Historically Speaking: Tito Santana, World Champion?

“History is the distillation of rumour.” – Thomas Carlyle

The Opening Chapter
Over the past couple of months I have been able to read up on a couple of recent WWE biographies, including Ted DiBiase’s WWE sponsored book as well as Tito Santana’s. Both books were entertaining for a quick read if you’ve got a couple free hours in a Barnes & Noble. Neither provided earth-shattering scoops or stories, but both were just plain entertaining to hear the thoughts of two old WWF guys I grew up watching. (There’s your Assignment for the week!) But the one thing that stuck with me from Tito Santana’s book is the reveal that (according to him anyways), that he and Bret Hart were the two men in contention to be beat Ric Flair for the WWF Championship in the fall of 1992. Apparently the decision came down to whether the company wanted to expand into Canada or Latin America.

Obviously they chose Bret Hart and Canada to end Flair’s second WWF Title reign while Tito spent his last few months in the company falling further into JTTS territory. Granted Santana, as El Matador, was already deep into JTTS territory when this plan would have gone into effect anyways while Hart was still on his way up, but it is an interesting theory regardless.

It got me thinking as I read the rest of his book how easily it would have been to insert Tito in as the one to dethrone Flair in the late fall of 1992 without really changing a whole lot of WWF history. Here’s my take on how Tito Santana could have easily won the WWF Championship and about the only thing that would be sacrificed is Bret Hart’s first Title reign, which admittedly wasn’t that earth-shattering to begin with. It’s not so much of fantasy booking as it is more what the kids call these days, a reload.

”El Matador” Tito Santana, WWF World Heavyweight Champion
On that night in Saskatchewan, El Matador steps into the ring as the unlikely challenger for Ric Flair’s WWF Championship. It seems like a routine house show Title defense for Flair only for the crowd to completely surprised when long-time company man Tito Santana pins Ric Flair to become WWF Champion for the first time in his storied career.

Survivor Series 1992
The build-up to Survivor Series ’92 saw more card changes than probably any other pay per view in that era. Ultimate Warrior, who was supposed to be in the main event teaming with “Macho Man” Randy Savage was replaced by Mr. Perfect. The Intercontinental Title match between Davey Boy Smith and The Mountie was completely scrapped when Smith dropped the belt to Shawn Michaels before the pay per view and was fired while Mountie mysteriously disappeared, only to replaced by Yokozuna versus Virgil. Plus The Nasty Boys replaced The Bushwackers in the night’s only elimination tag match. And what was once supposed to a mid-card grudge match between Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Shawn Michaels became the main event after Hart won the WWF Title and Michaels won the I-C Title.

With Santana as Champion the card could remain virtually unchanged. As WWF Champion he could either face Hart in a face/face match, fight Michaels in a battle of the belts, or Hart and Michaels could wrestle each other on the Survivor Series Showdown special that always proceeded the pay per view with the winner moving to the PPV to battle Santana, or he simply could do commentary, acting as a scout for his potential opponents. For the sake of this story I would have Hart beat Michaels in a non-title match days before the pay per view to blow off their feud and move on to challenge Santana. Hart and Santana would go on to have a great classic scientific main event with El Matador remaining champion while Hart looks strong in a loss.

Royal Rumble 1993
As the Royal Rumble approached, Razor Ramon would still be named number one contender, only now he would challenge El Matador. Hart would move into the Royal Rumble match to replace Santana. Hart would actually take Bob Backlund’s spot in the Rumble match, wrestling coast-to-coast and making it to the final three like Backlund did. As for Backlund he would take Santana’s late entry spot in the Rumble, basically providing cannon fodder for eventual winner Yokozuna. Matador would go on to successfully defend Razor Ramon in another great match where even in a loss Ramon still looked like a threat. Backlund’s one hour run that Rumble can be sacrificed because in the long run WWF didn’t do anything with him until his eventual heel turn a year and a half later.

WrestleMania IX
Going into what is most often considered the worst WrestleMania in history, Matador would enter as reigning as Champion, but clear underdog to the gargantuan Yokozuna. In the main event, Yoko would completely destroy Santana in order to solidify his threat as the new monster in town. Yokozuna would beat him so bad that he would need help to leave the ringside area, which is where Hulk Hogan would enter and be challenged by Mr. Fuji to fight Yoko right then and there. This way the awful ending to WrestleMania would be preserved, only Hart wouldn’t be the one looking like a pussy by letting Hogan fight his battle for him, but rather Santana would be so incapacitated he wouldn’t be able to do anything to say one way or another.

