AJ Styles: Can WWE Avoid Potentially Misusing Him?


Several top stars have come into WWE before AJ Styles and been less than successful. Can WWE avoid this trap with the Phenomenal One?

Since his debut at the Royal Rumble, AJ Styles has already shown himself to be one of the most popular superstars on the WWE roster. The company is, in fact, touting that fact, updating a video playlist of loudest crowd reactions to include the Phenomenal One’s surprise appearance on the pay-per-view.

Once the novelty of a new face wears off, though, Styles will be put to the ultimate test: being utilized to his fullest potential by the company.

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Styles comes to WWE with a long list of accomplishments to his name, several of which have already been mentioned by the announce team. He’s a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, for one. He’s had a storied 18-year career, for another.

However, with the majority of his accomplishments happening outside WWE, most of the audience unfamiliar with his early work won’t know how good Styles really is.

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It’s a problem that has affected the careers of a few superstars already, namely Cesaro and, to a lesser extent, Daniel Bryan. Both men spent considerable time in the indies, building quite extensive resumes and racking up numerous championships. Unfortunately, their early WWE careers were less than stellar, and it took quite a while before either saw greater success.

It may be unfair to compare Cesaro/Bryan to Styles, though; after all, TNA is not quite the same thing as an independent promotion. Also, Styles comes in as a seemingly bigger deal, keeping his ring name and having his past readily acknowledged, which in the case of Cesaro is rarely done, and with Bryan was originally done disparagingly (go back and watch the first season of NXT, and see how much the commentary tried to make Bryan seem like a nobody despite being an accomplished, world-traveled wrestler).

But how many times has Styles been crowned a world champion? You’ll never find out from WWE since all those reigns happened in TNA, which for reasons too numerous to list here will not be uttered on WWE programming.

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  • Styles is a five-time world champion, having held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times, and the TNA World Heavyweight Championship twice. Moreso than Cesaro or Bryan, a better comparison for Styles might be Sting – another former TNA World Heavyweight Champion, but, more importantly, the face of another wrestling organization.

    As “The Face of WCW,” Sting in a WWE ring was something fans always wanted to see, but the general consensus is that his time with WWE was underwhelming. With a career record in WWE of 0-2, many see that as Vince McMahon continuing to declare victory over WCW, nearly two decades after he purchased the company and merged it with WWE.

    Styles is widely regarded as “TNA’s Sting,” as his long and illustrious career there made him almost synonymous with the company. With McMahon reportedly not regarding TNA as competition, there’s a chance Styles won’t suffer the same fate as Sting, and early results indicate that may be the case. A much-respected debut in the Royal Rumble was followed by a quality back-and-forth contest against Chris Jericho, and Styles emerged victorious.

    However, immediately prior to his match with Jericho, Styles’ arrival was almost belittled by Y2J. Sure, Jericho put over Styles and his “great career,” but he was also quick to mention that he’s never been “in the big time” of WWE, which implies that his career and achievements mean precisely nothing. It’s highly possible this was just Jericho riffing, but it’s equally possible this was a scripted jab. While it seems like it gives Styles something to fight for, it also makes it seem like an 18-year veteran and former world champion needs to prove himself by winning a random match.

    To be successful, Styles needs to continue to be put in situations that showcase his talent and abilities adequately without seeming like he’s got to prove himself, or he’ll ultimately end up an afterthought in the minds of both the creative team and, worse, the WWE Universe. A clearly-defined program would be the first step, as random matches may be exciting for the audience, but lack direction and lead to the competitors just treading water.

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    Time will tell if AJ Styles is the exception to the Vince McMahon rule of, “If I didn’t make you a star, then no one made you a star.” Here’s hoping that he’s successful in that, as it only means a better product for the fans.