When AJ Styles unexpectedly won the WWE Championship from Jinder Mahal at the recent SmackDown Live tapings in my home city of Manchester, WWE fans around the globe immediately turned their attention to this year's Survivor Series, and found themselves salivating over the prospect of a new main event: AJ Styles vs Brock Lesnar. It's a legitimate dream-match... which if booked right, should hopefully catapult AJ Styles towards even bigger superstardom. But was it the right decision?
With a firm eye on the Indian market, WWE has undoubtedly invested a lot of time and money into the modern-day Maharaja, so it seems strange for them to suddenly pull the brakes on his controversial 6-month title reign, especially right before the Indian tour. Speculation was rife surrounding the sudden change in main event, and that an injury or wellness violation might have led to the decision, but this was swiftly shot-down on social media by Jinder himself, who will now potentially face Triple H in a high profile match-up that should at least placate the fans in New Delhi.
Having been a lower-card wrestler for most of his WWE career trajectory, it felt almost inconceivable to me that Jinder would ever headline a PPV, let alone seem like a threat to the Beast Incarnate, and his push to the top of WWE felt both forced and unbelievable. I have nothing against Jinder; he's a likeable guy outside of the ring - hardworking, intelligent, and I was happy when he managed to find his way back to the company after his release in 2014. WWE has presented Jinder to it's audience as a jobber, a comedy act... and even on his return this was the case, so it's surely not surprising that WWE fans didn't find him to be a credible champion. There was no build to his Championship win, no beautiful video packages selling us his story... no long-running feud which made us feel invested. His wrestling ability is safe and steady but not exciting. Infact, I can barely remember him winning a match on WWE television before becoming Champion.
"When we think of WWE Champions, we think of Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, and, ladies and gentlemen, my client, Brock Lesnar. We don't think of Jinder Mahal, a consolation prize champion offered to SmackDown Live when Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan realized they got the shaft in the Superstar Shakeup." - Paul Heyman
When Paul Heyman pretty much threw Jinder under the bus during his brutal Survivor Series promo, it was the final nail in the coffin for Jinder's lacklustre Championship run. The only logical booking would have been for Lesnar to absolutely destroy Mahal. We should of course entirely blame the writing team and company management for ever thinking this could have been a good idea, and we should count our blessings they seem to have finally admitted their mistake by pushing AJ Styles back to his rightful spot at the top of the card.
I'm not afraid to admit I was disenfranchised with wrestling when I discovered AJ Styles during the TNA Asylum days. Watching him help put the X-Division on the map made me remember why I loved wrestling and I've never really stopped loving it since. His near 12 year career in TNA is legendary, winning every major title multiple times, and holding his own against legends Sting and Kurt Angle in the process.
When Styles left TNA back in 2013, I was willing him to succeed; I'm not tribal about wrestling, and would continue to follow his career across to Japan and The Bullet Club, before his phenomenal debut at the Royal Rumble, which caused me to jump off the couch and run around the room screaming my head off. Any concerns over how WWE would handle Styles went out of the window after hearing that beautiful audience reaction, and the way the commentary team sold his performance.
AJ Styles is everything you could want in a WWE Champion and main event star - a compelling history, a recognisable moveset and the ability to be heel or face. His mic work has vastly improved over the years and with WWE seemingly planning a Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns main event for WrestleMania, who better than AJ Styles than to make Brock look good, whilst protecting his own standing as the number one guy on SmackDown. But then again.... The Phenomenal One might not have read the script.
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