WWE star AJ Styles had what was undoubtedly the best year of any wrestler in the company in 2016 following his debut at the Royal Rumble. He captured the WWE World Championship in his rookie year, became the face of SmackDown, and delivered a few all-time great matches with John Cena. Styles says the timing was perfect for his arrival from New Japan Pro Wrestling - which was only possible because Styles turned down an offer from WWE more than a decade ago.
Styles joined former WWE ring announcer Lilian Garcia's podcast Making Their Way To The Ring, and he talked about his decision to turn down WWE, being a perfectionist in the ring, and why he believes TNA went "downhill."
“I had a developmental deal to move to Cincinnati but at the time I was married and I didn't think it was right to move to Cincinnati, even though my wife said, ‘go.’ It wasn't right to leave her, have her move back in with her mother. My job is to take care of her.
And so I turned down, respectfully, the developmental deal with WWE. Then within like a couple of months TNA started up, which I thought was just another independent thing that was probably happening. It wasn't a big deal to me.
But within six months it's like, OK this might be something. As it grew on, I grew to love that place, because I felt that it was something I and other guys were building. We were the foundation. We were going to build this into something great."
On why he tries to not watch replays of his matches:
AJ: “I try to stay humble and never assume anything, because we know when you break down the word a-s-s-u-m-e, what that means. Like I said, I never assume it, and in this business you can’t. Things change so fast and you never know what’s going to happen so I just don’t assume ‘oh, I’m that good.’ First of all, I don’t believe that I’m that great… I want to be one day.”
Lilian: “Still? Right now, you say that? Right now you still say ‘I want to be?’”
AJ: “Yeah, I watch matches … you know what, I try to not watch matches because when I do watch them I get so mad at myself because I think they could have been better. Or a promo that could have been better. It just tears me up. So I know at some point I can hopefully get there, but I’m definitely not there yet. I want to be.
… I’m still learning, and I know that because I’m in there with guys who have been in there with the greatest. And they’ll tell me something, I’ll go ‘well that doesn’t make sense.’ Then the more I think about it I’ll go ‘holy crap, they’re completely right. I need to do this or that.’”
On the fall of TNA:
"And at some point in time, one point in time, it was great. It was a great place to be. We were having a lot of fun, we were changing the way people looked at wrestling.
When you want to become a lesser version of something else, and when I say that I mean WWE-lite, you’re not giving people an alternative. If they want to watch WWE, they’re going to watch WWE. You’ve got to be something different. So when they went to the regular squared ring, I thought that was a big mistake. And when you brought in guys who, I don’t know if people really wanted to see anymore - because they had grown so used to a certain style of wrestling that was happening at TNA.
There were a number of things that brought it down. It was guys like Christian and Kurt, though, who came over before all this happened that really sparked TNA. They made it something bigger, it was growing because of them. But 2009, 2010, around there, I think they forgot who they were, and didn’t rely on the guys who got them to the ballgame in the first place. To the big game, anyway.
And therefore it started going downhill. And, you know, despite all that, I saw myself as ‘this was my home.’ I was loyal to TNA. But when you won’t allow me to take care of my family the way I think I should be able to, after all the time and all the years I put in, well then it’s not making much sense to me. And so ultimately that’s why I left, because they wanted me to take less that what I was making when I haven’t done anything wrong, and I [had] tried to be the best ambassador to the company that I could. A lot of things, I thought I did right, but they didn’t see it that way. And so I left. I bet on myself and left."
“It’s my fault. In the grand scheme of things it’s my fault. I was the last match on the show, and therefore I just wanted to leave, I wanted to get to the hotel and go to bed. And I left my bag in there. I dressed in this area, but my bag where I was playing my games was in another area, so I didn’t think about it and I just left.
The next morning I go ‘where’s my bag? Oh my God.’ So, I mean it doesn’t give anybody the right to take anything that isn’t theirs, and it’s sad that it’s cool to do stuff like that. So many times I’ve thought about, in this day and age, ‘where are all the heroes?’ Like, I want to be a hero. I want to be that guy. So I don’t get somebody being any different, that drives me nuts.”