You don’t have to work too hard to sell a John Cena/AJ Styles match. Their show-stealing bouts in 2016 are all the advertisement they need. Add in Cena’s quest to tie Ric Flair’s official WWE record of 16 World titles and a excoriating promo from the challenger on last week’s SmackDown, and, well... there was a lot to be excited about when the two Faces That Run The Place stepped into the ring in San Antonio tonight (Jan. 29) at Royal Rumble.
As Cena commented from the entrance ramp, the Alamodome crowd was electric, giving the match the proverbial “big fight feel”.
The challenger was extremely agressive from the jump, absorbing a leg kick and responding with a lariat that sent AJ scrambling to regroup. Fittingly for a showdown like this one, Styles and Cena traded big shots, but neither was able to put the other one away.
An interesting element was the ruthlessness Cena displayed throughout. It may not have been the elusive heel turn so many have hoped for over the years, but it added an interesting wrinkle to the match.
Eventually, the two began trading submission holds - including AJ locking in Cena’s signature STF, and Cena locking in Flair’s Figure 4! Styles applied a cross armbreaker, but his opponent lifted him within the hold and threw him across the ring!
A couple counters later, and AJ hit his finisher, the Styles Clash... but Cena kicked out!
Honestly, I couldn’t keep up the finishers these men threw at each other. Styles kicked out of an AA from the top rope. AJ hit another Styles Clash, but decided to go for a Phenomenal Forearm to close the deal.
That was his downfall, as Cena caught him for another AA. Then he rolled through to lift him again for another. It was too much for AJ, and 1 - 2 - 3 later, the champ was here for a 16th time.
Earlier heel tendencies out the window, Cena headed to the crowd and gave the belt to a child in the audience for a moment, then headed up the ramp to hand out armbands to other young fans.
Go watch this match.