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Tito Santana

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Merced Solis (May 10, 1953) better known by his ring name Tito Santana, is an American professional wrestler whose heyday spanned from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, though he continues to appear on the independent circuit. He is best known from his time in the World Wrestling Federation. Competing almost exclusively in the WWF from 1979 to 1993, Solis helped bridge the gap between the 1980s "Rock 'n Wrestling Connection" era to the 1990s "New Generation" era. He also won the first match in WrestleMania history.


Collegiate and professional football

Solis played tight end for West Texas A&M University, where he was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. The team was quarterbacked by future professional wrestler Tully Blanchard, who would introduce him into the world of professional wrestling. After graduation, Solis was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs during training camp. He played one season for the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, appearing in 13 regular-season games.

Early career

He pro debuted in Championship Wrestling From Florida in 1977, also worked in Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1977-78, until he joined the World Wrestling Federation in 1979. After a near 3-year run in the American Wrestling Association form 1980-1982 he returned to World Wrestling Federation in 1983.

World Wrestling Federation (1979–1993)

Debut and Tag Team Champion (1979–1982)

Santana had his first taste of WWF success in 1979 when he teamed with Ivan Putski to defeat Johnny Valiant and Jerry Valiant for the WWF Tag Team Championship at Madison Square Garden in October 1979. The duo held the titles for close to six months before losing to the Wild Samoans in April 1980.

Intercontinental Champion (1983–1986)

In 1983, he engaged in a lengthy feud with Intercontinental Champion Magnificent Don Muraco. Santana finally won the title on February 11, 1984, becoming the first Mexican American wrestler to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship. He quickly entered into a feud over the Intercontinental Championship with Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. Valentine captured it from Santana in September 1984 in London, Ontario. Soon after, Valentine injured Santana's knee and put Santana out of action for several months.

Santana returned at WrestleMania, and in the opening match defeated a masked wrestler known as The Executioner. Santana and Valentine went on to wrestle a memorable series of singles and tag team matches with neither gaining the upper hand. They wrestled in a variety of different types of matches such as regular title matches, No Disqualification matches, and Lumberjack matches.

Santana recaptured the Intercontinental title in a steel cage in 85 then lost it to Macho Man Randy Savage in 86.

Strike Force (1987–1989)

Santana formed the popular tag team Strike Force with Canadian Rick Martel in the late 1980s. They defeated the Hart Foundation for the WWF World Tag Team titles and held them for five months before losing to Demolition at Wrestlemania IV. Due to a neck injury suffered by Martel shortly after the loss, the team was inactive until the Royal Rumble in 1989. In their WrestleMania match against the Brain Busters (Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson), Martel turned on Santana during the match, leaving Santana to face both opponents alone. His feud with the newly heel Martel would last throughout 1989, with both men on opposing teams at both SummerSlam and Survivor Series and Santana defeating Martel in the finals of the 1989 King of the Ring tournament.

Various rivalries (1990–1991)

After the Ultimate Warrior won the WWF Championship from Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI and vacated the Intercontinental Title, Santana took part in an eight-man tournament to name a new Intercontinental Champion. Santana made it to the finals, where he lost to Mr. Perfect. Following that loss, Santana occasionally teamed with fellow fan favorite, Koko B. Ware.

At the 1990 Survivor Series, he teamed with Nikolai Volkoff and The Bushwhackers; he was the winner and sole survivor in the elimination-style match against Sgt. Slaughter, Boris Zhukov, and The Orient Express. As a result, Santana advanced to the final elimination match, teaming with Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior against Martel, Ted DiBiase, the Warlord, and Power and Glory. Santana would eliminate the Warlord before being pinned by DiBiase. Santana would then wrestle at WrestleMania VII, losing to The Mountie in a little over a minute.

El Matador and departure (1991–1993)

Santana then adopted a Spanish bullfighter gimmick and the nickname "El Matador" in 1991. Under this gimmick, he faced Shawn Michaels in the opening bout of WrestleMania VIII at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. Santana claims that at the time he was being considered for a run with the WWF Championship but says that the spot was given to Bret Hart; the WWF was considering expanding into South and Central America, and felt that having Santana, its most high profile Latino wrestler, as champion would aid its cause. The plan was eventually scrapped and the decision was made to expend into Canada, thus making the Canadian-born Hart a more viable option as champion. In any case, Santana wrestled under the "El Matador" gimmick through 1993, mostly as a jobber to the stars. This included a loss to Papa Shango at SummerSlam (1992). In his final in-ring WrestleMania appearance, he defeated Shango at WrestleMania IX in the untelevised opening match.

