This week on WWE’s The Bump, “The Phenomenal One” AJ Styles’ spoke with the panel about his Royal Rumble debut in 2016. But before they got into that, panelist Matt Camp mentioned Styles pre-WWE career when he was working for WCW in 2001. His initial debut for the company took place one month before WCW closed their promotion for good in March of 2001.
In his interview, Styles mentioned that he was glad he worked for the company when he did. But, he’s happy that his time there led him to work for other promotions before going to WWE 17 years later.
“I knew I had a contract. So, I knew I was going to be coming back for a few more matches,” AJ Styles mentioned about his time in WCW. “Now, I didn’t know that WCW was going to go out of business. That sucked for me. But, it is what it is, and it happened for a reason. I wasn’t ready to be in WCW. And I’m sure as heck was not ready to be in WWE. So, I’m glad things happened the way they did. I’m happy for the experience, but the timing wasn’t right.”
Styles would make his WWE pay-per-view debut 15 years later at the Royal Rumble in 2016. He recalls step by step how nervous he was to make his entrance on the grandest stage of them all.
“Well, I flew into Tampa and was driven from Tampa to Orlando, so it was kind of like a big secret. I was like maybe this is a big deal, I don’t know,” he recalled. “I was certainly nervous about the whole situation ’cause I’m coming into someone else’s house knowing some of the talent but not all of them. I was in the trailer, and they were hiding me. It was definitely nerve-racking not knowing what to think or what was about to happen.”
With an honorable reputation in TNA, Ring of Honor and New Japan prior to his WWE debut, Styles admits that he was hopeful his fans would carry over with him once he came to WWE as well as gain new and interested fans within the WWE Universe.
“It was a little bit of both,” he replied. “If I could bring fans to WWE, that was great. And if I could make more fans in WWE, that’s what I want to do. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what I could do for WWE at all. My mindset is: Work hard, and it’ll pay off. But is AJ a star? Can I do this? Sometimes, I don’t know what my worth is, and that might be a bad thing. But, you know, I was just excited to be there, man.”
In his interview, Styles brought up that his theme “Phenomenal” was originally intended to be used for former TNA World Heavyweight and Tag Team Champion, James Storm. He explains that he wanted a song that would represent the strides he made in pro wrestling but realized it was similar to the same accolades Storm has made in his career as well.
“Well, they let me in on the music and stuff like that. I dug it. I thought it was a cool deal,” he began. “The only thing that I was worried about was when they were calling me a redneck, which I am and make no excuses, I didn’t want people to think, ‘Oh, he’s a hillbilly,’ which is totally different from a redneck. But, it was the perfect music for me.
“Let it be known that music was originally not made for me. It was made for somebody else, but it’s mine, you know? It was made for James Storm. It may have been made for James Storm, but it was written for AJ Styles.”
Once he made his grand entrance at the Royal Rumble in 2016, Styles said locking horns with Roman Reigns is a moment that he’ll cherish in his career with WWE.
“We can’t forget about the camera angle, first of all. When I was making my debut, you heard the music, but they had a shot of Roman [Reigns] the whole time. When the ‘I Am Phenomenal’ popped up, you didn’t see any of it. So, the crowd reaction was amazing. It was perfect because fans at home were like, ‘Who is it?'” he stated. “And then having the opportunity to get in the ring with Roman – being the first guy I interacted with – was unbelievable. What a moment that was for me. Roman didn’t need AJ Styles. AJ Styles needed Roman Reigns at that time. It was perfect!”
This Sunday, the WWE Network will release a documentary on AJ Style’s debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble through their Untold series. It will air at 9 AM EST.
You can watch AJ Style’s full interview here. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit WWE’s The Bump with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.