Less than a year into his run with World Wrestling Entertainment, A.J. Styles accurately donned himself the champ that runs the camp. Before that, he was already the face that ran the place, and it could be said he was the standout performer in the Royal Rumble on the night he made his debut. The point is, A.J. has excelled in whatever roll WWE has given him. So, what’s the downside? He waited until he was 38 to sign with the leading name in sports entertainment, spending some 20 years of his sterling career in smaller companies.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s stop and acknowledge that many of those 20 years were well spent. A.J. had countless incredible matches in Ring of Honor, Total Nonstop Action, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and many other independent and foreign promotions, making his career one with few regrets. Maybe he could’ve made more money or been more famous by signing with WWE a little earlier, but A.J. is at least content with, or even quite proud of what he accomplished prior to working for Vince McMahon.
That said, things haven’t always been entirely Phenomenal for The Georgia Pitbull. A.J. has had dozens of career missteps like anybody else, and some may have even seriously damaged his reputation. Cream always rises, so A.J. always recovered and shot back to the top, but there were a few moments when his career seemed entirely off the rails—especially in TNA (although that’s hardly a surprise). Keep reading to learn 15 career mistakes that A.J. Styles has to regret.
15. The Less Than Phenomenal Childhood
As is generally the case, perhaps “regret” isn’t the best word for how A.J. feels about his childhood, with most of it happening out of his control. That said, he nonetheless probably doesn’t like thinking about it too much, especially the actions of his alcoholic and occasionally abusive father. Like many victims of childhood abuse, A.J. has rationalized his father’s behavior and painted him as merely a strict disciplinarian, but nonetheless admitted his “punishments” would occasionally get severe and more closely resemble a legitimate beating. Not only would his father hit him, but the family was also extremely poor, with A.J. needing to take part-time jobs mowing lawns and driving an ambulance to help out with expenses. Styles later claimed one of the keys to his success was learning from his parents’ mistakes. His one saving grace was wrestling, which he excelled at in high school and in college before discovering a natural aptitude for sports entertainment shortly after deciding to go pro.
14. Initially Wrestling As A Cruiserweight
The entire point of weight classes in competitive sports is to give everyone a chance at succeeding regardless of their size. Perhaps because pro wrestling is scripted and size truly doesn’t matter in deciding who wins a match, weight classes are a little bit different in sports entertainment. Generally speaking, there are only two—heavyweight and smaller (cruiserweight, lightweight, junior weight, etc.). The idea might’ve been like other sports in giving the smaller superstars a shot, but they inevitably always became low card attractions, never receiving much of a chance at real main events. Vince McMahon especially sees cruiserweights as minor attractions, which might contribute to why he didn’t see the big deal in A.J. until recently. When A.J. first appeared in the mainstream, he competed in the WCW and WWA cruiserweight divisions, and then helped define the X Division in TNA. The X Division wasn’t a weight class, but the idea was the same—A.J. voluntarily kept himself out of the main event because of his size. Nowadays, size is less important to Vince, and it was the work of men like A.J. that caused him to change his mind. While A.J. might be happy about that today, it might have happened a lot sooner if he carried himself like a heavyweight from the start.
13. Raiding The Airwaves In WCW
If it wasn’t bad enough that A.J. was considered a cruiserweight division wrestler, he also happened to have a very goofy gimmick. With Air Paris as his partner, A.J. formed one half of Air Raid, wearing G-suits and apparently wrestlers/pilots. The one up side of Air Raid was that it didn’t last long, debuting in February of 2001. In classic WCW tradition, they would occasionally bill A.J. as Air Styles in addition to his real name. They wrestled on three episodes of Thunder and one Monday Nitro, where they competed in the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Championship Tournament. Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo eliminated them, and eventually won the whole thing by defeating Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman. WCW was out of business by the end of the next month, and WWE didn’t have any interest in purchasing Air Raid’s contracts. In all fairness, WCW didn’t exactly give Air Raid any real opportunity to show their true potential, but even if they did people might not have noticed due to their characters.
12. Getting In The Ring With Drugged Out Sean Waltman
Much like with his alcoholic father, this one isn’t entirely A.J.’s fault. Had he known the full story, though, he probably never would have agreed to it happening. In the very least, he shouldn’t have, because it was extremely dangerous for everybody involved. Again, A.J. wasn’t the problem, but merely the opponent of Syxx-Pac, aka Sean Waltman, during a time Waltman was heavily addicted to meth. In fact, Waltman was so addicted he took a large dose only seconds before the match started, and wrestled the match high. It later aired on one of NWA: TNA’s early weekly Pay-Per-Views. Waltman has since taken some level of culpability for the incident, admitting he had a problem and trying to fight against his addictions from now on. A.J. has never publicly commented on the matter, but it would be reasonable to assume he understood how risky it was. Especially given the style A.J. and Waltman wrestled, being even slightly impaired could cause a horrible injury, and smoking meth causes a heck of a lot more than a slight impairment.
