Moments of 2016 is a series of articles that detail the year in review for WWE, whether it be specific moments, matches or superstars who've stood out on the WWE main roster and NXT, one way or another. You'll see this series of pieces go through to the end of December.
Incredibly successful WWE debut in the Royal Rumble - check.
#BeatUpJohnCena and win a feud against him - check.
Win the WWE World Championship in under a year - check.
Has there ever been a better first year in the WWE? Certainly not in the modern era for sure.
When the rumours first started circulating in January that AJ Styles was finally making his way to WWE as a full-timer (this isn't his first rodeo in a sense) and had put in his notice to New Japan Pro Wrestling alongside Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Doc/Luke Gallows, it still felt unreal to even hear his name and WWE in the same sentence. All of this, by the way, after a potential MOTY candidate against Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom earlier in the month.
Even as the rumours gathered force and become more and more likely by the day it was actually happening, it was still hard to fathom. "AJ Styles? In the WWE? I don't believe you."
Seeing is believing, as they say.
It happened. AJ Styles was in the WWE. And it's still unreal to even type just that sentence. The pop from his debut is easily one of the biggest of this year in a year that has been filled of massive pops from returns and debuts. But he was there. And in his debut, he lasted a good half-hour or so before being eliminated by Kevin Owens. Not only that, but he was put over big by the commentary table ("Former IWGP champion - same as Brock Lesnar"). There was value already in him.
Also considering the original plan was he'd be floating around the mid-card rather than the main event scene, its made his year even more outstanding. To name a few of the things:
+ A decent feud with Chris Jericho, peaking in a Wrestlemania debut feud burner
+ A great showing in a Fatal 4 Way the night after Mania against Kevin Owens, Rusev and a returning Cesaro to become number one contender
+ Two amazing title matches with Roman Reigns at Payback and Extreme Rules respectively, the latter arguably a Match of the Year candidate, or at the very least, a contender for WWE MOTY.
+ Reforming a WWE-lite Bullet Club with Gallows and Anderson, who debuted a week after Styles became No 1 contender
Those are just some of the bullet (hurr) points, though. That's not even beginning to mention an utterly unreal feud for a good part of this year with the now-ex face who runs the place. In a feud that lasted over three PPVs, Styles and John Cena had a feud to remember in 2016, including a pretty great one-on-one match at Money in the Bank (a Styles win), a decent six-man tag between them plus The Club as Styles' partners and Enzo & Big Cass as Cena's (a Cena win) at a post brand-split Battleground.
And, not to mention, a near half-hour full-on Match of the Year contender at SummerSlam that had a rarity to it. If you're in a feud with Cena, chances are you'll win the first match, but not the following two. Styles managed to achieve something rare in what was already a classic: beat John Cena and thus win the feud. It was unprecedented and a sign that a changing of the guard is coming when Cena finally retires for good, if it hasn't happened already with him now on a part-time schedule.
But the best was still to come. Taking on a second ex-Shield member for a main WWE title in Dean Ambrose, months after his epic battles against Reigns, Styles got hold of the one title that's alluded him in his career at Backlash, the WWE World Championship. He's held it since through numerous titles defences on Smackdown and brand-specific PPVs, including a triple-threat featuring Ambrose and Cena at No Mercy, before which, all three of whom put in some of their greatest mic work of their careers. And that's not including, as of writing this, a WWE World Championship TLC match against Ambrose at the aforementioned PPV this coming Sunday.
Just to put this into perspective in terms of the some of the major singles titles in others promotions that Styles has won over the years, among a few:
+ WWE World Champion
+ 2x IWGP Heavyweight Champion
+ 3x NWA World Heavyweight Champion
+ 2X TNA World Heavyweight Champion/6x TNA X Division Champion
+ PWG World Champion
To think, it took him a long time to get a WWE deal. And yet, in under a year, he has had one of the best debuts in the company in the modern era, some of the best matches of this year, feuded with some massive names in the company - two of which will go into the Hall of Fame someday as that year's headliners - and won its biggest belt. If his first year in the WWE is that good, imagine what his second year will be like.
Patience is a virtue for AJ Styles. Because the wait for him - and us, the fans - have clearly been worth it.
Johnny Cullen writes about games for a living and has written for the likes of Eurogamer, VG247 and Official PlayStation Magazine UK and also podcasts about games for My Favourite Game. You can follow him on Twitter - for mostly games hijinks but also WWE tweets (and be a bit obsessive over Bayley), The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Jonsi & Alex) - @JohnnyCullen.