“Get Ready To Fly!” – It pains me when WWE tries to explain how great AJ Styles is without referring to the part of his career which made him. He was the man in TNA Wrestling from 2002-2009 when the promotion was an exciting alternative to the WWE. There was a cult atmosphere, it had a loyal following .. and most importantly, it featured many young and talented wrestlers.
In the early days, AJ was at the forefront of the new X-Division. He was immediately popular, so the company pushed him to the main event scene against stars like Raven and Jeff Jarrett. He won his first NWA World Championship by defeating Raven and Jarrett (c) in 2003. The cool thing about the NWA:TNA relationship was it allowed wrestlers to work elsewhere. Styles worked in ROH as well as TNA from 2002-2004.
He returned to the X-Division in 04, battling the likes of Chris Sabin and Petey Williams over the X-Division title, but the true making of his career was the long-time feud with “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels. With AJ playing the face, Daniels portrayed the jealous heel, and they fought as arch rivals for years; Daniels was the “yang” to Styles’ “ying”, yet Daniels was on the losing side more often than not.
While Daniels and Styles fought for X-Division supremacy, TNA acquired a new talent in Samoa Joe, the longest reigning ROH World Champion. He went undefeated, targeted the X-Division, and slotted in the middle of the AJ/Daniels feud. After many matches between them, they fought in arguably the greatest match in TNA history at Unbreakable 2005. I’ve provided a video of it below.
Sadly, there’s not enough time to go in to detail on other matches in his career .. however, I will highlight his achievements. In TNA, Styles is is a former 3-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, 4-time NWA World Tag Team Champion (Lynn, Abyss, Daniels twice), 2-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, 2-time Legends/Global/Television Champion, 2-time TNA World Tag Team Champion (Tomko, Angle), 6-time X Division Champion (6 times), Bound For Glory Series (2013) winner. He is also a 5-time TNA Triple Crown, and 2-time TNA Grand Slam Champion.
The most questionable period of his career was between 2010-2013. When Hogan, Bischoff, Flair, RVD, and others debuted in the rebranded “Impact Wrestling”, AJ lost his position and joined the stable Fortune; a group of TNA Originals managed by Flair. Shortly after, Fortune ceased their feud with Immortal by turning heel and joining them, effectively ending any chance of AJ challenging Immortal Champion Jeff Hardy.
After Immortal disbanded, he returned to the main event scene, but it took three years to regain the World title after losing out to RVD in 2010. AJ was also a victim of the shocking Claire Lynch angle, a storyline met with critical negative response. 2013 saw a change in AJ’s demeanor, as he refused interviews. After weeks of build, he broke his silence and revealed the “Lone Wolf” side of his character.
A more calculating AJ Styles defeated Bully Ray at Bound For Glory 2013 for the title, but he only held it for nine days before leaving the company over a contract dispute. Near the end of his TNA run, he cut a worked shoot promo, an emotional segment of him venting frustration with the direction of the company, and how the promotion had changed over the years. He also mentioned the company wanting him to take a large pay cut, and while he didn’t want to leave the TNA fans, he could be making more money in other promotions.
AJ’s always had the will to work with WWE, but Vince McMahon refused to give any exposure to TNA and its wrestlers. For a long time, the company pushed homegrown talent out of OVW and FCW, so it seemed impossible for TNA wrestlers to move up and make decent money. The TNA Originals remained loyal, and they frequently expressed their love for the fans. After AJ moved on, it sparked a mass exodus, as top names such as Hogan, Sting, and Team 3D, departed over contract disputes. AJ still holds ill feelings towards his former company as they plug the “Best Of AJ Styles” merchandise every week.
WWE will continue to mention AJ’s career in Japan, but we know he’s done a lot more. He helped build a company, he was their top draw, and every day his drawing power grows in WWE. The sky is the limit for The Phenomenal One. Expect him to win the title in the next year, and please, have some patience .. it’s going to happen. AJ is money, Vince loves money, so put those two together, and you have a winning combination. Vince knows what he’s done, and to put AJ on the main roster with Chris Jericho right away? That should’ve been enough to tell you it’s an inevitably.
Austin Aries & Bobby Roode (The Dirty Heels)
“I Am The Main Event!” – I grouped this pair together for a reason. While they formed the tag team known as The Dirty Heels in recent times, I’m more interested in talking about their rivalry over the TNA World title. They’ve taken different career paths, as Roode originally worked in WWE as a jobber, and Aries worked in ROH and the indies. Roode joined TNA in 2004 and remained there, while Aries worked primarily for ROH, aside from a stint in TNA from 2005-2007.
Roode spent several years working alongside Petey Williams, Eric Young and others in Team Canada. Aries worked classic matches with CM Punk and Bryan Danielson in ROH, and went on to become the first 2-time ROH World Champion; he’s also responsible for ending Samoa Joe’s original undefeated streak. While Aries saw success as a singles wrestler, Roode split from Team Canada and worked singles matches with Traci Brooks as his manager.
Aries continued to work the indies, as Roode formed the highly successful team of Beer Money Inc. with James Storm. The duo became the most dominant tag team since America’s Most Wanted (Storm & Chris Harris). 2011 was a huge year for both men. Roode won the Bound For Glory series, challenged Kurt Angle in the main event of Bound For Glory, but while he lost in a valiant effort, he soon turned heel by smashing James Storm with a beer bottle, and pinned him for the World title. Roode remains the longest reigning TNA World champion over a single reign.
Aries had a huge rise that paralleled Roode, as he won an X-Division invitational tournament (the final was amazing) and won a TNA contract. Shortly after, Aries won the X-Division title and became the most dominant champion in X-Division history. With two dominant champions on the same roster, Aries formed the concept known as “Option C”, which allowed the X-Division Champion to relinquish their title for a TNA World title shot at Destination X each year. Hogan loved the idea, so Aries vacated the title and challenged Roode for the World title at Destination X 2012. The match delivered on every note, and in my opinion, it’s the last time TNA has sufficiently built two guys to a main event AND ended the match the way everyone wanted it too.