Looking back at the best matches of the year, one name keeps popping up AJ Styles. He’s been in the WWE less than two years, but he’s already made a tremendous impact. He’s been WWE’s MVP since his debut, and he stole the show at this year’s Royal Rumble. While Cena and Styles fought a few times, their match at the Rumble was their finest one.
#4 WWE Championship Match: AJ Styles vs. John Cena (Royal Rumble)
In my write up for match #5 on this list, I mentioned I don’t like when matches rely on finisher kick outs. I stand by that point, but there are times when it works, and this match was one of them. Velveteen Dream and Aleister Black don’t have the name value of a Cena or Styles, and their finishers are too new not to be protected. On the other hand, Cena and Styles have been around forever. Everyone kicks out of the AA, and the first time Styles hit the Styles Clash in WWE, Jericho kicked out of it.
While false finishes were one part of this match, both guys worked their ass off and gave us a match of the year candidate in January. The match went over 24 minutes but kept a brisk pace, mostly thanks to Styles insane cardio conditioning. Styles can keep you invested in the beginning/middle parts of matches then kick it into high gear for the ending. Cena kept up to, and even though ‘big match John’ is an annoying nickname, it’s true. Cena almost always rises to the occasion in big time matches, and he had the perfect foil in AJ Styles. The historical significance of the match was huge too, as Cena’s win tied him with Ric Flair for the most world title wins in history.
When AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE championship was announced last week, I speculated that WWE could be pulling the trigger on a potential dream match. If you’re a wrestling fan and DON’T want to see Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles, I’m not sure what to tell you. Styles is the best wrestler in the WWE at the moment, and Lesnar is still a beast capable of big time matches (Great Balls of Fire & Summerslam are two recent examples).
Well, guest what? WWE actually did it and had Styles defeat Mahal last night on Smackdown Live, and it’s possible he’ll go on to face Lesnar at Survivor Series. It’d be odd to have Lesnar still face Mahal if Jinder is no longer champion, even though I think Styles’ title run will be short lived. Lesnar vs. Styles is the money matchup at Survivor Series, and you can have Mahal win back the title during WWE’s tour of India in early December. Win-win.
Side note – I hope WWE was paying attention to the crowd reaction during this match. There is no way in hell a Jinder Mahal match should garner that type of reaction, but AJ Styles is a goddamn miracle worker. I know it’s a wacky theory, but giving us happy moments with guys we enjoy watching might be a recipe for success.