Howdy, wrestling fans, and welcome to the next part in my ongoing series about the matches we’ll witness this Sunday at WrestleMania. Our fifth entry is perhaps the most anticipated match of the evening for many, the battle between the legendary Chris Jericho and WWE newcomer but big time fan favorite AJ Styles. As before, I’ll give you the build, the pluses and minuses involved, and what can and should go down. Let’s get to it!
Matchup: AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
The Build: Of all the “undercard” matches, the one with the most build is this simmering battle between two former teammates in AJ Styles and Chris Jericho. That in itself shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as Jericho is known for stellar mic work and the company has capitalized on the crowd reaction garnered by former TNA mainstay Styles. Styles debuted back at the Royal Rumble and immediately showed those who don’t know his reputation or his work what they’d been missing. The minute he and Jericho started circling orbits was a boon for both men. Y2J is practically famous at this point for putting someone over at WrestleMania, and Styles personifies what the WWE has been working on regarding a true (or perceived) change in direction since the dawn of the Daniel Bryan era in letting guys who didn’t make their names in Connecticut exclusively take the ball and run with it. WWE began this feud with a couple excellent matches and then took the temporary detour of putting them into a team together. That was done to allow Jericho motivation to get jealous over the fan reaction to Styles and use that as fuel for the inevitable showdown. This was the perfect way to set this feud up. Jericho returned as a face (almost impossible to avoid given his popularity at this point) and has done the expected solid job of turning on the fans once more because of them preferring Styles. This build has cemented the known fact that Jericho is one of the most important wrestlers on the WWE’s roster. Very few others have the desire or the ability to spend their twilight years making others better. And he can still go.
Styles has fulfilled his role gamely during the slow build for the last few weeks, interrupting Jericho and costing him matches in order to get the veteran to break down and accept the challenge. We all knew it would go down, of course, but it’s provided the perfect platform for Jeriheel to act like he’s too good for the likes of Styles. That particular course of action fits the bill for WWE, mixing rumored mentality with script. When the background is solid and rooted in something we care about, the result is generally very good. WWE has to some extent broken ranks with AJ and acknowledged how good he’s been outside of their brand. This match will be the golden opportunity to demonstrate just that. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see this lead off the main card, because everyone else will be trying to top it.
The Good: There can be no question both of these guys are capable of delivering a lengthy, story-driven match that can set the tone for WrestleMania. Their matches so far have been very good, and this one is likely to top them all, particularly if it’s the kiss-off to the feud. Jericho may have lost a step or two from his prime, but there are few if any better at what they do, to butcher his tagline a bit. Expect him to showcase all the best of AJ Styles while getting in more than a few wow moments of his own. Styles is the real deal, and of any current competitors we hoped to see ply their trade in Stamford he remains at the top of the list. His work since coming to WWE has been exactly what you’d expect, showing off his versatility and range. While there’s work to do in the “back story” part of things, it’s competition over charisma here, and that mission has been accomplished. These two are in short perfectly suited for each other, and that creates an environment where the result is all but a lock. Zero chance you won’t be entertained watching these two great ones tangle.
Additionally, as I mentioned in the open, this match signifies big things for WWE and their locker room. Styles carries with him big promise for the company, and an opportunity to show they aren’t just sound and fury signifying nothing regarding a potential commitment to outside talent. He certainly would seem to be the right man for the job, and the better this match is and longer it has a chance to run, the more WWE gets kudos for backing up what they say for a change. Jericho is the perfect transition between the old and the new, and Styles very likely gets strong consideration to be the torch-bearer for the new regime. If WWE is planning a bit of a reboot, this is the solid way to start.
The Bad: One can argue that these two have wrestled each other quite a few times leading up to Sunday, and therefore the match won’t be as fresh as it could be and will have a harder time making an impression over what’s already occurred. That’s valid, although to think the participants haven’t kept a few tricks up their sleeve for the big day strikes me as more than a bit shortsighted. Other than that minor quibble, there’s not many negatives that can be levied at this match.
What Should Happen: As I said, WWE should make the right call and let these two try to steal the show right out of the gate. The only other match that could make such a splash is the Intercontinental Ladder match I broke down yesterday, and with all of those participants there will be plenty of big moments but breaks in between to get things reset. This match is the classic one-on-one with a heated and personal rivalry, and therefore the story that can be told matches the quality of the competitors. That’s rare, and a thing to watch. The outcome of the match fluctuates based on how long the feud is scripted to run, naturally, but the right answer in my mind is to put Styles over clean. Jericho is the exceptional guy to do it, someone who is more than willing and whose credibility doesn’t suffer one iota when his shoulders are pinned to the mat. Styles has waited his whole career for a WrestleMania moment. He shouldn’t need to wait any longer. This is the best way to kick off what should be a long and fun ride.
What Will Happen: I don’t see any reason for WWE to book things differently than described above, but Jericho has no Fozzy dates for a while and is theoretically sticking around for quite some time, so it’s within the realm of possibility that creative deprives Styles of his win in order to continue the series. All of that said, there’s plenty of people for Jericho to elevate and Styles needs the rub to be regarded as an inheritor to the throne, so there’s no legitimate reason to delay the inevitable. The only real question I have to the outcome here is whether Y2J rethinks his approach and accepts the post-match handshake. It’s a bit soon to seesaw for his character, but he can basically do whatever he wants at this point. Kudos to Jericho for making the outcome of this thing so predictable with his stellar body of work. Enjoy every second of it while you have the ability to.
The Close: I will have another post later today with my analysis of the Divas Title match. (2-for-1 special with WrestleMania drawing so near!) Also, please don’t forget to tune into the Main Event Madness podcast TONIGHT at 8 Eastern. I had a blast with the guys last time and expect tonight to be no different. As always, thanks for reading and feel free to chime in with your thoughts and predictions in the space below.