The Crow's Nest - Should AJ Styles Leave TNA?
Aug 31, 2013 - 2:30:00 PM
1) Should AJ Styles Leave TNA? (08/31/13)
In the midst of all of the cost-cutting measures TNA has been taking lately, one story has ranked above them all in terms of how important I think it is. I did comment on a few of the recent releases in a column posted a little while back, but this story could end up having more dire circumstances than all of those releases combined.
Of course, I am talking about the news regarding AJ Styles' current contract status.
For those of you unfamiliar with the man known as "The Phenomenal One", you're either lying or you haven't watched TNA before. Styles has been with the company since the very beginning, competing in a tag match on the very first TNA show with Jerry Lynn. Over the next two weeks, he became both one half of the NWA World Tag Team Champions (also with Jerry Lynn) and the inaugural TNA X-Division Champion. By the end of that year, he would end up feuding with Lynn over the X-Division belt after their team broke up, and after winning (and losing) the belt for a second time, he went on to pursue the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, becoming the company's first Triple Crown winner in the process.
Fast forward to 2013, and his resume has continued to grow increasingly impressive. Styles has had a combined 18 championship reigns in TNA, 4 of them as World Heavyweight Champion, is both the first Triple Crown and Grand Slam Champion in company history, has ranked in the top 5 of the PWI "Wrestler of the Year" list just behind such names as John Cena, Triple H and Eddie Guerrero, is the first (and only) TNA wrestler to rank in at #1 on the PWI 500 list, and is regularly brought up in conversation when discussing the most talented wrestlers on the TNA roster. Just look at any discussion about his match at TNA Unbreakable 2005 against Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels for proof of that.
While he may not have the drawing power of a guy like Cena, it's pretty hard to deny that he is the company's "golden boy". He's the guy that the company can turn to when they need somebody to deliver in a match or feud, and I would argue that he has been their most loyal and dedicated employee since the company's birth. Despite some questionable booking at times (including other, arguably less deserving, wrestlers receive big pushes instead of him), Styles has remained a member of the TNA roster. With all of these accomplishments combined with his unwavering loyalty to the company, you'd think that TNA would want to do whatever they could to keep him around, right?
Well, if recent reports are to be believed, that might not be the case.
If the most recent ones are accurate, Styles will remain with the company for at least the next three months after signing a short-term extension. The reason that extension was needed, you may be asking? Reportedly TNA's newest contract offer would see him take a significant cut in his salary, and clearly that is not sitting well with the Phenomenal One. It would be easy to sit here and say something like "Styles needs to stop being such a diva and accept an offer already", but with TNA's history of underpaying performers, you'd have to imagine that a significant cut in any of their talent's pay is a big deal, unless your name ends with "-gan" or "-choff". I'm all for TNA taking cost-cutting measures, because that's the sort of move that is going to benefit them long term and help ensure that they stay in business, but they need to be smart about it. Releasing a few so-so wrestlers (and I mean that more so in how they were being used, not a knock against any of them) is one thing, but risking the contract of one of the most decorated and over stars on your roster? Especially at a time when it appears WWE is more willing to give these indy guys a shot?
Styles is going to do what is best for him and his family, but what exactly does that mean? Would he be better off leaving TNA and seeing what else is out there, perhaps try to get in with WWE? Or would he be better off sticking with the company that he's called home for the past 11 years?
The main argument I keep seeing in comment sections, message boards and Twitter is that AJ Styles has already done it all in TNA, so why not try to see what else is out there? He's an 18-time champion, he's feuded with the best, he's had his great career-making matches, what else can he do? If he were older, I'd say that his natural next move would be to transition into a behind-the-scenes role with TNA. Having been there for so long, as the "golden boy" no less, I'm sure Styles has a decent idea of how the company works. He could easily step in as an agent, or maybe even as a talent scout, considering his ties to the indy scene. Or, even more simply, he could function as a trainer. He's stayed relatively injury free and has kept himself in great shape, so the physical side of things wouldn't be an issue. There is still loads for him to accomplish in TNA outside of the on-screen world.
But my main problem with that point is that sure, Styles has held the TNA Heavyweight belt before, but was the reign memorable? That was a classic case of a long-overdue situation that was handled very poorly by the writing staff, and did more damage than it did good. That was supposed to be Styles' moment, much like Bobby Roode's memorable first title reign, but instead is kind of a footnote in TNA history that many fans would like to forget. Styles deserves at least another run on top of the mountain, done properly this time, to prove that he can lead the company. In my opinion, it should have been him winning the belt instead of Chris Sabin, because as much as I'm a fan of that guy, I don't believe him to be a World Champion. Certainly not coming off of the reign of super-heel Bully Ray.
