With the fifth anniversary of AJ Styles’ WWE debut approaching, this episode of WWE Untold explores the storied career of The Phenomenal One. It is available on-demand on WWE Network now. We will learn about the journey leading up to Styles signing with WWE and the moments before and after his memorable debut. The documentary begins with AJ Styles being asked…
“Who is the Phenomenal One?”
“That may be the toughest question I have ever been asked” – AJ Styles
The Phenomenal One would answer that AJ Styles is Allen Jones (his real name) turned up and they are the same person with different sides. When he is a bad guy, he is the guy who says what he wants and does what he wants. And then there is the good guy AJ Styles who he loves being the kind, hardworking person. It all depends on which side of the knob is turned up for Allen Jones.
AJ Styles recalls his first memories of watching Georgia Championship Wrestling with Ric Flair. Watching wrestling by himself, he could not understand why anyone else did not share the same love he did for it. He described his love for competition from a young age because of the adrenaline rush he would get. Touching on the relationship with his father, Styles says his father was a big supporter of his but struggled with drinking issues. AJ then talked about meeting his wife Wendy in high school and credits her cheerleading skills for helping him learn how to do flips. He spoke about deciding to drop out of college and getting a regular job before an encounter with former high school buddies led him to a nearby wrestling school. He recalls the first bump he took in the ring which made him realize he was meant for a career in professional wrestling.
The former two-time WWE champion would explain how he got his ring name. “AJ” came from his football team calling him that and the “Styles” part derived from his tag team partner at the time who had the last name “Steel”. AJ admitted he did not like “Styles” but soon grown to love it. While wrestling for NWA Wildside, WCW had a developmental deal with the promotion, which opened the door for him to appear in a few dark matches. This would lead to him being signed by WCW. A clip of the time AJ was an extra for WCW is shown where he was a paramedic getting beat up by Scott Steiner and Jeff Jarrett. We also see highlights of AJ tagging with Air Paris in the short-lived tag team “Air Raid”. At the time of his WCW deal, he was being paid $750 a week which was a big deal for him. However, things changed with the rumors of WCW folding, which he initially did not believe until he heard of the announcement Shane McMahon made on the final episode of WCW Nitro. He was then informed by John Laurinaitis that his contract was not picked up by WWE but was allowed to wrestle dark matches for them.
Styles talked about his first dark match against Rick Michaels which he believed was terrible because the match was more about spots rather than telling a story. After the match, he remembers Triple H approaching him with some advice about slowing down. His second match against The Hurricane did help him gain some attention, most notably from Jim Ross. Styles was subsequently offered a development deal but turned it down after choosing not to move to Cincinnati so his wife could pursue her dream of being a teacher. AJ would go on to say it was the best decision he had ever made. With WCW out of business and not signed with WWE, Styles made his way to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Samoa Joe talked about meeting AJ for the first time in Northern California, and initially not liking Styles because of his anti-social personality. But over time, Joe learned he was completely wrong about AJ and explains about the brotherhood amongst each other especially being on the road together for so long.
AJ spoke about joining TNA and at first, not taking the company seriously because he did not think it would last that long. However, he would go on to spend eleven years with the company and towards the tail end of his tenure claimed to have found himself. Joe credits Styles for being someone who knew his value and his worth. Styles discusses the fallout of his contract negotiation with TNA back in 2013. He initially extended his contract to the end of that year after it had originally expired in August. TNA would offer him a contract with less money, believing he would sign because of his loyalty to the company. However, Styles declined the contract, betting on himself that he would be able to find the value he was looking for elsewhere.
The former TNA champion was thankful for his time in Japan because of their ability to make him a star. While the 14-hour flights in coach were tough, looking back at it, Styles says he did enjoy it all because of the experiences he had. Finn Balor mentions him and AJ being like “two ships passing in the night” since his final show in New Japan was AJ’s first night with the company. AJ described winning the IGWP Championship as a huge milestone because very few Americans have held that championship. He felt a sense of responsibility to deliver for the promotion because they trust him with carrying their championship. Finn would add that it is a hard task for “Westerners” to be accepted by the Japanese fans, but AJ was able to because they recognized his talent.
After learning from a conversation with Samoa Joe about Shinsuke Nakamura leaving Japan to join WWE, Styles’ name would be linked to these rumors as well. While it seemed more likely of this happening, Balor would say he was a bit skeptical of the rumors It was not until a conversation between Styles and Terry Taylor that lead to Triple H reaching out to the Phenomenal One. The thirty-minute conversation between the two would follow up with WWE offering a contract to Styles. The former IGWP champion agreed to the contract after it met the value which he says his wife prayed for. Styles believed it was the perfect time for him to join WWE since he saw a change in the way things were run in the company. He looked to Daniel Bryan as an example of someone who was not the biggest in size but was able to climb the ranks because of his hard work.
