AJ Styles in NWA Wildside

Retro Rewind – AJ Styles: Wrestling Wars Collection
By Josh Boutwell

We’re at a point in the country that a lot of us are going to be stuck at home during a pretty rough time and personally, wrestling is going to be a big part of that for me. While all of the major wrestling promotions in America right now are facing the same issues we all are, there are countless hours of content out there to consume.

When I was coming up with an idea on what to do a regular feature on I had a few ideas but I ended up settling on this “Retro Rewind.” The idea here is to take a look at some older content – 10 years or older for this particular series – and especially some lesser known stuff.

Not only is there countless hours of content out there to consume digitally, I also have rows and rows of wrestling DVDs and tapes I’ve collected over the years. What I don’t want to do, though, is spotlight some content that people might want to see that is hard to track down, however.

We’re going to start off with the “Phenomenal One” himself, AJ Styles. Next to Rey Misterio Jr., AJ is probably my personal favorite wrestler ever. I’ve had the pleasure to see Styles live in person multiple times and have followed his career since the first time I saw the team of Air Raid on WCW Monday Nitro way back in 2001.

Before AJ came into the spotlight in WCW and even more so in TNA and then New Japan and WWE, he was the homegrown talent for Cornelia, Ga.’s own NWA Wildside promotion, founded by longtime wrestling agent, producer and promoter Bill Behrens.

In late 1999, Behrens merged his NWA Georgia promotion with National Championship Wrestling and officially formed NWA Wildside. Shortly thereafter, NWA Wildside became the official developmental territory of WCW. From 2000-2001 WCW sent a number of Power Plant trainees – like Elix Skipper and Jamie Noble – to work for NWA Wildside and also signed a number of NWA Wildside’s homegrown talent like Styles and his partner Air Paris.

Styles was trained by longtime Georgia independent wrestler – and NWA Wildside regular – Rick Michaels and started his wrestling career in 1998 with NCW before it became NWA Wildside. Styles’ feud with Air Paris in NWA Wildside is what would ultimately get the two signed. Following WCW’s closure, Styles turned down a developmental contract with the World Wrestling Federation before going on to stardom in TNA.

Photo courtesy of NWA Wildside

Styles continued to work for NWA Wildside regularly through 2004 and ultimately in 2005 the promotion closed its door. Also, in 2005 – as Styles was becoming a household name with wrestling fans – Diamond Entertainment released a two-disc DVD collection called “AJ Styles: Wrestling Wars.”

The second disc is billed as the “lost footage” from the NWA 53rd Anniversary Show in 2001 and is loaded with more than 10 matches that involve guys like Steve Corino, Shinya Hashimoto and Jimmy del Rey.

The top matches are an excellent match between Styles and Daniel, which was the first time they had ever faced each other, and a wild WarGames style Steel Cage Match that ends in a gigantic brawl when NWA Wildside “invades.” The majority of the matches are short and the video quality is awful, but we’re going to concentrate on disc one of this collection, though.

The first disc features five of Styles’ matches in NWA Wildside and opens up with a fresh-faced AJ Styles coming down to the ring with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship about three years before he would actually win it. This took place in December of 2000. Previously Styles had stolen the World Title from Sabu and comes down to the ring wearing.

Styles’ manager Jeff G. Bailey brags about Sabu not being able to make it out and wants the referee to make a 10-count and declare AJ the new World Champion, not really sure how that would work but okay. The lights go out and when they come back on Air Paris is in the ring wearing his best Hardy Boyz circa 1999 gear.

NWA World Title 3-Way: AJ Styles vs. Sabu (c) vs. Air Paris (NWA Wildside – 12/14/00)
The video quality here is pretty stand for Indie wrestling in the early 2000s and about on par with ECW Fan Cam stuff. The audio is pretty bad, though, and the commentator is very distorted along with being annoying. Paris says that Sabu has broken jaw from a punch from Tank Abbott – some context to all of this would have been nice – and calls AJ a “pussy” before decking Bailey.

AJ – who is wearing jogging pants, tennis shoes and a visor – attacks Paris and they start wrestling. Paris and Styles brawl around ringside and there is a referee out, so I guess this is an actual match. Eventually Styles attempts the Spiral Tap but Paris moves and then attempts a sort of modified Corkscrew Moonsault but Styles moves.

Styles and Paris exchange some big moves and when Styles sets up for a big table spot the lights go out again and Sabu appears in the ring. Sabu – with his jaw taped up – shoves AJ off the top rope and then Splashes Paris through a table. Sabu even hits a dive onto Styles in the crowd.

