As previously noted, reigning WWE Champion AJ Styles spoke with former WWE ring announcer Lilian Garcia for an interview on her podcast, Chasing Glory. In this wide-ranging conversation, Styles talked about turning down a WWE developmental deal in 2002, the downfall of Impact Wrestling, seeing a career renaissance with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and almost returning to Impact in a faction with current RAW Superstars Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson instead of signing with WWE in January 2016.
According to Styles, he turned down a WWE developmental deal because of the strain the move would have put on his wife. Instead, Styles would become involved with Impact, the former TNA, and come to relish the opportunity to build something great from the ground floor.
"I had a developmental deal to move down to Cincinnati [Ohio]," Styles recalled. "But I was married and I didn't think it was right even though my wife said, 'go!' It wasn't right to leave her [and] have her move back in with her mother. My job is to take care of her, so I turned down, respectfully, the developmental deal with WWE and then within, like, a couple of months, TNA started up, which I thought was just another independent thing that I thought was happening. It wasn't a big deal to me, but within six months, I was like, 'okay, this might be something.' And as it grew on, it grew and I grew to love that place because I felt like it was something I and other guys were building. We were building. We were the foundation. We were going to build this into something great. And at some point in time, at one point in time, it was great. It was a great place to be. We were having a lot of fun. We were changing the way people looked at [pro] wrestling."
In Styles' view, Impact started to decline in 2009 or 2010, as it stopped being an alternative to WWE and became an inferior copy.
"When you want to become a lesser version of something else, and when I say that, I mean WWE Light, you're not giving people an alternative." Styles added, "if they want to watch WWE, they're going to watch WWE. You've got to be something different, so they went with a regular square ring. I thought that was a big mistake. You [brought] in guys that I don't know people wanted to see anymore because they had grown so used to a certain style of wrestling that was happening at TNA. There were a lot of things that [brought] it down and it was guys like Christian and Kurt [Angle] who came over before all this happened that really sparked TNA and made it something bigger. It was growing because of them. But around 2009, 2010, around there, they forgot who they were and didn't rely on the guys that got them there to the ballgame in the first place, the big game, anyway. And therefore, it started going downhill."
From Styles' perspective, he left Impact because the company wanted 'The Phenomenal One' to take less pay than he was already earning.
"Despite all that, I saw myself as, 'this is my home,' and I was loyal to TNA," Styles reflected. "But when you don't allow me to provide for my family the way I think I should be able to by all the time and all the years I put in, well then, it's not making much sense to me. And so, ultimately, that's why I left, because they wanted me to take less than I was making. I hadn't done anything wrong and I tried to be the best ambassador for the company that I could. A lot of things I thought I did right, but they didn't see it that way, so I left. I bet on myself and I left."
Styles professed that he felt "reborn" working for NJPW.
"I went to New Japan, and I don't know, I felt like I was reborn with some crazy stuff," Styles remembered. "I met Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows and bunch of other great guys. Yes, yes [Bullet Club]. And I think we changed New Japan for the good in a certain way. I'm not saying it's me. I'm saying a lot of us had a lot to do with it. It was the timing of it and just that people could tells the guys in it were having fun. Like, we were too."
Interestingly, just prior to debuting for WWE at Royal Rumble (2016), Styles was in talks to return to Impact in a stable with Gallows and Anderson.
"It wasn't too long after that [NJPW stint] that TNA came back to me and said, 'okay, we'll give you pretty much when you're asking for to come back.'" Styles elaborated, "I said, 'well, I'm not coming back without somebody. I need Anderson and Gallows.' I said, 'I want them to come with me.' We actually had a meeting over at Dixie Carter's house. There were still some things we weren't sure about and I had talked to WWE a little bit, but they hadn't gotten back to me, so I just assumed they had other things going on. They didn't need AJ Styles, which… WWE is a big place. I get it. I'm not the most important person in the world. I know that. But luckily, Triple H and I, we had a great conversation, like a 30-minute conversation the first time we talked. I said, 'oh, this is going well.' And within a week, the ball really started rolling."
Apparently, Styles pitched the idea to WWE of bringing in Gallows and Anderson, and WWE initially declined before changing course. 'Malibu Al' went on to say that he wished he could have brought more good brothers back to New York with him.
"Well, I said, and this is kind of funny, I said, 'hey, listen, well, I've got these two other guys, Gallows and Anderson, and we were going to go as a group over here. And they were like, 'well, we're only interested in you right now.' I was like, 'okay,' and within that same week, they go, 'no, we want all of you.' And so, I was like, 'yes!' because I didn't want to pull them away and, like, get their hopes up, and go, 'oh, sorry, guys.' So I'm so glad they got to come with me. Like, it's a huge difference." Styles said, "I just feel like there was a hot group of guys right there and I wish I could have brought all of them. Like, they are very loyal, as they should be, to the people that got them to where they are today, and so, Gallows and Anderson were ready to come back home. They spent a lot of time in Japan, a lot."
Styles, who clearly forgot about his own Y2AJ t-shirts, claimed he was surprised when The Club was disbanded because the trio just had new t-shirts made.
"Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, we had a lot of fun together." Styles continued, "I mean, there's no doubt about that. And I was a little surprised when we actually split up because we just came out with Club t-shirts. I was like, 'guys, don't worry. We just came up with shirts. There's no way they're going to break up the team now!' Sure enough, they did, but I mean, no, no explanation. Do I deserve an explanation? So I didn't ask. It's one of those things where, well, they think it's best for WWE and I want what's best for WWE. And how could I be mad or upset with what I've been able to do with SmackDown? Would I be able to accomplish those things if we were altogether? I don't know, so I can't be mad at the result. I think everyone wished that it had gone on a little bit longer, but now we get to go back to it at some point in our careers and, yeah, people can be excited about that."
Click here to listen to the show. If you use any of the quotes from this article, please credit Chasing Glory with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: Chasing Glory With Lilian Garcia