Monday, March 28, 2011

Tito Santana

Here are a pair of videos that aired on our local XRIO Cable 6 News station on July 8th, 2009. The reporter is obviously a pro wrestling fan, and I was a bit surprised that they covered some major points in his career like the Greg Valentine feud and him being considered for the title in 1992. Local pro wrestling fans will notice local pro wrestler Golden King posing for a photograph with Santana. Golden King is an extremely entertaining performer that is very much appreciated here in the South Texas pro wrestling community. 
For those not familiar with Tito Santana, I thought it would be neat to give his career a little overview. Merced Solis was born here in South Texas in Mission on May 10th, 1953. He went on to play basketball, track and football at Mission High School (the same high school where legendary Dallas Cowboys' coach Tom Landry played football at), and graduated from that high school in 1971. He went on to play football as a tight end at West Texas State, where he was on the team with future NWA star Tully Blanchard and future WWF star Ted Dibiase. Tully, and his dad Joe (the promoter of San Antonio's Southwest Championship Wrestling, a promotion that also toured here in South Texas) talked to him about getting into pro wrestling. He was not a wrestling fan growing up as a kid, but after a very brief stint with NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and CFL's BC Lions, he decided to give professional wrestling a try.

Blanchard hooked him up to go train with Hiro Matsuda, and he trained there with other well known names of the sport. After training there, he was having a difficult time getting bookings and making money in the sport. He told Terry Funk, who was a huge star at the time, that he was thinking of quitting because of the lack of money and was thinking of going back to try to play with the BC Lions again. Funk, being the incredibly awesome man that he always is, got in contact with Eddie Graham to give Santana bookings to keep him in the business. Santana then eventually went to Atlanta to work with Jim Barnett under the name "Richard Blood" and had a guarantee there. Around that time, Santana said that one of the professional wrestlers that he was slightly influenced by was former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco. 

He came up with the name Santana because he knew a guy named Santana in Mission, TX and he liked the sound of it. He was in AWA but then in 1979, he went to work up north for Vince McMahon Sr., where he won the WWF Tag Team Championship with Ivan Putski. After that title run, he spent a brief time in Japan before going back to the AWA. One of his favorite guys to work with there was Sgt. Slaughter, who Tito recalls as doing a great job at putting Tito over. He eventually returned back to the WWF in 1983 but to work under Vince McMahon Jr. this time around. In 1984 and 1985, he had a legendary feud with Greg Valentine over the Intercontinental title. After that, he went on to feud with Randy "Macho Man" Savage for the same title and it's a feud that produced a classic match in Toronto.

In 1987, he became part of the Strike Force tag team with Rick Martel, and they won the tag team titles from the Hart Foundation in the fall of 1987. They ended up losing the titles to Demolition at WrestleMania IV in 1988 and the team broke up at WrestleMania V when Martel turned on Santana during a match against The Brainbusters (Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson). At the 1989 King of the Ring, Santana went on to defeat Bad News Brown (Allen Coage), The Warlord, Akeem the African Dream (One Man Gang), and his former tag team partner Rick Martel in one night to win the King of the Ring tournament. In 1990, his highlights were his matches with Mr. Perfect in the Intercontinental title tournament finals and on NBC's Saturday Night's Main Event. He was then given a bullfighter gimmick in 1991, and renamed as El Matador, a gimmick he hated. A year later in 1992, both Santana and Bret Hart were in consideration for a WWF World title reign, a story that both Hart and Santana have openly discussed and confirmed in various media sources. But as we all know, Hart was given the honors in late 1992 when he was penciled in to beat Ric Flair for the title in Canada. After being passed for a main event run, Santana's final year with the promotion was a bit low profile and not as noteworthy as his 1983-1990 run in the WWF. Since his departure, he's spent a limited time on the independent circuit, working on his own terms and schedule. 

In 2004, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and in 2007, he was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame. Here's the nice video of his WWE induction:

Below the cut, I put together a list of recommended matches of Santana's career.

Recommended Matches:

The Tito Santana vs Greg Valentine Feud (1984-1985)

First match is really good, a nice bout that gets more heated as it goes along. Second match is even better, both Valentine and Santana are able to convey a hatred towards each other and the match is a great intense brawl. But one thing though is that pro wrestling really has unsatisfying and sometimes downright lame finishes since they got string along feuds for a specific amount of time. The third match listed is a lumberjack match and it's another great match. Santana's comeback has a great punch combo that ends with Valentine's trademark face first flop.

Tito Santana vs Greg Valentine (6/16/84)

Tito Santana vs. Greg Valentine-IC title by Stinger1981

Tito Santana vs Greg Valentine (10/22/84)

Tito Santana vs. Greg Valentine IC title by Stinger1981

Tito Santana vs Greg Valentine (3/17/85)

Tito Santana vs. Greg Valentine-IC Title... by Stinger1981

Tito Santana vs Randy Savage (5/4/86)

I first heard about this match from my buddy OJ, who wrote "for long stretches it was as good as anything from the other territories in the 80s", so that go me instantly intrigued since I had never seen it. This match is really fantastic, I strongly feel that it is one of the best WWF matches of the 1980s and it's a shame that it's not considered a classic from that era. I imagine Savage probably deserves a lot of credit here since he's well known to script his matches down to the smallest detail, but Santana is fantastic as well. Santana shows a lot of fire and passion when he's on the offense and does a great job selling for Savage's offense in the heat segment. Great brawl.

Tito Santana vs. Randy Savage-No DQ by Stinger1981

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