AJ Styles' Best Matches Before He Joined WWE

WWE's 2016 Royal Rumble event will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the company's most noteworthy pay-per-views of all time. It saw Triple H win his second Royal Rumble match and ninth and final WWE Championship, Sasha Banks return to set up a WrestleMania 32 encounter with Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, and, perhaps most fondly-remembered of all, it hosted the long-awaited WWE debut of AJ Styles. "The Phenomenal One" entered the Royal Rumble match in the number three spot before Kevin Owens tossed him over the top rope, dashing his world championship match aspirations.

Thankfully for Styles, as well as his innumerable fans, it wouldn't be too long before he secured championship gold in WWE. By the end of the year he'd become the WWE Champion, overcome names like John Cena and Dean Ambrose, and become the face of "SmackDown Live." He'd keep the momentum going in the years that followed as well, engaging in memorable feuds and adding several more titles to his collection. Styles is now among WWE's most decorated wrestlers and has built a Hall of Fame-worthy career for himself, especially if we consider the incredible work he put in elsewhere, too.

Outside of WWE, AJ Styles has churned out some, dare we say, phenomenal matches. Here's the best of the best if you're interested in checking out some of his non-WWE work.

13. AJ Styles vs. Chris Hero: ROH Flyin' High 2014

After wrapping up his lengthy run with TNA in 2013, AJ Styles embarked on an epic trip around the wrestling world, stepping between the ropes for several different promotions. One such place that invited "The Phenomenal One" in with open arms was Ring of Honor — a company that had helped established some of the biggest indie wrestling stars to ever lace up a pair of boots. During this run, Styles clashed with a bunch of notable names, including one of the faces of ROH, Chris Hero.

Styles and Hero had faced off a handful of times prior to their ROH Flyin' High encounter in March of 2014, with the former getting the better of his opponent more often than not. Nevertheless, that history didn't stop Hero from pulling out all the stops against Styles here. Following a handshake, both men got to work using their mat grappling and striking techniques to try and gain the advantage. They went back and forth for nearly 20 minutes before Hero had no choice but to tap to Style's Calf Killer submission hold.

As two ring generals, AJ Styles and Chris Hero put on as good a show as one would expect from these two. One could easily argue this is the best match between them.

12. AJ Styles vs. Chris Sabin vs. Petey Williams: TNA Final Resolution 2005

Aside from the six-sided ring and the fact that it was televised wrestling not under the WWE banner, something that got eyes on TNA was the X-Division. This subset of the roster included young, fast, innovative competitors who'd put together exciting matches unlike anything fans had seen before. AJ Styles is one of the men who helped make X-Division matches must-see in the early days of its existence. An undeniable highlight from this era of his career is his match against Petey Williams and Chris Sabin at Final Resolution 2005.

While this match would've been exciting on its own, with three of the wrestling world's fastest rising stars at that time involved, TNA sweetened the pot for this one. Styles, Williams, and Sabin competed in an Ultimate X match: a stipulation that sees the wrestlers climb cables suspended above the ring to reach a prize in the center. In this case, said prize was the X-Division Championship, and all three men went to extreme lengths to get it. In all of its high-flying, high-impact glory, this match defines what the X-Division is all about.

In the end, AJ Styles walked away the new X-Division Champion, though no one should've left this match ashamed. After all, it's considered among the best Ultimate X matches in history and scored four and a half stars from the Wrestling Observer for a reason.

11. AJ Styles vs. CM Punk: ROH At Our Best 2004

Many years prior to its return to the wrestling scene in the 2020s, the Ring of Honor Pure Championship rested around the waists of more than a few big-time players. Doug Williams, Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal, and others managed to get ahold of it prior to its 2006 retirement, though many tend to forget who the first person to ever hold it is. That honor belongs to none other than AJ Styles, who won a grueling tournament way back in 2004 to earn it. To ultimately take home the gold, he defeated none other than CM Punk at the ROH Second Anniversary event in February of that year.

Punk and Styles' clash at the aforementioned event may've been entertaining, but it doesn't quite measure up to the match that took place after it. A month after Styles was crowned the inaugural Pure Champion, Punk landed himself a rematch at the ROH At Our Best event. To further build anticipation for the bout, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat took on the responsibility of special guest referee. With one of wrestling's finest keeping a close eye on the action, Punk and Styles tore the house down for just under 25 minutes, yet Punk couldn't secure the title by the closing bell.

