As Sean Reuter reported yesterday, AJ Styles announced to the world via his website that his contract with TNA had just expired, he was a free agent for the first time in 11 years and was making himself available for independent bookings going forward.
Unsurprisingly, his calendar is already starting to fill up with ten dates between Dec. 28th and March 15th announced so far for local indy promotions in Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Toronto and the United Kingdom.
Conspicuous by their absence are any appearances for the bigger independent groups like Ring Of Honor or Dragon Gate USA who are both in talks with him, but haven't been able to agree on a price yet. It's worth noting that Styles has been unable to work for such promotions in many years, since TNA has a policy that prevents its wrestlers from working matches for other rival companies that are to be taped for DVD release or shown on television / iPPV.
However, as Bryan Alvarez stated in his news update today, skepticism abounds about how legitimate AJ Styles's TNA departure really is:
"Regarding a discussion on last night's Wrestling Observer Radio, we can confirm that AJ Styles and TNA are in negotiations for a new deal. There have been rumors over the last 48 hours that a deal has already been signed but we cannot confirm that. Styles has at least nine independent bookings between now and March, so one way or another he's far from unemployed."
Really, you can't blame people for being suspicious given the TNA storyline in the run up to Styles leaving the company featured him airing his frustrations about owner Dixie Carter on live television, winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship at Bound For Glory despite her best efforts to stop him and then taking his ball and going home while metaphorically sticking the middle finger to his boss.
Indeed, the word after he won the title was that TNA's creative team was intentionally copying the similar angle where CM Punk briefly quit WWE in the summer of 2011 with the WWE Championship in tow, but wanted to go one better by having Styles be off television for much longer than eight days and work shows for other promotions to give the false perception that he was really gone for good. Even though Eric Bischoff has since departed TNA and is no longer their creative head, lead script writer David Lagana's MO is to steal liberally from WWE's past and current ideas despite bashing their direction on his podcasts when he was in between jobs after they fired him from a similar position.
As TNA have no major pay-per-views on the horizon and are also trying to cut costs, it doesn't hurt them to have one of their top stars sit on the sidelines for a few months in order to make his return more meaningful. Styles can also charge top dollar on the independent scene and make a short term killing, knowing that he's got the security of a new TNA contract to return to when it's time to comeback. Thus, it's a win-win scenario for both parties.
Even if Styles hasn't already re-signed with TNA or got one waiting for him, it's still highly likely that's where he ends up in a few months time, as there's no other good long term options out there for him. WWE aren't seriously interested in his talents, as they recently offered him a deal worth roughly a fifth of what he was making in TNA to jump ship, which even TNA's worst offer would surely comfortably beat. Unless New Japan Pro Wrestling made him a significant offer, which I can't see happening as they have a limited number of spots open for foreign talent, then it will be inevitable that he's forced to go back to TNA when the indy money eventually dries up.
Would you be happy to see The Phenomenal One back in his old stomping grounds, Cagesiders, or would you prefer to see him end up elsewhere, unlikely as it may be?