As for Hart at WrestleMania IX, he would step into Backlund’s place once again as he would battle Razor Ramon in a mid-card that would sorely help spruce up the undercard. The match could be billed as an unofficial number one contender match that would see Hart win after a solid match that would easily be match of the night.

In the pay per view’s opening dark match, sub in Backlund for Santana to defeat Papa Shango.

King of the Ring 1993
As the initial King of the Ring pay per view approaches Yokozuna would still challenge Hogan for the WWF Championship in the rematch that would kill Hulkamania for years. In the real world Hart was given the number one seed in the tournament automatically, which could still be done here with the reasoning that his WrestleMania victory over Ramon would earn him that bye, or he could face someone inconsequential like Skinner to earn his spot.

As for Santana he would spend the entire spring on the shelf rehabbing his injuries from his loss to Yokozuna. He claims he would return at King of the Ring, but in his qualifying match he would lose to Razor (as he actually did). However instead of Doink and Mr. Perfect battling three times in order to determine a winner and King of the Ring qualifier, substitute Ramon and Santana in that spot, where they battle to two time limit draws before Ramon finally wins clean in their third and final match. Razor would like a star by beating the former WWF Champion in the qualifying round of the tournament and get back that job from the Royal Rumble. It would be speculated that he came back from his injuries too soon and paid the price for it.

Hart would go on to win the King of the Ring as he did while Santana would replace Crush and challenge Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental Title on the undercard, doing a clean job once again for the on-the-rise Heartbreak Kid.

SummerSlam 1993
After King of the Ring Matador would successfully be down in the same spot in the card as he was before he beat Flair for the Title. On a live edition of RAW that summer Santana would face Hart in a great main event match that Hart would win clean, as Santana returns the job from the previous Survivor Series. Santana would also lose his WWF Championship rematch to Yokozuna live on RAW that summer as well. Then after failing to bodyslam Yokozuna on the deck of the USS Intrepid on the Fourth of July, his last appearance with the company would be a quick job to red-hot foreign heel Ludvig Borga at SummerSlam ’93, in a spot that was previously occupied by Marty Jannetty. He would be able to leave the company the same day as his old West Texas State classmate and long-time friend Ted DiBiase.

The Perspective
In the end not a whole lot was changed in the WWF’s landscape. Hart would lose out on his initial WWF Championship, but in hindsight having Bret Hart win his first WWF Championship at WrestleMania X would perhaps give that victory more meaning and gravitas. Plus he wouldn’t end up looking like Hogan or Yokozuna’s bitch at WrestleMania IX. Giving Santana a brief WWF Title reign would be a thank you from the company for all his years of service. In the process Matador would be able to help make bigger stars out Hart, Yokozuna, Ramon, Michaels and Ludvig Borga. Really the person shafted in this little fantasy scenario would be Bob Backlund, but as I said earlier, the company didn’t really do anything with him until 1994 anyways.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
Scott Keith is winding down his last month of WWE 24/7 rants. Check out his thoughts on Mid-Atlantic Wrestling from 1981, the Nitro before Starrcade ’97 and the the World Championship Wrestling episode after Magnum TA’s unfortunate car accident.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

For April 23:
1960 – Red & Lou Bastien defeated Eddie & Dr. Jerry Graham for the WWWF Tag Team title
1976 – Bob Backlund defeated Harley Race for the Missouri State Heavyweight title
1988 – Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup, Day 2, was held at the Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC
1990 – Curt Hennig defeated Tito Santana in a tournament final for the WWF Intercontinental title
1992 – The Heavenly Bodies defeated The Fantastics in a tournament final for the Smokey Mountain Tag Team title
1994 – Chris Candido & Brian Lee defeated The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express for the Smokey Mountain Tag Team title
1994 – Brian Christopher & Eddie Gilbert defeated The Eliminators in a tournament final for the USWA Tag Team title

1956 – “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas was born
1961 – Terry “Bamm Bamm” Gordy was born
1968 – Yuji Nagata was born
1969 – Jeff Lovin was born
1974 – “Playboy” Bryan Wayne was born
1974 – “Spanky” Brian Kendrick was born
1977 – John Cena was born
2000 – Tom Renesto died of heart failure at 72

For more relevant, exciting and interesting wrestling information from your truly, check out my paying gig over at Examiner.com.

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