Santana & Ortiz Want More Opportunities To Shine In AEW

Santana & Ortiz Want More Opportunities To Shine In AEW
Photo courtesy of All Elite Wrestling.

When All Elite Wrestling got its start in 2019, tag team standouts Santana and Ortiz had already been making quite a racket with Impact and on the independent scene. The pair courted interest from both AEW and World Wrestling Entertainment, but when it came time to pursue a new destination, there wasn’t much of a debate. “There’s many reasons why we came to AEW,” Ortiz said. “But one of them was we wanted to be a part of history. There hadn’t been another wrestling company on major network television for over 20 years.”

Santana said wrestling fans had been on the lookout for an alternative to WWE. Many had grown tired with the “sports entertainment” the company was presenting while at the same time monopolizing the business into just one mainstream choice. “It was something that the fans had been wanting for so long. I knew that once it got a major network deal and it was on a major channel and all the moving parts were in place, I knew it was gonna be successful and draw a lot of attention and fans. I think wrestling fans wanted something new and fresh, and we came along at the right time and offered exactly that. It was the total opposite of what was happening on TV for so long.”

Since coming to AEW, Santana and Ortiz, also referred to as Proud-N-Powerful, have been members of The Inner Circle along with Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara and Jake Hagar, and the tag team has had memorable battles with The Young Bucks, FTR, The Lucha Brothers and Best Friends, among others. The New York natives are excited for what’s in store for 2022, and they talked at length about their career, AEW’s tag team division and more in this Web Is Jericho interview. 

Here’s Santana and Ortiz on …

When they knew they wanted to become professional wrestlers: 

Ortiz: I would say definitely when I was a teenager. I started backyard wrestling with my friends. We would cut class freshman year in high school, and I would literally go to Central Park with my friends to go backyard wrestling. I don’t condone cutting school, and now as a father, I wouldn’t want my kid doing that (laughs). But I just fell in love with it. In junior high school, I went to a performing arts high school. It was like a junior high school, but it was also like a college, where you kind of focus on a specialty. I did drama, so I fell in love with being in front of a crowd of people. Even though I’m an introvert, when I’m on stage or when I’m in the ring, I can get into it, and it doesn’t bother me. But if you ask me to speak in front of a class with 10 people, I would be sh*tting my pants (laughs). It’s weird. Since the first time I did it, it just felt right to me. My favorite drug in the world is to perform in front of people.”

Santana:For me, wrestling has been a part of my life since I was 4 years old. My dad was into wrestling when he was a kid, so my grandparents would tape all the pay-per-views on VHS. So when I was a young kid, I grew up on all those tapes from the ’80s and early ‘90s. I remember watching Wrestlemania 7, and I saw The Hart Foundation. I saw Bret Hart with the shades and the jacket, and they were champs at the time, and that was it. I thought, ’This guy is the coolest guy in the world, and I wanna be just like him.’ It’s been a part of my life since I can remember.”

Who they were trained by:

Santana: “I was trained by a local wrestler from the New York area. His name was Andrew “Magic” Morgan. He was mainly a guy who trained a bunch of independent guys from the Northeast. He was like the head trainer from Jersey All Pro Wrestling for a while. I was trained on Staten Island in New York. Me, Chris Dickinson, Jaka, and a few other guys, we all came through him.” 

Ortiz: I trained under Earl Cooter. It was at FTW — not to be confused with Taz’s FTW. Then very early on, Grim Reefer and Dan Barry had an early hand in training me. Eventually, when me and Santana became a tag team, we trained under The S.A.T.’s. One of the S.A.T’s had a school, and that’s where me and Santana really learned how to be a tag team. We trained singles, and we were kind of doing it professionally, if you could say professionally, because we weren’t getting paid back then. (Laughs) But we started doing singles for about 3 years, and then we met up, and we started training as a tag team. They gave us a ring to do whatever we wanted, and it was great. It was some of the best times I’ve ever had in wrestling. No worry in world. We were broke out of our minds, but wrestling was everything to us. We spent all day in the ring.”

