93. TITO SANTANA
Real Name – Merced Solis
Aliases – El Matador
Hometown – Mission, Texas
Debuted – 1976
Titles Held – WWE Intercontinental; WWE World Tag Team; ECW Heavyweight
Other Accomplishments – King of the Ring in 1989; WWE Hall of Fame inductee in 2004; worst WrestleMania record of all time
Tito Santana, more lovingly remembered by a certain class of fans as Chico, started out, as so many of them do, as a would-be football player. That’s football as in using your hands, not football as in soccer, a.k.a. “what the rest of the world calls itÃ¢â‚¬Â. In fact, he even played on the same team as Mr Tully Blanchard while at West Texas State. After briefly dipping his toes into the murky depths of the Canadian League, it was off to the professional murk known as wrestling.
Chico made unmemorable appearances with the AWA and the NWA in the late Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ70s, yet after entering the WWF his tag team with Ivan Putski made waves and landed him with his first major title. However, it would take until 1984 for him to really make his mark. The opponent – Greg Valentine. The cause – the Intercontinental Title. The two men had a fierce rivalry that lasted the better part of two years, with Santana even taking a few months off after suffering from Valentine’s figure-four leg-lock. He came back to win the belt for a second time, triumphing in a Cage Match, before dropping it to Randy Savage in a match that put the Macho Man well on his way to the main event. Tito’s second reign would also see the unveiling of the fan-favourite new belt design that lasted until 1998, courtesy of Valentine smashing the old one up after his defeat. Oh, Gregory
Furthermore, Chico’s return from the leg injury was at none other than the very first WrestleMania match ever, against the Executioner (Buddy Rose). He won that match courtesy of the Flying Jalapeno (TM, Bobby Heenan) but would go on to amass the worst WrestleMania streak of all time. Barring an inexplicable comeback, his finely shabby record remains at 1-7. He’s like the Anti-Undertaker, which could make him The Overgiver, but that nickname is far from as catchy as Chico, so we’ll drop it and move swiftly onwards.
That was the peak of Chico’s singles career, with his next big break coming from the short-lived but long-remembered Strike Force tandem with Rick Martel. They won the tag titles in 1987, dropping them to Demolition at WrestleMania IV to kick-off Ax & Smash’s record-setting reign, and then had a memorable break-up angle the following year at WrestleMania V. It was one of the earliest instances of a heel turn at Mania, sparking a feud that didn’t really live up to expectations but did leave some poor souls cradling their Strike Force tights for dear life, hoping, yearning, praying that one day those two kids could make it work. One such person may have been Santana, though to be honest I suspect Hatton as well.
He then went on to become the King of the Ring in 1989, years before it became a PPV event, defeating Bad News Brown, The Warlord, Akeem and, of course, Rick Martel in one night. Afterwards, King Chico had little to do other than remain eerily fond of Strike Force, although he did curiously make it to the Grand Finale Match of Survival at the Survivor Series 1990, teaming with his Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpeers’, Hulk Hogan and WOYAH. That appearance may have been indicative of his affable charm but it did little to stop him drifting, so in 1991 the WWF attempted to stop this by turning him into El Matador. Beyond perhaps influencing a young Chris Jericho on the supposed aesthetic delights of wearing things that were both bright and sparkly, it’s hard to see what came out of the move. He should just be thankful Russo wasn’t booking the place then or he’d probably have wound up fighting a buffalo for real.
Chico left the WWF in 1993 and became the ECW Champion. Calm down, this was back in the days when the E was for Eastern. Besides, the reign was far from extreme given that it ended with him forfeiting the belt to Shane Douglas, in another case of Santana bequeathing a title to someone who would have a very memorable run with it. After that, his time in the ring became more limited, though he did rack up appearances in the AWF and even WCW in 2000, where, hilariously, he defeated Jeff Jarrett on Nitro. This clearly put him in contention for a shot at the NWA champion in TNA, so WWE had to quickly intervene by inducting Tito into their Hall of Fame in 2004. Note to the stupid: that last sentence fears the factual.
Santana was a solid and respectable worker who held an easy rapport with the fans and could regularly bring the goods in the ring, not least of which was the Flying Burrito (TM, Jesse Ventura). He still makes the occasional appearance on the indy circuit, though most of his time is spent teaching Spanish at a middle school and running his hair salon in New Jersey. You can read more about that here.
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.