bruno statue wears a championship belt. Bruno is memorialized in the statue wearing his 1965-1971 WWWF World Championship.
6. Bruno's belt appears on a statue in his hometown
On May 8, 2017, a statue of Bruno Sammartino was unveiled in his hometown of Pizzoferrato, Italy. The statue is over 13 feet tall and includes a likeness of his 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship.
7. Bruno chose a photo with his 1965 belt for the cover of his autobiography
In 2019, Bruno Sammartino: The Autobiography of Wrestling’s Living Legend was released. Bruno selected a classic photograph with his 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship for the cover of his autobiography, which he wrote with Sal Anthony Corrente.
8. Bruno's belt now appears in an acclaimed film
Bruno Sammartino, a 96-minute documentary written and directed by Patrea Patrick and presented by HM3 Bruno, has received critical acclaim during the film's limited release in late 2019. It is due to hit theaters in 2020 and features many images of Bruno and his 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship.
9. Bruno owned his title belt for over 52 years
In 1971, Gorilla Monsoon and Phil Zacko gave Bruno Sammartino the belt that he had carried from 1965-1971 to keep. Bruno had the belt polished and then maintained personal ownership of his prized possession until he passed away on April 18, 2018. Except for the few short weeks in which Ivan Koloff used the belt, Bruno Sammartino held the 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship for over 52 years.
10. Bruno's belt is enshrined in the IPWHF Collection
May 2, 2020, the 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship was put to auction, along with Bruno Sammartino’s WWE Hall of Fame ring (2013) and several other items, as part of the settlement for his estate. Seth Turner, President of the International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, successfully procured the belt.
Turner has agreed to display the “King of Classy Titles” at the IPWHF Museum, soon to be built in New York State. Turner plans to maintain ownership of the 1965-1971 version of the WWWF World Championship for decades to come. His decision to loan the artifact to the IPWHF will not only benefit this organization but allows us to preserve and share the legacy of the greatest wrestling champion of all time, Bruno Sammartino.