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AJ Styles

“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.

Since their match in the summer of 2012, Roode and Aries struggled to regain the same dominance. This is why I needed to put them together, because Bobby Roode vs. Austin Aries at Destination X 2012 remains one of the best main events I’ve seen in the past five years. If you have not seen the best of The Dirty Heels, I suggest you enjoy it in the video below.

Eric Young

“Super Eric!” – Wow, Eric Young in NXT. He’s been highly entertaining the past year with his completely insane heel character, so it took me back a little when he debuted on NXT and challenged Samoa Joe. Not because I’ve seen Joe vs. EY several times before, but because I want EY to continue portraying the character he had in TNA. He hasn’t changed his look, so it tells me he might switch back real soon.

Who is Eric Young? Well, he’s amazing. Here’s a guy who was highly praised by Chris Jericho a decade ago, well before he got to a main event level. He can do it all, he can be a good guy, he can be a bad guy, he can evoke any emotion, and his promo work is highly underrated. He’s not going to pump out 5-star matches left-and-right, but what he does do is entertain. He’s been entertaining for a very long time, and has changed gimmicks more time than I care to count. Originally he was one of the key players of Team Canada, alongside Petey Williams and Bobby Roode. Soon enough, he started portraying a paranoid character, as he warned others that Sting was coming when he clearly wasn’t. My favourite gimmick was Super Eric; he dressed up as a super hero, and while the fans knew who it was, the wrestlers didn’t (acted dumb), and the gimmick was very well-received by fans. “Super Eric!”

After Super Eric, his character turned more serious. Before the arrival of Hogan (and co.), stable warfare was rampant, and in the middle of that was the World Elite leader Eric Young. He was cool, he was bad, he was calculating, and once again, the man found a gimmick that worked, as the leader of the World Elite stable. When Hogan (and co.) entered TNA, World Elite was immediately disbanded with no warnings or mentions, leaving EY with no purpose. Soon enough, a heel EY emerged, and aligned himself with “The Band” alongside Nash, Hall and Sean Waltman.

Again (!), The Band abruptly disbanded, leaving EY in the cold. A short time later, EY emerged with a “mentally challenged” gimmick. He was soon referred to as the clown of TNA Wrestling, and no one had an idea what was happening in his matches. It’s hard to describe how he worked, as the matches were so random .. but funny at the same time. Often he would try to wrestle the referees, forget match stipulations, and think his opponent is a friend and he shouldn’t be wrestling them. It was around this time he started growing the beard (“I’m the only one who can have a beard!”), which he still has to this day. And yes .. he grew his beard before Daniel Bryan, for anyone who wants to label EY as “another Daniel Bryan”.

His career went downhill from there, as his character continued to be a little random, but not as much, and soon enough he was hanging around with equally insane female wrestler ODB. They did crazy stuff together, and their relationship grew to the point they got married (storyline) in the ring. They even became TNA Knockouts Tag Team Champions together! Yes .. EY held a women’s championship for over a year, til the company remembered they had the titles and deactivated them. EY’s years of loyalty to TNA was rewarded as the company started building him as a serious competitor. He won the TNA Television Champion, and promised to defend the title every week on Impact. He was a fighting champion, and the ultimate good guy for a while. After losing the title, EY was pushed to the main event scene against TNA World Champion Magnus.

Coincidentally, EY defeated Magnus on a pre-taped episode of Impact which aired later in the week, during the same week Daniel Bryan won (and was screwed out of) the WWE Championship. I couldn’t understand it, because .. while EY deserved a run with the title, many fans couldn’t take it seriously, and others claimed TNA was trying to “capitalize” on Daniel Bryan’s popularity by having someone similar (because of the beards ..) win the title later in the week .. although the episode was taped before the Daniel Bryan win. EY has never been anything like Bryan, so it was a confusing time.

EY’s biggest match of his career came at Slammiversary, when he defeated Lashley and Austin Aries in a three-way steel cage match in the main event. EY lost the title on the following Impact to Lashley, and never regained the title. EY turned heel again shortly after, and displayed intense and psychotic tendencies in a feud with Bobby Roode. EY’s character evolved over time, til he started referring to himself as a “wrestling god”, and always reminding everyone how he’s the best, and will do what he wants, when he wants, and with no remorse. Again, the man behind Eric Young showed his talent, and portrayed it to perfection.

His final days in the company saw him win the TNA King Of The Mountain Championship, and a friendship formed between EY and Bram, an English lunatic with the same lust for violence. After EY and Bram challenged Beer Money for the tag titles and failed, the news of a contract dispute came to light, and soon enough, EY’s character threatened to walk out with the title and Bram. After some thought, Bram refused to leave, and instead challenged EY for the title. EY was a true professional, and put Bram over in the process. What can we learn from his career? Often enough, wrestlers stick with one character for their entire lives, but in EY’s case, he’s portrayed many contrasting characters, and there’s plenty of time for new ones in NXT, and hopefully, on Raw and Smackdown as well.

Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows

“The Club” – We know Luke Gallows, we remember him as Festus, and we remember him as CM Punk’s lackey in the Straight Edge Society. What some may not remember is “Doc Gallows” in TNA as a member of Bully Ray’s villainous stable the Aces N’ Eights. He was one of the driving forces behind the group, and it was really important for him to get the experience.

Karl Anderson worked in the NWA and the PWG promotion before working for New Japan in 2008. Two years later, Anderson formed Bad Intentions with Giant Bernard (aka Albert, Tensai etc.) and they won the IWGP Tag Team Championships. They held the titles for 564 days with 10 title defenses. But that wasn’t all, as two years later, Anderson joined Luke Gallows, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) and others in forming the Bullet Club.

Anderson and Gallows won the tag titles three times; combined over all reigns, they held the titles over a year. As members of “The Club”, they continued to bring heel tactics from the American style, which was highly frowned upon by Japanese audiences. Now they’re in WWE, a tag team title run seems inevitable. They have the chemistry, but will they get the reactions?

La Sombra

“CMLL no Prince” – At 26 years old, Manny Andrade is one of the most successful wrestlers in Lucha Libre today. He debuted at the age of 13, and has won many championships in Mexico, with his biggest achievement being the CMLL Universal Championship in 2011 (annual tournament). He’s also a former IWGP Intercontinental Champion. He was a tweener for much of his time in CMLL as a member of the Los Ingobernables, as they challenged anyone who wasn’t part of the group.

There’s no telling when he will appear on our screens in NXT, but it can’t be long now. He’s unmasked, so we won’t be seeing another Kalisto or Sin Cara, but it’s safe to say he has so much potential, and we should be looking out for him.

Liv Morgan

“Living The Dream”While she’s been appearing in various capacities in NXT since 2014, she’s only recently started her wrestling career. Originally her stage name was Marley, before being changed to Liv Morgan at the end of last year. I watched her match against Bayley on NXT, and I have to say she needs work, but she’s not bad for a 21-year old.

With some training and experience she could be something in NXT. While she would have made a great “Diva” with her look, we know that WWE is looking for more from their women, so it’s up to Morgan to prove she belongs as a WWE superstar.

No Way Jose

“No Way Jose!” – Manny Garcia recently showed up in NXT with his new gimmick No Way Jose. Needless to say, the fans have welcomed him, and his charisma is hard to deny. He was noticed for his work in CWF Mid-Atlantic as a 2-time Television Champion. It’s a little early to judge how far he will go, but so far it’s all good things. At 24 years old, he has plenty of time to develop.

Shinsuke Nakamura

“The King of Strong Style” – Arguably the most exciting acquistion of the decade. I remember seeing him for the first time, it was Wrestle Kingdom IX, and he was being challenged by Kota Ibushi. He made an epic entrance with a crown and everything. I didn’t realize how popular he was, or how charismatic he was til that day. And then he got in the ring, and I was mesmerized by the hard-hitting style. Even more so when I saw Styles vs. Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom X. No one could predict AJ and Shinsuke would join WWE shortly afterwards.

He definitely grows on ya over time. At first he comes across as a little strange, the way he moves, the way he wrestles, it’s really different. Over time, I believe the undecided will accept his mannerisms and see him for the superstar he portrays. At the same time, you have to wonder if he can continue to work the way he does without hurting others. He’s a professional, he’s really good at what he does, but his style is so different it might catch a few out. I provided a video of his Wrestle Kingdom IX entrance (JR/Matt Striker on commentary) at the bottom.

I’m going to wrap this up because it’s been longer than I expected. Today, the news broke that many WWE wrestlers, including Damien Sandow, Wade Barrett, and others had been released from their contracts. I’m English, so it sucks .. because we have Neville, but he’s on the injured list, and Paige isn’t being used well .. so there’s no one left for us in that regard. The most important thing is .. I can’t end this without paying tribute to the WWE career of Damien Sandow

“You’re welcome!” – He was great at everything he did. He was willing to play the pompous heel, wrestle in pink trunks, and do cartwheels. He was willing to win Money In The Bank, and lose the briefcase to Cena. He was willing to get over as Miz’s stunt double by being more entertaining. And he was willing to play any part, impersonate any WWE legend, and do a decent job of impersonating the Macho Man. I’m going to miss Damien Sandow, and I hope he turns up somewhere .. and shows the world what he can do. Thanks for reading everyone.

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