Mike Santana

Mike Santana on Leaving AEW, Splitting Up With Ortiz, Turning Down WWE

Mike Santana is a professional wrestler known for his time in AEW and TNA Wrestling. He was one half of the tag team Proud N Powerful with Ortiz in AEW. Mike sits down with Chris Van Vliet in Hollywood, CA to talk about his decision to ask for his release from AEW, what led to him and Ortiz splitting up, turning down WWE to sign with AEW in 2019, never winning the AEW tag team titles with Proud N Powerful, joining LAX in TNA, going to rehab and being sober for over a year, working with Chris Jericho in The Inner Circle, his future plans as a singles wrestler and much more!

Quote I’m thinking about: “People pray for the cake. Then the universe gives them the batter, oil, icing, a pan, an oven and they get frustrated and leave the kitchen. Let that sink in. Sometimes you have everything right in front of you, but how bad do you want it?”

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On leaving AEW:

“Like I was telling you, my decision to leave AEW came well before my injury. I got hurt in June of 2022 and at that point, I was just dealing with so much in my life personally and professionally at work, and I was just burnt out. My contract was coming up in September, I believe. And I had already made the decision that I’m not going to re-sign, and I just needed to take a break and deal with the things that I needed to deal with. And yeah, so then the injury happened. So, a lot of that was going on during that time. 

Did AEW want to re-sign you?

“I’m not sure. But I wasn’t really actively pursuing it, the time was coming up. Like I said, it was June when I got hurt. Our contract was up August I think it. And I wasn’t really like actively pursuing [and saying] ‘Oh, are you guys going to re-sign us?’ Because already in my head, I was like, Yeah, I need to get away. I need to take a break. But I’m sure something would have worked out and they probably would have re-signed us. But yeah, man. During that time, it was a very dark time for me.”

What was going on?

“Unhappiness personally in my life, outside of wrestling. And then professionally, things weren’t really going good. I was miserable to say the least, I was unhappy. My partnership was falling apart. Things at work just like, a lot of things were just very stagnant. And I’m the type that, I’m a go-getter and I’m very goal-oriented. And again, in this business, I treat it as such. I treat it as a business and if you’re not striving to be at the top and be a champ and grow yourself then what are you doing? And that’s with anything I feel. But I was also dealing with my addiction issues during that time. At that point, they were getting pretty bad. And then the injury, when the injury happened, I remember it happened and laying there in the ring, and I was like, damn, I got hurt, but thank God I got hurt, it was a weird time.”

On knowing when it was time to get clean:

“I knew it was getting bad because I wasn’t coming home. And I would be out for days. Christmas was coming up and every year my daughter always wrote her Christmas list to Santa, and in her list, one of the only things on her list was that she wanted daddy to stop. Then my grandmother wrote me a letter. And my grandmother has always been a saviour of mine in my life. And growing up, I had a pretty rough childhood. And she showed me that there was more to life than just trauma and a lot of the bullsh*t I was going through. And she’s always been a saviour of mine. Seeing that I was causing her pain, especially after my dad passed away. Then my daughter, and her mom, it was like, when you’re an addict, you think you’re just hurting yourself and you don’t see the others around you and they’re hurting.”

On thinking about what was next in wrestling:

“I mean, at that time, back when I got hurt, I was just thinking I need to get out of here. I need to get away from this, I need to figure my life out. I wasn’t even thinking, Alright, once I get everything situated, I’ll come back, I’ll do what I got to do. I was just so overwhelmed with everything and so unhappy and dealing with [everything]. Because when my dad passed away, I’ve always lived my life in survival mode, it was something I just got used to. So my entire life was just like constant guard up, constant just surviving day by day. And there was a lot of things that I went through as a kid and experience that I held inside because I wasn’t really taught to speak about these things. My mom, you know, because of the things that were going on. And for her to protect us and make sure that everything would be okay. She always would be like whatever happens at home stays at home. We don’t talk about this. So I grew up with that. I was like whatever I deal with, I deal with on my own and keep it pushing. I held on to a lot of things from my childhood and things that I never really dealt with and spoke about. And when that stuff builds up, it’s like a soda bottle. When you shake it up, eventually something will happen and really explode. And that’s what happened when my dad died. My dad died and everything just came to the surface.”

