Santana and Ortiz are currently a part of Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle, the first heel faction to debut in AEW, on the second-ever episode of AEW Dynamite. Since then, they’ve been involved in numerous feuds with faces like the Elite, Best Friends, and members of the Nightmare Family. While Santana and Ortiz definitely benefited from their association with Jericho in 2019, I feel that their relationship with the rest of the Inner Circle is growing stale. I think it’s time for Santana and Ortiz to break away from Jericho’s stable, and establish themselves as both an individual tag team, and as singles stars.
I feel this way for mainly two reasons. Firstly, the AEW tag division is very heel-heavy. Between the Dark Order, Team Taz, FTR, Chaos Project, Eddie Kingston’s Family, TH2, Jericho and Hager, and now, seemingly, the Young Bucks, the division has more than enough heels as it is. Some more baby faces could be a huge help in terms of balancing things out. Also, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, I think it’d be a good thing if AEW got some tough face tag teams. No disrespect to Jurassic Express or the Best Friends, but I think the tag division could benefit from real, rugged faces.
The second reason I think a face turn by Santana and Ortiz would be beneficial is because their role in the Inner Circle is starting to grow stale. It seems like they’re not given the depth that they’re capable of when they’re under Jericho’s wing. Both Santana and Ortiz are very talented and charismatic in their own right, both in the ring and in terms of mic skills, and it honestly feels like being under Jericho is stifling their potential.
In my ideal world, Santana and Ortiz split from the rest of the Inner Circle and assert themselves as an independent, baby face tag team. AEW seem to be big proponents of long-term storytelling, which I think is the most effective and entertaining form of storytelling in wrestling. There’s already an avenue set for AEW to start a defaction story line for Santana and Ortiz, meaning that it’s very well possible that this could already be a slow-burn story. Here’s how I think it could come about:
How it Happens:
During the street fight between Santana and Ortiz and the Best Friends, Orange Cassidy made a surprise appearance and saved his tag partners, giving Best Friends the victory. Where were Jericho, Hager, and Sammy Guevara during this fight? It seemed odd, at least to me, that the tag team in an established faction (and the heels, for that matter) had no outside help during a street fight. Maybe Jericho, Hager, and Guevara simply don’t care.
Santana and Ortiz take note of this, but don’t bring it up. It lingers in the back of their minds, though. After all, Santana and Ortiz intervened in Guevara and Jericho’s street fight against Kenny Omega and Matt Hardy, so why didn’t they return the favor? Santana went so far as to lose an eye to get revenge for Jericho against Moxley. What has Jericho done for them? I don’t think the street fight is enough to push Santana and Ortiz to leave, but it definitely sows the seeds for their eventual departure.
As the one established tag team of the Inner Circle, you would think that Santana and Ortiz would have the full support of the three singles stars in their journey to tag team gold. Jericho, though, seems to have the opposite intentions. First he teamed with Guevara, which led to some failed title shots. Now he’s decided he and Hager will team up and try to capture championship gold together.
At the time of writing this, Santana and Ortiz are the 5th ranked tag team in AEW, while Jericho and Hager remain unranked. If Hager and Jericho are to continue their tag team run, you have to imagine they’ll cross paths eventually. So here’s what I’m thinking:
Santana and Ortiz bounce back from their loss to Best Friends and rebuild momentum. Eventually, they win a match that earns them a title shot against FTR. The champs come out to confront their challengers, when suddenly “Judas” starts to play and Jericho comes out with his ogre of a tag partner. Jericho takes the mic from Santana or Ortiz, and butts in line for a title shot. Santana and Ortiz are aghast, and leave the ring (perhaps they exit through the face tunnel, too).
Jericho tries to quell the situation, albeit in his aloof, Jericho-fashion. Maybe he tries to buy Santana and Ortiz gifts to buy their loyalty back, which could make for some funny promos. Santana, the cooler head of his tag team, assures Jericho things between them are cool, though the audience can tell he’s lying. Things boil over when Jericho and Hager stay ringside for Santana and Ortiz’s title match. Jericho’s wields his baseball bat, and “accidentally” swings at and hits Ortiz, incapacitating him and costing his stable mates the match.
FTR heads out, feeling proud of themselves for continuing their record of breaking up friendships, and leaves the Inner Circle in the ring. Tempers flare, and Jericho snaps at Santana and Ortiz, telling them that they’d be nothing without him. Proud and Powerful retaliate by challenging Jericho and Hager to a tag match to prove that they are just as strong, or stronger, than the rest of the Inner Circle.
However the match plays out, it ends in a victory for Santana and Ortiz, who then officially make their break from the Inner Circle and start their run in AEW as a pair of badass baby faces.
Maybe it’s just because I’m from the East Coast, and feel a kinship toward anyone who speaks with a New York/New Jersey accent, but in my opinion, Santana and Ortiz already have some face-leaning aspects to them. The team name, Proud and Powerful, combined with their theme song, feels empowering way more than it feels heelish. Their promo on the Countdown to Full Gear 2019 is textbook babyface rhetoric. (Santana and Ortiz):
Being proud is being who you are, embracing who you are.
Proud of where you come from. Proud of the person that you wake up every morning and look in the mirror at.
I embrace making a scene! Because I’m proud to be that individual! And i’m here with a message for you.
Being proud makes you powerful. That’s what it’s all about. It’s never been about race, religion, gender.
Be proud of your sexuality, be proud to be the individual, be proud of your culture.
You see us waving our flags, you see us being proud, you see us being loud. That’s just a part of the whole model. This is much more than just a name, it’s a way of life.
Be proud to be Boricua! Be proud to be Latino! And I guarantee you, if you do all those things, you certainly will be powerful!
This promo, though it’s from a year ago, remains one of my favorite promos in AEW’s history. More than anything, I want AEW to lean into the electrifying energy that Santana and Ortiz give in this video package, and let them shine. Far away from Jericho’s shadow.