This Work and Shoot article has come about because for a long time there’s been a talking point about Tito Santana, originating him from himself, that has seemed highly spurious, and finally it’s been debunked a little, so this week it’s some clips and matches from the Matador himself – arriba! Ole!
How close did he come to being world champion in 1992?
James brings up first the steroid and ring boys scandals, which Tito replies to with there being stuff going on for years and the business seeming bulletproof until it wasn’t, because Vince kept moving on (no longer, though). James then talks about the need for a new world champion at the end of 1992 and the story of Tito’s name being on the shortlist. Tito didn’t know his name was on the list, but he felt he was being prepared for something the year before when he beat the Undertaker at a show in Spain. All that followed was El Matador, which he didn’t consider being big and wasn’t crazy about because they didn’t do much with him in that role. He could see they were going Bret’s way regardless of how high or not the attendance was.
Pat Patterson was the one talking him up about going to Spain, Mexico and South America with Tito as a featured player, but that didn’t happen. When it came down to anointing Bret, Patterson told Tito it was between him and Bret. He could smell bullshit, which was confirmed when Ted Dibiase came up to him later and told him that Patterson had said that it was between HIM and Bret. James wonders whether even the Brooklyn Brawler was getting told it was between him and Bret facetiously. They then talk about how it took Bret to find his feet as a draw at the time, which was the case with everyone, but it seemed to have picked up when he came back to do commentary in ’97 and the Hart Foundation was doing big bucks. He was shocked that they put so much effort into establishing Bret to dump him, but he also heard that Shawn Michaels said it was him or Bret, and Vince chose Shawn.
The fate of the IC belt
The IC belt at the time was completely knackered, so they did the deal where after Greg Valentine lost it back to Tito in a cage match he came back in and smashed it up against the cage. They were preparing a new belt for him, so he kept it as a memento in his gym at home. Ten years later, with nobody asking for it, he put it in the bin. He kicks himself now because people reckon he would’ve gotten about fifty grand for selling it.
He then recalls the back story for what he claims is the longest feud in WWF history (eighteen months), although I’d need to see something to confirm that. Tito injured his leg in a match with Paul Orndorff, to the point where he’d need time off to get surgery on it. Tito relayed that to George Scott and offered to do the job and drop the title to Mr. Wonderful, but the office wasn’t keen on that because Orndorff was too flighty, so instead he dropped it to the Hammer. Tito had his leg taped up, let himself be beat and then put in the figure four to write him out. He came back very quickly and asked for Greg to work with him as best he could. He also talks about doing interviews before and after his operation so he appeared authentically groggy but determined and sincere in his words.
Ivan Putski Heat
James brings up people disliking Ivan, possibly through jealousy. Tito thinks it was because they were jealous of his deal with Vince for working big shows only and having rental cars set up for him, but also for not doing jobs or selling. He pretty much kept to himself and trained a lot rather than hang out with the wrestlers. Tito likens Putski to Mil Mascaras. Today, Ivan has shrunk down to about 140 pounds.
Tito was brought into the business by Joe Blanchard in Texas, but was trained by Hiro Matsuda in Florida. The Blanchard training was limited to a few sessions and refereeing a few matches. With Hiro, he was breaking in with Barry Orton. Bob Orton Sr. would pop by to see how things were. Hiro didn’t like Barry that much because he was acting like a natural heel in the ring and not taking it as seriously as he should. Barry Windham was similar with having a father who wrestled.
Hiro was big on conditioning with Hindu squats. He wasn’t a hard-ass on Tito and taught him from scratch because he knew he was new to the business. Stuff like hitting the ropes would bruise you with all the times you did it, then landing on your elbow and the like. Tito, who was great at dropkicks, was scared to death of training to do them because of the fall you needed to take. Hiro was high on different takedowns, which contributed to Tito’s fundamentals, because he felt that if you knew those you could have a match with anyone. He recommended watching all the matches too, so Tito became a scholar and would also ask for feedback from the veterans, which could be hard to take but he absorbed it. Watching the main event, he couldn’t work how the faces and heels brought the crowd up and down, but he realised a lot of it was TV time too to get you over.
