When Dixie Carter’s new heel character told AJ Styles that they should rename him “the marginal one” on this week’s Impact, she had a point. The worked shoot angle brought a number of real life issues to light, one of them being that Styles simply hasn’t been phenomenal in a long while.
Though I found the angle surprisingly entertaining, this particular element of realism is not something for TNA to be proud of. Like Samoa Joe, Styles really has lacked momentum for several years now.
When he stopped being “the future” and reached his mid thirties, it was as if the promotion completely forgot what his character was – A confident and flashy high-flyer, that’s a cut above everybody else in the ring.
Instead of sticking with the basics, he ended up in a string of bizarre storylines that overexposed him as an actor/promo guy and diluted what originally made him good.
There was that time he was supposed to be canoodling with Karen Angle and then accidentally married her. And what about when he became mini Ric Flair and put on his big boy’s suit?
Then there was the infamous Clair Lynch debacle, where viewers were led to believe AJ was having an affair with Dixie Carter, only for it to be revealed that they were really just secretly helping a drug addict pregnant lady, who ended up not actually being pregnant, and not actually being a pro wrestler.
While his subsequent loner character was intriguing and also at times hilarious …
Wife: “Is he doing drugs, is he drinking?” …
It only really worked because of all the garbage that came before it.
If we rolled back the clock it probably would have been better if none of it happened at all.
Who is AJ Styles?
When I think of AJ Styles I look back to the very early days of TNA. I’m not sure what match he was in (probably against one of the great X-Division stars he name-dropped on Impact), but I have this vivid image of this brash young dude, flexing his neck and chewing gum before his match. He just exuded cockiness and reminded me of a young Shawn Michaels.
Young AJ had an incredible amount of buzz that only a few independent standouts like CM Punk have managed to receive over the past decade. As a hardcore fan you simply had to check out his breathtaking matches. This made Dixie Carter’s comment this week that the phenomenal name was just a marketing tool, the perfect heel line. Because it wasn’t, AJ really did earn the nickname by tearing it up all across the world and by defining the no limits X-Division, which was perhaps the only time TNA was a true alternative to WWE. It’s like TNA creative have realized they’ve messed up and are now using Dixie Carter’s heel character to acknowledge this and hopefully correct it.
I’m under no illusion that the AJ Styles of today – slightly heavier and quite a bit older – can create the same buzz as he did when coming up through NWA Wildside and in to TNA, but he doesn’t need to. He’s now a veteran, there’s no more monkey in his spot; realistically he should be able to take 60% of what he used to do and make it five times more important.
The problem is it’s been so long since his core character was defined, and Bound For Glory is the perfect opportunity to do that.
The Phenomenal One Returns
As good as Bully Ray is, the only acceptable result of Bound For Glory is to redeem AJ Styles by having him win the Championship. From a storyline standpoint this has been in the works for a year. Once he’s champion it’s time to redefine who the Phenomenal One is.
On the first post-PPV Impact I’d have styles come out at the start of the show, and lay the title out flat in the middle of the ring.
“This is the line all of you in the back need to cross in order to be the best. Bully Ray likes to run around and tell everybody who is. Well do you know who I am? I’m AJ Styles, I’m the phenomenal one, and I am the World Heavyweight Champion.”
Wrestling is simple, tell people who you are enough times and you become it. If you can back it up in the ring then you can’t go wrong.
“There’s a heck of a lot of great talent back there, but all of you need to take a long hard look at yourselves. Are you as fast as AJ Styles? Can you fly like AJ Styles? Have you spent as much time at the top of the mountain as AJ Styles has? … Are you phenomenal?”
With that I’d bring back AJ’s cocky side. He’s at that stage in his career where heel tendencies do not necessarily make him a full blown heel.
“If after long consideration you think you’re good enough to grace the ring with the champ, I implore anybody to come out here and challenge me for this title.
I’d then have Styles arrogantly lay cross-legged on the top rope and turnbuckle waiting. Maybe cut backstage to James Storm to somebody contemplating.
Only instead of a challenger, out comes heel Dixie Carter instead.
“In case you’ve forgotten this is my company … you can’t just come out here and make matches. You may think you’re a big shot but I saw that trailer park you used to live in, you aren’t fooling anybody. I made you what you are today”
AJ: “Hey! I know full well where I come from and I earned everything I have right now because of what I can do in this ring. And guess what? I met a lot of ‘Dixie’s’ along the way too … greasy hair, dirty denim shorts, 5 kids with no daddy! We all know what kind of Dixie you would have been if old Bob Carter hadn’t struck oil. You’re half trailer trash already!”
Watch Dixie’s jaw hit the floor.
“There is nobody that can touch me in this ring, but if anybody has the stones to think they can, then come on down!”
Dixie: “You wanna put the title on the line tonight? Fine, but be careful what you wish for. You’ve not got one opponent, you’ve got three!”
Cue Bully Ray, Austin Aries and Bobby Roode for a Fatal Four Way main event. AJ pins Ray clean and ends the show with a simple phrase. “Like I said … phenomenal”. A fuming Dixie Carter can look on from ringside or backstage.
The following week I’d utilize some kind of video package, repeating the lines … “Are you as fast as AJ Styles? Can you fly like AJ Styles?”
Of course this is just one of many possible scenarios and I’m not about to tell wrestlers how to do promos. The point is that I think AJ Styles really needs to hammer home how “phenomenal” he is.
If we assume the Dixie Carter storyline continues she needs to find her “chosen” guy to go against AJ. This would be a perfect opportunity to turn Magnus and take him to the next level, though I’d give Styles a long title run so he can truly redefine himself as the show stealer he once was.