Have yourself a year A.J. Styles.
Since he shocked the world with his surprise entrance into last year’s Royal Rumble, Styles has somehow managed to exceed expectations for fans who have been waiting years to see him in a WWE ring.
His matches have been, for lack of a more appropriate term, phenomenal. The biggest free agent of 2016 made a seamless transition to “the face that runs the place”, and while he just dropped the WWE Championship after holding it for the majority of the prior year he is one of the few guys in the locker room that does not need gold around their waist to stay relevant.
Although he is sure to steal the show again this Sunday in his first Elimination Chamber match, it is unlikely he will remain in the title picture in the immediate future with a rumored Wyatt Family showdown on the horizon. However this comes with an asterisk, given that he is owed a singles rematch for the title at some point in the future.
So assuming he stays out of the picture until post-Wrestlemania, how should he be booked in The Granddaddy of Them All? Here are the five most ideal options:
5. A.J. Styles vs Shane McMahon
This is the biggest rumor regarding what to expect for Styles. While it doesn’t necessarily have a lot of impact in the grand scheme of things, Styles is talented enough to make any match he’s in an instant classic and Shane has proven in the past that if nothing else he is willing to risk his own well-being for the benefit of the fans. The wrestling may not be as crisp as you have come to expect from an A.J. Styles match, but if these two face-off there is guaranteed to be at least two or three moments that will have the fans chanting holy s***.
4. A.J. Styles vs Triple H
If Seth Rollins can’t recover in time for ‘Mania, there really isn’t any reason for The Game to lace up his boots. However this is another rumor that has circulated in the week since Rollins was injured at the hands of Samoa Joe, and one that probably has more overall appeal. If nothing else this is a fantasy match-up, but one that has potential to be a truly great match. Triple H has shown that he’s still more than capable of performing in the ring, and with wins over both The Game and John Cena Styles would have victories over arguably the two biggest stars in the the company over the past 15 years. It could also serve as a great setup to transition him back to a face.
3. A.J. Styles vs Dean Ambrose
This is a great match-up regardless of whether or not the title is on the line, but with the Intercontinental Championship A.J. gets within striking distance of eventually becoming a grand slam champion. These two have faced off multiple times over the past year and the rivalry has sustained itself even when they haven’t been competing. They are two of the most entertaining superstars in the business today regardless of what they are doing, and this match has the potential to steal the show.
2. A.J. Styles vs Finn Balor
There is no certainty that Balor will be healthy enough to compete at Wrestlemania, and while this is probably the least likely option of the five listed it is potentially the most intriguing as well. It is almost a forgone conclusion that there will be some kind of inter-promotional match-up, and who better to represent Smackdown Live than the face who runs the place? You couple that with a man who won and subsequently vacated the WWE Universal Championship, and this is the kind of match that would bring the house down. There is history at stake here too. These are arguably the two biggest free agent signings by the WWE in recent memory, and A.J. is the man who replaced Balor in The Bullet Club (Which Styles brought to WWE as “The Club”) following Balor’s departure from New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2014 for NXT. A fan can dream, right?
5. A.J. Styles vs Samoa Joe
Was there even a question what the top choice was? Yes, any wrestling fan who has been willing to venture outside of the WWE umbrella has seen this before. Yes, Joe literally just debuted on Raw and is already in the midst of a major storyline as Triple H’s muscle. And yes, this was rumored and subsequently dispelled late last year, and currently rumor is that a Joe vs. John Cena match would be more likely if he took on the other brand. Regardless of all that, this is not only the match the fans need; It’s the one they deserve. If you’ve watched these two compete you know what they are capable separately but together they are poetry in motion. Assuming they stay on their respective brands, regardless of the fact that this would be a perfect setup to move Joe to Smackdown Live where he should be, these are two guys who are going to carry the company for the next few years. The casual fan may not have ever experienced these two in a ring before, but none of us have with the stakes this high. The Phenomenal One vs. The Samoan Submission Machine at Wrestlemania 33? Sign me up.