AJ Styles. WWE World Champion.
After years of it seeming like the former poster boy for WWE competition TNA Impact Wrestling, “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles, would never step foot in a WWE ring again, those three words seemed like a fantasy booking dream. There’s no way we’d ever see AJ Styles and WWE World Champion together in association. But at WWE Backlash, the debut PPV for Smackdown Live, AJ Styles became just that, pinning WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose to claim the company’s most prestigious World title – the same one held by WWE Legends like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Bret “Hitman” Hart, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and Shawn Michaels.
Even a year ago, the notion that AJ Styles would even be in the WWE, let alone the main event for nearly six months out of his nine months in the company (including two programs for the WWE World title), would have been considered preposterous.
After a tumultuous falling out with TNA, the company he helped put on the map from 2002 until 2013, Styles returned to the indie circuit he helped create, with a return to Ring of Honor. From there he jumped to New Japan Pro Wrestling and joined the world’s most notorious and popular faction, the Bullet Club. And not only did he join, he took over leadership from the man who would become Finn Balor, Prince Devitt.
For two years, he ran rampant on two countries, throughout ROH and NJPW, infiltrating others, while collecting two IWGP Heavyweight and a Revolution Pro World Champion titles, to add to his five TNA World titles, 6 X-Division titles and ROH Pure Champion title. He was one of the world’s biggest wrestling stars not signed to the WWE.
When news of Styles giving notice to NJPW broke in January (on the same day that Shinsuke Nakamura and The Club reportedly gave theirs), it was automatically rumoured all four were heading to the WWE, like a New Japan group of Radicalz.
At the 2016 Royal Rumble, when his music hit, AJ Styles made his debut to a thunderous ovation. The world was stunned. The impossible dream had happened. AJ Styles was in the WWE Universe. It was like seeing Spider-Man in Metropolis.
He was immediately put in a program with Chris Jericho, and the results were immediately beneficial. Their wrestling styles were similarly influenced and Jericho’s overwhelming charisma pulled an AJ Styles out of him that we’d never really seen before. It started awkward at first, but by the time he moved on to Roman Reigns and finally John Cena, Styles was giving the best promos of his career. You could tell he had a fire in his belly to succeed in the WWE and show he belongs. And so far he’s done just that.
Throughout his program with Y2J, many fans watched with shoulders tense, that WWE was already pigeon holing Styles as a mid-card spectacle and not an A+ Superstar like he was. But when he moved on to Roman Reigns, it became apparent this was as much as a test for Styles as a main event player as it was for Reigns as a WWE Champion. And Styles past with flying colours. He was universally praised for pulling such incredible performances out of Roman Reigns.
His next main event angle contained no hardware whatsoever. Except to answer the decade old question that both WWE and TNA fans would ask: Who was better between John Cena and AJ Styles? The two matched great promos with great chemistry, giving one of the most polarizing storylines in past years. It was a War of the Roses, with the IWC vs the WWE Universe right before our eyes.
But now he has vanquished John Cena. He is now the Face That Runs The Place. He has nothing left to prove to the WWE Universe now except be himself. And at the 2016 edition of Backlash, AJ Styles showed the entire world, that he could fit in just fine in the WWE. And most of all, that he could become AJ Styles. WWE World Champion.
Main Photo: WWE.com