AJ Styles and CM Punk are two of the best of their generation, so it should come as no surprise that they delivered during their handful of matches. Their At Our Best encounter under Pure rules was especially enjoyable to watch.

10. AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe: TNA Turning Point 2005

In its early years, TNA loaded up its roster with tons of established wrestling stars to help put the company on the map. However, one could argue that its younger athletes were the real heart and soul of it all, with a handful of names now standing as the arguable faces of the promotion during this era. AJ Styles is certainly one of these individuals, as is "The Samoan Submission Machine" Samoa Joe, seeing as they both went above and beyond to let wrestling fans know that TNA was indeed the future of the sport. Case in point, their one-on-one match at TNA Turning Point 2005.

With the X-Division Championship on the line in a pay-per-view setting, both Joe and Styles stepped into the six-sided ring with purpose. Already in the midst of his sixth X-Division Championship reign, Styles had every intention of hanging on to his spot as the leader of the X-Division. As for Joe, he hadn't held championship gold in TNA yet, so he was determined to dethrone "The Phenomenal One" by any means necessary. Thus, for almost 20 minutes, Joe and Styles threw caution to the wind in the name of championship glory, though only one man could walk out victorious.

Samoa Joe stood as the winner of this hard-fought match against AJ Styles, securing his first of many X-Division titles. The Wrestling Observer gave their match four and three-quarters stars — a rating it more than deserves.

9. AJ Styles vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi: NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka 2015

With TNA firmly in the rearview mirror, AJ Styles made his way across the pond to compete in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Come to find out, he didn't plan on flying solo throughout his run in the company. He joined the nefarious Bullet Club faction in early 2014, making him the next big heel on the scene for NJPW's babyfaces to try and rid the promotion of. One individual that worked hard to do so was NJPW staple Hiroshi Tanahashi, who locked up one-on-one with "The Phenomenal One" a few times throughout 2014 and 2015. While he wasn't necessarily successful, the matches he and Styles put together were consistently excellent.

Following up their bouts at during 24th NJPW G1 Climax tournament and at the 2014 NJPW King of Wrestling event — both of which saw Tanahashi defeat Styles — the two competitors met again in a match at NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka. For the second match in a row, Styles hoped to take Tanahashi's IWGP Heavyweight Championship. With the gold on the line at the February 11, 2015, event, both men went all out in hopes of leaving the Bodymaker Colosseum as champion. They went back and forth for around 26 minutes before Styles finally defeated Tanahashi to earn his second IWGP Heavyweight title.

One could pick out a few highlights of AJ Styles' tenure in NJPW, and his matches with Hiroshi Tanahashi are certainly worth the nod. Their New Beginning in Osaka bout, a four-star encounter according to the Wrestling Observer, is among the most impressive of the bunch.

8. AJ Styles vs. Low Ki: ROH Night of Appreciation 2002

Back in the year 2002, AJ Styles was still in the process of building his name in professional wrestling. He'd only debuted a few years prior and most notably wrestled a handful of matches on "WWF Sunday Night Heat," "WWF Jakked," and "WCW Thunder" before the show ended in 2001. Given his immense talent between the ropes, Styles didn't exactly struggle to grow a following among wrestling fans. No matter the size of the spotlight or the stipulation he had to work within, he always impressed viewers. It helped that he had a bunch of equally talented competitors around him to work with, too.

One of the many gifted wrestling prospects of the early 2000s was Low Ki, who became a standout member of the Ring of Honor roster as the company started to find its footing in 2002. This led to a match between himself and Styles — the latter's first bout in the promotion — at the ROH Night of Appreciation event in late April of that year. As two upstarts with everything to prove, the two future Impact Wrestling and WWE stars left it all in the ring. The near-20-minute contest ended with Low Ki picking up the victory, but Styles left the Murphy Recreation Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that night looking like a million bucks all the same.

Low Ki and AJ Styles would wrestle a handful more times in the years that followed, with the former winning every time. They never quite recreated the magic of their Night of Appreciation match, though, which the Wrestling Observer fittingly awarded four and a half stars.