On never becoming AEW Tag Team Champions:

“Your guess is as good as mine. I will be real, I’m gonna shoot straight with you. The reason I was given was that there were too many other people fighting for that spot. And that p*ssed me off more than anything. I understand that when you get to a certain level in this business, if you don’t fight for yourself, if you don’t advocate for yourself, you’re gonna get nowhere. And that was a big part of my fight within my team. And when I heard that, it just validated everything that I was like, alright.”

Was there ever talk of giving you the titles:

“There was in the beginning. It was right before the pandemic. We were feuding with The Bucks, we were ending our feud with The Bucks. And they both told us, they were like, hey, after this, you’re gonna go and start working a programme with Frankie and Scorpio, at the time they were still champs. And then you guys are going to grab the belts from them and whatever. So that was the week of New Year’s Eve. And then we were supposed to have a match New Year’s Day, and then start the programme with them. We were gonna go into some promos. And then that morning, I woke up and got the call that my dad passed away. So I had to leave. So I left and then I was gone for two weeks. And in those two weeks, everything changed.” 

On the fallout with Ortiz:

“Well, we were together for 10 years, I think. And when you’re together with someone that long, it’s like a married couple. Right? There’s good, there’s bad. And I think, honestly, for the most part, it was like, I think we just grew apart over time. And also our visions for the tag team and its future and, its success, we weren’t on the same page when it came to a lot of those things. And it is what it is everybody has their thoughts. Everybody goes about things differently. But yeah, like I told you, I’m a go-getter. I like to create opportunities for myself, I like, I’m more than willing to fight for our spot. But also, I’m not going to be the only one.”

Did you want to do more stuff on your own or more as a team?

“I wanted more for the tag team. And that was the main thing. And again, it just wasn’t, how do I say it? Our visions just were not the same for the most part. And then that’s when I was like, alright, well this is going to drive me crazy. I refuse to be miserable. So I think I want to start doing more single stuff, start challenging myself as a performer start growing. I’m not one that likes to stay stagnant. And it wasn’t met with a lot of support. And it created like a friction. And I was like, man, you’re my brother. And that for me, it was like, alright, we can’t do this anymore.” 

Is there still heat there?

“I wouldn’t say [so]. I mean, for me, I don’t hold any [grudges]. I told him after the match Yo, I hope the best for you, hope you do well and there is no hard feelings. I hold no hate no grudge, nothing. I’m in a different place in my life in general. And I’m good. I’m chillin’.”

Was there ever interest from WWE?

“Oh, yeah. When our contracts were coming up with TNA there was interest with AEW and WWE. We had spoken to WWE extensively and they made it very hard for us to turn them down. But our thing was, so Cody was the one who hired us right and we had already before anything we had spoken a while back and we had giving Cody our word before, and our word is everything. So by that point, they asked, Hey, have you signed anything? And we’re like, no but we gave our word and we would like to stick to that. At the time we both had young children and we wanted to see them grow up and the schedule was much easier with AEW. Plus the opportunity to be part of history, be a part of something that was brand new and fresh and be at the ground level. And honestly, like even now, I could honestly say I was part of that legacy and part of that history no matter what. People could always go back to the very first show, the very first main event. My name is there so I’m happy with that.”

On possibly going to WWE now:

“I’ve had some discussions. I’ve been very open with everybody. Right now is just going where I’m going to be able to grow the most. I don’t want to just be another guy on the roster. I already did that. I want to be part of something, I want to do something special. Thankfully, I’ve been smart with money and I’m not hurting and I’m taking my time with things and you know, I just want to have fun.” 

Would you go back to TNA? 

“Everything is on the table, and they’re doing great. They are they are doing amazing at TNA.”

On Cody Rhodes:

“It’s funny because now he’s doing the whole finish the story thing. That’s real. And I always knew that there was a lot more that he needed to do. I knew that AEW wasn’t going to be the end-all-be-all for Cody. I give him a lot of praise man. So I found out my dad passed away when we were at Daily’s Place, I flipped my sh*t. I got the call and I go outside and I’m flipping my sh*t. I’m tossing guardrails and I was having a breakdown. Brandi found me. And Brandi is like, what the hell? She snatched me up. I’m like bawling my eyes out and I tell her what happened. And she’s like, come with me right now. And she puts me in a room and she’s like, stay here do not move. And she went and got Cody and Cody came and sat with me, and he cried with me.”

What is Mike Santana grateful for?

“God, my family and the strength I still have despite everything I have been through.”

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