How they eventually became a tag team:

Ortiz: We were both kind of doing singles wrestling, and we met up at a show once. Santana had just came back from Puerto Rico, and he said he needed a job. I was working at Borders book store as loss prevention. It so happened to be that we needed to hire someone, so I talked to my manager, and I recommended him. He got the job. All we did was talk about wrestling 24/7. We would get in trouble, because we would have microphones, and we would use it to communicate, ‘There’s a suspect,’ or to say someone was stealing. But we would be talking about wrestling. We would just be geeking out about wrestling all the time. We just talked about being a tag team, and one day an opportunity came up to tag, and we never looked back.”

Santana: I was training in the Bronx with another tag team, All Money Is Legal. They were like, ‘We should try to wrestle each other. Do you have a partner you could wrestle with?’ I said, ‘Actually, I do.’ That same night, I ended up calling (Ortiz), and he didn’t pick up his phone, and I was like furious about it (Laughs). I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, because they were a pretty well-known local tag team. I just felt like it was the perfect opportunity for us to learn from them and get that match under our belt. Thankfully, it happened, and here we are 10 years later.” 

How they hooked up with AEW:

Santana: We did the first Jericho Cruise in like 2018, and we wrestled the Bucks. We networked during that and got cool with everyone. We always say that was like our job interview for AEW. So we all exchanged contacts, and one day, Cody hit me up and said, ‘When are your deals up?’ I told him what was going on, and he said we would talk more once our deals were up with Impact. Once the deals were up, we started talking, and here we are.” 

Ortiz:To give you a little more backstory to that, Impact wanted to have the Lucha Brothers do the first Jericho Cruise, too, But the Bucks specifically asked for us. A little before that, we were making noise in Impact, and a lot of fans were like, ‘This would be a dream match.’ And they would constantly tag Matt and Nick (on Twitter). I think Matt replied once with just the emojis of the eyes, like ‘Oh, we’re watching.’ When Impact was kind of working with Ring of Honor, the Bucks said they wanted to work with us to see what we’re about. So big testament to Matt and Nick. They really are a huge part of why we’re in AEW.

Santana: They were the ones that pretty much put the whole tag division together. They picked a lot of guys that they wanted to bring on. After working with them that one time, they said, ‘You guys are pretty cool, and you got something.’ The rest is history, I guess.” 

Who they have learned the most from at AEW:

Ortiz: “Definitely Jerry Lynn. He’s one of our favorite agents to work with. And Christopher Daniels. I’m in heaven, man. Christopher Daniels is legit one of my favorite wrestlers. Just going to shows very early on and just seeing his in-ring work, he was always so smooth. I like the nuances in wrestling. I like the little things. I like the way he sets things up and his footwork and how he transitions into something. Watching his work, I was just hooked. I love the ‘Fallen Angel’ gimmick. Seeing wrestling through his lens is a blessing. Every time he’s our agent, I get giddy inside, but I play it cool in front of him.”

On working with FTR and how their first match was supposed to end before Cash Wheeler was injured: 

Santana: “Tully was supposed to get involved, and then Jericho. It was gonna be something where a bunch of people got involved in the finish, and they were gonna score a quick one on us. But we know what happened. It sucked. At that point, the match was going so good, and we were hitting such a good pace. We were feeling the chemistry, and both sides were hyped to finally be doing this match, then that happens. It was a scary moment. At first, I didn’t know what happened. I came to the realization when I rolled out of the ring, and I saw a big puddle of blood. I was just like, ‘Oh no. Something’s really wrong.’ ”

Ortiz: “We were originally supposed to have three matches with them. That was the idea. But, that first match, we purposely were like, ‘We know we’re gonna have three. Let’s hold back a little. Let’s chill. We’re gonna turn it up towards the back end.’ Right before Cash got injured, we planned to turn the match up, all this craziness was gonna happen, and then they pull a quick one on us. Which leaves the second match and the third match open to other possibilities. But when that injury happened, it was like a ‘dang’ moment. When someone gets hurt in the ring, it’s like ‘Oh s*it!’ Testament to Dax (Harwood) and how good he is as a worker. He’s so underrated. It’s insane how he was able to in the moment pull it together. It was very quick, and we had to get to it. At that point in the match it was almost like, ‘Screw the match. We don’t know how bad Cash was hurt. Let’s get it over with.’ Dax and Cash are really close, and I could see Dax was a little worried. But his instinct kicked in. Luckily we got to do it again, but I can’t wait to work with them again. They’re some of our favorite people to wrestle. I don’t feel that we’ve unlocked the full potential of that feud yet. We were so giddy to wrestle them and excited, because we know by wrestling guys that good, we’re only gonna get better. I want to work with them again. I wish we could work with them every night for a year, because we would come out as badass mofos!” 

