Ever since his WWE debut in the Royal Rumble, the former TNA sweetheart and New Japan megastar has surpassed expectations, rising in popularity quicker than anyone thought possible. The ring general has put on stellar match after stellar match with the likes of Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, and by the look of things, he isn't slowing down any time soon.
|AJ Styles at his first WrestleMania.|
Styles, under the ring name Air Styles, worked three matches for the failing WCW in a tag team with Air Paris. He also briefly worked two matches with WWF and was offered a developmental contract, but declined it for family reasons.
Around this times, Styles signed a non-exclusive contract with Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and also began to make a statement at Ring of Honor, where he was quickly thrust into the main event scene. After failing to capture the ROH Title, he teamed with Amazing Red to win the ROH Tag Team title, eventually vacating it when Red was injured. He won the first ROH Pure Championship, defeating CM Punk to claim the title. Shortly after this, Styles was forced to cease working matches for ROH due to tensions between the company and TNA.
|TNA World Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles.|
Styles would stay with TNA until 2013, becoming the face of the company and earning the nickname "Mr. TNA." He is a 3-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, a 4-time NWA Tag Team World Champion, a 2-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, and a 6-time X-Division Champion, just to name a few. In 2005, he put on the only Dave Meltzer 5-star-rated match for TNA against Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels. Upon leaving TNA in 2013, Styles returned to Ring of Honor as a free agent and traveled the world independent circuit, winning various titles in smaller promotions across the globe.
But in 2014, something major happened for the Phenomenal One.
|AJ Styles, as a member of the Bullet Club, enters the ring as IWGP Heavyweight Champion.|
Styles made his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut in April 2014, attacking then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada before revealing himself as a member of the wildly popular heel faction the Bullet Club. In his debut match in early May, he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, becoming the first American to hold the title in almost a decade. He later lost the title to Hiroshi Tanahashi in October, but lost little momentum, recapturing the title in February 2015.
Styles held the title until July, losing it to Okada. In November, he challenged IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura (read our spotlight on him here) for a title match. The match, another Meltzer 5-star match, took place at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January 2016. Styles lost against the champion, and shortly after gave notice to New Japan.
WWE had come calling.
In storyline, Styles was kicked out of the Bullet Club by a mutinous Kenny Omega in his last appearance with the company, the day after Wrestle Kingdom. Later that month, Styles made his WWE debut in the Royal Rumble.
|Styles locks WWE Superstar Tyler Breeze into the Calf Crusher.|
Far before his tenure with WWE, Styles was renowned as not only one of the best wrestlers of the modern era, but of all time. His technical ability in the ring and ability to tell a story in a match are second to none in this day and age.
His arsenal of moves is so loaded that it's nearly impossible to list them all. He is extremely acrobatic and agile, but not quite a cruiserweight. All of his aerial stunts have a hint of raw power behind them, making him look all the more dangerous. His offense is based in swift strikes to stun opponents and then crushing signatures and finishers.
The Styles Clash is one of my favorite finishers in all of wrestling. It's absolutely brutal to the eye and amplified by the element of real danger seemingly in it; if a wrestler tucks his head in while taking the move, he risks a legitimate neck injury.
Styles' storytelling ability does not just help him, but it also helps elevate any opponent he steps into the ring with. He pulls audiences into matches whether he's wrestling a precious babyface or hated heel. Some of his best moments, in fact, have been against babyfaces without him even showing any heelish tendencies. Remember his stellar collision with Sami Zayn? What about his face-off with Cesaro? He's golden.
Aside from that, Styles also has a coveted ability to connect with crowds. Despite his almost legendary status, he remains approachable to fans and retains an everyman quality. His promo skills are a known weakness, but even then he always comes off as sincere with a mic in his hand. Everything about him feels authentic and his love of the craft shines through in every match he puts on.
|AJ Styles celebrates becoming the No. 1 Contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.|
Styles' future in WWE looks to be bright. He was treated as a big deal when being brought in and introduced in a fantastic way. He's won the support of casual and hardcore fans alike in a matter of months and consistently performs well under the spotlight. It certainly helps that he is one of the top merchandise sellers in the company.
Expect WWE to take full advantage of him, and soon. He's on a shorter timetable than most, considering his age. If we're lucky, he will remain in the main event scene for another five or six years before he decides to retire. WWE is paying top dollar for him, and despite their questionable history with booking talent whose names were made elsewhere, they will want to utilize their investment to the fullest.
At least one run with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship seems inevitable. Though it might not come soon, Styles is the perfect fit for a Money in the Bank win or Royal Rumble victory. And if his work in Japan has taught us anything, it's that he can perform at the main event level as a face or heel.
Bullet Club or not, Styles will make a statement at Payback. And if WWE plays its cards right, he will continue making a statement for years to come as he cements his legacy as one of the best wrestlers of all time.