AJ Styles and WWE’s Hypocrisy

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At this year’s Royal Rumble event, World Wrestling Entertainment gave non-WWE wrestling fans a huge thrill. Rumours had been running wild that a number of New Japan Pro Wrestling stars had benn signed to WWE and were set to debut. Some fans had hoped and dreamed that a few of these stars might be a part of the Royal Rumble event. What WWE gave those fans was something that exceeded their expectations. One of those new signees was not only a part of the Royal Rumble event, but was a participant in the Rumble match itself, lasting almost 30 minutes. That man was AJ Styles.

Phenomenal Excitement

The Phenomenal One entered in the Rumble match at number three, squaring off with internet scapegoat and WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. His reaction was thunderous and the excitement for his arrival lasted the entire time he spent in the ring. Even more exciting was the next night on RAW when Styles had a match with nine time Intercontinental Champion Chris Jericho in a contest that fans had been dreaming about for years. A match that he won in definitive fashion. A few days later on Smackdown, Styles took on another former Intercontinental Champion in Curtis Axel. Even with all the members of the #SocialOutcasts working against him, Styles picked up the victory, with his signature move the Styles Clash.

Styles type of arrival and subsequent fast success hasn’t been seen since the Monday Night Wars, when wrestling fans could watch an established star come over and be that character on RAW. These days, whenever someone gets signed to WWE, they don’t exactly get signed to WWE. First they go to NXT, WWE’s developmental brand. This is where guys learn the WWE style and get repackaged. New name, new character, new moves, new everything. Everybody goes through it. Triple H, the head of NXT said so himself. Everyone it seems, except AJ Styles.

Originally, this thought made plenty of sense. WWE was signing guys who had only a few years under their belt and loads of potential. That was what got them there. Their potential. Men like Tyler Black, Jon Moxley, and Claudio Castagnoli had some success on the independent scene, but this was WWE. It was a whole new world and WWE had to make sure that they were prepared for it. Some others had no experience whatsoever. They were former football players and bodybuilders and models. So there were acting lessons, and promo classes, and beginners training for everyone. Without exception.

Eventually it paid off. The three names mentioned above became Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Cesaro. Even when it worked out, there were those who scoffed at the system, particularly when it came to things like names and characters. Whenever there was backlash from a particular segment of the audience the WWE would reply the same way. This is standard procedure. Everybody goes through this.

Phenomenal Confusion

Things began to change a little bit in December of 2014.That’s when Kevin Owens made his debut for NXT. While his last name had changed from Steen, the man fans knew from Ring of Honor was essentially the same guy. No real change to his appearance or character. Things got even more surprising when within six months not only was Owens in the main event of NXT as Champion, but he was fighting United States Champion and face of WWE John Cena on major events.

While Owens seemed like an anomaly, in May of last year Samoa Joe would arrive. No name or character change, just the Samoan Submission Machine fans have always known. I’m sure some fans were happy about this but then wondered why some of their favourite characters had been put to rest because of WWE’s policy. It seems like this is a new trend WWE is picking up as guys like Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Chiampa haven’t even needed to change their socks, let alone anything that would differentiate them from their character in indies across the country.

Then there’s AJ Styles. Not only has he bypassed the breaking down of his character in NXT, but he has leaped over NXT all together like so many of his opponents in the past and gone straight to the main roster without having to spend a day at Full Sail University. The only other guy to debut in WWE the same way in the last 5 years is Sting. Is the Phenomenal One on the same level as the Icon? Does ten years in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling equate to 20 plus years in the National Wrestling Alliance and World Championship Wrestling? I’m sure there are more than a few guys in Florida that would certainly disagree with that statement. There might even be a few guys on the main roster who feel that way. I feel bad for guys like Samoa Joe, who helped elevate Styles in his early years and has accomplished almost as much as AJ. What about men like Sami Zayn, who seems to constantly get passed over for the next big NXT signee. How much longer can he smile and wait his turn when some would argue he deserves to be on the main roster more than Styles?

What about the other three men who jumped ship to WWE from the land of the rising sun? Shinsuke Nakamura has just as much experience as AJ Styles, and some could even argue that he is the AJ of Japan. He’s a former IWGP Champion like Styles, and is known within the same circle of fans as Styles. Why does the King of strong style have to wait in NXT when the former tag team partner of Air Paris might get to be a part of WrestleMania this year? How does Luke Gallows feel when he and partner Machine Gun Karl Anderson have to go through developmental when he himself has already been on WWE’s main stage. Why does he have to pay his dues twice and Styles not even once?

Phenomenal Hypocrisy

So which is it WWE? When fans get mad because you change perfectly good characters or give their favourites a ridiculous name, you tell them that you aren’t showing biase because this is how the system works. Obviously it doesn’t. At least not anymore. Has there been a policy change? Does this mean there is an experience cut off, or some sort of WWE style test that has been implemented without us knowing?

Let’s be clear about something, I like AJ Styles and if WWE wants to strap a rocket to his back then you won’t hear me object. The bigger problem is setting an expectation for both your fans as well as your employees. Playing favourites is the nature of the business world. Everyone claims to be fair but we all know someone who got a promotion because they were friends with the boss or kept their job after a screw up because the company has invested X amount of time and money in them. We get it WWE. Just be honest with us. That would be phenomenal.