AEW's Proud & Powerful, Santana and Ortiz, recently spoke with AEW backstage interviewer and entertainment reporter Chris Van Vliet. Among many other things, The Inner Circle members talked about their decision to sign with AEW instead of WWE.
Apparently, before AEW became an option, Santana and Ortiz, who debuted for AEW at ALL OUT, were in talks with WWE and they thought they might re-sign with Impact, go to WWE, or sign with ROH. While WWE originally refused to get into a bidding war for the services of Santana and Ortiz, the team was eventually asked flat out for their terms.
"Before [AEW] was a thing, we were kind of already in talks with them, so we were like, 'alright, we're either going to stay in Impact [or] we might go to WWE or maybe Ring Of Honor,' right? We were like, playing it this way, right? We'll see what comes up. We were kind of in our head, 'ugh, we made a good amount of noise in Impact, but I feel like we need to bring up our name value a little bit more. We can go to WWE and we can cash it in now, but I feel like maybe we bring up our name value a little bit more and be more wanted by them. Then, they were interested enough to offer us something, and we had people pulling for us there to bring us in, but I feel like we would have gotten lost in the shuffle."
Ortiz added, "and then, when we got our first offer, it was like, 'eh, we're not going to get into a bidding war with anyone' and then it ultimately went down to 'alright, what do you want,' which was awesome and it was only because of AEW existing."
According to Ortiz, they decided to turn down WWE, but wanted to do it as politely as possible.
"We were about to turn down WWE, and we sat down, and we were like, 'alright, man.' We don't want to burn a bridge. Like, we don't want to burn any bridge anywhere we go. It's just not how you do business. You should keep every avenue open. So [Santana] had this whole spiel. He was like, 'alright, this is what we're going to say, so we don't burn a bridge,' alright? And then, we go and then we get cut off. And they were like, 'listen, just think about your decision.' And then, we stop. We hang up the phone and we were about to turn them down. And we sit there. And we're like, 'damn, they're making this really hard for us,' right?"
Moreover, 'The Powerful' claimed that the offer from WWE was for a run in NXT with the guarantee of main roster at some time after.
"Yes, it was for NXT with the [guarantee] to eventually go up to the main roster," Ortiz stated. "So we were just like, 'alright, man. Dang.' Like, 'dang'. But the ultimate decision was like, 'do we want to just be part of something that's already established or do we want to be something new and make history because no matter what happens with AEW, again, we're here to make it successful, but no matter what happens, we will always be a part of the first ever main event on the first ever television of AEW."
Ortiz shared that their decision was really about wanting to do something brand new instead of being just a cog in a machine.
"We were like, 'do we want to be part of history or do we want to just fade into black?' Even best case scenario, we would be the small fish in a big ocean. Do you know what I mean? Just there's so many people there and it would be an uphill battle. I'm not saying that we wouldn't be able to do it because we're confident in our abilities, but we can be a part of history, we can be a part of change. We can be a part of change that literally, you're seeing the change." Ortiz continued, "it's changing [pro] wrestling for the better. No matter what happens with this company, wrestling has changed for the better and it's continually changing for the better. And we were like, 'man, we want to be part of history. We want to be a part of change."
Santana indicated that the former LAX members believe in the vision and they believe in the team at AEW.
"We believe in the vision that everyone has here and we believe in the team working behind-the-scenes and even working in front of the camera." Santana said, "like, name a better team that's putting out some amazing work."
'The Proud' professed that another major part of their decision-making was the lighter schedule with AEW.
"Another huge part of our decision-making was that we both wanted to be dads," Santana explained. "Do you know what I mean? Like, the schedule, they were offering us the NXT thing and then going to TV. Once we go to TV, we're on the road 250, 300 days a year."
Ortiz added his two cents on the subject of load management.
"And that's the best case scenario. We take off, they push us, they use us on TV all the time, and we're doing house shows, and we're making good money, but guess what? The time that we're home we're going to be mangled. And we have two small children to deal with."