By James Guttman
We know who A.J. Styles is. We've known for over a decade.
Taking part in the first match at TNA's first event, Styles has been as much a part of Impact Wrestling as the ring ropes. His name, when spoken, immediately brings up memories not just of TNA wrestling, but of the greatest moments in TNA wrestling. The amazing matches that Styles has delivered with names like Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, Christopher Daniels, and others will forever be a part of TNA's history.
That's why so many people were disheartened when A.J. turned to a darker side. Sure, he wasn't a full-fledged villain. But for months, the usually approachable star was sullen and distant. Those in the locker room who saw him as an inspiration and source of advice were left with a sense of emptiness. When the real AJ Styles stopped being the real AJ Styles, it felt as if a part of TNA Wrestling's soul had been torn out.
When the Phenomenal One returned two weeks ago, the entire wrestling world was ecstatic. For fans at home and in attendance, it was the rebirth of a man we had all realized the importance of in his absence. Finally, Impact Wrestling was whole again.
However, it's our mistake for not thinking things through. This wasn't "the old A.J. Styles". No one can go through what AJ has over the past year and emerge the same person. His trials and tribulations have been enough to send any star screaming into the night. While Styles remained loyal to TNA through all the ups and downs, he definitely didn't come out the other side as the same person he was when he began.
That why his speech on Thursday riled a lot of people. What did it mean? How could A.J. Styles profess to be both resentful of his place in TNA and happy with it at the same time? How can someone who knows that he's always seen as a go-to guy but never as a Golden Child be happy in that position? How is that possible?
Anyone who asks that question doesn't know A.J. Styles.
There are perhaps no stars with the type of determination that Styles has. Sure, he realizes that he's always there to pick us up when we're down, but he's finally accepted that he's good at it. He's our go-to guy, but there are far worse things you can be besides a go-to guy. Most importantly, he realizes the importance of his place in TNA Wrestling because, frankly, he's the only one we can count on - and have counted on -to do it since day one.
So when Styles proclaimed himself to be the man who will win the Bound For Glory Series, challenge the champion, and recapture the World Heavyweight Championship, people took notice. This wasn't an idle threat or boast. This was legit. There are few people in the wrestling business who speak as plainly as A.J. He's not looking to impress us with promises. He's looking to prove his place with actions.
This Thursday night, A.J. has his chance. With 20 points on the line in the Bound For Glory Series, Styles will be in a position to make the first part of his three part plan come true. Given the year he's been through, this is the moment he's been waiting for. It's a moment where he can excite fans, inspire colleagues, and throw his skills in management's face all at once. It's A.J.'s moment.
But then again, it could also be his downfall. With such a strong statement, Styles has essentially painted a target on his back. A loss, after such a big speech, could really do some emotional damage. With the Extraordinary Gentlemen's Organization, Jay Bradley, Hernandez, Magnus, Austin Aries, and so many others vying for the spot that Styles promised to take, the path to victory won't be easy.
Of course, Hulk Hogan made things a bit easier. By signing Sting to face Bully Ray on Impact, he's occupied the World Heavyweight Champion for the night. Plus, by promising a member of Aces and Eights a title match with Bully the following week, Hogan has ensured enough dissention among the crew to keep them all from interfering in the BFG Series. After over a year of fighting off the evil outlaws, someone finally figured out how to destroy them slowly from the inside out. You have to hand it to the Hulkster for that one.
So this Thursday, get ready. It's the night of redemption and retribution. It could very well be the start of A.J. Styles's return to the top. Because, as mentioned at the start, we've always known who A.J. Styles is.
And now it seems that he finally does too.