Following AJ Styles’ WWE debut in the Royal Rumble match, WWE issued the following announcement:
The countdown clock hit zero and a mysterious theme hit the loudspeakers. The Royal Rumble Match stopped for seemingly an eternity as Roman Reigns waited for No. 3 to step onto the entrance ramp. It was fitting, because for fans of AJ Styles, the man charging to the ring, his journey to WWE felt like an eternity, too.
Styles’ arrival on Sunday night was the culmination of nearly a decade and a half spent becoming the most praised performer who wasn’t on the WWE roster. He has held the top title in countless promotions, beaten everyone from Kurt Angle to Hiroshi Tanahashi, and is one of only three non-WWE competitors to be named the top wrestler in the world by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Simply put, if there was a scouting report for potential WWE Superstars, Styles would have been No. 1 on everybody’s list.
What makes the Georgia native so special? From an in-ring standpoint, he should weigh heavily in any conversation about being the best in the world. He’ll catch your eye with his devastating Styles Clash, which has felled opponents from Tampa to Tokyo, and blow your mind with his dizzying Spiral Tap — a corkscrew senton bomb from the top rope. And, like Daniel Bryan and Jeff Hardy before him, his charisma and ring presence make it impossible to turn away. If you take your eyes off him, even for a second, you’re sure to miss something special.
Styles’ first national exposure came in WCW during the company’s waning final weeks, where he chased the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Championship as one half of a duo called Air Raid. He competed in tryout and dark matches for WWE in 2002, but was never signed by the company. Undeterred, he made a name for himself in every single promotion that wasn’t owned by Mr. McMahon with countless blow-away matches. He battled Sting and Samoa Joe in Florida, challenged CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in Chicago, and fought Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in California.
Then in April 2014, Styles took his first step toward international acclaim when he debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling, immediately aligning with Bullet Club. Styles twice captured New Japan Pro Wrestling’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship — a title also held by Brock Lesnar, Vader and WWE Hall of Famer Tatsumi Fujinami — while asserting himself as one of the best American wrestlers in the company’s history.
And then the rumors started. In January 2016, a report broke that he and three other New Japan Pro Wrestling competitors were supposedly heading to WWE. Finn Bálor, Bullet Club’s leader before Styles, fanned the flames on his social media accounts. Even John Cena got in on the fun, posting a picture of Styles’ face on his Instagram account, which Styles responded to with an old photo of Cena’s mug.
After weeks of speculation and cryptic tweets, though, Styles finally stepped into a WWE ring, showing Orlando, Fla.’s Amway Center and viewers worldwide that he isn’t just hype. He’s a game changer.
Styles arrives to WWE as a highly skilled veteran with the same agility and desire as that novice grappler who once stared down The Hurricane on WWE Metal. After conquering the independent circuit and Japan, AJ Styles wants to show WWE why he’s so phenomenal. Hold on tight.