AJ Styles recently became the first American born pro wrestler to win the International Grand Prix World Heavyweight Title in Japan since Brock Lesnar in 2005. AJ Styles is every bit as worthy now as Lesnar was then. AJ Styles has a resumé that is worthy of that honor. AJ Styles has a resumé worthy of breaking The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Undefeated Streak as Brock Lesnar did. If you don’t know that, or don’t know who AJ Styles is, you owe it to yourself as a wrestling fan to find out.
AJ Styles is the Sting of his generation. So much so that Sting put him over, clean, for the TNA World Heavyweight Title at Bound For Glory V. What does being the Sting of this generation mean?
It means AJ Styles it the best pro wrestler/sports entertainer to not work for WWE. There is no argument there. I’m a fan of Samoa Joe, Kevin Steen, Bobby Roode, Roderick Strong, Chris Daniels, and Austin Aries as much as the next indy scene/TNA mark. But AJ Styles is a cut above the rest, and none of those guys I just listed would argue that fact. One of the many things that makes AJ Styles not just good, but textbook great, is that everyone likes him. Even the internet’s golden calf CM Punk had NO problem losing to AJ Styles in the finals of the tournament to become the first Ring of Honor Pure Wrestling Champion.
TNA Impact Wrestling was built on the back of AJ Styles like WCW was built on the back of Sting. Both were original, home-grown stars of their respective company. Both were the guys that WWE castaways put over clean after steamrolling everyone else. Both made as much money and gained as much prestige as possible while never working for Vince McMahon in the pro wrestling business.
If you know about TNA Impact Wrestling, you probably know one of the following things. They’re on Spike TV, they film in Orlando, they used to have this really exciting thing called the X Division. AJ Styles is the key player in front of the curtain responsible for each. He literally is what the X Division was built around. TNA got to Orlando and got to Spike based on AJ’s star power. AJ Styles is who Jeff Jarrett and Dixie Carter sold in business meetings to get the deals to shoot at Universal Studios and to get the one hour Saturday show on Spike TV. Not Sting, not Kurt Angle, not Hulk Hogan…AJ Styles. AJ is what is known in sports as a franchise player. He is Derrick Jeter, he is Lebron James, he is Tom Brady.
AJ never had to think about going to WWE because TNA always paid him well. He has three children and a wife that live in a pseudo mansion in Georgia. Just as Sting and his wife and children live in a mansion in California. Alternative wrestling money spends the same as WWE money. Not working for WWE doesn’t make one a failure or a wannabe. Do the legacies of AJ Styles and Sting take a hit for never being on a WrestleMania card? Yes. Does it mean that they need to take a backseat to anyone of their respective generations? Absolutely not.
Sting takes a backseat to no one in the New Generation or Attitude eras. AJ Styles takes a backseat to no one in the Ruthless Aggression or Universe eras either.
AJ Styles accomplishment list reads like this:
- 2 time TNA World Heavyweight Champion
- 6 time TNA X Division Champion
- 2 time TNA Television Champion
- 2 time TNA World Tag Team Champion
- 3 time NWA World Heavyweight Champion
- 4 time NWA World Tag Team Champion
- 1st ROH Pure Wrestling Champion
- ROH Tag Team Champion
- Current IWGP Heavyweight Champion
- PWI 500 #1 of 2010
- Recipient of Dave Melter 5 Star Match Award for Unbreakable 3 Way vs Samoa Joe & Chris Daniels in 2005
That list should paint the rest of the picture as to why one need not be a mark to consider AJ Styles the best wrestler of his generation.
Certainly one can hold up John Cena’s merchandise checks, CM Punk’s title reign, and Daniel Bryan’s explosion against AJ Styles. And, there would be no argument against any of those three. But it is important to remember that AJ Styles is on par with all of them. AJ Styles is literally a contemporary of Punk and Bryan, he worked multiple matches against both of them in Ring of Honor. AJ Styles and John Cena are text-book yin yang. You couldn’t pick more different wrestlers to be the faces of the two biggest pro wrestling promotions in North America.
AJ Styles can retire a proud, happy, and satisfied man. He does not need to work for WWE, he does not need that vindication. WWE’s current youth movement indicates that they don’t need him either. Although both would be wise to swallow pride and dogma and work together. There is absolutely no reason AJ Styles can’t sign a three-year contract, work NXT for one, and be a mid card mechanic on the main roster for the other two. A US and IC Title reign along with a handful of WWE Title shots would add to his legacy and make his opponents better workers in the process. AJ Styles doesn’t have an ego. Just don’t give him a ridiculous new name and he’ll be happy to do business. His kids can use extra money in their college fund. With Daniel Bryan being the face of the company for at least the next half decade, there is no reason AJ Styles can’t fit right into the mix on RAW and Smackdown, especially when all of the part timer wrestlers are on hiatus.