7. AJ Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada: NJPW Dominion 2015

As AJ Styles and his Bullet Club stablemates steamrolled the competition in NJPW, "The Phenomenal One" kept a firm grasp on his IWGP Heavyweight Championship. In the wake of NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka, where he won the title from Hiroshi Tanahashi, Styles put the championship on the line against Kota Ibushi at NJPW Invasion Attack 2015. He retained the title after taking nearly a half hour of Ibushi's offensive onslaught, further proving himself as a capable champion. Three months later, however, Styles would have to overcome yet another skilled, determined opponent: "Rainmaker" Kazuchika Okada.

In May of 2014, Styles defeated Okada to win his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and the former champ never managed to get his lost gold back. He hoped to rectify this at NJPW Dominion 7.5 in July of 2015. The two Impact Wrestling alums (yes, Okada had a brief run in the company) tore the house down in the name of gold and glory, but only one of them could take the title home. Okada ultimately got to do so, achieving victory after a back-and-forth battle that ran for just over 26 minutes and kept viewers thoroughly engaged throughout.

Given their in-ring expertise, it's no surprise that Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles put together a remarkable match at Dominion 7.5. The Wrestling Observer even awarded it four and three-quarters stars, and it's not hard to see why.

6. AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe: TNA Turning Point 2009

TNA's X-Division proved an exciting change of pace from more traditional wrestling matches throughout the early 2000s. This is thanks to the individuals who helped make it such a buzz-worthy aspect of TNA programming in this era, taking big risks in the name of big rewards. For their efforts, a small handful of these X-Division highlights moved up in the company, resulting in many of them landing main-event spots as the 2010s approached. AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe climbed the ladder of success with relative ease and soon enough made it to the level of the TNA Heavyweight Championship.

Seasoned veterans of the six-sided ring at this point, Styles, Daniels, and Joe met at the 2009 Turning Point event with Styles' TNA Heavyweight Championship on the line. Right out of the gate, the two challengers made it abundantly clear that they had no intention of squandering their title opportunities. As for the champ, he fought hard to retain the gold in what became a hard-hitting, high-flying encounter between three of TNA's most exceptional homegrown names. When it was all said and done, neither "The Fallen Angel" nor "The Samoan Submission Machine" could claim victory over "The Phenomenal One."

With a wealth of in-ring experience between them and several matches against each other already, Styles, Daniels, and Joe delivered the goods at Turning Point 2009. They'd come a long way to reach the main event, and this four and a half star match is a testament to their respective journeys.

5. AJ Styles vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi: NJPW G1 Climax 2015

There are few bigger achievements in NJPW and professional wrestling as a whole than winning the G1 Climax tournament. Year after year, the company's best has to compete in a round-robin tournament, with the goal of proving themselves the top dog and earning a future championship opportunity. Naturally, AJ Styles participated in two editions of the tournament, though he failed to win in 2014. Hopeful he could turn his luck around, he entered again in 2015 and did quite well for himself as part of the A block. However, thanks to the efforts of a few, he wouldn't win that year either.

Despite coming up short, Styles did indeed remind everyone just how good he really is during the 2015 G1. On night 17, which took place on August 14, he stood across the ring from a man with whom he was quite familiar at that point: Hiroshi Tanahashi. Having lost to Styles months prior at the NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka event, Tanahashi likely sought some measure of revenge against Styles this time around. To call the match thrilling, entertaining, or even impressive doesn't quite do it justice. Styles and Tanahashi brought their A-game for this one, amounting to over 27 minutes of incredible wrestling action.

Hiroshi Tanahashi ultimately won this match and the G1 tournament at large. Still, there's no denying how awesome it was seeing AJ Styles lock-up with him once again. The Wrestling Observer awarded this match four and three-quarters stars.

4. AJ Styles vs. Bryan Danielson: ROH Main Event Spectacles 2003

Long before he led the Yes Movement and competed against WWE greats such as John Cena, Triple H, and Randy Orton or helped form AEW's Blackpool Combat Club, Bryan Danielson got his start under much smaller spotlights. A few years after debuting in late 1999, he gained a following in Ring of Honor as a technical prodigy and notoriously stiff striker. Nevertheless, folks from across the wrestling world were more than willing to step up to " The American Dragon," including another man who had also earned a reputation as someone to keep an eye on in the coming years: AJ Styles.

