Wrestler of the Day – March 12: Tito Santana

Today is Tito Santana for no reason other than there aren’t a ton of great choices today.

Tito got started in the late 70s and was quickly a WWF Tag Team Champion. Here’s a title defense from April 21, 1980.

Tag Titles: Wild Samoans vs. Ivan Putski/Tito Santana

Putski and Santana are champions and their opponents are making their MSG debuts. This would be Afa and Sika, the original Samoans. Putski (who is barely taller than the top rope) starts with Afa. Long stall before we get going and Putski gets a BIG reaction for pushing Afa into the corner. They trade full nelsons and we get heel miscommunication. Everything breaks down and the Samoans are rammed together.

Putski tries a double noggin knocker which gets him nowhere at all. Off to Tito vs. Afa now and the Samoan growls a lot. Maybe he wants a taco? The champions work on the leg without tagging. What great role models. They take turns stomping it and I think Tito kicked him low at least once in there. The leg work continues and more or less it’s just kicks to the leg of Afa. The idea of holds seems to be lost on the champions.

Just as I say that of course, Putski hooks onto a weak leg lock. He doesn’t tag Tito but Santana comes in anyway. The referee does a lot of not paying attention. Afa kicks Ivan away so Putski pounds him down and tags in Santana again. It’s very strange to see the faces in such long lasting control. Afa hits Putski very close to the groin and headbutts him down. There’s the tag after almost nine minutes of pounding.

Sika comes in and things continue to go slowly. Off to some choking which doesn’t last long at all. Putski fights up but Sika elbows him right back down. The Samoans hit a double clothesline and Putski is in trouble. We get the unseen tag to Santana which gets them in trouble this time. You would think that would be a heel move but here the champions did it. Nice change of pace at least. The second attempt at the tag works and everything breaks down. Afa crotches Tito on the top rope and that’s a DQ apparently.

Rating: C+. Best match of the night so far with both teams going at a pretty fast pace. The heel in peril idea was definitely interesting and having them go wild and get disqualified at the end was a nice choice as it fits their crazy men mentality. Good little match here which probably set up a gimmick mater later on.

For the sake of time we’ll skip ahead a bit to what is probably Tito’s most famous feud. He won the Intercontinental Title from Don Muraco and started feuding with Greg Valentine over the title in one of the best feuds of the 80s. From August 25, 1984 in MSG.

Intercontinental Title: Tito Santana vs. Greg Valentine

Tito is defending. Valentine tries to take it to the mat but Tito is too quick for him and it’s a standoff. Tito tries the same thing and it’s another standoff. Santana hooks a headlock into an atomic drop and Valentine begs off. A back elbow puts Tito down and there’s a shoulder breaker followed by a forearm to the face for two. Valentine pounds away but Tito comes back for a slugout to take over. We cut again to Jimmy being taken out on a stretcher.

Back in the ring and Valentine has Tito in a reverse chinlock but he counters into….something as we cut back to Snuka being wheeled out. Greg pounds away on the back and neck before getting two off a belly to back suplex. Valentine keeps on the ribs but Tito gets in a shot to the Hammer’s ribs to escape. Santana tries a leapfrog but takes out the referee instead. There’s the flying forearm for the pin on Valentine, but the referee misses the foot being on the rope.

Rating: C+. Not bad here but it was designed to set up another match later on which is fine. These two had some insane chemistry and with some more time and more of a focus on the match, they could have had a FAR better match. Either way, decent stuff here and a good way to get the fans to want to come back later. Tito would drop the title to Valentine a month later.

Post match Valentine puts Tito in the Figure Four and cranks on the knee something fierce.

Tito is in the back and says his knee is hurt. He sounds like he’s in labor. Tito says he’ll be back for Valentine and he’ll defend the title in 30 days.

Valentine is very pleased with himself and what he did to Taco Bell Santana.

We’ll get back to them in a bit, but first it’s time for Tito to start it all. This is the first match ever in the history of Wrestlemania, and therefore the first match I ever reviewed.

