Few moments in WWE are more exciting than a character turn. WWE's dynamic brand is defined by its ability to change at any moment. The latest wrestler seemingly on the verge of making an exciting shift in his character is
The latest wrestler seemingly on the verge of making an exciting shift in his character is AJ Styles, whom fans have been expecting to turn face for months now. However, only the past few weeks have shown that WWE is on board with Styles as a face once again.
Last week on SmackDown Live, the landscape of the show changed dramatically. New wrestlers, who included Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, made their debuts on the product while Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose were among those who moved to Monday Night Raw.
However, it was a subtle move that could have a more dramatic impact on SmackDown: the decision to have AJ Styles win a main event Triple Threat match to earn a United States Championship match against Owens (or Chris Jericho if he wins at Payback on April 30, which is unlikely).
That decision set the stage for a change involving Styles that could shift the main event scene of SmackDown significantly. Heel vs. heel matches are rarely seen in WWE because fans lack a clear wrestlers to root for. Thus, any time a heel wrestler begins a rivalry with a fellow heel, the end goal is more than likely a face turn for one of the two wrestlers.
Given Styles has already shown face tendencies at times when his ego is not front and center, including his respectful handshake with Shane McMahon after WrestleMania, it would make sense for Styles to be on the precipice of a turn to the light. The popular wrestler has the move set and the style to pull it off, while KO has always been a natural bad guy who already helped turn Jericho face a couple months back.
However, there are concerns over such a big move with Styles. The cocky wrestler has been an ideal fit for SmackDown, helping to redefine the show and brand, and it is hard to say he could make the same impact as a face. While fans would certainly embrace Styles as the hero, it is not as easy to say that SmackDown needs him more in the role.
The following are the pros and cons involved with making The Phenomenal One a face in the coming months with regard to its effect on the brand and his personal success.
Pro: Fans have always been ready to cheer Styles
Styles has been heavily over with the WWE Universe since day one. Even while he played the role of villain to perfection, "AJ Styles" chants echoed through the arena in every one of his matches. While fans often cheer talented heels, Styles has never been able to convince fans to hate him.
In a modern era of wrestling where everyone understands the business, talent often wins out, and Styles may just be the best wrestler in the world right now. His ability to pull the best out of all his opponents and step up as the spotlight gets brighter draws respect from any onlooker.
With WWE still desperately trying to create new stars that the fans will embrace, Styles easily fits the mold, and he could find wider mainstream success as SmackDown's top face rather than the top heel.
Con: Styles is a far better heel talker than face
Before Styles turned heel on John Cena, many questioned whether he was going to be able to speak alongside WWE's best. A heel persona showcased Styles at his best: cocky and confident with fire behind his words. Not only has Styles stood up to Cena repeatedly in fantastic segments, SmackDown has trusted Styles often to cut promos solo to continue his feuds.
It is hard to believe Styles will lose all that fire when he turns face, but he will certainly have to change the dynamic of his promos. This is a fairly common situation for all wrestlers. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have all drawn recent criticism as faces on the mic while being much better received when speaking as heels.
Perhaps Styles will be able to find enough of a safe medium to make the transition smoothly, but a cocky Styles berating his opponents will be missed if Styles turns face.
Pro: The high-flying style and selling of Styles is a more natural fit for a face
Styles is a vicious performer, though often he is hurting himself as much as his opponent. His springboard offense is exciting and hard to root against, particularly when he is getting high air on a Phenomenal Forearm. Rarely do you see Styles slow down and wear out his rivals.
No matter how much Styles gloats over his offense, he has never been able to get over his offense as a heat magnet. While potential future opponent KO has often used headlocks and career-threatening impact moves to garner boos alongside his trademark trash-talking, Styles never adapted his style because it would have just hindered his matches.
Styles also has always been strong at selling offense with faces who often spend much of the match taking punishment and trying to fire back. Styles would be asked to do more of what he does best as a face in the ring: taking bumps and coming back in magnificent flurries.
Con: SmackDown already has an imbalanced main event scene with too many faces
When SmackDown lost Wyatt and Miz in the draft, Orton recently turned face and Shinsuke Nakamura debuting, the dynamic of the main event scene quickly became hard to piece out. The current top heel on the brand is Styles, and KO is No. 2 despite holding a championship that will keep him out of main event contention.
Without Styles, SmackDown will have to take a chance on new talent or turn someone else heel. Baron Corbin is certainly on the precipice of taking the next step, but he has yet to prove himself against the elite performers of WWE. Perhaps Dolph Ziggler will be asked to step up, or Rusev will become a major factor upon his return from his shoulder injury.
Still, it is clear right away how sparse the roster is on top heels. Jinder Mahal recently became the No. 1 contender to the WWE Championship despite having lost most of his matches since returning to WWE, showing WWE's desperation for new top heels even with Styles only in the process of turning.
Pro: This allows for fresh matchups against top stars on SmackDown
While SmackDown is lacking for top heel, the heels on the roster would all do great work with Styles. We have seen a Styles/Owens match before but never with major stakes, which should bring out the best in both men. With Styles the now-credible top star of SmackDown battling the United States champion, this could be a rivalry that steals the show.
Styles also has shown clear chemistry with Baron Corbin in Triple Threat matches as well as their main event clash on Tuesday with a feud between them an exciting prospect. The big man is the perfect powerhouse that Styles can bump for. This especially is a match that does not work if Styles is a heel, as Corbin is a classic villain that needs to be matched with other babyfaces.
If Mahal ends up succeeding in taking the next step forward in WWE, a match with Styles is still unexplored territory that would help showcase the new No. 1 contender at his best. Rusev also has no experience yet with Styles, and the Bulgarian Brute should make for a perfect clash of styles with The Face That Runs The Place.
The signs of a Styles face turn are clearer every week of SmackDown, but the jury is still out on whether this is the right move for both Styles and SmackDown Live as a whole.
Either way, a face turn for Styles will have a huge impact on the future of SmackDown with new feuds opening up for the foreseeable future. If that change is coming, it will guarantee that SmackDown remains a fresh and interesting show for months to come.