It’s perhaps WWE‘s most subtle storyline, and perhaps its most polarizing. Two of the biggest names of the past decade in professional wrestling – WWE poster boy John Cena and the face of TNA, AJ Styles – squaring off at this Sunday’s SummerSlam, finally going mano y mano, for the first time in a WWE ring. No members of The Club at ringside, just two warriors who represent drastically different landscapes and opportunities, but who share the same unmitigated passion for the industry.
Last Word on Sports talked about this feud a few months back at its inception – how this War of the Roses was more than just two of the millennium’s biggest icons going to face to face. It’s a war of principle; a war of industry. It’s become the war that inevitably would come after WWE decimated its mainstream competition in WCW and ECW. Now it was a war on the independent scene (which ironically has created the bulk of the New Era’s stars).
And once again, depending on which side of the coin you are, a WWE loyalist or an indie purist, depends on which combatant you’ll be cheering for.
SummerSlam Preview: John Cena vs AJ Styles
To the WWE faithful, Cena represents everything that the WWE is that the indie circuits are not. It’s more flash, more pomp, brighter lights and bigger arenas. It’s the pinnacle of success in the industry, the professional wrestling “Big Leagues”. And love him or hate him, John Cena has dominated the Big Leagues, holding at one World title away at tying the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair at sixteen reigns.
To the indie fans, AJ Styles represents the passed over underdog, the indie star who carried TNA on it’s back for longer than he should have, the former WWE enhancement talent that was let go because he was too small, the man who found redemption in Japan and became a bigger star than anyone thought imaginable. Until he set foot in a WWE ring, after 15 long years, and debuted at this years Royal Rumble.
These two have been very vocal in their disdain for each other on the mic over the past few months, with AJ reiterating the indie fans’ opinions of Superstars like Cena (“Guys like you bury guys like me”), while Cena has responded with the sentiments that many WWE fans feel about indie stars coming in with a “sense of entitlement”.
Played masterfully by both performers, the WWE Universe is now divided, between seeing the indie icon dismantle the WWE power structure, or by watching the flagship of the WWE turn back another pretender. To some, Styles is their face against an anti-indie heel like Cena; to the rest, Cena is the face, defending the WWE way against yet another vanilla midget from the land of the poorly lit gyms.
At SummerSlam, these two will meet one on one. Styles’ enforcers, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows of The Club, were drafted to Raw, leaving Styles on his own to continue his war with Cena. But questions will clearly arise with SummerSlam being a joint production of both Raw and Smackdown. The Club will surely be there – they have a tag team title match against the New Day. Will they still come to their former leader and Bullet Club associate despite being on separate brands? What of Finn Balor? Along with Anderson, Balor founded the Bullet Club in Japan. Though they’ve yet to make a connection yet on Raw, could SummerSlam be the time they do? Will The Club help Balor win the Universal Championship and then assist Styles over Cena?
There’s plenty of questions surrounding the possibility of interference (and by whom, exactly). However, it all boils down to these two men in the ring.
John Cena. AJ Styles.
And while many feel that this is Cena’s final moment to gain revenge for all the deceit The Club has wrought on him in the past few months, perhaps now is the time to let AJ Styles fly. He came into the company one of the biggest free agents the company has signed in years. He went on to lose his first two angles, against Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns. But a win over John Cena, the face of the WWE, would catapult Styles to the top of the ladder on Smackdown Live. A World Title feud against Dean Ambrose (or Dolph Ziggler) could be huge.
Let’s hope the beginning of the New Era isn’t still peppered with the same speed bumps as the last one.