After weeks of speculation, former Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling star A.J. Styles made his much anticipated WWE debut Sunday as the third entrant in the Royal Rumble.
WWE provided video of his entrance as a stunned Roman Reigns looked on:
He immediately attacked Reigns before the fourth entrant, Tyler Breeze, entered. The duo wound up eliminating Breeze as well as the No. 5 entrant, Curtis Axel, as WWE Universe shared:
WrestlingInc.com detailed the reaction Styles got in his WWE debut:
AJ Styles is in the WWE,and got one of the biggest pops of all-time. What a time to be alive #RoyalRumble— WrestlingINC.com (@WrestlingInc) January 25, 2016
But after a valiant effort, lasting longer than anyone expected, Styles was eliminated by Kevin Owens at just over a half an hour. The History of WWE had the official time:
30:45, AJ by Owens. A great guy to do it if anyone had to #RoyalRumble— The History of WWE (@TheHistoryofWWE) January 25, 2016
Bleacher Report's Ryan Dilbert thought that Styles starting early was the right idea:
Having AJ Styles enter early was smart. Gives him chance to survive for a long stretch. Avoids "We want Styles" chants taking things over.— Ryan Dilbert (@ryandilbert) January 25, 2016
Rumors of Styles making the leap to WWE began in early January 2016, when reports surfaced that he, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and Shinsuke Nakamura of New Japan Pro Wrestling were on the verge of joining the company.
WWE fanned the flames when John Clapp of WWE.com wrote an article about the rumors, which suggested that there was something to them.
The evidence began to pile up in favor of the 38-year-old North Carolina native joining WWE from that point forward.
Included in that was a promo Styles cut following a match in England for Revolution Pro Wrestling. After clashing with Zack Sabre Jr., the three-time NWA world heavyweight champion and two-time TNA world heavyweight champion made mention of the Royal Rumble:
In addition to that, Ring of Honor advertised Styles' final appearance for the promotion as Jan. 23, which was the day prior to the Royal Rumble event.
While Styles worked one televised match for WWE previously on an episode of Metal in 2002, he has long been considered the biggest name to never fully make the leap to the leader in sports entertainment.
The former WCW standout has still accomplished a great deal in the wrestling business over the years, though—most notably an 11-year run in TNA that saw him become the standard-bearer and biggest star the company had ever seen.
TNA even congratulated Styles on his debut:
Congrats to TNA Original @AJStylesOrg on his debut tonight. Wish him all the best.— TNA WRESTLING (@IMPACTWRESTLING) January 25, 2016
Styles has primarily worked for ROH and NJPW since the WWE appearance mentioned above, and he managed to increase his profile and global popularity even more during that time.
When asked about the possibility of Styles joining WWE, NXT champion Finn Balor made it clear that landing him would be a game-changer for the company.
"A.J. Styles' reputation speaks for itself," Balor said, according to Anthony Benigno and Dustin Wallace of WWE.com. "He's one of the best in-ring performers on the planet, ever. To say this would be a coup is an understatement. I think the next couple of months could change the way pro wrestling is viewed for the next 10 years."
Now that Styles is officially a member of WWE after years of fans clamoring for it, there is seemingly no shortage of potential dream matches and storylines waiting for him.
One possible angle that could generate some excitement within WWE is if Styles joins forces with Anderson and Gallows to form a version of the Bullet Club stable they helped make popular in Japan.
The group was actually founded by Balor before he left for WWE, and Styles took over the lead role thereafter. Adding Balor into the mix would make for an interesting dynamic as well, and it could set the stage for a rivalry between Styles and Balor further down the line.
Styles has essentially done it all in the wrestling business aside from trying his hand at WWE, but now, he will get that opportunity.
WWE has managed to sign much of the best talent the wrestling world has had to offer in recent years, and Styles may be at the top of that list.
Due to his incredible in-ring acumen and already large fanbase, there is every reason to believe that Styles will be among WWE's top stars in the near future.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.