Historically Significant Disasters of Wrestling #47 The Lone Wolf AJ Styles

"Gee, those Ring of Honour Guys seem to be having a whale of a time with AJ. I wonder why..."

I have alluded to the fact that sometimes in wrestling companies there is a '1a' to the #1 franchise player. Randy Savage played 1a to Hulk Hogan. CM Punk played 1a to John Cena. What is interesting about much of the career of AJ Styles in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling is that he was playing nobody in particular.

2002 saw Styles signed up by TNA as one of their founding members. He was 24 at the time and seen by many as one of the prodigies that could lead TNA to the promised land- the land of being a true alternative to the goliath that was World Wrestling Entertainment. In his first year the the company he won both the Cruiserweight and the Tag Team Titles. The next year he won the NWA World Heavyweight Title and thus became the very first TNA Triple Crown winner.

And yet a decade later in 2013, it still didn't feel like AJ had truly arrived as the face of wrestling. He was part of Christian's Coalition, married to Karen Angle, then became part of the TNA Frontline (also known as the TNA Originals) before being anointed by Sting as the person to carry the torch after him. Then, if that wasn't enough, he was then in Fortune with Ric Flair, who claimed that he would make Styles the next Nature Boy before being mistaken for the father of a drug-addled woman. While many would complain that John Cena's character barely changed in that period, Styles seems to have had the opposite problem- with TNA creative not getting him a chance just to breathe with a top level spot.

In February 2013, Styles returned to Impact after a 3 month hiatus where he saved James Storm from Bad Influence before attacking Storm himself. Styles would continue to display similar behaviour throughout the next couple of months- portraying himself as a 'lone wolf' who was only out for himself. This, combined with his brutal new Calf Killer submission finisher meant that many thought that finally, FINALLY AJ would be able to show just how good he could be .

So why was it such a damp squib?

Ok, usually when I write these I start with the smaller problems before moving on to the major elephants in the room. However, this angle is pretty hard to talk about without addressing one massive pachyderm.


Let's face it; although the Lone Wolf angle wasn't exactly the same as the Summer of Punk, there were more than enough similarities for people to compare the two angles.

On the face of it, I can understand why TNA would have thought this angle would have worked with the whole 'angry veteran worker shooting his mouth off because he isn't getting his due by the establishment/authority and getting the fans behind him by airing his grievances about the company which parallel the fans' own issues'. But the thing is that there was a hell of lot of stars that aligned for the Summer of Punk to take off (at least before WWE fucked it up). You had a company that was in good financial shape that for all intents and purposes was doing well, but was screaming for some freshness to challenge the status quo.

I have racked my brains about what sort of time and place would a Summer of Punk-ish angle work and the one answer I come back to is 1999 WCW with Chris Jericho replacing CM Punk. Both were coming to the end of their contracts and both had been seen as talented wrestlers who were being held back by the powers-that-be because they were not seen as face of the company material.

However, TNA in 2013 wasn't like WWE in 2011 or WCW in 1999. TNA in 2013 was a financial basket case that was cutting costs left and right when they introduced this angle and so the notion of keeping Styles on a contract seemed more difficult because they were haemorrhaging cash they did not have.

Secondly...there's the two workers themselves.

Look, I know that Styles' mic work have improved out of sight since he moved out of TNA, but his August 29th promo where he explained his motives is really, really flat. By the time he actually yells down the camera "Hey Dixie, I deserve better!" the crowd is essentially dead in the water and soon is mocking AJ at a time when he should be getting the crowd over. At the end of the promo when he decleares he is going to be the new TNA World Heavyweight Champion the crowd is so bored that they barely cheer- making Styles look awfully amateur.

Some may say that there's little difference between Punk's promo and Styles- that both were talking about how they were being screwed over by a corrupt establishment- but there were a couple of subtle but important differences between the Pipe Bomb and the August 29 promo.