Tito Santana vs. Executioner

Executioner is Buddy Rose (of Blow Away fame) under a mask. Tito is WAY over here in MSG so he was a good choice to open things up. We start with a crisscross before Tito dropkicks Executioner out to the floor. Back in and Santana hooks a headlock to take Executioner to the mat as we’re still waiting on that promised leg work. Tito charges into a boot in the corner and Executioner takes him down with a knee to the ribs. A spinning toe hold is easily escaped so Executioner goes after the other leg. So which one is injured in the first place?

Tito shrugs him off and the masked guy hides in the corner. Since it’s a corner that Tito is looking straight at, the hiding doesn’t go all that well and Tito slugs him down. Executioner comes back with a slam and goes up, only to be slammed right back down. A Santana splash hits knees though and we get to the knee work. That work consists of one cannonball down onto it before Tito kicks him to the floor. Back in and the forearm sets up the Figure Four to make Santana the first winner in the history of Wrestlemania.

Rating: C-. This wasn’t too bad and the crowd reacted well to Santana, but Executioner was just a guy there to be evil. For an opening match this was a pretty good idea but for a match in general it was pretty lame stuff. Then again they have no idea what they’re doing at this point so it’s understandable.

Back to Valentine, who has since stolen the title. Here’s one of their many rematches inside a cage from July 6, 1985.


Intercontinental Title: Greg Valentine vs. Tito Santana

In Baltimore here and in a cage. Tito drags him into the cage and it’s on. No commentary again with Gorilla doing the voiceover. Valentine goes for the door early but Tito makes the save. This should be good either way. Both try to get out and can’t do it as the other grabs his foot. Valentine keeps trying to run which makes sense. I’m not entirely sure if I get why Tito keeps trying to run as this is supposed to be his big revenge match. I guess getting the title back is enough revenge for him.

Shoulder breaker by Valentine but you would think he would go after the leg but whatever. Escape only here if I didn’t mention that. I like the old school thoughts on cage matches like that too as pins in a cage match are kind of stupid when you think about it. Tito blocks the Figure Four as the violence is a bit low here. Gorilla points out that the figure four is a bit stupid as you can’t win by submission which makes sense to a degree I guess.

Flying forearm by Tito takes Greg down. Tito goes into the cage as this is very much back and forth. Very slow paced match but they’re hammering away in there and it’s working well I think. It’s very weird to see the match presented like this as the ring is only kind of microphoned here so you don’t here the ring make any noise at all.

This is more about the cage itself as this is back in the day when a gimmick match still meant something and wasn’t more or less something you throw in as a free prize in a cereal box. Tito gets a leg over the top but still can’t get out. Make that both legs out as Valentine is going for the door which Tito kicks on his head to get out and get the title back.

Rating: B-. This was more about the aura of the cage rather than the guys in there. Tito gets the title back and gets his revenge by beating on Valentine very well. This wasn’t a classic or anything but it was definitely a good conclusion to their feud which was always good. This worked.

Valentine destroys the belt afterwards but Tito saves it. I think this resulted in the new design coming in. Gorilla calls it the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Here’s a title defense from February of 1986.

Intercontinental Title: Jesse Ventura vs. Tito Santana

Interesting point to start: we’re told that Jesse and Adonis held the tag titles. They did, but they were the AWA tag titles. They said this regularly but it wasn’t something you expect to hear. I think this is in Toronto. Jesse complains about the closed fist because that’s what heels do before punching their opponents. He calls Santana Chico which is always awesome. Jesse keeps getting caught in holds and heading for the ropes.

Time for a wristlock as the fans are almost all behind Jesse. They pop for Tito’s reversal as well though so I guess the Canadians are confused here. Off to a headlock but Jesse gets a knee to the ribs to take over. Out to the floor now and it’s confirmed that we’re in Toronto. Jesse’s offense is pretty basic but he knows how to work a crowd like a master which is more important.

Tito gets in a few punches but Ventura pokes him in the eye to stop him. Win if you can, lose if you must but always cheat. Backbreaker gets two and an atomic drop does the same. Here’s a bearhug which makes sense given the back work that was done earlier. Tito smacks him in the head to escape. Gorilla: “Look at that firey Mexican!” Tito grabs the Figure Four but Jesse gets the rope. They fight up the ramp and Tito puts the Figure Four on out there but Jesse kicks him into the ring for the countout win.

