Latta’s Lariat #39: Who Are The Best Challengers For AJ Styles Going Forward? & THE END OF JINDER!



At WWE Clash of Champions, AJ Styles vanquished Jinder Mahal once and for all from the main event scene. He will not be missed, as so much of this year on Smackdown was dedicated to establishing his soul sucking mediocrity at the expense of logical roster positioning and other seemingly can’t miss stars like Shinsuke Nakamura. The WWE Championship went from something that seemed prestigious as far back as the 2017 Royal Rumble when AJ Styles and John Cena were doing battle, to something they literally just picked dudes for just a few months later when Jinder was defeating Randy Orton on his first try after never showing anything but an improved body.

I’ve made my disdain for Jinder Mahal’s ridiculous shove up the card known but never fully in column space. It was really WWE cheating the process that was the biggest error in all of this. “Give him the title now, figure out the rest later” will never be a sound strategy in Professional Wrestling unless it’s someone like Kazuchika Okada, and as everyone knows… Jinder is not Okada. Don’t try this crap in the main event. If you transition him from being a jobber to wanting to make him a star in a more logical fashion and aim lower, the potential to go higher later is always there. Now? He’s just a former champion that didn’t test well in his “home” market.

Would it have killed them to send Jinder out the first week after the Superstar Shake-up to essentially announce his arrival and say he was no longer a joke? How about another week when he recruited The Singh Bros, and they pledged their loyalty to him? How about vignettes about his transformation into his new body and attitude? Finally what about the idea of a mid-card championship to test the waters? But no, WWE shot him to the title immediately, and stuck us with 6 months of #GiveJinderAChance, as trolls from all corners of the internet attempted to defend a meme come to life.

He’s a pedestrian wrestler that would have fit much better in a previous era, as his entire run consisted of being an overt chickens***; a world champion who had mediocre to awful matches most of the time, who was scripted to be a literal racist when the crowd was at such a point of apathy when he appeared, that it was the last resort to try to draw “heat”, and just wound up being offensive to the point where WWE literally erased it from the internet. Main event wrestlers are just held to a higher standard performance wise now for the full package to click. He was a huge guy that never really did power moves which was strange. But all of that is over now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the prospects of the WWE Championship, and its holder, AJ Styles.

Styles’ 10-month odyssey back to the WWE Championship was spent doing a bunch of work in the background to allow other stories to unfold around him. However, he never lost the grip on fans he firmly grabbed during his 2016 series with Roman Reigns, despite being used sparingly as a top star for much of this year. Hopefully this year, he can actually make it to Wrestlemania with the title, and have the best Mania championship match since Wrestlemania 31.

Assuming Brock vs Roman is chiseled in bedrock stone, and with Raw getting the Elimination Chamber, Smackdown is likely to get the Royal Rumble winner, which will play into Wrestlemania. First, who should challenge AJ at The Royal Rumble?

Believe it or not, they should probably play it safe. You may not want to hear this but what about Randy Orton?

Orton is a superior version of what Raw has going on by putting Kane in a transitional title match. If the plan is keeping AJ with the championship, they could give us a match they’ve not done on PPV and maybe motivate Orton by putting him in a position where he has no choice but to have a great match. It sure beats wrestling Wyatt or Jinder for the title. It’s a resume-building win for AJ and could get Orton back into the heel place where he is so comfortable. If you need to be sold on this, go watch the match they had a few weeks before Wrestlemania 33 on Smackdown.

That leads us to WWE Fastlane which would present the chance to fix a wrong or just do something awesome. Let’s face it, Owens vs Styles was ridiculously disappointing. I’d put either Kevin Owens or Sami Zayn here to challenge Styles a month before Wrestlemania, as Styles would have to escape one of The New Quebecers to meet his most awesome opponent yet. The Royal Rumble Winner, Shinsuke Nakamura.


Since the night after Wrestlemania 33, this potential match has been the ace in the hole for the Smackdown brand, and by the time Mania 34 rolls around the anticipation should be at a fever pitch for the Wrestle Kingdom 10 rematch. If Nakamura vs Styles is the end game for the half year of agony Smackdown Live gave us, it would be an apology of the highest form by WWE. Whether Styles would continue as the champion from there isn’t really as important, but setting him up with Orton, Zayn/Owens, and Nakamura during Wrestlemania Season would be the best use of the Phenomenal One who’s shown he is ready to deliver against nearly anyone.

So ding dong, Jinder’s push is dead, and we can now get back to excellence with the WWE Championship.

Rich Latta is a writer for & host of the One Nation Radio Podcast on He appears monthly on Chad Matthews’ podcast The Doc Says after Raw PPVs. Give him a follow on Twitter, @RichLatta32 or drop him a comment below. If you like hip-hop, check out his music here. 

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