Name: Tito Santana
Year Inducted: 2013
Arriba! Tito Santana, one of pro wrestling’s greatest
heroes, has arrived to fight the good fight, combat evil in all its forms
and make the world a better place.
Still active on a very part-time basis today, Merced
Solis can look back at a remarkable life. Born as the son of migrant workers
on May 10, 1953 in Mission, Texas, Solis would be pulled out of school in
the fall and spring to help pick crops. It wasn’t until his freshman year at
Mission High that he actually completed a full year of education. At
6-foot-2, 234 pounds, he excelled in football as a speedy tight end. West
Texas State came calling, and after a stint with the NFL’s Kansas City
Chiefs and a season with the BC Lions of the CFL, Solis accepted the
invitation from his old West Texas quarterback, Tully Blanchard, and his
promoter/father, Joe, to give wrestling a try.
He debuted in Florida in 1977 under his real name.
After runs in Georgia, Amarillo, and the Mid-Atlantic (as Richard Blood),
Solis went to the WWWF, where he was renamed Tito Santana and won the
territory’s tag titles with Ivan Putski. After three years in the AWA,
Santana was back in the nationally-expanding WWF, adding color, depth, and
international flavor to the babyface roster.
In the WWF, there were times he was the number two
babyface to Hulk Hogan, holding the Intercontinental title and the tag
For all the fame, trading cards, and action figures,
Santana, who was also known as El Matador (learning some bullfighting
techniques for the role), was never given a chance with the WWF World title.
“At the time, the reigning champion was Hulk Hogan. Back then, they didn’t
put a good guy against a good guy. I would have loved to have wrestled Hulk
Hogan,” he said, recalling a few matches they actually did have back in
1979. “At one time my popularity was pretty high up there with him. I think
people would have enjoyed a match, me against him.”
Post-WWF, he has been sharing his knowledge on the
independent scene, content to work weekends and help youngsters learn a
little about putting on great performances.
Away from the ring, Solis has run a hair salon with his
wife in New Jersey—Santana’s—and taught gym and Spanish and coached
basketball. He even tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at politics in 1999,
running for Roxbury Township Council. Married for 30 years, with three boys
who all have advanced degrees, Solis can take a lot of pride in his family.
“I took over the kids the very little time that I was home. I wanted to be a
father and play with my kids,” he recalled. “If you come into my house, you
hardly see anything of wrestling in my house.”
- Greg Oliver