Six months into his WWE career, it’s been reported ad nauseam how AJ Styles has surpassed all expectations, at least from WWE officials. Hardcore fans that knew of Styles’ work in TNA, New Japan, and the independents were hardly surprised at his immediate WWE success, but there were still plenty of casual fans acclimating themselves to him.
Vince McMahon and other top decision-makers weren’t quite sure what they were getting in Styles, beyond his debut at this year’s Royal Rumble. Styles, himself, admitted on several occasions that he wasn’t sure if the Rumble crowd would know who he was and certainly didn’t expect the reaction he ended up getting. However, contrary to prior reports, the live reaction Styles received in his dynamic debut was something Vince and company did anticipate, according to the latest edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
AJ has had three marquee feuds since his arrival in WWE. In another clarification, the plan was always for Styles’ first program to be with Chris Jericho. However, blueprints before Styles arrived had Jericho paired up with Ambrose when Bray Wyatt was slotted for Brock Lesnar. Jericho also confirmed this in a roundabout way, recently saying that he knew his run as a babyface would grow stale and that seeds were planted for him to turn on Styles during the angle. Turning Styles nearly happened sooner, but Vince was reluctant due to the continued reactions and merchandise sales.
As many Styles fans are aware, he left TNA at the end of 2013 after being unable to agree to a new deal with the company. More specifically, Styles felt he was low-balled when Dixie Carter was only willing to offer him $200,000. It had originally been believed that when he became a free agent at that point, WWE also submitted a low-ball offer which Styles also turned down. It turns out that no offer was ever made at that time, and AJ ended up going to Japan, joining Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows.
Then, as 2015 was drawing to a close, Styles’ NJPW contract was set to expire and he (and Anderson and Gallows, as well) wanted to return to the United States to try to secure a guaranteed deal as well as be close to family in case an emergency ever occurred. Fortunately for all three, their stock skyrocketed due to their Bullet Club angle, and when they came back to the U.S., the WWE was waiting with an offer for all of them. They all met with TNA before that, but the lure of WWE was too prominent to ignore, and the contract offer presumably much greater than the TNA figure from two years prior.
Going back to the creative plans for AJ Styles, while it was set that his first feud would be with Jericho, it certainly wasn’t expected that he’d be inserted into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship program with Roman Reigns. And since that rivalry was so successful, it only made sense for him to transition to John Cena. After Styles pinned Cena at Money In The Bank due to outside interference from the rest of The Club, a six-man match has been booked for Battleground pitting The Club against Cena and Enzo & Cass, as covered by What Culture.
The idea behind this match is that officials don’t want Cena to pin Styles clean yet and have AJ fall victim to the 50/50 booking that has marred this era and hurt Kevin Owens when he first arrived. The two will likely reignite the singles aspect of their feud, which would culminate at SummerSlam but it’s clear that Vince is protecting Styles (and Cena to some degree) for the time being. The other idea floating around is that Styles and Cena will be leading the Smackdown brand, with the two eventually facing-off for the reintroduced second world championship. If that is in fact the case, saving the singles match until a title is on the line makes sense.
[Image via WWE]