Current WWE Champion AJ Styles is set to defend his championship against a returning John Cena in two weeks at the Royal Rumble PPV at the Alamodome in San Antonio. It’s bound to be a night filled with surprises, swerves and potential returns. However, I have to believe that a lot of the spotlight will be centered on the top match the blue brand has in store for the Royal Rumble, being the trilogy that is John Cena and AJ Styles. It’s heavily being reported that John Cena is the heavy favorite to end the reign of AJ Styles that began at Backlash of last year when he defeated then champion Dean Ambrose. AJ has then gone on to defeat the likes of Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, and even John Cena in triple threat matches over his title. He even defeated JAMES FREAKING ELLSWORTH (in less than 30 seconds no less). I think any reasonable wrestling fan would agree that AJ Styles far and away was the best performer in all of 2016. Putting on tremendous performances against the likes of John Cena, Dean Ambrose, Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns all year long, AJ Styles maintained a platform of consistency which led him to have one of the greatest first year runs in WWE history.
I think we can all expect another classic between the two at the Royal Rumble, but never before has AJ’s WWE Championship been in jeopardy of being lost as the Royal Rumble is the first proving ground before WrestleMania. In terms of who Cena and Styles would each face at WrestleMania, opponents for John have been rumored to be The Undertaker (though those plans have been reportedly nixed) or an NXT call-up (most likely Samoa Joe). As for AJ Styles, his rumored opponents have ranged from Randy Orton to Shane McMahon, but nothing is certain as of now. WWE missed a golden opportunity WWE missed a golden opportunity to center the WWE Title picture around AJ, Cena and The Undertaker. If you wanted to know how I would book things, I would have AJ Styles defend the title against The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Then, at a future date, either John Cena wins the Elimination Chamber match to face the WWE Champion at WrestleMania. Then AJ can come out, and challenge Cena to put his WrestleMania main event slot on the line and he can finally get his big win against AJ there. It’s clear, however, that is not what WWE is intending to do, which is too bad, because once again, it seems that the WWE Title around WrestleMania season is sticking towards the status quo. What do I mean by that?
Triple H. Brock Lesnar. Randy Orton. The Rock. Those are the names of the last four people who entered WrestleMania as the WWE Champion. Those four men have 29 WWE Championship reigns between them, and if John Cena wins that would be 42. What this tells me that around WrestleMania season, WWE doesn’t look towards the long-term, but rather who WWE wants to leave a lasting WrestleMania impression on. John Cena fits the bill quite nicely in that regard, seeing as how he has either entered or left WrestleMania as WWE Champion five times (2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013). So clearly he has experience holding WWE’s top prize on the big stage, but for one year, why not switch it up? How crazy would this be, that AJ Styles, a man many would say would never join WWE, would enter their biggest show holding their top prize? AJ has certainly earned the honor of being called WWE Champion, but those who are in the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania is a complete validation of not only Vince’s trust but their favorability with the company. I was highly miffed when I saw that the rumored opponent for AJ Styles at WrestleMania this year would be current Smackdown LIVE commissioner, Shane McMahon. It sort of seemed like a slap in the face to a man who gave so much of himself for WWE in 2016, to be relegated to a man who, for all intents and purposes shouldn’t be even called a wrestler, so much as a stuntman. If this match really takes place, it would be a perpetuation of WWE’s slighting of those who deserve to have top matches on the card, in lieu for bigger names. If we look at it from a business perspective, WrestleMania is basically WWE’s safe show throughout the year. Why? It’s always a success.
At WrestleMania, no matter who is on the card or what happens, WWE will fill their arena to capacity. Why? WWE fans go to WrestleMania not for the matches, but for the experience. They want to feel what it’s like to be in a huge stadium and see matches we would otherwise not see throughout the year. So why should AJ be any different? Now, I’m not simply saying this for the sake of me not wanting John Cena entering as champion, or someone else for that matter. Looking at it objectively, Cena will almost always be guaranteed a chance at the WWE Championship so long he is on the roster. That is because that is who he is. He will always get a chance to tie that 16th world title record with Ric Flair. That doesn’t necessarily mean it should come at AJ’s expense at the Rumble. There’s also the fear that AJ would simply slide off the map after he inevitably loses to Cena.
AJ was able to recover from losing his feud with Roman Reigns as he turned it up a great deal in the second half of 2016 as a heel. However, when feuding, and losing with Cena, there may come the inevitable decline or “burial” that AJ referred to in a promo with Cena last year. In addition, Smackdown LIVE’s roster, for all the good they have done, has a thin roster at the top, and in all likelihood, the next top tier superstar that AJ has yet to feud with would be Randy Orton of the Wyatt Family. In closing, WWE should give high consideration to give a huge stamp of approval to one of their greatest in-ring performers ever instead of sticking to the status quo, because there is only so long WWE will be able to get away with utilizing part-timers or talents nearing retirement for big shows. It’s time to experiment change, because there’s no stopping the future. Hell, the future is already here. Do you think AJ Styles should enter WrestleMania 33 as the champion? Let me know. Until next time.