Any way you slice it, 2016 has been one helluva year for AJ Styles. As a matter of fact, it's been quite phenomenal.
In the span of just 10 months, the future hall of famer known as “The Phenomenal One” went from wrestling on the independent circuit and over in Japan (where he was part of the infamous "Bullet Club") to becoming one of the fastest rising stars in the WWE.
His amazing run, which kicked off at the Royal Rumble in January, includes big victories over such names as John Cena and Kevin Owens, big matches at both WrestleMania and SummerSlam, and his capture of the WWE World Championship last month.
Styles, who’s widely considered to be one of the best wrestlers in the world currently, also has the habit of lighting up the wrestling ring every week on SmackDown Live! with his eye-catching moves and show-stopping performances.
Needless to say, it makes us happy he left TNA (the WWE’s substandard competitor) a few years back.
Styles is headed to the Valley this weekend to defend his title at a WWE live (or untelevised) event at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Saturday, October 15. He’s scheduled to face off against John Cena and Dean Ambrose during the main event, one of several big contests taking place that evening. Other WWE superstars scheduled to appear include Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Becky Lynch, Natalya, the Miz, and Valley resident Dolph Ziggler.
New Times got a chance to speak with Styles earlier this week about his amazing year, as well as his feelings on the recent rumors that the WWE might buy TNA’s tape library (which includes hundreds of his matches) and what fans can expect to see on Saturday at the arena.
How are WWE's live events like the one this Saturday in Phoenix different from televised events?
Well, I'd think the only thing that's different is that it's not televised. Actually, you're getting a lot more action, you're going to get quality matches out of everybody. I mean, we got me, Dean Ambrose, and John Cena in a triple-threat match You'll also have Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton, the women ... you're getting a little bit of everything on live events, for sure.
Other WWE superstars have mentioned that because live events aren't televised there are less restrictions to what you can do during matches.
Absolutely. We can get away with a little bit more and go a little bit longer. There are definitely some restrictions that are loosened, if you will. Bend 'em but don't break 'em, that kind of thing.
On YouTube, there are many funny moments from live events that you wouldn't see on either Raw or SmackDown. Have you experienced those yourself?
Absolutely. And we get to interact with the fans. That's a big part of it. Everybody gets to do their thing, whether you like the guy or love the guy or hate the girl. We get to interact with the fans more and that's huge.
Is your match with Dean Ambrose and John Cena going to be different from what we saw at the recent No Mercy pay-per-view?
I would think so. I don't think the outcome is going to be different, because I'm the man around here. But it's definitely going to be entertaining.
Earlier this week, Mauro Ranallo said on Twitter that he'd really like your next challenger to be Shinsuke Nakamura. What are your feelings about that and how do you think the matches would go?
I think Shinsuke Nakamura's going to have to work his way up to where I am. I don't have to work myself to where he is. I'm the world heavyweight champion. So if he wants a piece of AJ Styles and can find a way of getting onto the SmackDown roster, he can come and get some. It may sound cliché, but he don't want none. But, would people like to see that matchup? Absolutely. And I would love to give it to them.
There have been a ton of rumors recently about WWE possibly buying TNA’s tape library. What's your reaction and would you love for that to happen?
Sure. I mean, there's a lot of guys that worked there that went through there, especially me, where having the library would be pretty beneficial. From Sting to me to Samoa Joe to [R-Truth] ... even Road Dogg went through there. There are several guys that went through that brand and to have all that [footage] would be great.
Would it be cool for you to have an almost complete record of your wrestling career all in one place as opposed to how it's sort of scattered around right now?
Well, I think it would make it easier for everyone to get caught up on who AJ Styles actually is. Where I started and where I spent the majority of the career. So that would be a good thing to me.
Would you love to see WWE just buy TNA outright and bring all of its wrestlers onto the roster?
I don't know. I think that I would love for them to be them and us to be us. Competition's a good thing and to see some of my friends maybe losing their jobs, that's never good. So I would love to see them continue to exist and do so.
You've probably had one of the most, if not the most, amazing years for any WWE superstar ever. What more would you like to accomplish between now and January?
In this year? Well, I want to retain the world championship. That's a big deal to me. Yeah, I've had championships before, but this one is the WWE world championship and that means a lot more to me than any other one. So I want to hang onto it as long as I can. This is just my first year, so I want to be a part of every pay-per-view on Smackdown that I can possibly be a part of.
So do you enjoy being a heel or do you eventually see yourself going back to being a fan favorite?
I enjoy being whatever it is that WWE needs me to be. Whatever the fans want me to be, that's what I want. I want to give them quality entertainment. And sometimes, that's being a heel. Sometimes it's being a babyface. I just want to do my job and do it to the best of my abilities.
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Is there a difference between main eventing in TNA or New Japan as opposed to main eventing in WWE?
Well, I could tell you that No Mercy was sold out, and that was a big arena. So, I think that pretty much says it all. I wasn't in the main event at WrestleMania [this year] but it seemed to do pretty well. So, you know, WWE is such a giant in this business, so to compare WWE to any other is not fair.
Are there any members of the Bullet Club that you'd like to see you join you in WWE eventually, such as the Young Bucks or Kenny Omega?
Yeah, those guys, I would love to see 'em here. But the thing is that what's more important to me is that they're happy. And I know a lot of those guys are happy. But there's a part of me, a selfish part of me, that wants my friends to be a part of it. And I know I've got good-hearted friends, they're good people and I want good people to work here in the WWE. But it may not be the times. I'm sure there was guys who wanted me to be in the WWE long before I got here, but timing is everything.
Are you holding anything back at this point in your career or are you going balls to the wall?
[Laughs] Well, if you can write that, I'm definitely going all out. I got one gear, that's the thing with me. It's all or nothing. And so whatever happens, happens. I don't worry about getting hurt. If I get hurt, it happens. I'm not bulletproof and I'm certainly not as young as I used to be, but that doesn't mean I'm going to slow down because of it. I got one gear, I'm going to go all out.
WWE Live takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 15, at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Tickets are $20-$105.