Matches with Jesse Ventura
Jesse’s favourite opponent was Tito, because Tito would let Jesse be Jesse and do all his long stalling routine and showing off for ten minutes without any physical contact. Jesse knew how to rile up the crowds and get them ready to kill him. Then the matches themselves would be very simple: Jesse would take his cheap shots and Tito would sell, the ref would get on Jesse, Tito would get his comeback and Jesse would scarper. Tito doesn’t think his health problems were why he was so limited with his actual physical work, it was just how he worked. Tito was conscious of adjusting to his opponent, hence why he could get the most out of the Body.
And now the matches!
Mr. Perfect vs. Tito Santana
The final of the IC title tournament from 1990 after the Warrior vacated the title after becoming the world champion. Pretty crappy tournament with a couple of draws and crap finishes. Vince reckons Tito is the favourite to win, drawing a credulous “WHAT?!” from Jesse. Pretty even stuff to start, with Tito getting a shot in here and there before Perfect gets a cheap shot. Not for much, as he gets dropkicked over the top rope in a classic bump, then one big one off a chop. Rolled back in, Tito tries to follow up with a slingshot clothesline, but Perfect’s out of place so it becomes more of a spear for two. Perfect pops up on a drop down to trip Tito, sending him outside, then continuing the attack out there. Something that’s notable about Hennig is that he didn’t have much of an arsenal in terms of suplexes, slams, piledrivers or drop moves, but his presence was so excellent and he had enough wrestling nous or the perception of it to keep things moving. Tito’s sent out again, but trips Perfect this time and slams his knee against the corner post and then works it over back inside to set up for the figure four. This draws out Bobby Heenan to the confusion of Vince and Jesse and massive boos from the crowd. Tito instead sets up for the flying forearm, with Bobby popping up to distract him, then Perfect cradling Tito for the pinfall victory. Good match, very energetic, but not long enough to be classic and they’d do better with more time on SNME. Perfect declares himself now “the perfect Intercontinental champion” and introduces Bobby as his new manager, “the perfect manager”, in a classic pairing that would only last just over a year with Hennig as his main charge, but longer with the connection with Ric Flair. Bobby’s first gesture, in weasel style, is to hold up the belt for himself before giving it back to Curt.
The Undertaker vs. Tito Santana
From Barcelona, on the European Rampage tour. Taker tries to attack from behind, but Tito skips him and kicks and punches away, then holds a wristlock. Funny to see this early version of the Undertaker being held in a hold without dominating in return and having to facially sell. He eventually chops out, but runs into a boot and gets flying clotheslined then finally clotheslined to the floor. After a brief scuffle, Tito tries to pull him back in by the hair and gets effectively Stunnered on the rope in return to turn it around. Back in, some choking and smothering, then a rope walk and shot to the back of the neck as Paul Bearer cackles maniacally, which was a touch that got lost when they turned face. Taker with some biting, which you didn’t see often. Lifted choke, and it’s pretty ponderous stuff, as Mark Calaway was a great worker already but had to move… so… slowly to punctuate the other stuff, such as a running elbow drop that misses. Nevertheless, he goes old school again but gets yanked off this time. Tito gets the flying forearm, which doesn’t even knock Taker off his feet, nor a second, then Taker pulls the ref in the way to get knocked out on the third. Undertaker gets a side suplex and calls for the bodybag, which he starts bagging Tito up in. Tito punches out before he’s fully in and escapes it, then gets three pretty sloppy piledrivers. Not that they hurt, more that they looked so much like they didn’t. Paul comes up on the apron on the third one, so Tito piefaces him, steals the urn and uses that to knock out Taker with to a big pop for the upset victory as the ref comes back to life to count to three. Not an interesting match to watch as far as matches go, but interesting to watch as far as rarity and uniqueness. The Spanish announcer, who looks about twelve, gives him a mascot toy that looks like a Pokemon as a present.
Ric Flair vs. Tito Santana
From the final build show towards Summerslam ’92, with cool little Union Jack background on the graphics. I found later (and a little before the WWF) that Flair was a little too mix and match with his colour schemes, but he was really solid in his first WWF run, especially with the purple look. Evenly matched start on the mat, although Flair claims a hair pull to wind up Tito. Speaking of hair, Curt Hennig has let his hair out of the ponytail for this match as a rarity. Flair gives Tito a cheeky woooo, so Tito cracks him in the jaw and clotheslines him to the floor, then another one on the floor. Back in, Flair does the classic beg, then rolls out to break the momentum. Back in, Flair chops Tito down and dumps him to the floor. Perfect lurks, considering his shots, which end up being a punt to the ribs behind Earl Hebner’s back. Back in, Flair with a pitch perfect kneedrop to the forehead (“Bingo! Santa Domingo!”, says Perfect). Elbow for two. Tito trips and hooks in the figure four out of nowhere, with Perfect trying to get in to break it if he can. Flair gets the ropes for a second, which would be a break, but he loses grip and it’s a couple of pinfall attempts when he lays back. Perfect pushes the ropes close enough for him to break and then does it great caught in the moment look to the camera. Tito then gets another, right in the middle, but Flair quickly gets to the ropes and tries to get his shots in, but the story is every time he’s on his back he’s in danger of being back in it. Both guys clash heads in an awkward bit as it goes to a break.
