He’s a 3-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, wearing the same belt that Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and Harley Race wore around their waist.
A 2-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, a title held by Kurt Angle, Sting, and Samoa Joe, not quite as otherworldly prestigious as the Ten Pounds of Gold, but still, quite an accomplishment.
A 2-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, one of only five Americans have held New Japan’s top title— the others being Vader, Scott Norton, Bob Sapp, and Brock Lesnar.
And now, WWE World Champion. The title held by men like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, and yes, John Cena.
AJ Styles’ resume speaks for itself, really, but the simple fact that he’s made it to this level after years of being written off as merely the unrecognized and unrewarded ace of TNA means everything.
The Face That Runs the Place
In the build to his match against John Cena at SummerSlam, AJ said that if he had been in WWE, there would have been no spot for Cena to take. And then, he went and proved it, by beating him clean in the middle of the ring with the Styles Clash. In doing so, he shook the unshakable. Mr. Never Give Up himself left his armband in the middle of the ring at SummerSlam, defeated and facing an existential crisis.
It’s impossible to say with certainty whether AJ’s supposition is correct, of course. But if you look at the facts on the ground, it’s plausible. John Cena’s rise to fame came about at least in part due to happenstance, a lucky Vanilla Ice impersonation on Halloween that earned him a platform to develop. And AJ Styles was a linchpin in the early success of both Ring of Honor and TNA, who’s to say that, with the WWE machine behind him, he wouldn’t have filled that same slot on Tuesday (and eventually Monday) nights?
The Champ That Runs the Camp
It was almost a foregone conclusion that AJ Styles would win the WWE World Championship at Backlash, after beating John Cena. A victory of that magnitude comes with the kind of momentum that usually does push you right to the top, after all. But Dean Ambrose doesn’t appreciate being an afterthought, especially when he’s made the afterthought by an underhanded low blow. And he appreciates it even less when the golden boy shows up after his break, refreshed and ready for a shot at a title he last held over two years ago.
See, Dean Ambrose has a theory about John Cena of his own. He thinks Cena has gotten lazy, that his passion is gone, that he’d rather fly to New York for a press conference than knock a beer back with the boys after a show. And while Cena has no answer to AJ’s theory, he’s happy to answer Dean’s. To wit, he’s as hard at work as ever, just more interested in growing WWE for future generations than he is at hanging out with a man he personally dislikes in Dean Ambrose.
Lucky number sixteen?
So, besieged from all sides, John Cena has doubled down on a very tangible goal— tying Ric Flair’s world title reign record. Setting aside the question of whether WWE’s claimed 16 world title reigns is "correct" (I’ve seen counts as high as 25) for a moment, it’s well within his reach, seeing as he currently has 15 reigns under his proverbial belt.
He just has to win tonight, against two men that have beaten him clean, by pinfall, in the last month. Uh-oh. Gonna take a lot of hustle, loyalty, and respect to get you where you want to go right away, John.
AJ Styles is willing to do whatever it takes to retain the WWE World Championship no one ever thought he would hold. Dean Ambrose hasn’t yet plumbed the depths he’s willing to go to in order to win it back over two men he finds equally unworthy of holding it. John Cena is pinning a whole new leg of his career on tying Ric Flair’s record and becoming a living legend.
Only one of them can win, of course. But damn if they aren’t going to have a hell of a fight getting there.
Who will win?
This poll is closed