AJ Styles debuted for WWE earlier this year, shockingly entering the Royal Rumble at number 3. The WWE Universe immediately met Styles with a huge reception. Fans chant his name so vociferously he regularly overshadows the rest of the roster. It’s no secret that a good deal of the people loudly chanting for him became fans of his well before his appearance in WWE this January. In fact, some people have been fans of AJ for well over a decade before he made his official debut, with fans following him across various promotions and countries until he finally made the big time.
Prior to January, AJ was arguably the biggest name in modern professional wrestling never to officially sign with WWE. He was a huge star in ROH, TNA, NJPW, PWG, and NWA, winning world titles nearly everywhere he went. It hasn’t all been positive, but it mostly has, and WWE has been virtually ignoring it since his debut. In fact, there are certain elements of AJ’s career prior to joining WWE that Vince McMahon and company might flat out prefer you forget. Facts about AJ like…
12. He Wrestled For WCW
AJ Styles first came to the public’s attention when he feuded Air Paris in NWA Wildside. WCW caught wind of the two and quickly hired them to start teaming with one another as the duo Air Raid. The pair wrestled on WCW television a number of times, mostly appearing on Thunder. They did make at least one Nitro appearance in early 2001, wrestling in the first round of a tournament to crown the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Champions. Looking back on it, the whole ordeal doesn’t make a lot of sense, since WCW was fast going out of business and didn’t have money to be hiring new talent or creating an entirely new title division. Regardless, it happened, and it means that no matter how big AJ gets in WWE, he was technically discovered by WCW.
11. He Turned Down WWE
After WCW went out of business, AJ returned to NWA Wildside briefly, but was eventually contacted by WWE. In early 2002, AJ wrestled a match against The Hurricane on WWE Metal, and even wrestled a match on SmackDown, although it ultimately wasn’t aired. The matches were tryouts for a WWE contract, which AJ passed. Unfortunately for WWE, AJ didn’t take the deal. He was only offered a contract for their developmental territory, HWA, and wouldn’t have been paid enough to support both himself and his wife, who was still in college. Prior to finally joining with the company in 2016, there were regular rumors of AJ potentially signing with WWE, and the primary reasons for him choosing against doing so were always the same: family and money.
10. He Lost To R-Truth
WWE has more or less decided to ignore every individual pre-WWE match of AJ’s career, but for the purposes of this list we’re going to look at a few feuds and matches in particular they’d probably all prefer we forget about. In this case, they probably just don’t want fans thinking the goofy R-Truth could best AJ in a technical battle, which he did back in 2004, winning the NWA World Championship. The other competitors in the match were Raven and Chris Harris, better known as Braden Walker in WWE. Considering the respective statuses of all of those opponents, WWE probably doesn’t want the star of the future AJ to have the stink of their association, let alone the thrill of victory over him.
9. He Feuded With Samoa Joe
It may just be a matter of time before they lock up in WWE, but most wrestling fans already know AJ Styles and Samoa Joe feuded all over the world for several years almost a full decade ago. While in TNA’s X Division, AJ wowed the wrestling universe with his incredible matches against Samoa Joe. Christopher Daniels would join the two for a Triple Threat match that is generally considered the greatest match in TNA history at Unbreakable 2005. There are two reasons WWE will never bring the feuds or the match up (unless TNA goes out of business and they purchase their library). First, they were absolutely amazing, and WWE doesn’t like admitting other companies can be just as good as them when things go right. Second, Joe is in NXT and AJ is on the main roster, so it’ll be treated as if the two never met if or until Joe ever appears on Raw.
8. He Was The Breakout Star of TNA
WWE has never officially acknowledged TNA on its programming, despite the fact a good number of their employees had significant careers working for the not-quite-rival company. While it’s one thing for WWE to overlook the TNA careers of people like Booker T or Christian, who had long and storied careers elsewhere, AJ Styles was the face of TNA for the majority of his time there. He may not have always been in a main event John Cena role, but a more apt comparison would be Bret Hart. Like Bret, AJ was always a major presence in TNA i nthe 90s, always wrestling solid matches, and always the focus of a solid chunk of TV time. Until 2013, when he left the company shortly after being stripped of the TNA Championship, nobody defined Total Nonstop Action like AJ Styles. Ask WWE, though, and AJ is a superstar who primarily made his name in Japan.
7. He Defined the X Division
Not only did AJ play a huge role in defining the main event scene of TNA during his time there, he also played a huge role in creating the X Division. The X Division is TNA’s not-quite-cruiserweight division, focused on high-flying, fast-paced action. While TNA stressed the fact there was no weight limit, in the eyes of most wrestling fans, it was basically the title for the smaller, faster guys. Most people wouldn’t necessarily view that as a stigma, but Vince McMahon and WWE in general have a pretty poor track record of respecting the cruiserweights. They’ve all but done away with the division entirely themselves due to the perceived negatives involved in being smaller, and to admit AJ was once working in the lightweight division doesn’t sound quite as cool as calling him a pit bull.
