Rick Martel & Tito Santana
WWF World Tag Team Champions
Written by Mike Rickard
Despite a short run together, the team of Strike Force (Rick Martel and Tito Santana) were successful while they lasted, holding the WWF Tag Team Championship at a time when the WWF’s tag team roster featured a number of top teams. Both wrestlers were former holders of the WWF Tag Team Championship and their crisp teamwork blended the fast pace of teams like the Killer Bees, as well a combination of technical wrestling.
In 1986, Canadian star Rick Martel and American star Tom Zenk formed a tag team known as the Can-Am Connection in the WWF. The Can-Am Connection seemed headed for success, winning against teams such as the Dream Team (Brutus Beefcake and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine) and “Cowboy” Bob Orton and “The Magnificent” Muraco (including an opening bout win at WrestleMania III). However, during their feud with Bobby Heenan’s team The Islanders (Haku and Tama), Zenk left the WWF, reportedly over a pay dispute.
The WWF incorporated Zenk’s sudden departure into a storyline, showing Martel continuing the battle against the Islanders, but in one-on-one matches. The Islanders decided to play the numbers game, jumping Martel during August 15, 1987 episode of Superstars of Wrestling, after Martel defeated Barry Horowitz. However, they failed to count on the arrival of Tito Santana, who was providing commentary in the Spanish announce booth. Martel and Santana (who had teamed in the American Wrestling Association) reunited, and on the August 22, 1987 Superstars, Martel and Santana announced they had formed a team known as Strike Force.
Neither Santana nor Martel were strangers to tag team championship gold in the WWF. Martel had won the belts twice with Tony Garea while Santana held the belt once with Ivan Putski. With their tag team savvy and prior experience together, Strike Force quickly became a power in the WWF tag team ranks, continuing the feud against the Islanders before moving on to a title match against WWF Tag Team Champions, the Hart Foundation (Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart). On the October 28, 1987 episode of Superstars of Wrestling, Strike Force won the belts and went on to successfully defend them over the next several months, against the Hart Foundation, the Islanders, and the team of Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov. Strike Force appeared at the inaugural Survivor Series as well as the November 28, 1987 episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Strike Force’s biggest challenge came at WrestleMania IV when they faced the dominant team of Demolition (Ax and Smash). The burly brawlers cheated their way to victory, using manager Mr. Fuji’s cane on Martel and getting the duke. After winning the WWF Tag Team Championship, Demolition added to Strike Force’s woes by putting Martel out of action with a kayfabe injury (Martel was taking time to care for his sick wife).
Tito continued wrestling in singles action until Rick Martel returned to the WWF in 1989. Santana and Martel teamed up again, taking on The Brainbusters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard) at WrestleMania V. Strike Force looked good during the match, but whether it was ring rust or a bad break, Tito Santana accidentally hit Martel with his flying forearm finisher, knocking Martel senseless. Once Martel recovered, he left Santana out to dry, leading to the future “El Matador” getting a spike piledriver from The Brainbusters and counting the lights.
The WWF milked the Strike Force split, transforming Rick Martel into the self-absorbed heel known as “The Model” and having Santana and Martel feud over the next year. Strike Force had a short but successful run and their matches are worth checking out.