AJ Styles has been described as “amazing,” “incredible,” “exciting” and “awesome.” But more importantly, he is the epitome of the Southern gentleman, a pleasure to be around and to interview.
Less than 15 minutes after Stu Hart’s Tribute Show in May ended, Styles (real name Alan Jones), came back out into the Legion and signed autographs and took pictures with any fan that asked. (Unlike Sabu, who did his match and disappeared.) He then did not only an interview with SLAM! Wrestling, but a local radio show interview as well. Following that, at the post-show reception, AJ spent most of his night talking to up-and-coming Stampede stars and a group of thrilled fans.
Because AJ Styles, simply put, is a nice guy.
“I could say ‘No not right now’ but to me that is BS,” said Styles while signing an autograph. “Without them I am nothing, I am just another guy, I don’t mean anything. I need them to come out and show they care. I appreciate fans.” It is important to AJ that he keeps a level head. “You can’t forget where you came from. I was just a kid trying to make it in a crazy business where there is no money. If you forget where you come from, then you will be just another cocky wrestler that nobody likes.”
It is this sort of down-to-earth attitude that, combined with a great work ethic, makes AJ Styles a name to watch out for. His Christian faith keeps him grounded. “It keeps my head level. I am a Christian but I am the biggest sinner in the world. I try to keep a level head, but I screw up. I screw up on pay-per-view.”
His biggest screw up in the eyes of many was a few weeks ago on an episode of NWA-TNA he used the word “faggot”, receiving heat from a lot of people.
“To me ‘faggot’ is a word you just say when your when goofing off. Unfortunately it is not the right thing to say, I wouldn’t say it in church so I shouldn’t say it anywhere else. It just slipped out. It surprises them that I said faggot in Nashville, of all places, but when I said bastard, which really bothered me the week before, it didn’t bother them at all. The week before that show, they wanted me to say SOB, I compromised and said bastard. Nevertheless, it was wrong, and I apologize.”
Styles surprised many when he turned down a WWE developmental contract that he was offered.
“I am not by any means cocky, I am honored that they offered me a contract,” he said. “Financially I couldn’t afford to go up there. My wife was in college and I was the sole provider. It wasn’t feasible for me to move to Cincinnati for a developmental deal when I was making nothing. God and family are more important to me. I couldn’t do it to my wife.”
Fans also feel that WWE would have no idea what to do with an AJ Styles, pointing to guys like Jamie Noble and Tajiri, who have incredible talent that isn’t put to use in the promotion. Styles does watch Vince McMahon’s product, and is honest and critical.
“I watch Monday nights at a friend’s house. I like to watch wrestling, and unfortunately it has to be WWE. They just aren’t doing what people want to see right now. Right now it’s ‘Grab a headlock and talk.’ Whoopee! I can do that – it doesn’t take much. Vince McMahon is a smart guy, but he is slipping.”
It’s a definite difference from the action-based style of TNA.
“We don’t talk as much. We also do a lot more dangerous stuff, unfortunately that is what people want to see. We are different than the WWE, we give you things you don’t get to see. We get compared to ECW, and I loved ECW, but we put more psychology in it. We are working hard to get TV, and when that happens, it’s gonna explode.”
The TV deal continues to be the hardest part of being a wrestling company right now. “It is hard to get TV because wrestling is down right now. People look at WWE and saying ‘They aren’t doing well, I don’t want wrestling. Wrestling is dead.’ WWE is dead, not TNA. TNA to me is Big Time.”
TNA often has “surprises” on the show, which to some is part of the appeal. Since its inception, older stars like Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff and Vader have made guest appearances, as have established names like Scott Hall, Ken Shamrock, and Sabu. For Styles, although the surprise guests are great, he prefers to have a regular cast of characters every week.
“A regular roster is better. It’s just easier, for the fans to see who to cheer for and who not to cheer for. Sometimes they don’t even know who some of the guys are that they are bringing in. I’d rather just go with the regular roster.”
Major additions to the roster include Raven, who Styles feuded with over the number one contendership to the World Title, and his current tag team partner, D-Lo Brown.
“Raven’s a little old school for my tastes, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. D-Lo, well, it’s about time. He is awesome. It’s obvious to me that he wasn’t used correctly in WWE, because I can’t get pops sometimes because D-Lo is so over.”
Styles enjoys working with Vince Russo, who “has had good storylines so far” and loved working with Jeff Jarrett, who he refers to as “The Man” in TNA, facing him for the NWA World Title. Jarrett was open to his ideas and AJ was excited that he got some X-division style spots into the match.
“The Jarretts (Jeff and Jerry) treat me like one of their biggest stars, and I appreciate it,” he said.
Styles, just 25, finds it amusing and surprising when asked if he is single. The answer to that is no. But it is easy to see why female fans go wild for the southern boy with boyish good looks.
