Royal Rumble 2016 saw a major surprise happen when the number 3 entrant was announced as the Phenomenal One AJ Styles. The crowd goes wild as he makes his entrance on the stage as the Phenomenal One had finally arrived in WWE. Styles would last just under half an hour in the Rumble and would give a great showing. His performance would just be a glimmer into the year AJ Styles would have as he would take WWE by storm.
His first appearance would be key to his success in WWE. The man from the independents had done it all, from conquering TNA/Impact wrestling to Japan. All over the world AJ Styles has done it all but the question reminded could he do it in WWE. With his initial reaction from the Rumble fans, it was obvious the WWE fan base were excited to see what the Phenomenal One could do.
Styles’ first storyline would be involved in was WWE trusted hand in Chris Jericho. The night after the Rumble, Styles would face Jericho one on one in his debut match on Monday Night RAW. AJ Styles would defeat Chris Jericho but a week later on SmackDown, Jericho would gain revenge with a win against Styles. The Phenomenal One would then challenge Jericho to a third match at FastLane which Y2J would accept.
Their match at Fastlane was a great showcase for Styles and after some near falls he would make Chris Jericho submit to the calf crusher. After their matches, both competitors had mutual respect for each other and formed a tag team called Y2AJ. Defeating The New Day twice in non-title matches, Y2AJ had an opportunity at the WWE Tag Team Championships against The New Day. But they were unsuccessful after Chris Jericho turned on Styles hitting him with three Codebreakers.
The self-proclaimed best in the world would tell the crowd it was their fault for his attack as he was sick of the crowd chanting for Styles instead of him. This would lead to a match at Wrestlemania where Chris Jericho would pick up the victory over AJ Styles in an entertaining match.
The feud and matches against Jericho showed that Styles’s more than capable of working the WWE style match and that he was a favourite with the audience. If anyone higher up in WWE thought that Styles might have needed to visit NXT before his run on the main roster, their doubt was but to bed with his run against Jericho. It showed that he was ready and belonged on Monday nights.
Such was his acceptance that after only 3 months with the company he was moved into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture. Winning the right to face champion Roman Reigns the night after Wrestlemania, their feud would include Reigns’s cousins after Styles’ buddies Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson would debut. Their match at Payback would have a few false finishes where the feud of Shane and Stephanie McMahon would entwine with the match, all leading to a match the following month at Extreme Rules.
Their championship match fought under Extreme Rules would be a cracker but it would be Reigns who would come out on top, retaining his championship but the feud would cement AJ Styles position. He had been with the company approaching 6 months, a main-event player and one who could consistently deliver entertaining matches. His next feud showed how highly WWE thought of him as he was propelled into a series of matches against John Cena.
They would first clash at Money in the Bank where AJ Styles would get another endorsement of how highly rated he was by officials as he would defeat Cena. But unfortunately, Cena would be protected as the finish would come with interference from Gallows and Anderson. A stronger finish for the match would have been if Styles had gone over clean, this wouldn’t have hurt Cena but elevated Styles to a higher level again.
But not many wrestlers have debuted and over their first 6 months had has many high profile matches as Styles had. The first 6 months of his WWE career had shown that AJ Styles was in fact phenomenal.
His feud with Cena would continue and at Battleground, he would team with his fellow club members and face the team of Cena, Enzo Amore and Big Cass. Cena would pin Styles in the match after hitting his attitude adjustment from the top rope. Their series of matches all square, Cena and Styles were both drafted to SmackDown in the WWE draft, leaving their other respective members of the teams from Battleground on Raw.
Styles would challenge Cena to a match at Summerslam which Cena would accept. Styles would try and attack Cena but Cena would gain advantage and hit an Attitude Adjustment through the announcer’s table. Their match at Summerslam would be a classic back and forth, high energy match which would be voted as the match of the year by WWE fans. AJ Styles would emerge victorious, finally setting the record straight that he was the face that ran the place.
A major win over John Cena at the second biggest show of the year really showed that AJ Styles had become bigger again since WrestleMania. He was rising up the card of WWE at the same pace as Brock Lesnar did. You could argue that Styles was higher up the card quicker than Lesnar was, but Styles does have a lot more in-ring experience but the pressure was higher on the Georgia native. The growth and trust showed in Styles was immense and his reward was to come.
The next month would be a SmackDown-only pay-per-view were the main event would be WWE Champion Dean Ambrose defending his championship against AJ Styles himself. After his victory at Summerslam, Styles was seen at the top of his game and the guy on SmackDown. This event proved that without a shadow of a doubt he was the top guy as The Phenomenal One defeated Ambrose to win the WWE Championship for the first time.
In 7 short months, AJ Styles had gone from debuting at the Royal Rumble to being crowned WWE Champion. Styles would move into a programme with Dean Ambrose and would successfully defend his championship first in a triple threat at No Mercy against Ambrose and John Cena. Their feud then rolled into Survivor Series where both Ambrose and Styles would be on team SmackDown in their match against Team RAW. But tension would rise and Ambrose and Styles would fight throughout the match ending with Ambrose helping his former Shield brothers from RAW in hitting a triple Powerbomb through the announce table.
James Ellsworth would get in the mix of Styles his feud with the lunatic fringe. James Ellsworth was a much smaller wrestler that Styles and Ambrose and was portrayed as far inferior to his counterparts. Ambrose would help Ellsworth win a WWE contract by beating Styles. In fact, with the aid of Dean Ambrose, James Ellsworth would earn three victories over AJ Styles. Shane McMahon would set a match at the TLC event where Styles would have to defend his championship against Ambrose in a table, ladders and chairs match.
Their match at TLC was an excellent encounter with some great spots including an elbow drop of a ladder through the announcer’s table, a 450 splash from Styles off a ladder set up in the ring through some tables on the outside. The finish would come when Ambrose would be climbing the ladder to retrieve the championship but James Ellsworth would push the ladder, forcing Ambrose to fall through some tables set up on the outside again. Styles would get up and retrieve his championship to retain.
In the aftermath, Ellsworth would state that it was him that wanted to be the one to defeat Styles, not Ambrose. James Ellsworth would get his opportunity at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship but would lose in under a minute. As Christmas approached, AJ Styles was number one in the company. He had been champion for almost 4 months and defending it in a highly entertaining feud with Dean Ambrose. He was finally where he belonged as the number one guy in the biggest wrestling company in the world.
On the road to the Royal Rumble, Styles would retain his championship in a Triple Threat against Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler. His next opponent would return to SmackDown the very same evening and challenge the winner, With Styles retaining, a rematch was set for the Royal Rumble. A momentous year for Styles would see him face probably the biggest foe of his first year in WWE for the championship, John Cena, who would be looking to equal Ric Flair world championship reign.
At the Royal Rumble, John Cena would pin AJ Styles in another amazing display from both and Cena would equal the record of championship wins.
When looking back at AJ Styles is the first year within the company, it’s hard to imagine someone having a better year. The reception for Styles on his first night was fitting for the megastar that he is. But it wasn’t easy for him, he arrived with huge pressure that he needed to deliver, prove that he was good enough and a big enough star that he would skip straight over NXT. His first year ranks up there with Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar in the fact that he accomplished so much in his debut year with WWE.
His performances in the ring elevated him further and won the championship 7 months in. In every pay-per-view event, Styles had a major match. If he wasn’t wrestling for the world championship, he was in high profile matches against Chris Jericho and John Cena. His first year with WWE was nothing short of phenomenal.