WWE Power Rankings: Punk returns to top

CM Punk urged fans to call him "the People's Champ" last night on Raw. The Rock, you're on notice. Courtesy of WWE

Until last week, CM Punk held the WWE title for 434 days. Bruno Sammartino’s two title reigns lasted a combined 11 years. Let that sink in for a second, because the more I think about it, the more it completely blows my mind.

Factor in stiffer rings, less days off and calendars where Sammartino wrestled more matches than days in the year and it’s a no-brainer why the wrestler known for his legendary bear hug submission is headlining what is fast becoming the greatest Hall of Fame class in WWE history (Sammartino, Mick Foley, Trish Stratus and Bob Backlund!).

In talking to Sammartino and WWE executive Paul Levesque (Triple H) Monday to announce the news, the two greats helped break down what life was like on the road back when Bruno main-evented a sold-out Madison Square Garden more than 200 times.

“It was very difficult. In my time, the rings were very different,” Sammartino said. “Back in my day, we wrestled in boxing rings, and because they had to be solid for the fighters, they had steel posts underneath. Those were hard rings, and you wrestled in them six or seven days a week. I was lucky to get two days out of the month off. When you do that for almost eight years, it takes a tremendous toll on you. I was a fanatic for my training, but I started feeling it, and I was going in there hurt, so after eight years, I needed a break. I never intended to retire, but I needed the body to heal so I could go out and wrestle again.”

For the next year and a half, Sammartino “took time off” by limiting his schedule to as few as two matches per week, then when his body felt significantly refreshed, he won the title for a second reign. Said Sammartino: “That lasted about four years until I broke my neck. That’s when I knew it was time to slow down. But I pride myself on being in great shape and working out religiously, and I think that’s why I was able to go out as hard as I did for as long as I did.”

Added Levesque: “In Bruno’s day, if you broke something, you put some tape on it and jumped back in the ring the next day and hoped for the best. Today the business has completely changed. We have the best rings available. We have doctors and trainers who travel with everybody, and the guys are getting medical attention if they need it immediately.

“If Bruno had all that back then, he’d probably still be the champ.”

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Previous rankings:

Jan. 8, 2013

Jan. 15, 2013

Jan. 22, 2013

Jan. 29, 2013