But if AJ Styles never sees the inside of a WWE ring, he is still a high level success story. One of the most athletically gifted and technically proficient wrestlers of all time as well as the best high flyer of his generation bar none. He didn’t just dominate the indy scene, be wrestled for and won world championships on national cable television and pay per view for almost a decade. He is equally praised by wrestlers and promoters. He’s a straight edge, religious, family man. He was a PWG Champion before PWG was cool. We as fans have not just been lucky, but have been blessed to have seen AJ Styles have a prime run in the wrestling business from 2002-2014. If John Cena wasn’t your cup of tea for the last ten years, all you had to do was flip from USA to Spike TV and watch AJ Styles have some of the best matches of this or any generation.
In winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title, AJ silences all of his critics. Because now his greatness is undisputable. If WWE doesn’t want him, there’s nothing more he can do to prove he is worthy of not just a contract but a top spot on the main roster. What more can a person do beyond the accolades listed above in the pro wrestling world?
AJ has done everything that is possible without being born half a foot taller so amassing an extra 30 lbs of muscle would be feasible.
AJ Styles started out as just the best and most jaw dropping highspot machine/high flyer of his generation when he became the first TNA X Division Champion. At the same time he showed he could work as a tag team specialist by being 1/2 of the first NWA TNA Tag Team Champions with Jerry Lynn and shortly thereafter being an ROH Tag Champion with Amazing Red. Rather than being a jr heavyweight, flippy flop, tag team guy AJ proved he could work traditional broadway and heavyweight strong style by winning both the NWA World and ROH Pure titles within just a few months of each other. Styles proved such a master at every style of pro wrestling, so quickly, he was able to seamlessly transition between each kind for the next half decade as TNA’s franchise player. He would float between the tag, x, and heavyweight divisions from 2005-20010 depending on whichever division had a hole that TNA needed filled. AJ Styles was used to twice stabilize the horrendously booked TV Title division. In fact it was AJ who named it the TV Title after for whatever ridiculous reason(s) the belt had been branded Legends and Global. Only a franchise player can do something like that.
The knock on AJ was always his mic skills. Not his charisma, but his mic skills. If someone said AJ Styles didn’t have charisma, they weren’t watching his matches. But AJ’s mic skills left much to be desired. His best run of promos came during his first run as NWA World Champion, when he was a cocky heel with Vince Russo as his manager. But his matches were so great, not good, but great that anyone and everyone was happy to ignore his lackluster promos. Just like how John Cena’s merch sales and charity work are supposed to forgive his equal parts boring and predictable ring skills. But unlike Cena, AJ Styles worked hard to correct his obvious shortcomings as a performer.
Styles worked with behind the scenes and in kayfabe with the likes of Vince Russo, Raven, Jeff Jarrett, Chris Daniels, Christian, Ric Flair, and Sting to evolve his character, grow as a performer, sharpen his acting chops, and bring out the verbal “it factor” to connect with fans on the mic. He made progress, certainly. His promos were never has bad as his critics would make it seem. They were easily on par with his PG Era WWE contemporaries John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Big Show, Edge, and Alberto Del Rio. AJ is certainly a step behind the likes of CM Punk, Triple H, and The Undertaker but who isn’t?
Unlike even most top-tier stars, AJ’s strengths far outweighed his weaknesses. His last year in TNA was a 12 month story about the rise, fall, and rebirth of AJ Styles. From the Phenomenal One to No One. Styles was again willing to do something different, that he hadn’t done before, and go dark heel. Old school heel like Chris Jericho did after his return to WWE in 2008. Styles cast aside all of his high-flying moves and his iconically innovative finisher the Styles Clash to become a submission specialist.
Styles fused the No One and Phenomenal One characters together to win the Bound for Glory Series #1 Contender Tournament, then main evented and won the TNA World Title in the main event of Bound For Glory IX. His last month in the company saw him have some of the best promos and matches of his career. Less than six months after leaving TNA when a new contract couldn’t be negotiated he is the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
He won the title as a heel, after aligning with the Bullet Club faction. But while his stablemates kept kayfabe in the ring, Styles couldn’t help but smile, cry, and breathe a sigh of relief that will last the rest of his life…then he snapped back into kayfabe and did the heel celebration pose thing.
AJ Styles has achieved the peace of mind of knowing he has done all he is capable of doing to achieve all that he is capable of achieving. That ladies and gentlemen is called success. AJ Styles is a true success story of wrestling and of life. AJ Styles can look himself in the mirror and can look any other man, woman, or child in the eye and say he did everything within his power to become the greatest professional wrestler/sports entertainer of all time. He can’t make Vince sign him. He can’t make Triple H push him. He can however be The Phenomenal AJ Styles, and if you ask me, I’ll agree with the man himself that being phenomenal is better, than being the best in the world.