  1. Punk did not go out there and attempt to get the fans' empathy, nor did he try and get them to 'relate' to his plight- even going so far as to rage at some of the fans in the audience. Punk essentially just illustrated the injustices that were in the company and how they affected him. By doing this, Punk didn't make this about a 'employee dispute' like Styles did. Instead he positioned it as the hypocrisy and stupidity of the WWE.
  2. The content of the promos. Punk was leaving and decided to get everything off his chest about why Vince was a shitty person to work for. AJ Styles complained about being held back...and then declared he liked being the 'go-to guy' and vowed to win the Bound for Glory tournament. So essentially he complained about being shafted and then vowed to win the Bound for Glory tournament in order to please Dixie and co?
  3. As soon as Punk sat on the stage it was clear that his words were his. Sure it may not have been all that he believed but there was enough anger there to make people know that he wanted to say this for a while. After all, in the first 2 minutes he called Hulk Hogan and the Rock 'ass kissers'. The same cannot be said for Styles' promo which unfortunately looks all too obviously like someone wrote it for him. There's no spark or spontaneity. Heck, when the audience begins their own chants (including a Yes chant) Styles simply ploughs along.
And let's not forget about who Punk was giving the promo to, which brings us to the third problem: the lack of a babyface #1.

Y'see while WWE had John Cena for Punk to rage against, TNA really sure for Styles. In a strange sort of way, this was TNA's fault because even though Styles was never the face of TNA the same way Cena was in WWE, he was one of the established figures already- possibly the most so aside from Sting, Kurt Angle and Hulk Hogan. While this was not a fatal problem for Styles' angle it did mean that he didn't have the immediate rival that could help him differentiate and craft a niche from which he could launch his own foray into the TNA stratosphere.

And there's the rub about this whole thing- while Styles did win the Bound for Glory tournament and eventually the TNA world title, there was never any sense that he had arrived on a new level- that he was truly now the new face that could take the company forward.

All this was moot of course when TNA found that it could not meet Styles' demands which meant Styles left the company in kayfabe with the title like CM Punk did, only to return...and lose it and retire from TNA- essentially putting a screeching halt to any momentum that TNA may have had.

The Lone Wolf angle was an attempt to re-ignite the fire of the Summer of Punk but it had unfortunately none of the latter's spoteneity or organic development. Instead, TNA attempted to line up the ducks as best they saw fit.

But you can't catch lightning in a bottle twice.

And that's Article 47! Next time we get political with pundits, massive facial hair and personal ring announcers! See you then!

#1 Owen Hart vs Stone Cold @ Summerslam '97

#2 December to Dismember 2006

#3 The Fingerpoke of Doom

#4 The Scott Steiner vs HHH Feud

#5 Ryback vs Mark Henry @ Wrestlemania XXIX

#6 Bret Hart vs Vince McMahon @ Wrestlemania XXVI

#7 The Jerry Lawler/Michael Cole Feud

#8 The Curtain Call

#9 Bash at the Beach 2000

#10 Royal Rumble 2014

#11 Warrior/Hogan II @ Halloween Havoc

#12 The Cena/Laurinatis Feud

#13 The Firing of Ric Flair From WCW

#14 The Brogue Kick of Doom

#15 Lesnar vs Goldberg @ Wrestlemania XX

#16 Immortal Revealed @ Bound for Glory 2010

#17 Sting vs Hogan @ Starrcade 1997

#18 Triple H vs Booker T @ Wrestlemania 19

#19 The Corre

#20 The Undertaker vs Big Boss Man @ Wrestlemania 15

#21 Jeff Hardy vs Sting @ Victory Road 2011

#22 Road Wild 1999

#23 The John Cena/Kane Feud of 2012

#24 Hulk Hogan's Mancow Interview of 1999

#25 CM Punk vs the Rock @ Elimination Chamber 2013

#26 The Reign of Bill Watts in WCW

#27 The Claire Lynch Affair Part One And Two

#28 Triple H vs Kevin Nash @ TLC 2011

#29 The Cactus Jack Amnesia Angle

#30 Hulk Hogan Leaving TNA

#31 HBK vs Hulk Hogan @ Summerslam 2005

#32 David Arquette: WCW Champion

#33 Katie Vick

#34 nWo Souled Out 1997

#35 The Vampiro/Sting Feud of 2000

#36 Once in a Lifetime, Episode II

#37 The Angle/Jarrett Feud of 2010/11

#38 The McMahon/Lashley Feud

#39 The Shockmaster

#40 CM Punk vs Ryback @ Hell in a Cell 2012

#41 Hulk Hogan vs Roddy Piper @ Starrcade 1996

#42 The WWE Championship Reign of Diesel

#43 Cena vs the Wyatts

#44 The Main Roster Run of Emma

#45 The WCW Run of Bret Hart

#46 John Cena vs the Miz @ Wrestlemania 27

The InVasion Saga

Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy

Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos

Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action

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