A.J. Styles vs. Chris Jericho
February 9, 2016
Moda Center (Portland)
It is sort of shocking that WWE’s best feud of 2016 has involved the 45 year old, semi-retired Chris Jericho and the 38-year old A.J. Styles who is just a few weeks into his first WWE run.
Of course, much of the success of their feud is owed to the Miz, who has been a wonderful heel catalyst in what is (for now) an all babyface rivalry. The Miz has been the straw the stirs the drink (the Miana!) . He is also arguably WWE’s best pure heel at the moment. The rivalry has developed at a steady and logical pace which is of course rare for WWE in 2016. The story feels like it is going somewhere and it feels as if they are getting there naturally. That might not be a lot, but for current WWE it is.
The matches – for the most part – have been solid but nothing special, which is not nearly as unexpected of a development.
Jericho gained a reputation for being an outstanding worker by being just solid enough, just flashy enough, and in the ring with quality opponents on enough occasions in order to give off the impression of greatness. In this match, he didn’t blow anything outright. Jericho worked slow-ish submission reversal spots (a favorite of his going way back) while peppering in his moderate high spots (lionsault, code breaker) along the way. He was in the ring with the wrestler who might have been the best in the world in 2015. The match was sort of a snapshot of Jericho’s entire career if you are looking for a hyperbolic take.
Another Jericho staple has been his ability to have good or very good matches with quality wrestlers, but never great matches. Shawn Michaels might have wrestled his best matches with Jericho (and even that is not cut-and-dry) but I am hard pressed to think of anyone else who did. Styles is a great wrestler on a heck of a roll, but against Jericho all that meant was another good-not-great bout. Obviously, a chunk of that has to do with WWE bastardizing Styles in some ways. At the same time, Styles should be having significantly better matches with a supposedly great worker like Jericho than he is having with the Miz. That has not exactly been the case thus far.
This match – the second in their series – has received some hype as an excellent television match. It was good, but ultimately I thought it was empty and unremarkable. I’ve felt that way about a lot of Chris Jericho matches over the years. They did a lot of stuff that good workers supposedly do. They exchanged submissions in a Benoit/Angle like fashion (although slower). They went long. They rolled out a litany of near falls. But not once did the match feel like a truly great match. There was nothing exceptional about it.
The ending was also a bit clunky. Some have moaned about Jericho winning but the bigger deal was that the finish felt rushed and fell flat. There is nothing wrong with Styles trading wins with Jericho before taking the series (assuming that is where this is heading), but the ending came off poorly. I think the idea was for Jericho to “steal” a victory. Instead it just came off like Styles was had by some weak looking offense. I am sort of surprised they didn’t bother trying to edit the finish in some way to hide the flatness of it. I don’t know – maybe someone thought it looked fine.
Solid TV match – particularly for Smackdown – but great this was not.
Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. A.J. Styles
5 Star Wrestling
January 14, 2016
A.J. Styles © vs. Zack Sabre Jr. for the British Heavyweight Championship
Revolution Pro Wrestling
January 16, 2016
It is a romantic notion to think that all wrestler debuts or exits carry some greaterinsight into how the next stage of their career is going to play out or serve a summation of the stage they are leaving behind. The truth is that most of the time these are just matches and most of the time, the first impressions or last impressions are far from permanent.
The most poignant statement I can make about A.J. Styles’ final match as an independent before entering WWE is that this was another high level showing in a two year run chalk full of high level A.J. Style performances. Styles entered the independent scene in early 2014 as the best independent wrestler in the U.S. or Europe and he left the same way. I wrote back in January 2014 that Styles had perfected the circa-2004 U.S. indie style match. Two years later, I am sticking by that. Styles and Sabre Jr. wrestled a match in London in 2016 that contained many of the positive elements of good 2000’s-era US indie matches while not succumbing to many of the modern US indie wrestling pit falls.
If you have seen an A.J. Styles match in the past two years, then you have more-or-less seen this match as well. Styles and Sabre Jr. did A.J.’s go-to brand of mat work that consists of some fast amateur style riding and go behinds. The match was reversal heavy both while in the working-holds stage and later on as the action took on a higher impact approach. There was almost no down time and the performances by both wrestlers were impressive from a purely athletic standpoint.
If someone was on the lookout for a headliner grabber, he or she could claim that Styles – with his WWE debut imminent at this point – held back a bit. He certainly did not take any crazy bumps and he left his riskier offense at home. However, that claim would be a stretch in my opinion. Styles has wrestled many matches over the past two years without truly high risk moves or dangerous bumps. He bumped hard for all of Sabre Jr.’s offense and went about the match at his usual brisk pace. The only evidence that he was holding back in any significant way is the negative evidence of not taking big risks, but that is not an essential part of his game anyway these days.
Styles is a good opponent for Sabre Jr. The way he took and sold Sabre’s usual arm-based offense lent credibility to it. One of my more significant issues with ZSJ is that he will sometimes venture out of his sweet spot (hold/counter hold wrestling) into Japanese-influenced striking or US indie influenced high impact offense, none of which he is all that adept at. To the credit of both wrestler’s they largely worked to Sabre Jr.’s strengths and the match was better off for it.
The ending was the highlight for me. With Styles on his way out, the British Heavyweight championship had to come off of him which most in the building probably assumed. Rather than get cute with the ending or do some sort of swerve where A.J. temporarily retains the title, Sabre Jr. went over clean as can be via submission. They built drama for the finish the standard A.J. way with a lengthy (more than a minute) struggle before Sabre Jr. fully locked on the hold that would win him the title. The finish was both visually appealing and dramatic without having to resort to gimmicks.
With that, Styles moves onto WWE where I suspect we will get much of the same for him even if it takes a little adjustment period. He is one of those guys – like a Daniel Bryan – who has rose to the top no matter where he has worked. WWE has been in desperate need for a workhorse since Bryan went out and that only intensified when his replacement in that role (Seth Rollins) also went down. It would surprise me if Styles is not wrestling the same type of matches he has wrestled on the indies the past two years in short order as soon as WWE recognizes the value he can provide by doing so.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. A.J. Styles
New Japan Pro Wrestling
January 4, 2016