In his final appearance on WWF programming, Santana defeated friend and frequent tag team partner Virgil on a 1993 episode of Wrestling Challenge. As a sign of mutual respect between the two, both men embraced after the match.


Santana, along with only Hulk Hogan, holds the unique distinction of appearing in the first nine WrestleManias, accumulating a 2-7 record during that time. Officially he is recognized only for the first eight Wrestlemanias and a 1-7 record as the match against Papa Shango at WrestleMania IX was dark. On Right After Wrestling, hosted by Arda Ocal Arda Ocal and Jimmy Korderas, Tito stated that he was somewhat disappointed with being the first match on WrestleMania. Vince McMahon later told Santana that his reason for putting him in the opening match was to kick the show off with a quality match, something he knew Tito as a solid fan-favorite and former Intercontinental Champion would produce.

Eastern Championship Wrestling (1993)

Santana played a role in the formative years of ECW. Then known as Eastern Championship Wrestling, he won the ECW Heavyweight Championship in August 1993 by defeating former WWE rival Don Muraco but forfeited the championship later that year to Shane Douglas.

American Wrestling Federation (1994–1996)

Santana finished his full-time career in the short-lived American Wrestling Federation. He was both the first and last AWF Heavyweight Champion, defeating Bob Orton, Jr. in a tournament final for the inaugural belt in November 1994, and losing and regaining the title from Orton on the same night in October 1996.

World Championship Wrestling (2000)

On January 10, 2000, Tito Santana made a one time appearance in WCW. He defeated Jeff Jarrett in a Dungeon Match on WCW Monday Nitro.

Sporadic appearances

Tito Santana continues to make appearances on the independent circuit. On March 13, 2004 he was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame, with an induction speech by his WrestleMania VIII opponent Shawn Michaels. In September 2008, he was inducted into the Spanish Hall of Fame of Pro Wrestling (Salón del Catch). From 2005-2015, Santana wrestled matches for WrestleReunion, Juggalo Championship Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Pro Wrestling Syndicate, and CHIKARA. On the November 15, 2010 "Old School" episode of Raw, he ring-announced Alberto Del Rio.

Personal life

While attending West Texas A&M University, Solis was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. He is now a Spanish teacher and basketball coach at Eisenhower Middle School in Roxbury Township, New Jersey where he lives with his wife Leah and their three sons Matthew, Michael, and Mark. His wife operates Santana's Hair Salon in Succasunna, New Jersey. He also teaches wrestling classes at the New Jersey-based Independent Wrestling Federation. He still wrestles a dozen or so matches per year. He was also a physical education teacher for Smalley Elementary School in Bound Brook, New Jersey.

His autobiography, Tito Santana's Tales From the Ring (ISBN 978-1-59670-325-4), was released in 2008.

In wrestling

Championships and accomplishments

  • National Wrestling Council
    • NWC Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
  • Northern States Wrestling Alliance
    • NSWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
  • Pro Wrestling Illustrated
    • PWI Tag Team of the Year award in 1979 – with Ivan Putski.
    • PWI ranked him # 51 of the 500 best singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 1995.
    • PWI ranked him # 93 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the PWI Years in 2003.
    • PWI ranked him # 70 of the 100 best tag teams during the PWI Years with Rick Martel in 2003.
  • Renegade Wrestling Alliance
    • RWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
  • USA Pro Wrestling
    • USA Pro Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
  • Unified Championship Wrestling
    • UCW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
  • Universal Superstars of America
  • Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame
    • Class of 2007
  • Other titles
    • CWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
    • EWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
    • GWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
    • IAW Television Championship (1 time)
    • USA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
    • UWS Tag Team Championship (1 time)

1Tito Santana's reign occurred while the promotion was an NWA affiliate named Eastern Championship Wrestling, and was prior to the promotion becoming Extreme Championship Wrestling and the title being declared a world title by ECW.

See also

External links

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