Views From The Turnbuckle: The Phenomenal AJ Styles

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of WrestlingInc or its staff

When AJ Styles was in TNA, he was in a different world. Widely recognized as an excellent wrestler, he was still knocked for the same reasons many top non-WWE wrestlers are criticized by the uninformed; that he was "too small", "couldn't cut promos", or "couldn't tell a story in the ring." At the time those complaints were foolish; and today as Styles has been granted the greatest exposure imaginable, he isn't failing in "the big leagues" but rather, "The Phenomenal One" has thrived.

The way WWE has treated Styles has worked out better than anyone could have imagined. There is a stereotype that WWE acquires top talent from outside its ranks and then fails to use them to their fullest potential. With Styles, WWE has used him the best way possible. When he was brought in he was labled as being the hottest free agent in wrestling. In other sports, when the top free agent is singed, they don't come off the bench, so neither did Styles. From the beginning, Styles was pushed as a top star. He started out feuding with Christ Jericho, and later Roman Reigns. Some people may have thought that losing to Jericho at WrestleMania and then failing in the main event against Reigns at Payback in 2016 and then Extreme Rules, was just WWE using Styles to get their own stars over, but the reality was Styles was doing what people said he couldn't. He was getting over on the big stage, headlining two PPVs and he was giving Reigns the best matches of his career.

Styles had walked into the company and was a top name from day one. He wasn't sent to NXT, he didn't begin with a mid-card title push, he simply arrived in WWE and was immediately a main event caliber performer. He may have been losing his matches, but at the same time hew as able to build momentum, that would lead to a feud with John Cena over the summer. With Cena set to take more time off, Styles was allowed to actually win a program against Cena, and despite those earlier losses, the audience bought that Styles was an equal to Cena and that he could realistically defeat him. Beating Cena would be the foundation that has cemented Styles in WWE.

Out of everyone on the roster, Styles has benefited the most from the brand extension. By moving to SmackDown, Styles was able to get away from stars like Reigns, who WWE was always going to push ahead of him. With Cena taking more time off, SmackDown allowed Styles to be the main on his own show. The accolades would soon follow, multiple world titles reigns, near the top in merchandise sales (according to one report based on Google shopping searches, only Cena sold more merchandise in 2017 than Styles) and SmackDown Live would see an improvement in viewership.

Styles is the face of SmackDown the way he was the face of TNA, and on a major show, with all the top stars present, he feels like an equal, as evidenced by his splendid match with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series last fall.

I think the most impressive thing Styles has done is to be able to get over even when he loses. It is very much like the way Shawn Michaels was over in the 2000s. Michaels was "The Showstopper" and Styles is "The Phenomenal One." WWE pushes the idea that these guys are absolutely spectacular, so they can lose and as long as they put on a good performance (and they always do), they will remain a top stars. With the exception of his matches with Cena, Styles has lost his major matches (against Reigns and against Lesnar) and yet each time he was more over after they were over than he was going into them.

That is ultimately why I find his run in WWE so amazing. If you told me when he first was signed, that Styles was going to be booked like Shawn Michaels, I wouldn't have believed you. WWE has put him in a position to succeed, and Styles is running away with it. He's WWE's biggest recent success story as far as getting someone over to the degree that they can anchor a brand; and they can even use him to put other stars over (like they may at WrestleMania against Shinsuke Nakamura) without him losing any of his aura.

At 40, Styles managed to come to WWE and prove that every bit of praise he got when he was in TNA and later New Japan Pro Wrestling, was well-earned. Even as he has gotten older, he is still the best worker in the company. Even if he only has a few years left as a full-time wrestler, he's proven that phenomenal isn't just a nickname. If anyone in wrestling deserves that title, it is AJ Styles.


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