The Wrestling Bard 05.16.09: Superstar Highlight: AJ Styles
Welcome to the Wrestling Bard, which is taken an unplanned and somewhat annoying break from its series on wrestling styles, because my computer is being stupid and won’t let me do Youtube. Thems the breaks sometimes. So what I was looking back at some of my older columns and looking for an idea of what to do. Two things hit me: one was the dream cards, which is either I love them or hate them deal, but I don’t feel up to it today. However, I am officially announcing that the next dream card will be on the first week of July. I’ll be posting a notice at the end of all my columns until that date. However, I can’t do this by myself (well, actually I can, but I want your suggestions). So if there’s any match you wish could happen, leave it in the comments section. If I like it, I’ll write it out and give you the credit.
However, that is NOT today’s column. The other thing I found was “Superstar Spotlight”, which I did on Christopher Daniels. It was a blast to look at some of the matches from his career, as I always felt he was an underutilized talent. This week, we are going to look at another guy who may in fact be underutilized, even if he is one of the top superstars in TNA. I’m talking about none other than the Phenomenal AJ Styles!
In case you never read that one, here’s how it goes. I look at five matches from his career with different situations, and different kind of opponents. This is not specifically designed to look at AJ’s “greatest” matches, but at matches that have gone under the radar. There will be play by play, but if you want to skip that, I also have a summary at the end. No start ratings will be given, because this isn’t about that.
Match 1: NWA Championship Match: AJ Styles vs. Raven, TNA Weekly Pay-Per-View (No Date Given)
I’m watching this on Nevermore: The Best of Raven. AJ Styles is the defending champion. This is during Raven’s quest for the NWA that was one of TNA’s greatest storylines. Lots of complicated history behind this, but Raven’s manages to remember and recount all of it on commentary. We get super special ring intros, (well, as special as Jeremy Borash can make them). Raven tries to get in AJ’s head with some trash talk, but AJ is game for that. Raven tries a quick drop toehold, but AJ avoids it and retaliates with a leg kick.
Raven grabs a top wristlock and AJ counters to a hammerlock, and let’s go. AJ grabs a hammerlock, Raven tosses him off, and AJ hits a shoulder lock (smearing Raven’s paint all over his pectoral region). Raven puts him in the corner and pummels him for a bit to end the grappling. Then we get a unique spot where AJ grabs a kick and tries a dragon screw, but Raven sits out on it to counter. Raven points out that most people would call it a botch, but hey, Raven prevented the move from working. Makes ya think. AJ goes after the leg anyway with elbow’s and Mr. Perfects modified knee smash. AJ goes after the legs with kicks. Raven goes outside, but when he goes on the apron, AJ knees him in the gut. AJ goes for a dive, but Raven moves, so AJ slingshots to the apron and jumps right back into the ring.
Raven talks to the fans, but it’s just a ploy to have AJ grab him, and when he does, Raven grabs his feet. AJ kicks him into the guardrail. AJ chops at him before making the cardinal mistake of throwing him into the ring. Raven stomps at AJ (selling the leg in the process), and whips him, but AJ blocks at attempted dropkick with an Indian Deathlock. He snaps back on the legs a few times before added the bridging chinlock (shades of Great Muta), but Raven grabs the ropes. Raven goes to the floor, and AJ tries a plancha and misses, landing on his shoulder. Raven smashes AJ on the guardrail, and throws him back in. Raven hammerlocks AJ and chucks him shoulder-first into the post a couple of times, and then presses the arm with his foot. A hammerlock in the ropes follow, but AJ fights back with punches. AJ goes back to the leg with a takedown and hits an elbow to the leg, but that allows Raven to counter to a jujigatame (cross armbreaker). AJ manages to roll to the ropes, but it was still a brilliant counter. Raven pummels the arm and then hammerlocks him and bends the arm over his own shoulder. Terry Taylor informs us that this is called the Rooster Wing. Okay.
