Matthew Roberts takes a look at the latest release from WWE Home Video, a compilation of AJ Styles best matches in the WWE.
Although he has been with the WWE for less than three years, there is no suggestion that a match compilation DVD of AJ Styles’ best matches for the company has come too soon. From the time of his debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble, and apparent claims from some that “no-one” would know him when he turned up there, Styles has inarguably been the most consistent in-ring performer in the company. These twenty matches over three discs back up that argument.
His early outings in the WWE revolved around Chris Jericho. Styles Raw debut opposite Y2J kicks off the match portion of this set and is a strong encounter. Mutual respect led to the two pairing up as Y2AJ but rather than a long-term association this was only ever meant to set up a singles feud between the two, as their match from a March 2016 Raw against The New Day shows. It’s a good effort but overshadowed by Jericho’s actions.
This set up their WrestleMania 32 clash which is the first PPV match on the set. It’s a very good match but no amount of revisionist history, including Jericho saying that Styles had to earn his due in the WWE in Vince’s eyes, will change my mind that the wrong man won here (a fact that becomes even more obvious in a minute). But most “outside” wrestlers (note, not outside “celebrities”) do have to prove their worth before the promotion will get fully behind them; but that’s one of those things WWE fans simply have to accept.
The reason that result was counter-productive is highlighted in the next match. AJ wins an exciting four corners match from Raw against Jericho, Kevin Owens and Cesaro to become the number one contender to the WWE Title meaning a match on Raw becomes more important than what happened at Mania. Maybe in the climate of kayfabe being utterly dead this doesn’t matter, but if wins and losses on the biggest stage of them all don’t matter you really are watching two men in tights pretending to fight. But that’s another rant for another time.
It does at least lead to Styles battling for the WWE Title against Roman Reigns. Their Payback 2016 match is a little over-booked (restarted by Shane after a Count-Out, restarted by Stephanie after a DQ, run in’s from The Club and The Uso’s) and as such becomes secondary to the McMahon shenanigans (at the time the two were battling to be named the controller of Raw by their dad) and blatantly becomes a match that isn’t so much a PPV main event in it’s own right but one to set up a rematch. It’s a good match, very good in fact, but is held back by the extra curricular stuff. Still at least it means that the rematch under Extreme Rules at, erm, Extreme Rules three weeks later has a logical reason for being given that stipulation! Yes, there is the overbooking again, but as its anything goes it’s not as much of a hindrance and the chemistry between the two leads to a fantastic match.
If at this stage it seemed that Styles might be another one of those guys who was very good but never quite got the run in WWE that they truly deserved any fears were well and truly extinguished at Summerlslam 2016 and his match with John Cena that closes out the first disc. Cena gets plenty of criticism, some of it deserved, but he held up his end of the bargain here and played his full part in a fantastic match.
For all the faults with his run with Roman Reigns, the WWE did it the right way the second time around as we start Disc 2 with AJ challenging Dean Ambrose for the WWE Title on the back of his win against Cena. This match is arguably even better than the Cena one but anyone expecting anything less than Styles delivering on the big stage in the big matches is probably watching the wrong DVD. Even the cheap(ish) ending, with Styles delivering low blows when the ref is out cold), works in that it pushes the idea of Heel Styles doing whatever it takes, shows that Ambrose took everything the challenger could “legally” throw at him AND leaves open routes for a rematch.
As it happens, the two meet on the next encounter, as Styles defends against Ambrose at TLC in a, well, TLC match. This is looking to be even better than their match at Backlash but suffers from James Ellsworth being involved in the finish. That doesn’t’ detract from the herculean effort from both men, who really suffered for their art in this one, but it does seem an unnecessary add on.
Up next is a very rare spectacle indeed; John Cena winning a match but the opponent still getting over and not being buried. Of course that didn’t stop people being upset at the Royal Rumble 2017 when Cena defeated Styles to win the WWE Title but this was one of the best matches of the year in the WWE. Both men brought an intensity that easily showed just what the title, and thus the win, meant to both of them. Cena didn’t keep the belt long and by the time we get to a February Smackdown, Bray Wyatt has the belt and is defending against both Styles and Cena. Whilst the match seems little more than an opportunity for Wyatt to pin Cena in an attempt to boost his title reign it’s still a great TV match.
I have no interest in seeing Shane McMahon wrestle so I skipped over their WrestleMania 33 match. I’m aware that I’m seemingly in the minority on that one, but there you go (although the backlash to his World Cup win may suggest that tide is turning). Disc two is rounded off by a three way match to name the number one contender to the US Title between Styles, Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin. Again it’s an entertaining TV match.
Disc three kicks off with another Smackdown match, this time against Chad Gable. It’s a great match but it’s impact today is somewhat lessened by the fact atht the WWE have done very little with Chad ever since. A three way between our boy, Kevin Steen and Chris Jericho over the US Title is another good Smackdown match, although you can’t help feeling that all the issues in the match have long since reached their peak in terms of feuds.
As I was in the arena in Manchester, England when AJ Styles defeated Jinder Mahal for the WWE Title on Smackdown I have fond memories of the match and it remains a good one, even when you know what is coming next. It’s easily Mahal’s best ever match, if that is any form of recommendation. I also was in the arena for Styles’ Champion Vs Champion match from Survivor Series 2017 and my memories of it being an awesome match are not spoiled by watching it again here. Against all the odds it almost seemed plausible that Styles could actually win and this has to be Lesnar’s best “straight” wrestling match in years.
A couple of matches from Styles’ feud with Shinsuke Nakamura are up next. Both are good, without ever really living up to the expectations of some fans. The WrestleMania 34 encounter and the Last Man Standing match from Money In The Bank 2018 are both worth watching again and are probably the pick of the feud. We round things up with a July ’18 Smackdown match against Andrade Almas where Styles pulls of his usual trick of winning but getting his opponent more over than he was when he started the match. It’s a good reminder of the value Styles has to the WWE in general.
It would be difficult to go wrong with a collection of AJ Styles matches from his WWE run. Whilst there is a bit of repetition at times in terms of opponents, Styles is so adept that every match is different and every match on here has merit. The only real extras are the occasional interview links with AJ, where he passes comment on various stages of his WWE and whilst you will perhaps not learn anything earth-shattering from him he does come across as a thoroughly likeable guy.
Format reviewed: DVD
Photos courtesy of Fetch and WWE.
Thank you to our partners, WWEDVD.co.uk and Fetch for providing our review copy of AJ Styles: Most Phenomenal Matches which is out on DVD Monday 05 November. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk now by clicking here