Styles reveals that he was not sure if he was going to be in the Royal Rumble until a week before the match. On the day of the Royal Rumble, he flew into Tampa and was picked up by Samoa Joe. He was then dropped off at the transport bus which then takes him to the Amway Center. Before the match, Styles mentions joking with Triple H about coming out number two for the Rumble match, only to find out he will be the third entrant. We see the opening moments of the Royal Rumble match with Reigns and Rusev. Styles says he had no idea what to expect and hoped someone would remember him. We see the seconds count down while the WWE staff cheer him on before walking through the curtains. The Titan Tron slowly displays the words “I am Phenomenal” as we see multiple crowd reaction shots. He says that were many emotions going through his head and felt like everyone knew who he was. Finn spoke about being in the arena that night and being happy for Styles since he helped paved the way for guys like him.
We see highlights of Styles in the Rumble match until he was eliminated by then Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens. Styles revealed that he was happy when his debut was all over, especially with the anxiety before it. Joe says while WWE can be an intimidating environment, he has seen Styles thrive in every environment he has been in. Highlights of AJ Styles’ first year in WWE from wrestling John Cena to winning the WWE championship are shown. Joe would follow up, saying he admired Styles for putting his family as his priority. He respected Styles not only for being a friend and brother but for putting his family ahead and doing it all in their love. The documentary concludes with Styles talking about earning what you get and never saying “I can’t”.
“So, at my house, “I can’t”, is, like I gave myself cold chills for anybody, I hate that word “I can’t”. I hate that word because you can. If you do anything enough, you’re going to get better at it. So, if you practice, and work hard, opportunities are going to come. And you take advantage of those opportunities. Man, it’s not about you deserve anything, you earned it. And once you earn something, no one can take it away from you cause you earned it, it was not given to you. The journey that you went on to get to this point in your life, you earned it. So, don’t tell me I deserve something, I earned it. And that is the very same thing I put in my kids. I want them to know that it is obtainable if you are willing to work for it. It took me 17 years, 17 years to get to the WWE and it was all worth it. Would I do it all over again? One hundred percent. Everything that I have learned about myself, about this business, about my friends, so much that I’ve learned about life that got me to this point, I would not change a thing. Nobody can take that away from me, that’s always going to be a part of that. Not just AJ Styles but Allen Jones.”
Aneil’s Thoughts: What I loved about this documentary was learning about the journey AJ took to get to the moment of his debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble. It gave us an insight into the personal side of AJ Styles, especially his dedication to his family. Many of his decisions were made in the best interest of his family which his peers would say is his main priority. It was a bold but admirable move by Styles to decline the development deal but being the family person he is, he put his wife’s dreams ahead of his career. Even turning down the TNA contract with three kids to take care of was a gutsy move but he showed that you have to believe in yourself and to know your worth. The one thing that surprised me was revealing that he hoped at least one person would know who he was. While his concerns were understandable, to me, AJ Styles had a huge following and was arguably the biggest name outside of WWE at the time.
Being a huge fan of AJ Styles since the first time I saw him in 2003, watching his journey to WWE has been incredible and inspiring. As a person who believes in the saying “timing is everything” and things happening for a reason, had AJ not decline the development contract and going to TNA and Japan, we would not have had The Phenomenal One today. I think his time in TNA helped him discover who AJ Styles truly was, and his time in Japan helped discover multiple facets to in-ring skill. All of this, along with the times changing in WWE culminated in the perfect timing for him to join WWE.
While there were many years where it felt like Styles joining WWE was nothing but a dream, I believed he was too bright of a star to ignore. I’ll never forget hearing the organ music (for some reason thinking it was Xavier Woods) and then hearing the pop from the crowd. Then seeing AJ walking out slowly with his signature hood over his head before revealing himself. I can still remember the surrealness of watching AJ makes his way down the ramp, almost viewing him as this outsider, almost like an outcast. While I knew AJ did not have a great chance of winning the Rumble in his debut, I soaked up every second I could watch him in the ring as if it were his first and only appearance.
I will admit, I did initially have concerns about if he would find success but thankfully my worries quickly disappeared. He made an impact (no pun intended) by main eventing two PPVs, beating John Cena at Summerslam, and then winning the WWE championship all in his “rookie year”. With AJ stating he has signed his final contract, it will be interesting to see how The Phenomenal One ends his legendary career in this final run.
I hope you enjoyed my recap and review of this episode of WWE Untold!