Raven settles for a crossface chickenwing with a bodyscissors, but AJ rolls back to escape and he applies a chinlock. Chris Harris used that same counter two weeks prior (it’s also on the DVD), so Raven quickly counters to a hammerlock and drops knees on the arms. That’s incredible brilliant honestly. Raven gets a Fujiwara Armbar but AJ gets the ropes. Raven tries the CFCW again, but AJ quickly uses elbows to escape. Six clotheslines follow, but Raven blocks at attempted roundhouse and goes right back to the arm with sledges. Raven hits a series of jabs, but AJ counters the discus clotheslines into the side effect for a nearfall. Raven quickly goes to the arm with a pumphandle, but he whips AJ to the ropes and AJ hits a satellite headscissors and follows with a hurracanrana. Raven counters to a pumphandle, but AJ fights with elbow strikes until Raven twists the arm and pulls him down to the mat. Raven poses for the crowd, so the next time he tries an arm wringer, AJ counters and goes for the Styles Clash, but Raven uses the pre-move pose to counter into another Fujiwara. AJ rolls through and grabs a facelock, but Raven rolls through that and goes back to the Fujiwara. AJ rolls to his back and gets the ropes with his feet. Man, that counter sequence was a thing of beauty.
Raven whips AJ but telegraphs a backdrop, and AJ kicks him in the face. AJ goes back to the ropes but Raven hits the drop toehold to send him outside the ring. Raven grabs a chair and throws AJ in the ring, and sets the chair up, but AJ clocks him with a sick enzugiri. Raven gets back to his feet, and has some foreign object in his hand. He doesn’t get a chance to use it as AJ hits a leaping clothesline. It’s a medicine container with powder, and AJ decides to use it on Raven, but gets clocked with a superkick at the same time. A blinded Raven hits his drop toehold into the chair on the referee, and then AJ hits that on Raven. Of course, there’s no ref to make the count. AJ misses a springboard 450° Splash and Raven clocks him with a chair. La Parka *cough* comes out and drills Raven with a DDT and does the Fargo Strut. AJ and Raven get up and AJ hit the Styles Clash, which finishes the match. But SWERVE as La Parka is not Double J, but Chris Harris. These two were feuding and they brawl. James Storm is out followed by a bunch of guys, including the Devil Himself Vince Russo. And end tape.
Match Analysis: As is often the case when watching TNA, you have to remember the match that took place before the ending and not just the ending. This match was a brilliant display of psychology and counter holds. Considering AJ is not known for having good psychology and Raven is not known for his wrestling, that’s impressive. Raven’s focus on the arm dominated the match, but AJ showed some impressive stuff in going after Raven’s leg. The most important thing he did was setting Raven up for the Muta Lock, but snapping the leg repeatedly before applying the chinlock. There were no impressive stunts in this, but it more than makes up for it with subtlety and strategy. I daresay that past NWA Champions would have been proud of this match before the booking kicked in. In actuality, the booking wasn’t that bad, and made sense in the context of the story. The problem is that this sort of thing is done so often and is often so overcomplicated that when it’s done well, it doesn’t come off as well.
Match 2: AJ Styles vs. Chris Sabin (TNA Impact, 11.26.05)
Skipping a few years, we go to this match from Impact. AJ Styles is coming off of a successful X-Division title defense at Genesis against Petey Williams. Chris Sabin is coming off an impressive showing in an eight-man elimination match from the same show, where he lost to Samoa Joe and Chris Daniels. After that match, Joe snapped on Daniels, bloodying him up and putting him out of action for a month. AJ took exception to this, saying the X-Division was about respect, and to prove it, he decided to have this match with Sabin, so here we are. Of course, even though is in the spirit of competition, Sabin is going to try and get a victory over the X-Division Champion, since that would immediately put him in title contention.
They lock up and AJ gets a go behind. Sabin counters to his own waistlock, and AJ counters that with a reverse armdrag into a reverse armbar, but Sabin counters to a headscissors. AJ knips out of that hold and they stand off. They grapple again and Sabin pushes AJ to the corner, but gives him a clean break, showing his intentions but staying sportsmanlike. Sabin grabs an arm wringer leading to some gymnastics counters and another standoff. We cut to commercial, and when we come back, Sabin has AJ in a headlock. AJ shoves him to the ropes and leapfrogs him, setting Sabin up for his patented dropkick. Sabin realizes that and cartwheels over AJ when he sprawls and catches him a hurracanrana. Sabin hits the ropes and AJ NAILS him with a dropkick that ranks as one of the best I’ve ever seen. AJ poses and thus only gets 2.
