AJ Styles suffered an ankle injury during his main event match against Dean Ambrose at TLC for the WWE Championship over a week ago. This forced the SmackDown creative staff to call an audible two weeks in a row in regards to the planned title match between Styles and James Ellsworth.
Last Tuesday, the injury was made public and AJ declared that he’d be unable to compete two nights after the TLC pay-per-view. Instead, WWE officials booked Ambrose in the main event against The Miz in an Intercontinental Championship match to kick-start their presumed feud. Then this week, Ellsworth came down with a kayfabe cold and was sent home, so a fatal four-way number-one contenders elimination match headlined the evening.
The winner between Ambrose, Miz, Dolph Ziggler, and Luke Harper would be declared the next challenger to AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Ziggler emerged victorious and was granted a title shot on SmackDown’s final episode of 2016, on December 27. Ellsworth, meanwhile, is still in line to get a shot at the belt at some point.
However, it now appears that both of AJ’s title defenses are in jeopardy.
According to a report from the Daily Wrestling News, AJ Styles has been pulled from all live events for the rest of December. He is scheduled to appear on the two remaining episodes of SmackDown for the year, but Wednesday’s report indicates that he won’t wrestle. This would definitely be in contrast to the booking decision from Tuesday’s show that, as noted, granted Dolph Ziggler a championship match against Styles in two weeks.
The other marquee match that AJ appears to be pulled from is the live event house show set to take place on December 26 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The advertised card for that show features a triple threat main event between Styles, Dean Ambrose, and a returning John Cena. That is scheduled to be Cena’s return to the WWE as he’ll be returning to television the following night.
The WWE is fortunate in that the blue brand does not have another pay-per-view event until the inter-promotional Royal Rumble on January 29 in San Antonio. They are clearly trying to beef up SmackDown’s final episode of the year with a world title match and the return of John Cena, but it’s certainly peculiar that they would go ahead and book an injured AJ Styles in a title defense without knowing if he’ll be able to go.
It’s also become apparent that the WWE is holding off on the return of the Undertaker as well. Whether that’s due to AJ’s injuries and postponements of title matches or the health of the Deadman himself is unclear. It’s expected that the Undertaker will challenge Styles at some point for the championship as either he or Cena will be AJ’s opponent at the Royal Rumble.
It was no secret that the WWE was bitten hard by the injury bug right around this time a year ago. Injuries forced top-level superstars like Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Sting, and Bray Wyatt to miss out on WrestleMania matches, and Vince and company don’t want that to happen again. There’s certainly a chance that Styles could wrestle if he had to, but he’s in line for a much bigger role at the upcoming WrestleMania and the company doesn’t want to suffer similar setbacks to this past year’s version.
As of now, you can expect more promos and commentary work out of AJ Styles instead of what he does best, and that’s wrestle. It will be interesting to keep an eye on what they do for the December 27 show when Dolph Ziggler will enter the arena expecting a shot at the world title.
[Featured Image by WWE]