Hello lovely Bleacher Report readers, Harrison here, and in this article, I want to talk about someone who's currently one of my favourite wrestlers. Now, I'll be the first to admit, I'm a fairly new wrestling fan, only really being into TNA since January 2009, but when I was getting into TNA, the one person that instantly caught my eye was AJ Styles. I had always heard very good things about his wrestling ability, so I ended up instantly having an emotional investment in him, wanting him to rise through the ranks, especially after Kurt Angle put him over in 2008. Turns out, later that year, my thoughts were realized.
In the middle of 2009, AJ had gotten himself into a feud with Matt Morgan, in a best of three series on Impact, with the winner being the 3rd participant in a Triple Threat Match for the World Championship at Hard Justice. Unfortunately, AJ lose that series 2-1, so I was worried it would be another case of AJ being suck in that mid-card position, bobbing up to the occasional main event...
...So you can probably guess my reaction when I found out that he'd be in the Main Event of No Surrender in September that year. (A 4-Way for the World Championship between Sting, Kurt Angle, AJ Styles and Matt Morgan)
"Ah, he won't win, he'll take all the bumps", was my initial thoughts, and can you blame me for thinking that, with a 50 year old Sting and a rapidly ageing 40 year old Kurt thrown in there?
Are you happy with the booking of AJ Styles right now?
Imagine how I then felt when on the night, Hernandez cashed in his World Title "Feast of Fired" briefcase to make it a 5-Way! I really did think that AJ didn't have a realistic chance, like when he got lost in the shuffle at that years King of the Mountain match at Slammiversary.
... How wrong was I? With Hernandez out of the way, Morgan taken out by Sting and Kurt Angle down, AJ Styles pull out a 450 Splash, and wins the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
I was ecstatic. I felt as if they were finally giving the right guy, the company guy who's been there from the start, the ball, and they were going to let him run with it. And what was happening next for AJ? A Main Event slot, at their biggest Pay-Per-View of the year at Bound for Glory, with AJ going to have the torch passed to him by Sting after the rub he was getting. Awesome!
... And he did get 'the torch' passed to him by Sting. Shame he basically did a Brett Favre on us (Yep, even us Brits know who he is), but what can you say? Some guys don't know when to hang it up. Anyway, AJ Styles really was the top guy in TNA, and it was a pleasure to see him grow and see him mould into this exceptionally talented, young guy, being the face of TNA, being that remarkable wrestler many thought he already was...
... So you probably guess that most of the Internet Wrestling Community's trousers exploded when they announced the rematch of the most famous three-Way in TNA History for Turning Point. Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles? Hell yes! And AJ went over again, after a genuine match of the year contender (****3/4 Stars from a reviewer's perspective.)
What was different now, was that by December, and Final Resolution, AJ was getting on the mic more to cater towards Daniels heel turn. Now AJ's never been that edgy on the mic as a face, but he was far from bad, so I had no issue with it. And guess what? AJ put on another 4 Star+ Match with Daniels, main evening Final Resolution. Awesomeness! (Is that even a word)
So, looking forward to the new year, it was announced that Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff were coming to TNA. Now knowing their tendency to favour older guys, and with me predicting that they would be bringing in their back up in (The Nasty Boys, Jimmy Hart, Bubba The Love Sponge, etc.), I was worried.
Those worries were mildly reduced when Kurt and AJ produced that classic match on free TV on January 4th, the three hour Impact special. However, with Ric Flair hovering around, and Tomko revealed as the mystery man, I sensed an AJ heel turn.
I was against this. As I said, AJ wasn't the most competent on the mic, so a heel turn would be questionable, but with a Ric Flair rub as a manager, I was willing to give it a chance.
And he did turn heel on Kurt Angle, at Genesis. AJ and Flair went on to dominate TNA as a heel through the beginning 1/4 of the year, going through Samoa Joe, Abyss, and The Pope at Lockdown...
...Then it happened. On TNA's debut on Monday Nights, after Lockdown, Rob Van Dam cleanly pinned AJ, with no build or hype, in the main event of Impact to win the World Championship. I was bemused, I was stunned, it made no sense. Why give RVD a World Title out of nowhere like that, on free TV? If it was on a PPV, fine. But that was such a silly move by booking. I'm looking at you Hogan...(Didn't he say on Impact last night that he built the company around RVD?!)
So Rob Van Dam also beat AJ at Sacrifice to establish himself as Champion, while the overbooked match spilled over to Ric Flair, and Jay Lethal. So much so, AJ fell down the card and ended up losing to Jay Lethal at Slammiversary, which is a shame really because he seemed to be getting monthly push, after beating ALL of Ric Flair's "Fortune" (Which wasn't even fully established at this point).
I was getting fully frustrated at this point, how could your face of the company, and World Champion be back in the mid card, working with Rob Freaking Terry in less than 3 Months? It annoyed me so much to see Abyss and Jeff Hardy, ie, Hogan's boys being catered to while the talent that built the company, specifically AJ was being lost in the shuffle.
Well, he won the Global Championship a month or so ago, and renamed it the TV Title in tribute to Ric Flair...Okay...Fine, but surely, I'm not the only one who sighs when they see AJ come down the ramp with a meaningless belt when he was World Champion in April?
I don't know if AJ's ever going to be back up the card now Hogan and Bischoff are building the company around EV 2.0 and with him now in a faction, he's not going to break out from that any time soon. It looked liked he may have done when Kazarian was building himself up around Slammiversary, but that was quickly squashed.
Also, with AJ now as a heel, he's not the same guy in the ring anymore. When he was a baby-face, he tended to wrestle longer matches, and he let his wrestling do the talking, which, in the lower end of 2009 and the start of 2010, was amazing. He was busting out 4 Star Matches at will. When he turned heel, he had to rely on overbooked Main Events to try and add excitement. Didn't really work, it just left a bitter taste in my mouth, especially at Lockdown when he used a pen in a Steel Cage match to beat The Pope.
I wish they turned AJ face again and build him up as the company guy again, because the company was getting positive reviews and praise for when he was at his prime at the top. Now though, I can't see it as AJ gets lost in the Fortune shuffle. I think it's a very different AJ from the one who was World Champion just under a year ago from now. (As I writing this.)
What do you fine readers think? Has AJ lost all his steam? Did you enjoy his reign as the longest World Champion in TNA history? What's next for him? How do you feel on his position now as TV Champion? Let me know.
To sum up, AJ Styles is the face of TNA. It didn't take me long to realize that when people think of TNA, they think of AJ Styles. I know I did, before I even started watching TNA. Now, the face of the company is Hulk Hogan. Now that can't be a good thing knowing his high levels of hypocrisy. Let's hope he can get behind AJ again and "take TNA to the next level." Brother.