WWE: A Phenomenal Direction by Marc Madison

In early January, the internet wrestling community was in absolute glee following a particular new items. Word had broken early on that former TNA champion and IWGP champion, “The Phenomenal One” AJ Styles was finally headed to the WWE. Styles had long been considered the best wrestler in the world not in the promotion. For years and years rumors had swirled that Styles was going to come to the company, but ultimately he never did. With that said, when word broke that a deal had been struck between both parties everyone started to dream of potential matches. The possibilities were endless when you think about it, and with the exception of a Daniel Bryan/AJ Styles match, fans had a lot to look forward to.

Like with any major name coming into a company, the concern is how will he be used, will he be wasted, will he be given a chance to show fans what he can really do? The concerns are all valid, actually, as talent are often saddled with bad gimmicks or storylines that don’t showcase their wrestling ability. When Styles first came out at the Royal Rumble, fans in attendance exploded for his arrival, and that he was finally appearing in a WWE ring. We aren’t talking about the match from years ago when he performed in WWE on a tryout basis. He arrived as bona fide name that has earned credentials outside  the ring as well. If anything, this has actually made the WWE’s job easier because they don’t have to reinvent the wheel with him, but rather highlight what he can do in the ring.

When it was announced his first match was going to be against Chris Jericho, fans knew that it was going to be something special. Jericho is a great talker and a solid worker that knows his craft. By pairing Styles with him, fans weren’t going to be disappointed. Even though they suggested and teased the possibility of an AJ Styles and Kevin Owens feud, they ultimately went in a different direction and focused on the Jericho/Styles collection of matches. Their first match showcased that they could work fairly well together. Both men showed they could communicate well in the ring, and focused primarily on how well they could tell a story in the ring. When Styles went over in their first match, one could easily presume that the result again showcases how Jericho shows respect for his opponent. After Jericho put forth the challenge for a rematch, we knew that Styles would have no problem accepting it, as the idea of working with him again would be great.

Despite being on Smackdown and not getting the amount of attention they deserve, Jericho and Styles put on another solid match. The result of this match had Jericho going over and splitting the results between them. It was a sensible program without any real animosity, simply constructed around mutual respect between two men that have earned a name for themselves, and want to determine who is, the better man. The only sensible thing to do was to have both men face each other in a third and deciding match on a major stage. That stage was WWE’s Fastlane event, and the match was another contest that promised to be solid.

When the two faced off at Fastlane they didn’t disappoint. They put on a solid match and Styles going over in the end. After the match, they shook hands, but even when they did it seemed as though it was a bitter pill to swallow for Jericho. It seemed as though he held that handshake just a little long. Was it obvious? It may not have been initially, but in hindsight it was easy to see that something was slowly building in the mind of Y2J. However, after the event it seemed as though cooler heads prevailed, and his perspective on Styles became ‘If I can’t beat him, then join him.’ This transition into a tag team meant they were essentially a ‘super team,’ in that both men were successful singles wrestlers coming together. Y2AJ was born, and the clever use of their connected names could be marketed, while they transitioned immediately into a tag team title contention. The result was a championship match against New Day on the March 7th edition of Raw. During the match, nothing led you to believe that there was anything dispute between them. It wasn’t until after the match when Jericho’s animosity towards Styles boiled over.

In today’s wrestling world, storytelling is generally lost. Stories are sped up and details are fast tracked, but when something is given time to develop and be fully fleshed out, it becomes more effective. When Styles first arrived in the WWE he could have gone in any direction, but they decided to go with someone who was worthy of working a great program with the debuting Styles. Good wrestlers gravitate to one another, and when someone is able to recognize that another wrestler is capable of telling a great story they want to work with them. At 45 years of age, Jericho has travelled the road and faced the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H and The Rock; he’s been in the ring with the biggest stars and on the biggest stage. At 39 years of age, AJ Styles is equally  respected as he’s faced stars such as Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura.

All the names these men have faced meant we weren’t seeing two young guys still trying to feel their way around. If anything, the only adjustment was Styles having to adjust to the WWE manner of competition. The new heel turn by Jericho means that their program with one another is far from over. It’s a change that was great to see because now speculation on whether a turn will or won’t happen is gone. An actual feud showing progression and changes in a relationship has begun.

Jealousy isn’t something new, but it is when it is expressed by someone who has achieved as much in the WWE as Jericho has. What fans will want to see is growing animosity and character progression on the part of Styles. They really explored that early on after Jericho hit Styles with the codebreaker. As Styles was being pulled up by Jericho after receiving a couple of codebreakers there was an expression of disbelief on the face of AJ. He didn’t see it coming and the betrayal came out of left field. While Jericho has done his part in the turn, it will now be the direction of Styles’ character during this feud that fans will want to see.

We’ve seen disbelief, but we should anticipate it will turn to anger and ultimately resentment. Styles will have an opportunity to promo, which he hasn’t had much of to this point. He will need to in order to help further along his character’s development. The days of mutual respect have gone out the window, and the interaction between these two will now go in a different direction. There was nothing fancy about what they’ve done, other than tell a story. It has gone from earning respect, to earning trust, to working together, to animosity and a feud. This appears to all be heading to a match between the two at Wrestlemania. It becomes less about evening the wins and losses between the two, and instead having a match between the two to end it all on the biggest stage of them all, Wrestlemania. As it appears right now, Jericho’s time with the company will end at Wrestlemania as he is slated to continue his tour with his band Fozzy. In working with Jericho, Styles is receiving immediate recognition. It’s the equivalent of saying, we believe in you because you are working with Chris.

While in wrestling circles the story they are telling isn’t considered long because really fleshed out rivalries can last as long as a year and half while exchanging wins, titles, etc., their story has had a really solid build. Despite the program likely concluding after less than three months, they have managed to run the gamut of emotions. As I mentioned earlier, giving Styles more time to promo will help further it along. He has a lot to work with, and actually it’s a shame they don’t have more time to work with one another. We could see instances where one guy is costing the other guy a match simply by being a distraction. Of course, we could very well still see that happen as, with three weeks left to Wrestlemania, both men appear primed to take the next step in their feud. For anyone that hasn’t seen Styles compete, he cares very deeply about how his character is portrayed, but he also cares about developing a different audience. Despite being widely appreciated for what he’s done in the past, Styles still has a number of WWE fans that aren’t aware of what to expect from him because they haven’t seen him previosuly.

This feud is a starting point for Styles’ career in the WWE, and he couldn’t be in any better hands than those of Chris Jericho. The story has been terrific because the storytellers are two men that have respected each other for a long time and in doing so were determined to make their rivalry one WWE fans would not soon forget.

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