By Trapper Tom Leturgey, Columnist
Bruno Sammartino often mentioned Don Leo Jonathan when he was asked about his toughest foes. Bruno, the Italian superhero from Pittsburgh, battled the 6’6” 315 “Mormon Giant” a number of times in 1973 and 1974 and Jonathan won at least twice. (According to Wrestledata.com, the two were on opposing ends of a tag team contest in 1960.)
Sammartino (who was in his sophomore season as a professional grappler) and Frank Scarpa were victorious over Jonathan (who had been wrestling for about a decade at this juncture) and Zach Malkov in the Boston Garden.)
The first one-on-one win occurred in Ottawa, Canada on February 5, 1973. Sammartino was in between World Wide Wrestling Federation Championships, and Jonathan was between his frequent tag team championship runs (18 with NWA All-Star Wrestling alone).
According to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, some 6,542 fans at the Civic Centre. The match was the Main Event; however, headlines were all about retired heavyweight boxer-turned referee Bob Cleroux entering the squared circle without gloves. He and Edouard Carpentier lost to Maurice Vachon and Killer Kowalski. Jonathan defeated Sammartino by disqualification.
Later in 1973, Sammartino would defeat Stan Stasiak to reclaim the WWWF Championship. On January 14, 1974 Jonathan received his first shot at Sammartino’s WWWF title in of all places, Madison Square Garden. Bruno retained. Sammartino’s east coast title defense over Jonathan would continue in Baltimore. On March 18, 1974 the New York Times reported that a four-midget tag team match was another highlight of the card featuring Sammartino’s defense against Jonathon at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Sammartino successfully held onto the title.
In what became a “Third Time’s A Charm,” on March 30, 1974 Jonathan lodged his only win over WWWF Champion Sammartino at the Boston Garden. On the card, fellow Pittsburgher Larry Zbyszko defeated Ed Sullivan (in 8:23), and Nikolai Volkoff (who also passed away earlier this year), bested Dean Ho (in a tidy 2:40).
Jonathan defeated Sammartino by count out in 23 minutes, 40 seconds. Sammartino was tossed from the ring and unable to return to the ring by the 10-count. A crowd of 13,282 had to be livid. That’s the closest Jonathan ever came to being the WWWF Champion. The two brawled it out several times over the next few months, from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Landover and again in Baltimore. The last battle between the two ended with Sammartino winning by disqualification in 26:40.
For fellow Pittsburghers, the Baltimore Civic Center match also featured Donna Christianello and the Fabulous Moolah defeating Barbi Dahl and Peggy Patterson in 2-out-of-3 falls.
Jonathan also had championship matches against then-WWWF champion Pedro Morales.
Bruno Sammartino passed away due to organ failure on April 18 in Pittsburgh at the age of 82. Jonathan passed away on October 13 at the age of 87 during a short hospital stay in Langley, British Columbia.
Tom Letrugey is a contributing writer to TheGorillaPosition.com and the ring announcer for the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance. Follow him on Twitter @kswatrapper
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