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Does AJ Styles Deserve Better?

AJ Styles it the best in the world, he holds the oldest and “most prestigious” championship in all of WWE. And he deserves better.

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The phrase “deserve” gets thrown around a lot in professional wrestling. “YOU DESERVE IT!” is an often mis- or over-used chant at all levels of the business, because it’s usually around a championship that is typically used as a prop. But looking at the 290 day reign (as of today) of WWE Champion AJ Styles, I can’t help but think he deserves better.

AJ Styles defeated Jinder Mahal on the November 2, 2017 edition of WWE Smackdown Live, airing on tape delay from Manchester, England. It was the fifth WWE Championship change of 2017, with the other reigns lasting 170 days (Jinder Mahal), 49 days (Randy Orton), 49 days (Bray Wyatt), and 14 days (John Cena). It was easy to think AJ Styles might not necessarily get to that 290 mark he’s attained so far.

The title change came as a surprise to many. Jinder Mahal was set to face Brock Lesnar in a champion vs champion match at Survivor Series, a match that many weren’t excited about due to the style (no pun intended) employed by both men. Upon his win, the Survivor Series match saw an immediate upgrade.

Personally, I am a huge AJ Styles fan. I’ve long felt that his significance was downplayed in TNA/IMPACT Wrestling, or at least not given the proper recognition. The fact that so many former WWE superstars were inducted into TNA’s Hall Of Fame before AJ was even given consideration is irresponsible at best, intentionally negligent at worst. I personally feel that AJ Styles is a phenomenal choice to carry the WWE championship (pun definitely intended this time).

Take a look at the PPV matches for AJ Styles during his tenure as WWE Championship:

Survivor Series 2017 (Co-Branded PPV)

  • Universal Champion Brock Lesnar pinned WWE Champion AJ Styles (non-title)
  • Main Event? NO
  • Main Event: Raw vs. Smackdown Survivor Series Elimination Match (sole survivors Triple H and Braun Strowman)
  • AJ’s match placement: second to last

While the brand vs brand theme makes it “okay” for the elimination match to go on last, it also makes 100% sense for the champions to battle in the main event to see which brand wins.

Clash Of Champions 2017 (Smackdown Brand PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles defeated Jinder Mahal via submission
  • Main Event? YES

AJ did get to main event this PPV, which was Smackdown only, defeating Jinder Mahal and vanquishing any claim he has to rematch.

Royal Rumble 2018 (Co-Branded PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match
  • Main Event? NO
  • Main Event: First ever Women’s Royal Rumble (won by Asuka)
  • AJ’s match placement: opener

While a Royal Rumble going on last makes sense, a world title match main eventing isn’t out of the question for a Royal Rumble. But going on first?

Elimination Chamber 2018 (Raw Brand PPV)

  • This was a Raw only PPV, headlined by a 7-man Elimination Chamber match won by Braun Strowman

FastLane 2018 (Smackdown Brand PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles defeated Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, and Baron Corbin
  • Main Event? YES

This show would be AJ Styles’ last PPV main event to date, also on a Smackdown only PPV, and also in a match that was built around the feud between Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Daniel Bryan.

WrestleMania 34 (Co-Branded PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles pinned Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Main Event? NO
  • Main Event: Universal Champion Brock Lesnar defeats Roman Reigns
  • AJ’s match placement: third from the top (before Braun & Nicholas winning the tag team championship)

AJ would face Shinsuke, the Royal Rumble winner, on more shows, but this was one of his two clean victories over him. No reason it had to go on before Braun Strowman teaming with a child.

Greatest Royal Rumble (Co-Branded PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles battled Shinsuke Nakamura to a double countout
  • Main Event? NO
  • Main Event: The 50-Man Greatest Royal Rumble won by Braun Strowman
  • AJ’s match placement: fourth from the top

This show is a bit of an anomaly, since you had the Greatest Royal Rumble itself on top, but the three matches that preceded it really could have gone on in any order. Given that circumstance, AJ got the worst of it.

Backlash 2018 (Co-Branded PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles battled Shinsuke Nakamura to a draw in a No-Disqualification Match
  • Main Event? NO
  • Main Event: Roman Reigns pinned Samoa Joe
  • AJ’s match placement: third from the top (before Braun Strowman & Bobby Lashley beating Kevin Owen & Sami Zayn)

It’s easy to point out that AJ did main event two PPV events (not co-branded) prior to this one, and you can even point to circumstances that hurt him in others (Brock Lesnar title defense, Royal Rumble matches, etc), but on this show it really started to feel like AJ was hurt by his placement. Once again he’s sitting behind a Braun Strowman title match, and a Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe main event that felt like a mid-card match. Even with the non-finish (no stretch for WWE), this feels like a spot where AJ Styles should be in the main event.

