It’s been a matter of weeks since hardcore wrestling fans alike rejoiced when AJ Styles came out as the third entrant in the Royal Rumble.
Though the WWE links have been there for quite some time, there was always a bit of doubt as to whether Styles would, in fact, debut at the Royal Rumble.
Of course he did and the reaction from the Orlando crowd was immense. Styles has since been a permanent fixture on WWE television and will be working live events going forward.
It is early days in AJ’s WWE stint but here are a host of thoughts on how the company have used ‘The Phenomenal one’.
For someone who is not a WWE guy, he was booked fairly strong in the Royal Rumble match – staying in the match for a commendable 25 minutes. He looked like a star and had a number of memorable exchanges throughout.
As expected, there was a fair bit of backlash when he was finally eliminated but it was extremely well done – with Kevin Owens slinging Styles out of the ring.
Allegedly, Dean Ambrose was the man who would eliminate the debutant, but it was then changed to Owens.
The decision worked much better, as Owens is incredible at getting a reaction from the crowd and continued a thoroughly impressive performance. His “welcome to WWE AJ” line was pure gold.
With the way he was eliminated, I thought we were heading for a feud between AJ and Owens – After all Owens is probably the best heel in the company at the moment and seemingly is able to fit into any sort of program.
But instead, Styles’ first singles match was against “Y2J” Chris Jericho and it was certainly for the ages. Their match was entertaining, fluid and saw the new man pick up the win with a roll-up – getting one over the established WWE star.
AJ vs Y2J is now probably the best thing on WWE programming at the moment and their Smackdown match took it up another notch. Well-paced, hard-hitting and featuring a compelling finish – perfect evidence of how good the secondary show has become in recent weeks.
It has been reported that the finish to the match was changed in the heat of the moment – with the referee visibly breaking up a pin attempt from Jericho because his foot was under the ropes.
The altered ending was fine in fact and saw “The Ayatollah of Rock n Rolla” level matters with a quickly executed codebreaker.
And we are now destined to see a rubber match between the two at Fast Lane which should be a gem of a bout. In many ways, this is a respectful sort of feud. The two have a mutual appreciation for one another but are desperate to emerge victorious.
Styles, with his Pitbull-like style, is eager to make an impression while Jericho wants to prove he still has what it takes but also show the ‘rookie’ how things work in the WWE. He is the perfect foil for AJ to get to grips to the WWE style after his transition from Japan – Jericho himself was a hit in Japan before his WCW and WWE exploits.
But it has been interesting to have The Miz involved in there too. ‘Miz’ has a knack of slotting into any programme and making it work and that has been the case here. He is the polar opposite to Styles; one is brimming with personality while the other is as a real general in the ring.
It does feel awfully similar to the exchanges between Daniel Bryan and the Miz, especially when the latter is throwing around phrases like ‘Redneck Rookie’ but Styles has proved his worth in the ring and has had some great TV matches with ‘the Awesome one’.
What has also been interesting, for me at least, is the way the company are utilising his move-set. They are really highlighting his brutal flying forearm smash to the extent that he has finished matches with the move. AJ Styles enthusiasts will know that his grand finale is the ‘Styles Clash’ – a move that he has teased to hit on multiple occasions but has hit it just once in a Smackdown bout with Curtis Axel.
He has recently introduced the Calf Crusher as another finisher – it’s a devastating submission that is worthy of finishing a match. It is pleasing to see WWE allow AJ to have multiple signature moves because a performer of his ilk deserves such freedom.
So what next for AJ? Presently, everything is in place for Styles to have a ‘rubber match’ with Jericho at Fast Lane.
In recent years, Jericho has spent much of his time in WWE helping younger talent and hasn’t really done anything of note in terms of winning feuds. But the Styles program has given him a new lease of life and he is a more than credible opponent for the new WWE man.
But undoubtedly it should be AJ that gets the victory at Fast Lane and win the series. He has consistently being getting good reactions and will be a permanent fixture for WWE going forward so it only makes sense for him to come out on top in the final bout before going onto bigger and better things – my guess is that he will be in the Intercontinental title hunt, the seeds for an Owens-Styles were firmly planted at the Royal Rumble.
The way AJ Styles is being used is promising. At 38, he is in his prime, his merchandise is moving well and he is having great matches. It’s early days but AJ Styles in the WWE is proving to be a near-perfect match at the moment.