We’re coming up on the anniversary for the AEW debut of Santana & Ortiz. They made their first appearance assaulting the Young Bucks at the inaugural All Out, wasting no time kicking off a fierce rivalry. Then on the first episode of Dynamite, they were part of the main event, teaming with Chris Jericho and establishing themselves as part of his new Inner Circle faction. On TV, they’re pretty clear-cut villains, beating up whoever Jericho needs taken care of and swinging around loaded socks.
You may be surprised to hear, then, that I see great potential for them as a babyface tandem.
I don’t think I voiced this at the time – granted I didn’t have my own website back then – but I first had that thought back in the days leading up to Full Gear. It’s a take that I forgot about for a time, until a few weeks ago. Eddie Kingston made his AEW debut with a passionate promo on Cody that showed what all the hype was about regarding his mic skills in a very short bit of time. I was as impressed by it as anyone, the inspirational, blue-collar tough guy felt as natural as could be.
It also reminded me of promos I’d heard from Santana in the past. When Jon Moxley stabbed Santana in the eye in a fit of vengeance, we heard this from him later in the night: (If the video doesn’t cut to it automatically, timecode is 4:14)
He spoke for less than sixty seconds, but he managed to say quite a bit. You could feel his passion, and a pain far beyond what he was feeling in his eye. This did not go unnoticed, he impressed enough to get more time and focus the next week as he sat down with Jim Ross.
We got just a little bit of insight into his life, how he grew up with a blind father who was taken from him far too soon. Effortlessly he related this to the angle with Moxley and you could see how the violent Eye For An Eye scenario brought this out of him.
It’s easy to understand how his past could lead you down a dark path. But it also kinda makes you want to see him break free from it, doesn’t it?
Of course many people had that thought back then. Everyone saw those promos. What I think far fewer people saw was the Countdown to Full Gear special.
I was watching though and the very first segment centered around Proud-N-Powerful’s match with the Young Bucks. I was kind of amazed, yet also a little bit baffled at what I heard from Santana & Ortiz. Because I swear to you, if you didn’t know any better, you’d have absolutely no clue these guys were supposed to be heels. (below video is timestamped at 2:27, segment ends at 12:18)
“Being proud is being who you are, embracing who you are.” “It’s never been about race, religion, gender.” “Be proud of your sexuality, be proud of your individuality, be proud of your culture.” “And I guarantee if you do all of those things, you will be powerful!” “Anyone who says dreams and aspirations don’t come true, that’s pure bulls—. We’re living proof of that every day we wake up.”
Santana sounded so humble and sincere. Ortiz so fiery and real. And they each had such a positive message that they took the time to share. Given their role on AEW TV, there’s no way these guys were directed to say any of this. This is just what comes out when they speak from the heart.
This message is baked into the name “Proud-N-Powerful”.
Santana & Ortiz had an interview with Fightful where they explained where the name came from:
“We want to bring a positive light to Latino culture and not just Latino culture. Proud and Powerful, we want to make it more than just Latinos or Puerto Ricans. It’s everyone that doesn’t feel represented. You should represent yourself. Us representing ourselves and our culture is a huge part of our success. That’s what we want to do show people. Because we are proud, we became powerful. And now we’re living our dreams.”
I don’t mean to step on any toes here, but… this is not a heel mantra. The more they talk like this, the more I want to root for them.
The story potential is there, too.
Like I said, it makes sense that they became the violent dudes you see every week. But it’d also be pretty great if their story had a happy ending, and they managed to leave those tendencies behind.
During his feud with Chris Jericho, Cody had a promo that really intrigued me. He spoke of how in forming the Inner Circle, Jericho surrounded himself with bright stars for the future who he was merely using to protect himself. Not an uncommon dichotomy for a heel group, but he also implied that he was a bad influence on them, that he was corrupting them.
“You need this generation more than they need you, and you surrounded yourself with impressionable youth.”
You could imply this with Sammy Guevara as well, but it seems almost definitely true with Santana and Ortiz.
Jericho wasn’t there with them during that vignette in New York. He wasn’t around during the interviews they take where they implore everyone to be themselves. He’s not directing them on social media when they regularly share the same message.
Take them away from him and look how they act. They’ve been pressured into being a certain way their entire life, and that continues with the Inner Circle today. They’re supposed to be bad guys… but is that what they really are?
Mind you, I love the Inner Circle. I don’t want to see it break up really, but Jericho is already starting to hint at retirement. He’s not gonna be leading this charge forever, and really the whole point of a stable like this is to spin off stars when it ends.
So in my opinion, when the time comes, the right move is for it to begin with Proud-N-Powerful breaking off on their own and turning over a new leaf.