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WWE Fastlane 2016: Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles full match preview

WWE.com

Both men entered the WWE with years of international experience and the full support of the fans, and a lot to prove to Vince McMahon and the brass.

But one of them got to do it over a decade ago, and has stuck around long enough many fans have decided he's part of the problem. The other hasn't had the luxury, since he's a newcomer to the sports entertainment giant at the age of 38.

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AJ Styles has been wrestling since the late 1990s, and even found himself on some WCW and WWE shows early this century. Until a couple of years ago, he was mostly known as a TNA player (not that his current employer will acknowledge that). It was his decision to walk away from that promotion and give Japan a shot that changed his entire career.

In New Japan Pro Wrestling, AJ was treated like almost no other American had ever been before. That was because he brought the style and experience he'd honed in the States and turned it up a notch as the new leader of Bullet Club and IWGP World Heavyweight champion.

His almost two years there (and in Ring of Honor as a special attraction) caught WWE's eye. Many were shocked when word broke in early January that Styles was headed to the E. And while anyone who's ever seen him wrestle knew he'd have some success wherever he went, everyone has been pleasantly surprised by the reception he's received from Vince McMahon, Creative and the WWE Universe.

From his debut at Royal Rumble, crowds have embraced him like he'd been on their televisions every week, not working on the other side of the Pacific. His storyline has fed those pops, too, presenting him as a laconic badass ready to fight for respect in the biggest wrestling company the world has ever seen.

Starting off, the Phenomenal One was put opposite the consumate sports entertainer - a reality show star who stars in as many WWE Studios movies as he does pay-per-view (PPV) matches. Kicking the meet right out of Miz's moneymaker cemented AJ as a fan favorite.

Then things got interesting.

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Chris Jericho made his latest return to WWE in the build-up to Royal Rumble. A few years back, his surprise appearance for that event's signature match got the same kind of reaction Styles did in 2016. Between coming back without ever really leaving and working a babyface gimmick which is a little grating even to fans who want to cheer him, some of the audience wasn't going to accept Y2J no matter what he was doing.

Letting him work against AJ was a good way to remind folks... even in his 40s, Jericho is still a damn good hand.

Despite a common complaint about present day Jericho being that he loses so often that wins over him don't matter, a second win over the Canadian was very important to many of Styles' backers. When it didn't come, the inclination to dislike Y2J merged with anger over the booking decision to focus fan interest even more intently on their feud.

Without actually turning Jericho heel, WWE has leaned in that direction. In so doing, they're created an interesting contrast between a couple of guys whose wrestling careers have a lot in common. Watching Chris deny someone who did the same things he did - travelled the world to become a better worker, established himself in a company that didn't seem to want to respect him, leaving to become a top act - paints him as the type of guy he once railed against.

Now, Jericho is so protective of his one win over the "newcomer" he has to be baited into breaking the tie.

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If you've watched much wrestling in your life, it's hard to see anything other than a Styles victory here. Jericho is back for now, but he'll head off again soon to tour with his band or shoot a web series. AJ may not have ten years with WWE in his future, but he's someone they're invested in for the next few, at least.

Even still, there's a lot of interesting wrinkles their story could take. What is Jericho willing to do to win, or just keep his spot? For his part, Styles has shown a willingness to fight dirty to get to where he believes he deserves to be. How ugly might things get between these men?

And what's next for either, win or lose?

For two men whose careers parallel one another's, one difference is about to stick out on their résumés.

After Fastlane, either Chris Jericho or AJ Styles will be able to claim victory over the other for 2016.