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I’m Banking on AJ Styles – But Is WWE? by Matt Corton

I used to watch TNA. A lot of us in the UK have at one point – it’s a guilty, but more than anything else, mostly free to watch, pleasure (WWE airs on a premium sports channel). Watching TNA isn’t all bad. It’s allowed me to see a lot of AJ Styles matches, a lot of Samoa Joe matches and a lot of Austin Aries matches, which is why I’m very happy indeed that those three have earned promotions to the more illustrious corridors of WWE.

I also know a lot of things because I watched TNA. I learned a lot. I learned that Hogan and Bischoff add very little to regularly scheduled programming. I learned that the best tag matches happen, or happened, outside of WWE – the Motor City Machine Guns vs. Beer Money series was truly incredible, but only one example of some great tag team wrestling from that time in the company.

The main thing I learned, though, was that AJ Styles can be absolutely captivating in the ring.

The thing is, I also know a thing or two about WWE programming, although I’d never sit in front of you guys and claim to be an authority – I’m just a fan with a keyboard in a lucky position who gets to share with you all what he thinks about something he gets a lot of pleasure from watching.

But one thing I think I know is that it’s rare for them to give the rub of the green to a guy who’s been The Guy in the major rival corporation. There’s a few exceptions, but if you want to be The Guy, or one of the Guys, which I class as holding the main title for more than one short run and/or continually being involved in the main event scene, then usually you’re home grown, or the character you’re portraying is.

Which has made me worry a bit about AJ Styles. AJ isn’t a wrestler who I’m interested in seeing as a mid-carder. It didn’t make sense when he was going for the TV or X-Division titles in TNA. The tag titles I can understand, pretty much every top guy has had a stint with the tag titles wherever they’ve worked, but when AJ was in those divisions it felt to me like TNA were misusing their top talent. Their Guy.

John Cena, undeniably WWE’s Guy, whatever Roman Reigns says about it, as US Champ worked, but only because of the way they did it. They had a slew of superstars wanting to dethrone Cena, who was suddenly far more accessible as US Champ than he had ever been when holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (or its equivalent during the first brand extension). His open challenges gave them a foot in the door they all wanted to kick down. But it wouldn’t have worked for anyone else, who wasn’t putting the title on the line every week.

Look at the IC title. Miz defended that title in one of the best matches I’ve seen this year, in the fatal fourway at Extreme Rules, only for him to vanish into thin Hollywood air, an absent champion. Momentum extinguished in the fell swoop of a few weeks.

Now, give the IC title to Styles, in a few months’ time, have him defend it in an open challenge as another way of proving himself to John Cena, and you might have a way to elevate both him and the title to a level that’s worthy of AJ Styles prior to him facing off with Cena again, this time finally with some momentum behind him. Alternatively, have him default to the IC title or worse, the IC title picture without even winning it because he just keeps losing the big matches, and I think you could legitimately call his time in WWE to that point underwhelming. He’s too good for anything he does to ever be called a failure, but it’s a sharp fall from where he is now.

I wasn’t as surprised as some were when he made it to the title scene so quickly because he’s that different to what WWE have elsewhere that he has to be in that mix, or thereabouts. That doesn’t mean that I ever expected him to win it, though and that’s because of the very thing that’s caused my worry above – I can’t see them making TNA’s old Guy their Guy.

Only then they went and put the NXT title on Samoa Joe.

I couldn’t see that coming either, and it gave me hope. Not that AJ would beat Roman Reigns, I didn’t really think that, but hope that in another feud, or triple threat or something further down the line, later in the year, he might get his hands on the gold because if they can swallow giving some gold to Samoa Joe then maybe they could swallow it for AJ.

But that hope came about through forgetting some of what I’d learned. Because there’s another truth to WWE, one which has a lot of people coming down on either side of the fence and it’s a fence that’s held up by the ever-present post that is John Cena, hammered into the very earth of WWE.

John Cena was right when he said in his promo that AJ Styles arrived to a fanfare in the Royal Rumble match, only to do absolutely nothing in that match and then go on to lose a bunch of other important matches since then. No, WWE, I’m sorry, 50-50 win trading on TV doesn’t count, what counts is AJ has lost every time it has counted.

He absolutely has to win the feud with Cena, or what exactly is his threat level to his next opponent? I’ll give you the match of your life and then I’ll lose? Sure, a valuable tool for WWE to have in their locker, you only have to look at Ziggler for proof of that, but not something that flies in this day and age in a main event player. We’ve seen too many ‘threat to wins’ over the years come up short for enhancement talent to be interesting or necessary (but that’s another article).

The frustrating thing for me is, they know this. They know they have to protect top guys because they do exactly that with Cena, Reigns, Orton, Brock, ‘Taker and Seth. They rarely lose clean. So that tells me that AJ isn’t a top guy. Not in their eyes.

So does it matter? Sure, I may worry that AJ might never get quite there, but I don’t think Cesaro or Rusev is ever going to get there either, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fantastic watching them. But they’re not top guys.

I said above that I’m not interested in seeing AJ Styles as a mid-carder and I’m not. I want him fighting for the title, or involved in other high profile feuds like he is right now with Cena. But when I think about that, does that mean I’m going to switch off in a huff should AJ be in the IC title picture? Shouldn’t I just be glad that AJ is in WWE and looking forward to all the potentially great match ups that are ahead?

Yes, I should. That’s the obvious answer. But there’s no point to that if he’s going to lose all the time because it starts to get too predictable. That’s what happened to Jericho and it’s no surprise that his surprise ‘Mania win, over Styles, and subsequent strong showings have made him seem relevant again, because frankly, he hasn’t changed much in the ring, it’s the presentation of him by WWE that’s changed. He’s not a plucky veteran loser any more, he’s back to being what he should be – someone who can shrug off a loss here and there but who you know can win any match on any night.

That’s what AJ should be. That’s how you make him believable and how you get the best out of him – not have him be a loser.

They’re on a verge with AJ, just as they are with Dean Ambrose, only with AJ there’s another factor – age. Ambrose has over a decade left in him at the top should he get there, not so AJ styles. They have a limited window to build, use and then say goodbye to AJ and while you can get away with losing a title feud to a Roman Reigns who has just won the title, just about, if he loses this feud to Cena straight after that then all AJ can be viewed as is the guy who can’t get it done and I think it’ll take longer than WWE thinks to build that back again. You know why? Because people losing to a superman face time and time again is boring as hell.

The matches between Cena and Styles will be great. Really great, too – I think they’ll be incredible. But if Styles doesn’t come out of the feud at least Cena’s equal (screwy finish on the third match or something) then I’m going to throw something at my TV.

What do you guys think? Do you think Styles losing to Cena drops him down, or is he good enough for the losses not to matter?