At 36 years old, Styles is certainly still young enough to make a jump to WWE, but that's an option he needs to seriously be exploring sooner than later. Thankfully, as I said above, he has remained relatively injury free, so if he works smart he will have loads of time left on his clock, but once he passes 40, you'd have to think that WWE's interest will begin to drop severely. So with that window of opportunity closing, this could likely be Styles' best chance to make it to WWE, which is certainly something he should keep in mind when it comes to discussing his salary.
Speaking of salary, of course that enters into things. Any report I've read has said that this contract negotiation is coming down to financials, which makes sense for Styles considering he has a family to consider. Even if he was paid a low salary by WWE standards, I have to imagine that it would still be more than he's making in TNA right now. That's not a knock against TNA so much as it is a simple statement of reality: TNA is a smaller promotion and simply doesn't have the same kind of money that WWE does. If he wants to make big money, WWE is the obvious choice.
Another comment I've seen quite frequently as of late revolves around the potential "dream matches" that Styles could have if he jumped ship. Names like Punk, Bryan, Ziggler, Cena, and even Rollins and Ambrose have been brought up as "dream opponents" for AJ Styles, and I have a hard time disagreeing with that. There is a lot that Styles could do in WWE against this different set of opponents. The key to his debut being successful, however, would entirely rest in the hands of the writing team, and how willing Vince McMahon is to acknowledge Styles' success outside of WWE. Done properly, Styles could carve a very nice spot for himself on the WWE roster and finish off his career in the "big leagues". That's not to say that he would fail miserably without his past accomplishments being acknowledged, as I think his skills would speak for themselves, but it certainly would help to make him a hit a lot sooner.
The video quality isn't great, but the match is still absolutely worth a watch
Of course all of this speculation and guesswork is moot if WWE has no interest in signing him.
While it's easy for us as fans to sit here and say that WWE would be stupid to NOT sign him if they had the chance, we don't know how the company works. Maybe, should this be the case, they have sound reasoning behind not wanting to bring him onboard. Maybe it's because he's a lifelong TNA guy, maybe it's because he's too old for them, maybe it's because they don't think he'll fit in the product…the list goes on. It's happened before with wrestlers that the fans swore would be signed (Samoa Joe anybody?) and it will happen again.
Personally I believe that WWE should absolutely look into signing AJ Styles to a contract if he becomes a true free agent. Styles is a phenomenal wrestler with loads of untapped potential, which seems like an odd thing to say about an 18-time champion, and I think it's going to remain largely untapped unless he makes the jump. I know it has to be hard for WWE to accept that TNA built something as solid as AJ Styles, but from a business standpoint it seems to be a good move.
So that brings me to the final question, Should AJ Styles leave TNA?
As a fan, I want to scream "NO!" because I've enjoyed watching Styles evolve throughout his tenure with the company. Despite the sometimes questionable booking, I held out faith that Styles could come back from it and take his much deserved spot atop the mountain. It made sense to me, given that he's easily the most popular TNA superstar not named Jeff Hardy, why would the company not want to capitalize on that?
But as someone who's been screwed around with by a boss before, largely involving pay, I sympathize with Styles. He's been the company's most loyal employee, sticking with them from the very beginning, and despite all that he's given, TNA is apparently willing to let him walk away instead of bringing some money to the negotiating table. I think that if Styles truly believes that there's any chance of him getting signed to WWE, it's worth taking that chance. He's not going to get an offer from McMahon if he stays on the fence, he has to prove that he's really willing to leave TNA by doing just that. TNA will take Styles back if he doesn't end up getting signed, that's pretty much a given, so why not pursue a potentially better option?
I don't know how much interest, if any, WWE has in signing AJ Styles. I'd imagine he has to be on somebody's radar within the company, but whether or not that translates into him getting signed is a whole other thing.
AJ Styles knows what he is worth, and he shouldn't accept a paycheque that doesn't reflect that. I really hope that TNA smartens up and brings an acceptable offer back to the negotiating table. TNA needs a proper leading man, both in their on-screen product and for outside media appearances. AJ Styles is that guy, plain and simple.
I suppose we'll find out sometime in the next 3 months what's going to happen.
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