When AJ Styles defends the WWE Championship against Daniel Bryan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at WWE Crown Jewel on November 2, this dream match has the potential to steal the show on what is already a stacked overseas card.
While The Phenomenal One and The Yes Man vie for the gold in the Middle East, they’re also competing with the latest three-way dance for the Universal title between Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. As if that triple threat match isn’t enough, Shawn Michaels makes his in-ring return as D-Generation X reform to take on The Brothers of Destruction, The Undertaker and Kane.
It’s not the latest rehash of Taker, HBK and Triple H or the battle between those three behemoths for the premier Raw title that has wrestling purists excited though. Styles and Bryan have history from Ring of Honor and this meeting for the squared circle’s most prestigious prize is the culmination of long journeys.
As if you don’t know already, both champion and challenger started life on the independent circuit. Styles was later synonymous with TNA and came to WWE via a stint in Japan, while Bryan remained with ROH until getting his big break as part of The Nexus.
Despite winning the title being the storyline goal behind Bryan’s return to the ring following an enforced period of retirement due to concussion, it’s the champ (who runs the camp) Styles that’s a hot odds-on betting favourite to retain.
There’s some logic behind this. While WWE creative has shown willingness to do title changes on international shows in the past – see Super Show-Down in Melbourne, Australia recently – these tend to be secondary belts.
Bryan, meanwhile, is as big as 2/1 to end Styles’ lengthy reign in Saudi Arabia and there’s a sense that, for all the undoubted in-ring chemistry these two should have more than a decade on since their last proper encounter in ROH, this isn’t the right time for a change. They did meet on SmackDown live earlier this year, but were rather rudely interrupted by Shinsuke Nakamura.
Some bookmakers are even offering odds on the method of decision. While pinfall is clearly the most fancied outcome, the fact that both Bryan and Styles use submissions – the Yes Lock and Calf Crusher respectively – means someone tapping out is a big price at 4/1 and looks a value use of bonuses for free betting online.
This bout between two of SmackDown Live’s best technical wrestlers comes at a time when veterans like Michaels and Rey Mysterio are making comebacks. An eight-man single elimination tournament called the WWE World Cup is also on the Crown Jewel card and will see Kurt Angle step back in the ring in singles action.
Seeing old favourites is great from a nostalgia point of view, but the most compelling storytelling looks sure to come from the craft of Styles and Bryan. Here’s hoping the latter’s longstanding rivalry with The Miz, or the former’s recent battles with fellow TNA and ROH alumnus Samoa Joe don’t spoil what promises to be an instant classic.
As things currently stand, Bryan is the betting favourite to be the next WWE Champion after Styles. Whether that means he takes the belt off him at Crown Jewel is another matter entirely.