For the last few weeks, the rumors have been swirling around the future of the Phenomenal One AJ Styles. Styles, one of the “TNA Originals”, has recently been embroiled in contract negotiations with the company that revolve primarily around his pay. Styles signed a short-term contract extension with the company that would get him through the Bound For Glory PPV event, but beyond that the future is uncertain. Of course, with that comes rampant speculation that Styles may very soon find himself in another company, maybe even the WWE. And why not, right? The WWE is the premier sports entertainment promotion in the world, and has some of the best performers in the business. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, these are all guys that were transfers from other promotions who have enjoyed main event story lines. Surely a multiple-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and TNA World Heavyweight Champion would do pretty well with the wrestling giant, right?
I’m not so sure.
AJ Styles has enjoyed a very successful career in TNA. From his time as a young, cocky X-Division upstart who appeared for both TNA and ROH at the same time, to his run with the TNA Frontline and Fortune, and even his current storyline which seems to be building to a main event match at Bound For Glory; AJ Styles has devoted the vast majority of his wrestling career to the Orlando based promotion. There are only a handful of people as worthy of a TNA Hall of Fame induction as Styles, and you could make the argument that he was more deserving than Kurt Angle who was inducted earlier this year. That being said, AJ Styles is now 36 years old. He’s definitely closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning. Does he really have the time left to go through the WWE machine and pay his dues?
To see what AJ Style’s career path would look like if he jumped ship to the WWE, you need to have a sense for what the WWE typically does with transplants from other promotions. When Vince McMahon purchased the WCW and nearly all of its contracts it absorbed a complete set of wrestlers including many major players. But, through all of the chaos of that transition there have only been five WCW-made guys that have really had the chance to shine in the WWE.
When Chris Jericho jumped ship to the WWF, unlike many of his former coworkers, he saw the writing on the wall and did so prior to WCW’s collapse. As a result, Chris Jericho got to enter the WWE on his own terms, and managed to have arguably the hottest debut of any wrestler in the WWE’s history. During his time with the company he proved himself to be athletic, charismatic, and not afraid to challenge Vince McMahon with his own ideas. Despite all of that Chris Jericho still floundered in the mid card for two years before being thrust into the main event spotlight at the apex of the WCW/ECW invasion storyline. He is arguably the number one pick that the WWE got from the downfall of World Championship Wrestling, and it took him two years to become a main event player.
Booker T came into the WWE as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. As a result, he had some time to enjoy the main event spotlight until it was pulled out from under him shortly afterward. After Booker T lost the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to the Rock, he went on to maintain a mid card status until he won the World Heavyweight Championship in late 2006. It was less than a year from that point that Booker T parted ways with the WWE, only to return in 2011 at the Royal Rumble. All told, Booker T paid his dues and earned his main event status with the WWE in five years.
Eddie Guerrero was a definitive WWE success story until his tragic passing in 2005. He signed to the WWE in 2000 alongside fellow WCW defectors Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn. After sustaining an injury early on in his WWE career Eddie remained in the mid card, pursuing the United States or Intercontinental Championships until 2004 when he participated in a battle royale to become the number one contender for the WWE Championship. He would go on to No Way Out and win that title from Brock Lesnar. He remained at that level until his passing in the following year. It took Eddie four years to become a main eventer.
As the circumstances around Chris Benoit’s troubling death are not in the scope of this article, this will only be reference to his career in the company. Chris Benoit signed with the WWE in 2000 and won his first World Heavyweight Championship in 2004. He did so in grand fashion as well, defeating Triple H and Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XX when he forced Triple H to submit to the Crippler Crossface. Even more impressive, he was the first person to ever win the main event match at Wrestlemania by tap out. His path to the main event took four years.
Unlike most of his former WCW compatriots, Rey Mysterio did not immediately sign with WWE when WCW met it’s end. He went to Mexico and wrestled for CMLL and drifted between independent US promotions until 2002 when he finally agreed to ink a deal with Vince McMahon. Rey debuted in a strong upper mid card spot and maintained that mid card status until 2006. To start the year he entered the Royal Rumble at #2 and would go on to win the match. He then captured the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXII, and would hold the title for four months. This time in 2006 permanently elevated his status in the WWE, and he remained a major player in the company until what recently has been dubbed his “semi-retirement”. Mysterio completed his main event path in four years.
In totality the fastest any one of these men has elevated themselves into a top spot in the WWE has been two years. That distinction belongs to Chris Jericho who is one of the most charismatic, entertaining athletes the WWE has ever seen. This means AJ Styles would be almost 39 years old by the time he made it big. Now if you think AJ Styles has the chops to hang with Chris Jericho in terms of charisma and entertainment value, I humbly suggest that you watch the August 29th, 2013 taping of Impact Wrestling in its entirety including the “worked shoot” promo that Styles dropped near the end.
Is AJ Styles better off remaining the big fish in the small pond? Or should he sign with the WWE? Decide for yourself if AJ Styles can follow the same trajectory of these five greats and leave it in the comments below.