There’s no denying that over the last decade, TNA has been the second biggest wrestling promotion in North America. Ever since making his debut in 2002, AJ Styles has been their most loved guy, the face of the company, their man. Sure, he wasn’t always the top guy in terms of positioning on the card, but it’s difficult to think of (the good parts of) TNA without thinking about AJ Styles, and vice-versa.
His 11 years with the company were full of big hits and big misses. For every awful Claire Lynch-based feud with Christopher Daniels you had wonderful X-Division matches with the same man. For every storyline marriage to Karen Angle, you have some of the best wrestling matches you could ever hope to see with Kurt. AJ Style was TNA’s most consistent in-ring performer throughout his entire tenure.
It seems that AJ is finished with the company however, although there is every chance this could end up being another ridiculous TNA swerve-job. On December 16th 2013 AJ announced he was a free agent, and he has since re-signed with Ring of Honor as well as putting up a fairly bulky schedule. In the years that have passed since AJ competed consistently on the independent wrestling scene a whole new breed of talent has broken through. The guys that he would have battled previously have mostly moved on to pastures new, whether that is WWE, TNA or something outside of wrestling all together. In their place is a new generation, meaning there is a ton of fresh matches for the Phenomenal One.
This list could be as long as my arm, so for the sake of practicality I’ve reduced it to five. I’m sure you have your own choices, and I’d love to hear them. The following are the five I would like to see the most.
I don’t think there is any doubt whatsoever that AJ Styles performs best in the babyface role. His offence is too exciting and his promos are too terrible for him to ever excel as a heel. If we’re using AJ as a babyface as our template, then immediately you look for the biggest heel to even out the scales. Who is the biggest heel in independent wrestling today? Two years ago this seemed impossible, but the answer is Adam Cole. He is the current reigning and defending ROH and PWG World Champion after all.
When he was a young plucky babyface, Adam Cole was not much more than a very capable in ring performer who lacked anything magnetic. He began to develop a heel side, and absolutely skyrocketed. There are many different types of heel in wrestling, but ever since the Attitude Era two types have stood out. One is the Rebel Without a Cause type that Steve Austin pioneered. These are the heels that a portion of the crowd cheers for, your Kevin Steen types. Then you have your genuine pricks, the heel of heels that nobody in the crowd is rooting for.
Adam Cole is this heel. Now that AJ Styles is in Ring of Honor, a match between these two is almost inevitable. Cole has developed into a fine in-ring performer, and AJ’s ability isn’t up for debate. This is going to make a damn good ROH main event at some point in 2014.
When Chris Masters first appeared on WWE TV in 2005, he quickly became something of a joke. He was the McMahon archetype, a WWE wet dream. He had a body that was seemingly sculpted out of stone. He couldn’t wrestle particularly well, but that’s never held anyone back. He was pushed to the moon and given a seemingly unbreakable submission maneuver (the Master Lock). Within six months of his bow he was feuding with Shawn Michaels, a pretty big rub for someone as green as Masters. Within ten months he had lost a match for the WWE Championship.
Masters didn’t really convince much of the audience though, and by mid 2006 he was back in the middle of the card, losing to Santino Marella and feuding with Chuck Palumbo. November 2007 saw him released. He would return to the WWE in 2009, when he would begin his run that would see him arguably improve more than anyone on the roster at the time. CM Punk rammed this point home during one confrontation with John Laurinaitis. Chris Masters is one of the sneaky best muscle-bound me in wrestling today, and an AJ Styles/Chris Masters match is one I would love to see.
AJ Styles pioneered TNA’s X-Division, which brought high flying, high pace wrestling to TV. No man epitomizes this in independent wrestling today more than ACH. I’ve mentioned him briefly a couple of times on this wonderful website, and ACH is a name you’ll be hearing more and more of. He’s in ROH as well, and a meeting between the two should happen. ACH does things in the ring that make you question your own sanity.
In terms of speed, ACH is AJ Styles on crack. Heck, ACH is speed on crack. He is 200mph, constant energy and one of the most natural babyface wrestlers in the world. Your story here is blindingly obvious, with Styles as the veteran trying to show he’s still got it (Is AJ just becoming Jerry Lynn?) and ACH as the fresh new upstart. The match itself would be electric.
The highlight of AJ Styles’ career to date would most likely be the much-loved triple threat match against Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe back in 2005. Joe has blown hot and cold ever since, and his thunder is under threat from one of the most popular men on the indie scene, Willie Mack.
The comparison with Joe might be a little lazy and is certainly getting tired, but it is difficult to avoid unfortunately. They are of similar build and more athletic than this build would suggest. Mack is almost 300lbs and performs one of the most beautiful dropkicks I have ever seen. He’s also an absolutely magnetic personality, and similar to the ACH match it would be interesting to see which way the crowd would go here. Either way, this is one that I’d be excited more than most.
Finally, we come to the match that I would like to see the most. Amazing Kong (Kharma in WWE) made her name as Awesome Kong in TNA, winning the Knockouts Championship on a couple of occasions. Her run in WWE as Kharma ended before it began, but the potential was enormous. The vignettes before her debut were typically well produced, and the few appearances she made on WWE TV were devastating. Of course it all ended when she left because of pregnancy, but her cameo on the 2012 Royal Rumble more than whetted the appetite.
Kong and AJ only crossed paths in a tag team match when they were both in TNA. There are many companies on the independent scene however that are more progressive when it comes to mixed gender battles. The list of potential opponents is long, Mia Yim is another that springs to mind, but Kong vs. AJ Styles is a big marquee match from the independent world that needs to happen.
At 36 years old it is more than likely that AJ Styles won’t be making his way to WWE anytime soon. This is no big loss however, as the number of fresh opponents for him outside of WWE is practically endless. I’ve named just five, but there are a whole host of others. Michael Elgin, Tim Donst, Hallowicked, Hamada and many others. If AJ has grown stale for you, he’s about to freshen up.
That’ll do for now. What do you think? Who would you like to see AJ Styles come up against? What is the biggest marquee match for him now? Is there any chance at all he’ll end up in WWE? Drop a comment in the lonely comment box below and we’ll duke it out. Failing that, we’ve got twitter (@pingvinorkestra) or email (email@example.com). I’ll be watching the Royal Rumble live on the tellybox, so will probably tweet a lot of rubbish about it. Adios.