AJ Styles' WWE Year in Review: Full Breakdown and Grade for 2017

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2017

AJ Styles' WWE Year in Review: Full Breakdown and Grade for 2017

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    Credit: WWE.com

    AJ Styles began and ended 2017 as the WWE champion.

    That should be a strong indicator of the type of year The Phenomenal One had on SmackDown Live.

    Between the two reigns, he captured two United States titles and was routinely at the forefront of the brand's most dynamic and explosive rivalries.

    Like Roman Reigns for Raw, Styles was the glue that held the brand together and figures to remain that way as the new year approaches.

    Ahead of 2018's arrival, relive Styles' year and track his accomplishments in several areas, graded according to their strength or weaknesses in this special review.

In-Ring Work

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    Styles is the best wrestler in the world.

    Yes, there are those who will name any number of New Japan Pro Wrestling competitors as more viable options, but Styles has succeeded at the highest level of competition, for promotions across the globe, for years, and 2017 was no different.

    Under the brightest lights, and on the biggest stages imaginable, he delivered performances that reaffirmed his greatness, all the while adding to his championship resumes.

    He started the year with a five-star classic against John Cena, had the best match of the night at WrestleMania against Shane McMahon, wrestled a string of strong matches against Kevin Owens over the United States Championship throughout the summer and even stole the show against Finn Balor at September's No Mercy pay-per-view as a last-minute replacement for Bray Wyatt.

    In November, at Survivor Series, he delivered another Match of the Year candidate, this time against Brock Lesnar. That reminded fans not only of Styles' own greatness but the overall quality of match Lesnar can have when motivated by working with someone as skilled as Styles.

    A workhorse whose efforts between the ropes helped rescue many a show, Styles established himself as a franchise performer who could become the face of an entire brand, and he did just that on the strength of his work between the ropes.

         

    Grade: A+

Creative

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    WWE Creative clearly sees Styles as one of its top stars; it gave him consistently solid material to work with over the course of 2017.

    Whether he was battling for greatness against Cena or brutalizing McMahon in one of the more memorable angles of the early months, Styles was an integral part of the company's build to WrestleMania 33. That he was booked in the opening match of that show says a lot about the perception Vince McMahon and his team have of The Phenomenal One and his ability.

    The manner in which the writing team managed to intricately thread McMahon into and out of Styles' programs throughout the year also helped Styles achieve a cohesive story from start to finish.

    When Styles feuded with Owens over the United States title, McMahon inserted himself into their SummerSlam match, announcing he would be the guest referee. Dissension between the titleholder and the authority figure dating back to 'Mania created doubt that the babyface would ultimately benefit from his boss' presence.

    As 2017 comes to a close, WWE champion Styles is fresh off a non-title loss to rival Owens, thanks to an attempt by McMahon to cost The Prizefighter the match. The rich history and hearty narrative that has been put into place to this point should lead to greater creative rewards for Styles in the new year.

        

    Grade: A

Historical Significance

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    In 2017, Styles built his resume as he added championships and continued to steadily make his case for recognition as one of the greatest WWE Superstars of his generation, just two years in.

    He started the year by dropping the WWE Championship to John Cena at Royal Rumble, but by year's end, he was in the midst of his second reign with the title, courtesy of a victory over Jinder Mahal in November. That win, the first time the title had changed hands outside of North America, was further evidence of the trust and faith management has in him.

    In between the world-title victories, Styles added two United States Championships.

    While title wins do not mean what they once did, Styles etched his name in a few history books this year and confirmed that he is one of the elite performers in all of WWE.

          

    Grade: B

Greatest Moment

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    On November 7, in front of a rabid fanbase in Manchester, England, Styles ended the four-month reign of Jinder Mahal, becoming the first Superstar to win the WWE Championship outside of North America.

    It was a moment that not only helped inject a sleepy SmackDown with much-needed energy; it was a pat on the back for Styles.

    Many assumed that after he won the same title late in 2016 and dropped it to Cena at Royal Rumble, The Phenomenal One would drift into the midcard. After all, he was not a McMahon product.

    The boss had appeased the fans who wanted to see him succeed in WWE, and now they would be happy to see Styles stay afloat elsewhere on the card.

    Not only did Styles stay afloat, he thrived. And on that night in England, he was rewarded, capturing his second WWE title and ending the year as the top dog on SmackDown Live.

Best Match of 2017

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    Common sense says Styles' best match of 2017 was against Cena at Royal Rumble, a contest certain to win many a Match of the Year award.

    While that was, in reality, the best match from a quality standpoint that Styles wrestled all year, none was more indicative of his greatness as a performer than his showdown with Shane McMahon at WrestleMania.

    With the pressure of the world on his shoulders, and no gimmick bout to lean on and make up for McMahon's lack of technical wrestling ability, Styles and the prodigal son delivered a strong match that stole the show from the opening bell.

    Styles accentuated McMahon's positives, hid his negatives and ensured the match would be as good as it could possibly be.

    In a year of five-star classics and championship victories, that match with McMahon and its surprising quality may be Styles' greatest achievement.

Overall Grade

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    Styles started the year with many considering him the best wrestler on the planet, and nothing he did in 2017 should have diminished that opinion whatsoever.

    The Phenomenal One was steadily consistent.

    He was as great as ever between the ropes and benefited from strong creative to have what may be his best, most complete year in quite some time.

    A franchise star and the face of SmackDown Live, Styles has become the Superstar around whom WWE officials can build a roster. So far into his career, it is a testament to his drive and determination to be the best he can.

    As 2018 arrives, Styles is poised to remain an integral part of WWE programming and the face of SmackDown.

       

    Grade: A