El Hijo del Santo: A Cult Tribute
To succeed in pro wrestling is a daunting task all on its own. To succeed when you are the son/daughter of a major star? There's no tougher animal. Sure, being a second generation wrestler does have its blessings, as they're likely to get more opportunities than others, receive the best training and have the built in advantage of having wrestling in their DNA. But with all of that comes the expectations of living up to your parents name, of gaining all the accolades they received, of being a legend of the business. And that's where some fall. For every Randy Orton, Rock, Dustin Rhodes and Guerrero, there's a David Flair, Erik Watts, Ted Dibiase Jr (sorry Ted!) and Lacey Von Erich. Which is why tonight's Cult Tribute is going to focus on a special second generation lucha libre. This man didn't have just have to live up to the usual criteria of a second gen star, he had to live up to one of the most legendary icons in wrestling history. Not only would he live up to expectations, in some ways he would even surpass his father. Who is it? Without further ado, ladies and germs, I present to you a Cult Tribute to the Son of the Saint, the silver masked hero, El Hijo del Santo.
What You Already Know
For non lucha libre audiences, El Hijo del Santo is the son of lucha libre legend El Santo. That's pretty much it. So short, I know. Don't blame me, blame the lack of exposure of lucha libre to international fans.
What You Don't Know
"Santito", as he's called by close confidantes according to Wikipedia, was born August 2, 1963, the youngest of El Santo's TEN (that's right, TEN) children (though according to del Santo's Twitter account, his listed birthday is incorrect on Wikipedia). Unlike his other nine siblings, del Santo wanted to follow in his father's footsteps in becoming a luchadore, and began wrestling as a nineteen year old in 1982. His father, winding down his own career at the time, wasn't pleased, preferring his son get a college degree first before pursuing a wrestling career. Thus, del Santo didn't start under his now famous name, but instead as the luchadore known as El Korak. It wasn't until the fall of 1982, after del Santo completed his degree of Communication Science at Universidad Iberoamericana (very quick huh?), that his father finally gave his blessing and thus, El Hijo del Santo was born, debuting under his new name during his father's retirement tour. Unfortunately, El Santo didn't get to see his son blossom into the performer he became, as he died of a heart attack in early 1984.
Much like his father, del Santo has had a historic career, having wrestled for over thirty years in promotions such as AAA, Universal Wrestling Association, World Wrestling Association and Universal Lucha Libre in Japan. However, his greatest success came in the promotion that made his father an icon, CMLL (still known as EMLL when del Santo joined in 1983). Though not concurrent, del Santo would spend almost two decades of his career working for CMLL, winning two CMLL Tag Team Titles with Negro Casas, the 1996 International Grand Prix, the 2004 Torneo Grand Alternativa with Mistico and most importantly, the Leyenda de Plata, CMLL's most prestigious tournament that is held in honor of del Santo's father (he's in fact made the finals of the tournament on four separate occasions). When he wasn't winning titles, he was still one of CMLL's biggest draws, most notably due to his feud with future partner Negros Casas, who he would battle throughout the 80's and again in the 90's.
It was that feud that would serve as one of del Santo's greatest achievements of his career. In 1996, having returned from his stint in AAA, del Santo turned rudo for (I believe) the first time in his career, posing as Negros Casas' brother Felino before attacking him. It was a shocking role reversal for both Casas and del Santo, and it proved to be to be a huge jolt for lucha libre. While the formation of AAA in the early 90's had given lucha fans two options to choose from, it also hurt the wrestling business overall (the decline of the Mexican economy also hurt business around this time). del Santo's turn and feud with Negros Casas almost completely revived lucha libre overnight, leading to another boom period and a return to form by CMLL. It helped that the feud produced memorable bouts, such as an excellent triangle hair vs. mask match between del Santo, Casas and El Dandy in 1996 and an even more excellent hair vs. mask match between Casas and del Santo at CMLL's Anniversary Show (CMLL's Wrestlemania, and the oldest super show in wrestling, dating all the way back to 1935). del Santo won both matches, part of an unreal 64-0 he had in Lucha de Apuesta bouts. Yes, he won 64 straight matches where his mask was on the line. Move aside Goldberg!
