It has been a momentous week for AJ Styles.
Recalled from the SmackDown Live South America tour to be a last-minute replacement for Bray Wyatt at Tables, Ladders, and Chairs, he then filled in for Roman Reigns in a tag team match on Raw, before pulling the blue shirt on to lay siege to the flagship show.
It’s been a week that has opened the eyes of WWE fans to just how good Styles really is.
The one-on-one match with Finn Balor on Sunday was, to me, AJ’s best match in WWE. It wasn’t the kickout-fest he had with John Cena at the Royal Rumble or his battles with Roman Reigns where the WWE Championship was on the line. Instead, it was a back-and-forth classic with reversals, unusual spots, and an electric atmosphere thanks to their parallel careers in Japan.
AJ's "workhorse" week seems to confirm that Vince McMahon and the company hold him in the highest regard. As they should.
The legend of AJ Styles
It has been a long road to the WWE for Styles, but for a long time before he did get here, his legend was global.
I have properly sat down and watched one TNA match. And it was AJ Styles in a 5* triple threat match with Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe.
That match was in September 2005, more than 12 years ago now. While it stands out as a fluid and dynamic match between three talented wrestlers, it was a huge statement about the talents of Styles.
The stigma of TNA kept many wrestling fans, myself included, from watching him regularly, but he was also able to venture into the indies, where he shared his talents with a much wider audience. Styles held the PWG World Championship in 2005 before losing it to Kevin Steen, now known as Kevin Owens. He appeared in Ring of Honor, he worked in Korea even. And then he went to Japan...
Finn Balor, as Prince Devitt, may have founded Bullet Club, but when he signed with WWE and left New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) AJ Styles took over and lead it to new heights. With a raft of quality matches and big title wins came even more exposure and accolades.
Styles is the reigning Wrestler of the Year for both Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Observer Newsletter. His pair of IWGP Heavyweight title reigns were massively successful as he was allowed to beat both Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi for the belt. He was one of the most over foreigners to ever wrestle in Japan thanks to his ability to mix styles with anyone, put on clinics every night and cut convincing promos.
Scratching the surface
There is a general acceptance that Styles is one of the best in WWE right now. There is always some subjectivity when it comes to who is "the best wrestler", but AJ Styles is most certainly one of the few who is in the conversation. He quickly established himself at the top of the card in WWE, and his recent time away from the WWE Championship has not diminished his stature thanks to his quality matches, his great promos, and his incredible presence. His match with Finn Balor was just another show-stealing performance.
I'm sure WWE fans are bored of hearing how incredible New Japan is from people like myself, but for as great as Styles has been in WWE so far, they have barely scratched the surface of his talents, and despite how over he is still extremely under appreciated among WWE fans.
Styles will get another run with the WWE Championship soon. He will hopefully get a chance to work programs without the frustrating booking and bad finishes as he had with Kevin Owens.
The 21st century GOAT
Because he has spent the majority of his career outside of WWE, there will always be a big chunk of wrestling fans that are unwilling to accept Styles as one of the best talents in the last 15 years, but there can be little doubt that wherever he has gone he has performed brilliantly and become extremely popular. His in-ring work is on a parallel with greats from any era, his presence is far greater than his stature, and he is a believable opponent for monsters and cruiserweights alike.
Styles' exposure to a variety of techniques and, well, styles of wrestling means he has been able to put on WWE-style classics with John Cena, Puroresu clinics in Japan, technical masterpieces with Zack Sabre Jr in the UK, and even blend Japanese and American genres to rile a crowd up as he and Balor did on Sunday.
When he finally hangs his boots up, Styles will be one of the greatest of all time. I just hope fans can fully appreciate the greatness we get to see on a weekly basis right now. He truly is phenomenal.
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