11. Saying He Wasn’t In It For The Money
Many pro wrestlers believe what they do is an art form, and people always say you can’t put a price on true art. In a manner of speaking, it’s true that wrestling is the sort of injury where you can’t get it in for the money, because there’s no way to guarantee the money will be good at the onset of a career. Even if a wrestler has all the talent in the world, they may never find the spark that makes them a superstar. Even so, especially once a wrestler proves they have talent and are in some degree of demand, they shouldn’t state out loud they still don’t care about money. A.J. said just that to the Spencer Daily Reporter in 2013, at a time when he was one of the most in-demand independent wrestlers on the planet. He could well have been in line for a huge payday after a ridiculous bidding war, but instead, Styles willingly accepted what were probably lowball offers from TNA, NJPW, and other indies. Whatever WWE offered him probably wasn’t much, either, because they figured it wouldn’t be hard to beat what he was earning. As soon as A.J. acknowledged his true value, he became a huge WWE superstar and was fairly compensated for it.
10. Picking TNA Over RoH
A.J. was best known in his work at TNA prior to getting signed by WWE, but he’s worked for far more companies than just the big two. Roughly the same time he started working for TNA, he became one of the first true stars of Ring of Honor, as well. A.J. steadily ascended up the card in both promotions, winning the ROH Pure and Tag Team Championships concurrent to his first several NWA titles. Styles was forced to vacate the ROH Pure Championship in 2004 when TNA decided contracted employees couldn’t wrestle for other companies anymore, and though they went back and forth on that decision many times, A.J.’s career in ROH never recovered. His every appearance from then on was invariably billed as his last, because they never knew if or when TNA would take his ability to compete elsewhere away from him. Once A.J. left TNA for good in late 2013, he soon returned to ROH and resumed his main event status. Considering he claimed not to be in wrestling for the money and was always happier in ROH than TNA, we have to image he retroactively wishes he stuck with the smaller company for more of his career.
9. Repeatedly Using Gay Slurs
While it isn’t entirely fair to chastise people for things they said more than 10 years ago, it’s still worth pointing out when a person hasn’t apologized for particularly questionable comments. A.J. Styles has been caught calling people the f-word on camera at least twice, and we don’t mean fudge. We don’t mean f***, either, but rather the much more offensive f-word used as a pejorative towards gay people. The first time was on a weekly NWA: TNA Pay-Per-View, and the second came years later during a promo video for NoDQ.com. In the videos, A.J. shouted the word at Glenn Gilbertti and Chris Sabin, respectively. He was a face in TNA when he used it, arguably making things worse by implying fans would approve of him doing so. Unsurprisingly, A.J. hasn’t dropped any f-bombs since becoming part of the WWE Universe, and for his sake we hope he never does again. The only rational excuse for why he hasn’t made amends over the comments is that he’s embarrassed to have made them, but in that case, apologizing is the only thing that could make it right.
8. Losing The TNA Championship To RVD
More than any other individual match he wrestled, A.J. seems to harbor the most resentment over the night he lost the TNA World Championship to Rob Van Dam. The problem wasn’t RVD on a personal level, but rather what he represented—that TNA was gradually becoming what Styles called “WWE-lite,” pushing whatever stars Vince McMahon no longer needed. Obviously, the preferred option would have been for TNA to push their own homegrown stars, using the former WWE stars to further establish them to the mainstream. Making the loss even more symbolic, A.J. was the longest reigning TNA Champion at the time, while RVD had only recently made a return to the company and didn’t necessarily do anything to deserve a spot as TNA’s top star. A.J. would ultimately regain the belt some three years later, but the message had been sent loud and clear. Truth be told, the most surprising part is that it took A.J. until 2010 to realize this, considering he had been feuding with names like Jeff Jarrett, Christian, and Kurt Angle for the past five years.
7. Everything Claire Lynch
For the many criticisms levied upon Total Nonstop Action, the work of A.J. Styles was always considered a highlight of the company. Regardless of the angles he was put in, Styles brought his A-game and made sure incredible matches were had in even the most tepid of feuds. Unfortunately, though, not even A.J.’s commitment to being phenomenal could overcome what many consider the worst angle in TNA history, the bizarre and unnecessary saga of Claire Lynch. Going way too deep into soap opera territory, Lynch was initially a drug addict A.J. and Dixie Carter were helping overcome her addictions. Then, Kazarian and Christopher Daniels alleged Lynch was also secretly having an affair with A.J. and had become pregnant with his child. Not much later, it was all revealed to be a ruse. The problems with the angle were too numerous to count them all, but to start, A.J. never took any part of it seriously, it had absolutely nothing to do with wrestling, and no one knew who the hell Claire was or cared about her drug abuse or fake baby or whatever. The meaningless saga dragged down three of TNA’s top talents with absolutely no payoff, a microcosm of why the company has never been able to compete with WWE.
