The WWE Superstar Shake-up has come and gone, and in its wake, it has left the rosters of Raw and SmackDown nearly unrecognizable. For all of the transactions that occurred, the most newsworthy item to come out of the two-night television event was the Superstar who did not switch brands: AJ Styles.
The Phenomenal One was heavily rumored to be on the move to Raw. After guiding SmackDown through the first eight months of the brand extension, Styles would be shifted to Raw, where he would thrive at the top of the card.
Or so it was expected.
As the April 10 episode of Raw came to a close, it became apparent Styles was staying put. After months spent as WWE champion and in many ways the face of the blue brand, he would continue serving as its franchise star.
It was the best decision WWE Creative could have made.
The Best in the World
In an industry rife with talented professional wrestlers, AJ Styles is the best in the world at what he does. Chris Jericho may use that line as a catchphrase, but it is Styles who embodies it. An extraordinary in-ring performer, he can wow audiences with his aerial assault, pick an opponent apart with mat-based submission acumen or generate sympathy through his selling of his opponent's offense.
There are numerous performers of similar backgrounds who possess all of those abilities, though. What sets Styles apart from every one of his peers is his ability to deliver a superb match with any Superstar of any style.
On one night, he may work a hard-hitting brawl with Roman Reigns. The next, a Japanese Strong Style battle with Shinsuke Nakamura. Then he may work a WWE style against Dean Ambrose. In all three cases, he will pop the crowd in a way only he can, because he has an understanding of where to point certain spots and when to execute them.
He is an incredibly gifted, smart worker who can contribute to the show in any number of ways by working with everyone from seasoned veteran Ambrose to untrained spectacle performer Shane McMahon. When he captured the WWE Championship at last September's Backlash pay-per-view, peers were quick to take to Twitter and speak of his greatness.
His in-ring abilities make him an invaluable piece of the WWE puzzle and a star unrivaled by the men he shares the locker room with.
Even more important to Styles' place on the SmackDown Live roster is his adaptability as a performer beyond the squared circle.
During his first year with the company, Styles has demonstrated an innate ability to play both a babyface and a heel.
As a villain, he was an insufferable egotist who is damn good and knows it. He bragged about his victories, touted his accomplishments and antagonized the top babyfaces. Styles did so to great success, rising to the top of WWE as a bad guy working marquee stars like Reigns, Ambrose and John Cena.
As a hero, he is a dazzling ball of electricity, a Superstar who encourages envy because of the coolness factor he possesses that others are envious of. He looks cool, wrestles a captivating style and presents himself as the biggest deal in the business. He exudes a self-confidence that was not readily apparent earlier in his career.
In a day and age in which writing is so fluid and the company is always one injury away from losing a marquee star, Styles is indispensable. He can step up and fill any void left by any performer and, in most cases, do it better.
Looking into the future, SmackDown Live presents many an opportunity for Styles to give back to an industry that has been very good to him. Now the unquestioned face of a SmackDown brand in transition following the Superstar Shake-up, he has the chance to help WWE well into the next generation.
Like guys such as Jeff Jarrett, Raven, D'Lo Brown, Kurt Angle and Sting did for him during his early days in TNA Wrestling, he can make a marquee star out of a young up-and-coming performer on Tuesday nights. Whether that is someone with untapped potentials like Baron Corbin or a popular underdog looking for one signature series of wins to take that next step toward immortality like Sami Zayn, they can benefit from working with Styles.
But Styles himself is not finished crossing accomplishments off his bucket list.
He has yet to main-event WrestleMania. He has not worked with Randy Orton, and it still feels as though his differences with John Cena have not yet been settled. There are titles to be won, gimmick matches to perform in, and a legacy in wrestling's most storied promotion to be etched.
All of which will come easier to Styles now that he is definitively the face of SmackDown Live.