The AJ Styles Dilemma

styles lone wolf winBelieve it or not, AJ Styles is a big deal. He was the first contracted TNA wrestler to land at #1 on Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s annual PWI 500 list. He’s a five-time (five-time! five-time! five-time! five-time!) World Heavyweight Champion. And he’s the only wrestler to have held every male championship owned and sanction by TNA during the company’s tenure.

On the other hand, your neighbour might bump into him at Wal-Mart and never give him a second glance.

Early last week, reports indicated that AJ might be looking to greener pastures. The WWE brand popped up in a few articles. Internet fans everywhere salivated over the potential in-ring work of an AJ Styles/Daniel Bryan match-up, or an even better AJ Styles vs. CM Punk “Professing Christian” vs. “Savior of the Masses” feud. But instead, Styles signed another short-term extension with TNA, and all potential for his career went straight down the drain.

AJ knows it, too. He came out on Thursday’s show and cut a “shoot promo” about being disrespected, about always carrying the company on his back, but never seeing the return investment from Dixie Carter. Styles named names, and pointed out storyline mishaps. But then he promised to win the Bound for Glory series.

Wait, what?

It’s not worth trashing AJ for the lackluster effort of his promo. He proved incomprehensible for most of it, and the non-existing payoff at the end killed any buzz he was trying to generate. But AJ needs to recognize that he’s bet on the wrong horse, and that his career, and more importantly, his legacy, is at stake. Instead of coming out and threatening to “possibly, maybe” leave, just do it. Pack up your bags and head north. I guarantee you that Hulk Hogan won’t bat an eyelash.

AJ is one of the most talented performers of this wrestling generation. His matches with Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe are legendary. Late in 2009, right before Hulk Hogan made his infamous debut on Monday Night, AJ Styles was carrying the TNA Championship, and the brand. He utilized six-sides better than any other member of the active roster. He gave the fans an exciting, high-flying, in-ring alternative to WWE’s overly produced entertainment product. But Hogan or Bischoff didn’t care. The first thing they did was pair him with Ric Flair to, as they put it, invigorate some life into his character. Because when you think of AJ Styles, you think of a limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’…. yeah.

Unfortunately, Styles is crossing the point of no return. While Brian Fritz wrote an excellent piece back in June about how much greater Kurt Angle could’ve been had he stuck with WWE, I think AJ Styles is the real victim of TNA’s sins. Kurt Angle is still recognized as a wrestling legend. AJ Styles is an endless list of accomplishments, without a real persona. He’s a lone wolf.

So, where does Styles go from here? WWE already has their “indie-wrestler/entertainer” niche filled with Daniel Bryan. Ring of Honor continues to be the indie alternative that nobody’s watching. And TNA is suffering some of the biggest losses in its 11 year existence.

AJ Styles needs to learn not to settle. If Sting is the embodiment of WCW’s storied history, then Styles needs to be the same for TNA. He should demand creative control over his character. He should tell Dixie that Bound for Glory is about HIM regaining the World Championship, and the company, and the glory. He deserves epic feuds with Bully Ray, Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, Austin Aries, and whoever else can stand toe-to-toe with him in the ring. He needs to be the face of TNA once again.

Most importantly, he needs to remind Dixie that Hogan/Bischoff is the disease, not the cure. There’s no reason that TNA can’t afford to pay the biggest home-grown star in the company’s history every single penny he deserves.

What are your thoughts on AJ Styles, and the current direction of his career?  Sound off in the comments below, or let us know on Twitter and Facebook!

Michael A. Wiseman

Michael is a pro wrestling enthusiast, MMA fan, and all-around geek. When not blogging, he likes to catch up on TV shows or dig in to the latest tech news. You can follow him on Twitter @therealwiseman.


Comments

  1. Daniel Bryan's Beard Hair says:

    While the decision to go to WWE seems like a no-brainer, it’s AJ who needs the WWE, not the other way around. Styles has accomplished much, but he doesn’t have the lore, promotion and production of the WWE. The WWE has had one of the best in-ring performance years in a long time without AJ so I can understand them not wanting to bring in a “big” name like Styles and pay him appropriately without the sort of guarantee of return on investment.

  2. I know a lot of people are wanting Styles to head to the WWE. But, considering how he has been booked, and his in ring quality over the past couple of years, I’m not sure he would really make a splash.

    Personally, I think RoH is a better fit. There, he could have some really good matches. Then, when people are interested in him again, he could give WWE a try.

  3. There’s no denying AJ has impressive in-ring skills, but his mike technique is rubbish compared to someone like Stone Cold or The Rock or Flair. That being said, he’s had incredible matches and still has great athletic ability, and seems at this point to be happy to ride out whatever TNA has left in its accounts. Whatever AJ’s talents may be, he’s getting older, has injuries piling up on him….TNA has never been a competitor to any outlet in any way, never even close to WCW or even NWA as a promotion. It’s essentially an ego trip for Jeff Jarrett and family and everyone else is an afterthought. Dixie Carter sounds like a nice person, but she’s no promoter and she’s not close to Bischoff (which ain’t saying much because all he did was spend Turner’s money – but he did at creatively at least).

    If AJ doesn’t jump at any possibility of going to WWE then he clearly either doesn’t value himself or is happy to stay with TNA until they go bankrupt or get bought out (and I’m betting on the former before the latter). Same with Samoa Joe. TNA doesn’t get it because their management is incapable of creative booking and they’ve shown that over and over again since Day One.

    • Michael A. Wiseman Michael A. Wiseman says:

      I think it might be hard to get AJ over with the WWE crowd at first, especially with his sub-par mic skills. On the other hand, the company has infused life in Daniel Bryan who, let’s be honest, wasn’t the strongest talker when he entered the company. There IS potential there. But you’re probably right, Ring of Honor would be a much better fit for the interim.

      • First of all, Daniel Bryan has been a great talker/persona for a long time. His 2006 run as a heel ROH champion produced some fantastic promos and he’s always done little things well that get over his character, like facial expressions, mannerisms, etc…

        I agree that AJ probably doesn’t fit very well in the existing WWE scene. Part of the reason he fits in TNA so well is the established history he has there. He really did build the company and has been “the guy” for them from the very start. That’s helped minimize his deficiencies, namely his less than stellar promo/character work.

        That said, I don’t see how the above promo was “incomprehensible”. He slagged TNA for not recognizing his talents/accomplishments and said he realized he enjoys being the guy to carry the company even if he’s not recognized as such. It’s basically the 2011 Punk promo with AJ deciding to stay, rather than leave like Punk did. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either.

        • Michael A. Wiseman Michael A. Wiseman says:

          Fair enough. I didn’t see Bryan in his late ROH days, but he was a little rough around the edges in his early WWE days (remember NXT?). He’s definitely improved to fit with the WWE style.

          Also, you’re right, his promo wasn’t completely incomprehensible. I was exaggerating… a bit. He takes too many awkward pauses, kind of rambles a bit, and contradicts himself (from complaining to saying he likes being that guy). It just felt a little aimless.

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