6. His Logic For Why Claire Bombed
What could possibly be worse than the stupidest angle of A.J.’s career, and perhaps all of TNA history? How about claiming the sole reason the ridiculous mess failed was a single, irrelevant, and most importantly misogynistic detail? Rather than acknowledge any of the details we just covered, according to A.J., the only reason the angle failed was that the woman playing Lynch was just too damned ugly. On camera, he said she “looks like a foot.” Everyone is entitled to their own opinions on another person’s attractiveness, and maybe Claire Lynch isn’t the usual class of model one would find on television. However, for A.J. to say Claire was so unattractive it wasn’t believable he would like her was offensive not only to the actress playing her, but to women in general. It also makes you wonder what A.J.’s wife looks like, and whether or not he cares about anything else about her. While it would be reasonable to say A.J. probably does care for his wife, thoughts like these nonetheless paint him as king of a jerk, if nothing else.
5. Waiting So Long To Take Over Japan
To a certain extent, A.J.’s career in WWE wouldn’t have gone the way it has if not for his many years as a star on the independent circuit, so he might not have too many regrets about waiting to get there. The same might be true about A.J.’s time in New Japan Pro Wrestling—he wasn’t going to win the IWGP Championship in his debut for company without already having a reputation as one of the best wrestlers in the world. However, that reputation would only grow exponentially once he started wrestling in Japan, raising the question of why he didn’t head for the Land of the Rising Sun sooner. He actually did make a handful of appearances for NJPW throughout 2008, albeit always in the capacity of an ambassador for TNA, generally losing to established Japanese stars as is the custom for outsiders who won’t be sticking around. Had Styles wanted to stay in Japan, though, he probably could’ve become an international superstar earlier than he did. This would not only boost his profile, but it would probably raise the amount of money WWE was offering, bringing him to the bright lights of the Universe earlier than expected.
4. Cashing Checks For Breaking Necks
Let’s be clear about something upfront. When a wrestler is injured during the course of a match, it is rarely the fault of an individual. Everyone involved in an injury is equally culpable, so we aren’t trying to blame A.J. for breaking both Yoshi Tatsu’s and Lionheart’s necks with the Styles Clash in 2014. That said, it was still in bad taste for him to brag about it, not to mention profit from it by selling t-shirts that praised him for it. Granted, A.J.’s “Cashing Checks and Breaking Necks” isn’t the first wrestler t-shirt to do something like this. Greg Valentine bragged extensively about breaking Wahoo McDaniel’s leg, CM Punk boasted he broke Big Show’s hand, and Owen 3:16 countered Austin 3:16 by saying “I just broke your neck.” The difference between those incidents and A.J.’s is that McDaniel, Big Show, and Austin were all okay with them, while Lionheart in particular has spoken out against A.J. and the Styles Clash, suggesting the move get banned. Given the full circumstance, A.J. in the very least might have considered sharing some profits from the shirt with the men he injured.
3. Repeatedly Turning Down WWE
After initially passing on his contract when he purchased WCW, Vince McMahon made his first offer to A.J. Styles in April of 2002. Granted, it was an offer to compete and train at the developmental territory Heartland Wrestling Association, and A.J. was correct in assuming it wouldn’t amount to much when the HWA and WWE ceased their business arrangement a few weeks later. Styles also didn’t want to move to Ohio, as it would have interfered with his wife’s college plans. A.J. wouldn’t bring his phenomenal talents to WWE on a full-time basis for another 14 years, but that doesn’t mean he and the company didn’t talk extensively several times in the interim. As our list already acknowledged, there were pros and cons to A.J. waiting to go to WWE until he did, and he probably shouldn’t have said yes the first time. However, A.J. had numerous other opportunities to prove he had what it takes on the major stage, and once he found out how far he could go, he might have started wondering where he’d be if he started heading there sooner.
2. His TLC 2016 Wardrobe Malfunction
When you really think about it, its a little bit surprising wardrobe malfunctions aren’t more common in pro wrestling. Both male and female wrestlers tend to wear tight clothing that easily rips, a fact A.J. faced head on during his WWE Championship match against Dean Ambrose at TLC 2016. And when we say head on, we also mean ass backwards. Yes, A.J.’s tights ripped in arguably the most embarrassing fashion possible, causing a good portion of his naked rear end to be on full public display. Many users on Twitter were quick to take screen caps and make A.J.’s half moon go viral, and whether they would admit it or not, you’d be hard pressed to find a WWE fan who didn’t notice. Luckily for Styles, James Ellsworth would make a much awaited turn on Dean Ambrose at the end of the match, taking attention away from his busted pants. The only way things could’ve been worse for A.J. is if it had happened in the Attitude Era, and Vince decided to make a gimmick out of it.
1. Locking His Keys In A Rental Car
Just about everybody has done it, or at least know someone who did. Locking your keys in the car is embarrassing, annoying, and deeply frustrating, especially if no one around can do anything to help you. As a celebrity who apparently has AAA, A.J. Styles wasn’t so unlucky when he trapped himself outside of his rental car in October of 2016. However, since his faux pas occurred moments after a SmackDown taping, AAA alone couldn’t stop the embarrassment factor, caught live on camera for the world to see. Such is the nature of viral entertainment at this point in history that fans at the scene asked A.J. if he thought the mishap was somehow part of an episode of Swerved, although how exactly a person could have been tricked into locking his or her keys in his car is unclear. To his credit, A.J. took the incident in as good humor as possible, patiently waiting for help to hit the scene while interacting with a slightly mocking crowd.