Rating: C. Not bad here but it worked for the most part. It was actually a double countout if you care. This was fine for a house show title defense, especially with someone like Jesse who was a rarity to see in the ring at this point. He knew how to work a crowd but the people loved him which is the right idea.

Santana would lose the title less than a week later to Randy Savage. With his singles run over for the time being, it would be off to a tag team with Rick Martel, known as Strike Force. Here’s a title shot against the Hart Foundation from October 1987.

Tag Titles: Strike Force vs. Hart Foundation

I’ve actually never seen this. Gene pops up to say the titles change hands. Nice guy that bald one. This is on Superstars and is more or less a token title defense. Martel vs. Bret to start as we keep things Canadian. Double elbow and down goes Bret as Tito goes to that armbar which he likes apparently. O’Connor Roll is countered as Tito’s head is rammed into the mat rather hard.

Neidhart comes in and they slug it out. Surprisingly enough it’s about a draw and cheating gives the champions the advantage. Backbreaker by Bret gets two. I couldn’t think of a way to say “gets two” where both words started with two. Darn the luck. Vince says it would be a shame if this ended in controversy. It’s kind of interesting to know what we know about him now and wonder if he’s saying “screw this up and you’re fired.”

More double teaming puts Tito on the floor and gets two back in the ring. Tito almost gets the tag but Bret breaks it up in a great heat drawing move. The move that Demolition would use as their finisher gets two. Bret misses an elbow and this is Santana’s chance. I hope he’s a better wrestler than guitar player. Never been a fan of him. That joke failed didn’t it?

No tag yet as this is pure 80s tag formula. Tito reverses an Irish whip (from a Canadian to a Mexican of all things) and Bret gets to do his chest first bump into the corner. Double tag and the crowd is on fire, much like Martel. Cross body gets two on Neidhart as everything breaks down. Double slam to Anvil and the Boston Crab goes on Neidhart who gives up almost immediately and we have new champions to a big old pop.

Rating: B-. Standard 80s tag formula here but good talent and timing plus a very hot crowd are enough to make this a pretty solid outing. Also I always liked Strike Force so that helps a lot. They would hold the belts until Mania, and yet they were transitional champions. This is in October, meaning their reign was almost six months. Nice transitional reign no?

They would hold the belts for about six months before dropping them to Demolition. Tito would go back to singles matches, including this match against Rick Rude from February of 1989.

Rick Rude vs. Tito Santana

This should be good. Back in MSG again. Wait according to Trongard this is Boston. It looks like Boston so we’ll go with that. We start with a test of strength that is more or less a tossup. Tito eventually wins it and then wants a rematch when Rude runs. Rude takes the chance to of course cheat and we finally get to a more traditional match.

Rude is cussing a good deal in this one. Tito works on the back as this is very back and forth stuff. After a long camel clutch by Tito, Rude treats him like Arn Anderson and spins over to drive his knees into Tito’s crotch to take over. This has somehow been going on nearly ten minutes. The time has flown by which is good I think as it hasn’t been boring at all.

We’ve had a lot of rest/time killing holds and we get another hear with the chinlock by Rude. Tito fights to his feet and rams him into the corner but runs into a big boot to take care of that. Rude pounds away but Tito rams his head into the mat to take over again. Solid stuff so far. And there’s another pair of knees to Tito’s lower half. That has to be getting old.

Tito blocks a suplex to get one of his own. Due to this, Rude can’t even get a slam on Tito who isn’t an incredibly big guy in the first place. Crowd is WAY into this. Tito is all fired up and hits the head knocker and it’s Figure Four time! So much for that though as the rope is reached maybe 4 seconds later. In a cheap ending, Tito hits the floor and goes for a sunset flip but Rude grabs the rope for the pin.

Rating: B. This was a better grade before the bad ending. They went back and forth the whole match and it worked well the entire time. The ending felt incomplete for lack of a better term. Both guys were great here though and the back work by Santana worked rather well for a change. Solid old school match that had the time to develop which is always a perk.

Tito would drop down the card pretty quickly but would still get a PPV spot at Summerslam 1990.

