Interview with WWE Legend, Tito Santana
Conducted by Brad Dykens (Online World of Wrestling)
BRAD DYKENS: Many trivia buff's love the fact that you began your career wrestling under the name "Richard Blood," which is the real name of Ricky Steamboat. Was this just a strange coincidence or some kind of inside rib on Steamboat?
TITO SANTANA: Rick had been in Georgia Championship Wrestling before he left to Charlotte wrestling for the Crocket's. He became an instant star there. Jim Barnette the promoter was upset because they had him there, but did not know what or how to make him a star. Jim Barnette flew to Charlotte to get permission from Rick to use his name.
BRAD DYKENS: In 1979, you teamed with Ivan Putski to defeat the Valiant Brothers for the WWWF Tag Team titles. How was Putski as a partner, and where do the Valiantís rank as a tag team?
TITO SANTANA: Ivan was a great partner at that point for me. He was unselfish. He was asked by Vince Sr. if he'd mind teaming up with me, and he accepted. We were not hanging out after the matches, since I was much younger. The Valiant Brothers were great. They taught me how to work. They got the most out of the least work in the ring. They had great ring psychology.
BRAD: When you left the WWF in 1980, where else did you find work, and what (or who) lured you back to New York in 1983?
TITO: Vince Sr. booked me in Minnesota to wrestle for Verne Gagne in the AWA. That was another great move for me. Everyone there was a main event wrestler. I got to practice my interviews and work with top guys every match. Dino Bravo told me to start using my signature ARRIBA, yell to finish my interview.
BRAD: Speaking of trivia, you were the winner of the very first match at the very first WrestleMania. What sort of words of encouragement did Vince McMahon give you before and after the match? What about your fellow wrestlers?
TITO: I was disappointed at first, but right before I went in the ring Vince told me that the reason I was on first was because he needed someone to get the show of right. He wanted excitement immediately.
BRAD: Who did you like to travel with throughout your career, from when you started in Texas, until you were headlining for the World Wrestling Federation?
TITO: When I was in Georgia I traveled with Tommy Rich. I moved to Charlotte and traveled with Jay Young Blood. Came to New York in 1979 and traveded with The Million Dollar Man, Ted. Went to Minn. and traveled with Dino and Greg Gagne. Went back to Atlanta and traveled with Mr. Wonderful. My final stop WWF in 1993 and traveled with Pedro Morales and later Rick Martel.
BRAD: How did you find time to stay in such phenomenal shape? Describe your typical workout regime at the peak of your career.
TITO: Working out was part of 80% of the wrestlers. We were working out 5-days a week. I usually worked out for an hour and a half. We would do 3-body parts a day. Chest, tri-cepts, and shoulders. Next day Back, bi's and legs. We over-trained, because we were doing 5 different exercises for chest, 4-sets each. We learned as we went along.
BRAD: One of my all-time favorite tag teams was the Strike Force; with you and Rick Martel. How much advanced notice did you have before you and Martel captured the WWF Tag Team championship?
TITO: We were told immediately that we were going to get the belts. I guess Vince had confidence that we would get over.
BRAD: Who initially pitched the El Matador stuff to you, and how did you feel about being saddled with the gimmick.
TITO: Vince. I did not like it, but figured if Vince really wanted it to get over, he would get it over. I knew I was a good enough wrestler to do my part, but it was never intended to go anywhere with it.
BRAD: You played a part in the early development of ECW, when it was called "Eastern Championship Wrestling." Is that a part of your legacy that you are proud of? What did you think of the Hardcore style which ECW eventually evolved into?
TITO: I did not care too much for ECW. The guy in charge was never one of my favorite people. I have no regrets, but I never intended to go back.
BRAD: I recently watched some old DVD's of your American Wrestling Federation and really enjoyed the product - especially your big matches with "Cowboy" Bob Orton. How long did that last and what factors led to its demise? Did you receive any pressure from WCW or WWF?
TITO: Sargeant Slaughter was running the AWF. We were on the air for 1-year, investors ran out of money. There was no pressure from either Fed.
BRAD: Was there any attempt from WCW to bring you in from the Mid-to-late 90s?
TITO: The WCW wanted to talk to me, but I was not interested. I had decided I had enough of the road.
BRAD: You made a one-time appearance for WCW on January 10, 2000 to wrestle Jeff Jarrett on Nitro. What was the atmosphere backstage and how were you treated?
TITO: We were treated great. I thought they had a great future, boy was I wrong.
BRAD: Were there any wrestlers from your era who you never got to wrestle, but wished that you did? Did you ever wrestle Hulk Hogan?
TITO: I wrestled Hulk in 1979 before either one of us had made it big. He was a lot bigger than I. In my book Sarge says that Vince told him that I was getting more fan mail than anyone else when I had the feud with Valentine.
BRAD: Did you ever wrestle as a heel? Did you want to? Why, or why not?
TITO: No. When Strike Force split up, I asked if I could be the heel, but the plan was already all set for him to be the MODEL.
BRAD: I have heard you say that you didn't really care about the WWE Hall of Fame until you were standing up there on stage and realized just how much of an honor it was to be apart of it. Why do you think guys like Bruno Sammartino, Randy Savage, and Bob Backlund have not been inducted? And who else do you feel deserves to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame?
TITO: Some of those guys do not want any part of Vince. I feel that is a mistake. We need to move on. Bundy deserves to be there. I do not know why they do what they do.
BRAD: Do you watch any of the top wrestling promotions today; ROH, TNA, or WWE? Are there any new rising stars who you wish you could have wrestled in your prime? I personally feel you would enjoy watching many of the stars of Ring of Honor.
TITO: I am sorry to say that I am not a fan. I am too busy with school and our business and my family.
BRAD: You recently participated in a unique shoot interview with KayfabeCommentaries.com, which dissected your famous feud with Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. What other feuds were you involved with that would be worthy of that kind of attention?
TITO: I had a little feud with Savage that was cut short. I also had a small feud with Mr. Wonderful that had lots of money potential. I believe there was so much more that could have been done with me, but didn't happen. That's life.
BRAD: What do you think of Ric Flair and what did you think of his recent farewell tour and subsequent retirement?
TITO: He was a great champion. I heard he was coming back. I do not follow, so who knows.
BRAD: You still continue to work occasional independent wrestling shows in the Northeast. How important is it to you to share your experience and wisdom with younger wrestlers, and also lock it up with old rivals such as Greg "The Hammer" Valentine?
TITO: I love the independents. I enjoy running into the guys from time to time. I enjoy showing the guys how it should be done. They do not have a clue. You only learn our business when someone teaches you who knows. It is a tough business to master.
BRAD: What sort of advice would you give to any young independent wrestler who might read this interview?
TITO: If you are going to make a commitment, make it. You need to sacrifice. They will always need new talent. It might take a while, but there is lots of money to be made.
BRAD: Who were your heroes (wrestlers, or otherwise) before you became a professional wrestler?
TITO: Terry Funk. I was not a fan, but I knew Terry because we went to the same University.
BRAD: Someone comes up to you on the street and asks you why they should read your book; what do you tell them?
TITO: They will learn about my upbringing. I offer hope for anyone who wants to make it in life. They will learn that I went through many tough dealings with promoters. You will see the sacrifices I made throughout my life and career.
BRAD: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions; is there anything you would like to say to your many fans all across the globe?
TITO: I believe that I was as successful as I was because of my many fans. I believe that I got over in the WWE bigger than Vince ever expected, so when I started drawing fans, he went with it. I owe all my success to my many fans. Thanks for your continued support.