Now that the dust has settled on AJ Styles debuting with WWE last week at the Royal Rumble 2016 pay-per-view, I wanted to share a few thoughts on his big arrival and what his future may entail. Keep in mind the man JUST showed up, and we will only be able to judge his WWE career years from now.
It is my belief that WWE were behind the initial 'AJ Styles leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling' rumors in early January 2016. Everything that leaks online is done so for a reason. In this case, WWE was looking for some extra buzz heading into the new year and wanted newer/younger fans to look into this guy. Who is AJ Styles? How long has he been wrestling? Is he any good? All these questions could now linger and build up until the Royal Rumble, benefiting AJ Styles on his next career move, as well as WWE. Much more than it all being kept as a surprise reveal. Win-win start to the relationship if you ask me.
The scariest part is it was TNA Impact Wrestling that provided that extra little boost of hype Royal Rumble weekend - again, benefiting WWE. They released some ridiculous statement about Styles signing/not signing with them a month ago that was probably designed to give them sympathy. Instead, I just laughed and mocked them for their desperate cry for attention. Again, benefiting WWE, their Royal Rumble PPV, and made AJ Styles seem like an even bigger star than before.
Royal Rumble Entrance
This may be jumping the gun a bit, but that debut was spectacular. The crowd, the setting, the rumors surrounding his arrival, the music, the look on Roman Reigns' face when he came out, the fans chanting his name, etc. Coincidence or not, the icing on the cake was this all took place in Orlando, Florida.
First Raw Match
What better way to debut on Raw than wrestle Chris Jericho? The man has main evented WrestleMania, been a champion all over the globe, and is a former multi-time World Title holder. Excellent choice to get started on RAW. Of course, AJ won clean as can be and even was involved with a hint of a future feud? Not a bad way to kick off your career on wrestling's most watched television show on cable.
Little known fact: WWE Smackdown was watched by over 2.7 million viewers this past Thursday night. A couple extra thousand if you include the DVR figures. Plus, what the international viewing audience is.
Anyways, my point is this: AJ Styles his his "Styles Clash" finisher on Smackdown and beat Curtis Axel.
Often times Smackdown gets a bad reputation, and truthfully, it deserves that most of the time.
Not last week though. AJ Styles busted out his famous finisher and won (again) in front of millions of viewers. That can not be understated and speaks volumes of the fact he did so with his trademark move. WWE did not ban the move or even take it away from him (well, not yet at least). I thought that was a major vote of confidence.
On that note, reports say that AJ Styles also got a huge contract, got to keep his likeness, his trademarks, his AJ Styles name, and oh yeah - he is on the main roster. No NXT for him. No lengthy stay in developmental at all. AJ Styles is WWE through and through from the second he walks in the door. A huge 'get' for his agent and says a lot about how AJ Styles is viewed from company officials. Not many guys get to sign with WWE for a big amount of money and basically get to call their own shots.
AJ Styles just did though.
Fan or not, you have to give him props there.
This is where things get a little iffy for AJ Styles being in WWE right now. Two question marks jump out to me:
1. It is the Road to WrestleMania. Unless you are a top star, you will not get a ton of TV time until April or so. Even with allllll the hours of TV, we know the drill around this time period. Mania is about the main events, Hall of Fame inductees, and legends. Unless AJ Styles is in a prominent story line fairly soon, he may not truly shine as his own for awhile. I really hate to imagine him making his long awaited WM debut thrown in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle or something, but that is where we may be headed. I hope not.
2. The other issue is very similar. Who DOES he wrestle at the WWE Fast Lane? Chris Jericho again with more face/heel mannerisms? Okay, fair enough. Maybe Kevin Owens? However, Jericho is rumored to be headed for a feud with Dean Ambrose, and Kevin Owens should face Sami Zayn at WrestleMania 32. That leaves AJ Styles to do...what? Wait for his NJPW buddies to show up?
Despite everything stated, it has been barely a week since he debuted. A week! We didn't judge Stone Cold Steve Austin's career after a week. Or The Rock's career after a week. Or John Cena's career after a week. That is not how it works. The AJ Styles and WWE has just begun, and the long-term future looks bright. I did not plan on ending this column on such a negative note, however my point stands. Who does AJ Styles feud with now?
I will be hosting a fun Twitter "contest" this Wednesday! You must be following @JustinWatry in order to win.
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