WWE chairman Vince McMahon has led tributes to its longest reigning champion of all time, Bruno Sammartino, who has died aged 82.
The wrestling hall of famer was described as “one of the finest men I knew,” by McMahon after news of his death broke.
The WWE said they were “saddened to learn” about his death as wrestling stars such as Triple H paid tribute.
Born in a small Italian mountain town, Sammartino survived a Nazi invasion of his community and eventually joined his immigrant father in Pittsburgh in 1950.
He began lifting weights and set a world record in 1959 by bench-pressing 565 pounds.
On May 17 1963 he defeated Buddy Rogers in just 48 seconds to become the second-ever WWE Champion in front of nearly 20,000 fans at the old Madison Square Garden.
Mr McMahon tweeted: “One of the finest men I knew, in life and in business. Bruno Sammartino proved that hard work can overcome even the most difficult of circumstances. He will be missed.”
Triple H wrote: “Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man.”
“A true friend…and one of the toughest people I’ve ever met. My thoughts are with his entire family.”
Melina Perez posted: “An iconic legend who paved the way for all of us.
“So grateful to have met #BrunoSammartino and to tell him how much I respected everything he did in the ring. RIP #BrunoSammartino condolences to your loved ones and family.”
Tommy Dreamer posted: “Bruno Sammartino is a wrestling Legend. Honored to have had many conversations with him
“When I was w/him I knew I was w/pure class & greatness. Celebrate his life watch 1of his matches today.
“I was humbled he even knew my name I’m very sad.”
Natalya Neidhard tweeted: “Growing up, my grandfather Stu Hart would ALWAYS talk about Bruno Sammartino and what an incredible wrestler he was.
“I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet Bruno and tell him how much he meant to my grandfather and the entire Hart family. We will all miss you, Bruno.”