Much like his father, del Santo has had many other interests outside the ring. He has his own comic book (much like his father did), he has developed an animated TV show based on his father called Santo vs. The Clones, and has appeared in several lucha libre films like Infraterrestre and Mil Mascaras vs. The Aztec Mummy (midnight screening at my house to be announced shortly!). Most importantly, he's been heavily involved in several wild life charities, most notably Wildcoast. Not only does del Santo serve as a spokesperson for the nonprofit organization, but he's been heavily active for them, including campaigns to save sea turtles, gray whales and an effort to clean up Tijuana. You also will be hard pressed to find a Wildcoast poster that doesn't feature del Santo's face on it. Really cool stuff.
Unfortunately, the one thing it appears that del Santo won't be doing his wrestling into his 60's. A severe back injury and spine complications forced del Santo to retire early last year at the age 50. His last match took place on October 18th, 2013, where del Santo teamed with LA Park and Mascara Sagrada to defeat Dr. Wagner Jr, El Hijo del Solatrio and Super Parka at a Wrestling in Tijuana show. His legacy will continue on however, as one of del Santo's sons, named El Nieto del Santo, is training to become a wrestler in with Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan. And of course, you can never say never about retirements, especially with lucha libre.
del Santo's heel turn and feud with Negros Casas in 1996 was definitely his best program. But his best moment? That would be during his brief run in AAA, when he wrestled at the famous When Worlds Collide PPV in 1994. For those who don't know, When Worlds Collide was produced and promoted by World Championship Wrestling, a precursor to what Global Force Wrestling just with New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom 9 back in January. This gave del Santo his biggest international stage to perform on, and he teamed with Octagon in a mask vs. hair, two out of three falls match against Los Gringos Locos, an acclaimed heel team made up of "Love Machine" Art Barr and the legendary Eddie Guerrero. The two teams had violently feuded for months, due to Guerrero's betrayal of del Santo, a deep wound as El Santo and Gory Guerrero (Eddie's father) had been a popular tag team in Mexico during their primes. With all that ability and all that heat built into the story, the match was expected to tear the house down.
Lo and behold, it did. For twenty two minutes, the action never let up, with Los Gringos Locos taking an early one fall lead, only for Octagon to rally and tie the match up with a spirited comeback. In the final fall, Art Barr eliminated Octagon with a tombstone piledriver (illegal in AAA), followed by Blue Panther II (who accompanied del Santo and Octagon to the ring) eliminating Barr with a piledriver of his, fittingly leaving Guerrero and del Santo to determine the winner. And when I say Eddie threw everything at him, I mean everything. Powerbomb? Check. German Suplex? Check. Dragon Suplex? Check. Super Belly to Belly Suplex? Check. I may be hallucinating at this point, but I'm pretty sure Eddie may have even run over del Santo with his low rider. In the end, del Santo just kept getting back up, and finally scored a surprise roll up to win the match and force Guerrero and Barr to cut each other's hair. It was an amazing spectacle, a springboard for all four men involved, and to this day remains the only lucha libre match to get a five star rating from Dave Meltzer. I can hear my buddy 'Plan grumbling about that as we speak.
El Hijo del Santo is one of the greatest second generation talents in the history of wrestling. There's no question. Whether he's the greatest or not is up to debate, but there's no question that, considering the shadow that was cast over him from day one, he is up there with the greats. Let me tell you something about El Santo; this man wasn't just a lucha libre legend in Mexico, he was a legend period, a figure who is just as much myth and folklore in Mexico as he was flesh and blood. El Hijo del Santo was never going to live up to that sort of standard, nor should he have been expected to. And yet despite that, he was a better overall in ring performer than his father, he was a headliner all over Mexico, he delivered perhaps the greatest lucha libre match of all time and he almost single handidly revived business in 1996 with his rudo turn. This was a special performer, an icon of his craft in the same way other second generation stars like The Rock, Randy Orton, Bret Hart and del Santo's rival Blue Demon Jr. are/were. What more needs to be said? El Hijo del Santo his a legend, just like his father. I can only imagine how proud the man in the silver mask is with how his son has carried on his legacy.
That'll do it guys! Be back in a few hours for an NBA Finals preview with Matt Mortensen, and I'll have some more wrestling stuff tomorrow I'll bet. Till then, how about some El Santo movie pics?!