AJ Styles On If He Follows NXT, Possible WWE Run, TNA's Future, Veterans Having To Go Through NXT

As noted, I interviewed AJ Styles last week ahead of Monday's WrestleKingdom 10 pay-per-view, where Styles lost to Shinsuke Nakamura in a classic. The interview was conducted before yesterday's news that Styles, Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows were heading to WWE. Below is the full interview outside of his comments about Monday's Wrestle Kingdom pay-per-view, which were posted at this link last week.


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With your wrestling style, it seems like a perfect fit for NJPW. Were you a fan of NJPW growing up?

"If you mean 'growing up' by my 20s, then yes. Obviously you couldn't watch NJPW unless you tape traded. When I would do indy shows, I'd run into guys who tape traded. The crazy thing, I only mainly got to see junior heavyweights. I didn't get to see many heavyweights except for guys who were megastars like Muta."

Were you a wrestling fan growing up?

"I watched and enjoyed it as a kid. I had brothers and none of them were into it, but I liked it."

When did you decide to get into the business? What made you move into that direction?

"It was so hot at the time. I was watching it in college, everybody was in 1998. I kept watching it, became a bigger fan, it was one of those things I thought 'I could do that.' But when would I ever find the opportunity to go train at the Power Plant and make it there. I had some friends who found a place about 30 minutes from my house called NCW, a small hole in the wall. I went there, took a couple of bumps and was like 'I can do this.' Later it changed into NWA Wildside. That's where I started."


Were you a WCW fan or WWF fan?

"Well, I'm from the south, so I was a WCW fan, but as it went on, how could you not be a WWE fan?

Who were some of your early influences as you were watching at that time?

"I can't say there were a lot of guys that I was like 'I want to be like that guy.' There's things I took from other guys that I liked. Lance Storm, I liked that he was such a great athlete. Kidman, his shooting star, I liked that. Muta and Liger had an influence on me."

You started wrestling in 1999, the healthiest time in pro wrestling. By the time you signed with WCW, the landscape had completely changed. What were those last few months in WCW like?

"Great! I didn't know any better. I thought everything was the way it should be and for me it was great. If bad things were going on, I wouldn't know because I just got there."

What was your reaction when you found out about WWE buying WCW out?

"When people were talking about WCW going out of business I was like 'No way, it's WCW, it's never going out of business. They've made too much money, it's too popular.' Well, I was wrong. When WWE bought them, I thought there was still hope. Then I get the call that I wasn't being picked up."

You had the WWE tryouts, how did that come about?


"I had a matched on Jakked with Hurricane Helms, and we had a great match, he was awesome. I went and had another match with him, did pretty good on that, and they invited me to a camp. I learned a lot of great things."

You then signed with TNA. When you heard about the weekly pay-per-view concept, is that something you thought would work?

"Not really. Honestly when I signed with them, I treated it like another indy, because really it was. It was another indy. I still did indies on the weekends while wrestling for TNA at the beginning."

During that time there were a lot of regime changes. What did you think was the best time for the company.

"Probably around 2005 to 2008, some great things happened there. It was really popular, and at least growing."

When did you think things started going off the rails?

"2009 into 2010 it started going in a direction I really didn't understand, and not trusting the people that got them to the ballgame. There were some guys that worked really hard that made TNA what it was, and they lost faith in those guys. I don't know if they wanted to grow too fast, what's going on. Don't know if they thought they needed bigger stars. That's when I saw things going on that shouldn't be."


What went on into your decision to leave TNA? Was it financial, or was there more to it?

"It was weird at that time, and financial had a lot to do with it. This is what I do for a living. This isn't about being greedy, it's about hopefully one day being able to retire from a business that I gave everything I had to. I had to make a decision soon, and I felt like you don't punish a guy for working hard and doing his best, and that's what TNA was doing at that time. It was time to leave."

Did you get the feeling they expected you to stay? They had you featured as the top star at the end of your run.

"I don't know if they gave me the belt because they assumed I'd stay because I had it. I'm not sure why they would do that. I kept thinking surely they would give me the deal that I want because they're giving me all this steam. Why would they do that? Of course I was wrong, and it was really weird the way I went out. I'm not mad about it. I was pushed really hard."

You're probably having your best years in the ring since leaving. Was it rejuvenating leaving TNA, or are you just working the same style with bigger angles and better storylines?

