Believe 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.
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.