AJ hits a forearm, whips Sabin and hits a backbreaker for another 2. AJ follows that with the Muta Lock to work the back, and rolls it over. Sabin manages to escape and gets the ropes. Sabin punches AJ in the gut, but AJ stops that with an elbow to the back of the head. AJ whips Sabin into the ropes, but runs into a spinning kick to the gut. Sabin leaps off the top rope and lands in position for a powerbomb, tries the running powerbomb, but AJ counters with a sunset flip, and Sabin rolls out of that with a dropkick to the mush for 2. Sabin goes for a German Suplex, but AJ widens his base, so Sabin clubs at his back and tries the suplex again but AJ lands on his feet. AJ ducks a clothesline and grabs a waistlock, but Sabin counters to his own waistlock and gets a schoolboy for 1, AJ tries to roll out to escape but Sabin catches AJ’s leg with his leg, rolls through the escape attempt and applies a Regal Stretch.
Sabin lifts AJ and they trade forearms, until AJ finishes it off with a knee to the face. AJ fits a few more forearms but Sabin reverses a whip, telegraphs a backdrop and AJ hits an elbow to the back and sets up for the Styles Clash, but Sabin pulls himself up and escapes to land on his feet. They trade chops until Sabin ducks, and try simultaneous enzugiris. AJ is up first but eats a jawbreaker and whips AJ to the corner. AJ tries a headscissors, but Sabin tosses him to the apron. AJ hits a forearm and then slingshots back in and hits the Stylin’ DDT, which came off really well, but only gets 2. Samoa Joe comes out to observe the match, and the distraction allows Sabin to catch AJ with an enzugiri. Sabin whips AJ to the corner, AJ tries to leap over, but Sabin catches him and hits a running powerbomb. It gets a close 2 and Sabin tries to follow up with the Cradle Shock, but AJ lands behind him and sets him up for the Clash. Sabin drops down, so AJ hits a few forearms to the back, but then Sabin backdrops him. Unexpectedly, AJ holds onto the gutwrench and bounces off the top rope back into position, and then hits the Clash for the finish. AJ stares Samoa Joe down on the ramp, which leads to the next match.
Match Analysis: This match is everything an X-Division match should be. You have two athletes competing fiercely, showcasing their talents, and hitting cool spots, but not making the match only about those spots. There was a story here, and it was Sabin trying to get a clean win over AJ after AJ issued the challenge “in the spirit of competition”. Since this match is AJ’s message to Joe, Sabin can send a message to both men by beating AJ, so he goes full throttle, but never breaks the rules to do so. AJ did a great job of playing the de facto pseudo-heel, keeping his offense more high-impact than high flying. Some subtle things, such as the dropkick sequence and doing stereo enzugiris instead of the clichéd dropkicks, serve to further separate this from your typical “let’s go hit some spots and pop the crowd” X-Division match.
Match 3: X-Division Championship: AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe (Turning Point 2005)
I was debating whether or not to review this match, since it is one of AJ’s greatest matches and a good portion of the internet loves it, including myself. However, I think it fits the bill, since it often gets overlooked in favor of the Unbreakable Three Way. I explained the story going into this match in the last match, so I don’t think I need to explain context any more than AJ is trying to beat some respect into the undefeated uber-monster Samoa Joe. That’s apparent as AJ charges before the bell and lays into Joe with elbows, knees, and corner thrusts. AJ hits a suplex and he is pumped. AJ hits a few kicks, snapmares Joe and hits a kick to the back of the head and a knee to the face. AJ stomps Joe’s head into the mat, but when he whips Joe, Joe catches him with a Kawada-style short kick. Joe charges, leapfrog, sprawl, dropkick from Styles. AJ hits some more forearms, but Joe hits a chop that puts AJ in the ropes. Joe tries to hit the charging kick that he hit at Sacrifice, but AJ moves out of the way and they staredown.
AJ tells Joe to bring it, and Joe slaps him before using European Uppercuts. AJ tries to fight with elbows, but Joe stops that with stiff kicks that send him to the apron. AJ recovers and Joe hits that kick this time.
Joe applies a sick reverse chinlock, but AJ fights out with elbows. AJ tries to whip Joe to the corner, but Joe reverses and hits the corner knee. Joe does the facewash, but AJ grabs the foot and pummels Joe. He tries a discus clothesline and eats a slap, and Joe shoves him back into the corner and hits the big kick, but with more force than usual. Joe toys with AJ using light kicks, but AJ reverses another whip, charges and Joe tosses him to the apron. AJ lands on his feet and leaps up to hit an enzugiri. Unfortunately, he tries a springboard dropkick and gets caught with a powerbomb for 2. Joe tries the STF but AJ fights it off, only to get caught in a Boston Crab. Joe switches it to his traditional modified Crab, but AJ gets a rather simple counter by kicking Joe in the face. Joe finally succeeds with an Irish Whip to the corner, but when he tries the corner knee again AJ tosses him to the floor, and hits the Fosbury Flop, digging into his bag of tricks to beat Joe.