Warlord vs. Tito Santana

Piper makes Mexican jokes as Tito grabs a headlock. Warlord easily shoves him down and Piper suggests going for a taco. Three straight dropkicks send Warlord out to the floor for a consultation with Slick. Back in and Tito pounds away but is launched to the outside on a kickout. Warlord rams Tito’s back into the post as Piper does a horrible Slick impression. Back in and Warlord pounds on the back but Tito fires off a quick clothesline and right hands. The flying forearm hits out of nowhere but Warlord gets his foot on the ropes. Back up a few seconds later and a powerslam abruptly ends Tito.

Rating: D+. Tito was a jobber to the stars at this point and made Warlord look as good as he could have, but the match was nothing special at all. Warlord just wasn’t all that good other than having muscles on top of muscles. Tito also jobbed to Barbarian at Wrestlemania so they had an idea of what they were using him for at this time.

Here’s a very rare match that took place in Spain in October of 1991.

Undertaker vs. Tito Santana

Tito is of course ungodly over as he hammers away in the corner. Undertaker no sells a ram into the buckle but Tito kicks away in the corner. Tito cranks on the arm and gets two off a sunset flip before the monster sends him into the corner. That’s fine with Santana as he jumps up to the middle rope and comes off with a clothesline, followed by a second one to put Undertaker outside.

The dead guy is sent into the steps but shrugs it off thanks to the powers of the urn. The announcers (in Spanish) are talking about eating pizzas for some reason. Back in and Undertaker slowly hammers away while Paul Bearer says OHHHHHHHHH YES a lot. Tito can’t slam Taker and gets punched in the face for his efforts. A slam puts Tito down but he misses an elbow drop. Old School is countered and Tito loads up the flying forearm but Undertaker pulls the referee in the way.

Taker goes aerial with a jumping kick to the back of the head and a side slam for no cover. With the referee still down, Undertaker busts out a body bad and puts Tito inside. Because he’s an Undertaker you see. Since this takes about 19 hours, Tito is able to fight out and put Undertaker down with a quick piledriver. Taker gets up so there’s a second piledriver followed by a third. Tito steals the urn and knocks out Undertaker for the BIG upset and Undertaker’s first pinfall loss, which of course was never mentioned on American television.

Rating: C-. The match took so long to get anywhere that it was annoying, but at the same time that was Undertaker’s character at the time. This was the same idea as having Hogan lose to Jacques Rougeau in Montreal. It gave the fans a way to be sent home happy (naturally this was the main event) and it worked well as the roof blew off the place for the pin.

Here’s one more WWF match for the road. From Wrestlemania VIII as Tito is now El Matador.

Tito Santana vs. Shawn Michaels

Tito is El Matador now and Shawn is freshly heel. Bobby says Reba is Tito’s sister: Arriba McIntyre. Say it out loud and you’ll get the joke. After taking forever to get Sherri to the floor, Tito gets a fast two off a cross body. They head to the mat for a headlock on Shawn which doesn’t last long. Michaels avoids a punch to the face but gets clotheslined out to the floor instead.

Back to the chinlock which doesn’t go anywhere this time either, so Shawn takes over in the corner. That also goes nowhere so Santana punches him in the face and takes it right back to the mat. Shawn finally comes back and pounds away even more, this time sending Tito out to the floor. A backbreaker gets two for Shawn and we hit the chinlock again, this time by the future world champion. Santana fights up but walks into the superkick for no cover.

The Backdrop Suplex (Shawn’s old finisher) is countered and there’s the flying forearm to send Shawn to the floor. Back in and a slingshot forearm puts Shawn down again as does a big atomic drop. Tito’s forearm to the back of the head sends Shawn to the outside again, only to have Sherri trip Tito up on a suplex attempt to give Michaels the pin.

Rating: C. This was ok but it was a lot of kicking and chinlocks for an opening match. Tito was good for giving you a guaranteed decent performance out there, so putting him against Shawn was a good move for the most part. The match wasn’t great or anything but it did a decent job at what it was supposed to do.

We’ll leave the WWF and head to WCW/AAA for When Worlds Collide in 1994.

Tito Santana/Pegasus Kid/2 Cold Scorpio vs. La Parka/Blue Panther/Jerry Estrada

This is IWC vs. AAA. Pegasus Kid you know as Chris Benoit and yes that’s the same Tito Santana you’re familiar with. Estrada is a brawler, Panther is a masked guy and captain and La Parka is La Parka. Scorpio is starting us off but Estrada and Parka fight over who starts. Instead it’s Panther who takes Scorpio to the mat to a HUGE pop. I’m a big Scorpio and Santana fan so I think you know which team I like here.

