This is a new series where I’ll be checking in with some fond memories of those wrestlers who got over but never got to the top. A mini-celebration of some favorite midcard babyfaces that we loved, but who didn’t love in the main event. We continue this series with El Matador, Tito Santana.
How They Got Their Start
A true unicorn, Tito Santana started as a babyface and stayed that way his entire career. I mean, just look at that handsome sumbitch right there. Who could ever boo that punim? That would be like booing kittens, or pie. A pie made by kittens. A pie they made just for you. A pie — you get it. Moving on.
Just like fellow Midcard Face Manny Fernandez, Merced Solis got his start playing football at West Texas State as a tight end, catching passes from [checks notes] holy shit, quarterback Tully Blanchard. I can only assume that Tully’s part of the touchdown celebrations was to pull a foreign object from his pads, jab Tito in the eye when the ref wasn’t looking and then wink at the second most attractive cheerleader.
After having a cup of coffee with the Kansas City Chiefs, Solis took off his eye bandage and let his good friend Tully Blanchard introduce him to the world of wrestling. Tully then raked him in the eyes again and flew business class to Arn Anderson’s house. Again, just speculation here.
The newly-christened Tito Santana was trained by Matsuda and Bob Orton, then debuted in 1977 in that legendary birthing pool of midcard faces, Championship Wrestling From Florida. He got a little extra seasoning in Georgia Championship Wrestling, bounced back and forth between the WWF and the AWA for a year or two and finally landed in WWF for the long haul.
How I First Became Aware Of Him
I would like to say I was paying more than passing attention to this incredible match between Strike Force and The Hart Foundation, but I was super hyped for Starrcade two days later and my family is from Chicago, so this was a BIG deal in my house.
I would like to say that I was watching Tito Santana on a tiny black and white TV under the covers when he became the first Mexican-American to win the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship on February 11th, 1984. I would like to say that, but I am not a liar and wee tyke BOC was only concerned about Skeletor getting his ass kicked into orbit.
I would also like to say that I was watching Tito Santana kick off the very first WrestleMania with one of the sweetest dropkicks this side of Lance Storm, but that would be like stealing a pie from a kitten. (Seeing as even Tito wasn’t all that thrilled about being in that match, maybe it’s for the best. I wonder if Vince still “owes him one.”)
I became aware of Tito Santana like most every other asshole kid did: watching WrestleMania III at a friend’s house and not remembering or caring about an amazing six-man tag because Hogan slammed Andre The Giant. I was too dumb to even realize what Macho Man and fellow lifelong babyface Ricky Steamboat were doing. I rooted for Steamboat because I knew him from Mid-Atlantic, but I secretly liked Macho’s entrance more.
My friend’s dad popped for Aretha Franklin and left the room right that, after so he ended up understanding the historical significance of the night about as much as I probably did. Let’s all watch Santana’s six-man match again and give credit where credit is due … nah, just kidding, let’s watch Slick and Rick Martel cut a hilarious promo on Tito.
In all seriousness, going back as an older and wiser fan, you begin to really appreciate how just damn solid a worker Tito Santana was. Please enjoy this lovely solid match between Tito and “Fight Forever Friend” Rick Martel.
If you had been left to deal with The Brain Busters by yourself, you would never forgive Rick Martel either.
Why I Stopped Seeing Him
Tito had another sniff of the big time when he paired up with Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior at the 1990 Survivor Series. The following year he picked up his Spanish bullfighter gimmick and tussled with Mr. WrestleMania himself, Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania VIII
Tito was really a victim of poorly-timed “best for business” decisions when it was decided that WWF would not be expanding into Central and South America after all. Tito’s potential run with the WWF Championship was instead given to Bret Hart when the decision was made to push WWF further into Canada.
El Matador continued to have matches through the rest of his run with WWF, where he would put over the main event heels. His final match on WWF television featured a win over Virgil, complete with a post-match Kliq-esque handshake. This ending is possibly a more depressing history for such a great midcard worker than his contested 1-7 record at WrestleMania.
What Are They Doing Now?
Tito continues to wrestle several matches a year at independent promotions when he’s not teaching Spanish and coaching middle school basketball in New Jersey. He still finds the time to train wrestlers here and there in the Independent Wrestling Federation, as well as enjoying life with his wife and three children. After so many wrestlers succumbing to tragic early deaths, there is something so beautiful about a former WWE Superstar being able to enjoy middle age in peace and quiet.
When you are a HOF member, an ECW Heavyweight Champion, the first ever Mexican-American Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion and you were close enough to the main event to leave your breath on the glass ceiling, you sir are a fantastic Midcard Face.