He was the most sought after free agent in Professional Wrestling. He has wrestled all over the world and held Championships in most of the major wrestling promotions. He is the “Phenomenal One” the one and only AJ Styles. To celebrate his arrival to the WWE, the wrestling gurus here at PCU have put together three matches that span his career. These matches were not only amazing but turning points in AJ’s life and professional wrestling. Here are AJ Styles most career defining matches.
ROH Night of Grudge 2003
For AJ Styles, I tend to think of him in three phases (WWE would add a fourth). There’s his time in NWA-TNA, which embodies most of the 2000s; Ring of Honor which is roughly the same time period; and New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he took over leadership of the Bullet Club following Prince Devitt’s (Finn Balor) departure to WWE. I wanted to highlight one of his matches from Ring of Honor as it seems that’s a WWE scouting spot of late.
It came down to two matches for me, this one, and a match from earlier in the same year against Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan). I chose this match for two reason: first, it’s an easier match for everyone to track down, and second, we know Danielson is one of the best, but London is more unknown.
This is a technical showcase that we don’t usually get to see in the WWE. In a sense, this is a very “indy” match. What really struck me about this match, though, was the big time pacing and storytelling. We know that both these guys are athletically gifted, but they really bring out some innovative offense, and interesting strategy in this one. As London methodically works on AJ’s leg, Styles still manages to pull out moments of greatness, showing his ability to pull at the crowds heartstrings and just tell an excellent story in the ring.
Here’s what makes me hesitant about this one; Paul London was in WWE for some time, and while he did have success in the tag ranks, his run was more or less forgettable. Skill wise, he looks incredible here, and while I think some of that has to do with AJ, WWE couldn’t find a way to use him properly. There is something to be said, however, that WWE in 2006 was MUCH different than what it is today, and if you have that skill, it’s hard to be kept down. Additionally, AJ is significantly more charismatic than London, which will really carry him in WWE.
Double Elimination 4 Way Match for the 1st X-Division Champion -NWA TNA Asylum Episode#2- June 2002
This was the day AJ Styles “arrived” for most of the wrestling fans around the world. some had seen him in other promotions, but this was the match that made everyone sit up and take notice.
This was the match to decide the very first X Division champion and in a unique twist, it was a Double elimination match. What this means is 2 people are in the ring at a time, when you lose a fall you leave the ring and someone else takes your place, then the next person takes over, and so on. When you have 2 falls against you you are eliminated. Not only did the double elimination make the match unique another noteworthy point is Psicosis was not wrestling in his mask or usual attire which was a little weird to see. Add to that the presence of WWE hall of famer Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat as an official and you have one of the most intriguing match set ups I have seen.
This match is also a great statement of what the X Division stood for until Samoa Joe joined the division: the athletic high fly no limits style that really made TNA stand out at the beginning. Even TNA’s trademark ‘lackluster’ commentary wasn’t enough to mar this amazing contest.
I really do not want to tell you too much about the contents of this match because I want you to witness one of the most thrilling matches I’ve seen. This is the first of a trifecta of amazing matches between AJ, Low Ki and Jerry Lynn over the X Division Title that you can check out if you pick up the TNA DVD Phenomenal: The Best of the AJ Styles.
Speaking to what AJ said on Monday coming down the ramp: “This is where I belong! This is where I should have been the whole time!” DAMN FUCKING STRAIGHT. Welcome. We’ve been waiting nearly as long as you have.
Brett’s Bonus Match!
Triple Threat for the X-Division Title – TNA Unbreakable 2005
I couldn’t go without mentioning this match. When we look back at TNA’s history, this may go down as the best match they’ve ever produced. The X Division has always been one of the strongest aspects of TNA (which is the worst name for a company) and this is a display of three of the best wrestlers to come from that division.
In terms of AJ, while the first match I gave displayed his storytelling ability, this match shows just how much of a crazy athlete he is. Between these three, we see the best of AJ: he could whip out a pele kick or springboard move at any time. Also, this match shows how he works with a stiff wrestler like Samoa Joe, another recent WWE addition that should be put on the main roster with AJ. It’s hard to pull one moment out of this match; there’s a sense that you are sprinting in just watching this one. Also, the screaming commentary of Mike Tenay and Don West only adds to that.
AJ Styles vs Kazuchika Okada
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match- Wrestling Dontaku 2014
For thirteen-months and 8 title defenses Kazuchika Okada has reigned supreme as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. This was significant due to his dismal appearance in TNA as the character “Youngboy” a “Kato” like character tied to wrestler Samoa Joe. Dedicated to rebuilding himself he returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling added more muscle to his lean frame thanks to his manager Gedo and began an incredible run that lead to him claiming the IWGP title and to hold it for over a year. The New Japan Pro Wrestling committee even announced that Okada was the new “Ace” of New Japan taken over Hiroshi Tanahashi’s spot in the company. What better an opponent to debut against?
At Invasion Attack 2014, after Okada successfully defended his title against Hirooki Goto. The Bullet Club all gathered in the ring lead by then De-facto leader Karl Anderson. Karl announces their new leader to the world: AJ Styles! Styles then challenges Okada to a title match belittling the champ by calling him “Youngboy” the failed character from TNA. Of course Okada accepts the challenge meaning now in his debut match Styles will face Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Title.
So after a month of preparation from both competitors, they put on one heck of a match ending with AJ Styles taking the title. This is very significant because AJ Styles becomes the only 5th Gaijin to have won the IWGP Heavyweight Title. He joins Vader, Scott Norton, Bob Sapp and Brock Lesner with that distinction. This also led to an incredible rivalry between Okada and Styles as well as solidifying “The Phenomenal One” as an International SuperStar!
To watch this match and other fantastic New Japan Pro Wrestling matches join NJPW World!
There you have it! Three of AJ Styles most significant matches from his legendary career. Do you agree or disagree? If you have your own take on his most career defining matches let us know in the comments below.
Want more AJ Styles and Pro Wrestling in general? Stay with Pop Culture Uncovered!