Off to Benoit vs. Parka. The Parka team is WAY more popular as they’re technically the hometown team. Santana comes in but Estrada and Parka fight over who gets to face Santana. Tito in black trunks is an odd sight to see. Also this is just Tito, not El Matador. Mike says Tito is clearly the weak link on his team. That’s not exactly what I’d say but he’s the Professor.

Parka won’t tag in, ticking Estrada off even more. Benoit and Panther come in to speed things way up and Benoit hits a huge suicide dive to the floor. Benoit is the captain of his team so if he loses it’s over. Scorpio and Parka come in and try to out overdo it. They slug it out but neither guy can take over. Parka fakes taking a low blow and both guys hit the floor. That allows Estrada vs. Santana to come in. Remember that’s legal here.

Estrada is sent to the floor and it’s off to Benoit vs. Panther again. They’re both in blue so that works out well. Benoit hooks the snap suplex but an elbow misses. Parka is tagged in and he walks along the apron for a bit first. The Canadian hits a German on the Mexican and it’s back to Panther again, this time against 2 Cold. They look like their chemistry is way off at times in this.

A powerbomb puts Parka down but Estrada comes in, breaks it up, kicks Parka a bit for good measure and now the heels can’t figure out who to get in. Ok so now it’s Tito vs. Panther. Benoit comes in but misses the swan dive. Scorpio misses his huge moonsault as well. I get why Panther is a champion. La Parka and Estrada fight over who gets to cover Scorpio so it’s back to Panther again.

Parka sends Santana to the floor and sets to dive but hits Estrada of course. Scorpio hits a big dive to take everyone out. Panther misses a moonsault so Benoit hits a Matt Hardy legdrop for two. Panther tries a powerbomb on Chris but Benoit rolls through into a rana for the pin and ZERO reaction, which also might be a cultural thing.

Rating: C. I liked it a little better than the previous one but it’s no classic or anything. The idea here was two different styles and in that theory it worked. At the same time though, the tagging thing isn’t something I can get used to inside of an hour, which is how long this has been going on. It was fine but it’s something I think I’d like a lot more if I watched lucha libre more often.

 

We’ll wrap it up with an indy match from East Coast Wrestling in September 2007.

Bobby Roode vs. Tito Santana

Roode armdrags Tito down to start and bounces around on his feet like Brock Lesnar. He snaps off a hiptoss and shouts 2-0. Tito comes back with a rollup and some armdrags, sending a swearing Roode bailing to the floor. Back in and Roode offers a handshake and crosses his heart that he won’t jump Santana. Tito is skeptical and spends the next two minutes thinking about it. Roode’s kick to the stomach is caught and he gets shouldered to the floor where an army of nine year olds tells him he sucks.

Roode starts to walk away but eventually comes back in to stomp on Santana. Some elbows to the chest have Tito in even more trouble. We hit the chinlock with the referee accusing Roode of a hair pull. Roode: “No I didn’t!” Referee to the crowd: “Did he?” Roode: “Oh shut up!” Bobby lets go of the hold and rips at Santana’s face before choking a bit. Off to a neck crank but Tito’s arm only drops twice. He fights up but we quickly hit the sleeper with Roode insisting that he has Tito now. The holds lasts a good while again until Tito fights up and hits the forearm for the pin out of nowhere.

Rating: D+. We’ll put this in the same “send them home happy” group. Yeah the match was boring and about five minutes of it was spent in a chinlock or some variation thereof, but Tito was in his mid-50s here and wrestled about once a month. It’s a pretty lame match, but the house show style is fun to see for the little stuff like the arguments with the fans.

Tito is one of the smoothest guys you’ll ever see in wrestling. He could do almost anything asked of him and would be perfect for a midcard show stealer. Throw him in the main event for the title against say Savage in 1988 for the title and I’d bet money he would have the crowd totally buying the near falls at the end. I’ve called Kofi Kingston the Tito Santana of modern times and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a very talented guy who will dominate the midcard for awhile but never quite be at higher level. That’s not a bad thing, contrary to what people seem to think.

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