Impact Wrestling: Breaking down AJ Styles not returning in 2016

AJ Styles joining WWE instead of TNA in 2016 was a game-changer.

Hindsight is always 20/20, right? This statement rings true for three professional wrestlers in particular. AJ Styles, Doc Gallows, and Karl Anderson have had very different experiences over the last four years. Despite being the hottest free agents with all the potential in the world at one point, they are now on separate paths with different goals in mind.

Going into 2016, Roman Reigns was fighting The Authority as WWE Champion. TNA was without a World Title holder. Jay Lethal was in the midst of a historical ROH World Title run. Kazuchika Okada was reigning supreme over New Japan. AEW didn’t exist yet, and Jeff Jarrett’s GFW was already an afterthought.

On January 4, 2016, AJ Styles clashed with future WWE star Shinsuke Nakamura in a critically-acclaimed IWGP Intercontinental Championship battle at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Little did the world know that both athletes were set to leave New Japan shortly after to join World Wrestling Entertainment.

Following in their footsteps were AJ’s former Bullet Club buddies Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, who arrived in WWE a few months after Styles shocked the world during the 2016 Royal Rumble match. However, things were set to play out much differently for the trio as they had allegedly agreed to go to TNA before WWE gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

There’s no denying that TNA lost big time in the battle to obtain the hottest free agents. Dixie Carter was said to have locked them into a handshake and ink-on-paper agreement ahead of the company’s move to Pop TV. Creative, merchandise, and travel plans were reportedly in place. It just wasn’t meant to be, though.

Fast-forward to the present day. AJ Styles is thriving as one of WWE’s top stars, while Gallows and Anderson are now signed to Impact following a frustrating four-year run in WWE. What’s done is done obviously, but I can’t help but wonder what the wrestling landscape would look like now had the trio followed through with going to TNA in 2016.

There would be no AJ Styles feuds with Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, or John Cena that year. Styles wouldn’t have become the face of SmackDown that the blue brand needed from 2016-18.

While Styles was finishing up with New Japan, TNA was focused on crowning a World Champion to kick off their new era. EC3 went on to beat Matt Hardy before the two eventually completed a double turn. Needless to say, babyface EC3 wasn’t quite as notable as what came about for Matt Hardy. The double turn paved way for Big Money Matt to transform into Broken Matt that summer during a heated rivalry with Jeff. From there we saw the Final Deletion match, which has since set the tone for cinematic matches to have a space within the pro wrestling world.

But what if… Styles, Gallows, and Anderson landed in TNA in January. Had their agreement with TNA not fallen through during the holiday break, TNA management may have gone a different route. It’s possible that the EC3-Hardy double turn may have still happened. There’s a chance, though, that Broken Matt and everything that followed may not have come to fruition. Isn’t that crazy to think about?

There’s no doubt Styles would have been in the World Title picture with the likes of EC3, Matt Hardy, Drew Galloway, Bobby Lashley, and others. AJ Styles would’ve been part of Kurt Angle’s TNA retirement tour as well. Elsewhere, Gallows and Anderson would have left their mark on the tag division by feuding with the likes of Decay, Beer Money, The Wolves, and maybe even The Hardy’s.

Having that restored star power could’ve righted a lot of wrongs that were dragged out in the years that followed. Think about the failed GFW branding when Jeff Jarrett returned to Impact Wrestling in 2017, or the company’s further demotion to the Pursuit Channel. Had the former Bullet Club members found success in the six-sided ring, other former WWE names like Cody Rhodes may have spent more time there. TNA could’ve been what ROH was in 2017-18. TNA could’ve been the alternative that AEW now is.

The potential to change the game that much for just one company is a testament to the work AJ Styles has done in the squared circle. He made the right decision by opting to go to WWE instead. Some may say he got lucky considering other indie darlings, including his own tag team partners, have suffered tremendously by choosing WWE. AJ has been on Vince’s good side from the start, which has resulted in incredible success to compliment what he’s already accomplished elsewhere.

Two-time WWE Champion, three-time United States Champion, and reigning Intercontinental Champion. Five consecutive WrestleMania matches, main events all over the world, match of the year contenders against the best of the best. It’s almost certain that The Phenomenal One will finish his in-ring career with WWE.

As for Gallows and Anderson, they are ready to make up for lost time. Sure, they may have once been signed to the biggest wrestling company in the world where they made buckets of money and had worldwide exposure. But there was certainly a lack of care and creative direction. Unfortunately, that statement rings true for most of WWE’s tag team division in recent years, but that’s another article for another time.

So many “what if’s” and so many “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve’s.” Even though 2020 has made a mess of the pro wrestling world, the sky’s the limit for what Gallows and Anderson can do, while AJ Styles continues to cement his legacy as the greatest of all time.

What do you think would’ve happened had Styles, Gallows, and Anderson went to TNA in 2016? Sound off below!