Bruno Sammartino And The Keystone State Wrestling Alliance
April 19, 2018
By Trapper Tom, Editor, KSWA Digest
Bruno Sammartino’s last public appearance at an independent wrestling event occurred on Saturday, December 8, 2012 at the KSWA Arena in the Lawrenceville neighborhood within the city of Pittsburgh. It was there the owner of the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) Bobby O handed Sammartino a Hall of Fame plaque for his immeasurable contributions to the world of Professional Wrestling, and particularly in Pittsburgh.
In a Howard Kernats photograph that has now become iconic, Sammartino has a true look of enjoyment on his face as a joyful Bobby O points to the award, which is being handed over by KSWA Kommissioner Joe Perri. Fans, who are all on their feet, look on as the surprise really hit home.
Sammartino’s appearance before a then-record 539 Krazies at FanFest was years in the making. The man known simply as “The Champ” really stopped taking most independent wrestling bookings. Except for a few, special appearances for fundraisers such as Ken Jugan’s Deaf WrestleFest, the two-time WWWF Champion didn’t walk into too many locker rooms.
For years the KSWA worked particularly hard to impress upon Sammartino that Pittsburgh’s long professional wrestling tradition was in good hands with the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance. When Frank Durso advised the VIPs, the KSWA was on its way as the “heir apparent” to the Studio Wrestling brand that defined the sport in Pittsburgh. When Joe Abby and Durso were the first inductees into the KSWA Hall of Fame in 2008, the groundwork was being laid.
When VIPs Shawn Blanchard and Lou Martin accompanied some of the Studio Wrestling stars to an autograph signing at the Westmoreland Mall in 2009, Sammartino was there with Durso, “Battman” Tony Marino, “Chilly” Bill Cardille, Bobby “Hurricane” Hunt and others.
The KSWA inducted Sammartino’s right-hand man, Dominic DeNucci into the Hall of Fame in 2010, along with Donna Christiantello. DeNucci had already established a great report with the KSWA, a relationship that lasts to this very day.
In 2011, one of Sammartino’s most historic opponents, George “The Animal” Steele headlined KSWA FanFest on December 3. At 513 fans, Steele’s appearance was the first to draw more than 500 for the promotion. That same day, the city of Pittsburgh honored DeNucci with his own “Day” thanks to then-councilman Bill Peduto. Tony Vellano, then President of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Amsterdam, New York, was on hand to announce that DeNucci was being inducted into the PWHF that next year.
The KSWA was forging a reputation that was strengthened by that trip to the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in upstate New York. The KSWA, lead by Owner Bobby O, the VIPs—Shawn Blanchard and Lou Martin—Lord Zoltan, Justin Sane and others made the 9-hour trip from Pittsburgh to the induction ceremony. No other wrestling promotion anywhere on the planet sent that much of its roster, staff and family. Lord Zoltan emceed the Pittsburgh-heavy event, which featured Sammartino inducting DeNucci. For his own part, Sammartino picked up his Hall of Fame ring there, on his first visit.
Around this time, Sammartino was being interviewed for a documentary on his life. Filming scouts contacted the KSWA and part of the feature-length product was produced inside the KSWA Arena.
Then, Sammartino agreed to be a part of KSWA FanFest/Toy Drive, which had become one of the east coast’s premier holiday-seasoned events. He and DeNucci spoke to the packed crowd, spent time with the various wrestlers and staff members.
A few months later, Sammartino made amends with the WWE and agreed to be a part of their 2013 Hall of Fame Class. Sammartino never attended another independent wrestling show.
The relationship and friendship with the KSWA didn’t end there. On June 24, 2014, when the KSWA was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, writer Kris Maher reported that Sammartino said that, “They put on a good show.”
In December, 2016, Sammartino’s long-time friend Bill Apter was in town for FanFest. Apter had been presented with a letter from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for his contributions to the sport of professional wrestling. Apter telephoned Sammartino and asked his friend to attend the event. Sammartino couldn’t attend but endorsed FanFest and remembered his visit well.
In the Spring of 2017, Sammartino was the guest of former WCW announcer Christopher Cruise’s “The Extraordinary Life of Pittsburgh’s Living Legend – Bruno Sammartino” at CCAC North Hills. DeNucci attended, along with KSWA’s Lord Zoltan, “Nasty” Nick Crane and other fans. At the second day, Sammartino remembered being and the former Moose hall in Lawrenceville and enjoyed his time.
Sammartino remained friends with Cruise and Michael Migut, a KSWA supporter, and recipient of the very first “Chilly” Bill Cardille Legacy Award in 2017.
The KSWA Hall of Fame, Class of 2012 also included Lord Zoltan and photographer Howard Kernats. Sammartino was the 10th member inducted into Pittsburgh’s professional wrestling Hall of Fame.