For the first time ever, Styles and Danielson stepped into the ring against each other on January 11, 2003, at ROH Main Event Spectacles. Inside the Rex Plex in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the two rising stars clashed over the ROH World Title Number One Contendership Trophy. Leaving nothing up to chance. Styles and Danielson worked a relatively slow, methodical style here with heavy emphasis on grappling, wearing each other down by any means necessary. It beckoned viewers in as fans questioned who would have the wherewithal to come out ahead. Just under 25 minutes in, Styles picked up the hard-earned win over Danielson.

AJ Styles and Bryan Danielson have carved out amazing careers for themselves in the years since this match, yet they've only competed against each other a handful of times. All of their bouts are solid, but this one is just a cut above the rest.

3. AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki: NJPW G1 Climax 2014

As the back end of 2014 began, so did the most magical time of the year in NJPW: G1 Climax tournament season. This year featured the G1 debut of AJ Styles, who got off to a bit of a rough start. He started off with a loss against Kazuchika Okada, then went on to defeat Toru Yano before losing to Tetsuya Naito. Luckily for Styles, he turned things around coming off this loss with wins against Hirooki Goto and Hiroyoshi Tenzan, but now he had a problem on his hands. A big problem. He had to face Minoru Suzuki next, who's one of the most feared men to ever step into a NJPW ring.

An expert grappler, hard striker, and a man with a sadistic attitude, Suzuki came into the match more than ready to tear Styles apart. Even still, "The Phenomenal One" was determined to keep his winning streak alive, so he weathered the storm of Suzuki's offensive barrage while dishing out as much offense of his own as he could. To call the match an all-out war would be an understatement. When the dust settled, Styles overcame the monumental challenge Suzuki presented and continued to impress throughout the remainder of the G1 — a tournament that Kazuchika Okada would win.

To date, this is the only time that AJ Styles and Minoru Suzuki have shared the ring, and if this match is of any indication, the two ring generals are long overdue for a rematch. After all, this match scored four and three-quarters stars from the Wrestling Observer. Why not shoot for five when the time is right?

2. AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10

If you've kept track of WWE programming within the past few years, odds are you've likely seen AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura wrestle a time or two. "The Phenomenal One" and "The King of Strong Style" have clashed on "SmackDown," "Raw," untelevised shows, and on pay-per-view over the years. They even met in a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 34, though that match — along with most of their other encounters and their 2018 feud — failed to live up to expectations in just about every way imaginable. Outside of WWE, however, they've created absolute magic between the ropes.

Styles and Nakamura met for the first time in a one-on-one environment on January 4, 2016, at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10 with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship on the line. As two of the biggest wrestling stars in the world, anticipation was high heading into this one. From the in-ring action to the character work, Styles and Nakamura put on a true spectacle for those in attendance at the Tokyo Dome and watching from around the world. It was a true dream match brought to life — one that concluded with Nakamura achieving victory over Styles and retaining his championship gold.

As their first and, so far, only non-WWE singles match, Styles and Nakamura didn't disappoint in the slightest. Their Wrestle Kingdom 10 match is a bonafide classic that's more than deserving of four and three-quarters stars from the Wrestling Observer.

1. AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe: TNA Unbreakable 2005

When AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels stepped into the ring at TNA Turning Point 2009, they'd made it. They were established stars who had proven they were worthy of duking it out for the TNA Heavyweight Championship. No longer did they have to prove themselves to TNA fans, yet they still went out and put on a barn burner of a match that night to drive that point home. They did the same during their match at TNA Unbreakable 2005, but the reasoning was far different. On this occasion, they still had a lot to prove, and there wasn't much they wouldn't do to steal the spotlight.

This time vying for the TNA X-Division Championship, Styles, Daniels, and Joe put on a gripping match at Unbreakable 2005. They grappled, challenged each other to striking exchanges, took and received match-changing power moves, and even took to the skies from time to time. With each pin or submission attempt, they dug down deep to keep the match alive, displaying inhuman levels of strength and determination. Only one man could win, and that man was AJ Styles, who ended the bout at just under 23 minutes and left the Impact Zone as a five-time X-Division Champion.

As far as his non-WWE outings go, AJ Styles has yet to have a better match than his Unbreakable 2005 battle against Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels. It has it all, and one could easily justify this five-star encounter as being one of the single greatest matches in X-Division and Impact Wrestling history.