Vintage Vault Pre-Viewing: WWF at Madison Square Garden 12/26/86

Tito Santana vs. Hercules

As we were heading into the final days of 1986, it was interesting to see where several guys were going to go in terms of being pushed or not and who was going to be showcased as 1987 started. Two of those guys that were in that conversation were Tito Santana and Hercules as both had a pretty solid 1986, and looking at both men it was pretty clear that Hercules was slightly higher on the ladder than Santana was. It is a shame because Santana has had a good 1986 by starting as Intercontinental Champion and having a great feud with Randy Savage, but by this point he was just floating around in the midcard with no real feud and was beginning his stretch of putting guys over. On the other hand, Hercules was clearly seen as a potential top heel as he just had a WWF Title match on Saturday Night’s Main Event and even though he didn’t win, he looked good in the match and he has greatly improved throughout the year. It would be very interesting to see where both of these guys go when 1987 starts and how they are used going forward.

Since our last MSG house show back in November, Santana and Hercules would face each other at several house shows over the month of December and they would trade wins back and forth while also working against other guys and Hercules would even face Randy Savage for the IC Title on a few house shows in rare heel vs. heel matches. It was always a positive to have two guys battle on a few house shows before getting to MSG as they can work on their chemistry and put on a solid match as they were given the coveted semi-main event spot. Before this match even begins, Santana is already at a disadvantage as he came out for this match while the Honkytonk Man was still celebrating his win in the previous match, and Honky would attack Santana from behind and injure his knee by ramming it into the steps and in essence gives Hercules an advantage for the match.

Santana was still very over with the crowd as he gets a big pop and Hercules was getting really hot as a heel as he comes out with confidence after Honky’s attack on Santana, and in a cool touch Bobby Heenan who was doing commentary gets in the ring and calls for Hercules to be awarded the match by forfeit before returning to commentary with Gorilla. Hercules wastes no time and goes out to the apron as he stomps on Santana before throwing him into the ring to start the match, and he stomps on Santana’s knee and drives his knee into it twice before dropping an elbow on it and hooking a submission on. Santana tries to fight out of the hold before grabbing the ropes to force a break and Hercules kicks and stomps on the knee, and he drops a knee on Santana’s knee before grabbing the other leg and hooking a submission on it. Santana grabs at Hercules’ hair and gets a shot in to break the hold though he is clearly still hurting with his knee and Hercules kicks at it, and Hercules goes back to the submission on the injured knee as Santana again grabs at Hercules’ hair and he kicks him to the mat to break the hold. Hercules recovers first and goes right back to the submission on the injured leg before taking off Santana’s kneepad, and he drops a pair of knees on the injured knee before going right back to the submission on Santana. Santana grabs at Hercules and pulls him to the mat to break the hold though he can’t stand on his feet because of the knee, and Hercules grabs for the leg only for Santana to kick him to the mat though Hercules recovers first and drives the knee into Santana. He again drives his knee into Santana’s knee twice before slamming down on the knee and he stomps on the knee before grinding his boot into it, and Hercules goes outside and pulls Santana to the corner where he rams the knee into the post twice before returning to the ring. Hercules taunts the crowd and pulls Santana to the center of the ring where he drops an elbow on the knee and hooks another submission on the knee, but Santana manages to escape the hold by slamming his good leg into the face of Hercules. Santana struggles to his feet as Hercules stalks him only for Santana to knock him down with a forearm, and then he hits a headbutt to the ribs of Hercules before slamming his head into the mat. Santana tries to hook a headlock only for Hercules to hoist him up and hit a kneebreaker on the bad knee for a two count, and Hercules drops an elbow on Santana and gives Bobby a thumbs up before going up top only for Santana to get his knees up on the splash attempt though he hurts his own knee in the process. The crowd tries to rally Santana as he gets several shots in on Hercules’ knee which knocks him down, and he pulls Hercules’ kneepad down and hits a pair of chop blocks on the knee before pounding on the knee. Santana snaps the knee of Hercules back and he hits another chop block on the knee before rolling outside, and he rams Hercules’ knee into the post twice before returning to the ring. He gets another shot in the leg that knocks Hercules down and he slams the knee into the mat repeatedly, and then Santana hooks the Figure-4 on Hercules as Bobby flips out at the table before leaving and ringing the bell at ringside. Santana releases the hold as he believes he won as the ref confers with Gorilla who tells him what Bobby did as Bobby tries to deny it, and it is announced that the time limit has not expired and the match will continue much to Santana’s chagrin. Hercules tries to limp over to the corner only for Santana to hit another chop block which sends Hercules into the corner, and he hits another series of chop blocks as Bobby yells at Hercules from the outside and Hercules tries to grab at the ref. Santana hits another chop block on Hercules and pounds on the knee before wrapping it around the rope, and Santana prevents Hercules from crawling out of the ring and he drops an elbow on the knee as Hercules again tries to crawl out of the ring. Santana again pulls Hercules back to the center of the ring and hits a headbutt to the ribs before hooking a submission on the knee, but Hercules rakes the eyes to escape the hold and he attempts a slam only for his leg to give out and Santana falls on top of him for a two count. Santana attempts another Figure-4 only for Hercules to kick him to the mat and he pounds on him before being forced back, and Bobby gets a shot in on Santana who lunges for him only for Hercules to knee him in the back which gets the three and Hercules wins the match. After the match, Santana rolls outside and grabs a chair as he chases Bobby to the back and then he returns to the ring as Hercules bails to the outside and heads to the back.

The match itself was pretty good for the 16 minutes that they got as both men worked hard and put on a solid match. This was a pretty good showcase for Hercules as he wisely spends almost the whole match working on Santana’s knee that got hurt right before the match, and the story was well told since it was the same knee that was operated on not that long ago. There were times where the action did feel to drag a bit and Hercules relied a little too much on submissions, but again it told the story well in that he was trying to put Santana back on the shelf by taking the knee out. Santana is always great as selling and he sells the knee throughout the whole match even when he takes control, and I thought it was smart that he worked on Hercules’ knee to even out the playing field. Gorilla and Bobby were great on commentary as they put over if Santana was dumb for continuing the match with his knee as bad as it is, and having Bobby ring the bell was a nice touch before eventually costing Santana the match at the end. I wonder if this was just a way to give Hercules a win and that they would transition Santana into a feud with Honky after what happened, it will be interesting to see going forward if they fight on a house show in 1987. The crowd, which I’ve noticed seems to be smaller than normal as there are a few more empty seats in the crowd, was into the match and hot for Santana though they are not happy when Hercules wins. Hercules steals the win over Santana thanks to Bobby and both men move on.

Final Grade: ***

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