Following a SmackDown that saw Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas face Mustafa Ali in a potential glimpse at the future of the WWE and Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura compete in a title match that may have been one of the best of both’s WWE careers, the final minutes of SmackDown Live on Christmas night may have been the most intriguing. Vince McMahon appeared once again this week, in a backstage vignette, and confronted AJ Styles. He antagonized the former 2x WWE Champion into essentially growing some grapefruits (after booking him to get hit in them for most of the year), which lead to AJ snapping and attacking him.
While the sudden snap by AJ Styles may seem a bit sudden, consider it the breaking point chapter in the past year for AJ Styles in the WWE Universe. He began with a major feud with one of his greatest career opponents in Shinsuke Nakamura over the WWE Championship. Styles and Nakamura had a classic matchup at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016 – their last big New Japan match before heading to the WWE. And it turned into a feud based around Nakamura instead resorting to WWE style low blows (although Nakamura was known to bend the rules while initially leading CHAOS). By the end of it, Styles was also resorting to the low blows.
The next major feud was against Samoa Joe, perhaps the second person most synonymously associated with TNA/IMPACT Wrestling. These two warred for years, from X-Division to non-title to World Heavyweight status. It first began in 2003, when they two fought over the Ring of Honor World Championship. By the end of it, Samoa Joe had broken AJ just a little bit more. He had brought in AJ’s family. He had broken the respect the two had for all those years on the road with ROH and TNA and made it personal. AJ, a man of faith, tried to ignore it – much like he had the low blows against Shinsuke – but by the end, he snapped again, viciously attacking Samoa Joe.
And finally, his last feud was against his ROH successor, Bryan Danielson, known as Daniel Bryan in the WWE. In a match that should have been about equal footing between two indie icons, where honor reigned over entertainment, Daniel Bryan cheated to defeat AJ Styles. There was no comeback. AJ was defeated by letting his guard down for the third time. He had become complacent.
And then he was challenged by the one man who had held him back the most in his life. The man who had released him from his WCW contract in 2001, the man who had denied him tryouts or opportunities while he built TNA, the man who put the cameras on Roman Reigns at his Royal Rumble debut in 2016 instead of him (okay, that last one may have been Kevin Dunn). And he finally snapped. He got pro-active instead of re-active. He attacked Vince McMahon.
With the McMahons running SmackDown, does that make AJ Styles an anti-authority? Or are the McMahons running the show, is it now a good thing, and AJ will now get darker and become a heel? Either way, it’s a welcome edge to AJ Styles. For those who have followed him in IMPACT Wrestling and NJPW, they’re well aware of the boundaries AJ Styles can exceed. But if Vince is pushing AJ Styles to command “the House that AJ Styles built”, it’s for a reason. Reports that FOX wants SmackDown to be more athletic and “realistic” are to be believed, then unleashing the full arsenal of AJ Styles isn’t a bad thing. But for that to happen, he needs to loosen the strings.
And with reports AJ Styles hadn’t re-signed his new WWE contract yet (that expires at the end of January 2019), this unknown vignette may be a signal that not only has Vince re-signed “The Phenomenal One”, but that a more realized AJ Styles may become the marquee star of FOX Sports’ Friday Night SmackDown.