Working with Chris Jericho and The Inner Circle: 

Ortiz: It’s been awesome. He definitely has his way of looking at wrestling, and it’s great. And going back to Christopher Daniels, they all have different lenses and their vision, and it’s been awesome working with Jericho. When we were working at Borders, we both read Chris’ book, ‘A Lion’s Tale.’ I read it first, and I was like, ‘Oh my god. This book is how I want to become a wrestler.’ Especially in the beginning, I love seeing how things are made or how things get the way they are. Reading his book, I was hooked, and up to that point, I probably hadn’t read a book in a really long time (Laughs). Even when we were forced to in school, I would skip ahead and not read.” 

Santana: Mind you, we worked at a book store (Laughs).”

Ortiz: “I read Chris’ book in like two days. Same thing happened with Santana. He read the book, and we were like, ‘We need to be journeymen,’ because Chris was a journeyman. Early on, he was a huge inspiration to us. He wasn’t that 6-foot-5, 350 pound behemoth, but he was someone like our size, and he had a lot of charisma and was athletic. We definitely identified with that. When we heard we were gonna be with Chris, we were just like, ‘Come on man. This is the coolest thing ever.’ And it’s awesome, because we’re just big kids, and we’re getting to work with one of our idols. He’s been dope since day 1. There’s a lot of egos involved in the Inner Circle. We all have our own egos, and it’s great, because he’s very good at being a conductor of the group and keeping it all together.” 

Where they got the idea for their current face paint: 

Santana: “We did it at Impact. We had a feud with Abyss and Crazzy Steve. They were writing off the group. They had an idea for us to do a funeral for them. I automatically thought it would be cool if we painted our face like (in the movie) ‘Dead Presidents.’ We all have similar taste in movies, so everyone right away got the reference. It got a pretty good reaction. Since then on, we pretty much used it as a war paint. So any time we were gonna do a crazy match or crazy feud, we would bring it out to make the moment more special or more meaningful. Fast forward to AEW, the first time we did it was the parking lot match. It got really over with everyone. Then Tony wanted us to start doing it more often. We both thought if we were doing it constantly, it’s gonna lose that meaning. I guess he convinced us to do it all the time, so there that goes (Laughs).” 

Ortiz: “After ‘Blood and Guts,’the general consensus was everyone thought it looked really cool. So it kind of caught fire then. Initially it was the parking lot match, and then after ‘Blood and Guts,’ Tony was like, I want you guys to go forward and kind of be like a Legion of Doom-type tag team or the Road Warriors. To have that kind of look and feel.” 

The strong points of AEW’s tag team division:

Santana: “The range of experience on the roster. There’s guys that just got put together as tag teams that are learning the craft and the art of tag team wrestling. Then there’s guys like us, who have been a tag team forever and have traveled that way. That’s one of the big advantages the division has as a whole is the wide range of experience.” 

Ortiz: “It’s a double-edged sword, our tag division, because there’s so many good tag teams that are just starting or ones that have all the experience in the world, but there’s only so much time to showcase them. I would love to wrestle every tag team on the roster. I think that’s the upside and the downside of not having house shows. If we had house shows, we would get in matches with these guys on random house shows. But the upside is our bodies get to rest more, and we’re not as beat up. I just wish we could wrestle more. I’m a big kid in a man’s body, and I just want to wrestle more. I want the experience. If they’re a newer tag team, we get to lead. If they’re a more experienced tag team, we get to follow or match them. It just keeps up sharp so we can keep doing what we’re doing.”

Their goals for 2022: 

Ortiz: “Just to wrestle more. I want to progress and constantly challenge myself. I want to put myself in situations I’m not comfortable with and try to succeed. Just to wrestle more and make some noise.” 

Santana: “Same. Just growth in every aspect, personally, professionally. Just continue to keep challenging ourselves and keep growing.” 

B.J. Lisko
Follow B.J.

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