AJ Styles is a man provoked.
For the better part of the past two months, Samoa Joe has deliberately and repeatedly tried to drive a wedge between AJ and his family, using his wife Wendy and his daughter Annie as props in an attempt to get Styles hot enough to make a mistake, claiming in turn that he was either going to send the Phenomenal One home for good in order that he might be a better, more loving father, or that he’d straight up replace him in his own household. He even went to the length of writing an entire children’s book about it.
And the damnedest thing is that it’s worked. While he didn’t win the WWE Championship, Joe did succeed in stoking the Champ That Runs the Camp’s ire to the point where he wailed on him with a steel chair at SummerSlam and took the disqualification loss that resulted.
So why, then, is this another vanilla matchup between the two of them?
Despite AJ’s rage, they are not fighting in a cage
It seemed like the obvious progression after a disqualification victory, especially given that this match is happening at a pay-per-view literally themed around feuds escalating to the point of a cage match.
Or, if not a cage match inside of the foreboding structure that is Hell in a Cell, surely one would have expected this match to be a no disqualification match, a falls count anywhere, a street fight (which, yes, same rules as no DQ, but you’re supposed to show up in street clothes, a sadly overlooked detail much of the time), or some similar match that would make a disqualification irrelevant.
SmackDown general manager Paige is too even-handed and just to authorize a “title changes hands on disqualification” stipulation that would unilaterally benefit Joe alone, but perhaps even a 2⁄3 falls match or an iron man, where disqualifications would still have tangible impact but not necessarily deny a title change might have been in order.
Instead, after all the mind games and harassment, Samoa Joe will get his rematch in a bog standard singles encounter. Reasons the champion would want another straight singles abound— he’s somewhat ashamed that he let his rage get the better of him, for starters, and second, a vanilla match means that if he does give in to the dark side once again, he’ll retain his title.
But why would Joe want to risk the same result twice? It’s somewhat confusing on the face of it, but after poking around Cagematch like I always do writing these previews, I think I might have an answer.
That answer may lie in their history against each other.
These two have wrestled each other a whopping 23 times in one-on-one singles action, not counting house show matches, everywhere from Ring of Honor to Impact to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and the numbers don’t lie... at 16-5-2, Joe has AJ’s number.
And why wouldn’t he? There are few men as explosive as Joe with his body mass. And while his physical aptitude has declined over the years, especially after his absolutely insane dropkick in the stands against Sting at Bound for Glory IV in 2008, the Samoan Submission Machine’s ability to win out against the Phenomenal One hasn’t seen any decline.
Long before he used Styles’ family as a wedge against him, hell, long before AJ’s daughter Annie was more than a twinkle in his eye, Joe was in his head and using that real estate investment to carve out victory after victory, and that may inform why the Destroyer is content to leave this match stipulation-free.
But AJ has one significant factor going for him here— momentum. Not just his 300+ days as WWE Champion (which, fun fact, he’s now held the WWE Championship for more days in two reigns than he held the NWA and TNA World Heavyweight Championships combined across all five of his reigns!), but as he’s very fond of reminding us, in his position as the Face That Runs the Place on SmackDown.
Joe was able to bait him into one disqualification victory, but if he wants to win the title, he’ll have to play it straight this time, and that may make all the difference.
Will SmackDown remain the House That AJ Styles Built, or will Samoa Joe take ownership and redecorate the place?
Who will win?
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