AJ Styles. TNA Wrestling. The names are almost synonymous. This may be the case, if not forever, for many years to come. But as of now, the future of AJ Styles and TNA is all but uncertain.
Despite being one of the company’s two current World Heavyweight Champions in the Spike TV timeline, those of us who’ve been intimately following the story through daily updates, discussions, spoilers and all, realize that the chances of AJ Styles leaving TNA are very likely. Heck, he may already be gone!
You see, while he recently popped up in an Impact Wrestling ring for the first time in more than a month, the Phenomenal One is taking independent bookings for the first time in nearly a decade, apparently as a free agent.
How We Got Here
To recap, Styles was thrust in what looked to be another major run at the top with the TNA world title. But one could argue that this great run never fully developed. After tearing through the Bound For Glory Series in epic fashion, he secured a title shot against then World Champion Bully Ray at TNA’s biggest event of the year. In what seemed very odd at the time, AJ’s date with destiny at Bound For Glory was suddenly overshadowed by a feud with President Dixie Carter, who surprisingly turned heel to play the role of evil corporate dictator.
I thought the feud was random to begin with, but it appeared to be based around AJ’s displeasure with Dixie’s handling of the company. He alluded to things like being looked over for WWE castoffs and then constantly having to put the promotion on his back when those aspirations didn’t go as planned. Styles eventually revealed that he didn’t have a contract, essentially setting the tone for the angle and all that would unfold.
Styles went on to win the world title for a fifth time, but his moment in the nationally televised sun was short lived. The feud with Dixie Carter took an even stranger turn on the Impact following Bound For Glory, when AJ successfully defended his championship in a rematch against Bully Ray. The show ended with Styles rejecting Dixie’s offer – ripping up a contract and driving off in her convertible, which she attempted to gift him in an attempted swoon, with the title in tow.
With her main attraction having split with the title, Dixie decided to host a tournament to crown a new champion. As the tournament unfolded, Impact teased us to footage of Styles defending the TNA title against top talent overseas in Mexico and Japan. This footage, said to have been brought to us by the “Friends of AJ”, gave the impression that we were in the midst of an elaborate work and more importantly, that Styles was still in fact a member of the TNA roster.
The AJ Styles storyline took a dramatic twist when the spoilers for the January 9 episode of Impact hit the internet. Against what I usually consider better judgment, I read them, rattled to learn that in challenging new TNA World Champion Magnus in a match to unify the titles, Styles had not only lost, but cut an emotional off-air promo following the match, thanking the crowd and for now at least, appearing to say goodbye to TNA.
Since that episode of Impact Wrestling featuring Styles vs. Magnus was taped, AJ has been quite busy working dates on the independent scene. In recent interviews, he has adamantly denied resigning with TNA, firmly stating that the current situation is in fact real and not a work. If his word wasn’t enough, the ultimate proof in the pudding, if you will, may be the fact that Styles signed on to do a few shows with rival Ring of Honor, which he last wrestled for in 2006. For over the past seven years, Styles has been the consistent face of TNA Wrestling.
The Year of AJ Styles
So what’s next for the Phenomenal AJ Styles? Based on his age (36) and the perception that it’s already stocked with its fair share of similar wrestlers in the small and high-flying type, one would think the ship on a WWE run has already sailed. A TNA return is always a possibility, but if money is the issue, which has been hinted in reports of the failed negotiations between the two sides, the independent market may actually be the more prosperous route. As the hottest free agent in the business, it’s possible that he could make more hopping from one promotion to the next than in TNA.
Fans of AJ are surely hoping they can continue to watch this uber talented wrestler put on four and five-star matches for as long as his fire for the business burns. Whether it’s TNA, WWE, ROH, or some unknown promotion hosting a show at a local high school, for them, I’m sure it doesn’t matter.
Since the inception of the New World Order in 1996, the wrestling industry has gotten its jollies off on blurring the lines between kayfabe and reality. Is this more of the same? What do you think 2014 holds for AJ Styles?