WWE World Champion AJ Styles had arguably the best rookie year of any WWE star in the history of the company, and on Sunday he'll try to beat John Cena for the fourth time at a pay-per-view in an epic Royal Rumble headliner
With just a few days left until Sunday's megashow, Styles spoke with Fox Sports about his matchup with Cena, his recent beef with Al Roker, and potential WrestleMania main event opponents.
The Royal Rumble will begin at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, January 29th, on the WWE Network.
Fox Sports: The underlying theme of your title match with John Cena seems to be respect. Has your opinion of John Cena changed in your first year in WWE?
AJ Styles: Listen, the fact of the matter is, John may be a part-timer - at least sometimes in the WWE - but that guy works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. i mean, the guy’s on The Today Show in the morning and and comes and does live events, or comes and does SmackDown Live. The guy works hard, I get that.
And to tell you the truth, I’ve become a better performer because of John Cena, and I like that. But as far as respect goes, I want it all. I don’t just want it from John Cena, I want it from the guy and the girls on The Today Show. I want it from the people who made the Royal Rumble poster.
Fox Sports: Did you see The Today Show’s response to what you said on SmackDown?
AJ Styles: Yeah, they had, really, nothing. They basically said I need curlers, or something like that?
Fox Sports: The host said you had hair like Farrah Fawcett.
AJ Styles: Well, shoot, she’s got beautiful hair. I’ll take that. But, you know, again… the fact of the matter is, if you’re going to interview someone, or someone’s going to be on your show, maybe you should research what they do for a living.
In the case of the young lady, she’s just terrible at her job, I guess. I don’t really know how to put it. And Al [Roker] should know better. Al jumps on the bandwagon and makes fun of my hair when he doesn’t have any. I’m just going to chalk that up to him being jealous.
Fox Sports: You mentioned part-timers before… is there any real animosity in the locker room among guys like you - I don’t think you’ve missed a show this year - toward part-timers?
AJ Styles: My thing is, and this is personal… the more shows I do, the more opportunities I have to make a living for myself. So I don’t understand what the problem is? I don’t think anybody should be angry with anybody who says ‘well, you know what, I’m taking this time off.’
Well, hey, maybe they need it? If you run these guys into the ground, what good are they going to be to us later? So let them have their time off, let them… they’re still stars. That’s not going to change. It’s more of an opportunity for guys like me to support my family and do well as long as I can. So, am I angry at guys who go part time? Absolutely not. It [means] more opportunities for guys like me.
Fox Sports: In the ring on Tuesday you talked about not being respected by the people who are running the show. Given your history and all you did before coming to WWE, were you concerned at all before last year’s Royal Rumble that you might not be accepted as a ‘WWE guy’ and given the same advantages?
AJ Styles: Well, yeah. I mean, sure. I think that was put to rest as soon as I walked out at the Royal Rumble. The WWE is based on, I think, reaction. You know, if you can’t get a reaction, that means you can’t put butts in the seats. But I think we answered whether or not people were excited to see AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble at my debut.
Fox Sports: Should John Cena win, he’ll match Ric Flair’s record of 16 world titles. Would you say John Cena deserves to be remembered as the greatest champion in of all time?
AJ Styles: I think John Cena’s going to be recognized as that whether he is a 16-time champ or not. I don’t think many people realize what he’s done for the business of WWE. This guy’s been going hard for a long time. So I think that’s going to happen regardless of 16 title reigns or not.
Fox Sports: You’re match at SummerSlam was, for a lot of people, and for me definitely, the match of the year in WWE. Do you feel like you’re under pressure to raise the bar, and what’s going to make this match better?
AJ Styles: Well there’s a lot at stake in this match. There was no WWE Championship at SummerSlam, now there is. There’s that at stake, and I would say, for AJ Styles, a lot of pride as well. I feel like I’m not being respected, the best way is to take it out of them.
As far as going back and forth verbally between John and I, it’s already better because we had the opportunity to talk a little smack against each other. And you know who AJ Styles is. He’s a legit competitor in the WWE. There’s no question about that. And now I’m going to go against the biggest star in the WWE in John Cena. The bar is already raised based on that alone.
Fox Sports: WWE recently had you re-watch the footage of your debut and you talked about how nervous you were before your debut. Do you still get nervous before huge matches or events?
AJ Styles: It depends. When I know something great is about to happen, I get those butterflies, and I love that feeling. I love that feeling. You know, you jump a little bit higher, react a little bit faster, you’re a little more sharp. So I enjoy that feeling when I get it, but I’ve been doing this for 18 years, so it comes and goes. I’ll have them, definitely, at the Royal Rumble.
Fox Sports: The winner of the Royal Rumble could potentially be facing you at WrestleMania in a few months. Who is your pick to win this year’s Rumble?
AJ Styles: That’s like asking me who my dream match is, and that’s not up to me. The pick is whatever the fans want. I want them to pick who they want, and I want to go at it. I think it would be fun to face someone like The Undertaker. There’s a number of guys I’ve yet to be in the ring with, like Randy Orton. So you never know who it might be, but regardless, it’s going to be amazing.
Fox Sports: Kurt Angle, someone who you have a lot of history with, is going in the Hall of Fame, and he said that if he were to come back, he’d like to face AJ Styles.
AJ Styles: I would love that. Kurt and I have had a lot of matches together, and I would love to jump in the ring with him one more time. Is that possible? I don’t know… but it sure would be fun and I would love the opportunity to do that.
Fox Sports: As a guy from Gainesville, Georgia, what’s been your reaction to the Falcons’ run and how do you think the Super Bowl will play out?
AJ Styles: The same city as Deshaun Watson, who led the Clemson Tigers to a national championship, is from. Also the Atlanta Falcons, where they train, their facilities and everything is in Hall County. So my prediction for the Super Bowl? I think that the Falcons are unstoppable. I think, without a shadow of a doubt, they’re going to win the Super Bowl.