BOSTON – Footsteps away from the World of Wheels car convention, sipping an ice water while sitting fireside overlooking the seaport, AJ Styles begins to smile.
There is no doubt, he reassures, that any ailment or injury will prevent him from competing at WrestleMania 34 on April 8.
“Trust me, I’m going to be wrestling,” said Styles. “I’ll be wrestling at WrestleMania.”
If kind people are your kind of people, then look no further than Styles. He evokes a certain ease with his unbridled joy for the business, but also calms those in his vicinity with a genuine compassion for those around him.
The line for a Styles autograph at the World of Wheels signing extended past the Chryslers, Cadillacs, and Chevelles. There was one trembling 13-year-old, nervously awaiting his turn to meet Styles. Once he met his hero, he struggled to position his camera correctly and became overwhelmed with emotion.
Styles shook his hand and signed his autograph. Then, suddenly, the WWE champion pulled the teenager back and the two embraced for a hug.
“It’s OK to be nervous,” said Styles. “That’s why I pulled him back for a hug. It’s OK to cry, especially when something means something to you.
“That kid made me feel like a superstar. It was that important for him to meet me. I’m always anxious to meet people like that. We have a lot of true fans, and I appreciate every single one of them.”
To paraphrase Voltaire: if AJ Styles did not exist, wrestling would have to invent him.
Styles’ next stop? A live event the following evening at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey that saw him team with the New Day in an eight-man tag against Chad Gable, Shelton Benjamin, Rusev, and Aiden English. Styles picked up the win after a Phenomenal Forearm on English.
Even with the recent wave of success, there will always be more for the 40-year-old Styles to prove. If the 20-year wrestling veteran was beholden to any other mentality, he never would have stepped foot on a WWE canvas.
“I only know how to do one thing: go out there and do my best,” said Styles. “Now that sounds like I’m talking to my own kid, saying ‘Do your best,’ but that’s all I’m worried about. If I do that, I can do no wrong. I will put all the preparation and experience I have into that match to make it the best I can.”
A fire burns inside Styles to stay atop WWE. Reaching the top spot is a challenge, but holding onto it – overcoming injury, competition, and politics – is far more tenuous.
The next challenge doubles as a marvelous opportunity, defending the WWE title at WrestleMania against Shinsuke Nakamura.
“This match is special because we’ve yet to see it in WWE,” said Styles. “The only other time we were in the ring together was more than two years ago [in New Japan Pro Wrestling].
“We gave people a taste in the “Money in the Bank” match, and that moment let everyone in the back know how special this match could be. The fans responded by asking for this match, and I want to give it to them. Shinsuke won the Royal Rumble, so now we have that opportunity.”
Styles had already defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match, and he watched from behind the curtain as Nakamura won his first-ever Royal Rumble.
“If you know the history between myself and Shinsuke, you’re pretty excited about this match,” said Styles. “But even if you don’t, just think what Shinsuke Nakamura is capable of and what AJ Styles is capable of. To mix those two together is going to be something special.”
In terms of preparation on the day of the match in New Orleans, Styles promised he will not stray from his routine.
“I wish I could tell people something different, but I won’t prepare any differently,” said Styles. “I’ll pray the same way. I’ll walk out, and with my hood on you can’t see me – if you could, you could see my lips shaking – and I’ll pray before I throw my hood off. Everything is the same, it doesn’t matter which match it is.”
Wrestling consumes Styles, dictating his diet, travel, and mindset. He does not need to be reminded that a dream match with Daniel Bryan could take place as soon as this summer.
“Shoot, now that he’s cleared, who knows when Daniel Bryan and I will have the opportunity to get in the ring together?” asked Styles. “But who knows when I’ll get in the ring with Seth Rollins, or again with Finn Balor, or even Randy Orton? There are guys I have yet to get in the ring with, but now that Daniel Bryan is cleared and ready, he’s in line. Who knows what’s going to come first? There are a lot of great things that will happen in the next couple years.”
While many believe this match is designed to be Nakamura’s crowning moment in WWE, Styles’ eyes only see a chance to cement himself as one of the greatest to ever perform at a WrestleMania.
“Shinsuke has the same mindset,” said Styles. “He wants this to be one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history. I don’t know if we’re going to reach that level, but we’re certainly going to try.”