The crowd is pretty hot for everything but the commentators are making it almost unwatchable. The bell rings but they all keep wrestling, so I don’t know if that signifies the start of the three-way billed on the DVD or the end of Styles-Paris and it is never explained. Sabu hits the Arabian Leg Drop on Styles through the table for the pin shortly thereafter.

The action was fine for a brawl but none of it made sense, the commentator was atrocious and the whole thing was just bizarre, especially with no context. It definitely seems like they just wanted to bolster the DVD selections with an ECW name.

NWA Wildside Heavyweight Title: AJ Styles vs. Rick Michaels (c) (NWA Wildside Christmas Chaos – 12/22/01)
I believe this was Styles’ first championship win and is a student vs. teacher match as he faces off against the man that trained him. Michaels had wrestled in ECW in the past but had primary been an Indie wrestler. He’s bigger than Styles – though not much – and is definitely solidly built.

The commentary is much more subdued and focused here. The first few minutes is standard stuff with the two trading holds and showing that they know each other well, which you would expect. As the match goes on Styles attempts to speed things up but as he does Michaels grounds him to a stop.

The commentators talk about how Styles and Michaels had only faced each other once before in a dark match on a WWF TV Taping in 2001, which is a nice touch. In a big spot, Michaels Gorilla Presses AJ over the barricade and onto a bunch of chairs. Styles comes back in an insane spot where he leaps up on top of the concession stand and then onto what looks like a balcony or something and dives onto Michaels. That was very unique and a cool way to use the small NWA Arena.

Michaels pulls out a chair wraps it around AJ’s legs before hitting another chair with it. This match wasn’t announced as a Street Fight but the announcers explain that the referee has the leeway to allow things to go on in a big match, which is dumb but at least they attempted to explain it. Little booking quirks like this are so frustrating. It’s as simple as just making it a Street Fight but it’s something that we see to this day.

In another cool spot, Michaels attempts to throw AJ into the crowd again but he flips over onto his feet and then Superkicks Michaels over the guardrail. Styles attempts to Powerbomb Michaels onto the merch table but Michaels backdrops him onto it. The damn table is so stiff that it doesn’t even break and it looked like a brutal bump. Michaels attempts to dive off the bleachers but Styles moves and the table STILL doesn’t break when Michaels lands flush on the damn thing.

Michaels slams AJ on the table and then elbow drops him and the table STILL doesn’t break. The table cloth came up and you could see that it is a heavy duty table rather than the typical table we see at wrestling shows. I don’t know if someone put the wrong table there or what but that could not have been a pleasant sequence.

Michaels’ tag team partner – David Young – comes out to check on him but eats an insane Shooting Styles Press off the top onto him on the floor for his troubles. The fight goes through the back and Michaels drags AJ back into the ring and pins him quickly in a weird spot.

It’s revealed that is was actually longtime Georgia wrestler Jason Cross – which they had done before – dressed as AJ and tried to sneak him back out (covering his face) but Bill Behrens stops it. AJ comes back out and hits the Styles Clash on Cross onto the ramp and the match continues.

AJ goes for a Tornado DDT but his feet hit the referee knocking him out. Styles blocks a Superplex attempt and then sets up for a Styles Clash from the middle rope but David Young comes in and stops him. He then tells AJ to come up to the top rope and helps AJ hit a Super Styles Clash for the pin. Young hands the World Title to Styles and attacks Michaels before shaking AJ’s hand.

That was a really fun match. It was a lot slower paced than most Styles matches during that time but the brawling was great and there was some really cool spots. The David Young turn didn’t make a lot of sense, though.

NWA Wildside Heavyweight Title: AJ Styles (c) vs. David Young (2/5/02)
The next match on the disc is AJ defending his NWA Wildside Heavyweight Title for the first time against the man that helped him win it, David Young. Like Styles, Young would end up going on to work for TNA for years and was also a former four-time NWA World Tag Team Champion and a former NWA Wildside Heavyweight Champion. This was the first time that he and Styles had ever met in a one-on-one match.

The early stages of this one are extremely fast-paced with both guys trading big moves and dives. Young catches AJ in a Springboard Cross Body Block attempt and turns it into a Powerslam in a cool sequence. Styles attempts the Styles Clash but Young counters into an Ankle Lock, a sequence we would see many years later between Styles and Kurt Angle.

The time limit expires – I believe this was a TV taping – and as the fans chant for five more minutes, Behrens comes out and grants the overtime period. Styles and Young immediately start brawling on the outside again. After Styles clotheslines Young into the crowd, he then leaps onto the guardrail and then up onto the announce table – which was elevated up on a platform about eight feet in the air and hits an insane Somersault Plancha onto Young in the crowd.

