By Chad Smart
@chadsmart & @my123cents on Twitter
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When Kurt Angle joined TNA in 2006, the dream match up was Angle versus Samoa Joe. Joe had been dominant for 18-months since debuting in TNA. The pairing was a no brainer and could have been a big money match. Instead of having Angle establish himself and slowly build interest in the eventual Angle/Joe feud, TNA had them fight three times in three months with Angle winning the feud. In the process the aura of Joe was tarnished and fans saw the standard TNA mantra of “Ex-WWE wrestlers are better than TNA wrestlers” once again established.
Fast-forward ten years where WWE is on the verge of possibly recreating the same scenario. TNA original, AJ Styles made his WWE debut at the Royal Rumble in January. Over the past four months, AJ has established himself as one of the more popular wrestlers on the WWE roster. AJ spent two months trying to conquer WWE Champion Roman Reigns. Failing to dethrone the champ, AJ looked to distance himself from The (Bullet) Club association with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson.
May 29 saw the return of WWE’s top star, John Cena who had been out with an injury since October. During Cena’s welcome back promo, AJ Styles came out to pay respect. AJ’s positive comments brought out Gallows and Anderson to criticize their former friend for sucking up to Cena. Heated words were exchanged leading to the possibility of Cena and Styles fighting Gallows/Anderson. Those hopes were quickly dismissed when Styles attacked Cena revealing it was all a rouse. Four days later, WWE announced via wwe.com at Money in the Bank in three weeks, Cena will make his in-ring return against AJ Styles.
Why is WWE rushing into this match? Why not build up to a tag match where AJ would then turn on Cena? Having AJ turn after a four week build would have more impact (no TNA pun intended) than having him turn after four minutes. If the tag match happened at Money in the Bank, than Styles/Cena could have been held off until SummerSlam. With all major shows being shown on the WWE Network, there’s no need to hot shot a match to try and bump the buy rate of a secondary show.
As Kevin and I have discussed many, many times, storytelling in present day WWE is almost non-existent. Instead of telling an actual story, WWE appears to be booking for moments. There’s no doubt the fans in Las Vegas will be excited to see AJ and Cena fight. Just think though how much more energy the match would generate if it was given a proper build.
I don’t know how the match will end. Given WWE’s track record, I do have the uneasy feeling Styles is looking at his third straight monthly special loss. While I’m not going to say AJ is being buried, if Cena wins, it’s another example of WWE > TNA. Given Cena is at the point in his career where wins and losses won’t affect his popularity, and WWE is hyping up a “New Era,” having Styles come out on the losing end of this feud will send the message to fans that what’s new is old. Much like politics, disrupting the status quo is a bad thing. Keep with what’s safe instead of trying something different. I hope WWE proves me wrong and this is the first step in pushing AJ to a world title run.