TNA Star A.J. Styles Named PWI Top 500 Winner: Is He Deserving?

Christopher DunfeeContributor IIJuly 19, 2010

It appears as if a certain, well respected, professional wrestling publication feels that a Total Nonstop Action Wrestling competitor may be the best performer in the world, at this point in time.

According to several online reports, it appears as if Pro Wrestling Illustrated has released the name of the top professional wrestler on their infamous list of the Top 500 of last year.

Topping that list, is none other than former TNA World Heavyweight Champion, “The Phenomenal” A.J. Styles.

It is definitely an intriguing, and perhaps controversial, decision to put him on top of the list of rankings; but the most important question that needs to be answered is, whether or not he deserves such a prestigious honor.

I have swayed back and forth on the matter since hearing the news break, and I still am not sure if I can give you an honest and fair assessment that I feel very strongly about.

The more you investigate and look over the potential candidates, there is actually a pretty strong case to be made for “The Phenomenal One” to sit on top.

Looking over recent “Top 10″ placements of recent years, and considering what is out there right now, it may be more of a case of process of elimination rather than perhaps the most deserving.

Looking at A.J. Styles, there are a lot of obvious flaws to poke at, and a lot of material you can throw out there to make a case against him being the No. 1 sports entertainer over this past year.

The obvious critics will point to his lack of mic skills, his lack of a strong look for marketability, as well as his disappointing run; since being taken under the wing of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

The strongest case that can be made against the so called “Most Decorated Man In TNA” is the failure of the new direction of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, since the beginning of the Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff era began in January.

As most of us know, A.J. was at the helm as the “face of the franchise” of this new direction, as the top competitor in the company, being the TNA World Heavyweight Champion.

The case is also very strong however, for the first Grand Slam Champion in TNA history, to be billed as the “Wrestler of the Year."

Many consider A.J. the most talented in-ring performer in the industry at the moment, and that is not only coming from the opinions of most fans, but one of the most well-rounded talents in sports entertainment history, “The Olympic Gold Medalist” Kurt Angle.

Surely, one of the top criteria to be judged for the honor, has to be how an individual performs, every time he steps in between the ropes.

No one can deny A.J.’s extraordinary ability to give the crowd it’s money’s worth, every single time he battles it out inside the ring.

Like I previously mentioned, one of the most credible pieces of evidence to support A.J.’s case is the lack of competition at the top.

Looking around the independent scene, many of the top stars have had a rough year, especially former Ring Of Honor stars, Bryan Danielson (WWE NXT Season One Rookie Daniel Bryan) and Nigel McGuinness (who now competes for TNA Wrestling under the persona of Desmond Wolfe).

A case can be made for Ring Of Honor competitors such as Davey Richards, Austin Aries, and ROH World Heavyweight Champion Tyler Black.

However, with lack of notoriety around the world, is it really fair to place one of those individuals on top of the list? I don’t think so, but that is a whole other column for another day.

Looking around the roster of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, the promotion in which A.J. competes for, it features plenty of talented performers throughout the promotion, including current champ Rob Van Dam, D’Angelo Dinero, Samoa Joe, Sting, and Kurt Angle, but not clear competition to his throne on top.

Current TNA World Heavyweight Champion, “The Whole F’n Show” Rob Van Dam was out of the game, as a free agent, throughout most of this past year, and hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire during his return thus far.

“The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero really never got an opportunity to shine, after suffering an injury at the most inopportune time, following a huge push in the company following his victory, in the “8 Card Stud” tournament, at the TNA Against All Odds pay-per-view.

“The Samoan Submission Machine” Samoa Joe battled to find a niche in the company following the fallout of The Main Event Mafia, confusion surrounding his gimmick, and time away from the promotion.

The Olympic Gold Medalist, Kurt Angle, also took some time off during this past year, and although he was extremely solid as usual, he did nothing that would perhaps put him above Styles.

“The Icon” Sting has had to battle some of his own issues with age, and what appears to be a serious shoulder injury throughout the year as well.

With a lack of competition on the Indy scene, as well as in his own company of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, is there any real threat coming from the biggest sports entertainment company in the world, World Wrestling Entertainment?

It doesn’t appear to be the case, while WWE has an outstanding roster of talent, I wouldn’t consider any of them a real threat to definitely hold back A.J. from standing on top of the PWI rankings for this year.

Since returning at the Royal Rumble, “The Rated R Superstar” Edge, has really been a shell of his former self and doesn’t seem to carry the amount of momentum he had previous to his serious injury.

The Undertaker has had two straight outstanding WrestleMania performances with “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, but has had to battle through injuries, as well as fight off age concerns, and lack of time inside the squared circle doesn’t help his case.

Other candidates that present a strong case include “The Straight Edge Superstar” C.M. Punk, as well as, Chris Jericho, but following outstanding campaigns the previous year; their momentum has also cooled a substantial amount. Jericho is one of the most strangely booked performers in the company.

While Punk has grown a substantial amount since last summer, with character development, his in-ring botches, and lack of main event success have to drag him down.

That really only leaves two other viable candidates as competition for “Mr. TNA," and one appears to be the poster child for WWE, John Cena.

“The Chain Gang Soldier” has put together a very solid campaign altogether, but a lot of his feuds following Randy Orton (that have included “The Animal” Batista, “The World’s Largest Athlete” The Big Show, and “The Celtic Warrior” Sheamus) have left a lot to be desired.

It seems as if another top WWE superstar has stolen quite a bit of the spotlight from Cena, and appears to be making his case for the “face” of World Wrestling Entertainment.

The strongest case could be made for “The Viper” Randy Orton, whom stands alone as perhaps the most “over” competitor in the company, at this time.

The self-proclaimed “Legend Killer” dominated the main event, however, in 2009, but seemed to cool off towards the end of the year and hasn’t really sustained the dominance on top ever since.

Much like A.J., Orton isn’t exactly the top mic guy in the promotion either but still seems to stand above the rest. When it comes to marketability in look, it is no question that “The Viper” definitely dominates “The Phenomenal One."

The same can also be said about in-ring ability, as Orton has tendencies to be bland and boring inside the squared circle at times, and doesn’t do anything to really stand out above the rest.

At the end of the day, it really could go either way; as long as your looking at it with unbiased eyes, and aren’t a “homer” for either promotion.

With an unbiased opinion, I might have to give a slight edge to “The Phenomenal” A.J. Styles  but “The Viper” Randy Orton is a close second, perhaps even 1.A, to the man who tops PWI ‘s Top 500 rankings this year.

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