Young answers a few minutes later with an Asai Moonsault off the middle rope onto AJ, who was still in the crowd! As time is about to expire again Styles goes for a Styles Clash but Young counters into a rollup. Styles reverses the rollup into the Styles Clash but can’t roll over and make the pin.

AJ finally covers Young but he kicks out just before the three-count. Styles goes up top and attempts a Dragonrana but Young counters into a Spinebuster in midair as time expires.

Wow, that match was awesome. A draw can work a lot of times but it felt a bit disappointing here. Though, it probably worked at the time to set up rematches. It’s interesting that one of the bigger complaints about AJ during this time was that he was a bit of a “spot monkey” and just hit tons of big spots and big moves without a lot of psychology (it was never a fair criticism). This is two matches in a row on this disc that we see AJ working a “main event” style and doing it well.

AJ Styles vs. Ron Killings (NWA Wildside Hardcore Hell – 3/29/03)
Styles and Killings had feuded before in NWA Wildside in 2000 before Killings signed with WWE. He and Styles would work together again in TNA and both would become NWA World Champions.

Styles’ former manager Jeff Bailey brings out “Mr. Wildside” Steve Martin, who was the founder of NCW and co-founded NWA Wildside with Behrens, and Killings. Martin cuts a promo trashing Styles calling him an ingrate and says that Killings is the greatest NWA Wildside star ever. Killings does a rap dissing all of the fans in the crowd and then just goes around insulting everyone. This was a PG version of the types of things he would do in the early days of TNA. Finally, he calls AJ out and challenges him.

Larry Zybysko accompanies Styles to the ring for this match and gets a nice reaction from the crowd. Zybysko joins commentary, as well. The commentators point out that AJ an Killings had feuded before Killings signing with WWE cut it short and this is the match to finally settle the score between the two.

These two have worked with each other countless times in NWA Wildside and TNA before and after this match. Styles and Killings build the pace until they are really going at it with some great offense and counters with each other.

Styles pulls out the Phenomenon (Moonsault into a Reverse DDT) and goes to the top for a Spiral Tap but Martin trips him as Bailey distracts the referee allowing Killings to hit a Super Fall Away Slam for a nearfall. Eventually Bailey accidentally hits Killings with a shoe allowing Styles to hit the Styles Clash for the pin. Overall, it was a solid match but they’ve certainly had better matches and it kind of felt like they weren’t trying to do too much here as both had contracts with TNA.

AJ Styles, Alter Boy Luke & Gabriel w/Dusty Rhodes vs. NWA Elite (Christopher Daniels, Rainman & Azrael) w/Jeff Bailey & Mikal Adryan (NWA Wildside Hardcore Hell – 3/23/04)

This match is billed as “quite possibly the greatest match in NWA Wildside History.” Styles and Daniels were both already a part of TNA at this point. Daniels had previously been in a group with Alter Boy Luke and Gabriel before turning on them and joining NWA Elite.

Alter Boy Luke would go on to become Luke Hawx, a mainstay on the indies for the last 10 years or so. After a fairly bland promo from Daniels, Luke and Gabriel bring Styles out as their mystery partner for this match. Styles points out that NWA Elite have a number advantage and brings Dusty Rhodes out to have their back. At the time, Dusty was the head booker in TNA.

Rainman is probably better known as former ROH star Kory Chavis, who was 1/2 half of the tag team Dark City Fight Club. Lots of action to start with all six guys getting in on the fun. Luke hits a Leaping Rana off the top on Azrael for an early nearfall.

Styles and Daniels pull out all of their greatest hits in this match. Luke hits an Asai Moonsault from the inside of the ring onto Azrael on the outside to start a huge dive sequence with all six guys pulling out dives until Styles hits a Springboard Senton onto everyone. Styles dives off the top but eats a crazy Side Splitter Spinebuster in midair from Rainman for a nearfall.

Dusty gets involved as Bailey interfered and Rhodes hits the Atomic Elbow on him. Styles hits the Styles Clash on Daniels and Luke hits a crazy Guillotine Leg Drop completely across the ring for the pin.

They really built this up with the pacing until a frantic finish and all six guys busted their tails in this match. This was certainly a terrific close to the DVD. With five great matches and from what I can find online it would have been even better if they included a second disc with more Styles matches from NWA Wildside rather than the NWA Anniversary Show.

It’s really cool to see where AJ Styles has gone and then look back on his very, very humble beginnings in Georgia sometimes in front of less than 100 people.

Some of these matches are available on Youtube but the DVD itself can also be found on EBay for a reasonable price (under $20), as well.