“There’s temptation for sure,” he admitted. “There are a lot of good looking girls out there, and especially when they find out that you are married, a lot of them seem to really want to try to get you to cheat on your wife. I won’t do it.”
Styles is incredibly happy with is career right now. The ability to choose his dates, and be with his family is vitally important to him.
“One of the reasons I probably wouldn’t sign with WWE is because I am free. All I have to do (contractually) is wrestle Wednesday nights, if I want to stay home, I can. WWE stars can’t do that, they go all the time. I am not ready for that. I would love the paycheque but right now I am happy where I am, working the independent scene working with a ton of different wrestlers. Nobody gets this opportunity every day.”
This gives Styles the chance to showcase his skills in a variety of environments. He was briefly in the dying WCW, and has since worked for Japan’s Zero-One promotion, as well as on WWA tours, and for Rob Fienstien’s Ring of Honor Promotion based in Philadelphia. It was in ROH that AJ really started to make an impact with North American fans.
“Ring of Honor is respect and honor, it really is. You’re not going to just come up there and they are gonna cheer you. That is not the way it works. You have to come up there and show them what you can do, and if they approve they will let you know. My first match there was against Low-Ki and it was off the charts. Probably one of the best matches I have ever had. It keeps getting better with guys like Paul London, American Dragon, Amazing Red. The guys in ROH are unbelievable, it is great to work with them.”
Ring Of Honor tapes have quickly become a hot item among tape traders. Running sporadically allows the promotion to bring in the best young, hungry athletes not only in the States but from around the world. Styles relishes the chance to work with pretty much a new amazing athlete every show.
“You always learn something from someone, different styles from different guys. It’s not just high spot after high spot, it is actual wrestling, and that is really respected at Ring Of Honor. It keeps getting better and the bar keeps getting raised. It’s not how you do the moves it is when you do them that makes the most impact at ROH. You’ll get a pop if you drop someone on their head, that’s cool I guess, I just hope it isn’t me, but there is more to it than that. It is an honor to work up there, there is a strong style.”
Styles feels similar sentiments about Japan and his time in the Zero-One promotion was a favourite. “The respect there is unbelievable. They are gonna cheer for you whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy, because you are n athlete, and that is what I loved about it.”
It isn’t all fun and games, however. The gripe expressed by most wrestlers is echoed by Styles. “Travel sucks. My knees are killing me but I can’t stretch out on the plane. You gotta do what you gotta do to make money. If you wanna make a living at this you have to travel. At least I get to be on a plane, not traveling in a car!”
Unlike a lot of wrestlers Styles, who plans to save well and retire early to be with his family, didn’t grow up addicted to wrestling. He had other interests originally.
“I didn’t watch much of it. I was a poor guy. I picked it up when it was on, but as far as I was concerned I was gonna be a professional football player or baseball player. Then I realized I was white and slow,” joked the 5-foot-11, 222-pound, two-time X-Division champion. No one specifically trained him when he started five years ago. Most of his training took place in the ring just going out and working with different wrestlers. He started wrestling at the NCW Arena, which is now NWA-Wildside and things just “progressed from there.”
Although Styles works as a face in TNA, he loves being a heel, except for one difficulty: “It’s hard because I don’t cuss, and to be a heel and not cuss isn’t easy.”
Fans would be hard pressed to pick one “best match” in the career of AJ Styles. Ask AJ himself, and he can’t pick one either.
“Oh man, it just goes beyond that. Christopher Daniels, he put me on the map, Jerry Lynn, WWE missed the boat on him. I have learned so much from that man it’s pathetic. Everyone at ROH and TNA, I could go on and on for a long time about how great my opponents have been.”
A firm believer in giving back, Styles now does the same thing for newer guys that Lynn, Daniels and others did for him.
“If people didn’t put me over, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So I want to go out and do the same thing.”
As for who he would like to face the most, it takes less then a second for him to answer: Chris Benoit. “That’s not a hard question, man.”
On the topic of the Crash Holly stealing his trademark “Styles Clash” finisher, renaming it the “Crash Landing,” Styles isn’t concerned.
“He doesn’t use it very well, so I am not to worried about it. If anybody is gonna use my finisher, thank God it’s him because he hardly ever wins or is on TV.”
On fellow Atlanta wrestler Goldberg, Styles was left speechless for a moment, before quipping, “I am glad he’s a Georgia Bulldog Fan.”
Style’s nickname in TNA is “Phenomenal” and it is an apt description of the rising star and his wrestling style. “It’s is my own style, no one else’s. I am always reinventing myself; I am not going to let you get bored. I’ll do crazy stuff but let me heal afterwards. If you watch my matches, it’s not a regular match. I want to make sure you get what you paid for, and that you are entertained.”