The WWE Legend Who Now Teaches Spanish At A Middle School

Not every professional athlete is lucky enough to live off product endorsements and smart investments once their playing days have come to an end. In fact, it's far more common for these former pros to become average Joes after hanging 'em up — even legends of their respective sports end up working regular jobs like those who weren't blessed with the physical attributes and/or natural ability to play professional sports. That, too, applies to the world of scripted combat sports, or "sports entertainment," as one Vincent Kennedy McMahon likes to call it.

That's right — for every Dwayne Johnson who moves from one celebrity career to another, there's a Rick Steiner selling real estate in Georgia — and many others whose job descriptions do not involve bodyslamming bad guys or cutting angry promos at people they don't like. One such wrestler, who was still wrestling occasional matches as of 2019 despite already being in his mid-60s at the time, used to be a big name in the WWE in the 1980s, but has since forged a new career path as a middle-school Spanish teacher. That is indeed as far removed from pro wrestling as you can get, but who is this wrestler, and how did he get into teaching in the first place?

Tito Santana became a Spanish teacher after his tenure in WWE

Best known for the many years he spent in the WWE when it was still known as WWF, former Intercontinental Champion Tito Santana went from the squared circle to the classroom and became a schoolteacher shortly after leaving the company in 1993. As he explained in a 2017 interview with ESPN, Santana, real name Merced Solis, said that he first became interested in teaching in some way, shape, or form during his college years at West Texas State. Back then, his ambitions were centered around coaching, given how he played tight end for West Texas' football team. It was only several years later when his wife convinced him to give teaching a shot — he was reluctant at first due to the traditionally low pay, but he told ESPN that "it all worked out" in the end for him and his family.

Initially, Santana worked as a substitute teacher while wrestling in independent shows on weekends. Two years after he started subbing, he was offered a more regular job as a gym teacher, but since he eventually found that too tiring, he decided to ask around and see if there were any Spanish teaching vacancies. Turns out there were, and Santana started teaching Spanish in the early 2000s at Eisenhower Middle School in Roxbury, New Jersey — all while competing in the indy wrestling scene from time to time. He also coached the school's boys' basketball team to an undefeated season in the winter of 2014, according to Sports Illustrated.

Santana won multiple titles in WWE

For those who may be unfamiliar with Tito Santana's time in WWE, he was a reliable upper mid-card talent, for the most part, starting out in 1979 as a singles wrestler, then as one-half of a tag team with Ivan Putski (via ProFightDB). Santana and Putski went on to win the company's World Tag Team Championships later that year but would drop the belts early in 1980 to the Wild Samoans, Afa and Sika (aka present-day WWE Superstar Roman Reigns' uncle and father, respectively). Santana would leave the promotion soon after but returned in 1983 for a 10-year run that saw him become a two-time Intercontinental Champion while engaging in intense rivalries with the likes of Don Muraco and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. He also became a two-time World Tag Team Champion in late 1987, at which point he was teaming with Rick Martel as one-half of Strike Force.

Per Bleacher Report, Santana was likewise known as one of the two competitors in the first-ever match in WrestleMania history, where he defeated The Executioner, a masked enhancement talent. However, by the early '90s, he was in a similar boat as The Executioner was in 1985; in 1991, Santana was repackaged as El Matador, a kayfabe bullfighter who was primarily used as a jobber to the stars, a talented in-ring worker booked to lose to younger and/or more promising opponents while making them look good in the ring. He worked this gimmick for two years before departing WWE in 1993.

Many of Santana's students were familiar with his wrestling past

Considering the timing of his interview with ESPN, Tito Santana, er, Señor Solis' students at Eisenhower Middle School at that time would have been born in the early-to-mid-2000s. As such, they weren't even born during Santana's WWE heyday, or even during his regrettable two-year spell as El Matador. However, he told the publication that many of his students were aware of his wrestling career, thanks in no small part to their parents' fandom from back in the day. "Their parents were wrestling fans, so I can't tell you how many times kids come up and say, "My mother used to be in love with you. She was about 5, 6, 7 years old," he told ESPN.

Although Santana revealed during the interview that he doesn't exactly talk about wrestling a lot while on the job as a Spanish teacher, he also isn't against the idea of letting his students watch his old matches. "When I have some downtime, I'll let them put a match on the smartboard or the computer and we watch it," he said.

Then again, it shouldn't be surprising that Santana doesn't want to focus too much on his former day job; he told Sports Illustrated in 2015 that his main priority was lending a helping hand to at-risk students, much as his former teacher did for him back when he was growing up in Texas in the late '60s.