A.J. Styles only made his WWE debut a little over a year ago, at the 2016 Royal Rumble. From the very start, he has been able to bring his considerable star power from pretty much every wrestling promotion outside of the WWE and turn it into being a constant part of the main event picture, both before and after the brand split — but especially after. He has been one of the major reasons that Smackdown Live is finally competing with Raw, its more historic and prestigious older brother.
Long before his WWE debut or his exploits with New Japan, Styles was one of the biggest stars in Total Nonstop Action — for over 10 years. And while TNA may have been the place where he truly developed the most, he doesn’t look back on time there very fondly. During a live Q&A session at Wizard World Portland last week, Styles talked about how certain members of TNA management caused him to lose all motivation.
“[Samoa] Joe and I were hoping to make TNA a big deal. You know, that was what we wanted to do. The problem was, the person who owned the company, she didn’t see that in us. She didn’t see us as the stars that put TNA on the map and not just me but like, Jerry Lynn and Christopher Daniels, and Low Ki, all those guys who did great things and she just didn’t see it. Go put it bluntly, she wanted to be WWE-lite and nobody wanted to see that. They wanted to see something different. And at one point in time, it was a great place to work.”
Dixie Carter would eventually turn TNA into WWE-lite in some people’s eyes, signing aging (and expensive) talent like Hulk Hogan and Kurt Angle to try and attract viewers. It never really worked out, and the company almost folded under bankruptcy concerns in 2016 before a last minute financial bailout.
Styles said that he really needed to get away from TNA, and that his exit from the company and subsequent re-emergence in Ring of Honor, and then NJPW, helped reinvigorate his career to the point where the WWE came calling.
“Ring of Honor treated me real well, and New Japan treated me like a superstar. So I’ve got to give credit to them, who helped boost my ego a little bit because it was definitely flattened due to TNA’s service. But then — doing all that and then having the opportunity to come to WWE and …you know, whether people like it or not, WWE is easy, the biggest — you know, when it comes to wrestling, it doesn’t get any bigger than the WWE. And being there means you’ve finally made it.”
It took a while, but wrestling fans finally got to see something they had wanted for a long time — A.J. Styles inside a WWE ring, and wearing championship gold, no less.