"I honestly believe it's understanding what goes into what makes a great match. It's not the moves. Don't get me wrong, there's great things about the moves, but there are things that go into making the story. You may not have much of a story going into it, but one you can tell during the match. I think I've really grasped that. Not that I've perfected it, but I feel pretty good getting in the ring and telling a great story. It's the little things that mean the most, not the big moves. The things where people say 'that was a great match!' 'What was so great about it?' 'Ahh, you just have to watch it!' They can't fully put their finger on it, but I can tell you, it's probably the little things."


Are those little things different in Japan than the US? Do you have to tweak it?

"Not at all. I am completely the same wrestler in the US as I am in Japan."

You were the first American IWGP Champion in 11 years, since Brock Lesnar. How did it feel to have that honor?

"It's pretty awesome. To hold a belt for a company I love watching, that's a big deal to me. That's special, it may have not been to anybody else, I don't know. For me, to hold it twice, it's awesome. It shows how great NJPW is that they can put it on someone who they hope can put butts in the seats. I've had great matches with the belt and without it. It's a great accomplishment for me."

Do you consider your schedule lighter or harder than when you were with TNA now? You're doing independents, Japan, and that stuff.

"I would say it's harder. When you're with a certain company, you know the guys, doesn't matter who it is, it's a lot easier to go through this match, you prepare it in your head. When you're wrestling different guys every weekend, you really have to have your thinking cap on. You don't know the moves they do, so you have to really work together and figure this out to make it a great match. I think I'm wrestling more now than I did for TNA."


You've also been wrestling for ROH, what was your reaction to Destination America dropping them last month?

"You know what? It didn't seem to me that Destination America was doing that much with it anyway, so I didn't think that big of a blow to ROH when they have TV elsewhere anyway. I didn't think it was that big of a deal or think anything of it."

I know you always get asked about NXT, is the WWE schedule something that even interests you? I know you've said before that you want to retire at 42, which is in four years.

"The first thing that I'd have to find out is will I be able to support my family? Who knows? I'm going to do what's best for them. I know people get tired of me saying that, but that's the reality that I live in. I love to wrestle, I get to do it for a living. Ulitmately, it's decided where I go on the business of wrestling. Never say never, right? So I'm going to go where business takes me."

What are your thoughts on NXT as a product? For a while it seemed like they were targeting the ROH audience. Is it something you follow regularly?

"I do keep up with it because I have friends that wrestle there. I'd be lying if I didn't say NXT was a smart game plan. They're taking some of the best wrestlers from around the world and putting them on a bigger platform. You can't blame WWE for that. If you want to keep guys, you have to put them under contract, that's the reality of it. Some aren't able to do that, WWE snatches them up and people are excited to see them there because there's great wrestling going on there. It's good stuff."


Do you find it odd that people like Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, Asuka can't go directly to the main roster anymore? You have to go through NXT.

"Some people may look at it that way, but you have to be sure. Indies don't teach you everything you need, that's the reality. I watch some indy and I'm like "ahhh..." There are some things for TV you need to learn and NXT is the perfect place for that. You have to learn to be on NXT, too. Very few people get to jump right in. Finn, Joe, Kevin, these guys are different stories. They've been doing this a long time. Some of the younger guys, I think it's good that they get the experience of sticking to your times. There's a lot that goes into wrestling, and it's not just wrestling. There's camera angles. A lot goes into it. A lot of people are saying 'he's so good in the ring, he should be on there now.' It's not just that. You have to know where the hard camera is. Everything is timed. It takes repetition to know exactly how to pin a guy, when to pin a guy, how to look when you're doing all this. NXT is a great place to learn of all of that."

Are there any guys in WWE you hope to face in the future?

"I get asked that question a lot and I say Rey, and I'll get to do that match. I thought about it, and that's not really a question for me. It's a question for fans of pro wrestling, who they would want to see me wrestle. We give them that match. At the end of the day, they're the ones that take care of AJ Styles."


What do you think TNA can do to get back to where they once were, or are we past that?

"I don't know, man. It's hard to say. Have they gone too far? Is the thing that's going to separate themselves from everyone else going far enough? Is it different? That's hard to do, you have to answer to a television statement. I think that's the only way at this point. You have to give them the alternative. If they can't do that, they're in some real trouble. I don't know much about Pop TV, but it sounds like a great place to work. I hope everything explodes for them, I really do. The more wrestling, the better business for everybody. I have friends that work over there and I hope they blow up and do great."

You say 'never say never,' is a return to TNA open in the future?

"You said it, 'never say never.'

You can listen to the full interview above, or in the player below. You can also download audio of the interview directly at this link. If you want to subscribe to our audio channel, you can do so through iTunes as well as our RSS feed, which you can use this to subscribe through any podcast app. If you enjoy the interview, please rate us on iTunes!