Thursday, January 12, 2017

AJ Styles: #2 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

Last year, I rated AJ as the eleventh best wrestler in the world on my personal list. Through his second year in New Japan Pro Wrestling, he completely reinvented himself as an exciting star after years of mediocre booking in TNA, where he was arguably the biggest star in the company despite TNA's seeming desire to focus on anyone but him much of the time. Two IWGP Heavyweight Championship did far more for his career than any of the five world championships he won in TNA.

Then 2016 happened.

Image credit: WWE.
Opening the year against #5 wrestler on this list in front of 25,000 fans in the Tokyo Dome couldn't have been the worst way to kick off a year. While he didn't beat Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental title there, he did manage to steal the show even as he prepared to leave New Japan for greener pastures.

The 2016 Royal Rumble continued a streak of rumble matches lacking in well thought out booking, but the one thing it got right was Styles debut as the third man in the match. While it did no favors for Roman Reigns as the newcomer already had far more cheers than the supposed top babyface of the company, it cemented Styles as an important new player in WWE. He continued his battles with names on this list, battling #7 Chris Jericho in a series of show-stealing matches yet again.

From there, WWE showed they finally understood what they missed for all the years they didn't sign AJ to the promotion. Over the spring and summer, he feuded with the company's top two stars, barely losing to Roman Reigns in two title matches then turning heel on John Cena. Alongside The Club, he would go on to pick up multiple wins over "The Face That Runs the Place." When he finally beat Cena and Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight Title, he even chose to mock Cena, dubbing himself "The Champ That Runs the Camp."

Since SummerSlam, AJ has dominated Smackdown's programming. It is hard to argue he's the best booked talent in the company today. He's been so impressive on the roster that he even was able to eat three straight losses to James Ellsworth without a bump in the step of his run on top of the WWE mountain.

While AJ turns forty later this year, he's barely lost a step in the wrestling ring since he was a young up-and-comer in the final days of WCW. One of the most seasoned stars in professional wrestling, if he stays healthy he could have an equally impressive 2017 with a place on the top of the Smackdown card very likely. Even if he should drop the title pre-Wrestlemania, AJ still has the potential to have an epic spot at that card, with rumors of Shawn Michaels coming out of retirement for one last match against "The Phenomenal One".

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