Superstar Breakdown: A.J. Styles
Once upon a time, I was one of many people that were convinced that A.J. Styles – called the greatest wrestler alive by many people more experienced in the world of pro wrestling than myself – would never make it to WWE.
He had so many things working against him: small stature, a pronounced Southern accent (which some people backstage in WWE are said to loathe), and being not a ‘superstar’ but a wrestler, through and through.
I have never been happier to have been proven wrong than when Styles debuted in WWE in 2016 and became WWE Champion in less than a year. He has since carved a place for himself on the SmackDown roster and is without a doubt one of WWE’s biggest assets.
A.J. Styles has a very straightforward look: wrestling right, wrestling boots, elbow pads and gloves. He doesn’t need anything else to tell the entire world that he is a wrestler and a serious one at that. One cursory glance at Styles during his entrance or before a match and you’ll be able to tell that this is a man that takes his career very seriously.
The only real knock against Styles in the looks department is his haircut, which has led many people to label as a ‘soccer mom’ cut. While having long brown hair does help Styles in setting himself apart in a company dominated by buzz cuts and an otherwise minimalistic approach to hair (Wyatts notwithstanding), the soccer mom look doesn’t really do Styles and favours.
This is the section in which Styles surpasses everyone else on the entire WWE roster. Styles has long been considered the greatest wrestler on the planet, even before he signed with NJPW earlier this decade.
He is the poster boy for wrestling versatility and dynamism, as seen through his multiple finishers, impressive transitions and all-around unpredictability in the ring. Indeed, Styles has managed to show the entire world that even in the relatively-restrictive world of WWE, Styles has still managed to prove that he can have outstanding matches with anyone and everyone.
One need only look at his great matches with Roman Reigns, his excellent match with Dean Ambrose and his outstanding matches with John Cena to see just how great of a wrestler Styles really is.
Despite being 40 years old, Styles still performs at an incredible level. His regular matches feature an interesting balance between high-flying athletics, scientific grappling, and believable finishers. Because of this, Styles is today’s equivalent of Shawn Michaels, in that he could have a great match with a broom if he needed to.
Promo Skills & Charisma
Styles is one of those performers whose charisma comes off more through his actions than through his words. He has long since mastered the art of controlling a crowd through actions and non-speaking expressions, which makes him an excellent storyteller during a match.
His poses, impressive wrestling ability, and the backstory with which he came to WWE – that he was the one guy everyone wanted to see in a WWE ring, but would never get to because he didn’t fit the desired mold – have all led to Styles becoming one of the most charismatic stars on SmackDown.
Promo-wise, Styles does just fine but isn’t setting the world on fire like John Cena or Kevin Owens. Styles’ pronounced southern accent is believed to irritate some people in WWE’s backstage environment (just ask Jim Cornette about how WWE’s top brass feels about southerners), but this doesn’t really come across in his promos.
That said, Styles’ manner of speaking lacks the intensity, sincerity and raw power of some of his fellow wrestlers. Even when he’s at his most intense, Styles’ promos don’t feel as visceral or truly powerful as a Cena promo or an angry Kevin Owens rant.
Styles is thus better being more of a soft-spoken wrestler that lets his actions talk for him, only speaking when absolutely necessary.
Styles has benefitted tremendously from the brand split that took place in mid-2016. Before that, Styles was a big fish in an enormous pond, treading water with other wrestlers for whom WWE had more priority in terms of beneficial booking.
Yet after the rosters split, Styles became the top guy on SmackDown and proved it with one show-stealing match after another. Indeed, Styles is easily the best wrestler on SmackDown and managed to guarantee that through great booking.
Even though now he’s feuding with Baron Corbin over the U.S. Championship, his segments and matches still feel like quasi-main events due to Styles’ booking and presentation over the past year.
The only real knock against Styles’ overall booking was his loss to Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 32, which was a decision that simply did not make sense. But WWE proved once again that wins and losses do not matter unless your name is Roman Reigns, and Styles was thrust into the main-event of the several PPVs immediately afterwards as if that match with Jericho didn’t matter whatsoever.
So in this case, WWE’s lack of logic and continuity in their writing was a good thing because Styles was able to overcome what should’ve been an important loss to Jericho on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
I for one really hope that Styles does stay with WWE for as long as he can. Even though he signed with the company late into his career, he has still managed to become a top star. His wrestling ability and magnetism are both rare attributes and are difficult to emulate, much less replicate. Thus, it would be in both WWE’s and Styles’ best interests if the Phenomenal One continued to wrestle for the company in a main-event capacity for as long as possible.
Final Grade: A+
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