It’s time to talk about AJ Styles, The WWE Championship and what WWE is doing with his reign. Over the last 300 plus days, AJ Styles has reigned over the blue bland and felt like a second class world champion the entire time. He’s seldom closed any shows as the champion, including being positioned underneath The Universal Championship, Roman Reigns non-title matches, gimmick matches like MITB, and Raw’s Intercontinental Championship.
Through most of those events, he’s had the awful booking and finishes to support him being put in those positions, with the line of thinking being “You don’t want to end a show with that do you?”
Well, at Hell in a Cell, they did a worse main event finish than the rest of AJ Styles matches combined. With a Hell in a Cell match ending in a no-decision when Brock Lesnar did a wrestling move to both participants, WWE looked at their fans and essentially hit them with the shrug that Kanye West did at the 2009 VMA’s.
Every step of the way, WWE has demonstrated a stunning lack of belief in AJ Styles as a champion, criminally handicapping his matches with dopey stipulations, finishes, and positions on the card. They’ve taken feuds that should have been no-brainers (Nakamura, Samoa Joe) and complicated them with LITERAL terrible storytelling (Night Night AJ) rather than playing off the built-in past between Styles and his opponents that would be a lay-up to execute as a top program.
AJ Styles has long been known to be one of the best bell to bell wrestlers in WWE, and they haven’t been able to resist the urge to shoehorn him into gimmick no rules matches designed for lesser wrestlers to prosper and connect them with bad finishes.
However, when it makes sense to put him in something like Hell In A Cell since he was wielding a chair like a madman to end he and Joe’s last match at Summerslam, WWE neuters them by booking Joe and Styles in a regular match so they can re-use the Undertaker/Lesnar match finish from Summerslam 2015, to set up a No Rules match that can end the same way if they choose. Even the end of Reigns/Strowman wasn’t enough to bump AJ to the top anymore. This title reign is not it.
The Universal Championship has been a disaster for nearly two years with it being immediately vacated after the first man won it, 50-year-old Goldberg, and 1 F5 Lazy Lesnar being on reserve for Roman Reigns, and the title changing far after the peak of that feud. In a way, it seems like they are trying to make the WWE Championship feel the same.
Ironically, the WWE Championship has been a dumpster fire the entire time since AJ STYLES HIMSELF last held it at Royal Rumble 2017. We haven’t come close to a title match at the level of Styles-Cena at that event. The pattern of AJ’s finishes during this stretch makes for a better heel champion than a babyface one.
So which is it? Has it just been a terribly booked championship reign? Or is it AJ Styles himself we need to look at? Are we asking too much of him to wrestle above these convoluted finishes, and lackluster storylines or are these finishes hiding a guy that could be slowly declining from his 2016 peak in front of our eyes?
In these situations, I rarely blame the wrestler because of the limited if any control they have over how their matches are presented. But after 300 days of mediocre handling, Styles feels at fault for at least some of it. He doesn’t seem to be someone they have any real creative ideas for anymore. Are they just trying to have him hold the title beyond 434 days? (Yes, they are petty enough to do that.)
WWE has done him no favors by letting us know that no matter what happens he isn’t really the man. He’s never a real threat to main event almost anything even Smackdown Live. A diminished Bryan/Miz feud involving their wives has even hung over AJ Styles and the WWE title. There’s a great argument to be made that Becky Lynch and Charlotte was the top title feud on Smackdown. There is just a great disconnect from what AJ Styles is supposed to be, and what he has been over this reign.
There is a middle point that AJ is living in right now that I’m sure folks are sure to disregard. He’s nowhere near as bad as the triple dookie sandwich of Wyatt/Orton/Jinder in 2017, but he’s nowhere near having a legendary run that we’ll remember and that was on the table at one point.
He’s kind of in the worst spot though, he’s just meandering through the calendar. While he’s not a failure, he’s not really a success either. While it’s not popular, the truth is it’s time for AJ Styles to lose the WWE Championship. It’s never been clearer to me than last night.