Money In The Bank 2018 (Co-Branded PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to end their feud, winning a 31-minute Last Man Standing Match
  • Main Event? NO
  • Main Event: Men’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match, won by Braun Strowman
  • AJ’s match placement: third from the top (before Ronda Rousey vs. Nia Jax for the Raw Women’s Championship), and you can call it fourth if you want to get technical thanks to Alexa Bliss cashing in, but I’m not “that guy”

Okay, here’s where I start to have a serious problem with the booking of AJ Styles. This was his blowoff match with Shinsuke Nakamura, and one where they had placed some serious reasonable doubt as to who would win. It was a Last Man Standing Match that would last 31 minutes, and was easily the best match on what many feel was the best PPV of the year (myself included). While I understand the Money in the Bank gimmick, precedent was long set for the briefcase match to not main event the PPV when another match warranted it. And, in my not-so-humble-opinion, AJ Styles was the obvious choice for the main event here.

Extreme Rules 2018 (Co-Branded PPV)

  • WWE Champion AJ Styles defeated Rusev to retain the WWE Championship
  • Main Event? NO
  • Main Event: Dolph Ziggler beat Seth Rollins in a 30-minute Ironman Match, 5-4 in sudden-death overtime
  • AJ’s match placement: second to last

In all honesty, this was a show without a main event. No match was ever really advertised as the main event, and even when Seth Rollins vs Dolph Ziggler was getting ready to start, it was never once termed a “main event” by any announcer on the broadcast. That doesn’t happen by accident.

Rusev is officially a babyface, and was one of the hottest acts in the entire company heading into this match. I can easily see a situation where he wins the Royal Rumble and defeats AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 35 (which also won’t be in the main event). On a card with no clear main event, the WWE Championship (and WWE Champion) should carry the weight needed to headline the show. But AJ Styles wasn’t trusted with that role, furthering the argument that AJ Styles deserves better.

SummerSlam 2018 (Co-Branded PPV)

  • Samoa Joe defeated WWE Champion AJ Styles by disqualification
  • Main Event? Hahahahahahahaha NO
  • Main Event: Roman Reigns defeated Brock Lesnar to win the Universal Championship
  • AJ’s match placement: sixth from the top, the fifth match on a card of ten matches

Now, I’ll be the first person to tell you that Roman Reigns finally defeating Brock Lesnar and essentially bringing the Universal Championship back to the WWE should have gone on last. I will also tell you that this match between AJ and Joe is basically the first of their program, so the disqualification finish kinda makes sense. I say “kinda” because I hated Joe, the bad-ass ass-kicker of all of the asses, having to resort to involving AJ’s wife. Joe, being one of the best in the world, made chick salad out of it.

Before we look ahead, we also have to look back at the posters used for some of these events. They are also quite telling…

AJ Styles PPV Posters

AJ Styles is off to a great start with Survivor Series, appearing as Brock Lesnar’s equal. This is huge, as Smackdown is considered the “B show” by so many. But after Survivor Series, AJ Styles is an after thought. He goes from looking like a part of the Royal Rumble match in that poster, to not even appearing on the SummerSlam poster.

Why is this important? Because one thing we all know about WWE is that Vince McMahon loves to “book the poster.” And if he’s booking the poster, AJ Styles isn’t being treated like a star.

Now let’s look ahead to WWE’s Hell In a Cell pay-per-view. AJ Styles lost to Samoa Joe by disqualification on the PPV before Hell In A Cell, which is a perfect set-up for a rematch inside the Cell. One of the big criticisms of the Hell In A Cell event is that the matches aren’t built to where they NEED the Cell. Well, AJ vs. Joe is the most Cell-worthy match they have right now, thanks to Joe’s actions on the road to SummerSlam.

So when AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe for the WWE Championship at Hell In A Cell was announced, it was announced like this:

Further, when you go to the WWE’s article referenced in the tweet, there is ZERO mention of the match being in a Cell, or possibly being in a Cell. Not even a tease. Is there a chance it’s in the Cell? Sure! But it doesn’t seem likely at all.

That’s a shame. It’s not even a shame, it’s irresponsible booking. When Smackdown Live moves to FOX in October 2019, the game will change. Smackdown becomes the A show, even if Raw is still the flag bearer for the company. I am making a prediction right now: by the time Smackdown moves to FOX, AJ Styles will not be on the Smackdown roster. If he is, he’s a secondary champion at best.

AJ Styles it the best in the world, he holds the oldest and “most prestigious” championship in all of WWE. And he deserves better.


Let us know what you think on social media @theCHAIRSHOTcom and always remember to use the hashtag #UseYourHead!
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