Even with a main event of A.J. Styles going up against Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship, not much was expected out of the Smackdown exclusive Backlash event the WWE produced on September 11th. Many expected a standard, cookie-cutter PPV, the type that reigned supreme during the original brand splits.
We got something completely different than that, though. We got a very entertaining event, one that didn’t overstay its welcome, and one that ended with A.J. Styles walking out of the building with the WWE Championship in his possession.
This probably won’t be a real in-depth edition of “Wrestle Me This!”, but I did want to take a moment to look at what the reign of A.J. Styles means, especially in relation to the current WWE landscape.
Here’s a guy that just came to the company in January after a blistering run in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He made his debut at the Royal Rumble in Orlando, completely bypassing the NXT route that is usually mandated for incoming talent at this point, and he was immediately over with the WWE audience.
After a run with Chris Jericho, one that many thought would result in his burial, he hooked back up with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to form “The Club” and became one of the hottest heels in the company. He showcased how well he could pull off the cocky “douche-bro” heel and backed it up with dazzling in ring work.
This led to a summer time program with John Cena where many thought Styles would win the first encounter, but Cena would do the usually routine of winning the next two.
The script got flipped, though, and Styles walked away with the decisive win at Summerslam. This came a month or so after the brand split, and it resulted in Styles becoming the undisputed top heel of the Smackdown brand.
That brings us to Backlash where he ended what has to be described as a disappointing reign by Dean Ambrose. Now with the championship, Styles is poised to continue to solidify why he’s one of the best in the business at the present moment.
Some might think Styles as champion represents a shift in mentality and perspective from the WWE, but it’s something that’s been happening regularly. Long gone are the days of a stalwart champion carrying the promotion. Also long gone are the days of the WWE Champion having to “look” a certain way. In the WWE Network era, that isn’t needed.
I’ve seen the topic discussed many times, but I specifically remember Dave Meltzer discussing how the WWE doesn’t need a champion like a Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin or even John Cena at this point. They aren’t selling PPV events based on the individual in the last match. They are selling WWE Network subscriptions. That’s it. As a result, they can experiment and play with a different championship concept.
Just a few years ago, it would have been unheard of if a former IWGP and, gasp, TNA Champion walked into the WWE and won its premiere championship in less than a year of being in the company.
This all isn’t a knock on Styles as champion, far from it, but it just goes to show you that the business perspective of wrestling, at least for the WWE has changed. They are willing to put up new people and looks in their top position because, well, it doesn’t tremendously matter anymore. Sure, you got to draw live audiences, and Styles is capable of doing that, but the money remains with the WWE Network and people shelling out $9.99 a month.
One must also remember that the biggest star of the company is the company itself. Everyone else can be shuffled around at will.
With this in mind, no one should be surprised if Styles gets a lengthy run as WWE Champion. He’s currently scheduled to face Ambrose and Cena at the October PPV, and I imagine a solo rematch with Cena will be on the table for Survivor Series in November. I can’t see either match being dull or disappointing. Styles has worked wonders, especially in adapting to the WWE style, and these matches should be no different.
Once those hurdles are cleared, the WWE starts to transition into Royal Rumble/Wrestlemania season, and that is where it’ll get really interesting if Styles still holds the championship. Wrestlemania is in Orlando this year, the same city where Styles debuted. There really wouldn’t be a more fitting place for him to walk in as champion and put on a stellar title defense. Just imagine the possibilities of who might be on the other side of the ring, especially when you think about NXT call-ups and the whole Orlando angle.
Like the title of this article says, Styles as champion should be phenomenal.