The rise of AJ Styles in WWE and his run as WWE Champion heading into SummerSlam

AJ Styles

Early in his career, AJ Styles was perceived by some as a “spot monkey.”

He was the franchise of TNA and the thought of him winning the WWE Championship might have seemed to be a pipe dream. Fast forward to today and he currently has the fourth longest WWE Championship run since 1991.

I sat in the sixth largest crowd to witness a WrestleMania on April 8 and watched the majority of a 78,000 plus crowd completely crap over the Universal Championship match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.

This month’s SummerSlam is expected to close the show again with Lesnar and Reigns. The majority of the internet wrestling fan base has littered social media with their disapproval of the constant push of Reigns and the lack of attendance of Lesnar over the past 18 months. What is flying under the radar is the emergence of Styles, a once internet darling, as one of the most successful title runs in the modern era.

Now of course other factors are in play, but WWE stock is at an all-time high and WWE’s new television deals with NBC Universal and FOX set new records. The Styles title run initially seemed to be a quick fix to get away from a Lesnar versus Jinder Mahal match at last year’s Survivor Series in the champion versus champion non-title match.

The result has been Styles with a 425-day title run with feuds against Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura. If the “indy” crowd wanted their fix, they definitely should have gotten it in these matches. Styles and Nakumara was the WWE Title match at WrestleMania and that means something no matter if it closed the show or not. The feud as a whole did not live up to the perceived expectations considering their matches in New Japan. It never was though. They had to work WWE-style matches, which has its pros and cons based on your perspective.

His short feud with Rusev was simply a transitional feud to get to August, which I completely appreciate. Rusev, who has been over with his “Happy Rusev Day” gimmick for the better part of the year, was given a chance to be in the spotlight of the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, which I wrote about previously as being the fourth biggest show of the year. It was reminiscent of the title matches on the early In Your House pay per views fill time to get to a bigger show.

So far, the build for his match with Samoa Joe has been excellent. We have seen Joe have a creative way of becoming the challenger. He did not just win a series of multi-man matches and wasn’t just deemed the number one contender in a period where 50/50 booking is popular. He attacked Styles from behind and signed a contract for the match. We then saw Joe cut a promo that was really good and had Styles respond to it the next week instead of the interrupted promo that we see far too often.

Joe defeated Styles in their lone ROH Title match at War of the Wire in November 2003. In TNA, Joe dominated their feud that dated back to 2005. Joe defeated Styles at Sacrifice ’05 and then again in an X-Division Title match in December at Turning Point. In May of 2007, Joe defeated Styles again at Sacrifice.

The two would pair up in a feud against the Main Event Mafia in 2009. Styles would finally pick up his first one-on-one win against Joe in February 2010 at the Against All Odds event as he successfully defended the TNA World Title.

There is plenty of backstory here that will probably not be acknowledged by the WWE and to be honest it doesn’t have to be. Styles is the champion, Joe wants to be the champion, Styles is over as a respectable baby face and Joe is a heel with very few redeemable qualities. If the two had never even wrestled before, it still makes for a good story and a worthy Summer Slam WWE Title match.

Let’s learn a lesson from the WrestleMania debacle.

No matter which match closes the show, enjoy the WWE Title match, because it could be the end of a great title run for Styles or a coronation for Joe. Either way, the two react well together and know how to work off of each other in the ring and in promos.

You can boo Lesnar and Reigns if you see fit, but don’t let the negative feelings of one match supersede the possible entertainment of another.

Chad Dixon (@Dixon23rtr)

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