6. He Feuded With Kurt Angle
In addition to feuding with a few names WWE won’t bring up due to their current positions, AJ has also feuded with a few people WWE just won’t bring up, period. WWE has gone out of their way and tried their best to make sure never to mention Kurt Angle since he left the company in 2006. Although it may do well with some WWE fans to learn AJ and Kurt had dozens of fantastic matches in TNA, they probably won’t ever bring them up. Since leaving WWE, Angle has undergone a number of personal problems related to alcoholism and painkiller abuse, only strengthening WWE’s resolve not to mention him on camera. Although some of the matches happened during the height of Angle’s problems, he and AJ regularly managed to steal the show, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to mention AJ beat an Olympic Gold Medalist more than once.
5. Everything Involving Claire Lynch
In 2012, after proving himself as one of the best wrestlers in TNA and the world for the better part of a decade, AJ Styles was the centerpiece of arguably the worst angle in TNA history. After reigniting their feud, Christopher Daniels planned to humiliate AJ by revealing AJ was having an affair with TNA’s owner, Dixie Carter. It would turn out there was no affair, but rather the two of them were attempting to help a family friend through rehab.
In addition to having virtually nothing to do with wrestling, the story bombed on every level, and featured key moments such as AJ getting knocked out from one punch by Dixie’s non-wrestler husband, and AJ then being accused of fathering Lynch’s “crack baby.” The woman playing Claire Lynch was so embarrassed by the whole thing it had to be dropped when she abruptly quit because fans learned her real name. AJ has only made things worse by giving his thoughts on the angle, essentially just going on mean-spirited body-shaming rants against the woman whenever it’s brought up.
4. AJ Is Very Proud of His Past Work
If he quit after Claire Lynch, nobody would’ve thought twice, but AJ stuck around for another year after that debacle. He finally left in 2013 for no doubt a variety of reasons, but one reason that often came up in interviews when discussing his departure was losing the TNA World title to Rob Van Dam in 2010. RVD has had countless great matches and is a worthy world champion, but in AJ’s eyes, that move meant even the bookers of TNA saw him and TNA as second rate to WWE. While Vince McMahon might like that sentiment, he probably dislikes how strongly AJ obviously disagrees with it. AJ is probably getting paid better than ever before and is loving his job, but that doesn’t change the pride he had in his work, always seeing himself as equal to or greater than WWE’s bigger stars.
3. He’s Been In A Bunch of Tag Teams
Y2AJ may go down in history as one of the more talented short-lived teams in WWE history, but it was hardly the first team AJ has been a member of. People spend so much time praising AJ’s abilities as a solo wrestler, it is occasionally forgotten the man is an extremely accomplished tag team wrestler as well. Early in the history of TNA, he formed a very successful tag team with rival Christopher Daniels, holding the TNA Tag Team titles, together, twice. He also won the titles with Jerry Lynn, Abyss, Tomko, and Kurt Angle, and once held the ROH Tag belts with The Amazing Red. While his brief time with Jericho will likely be remembered in WWE history as the beginning of a new legacy, it frankly pales in comparison to AJ’s past tag team success.
2. He Has Back Problems
One scary downside people have been discussing about AJ’s debut in the WWE is that he allegedly was still suffering from a recent back injury when he signed. Although he’s working through the pain for now, it probably won’t be too long before AJ’s back is even worse, and he needs some significant time off. Fans cringed when Ryback threw AJ up for a gigantic back body drop during his debut, and it only gets worse with every flat bump AJ takes. There were even rumors before his debut he may not have been ready for the Rumble because of his medical issues, showing just how serious this problem may be for him. For now, Styles claims DDP Yoga is helping him move past the pain.
1. He’s Made Homophobic Comments
The Internet has made a habit out of searching through a performer’s past and seeking out hateful or hurtful comments they may have made, but no such sleuthing was needed for AJ. Live on one of NWA: TNA’s weekly Pay-Per-Views in 2003, AJ Styles called Glenn Gilberti, better known as Disco Inferno, a “faggot.” AJ was a babyface when he made the comments, putting him alongside the Briscoe Brothers in terms of understanding social trends. It’s well known that AJ is a devout Christian, and we won’t comment on anyone’s personal beliefs, but it is relevant his fellow believers don’t typically have they best track record when it comes to supporting gay rights. AJ was also heard screaming the epithet at Chris Sabin while shooting promo videos for NoDQ.com. More than any issue with his career, WWE probably won’t ever allow this aspect of AJ’s past to become a public issue.