Hot off his epic run in NJPW, AJ Styles made his long overdue WWE debut, entering the 2016 Royal Rumble at #3. Styles showed off his trademark maneuvers against the likes of Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens for the first time in a WWE ring in what felt like a dream sequence. After the Rumble, Styles’ rise to the top of the card was inevitable. He squared off against friend turned foe, Chris Jericho, in a losing effort at Wrestlemania 32. Despite the loss, he went on to become #1 contender to Roman Reigns’ World Heavyweight Championship. Styles made the often-decried Reigns look like a tried and true superstar. Following his feud with Reigns, Styles clashed with the face that runs the place, John Cena. After some shenanigans involving the Club, the brand split forced Styles to handle Cena on his own. Handled Cena he did, beating him decisively in their rubber match at SummerSlam 2016. Even at 39 years old, the future seems bright for AJ Styles in WWE. Still, one can’t help but wonder…
What if AJ Styles came to WWE a decade earlier? 2005 was an exceptional year for The Phenomal one. He won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the 3rd time. He made it to the finals of the Super X Cup. He captured TNA’s X Division title for the 5th time in a Five Star match with Samoa Joe and Chris Daniels. (That match was Meltzer’s only Five Star Match in 2005!) Unfortunately, his year and X division reign ended with a brutal assault at the hands of Samoa Joe.
Meanwhile in the WWE, the start of 2006 featured young stars like John Cena, Randy Orton and Edge rising to new heights and re-building the brand in a post Attitude Era world. Fantasy booking Styles into a feud with Edge or Orton in their primes is easy and tempting, but there is one superstar who would have benefited the most had Styles jumped ship in early 2006: Shawn Michaels.
Michaels was in a bitter feud with Vince McMahon. At the Rumble in 2006, Vince was searching for a man to eliminate Shawn from the Rumble. Shelton Benjamin promised he would. He didn’t. Vince’s Spirit Squad had the numbers advantage but they couldn’t get the job done. Ultimately, it was a returning Shane McMahon who dumped Shawn out of the Rumble which would lead to two dreadful match ups: Shawn vs Vince McMahon at Mania and The McMahons vs Shawn…and God at Backlash 2006.
What if Styles entered the 2006 Rumble at #3 as a hired gun for his new boss with one mission: stop the Showstopper from winning. Instead of Michaels wasting one of his last Mania matches against a 60 year old man/non-wrestler, we could have seen Michaels taking on a new generation star in AJ Styles. Regardless of who won, Michaels and Styles would find mutual respect for one another as wrestlers and forge a bond that would show AJ the error of his ways. At Backlash, instead of the ridiculousness we ended up getting, we could have seen a newly united Styles and HBK vs the McMahons.
Should that feud continue in this alternate timeline, HBK could recruit his old pal, HHH, to reform DX (like he really did in 2006). This time, the nostalgia act would be anchored by the 29 year old Phenomenal One who could take DX into the future even after HHH and HBK had left the business. After all, Stlyes later proved to be quite the effective leader of a rebel faction!
Why It Would Have Worked
Styles getting to WWE in 2006 would have changed the landscape of the industry forever. First and foremost, it may have put TNA out of business by losing their top star at that time. Secondly, AJ would have been in the mix with some incredible talent, both young and old. Orton, Cena, Edge, Mysterio, RVD, HHH, HBK, Undertaker, Benoit. There could have been so many memorable feuds. Plus, if Styles was given the DX banner to run with, that faction could have recruited and elevated a ton more talent over the years.
Why It Wouldn’t Have Worked
At 39 years old, AJ Styles may be at his absolute best. The pedigree and storied career he brought with him with his debut in early 2016 made him an instant superstar in the WWE Universe. Knowing that he won’t be around forever, he’s being booked perfectly, one dream match at a time. Had Styles come in as just another good looking young kid in 06, would he have been given the same respect he’s given now? If he did debut in 2006, would we still be enamored with him in 2016 or would sloppy booking have made him just another stale act? I think it’s the latter. It’s AJ’s long and winding globe trot that makes his WWE run must watch TV. With WWE scouts recruiting the best in the world earlier and earlier, we might never see an industry vet make it so far into his career without being in WWE. Styles is in a rarified air. He’s been a champion all over the world. He’s less than 1 year into his WWE run. He’s in the discussion for Superstar of the Year. He’s 39. He is at his absolute best. It’s a good time be a wrestling fan.
What do you guys think?