Back from break, Flair tries for his own figure four but is small packaged for two. Flair tries going up to the top, taking forever, so of course he’s slammed off. Perfect is trying to reach in to fuck with Tito. Couple of clotheslines and BACK BODY DROP, as per Vince. El Paso del Muerte, his Matador finisher, but Perfect pulls him out. Tito pulls up him up to hit him, so Flair tries a roll-up, which sees a strange cut into another sequence where Tito has reversed into a small package. Up in the corner for mounted punches on Ric, who gets an eye poke in before doing his flop. Suplex on Flair for two, with Tito’s hair out of his ponytail and Bobby Heenan coughing up a storm at the thought of his man losing. Perfect gets a pretty blatant trip on Tito behind the ref’s back and then just absolutely jabs it with a chair. Flair locks in the figure four for the academic victory. Tito tries to fight it, but the damage has been done, so the ref calls it and awards Flair the victory. Really strong match, to remind people of Flair lurking in the background at Summerslam and Perfect potentially being the difference maker.
Kamala vs. Tito Santana
From Wrestling Challenge in October or November of 1992. Tito has switched from pukey green to sharper black now. Kamala’s into cartoon monster mode now, so a lot of overblown stuff while Gorilla pokes holes in the work. Early slam and attempt at a splash, which Tito rolls out of the way of, but a chop to the throat wins things around for him and he gets a bearhug. That lasts a minute or two until a break. Kamala runs into a boot and Tito gets a pair of dropkicks and the flying forearm. Kimchee interferes, until it’s a superkick party from Kamala to set up a run for the splash. As he bounces off the ropes, he sees that Paul Bearer has wheeled out the casket, in advance of the coffin match with the Undertaker at Survivor Series, and runs off in fear through the crowd, allowing Tito to win via count out. Goofy early nineties match with a dodgy finish, but wasn’t long enough to be offensive.
Papa Shango vs. Tito Santana
Tito’s last WrestleMania match, working dark against a guy he had a load of matches with. Jim Ross is doing commentary solo because Bobby and Randy had to come out during the PPV. LOTS of empty seats at ringside. The epitome of a dark match, because three quarters of the ring in the hard angle shot are in shade, allowing them time to adjust the lighting. Shango goes and kicks Tito’s entrance gear out of the ring for an easy bit of heat. Tito is in gold and Jim gets a direction he acknowledges on mic from Bruce Prichard. Shango gets some early shots in, but misses a charge and goes tumbling outside. Tito follows for a fight outside, then back in with a flying bodypress off the top. Shango sometimes won some of their matches with the reversal of that, but he gets caught pulling the tights this time. Tito with an armwringer, which Papa breaks out of and it’s a run of the ropes with him going for a big dropkick that misses while Jim splutters and checks whether they have a cough button for him. Tito out and then back in with a sunset flip, but Shango clotheslines him down and adds an elbow to the gut on the ground. Sloppy small package from Tito, which Shango gets up quicker on and finally gets that dropkick. Side suplex for two with a sloppy cover. He goes for the shoulderbreaker to finish, but Tito slips over the back and gets a flying forearm. Volley to set up another one, but Shango swats him down as Jim regrets he was unable to hit “his favourite manouever, which I’m sure will Bruce will tell me exactly what’s it called because I don’t know!”. Shango suplex and up to the top, but he misses a flying elbowdrop off the top and Tito covers him for the win, with still a bunch of seats not filled. Decent little match which they’d obviously worked on for a while, just sent out there with the intention of getting everyone from the merch stands to their seats.
The meltdown: Tito’s a funny one, because in some respects he’s a little plain in the way he speaks, which makes it all the more funny when he starts swearing up a storm out of nowhere. He had sourced the “my name is on the list” story, so it was good to also have him say “but they told everyone that” to somewhat quash it.