AJ Styles has the Royal Rumble circled on his calendar.
The Rumble returns to the Alamodome in Texas, and Styles wants to defend the WWE championship against the “Heartbreak Kid”— Texas native Shawn Michaels.
“I would love the opportunity to wrestle him,” said Styles. “I’d love to learn from him, but who’s to say if that’s going to happen. Right now, it’s all speculation and rumors that I’m finding out like everyone else is, but man, what a match that would be.”
Styles refers to himself as “The Champ that Runs the Camp,” and his first ten months with WWE have redefined the company as the worldwide leader in wrestling. On a call promoting WWE SuperCard season three—the popular trading cards developed by 2K—Styles also discussed Ryback’s claim that Vince McMahon’s original plans for WrestleMania 32 included a squash victory for Ryback over Styles.
“I think what Ryback said may have been true at that time,” explained Styles. “I don’t know that Vince knew exactly what he had in AJ Styles, and I think his opinion of me changed somewhat quickly. That’s OK, I’ve been doing that my whole life—changing people’s opinion of me and what I’m capable of. I’m not mad at Ryback. If it was said, it was said, and I’m not mad at Vince McMahon. Opinions vary, and they change.”
Styles’ opinion did not vary when asked his preference for an opponent after his program with Dean Ambrose.
“There are several guys that I haven’t had the opportunity to really get in the ring with one-on-one and have great matches with, but there is one guy in particular that is on Smackdown who I have yet to wrestle, and that’s Randy Orton,” said Styles. “That’s a match that everybody is going to look forward to, and when the time is right, the match will happen—and we’ll blow the roof off the place.”
Styles also reflected on the brief, but meaningful, on-air moment at SummerSlam when he was in the midst of a Bullet Club reunion with Finn Bálor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson.
“I think that was special to sports entertainment, to know what we all did in Japan and how that brought all of us to WWE,” said Styles, who hinted that may have been foreshadowing a future storyline. “The Club thing kind of blew up, far bigger than any of us expected, so to give a little tease like that was planting a seed. Something could happen down the road, we just have to figure out when and where.”
Regarding the WWE’s decision to split up The Club—with Styles on Smackdown and Gallows and Anderson are on Raw—Styles was honest with his original disappointment.
“It was actually very surprising, and a little bit painful, to see those guys go to Raw as I went to Smackdown,” said Styles. “We were in Japan for almost two years together, and when we got to WWE, we were riding together. Those guys were more than just my friends—they are my family. To have them go elsewhere was a little heartbreaking, but at the same time it gives them the opportunity to go off, on their own, and do what they do—get interview time as them, and AJ Styles gets his on Smackdown. It’s worked really great for Gallows, Anderson, and myself.”
Styles’ time in Japan as a two-time IWGP champion is championed in WWE, but the 39-year-old Styles spent the bulk of his career as the face of TNA Impact Wrestling. Although he holds more experience than the vast majority of his colleagues, the fact remains he is still in his rookie year with WWE.
“I did feel like the new guy in the locker room [at first], but I was pleasantly surprised how the roster had so much respect for everything I’ve done outside the WWE,” said Styles. “It was really great to be part of a roster like the WWE where guys didn’t hold it against me that I wasn’t in WWE. They welcomed me with open arms. I felt like the new guy at first, but now I just feel like part of the family.
“Everyone thinks the style changes, but mine never has. The one thing that I’ve accredited to AJ Styles’ being able to adapt wherever I go, whether it be here in the WWE or somewhere else, I’ve always been blessed to be with great guys in the ring. I would love to take credit for all these great, amazing matches I’ve had in the past seventeen years I’ve been doing this crazy sport, but I can’t do that. I’ve been a part of some great matches because of the opponents that I’ve had, and here in the WWE is no different.”
Styles has elevated his in-ring style on the WWE canvas, he admitted, because of the talented opponents, including Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, and John Cena, staring at him from across the ring.
“Some of the best athletes are definitely here, and having dream matches, as some may call what I’m doing, is special. Being in the video game is special, and so is being with the SuperCard,” said Styles. “It’s so much bigger here in the WWE than it is anywhere else I’ve ever been. You just can’t compare the WWE to anything else when it comes to sports entertainment. There is nothing like the WWE, nothing like this machine I am working for and I’m proud to work for.”
Styles revealed his goal-oriented mentality, which is evident in his ambition to headline the Royal Rumble and main event WrestleMania. He also plans to continue to build his own brand through the power of the WWE machine.
“The great thing about being part of WWE is the opportunity to do things that you didn’t expect to be able to do,” said Styles. “It’s just an open door. That’s the great thing with the WWE. They want you to be like John Cena, they want you to be like The Rock, and they definitely give you that platform. I’m open to anything and everything. I’m just here to have a good time, and, whatever opportunity presents itself, hopefully I’ll get after it.
“Who knows what next year brings, but as far as right now and everything that’s happened in my career, this—by far—has been the biggest year of my career. Who would have ever thought that, within a couple months of getting into the WWE, that I’d be wrestling in the main event for the world championship? Then, nine months after getting here, actually being the world champion. So yes, being on the biggest stage in sports entertainment is easily the best year for AJ Styles.”
In the future, Styles is open to continuing as an antagonistic heel, or switching roles and returning to his roots as a babyface.
“I just want to do what’s best for the company,” said Styles. “Whatever the WWE needs, I want to be the guy who can get the job done. Whether it’s a heel or a babyface, it doesn’t really matter to me. I honestly think it might be a little bit harder to be a babyface. Sometimes you need to be a good heel to turn into a great babyface, and I think that’s what’s happening in the WWE.”
Styles has enjoyed a storied career, but has found even more rarified air in WWE, including, he noted, the opportunity to be included in WWE 2K17.
“I’ve been a video game guy since I was eight years old and got my first Nintendo,” said Styles. “I’ve been addicted to video games ever since. I have been part of a video game before the WWE game, but it’s not worth talking about, and quite embarrassing, to be honest with you. 2K17 is amazing. The graphics are just awesome, and it’s fun to see that you can do pretty much anything and everything that you’ve ever seen on WWE television. Just being part of a great game in the 2K series is amazing, and I feel like I’m not the only one who thinks that – the fans are having a pretty good time with it.
“I’m just jealous of the ‘create a wrestler.’ You can literally create anyone that you’ve ever wanted. Any other game that comes out and tries to give 2K some competition, there is no competition. The library of moves sets 2K apart from any other wrestling game.”
NXT champion Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Styles at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 this past January, and former NXT champ Samoa Joe was a longtime rival in TNA. Styles is anticipating a time when he can defend the WWE championship against both Nakamura and Joe.
“I would love to see Samoa Joe up here and Shinsuke Nakamura,” said Styles. “I think it’s only a matter of time before those guys come up, and there are numerous younger talents that are going to come here shortly. It’s only a matter of time.
“I think the NXT brand is so great. It’s done so well. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of jealous of the Performance Center and the opportunity to go down there and train and work on things. The one thing about the independents when I got started was I had the opportunity to train and then immediately wrestle at the same place I trained, and that’s what wrestling is all about – experience. You get that at NXT, and you get to travel and go in front of these crowds and see what works for them.”
Styles has found his home with WWE, and plans on committing to a long-term relationship that will extend well beyond his own wrestling career.
“One of the things Triple H and I talked about was the opportunity to do something within the WWE when my career is over,” revealed Styles. “I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, but there are a number of things that I’ve seen and went, ‘Wow, I’d love the opportunity to have a shot at the job.’ I really enjoy helping people, so maybe a trainer.
“Who knows, maybe I’ll go longer in my career than I thought I would. Time will tell.”