Hi everyone! Today I’d like to talk about one phenomenal man. For years, AJ Styles was the poster boy of the TNA Wrestling (Impact) promotion. He was easily one of their biggest draws and merchandise sellers, so he got plenty of bookings and featured in many promotional advertisements.
He wasn’t always in the main event though. For extended periods, AJ wrestled in the X-Division, and even spent a year paired with Tyson Tomko in the tag team scene. It didn’t seem to matter where he was on the card, as he remained a cash cow for TNA Wrestling no matter what. Even more so when he worked overseas. He was underutilized in the last year of his TNA career, and it helped New Japan very much. They saw AJ’s worth and gave him everything .. a stable (known as the Bullet Club), regular bookings, no stupid storylines, and even the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Even when he wasn’t the champion, he still got to battle the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. And what it did .. was reaffirm his value to WWE. He proved that he wasn’t just a big draw for TNA, he was a big draw in Japan as well. AJ proved he was a worldwide phenomenon, and any company would be naive to think he was anything less than a main event talent.
And when he finally got to WWE .. fans believed “the man” had arrived. It was easy to imagine AJ as the face of the company, however, logic in WWE is not something fans have come to expect. They were cautious, because they knew WWE could ruin him if they wanted. They could make AJ look second-rate if he didn’t fit in. His feud with Jericho, it didn’t inspire like many imagined. It didn’t give fans the assurance that AJ would be in the main event winning titles, and taking the spotlight from Cena, Randy Orton, and other established names.
WWE gave hope when AJ turned heel and formed “The Club” against John Cena. His first face run didn’t seem to get him far, as the casual fans hadn’t learned what made him phenomenal. The feud with Cena really helped to bring out his character, and soon enough .. everyone wanted to see AJ “beat up John Cena!”. It was essential for his WWE career, to turn heel and feud with Cena. They tore the house down, and his appeal couldn’t be taken away.
Shortly after, AJ went through another mediocre patch losing to main event talent. After the feud with Cena died down, his heel antics didn’t work because the fans would cheer him regardless. Like Cena & Reigns getting booed while portraying babyfaces, AJ was getting cheered for being a villain. It didn’t matter what he did or said .. the respect from the fans was too much. So WWE had him revert back to a face, and somehow he became more of a glorified enhancement talent.
When WWE shuffled the rosters, Smackdown Live was left with the short straw. The Miz jumping over, left Smackdown with no heels capable of drawing serious heat while challenging for the WWE title. I guess they could’ve used Kevin Owens, but for whatever reason they decided to book him in a similar way to AJ. Jinder Mahal got a major push, not just for the Indian market, but because WWE desperately needed a heel who could draw negative reactions from the WWE universe.
I don’t want to talk about Jinder too much .. but I believe he did a good job. Despite the hard, controversial push, he drew negative reactions for one reason or another. Like the professional he is, AJ made Jinder look a threat on his road to becoming WWE Champion. Even Shinsuke Nakamura lost several times to him, despite some supporters dismay. However, the feud was bad for The Maharaja as it highlighted a major weakness.
WWE could only draw heat with Mahal by having him racially abuse the Japanese star. They had to use shock tactics to keep his momentum going, and because fans didn’t care as much for Shinsuke as they did Orton (or AJ), WWE officials found that Jinder hadn’t gotten over to the point he could enhance a fresh name to the casual audience. AJ on the other hand, is very capable of working face or heel to enhance a fresh face, and the quality of his matches will always cover up any weaknesses in the characters and/or story-telling.
The nail in the coffin for Jinder’s WWE title reign was the idea of brand vs. brand pitting champion against champion. The difference in star power between Jinder and Brock is so huge .. it’s undeniably laughable. Not only that, but the timing and sudden rise from jobber to WWE Champion made it even harder to take Mahal’s challenge seriously. It was always going to be a monumental task to make him look a credible threat, when many can still remember watching Lesnar throw jobber Jinder (as part of 3MB) around only a few years ago.
When you look at Brock vs. Jinder on paper, I can’t think of a logical way of either 1) having Brock win while making Jinder look great, or 2) having Jinder win while not making Lesnar look really bad. Either Brock wins in boring, predictable fashion, or Jinder (and WWE) shocks the world. Having made the challenge, Jinder had to win to protect the WWE title, but would anyone believe it if Lesnar failed to destroy Mahal & his minions? After his recent victories over Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman? It’d make no sense to have The Beast lose, but Jinder really needed it. It was a bad idea to announce it in the first place, as it forced WWE officials to find another way of getting champion vs. champion to work.
AJ was called upon to save the day. As one of the biggest draws on Smackdown Live, AJ vs. The Beast is a way easier match to sell. A dream which many thought they’d never see, it is arguably AJ’s biggest encounter of his entire career, and Lesnar would be foolish to underestimate him. Much like with Goldberg, AJ could use Brock’s ego against him. Fans are more likely to get behind AJ as he represents the full-timers, while Brock continues to take PPV main events while working a part-time schedule. Some would like nothing better than to see AJ triumph. Heyman will show lots of respect, and will regularly remind his client of what Styles is capable of.
It’s AJ’s time to make moments to be looked back on during his Hall of Fame induction. I can’t imagine Lesnar destroying him, I believe it’s going to be similar to the memorable fight with CM Punk. Brock is still the favourite, but AJ will show the world what he’s about in a thrilling contest of power versus speed. The intrigue for Survivor Series went up tenfold when AJ won the WWE title, and in my eyes, it feels like WWE’s finally woken up and given him the green light. Smackdown Live will be carried by The Phenomenal One, whether he’s WWE Champion or not. And I’m not just saying this because I’ve been a big fan of his work for over a decade, I’m saying it because I feel better for the product with him in the picture.
He’s got a lot to do before he hangs up the P1 attire, and we want to see him succeed. We want compelling matches. We want exciting feuds we can look back on and say we were proud to have witnessed it live. We want to be able to tell the next generation that we saw one of the greatest of all time. More importantly, we want AJ to be appreciated by the company, and given opportunities to create moments that will last well beyond our lifetimes. And Survivor Series .. is only the beginning. Or at least I hope!
I’ll be back another day to finish the Asuka mini-series. I’ve also had an Impact Wrestling piece in the works for weeks .. but I’ve yet to put text to screen. Thank you for taking time to read this, and I appreciate all of your feedback. Cheers.