The “This is Awesome!” chants start as AJ kicks at AJ, but Joe encourages him to keep going. AJ starts to dodge the kicks but Joe uses the angles to corner him beats him down. AJ dodges a punch and hits a pair of kicks that rock Joe. AJ has a busted lip, and he puts Joe on the top rope, and pulls him back down, and POWERBOMBS JOE! The powerbomb still only gets 2, and AJ kicks Joe in the face and hits a few punches, but there’s not much behind them. He charges into a lariat that sends him 360°, and Joe hooks the leg, but AJ kicks out at one. The facial expressions tell the story: Joe’s is one of shock, and AJ’s is one of determination. Joe hits a sick Tiger Bomb/Driver, but AJ kicks out at one again. See, no-selling has a purpose. Joe misses a clothesline, but tries the Kokina Clutch. AJ avoids it, so Joe hits some headbutts and a stiff slap to the back, and AJ DRILLS him with the Pelé! That was NOICE!
AJ puts Joe up top, gives the more universal FU sign, and tries a Muscle Buster, but Joe fights out of that. AJ fights back up, but takes a moment to roar for the crowd, and Joe goes for a Muscle Buster off the second rope, but AJ quickly escapes it and pulls Joe down to the mat with a lot of force, STYLES CLASH! 1…2…NO! AND IT MEANS SOMETHING, because the move is protected. AJ goes up top, but Joe shoves the referee into the ropes. AJ manages to keep his balance long enough to jump behind Joe, and he tries an O’Connor Roll, gets 2, but Joe transitions it into the Kokina Clutch! AJ tapped out to this at their Sacrifice move, and he refuses to tap this time, but he does pass out, and Joe wins the X-Division championship.
Match Analysis: An awesome match that played off of their first televised match. The intensity from both men, but especially AJ, was off the charts. The actual moves were very pretty much the same, but what was different was the facial expressions and body language. There’s more to psychology than working and selling body parts. Psychology is selling the story of a match, and these guys told the story of respect very well. The only thing that really drags the match down is that there were some spots where they were expecting the next move to come quicker, and a few of the key moments (the Stylin’ DDT, the Powerslam, and especially the Fosbury Flop) were notably sloppy. However, stuff like that happens, and it’s the thought that goes into the match that matters most. It’s that kind of effort that turns **** matches into ***** classics.
Match 4: X-Division Championship Match: AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels (Against All Odds 2006)
Speaking of matches that get overshadowed by the Unbreakable Triple Threat, here’s another one, although for more obvious reasons. Joe is champ here. Oh boy, this should be fun to recap. God bless the pause button. A three-way staredown starts off, Joe takes a cheap kick at AJ and grabs a headlock, and kicks Daniels as well. AJ shoves Joe into a shoulder block on Daniels, and hits a stiff right hand. AJ goes after Joe but Daniels pulls him aside for some jabs, whips him to the ropes and hits a leg lariat. Joe hits a knee to the gut, hits a snapmare and the kneedrop combo, but AJ scoops him and hits a front slam and a knee drop. Daniels chops at AJ and kicks Joe, grabs a headlock, but Joe shoves him off. AJ leaps over Daniels and sprawls under him, AJ ducks under a clothesline from Joe and AJ hits Joe with a dropkick. One for Daniels follows and puts AJ in control. AJ whips Daniels and hits a backbreaker before going after Joe, but an attempted suplex leads to Joe hitting a sick front suplex. Joe kicks AJ and whips him to the corner, but Daniels catches him with an elbow from the apron. Daniels slingshots in and hits more elbows, but Joe reverses a whip, sending Daniels towards AJ. Daniels monkey flips AJ towards Joe, and AJ tries a rana, but Joe counters to a Boston Crab. If you’ve seen the Unbreakable match (and you should), you’ll know why that was great psychology.
Daniels stops the move with a kick to the back, hits some strikes and whips Joe to the ropes, but Joe stays put. Daniels charges with a knee that sends him to the floor. Daniels teases a dive, but AJ hits him with a reverse elbow. Joe avoids a plancha but AJ lands on the apron and kicks Joe in the head. AJ tries what looks to be a quebrada, but Daniels hits him with a forearm. Daniels goes for a dive on AJ now, but Joe creams him with a palm strike. Give the guy a break! AJ whips Joe into the guardrail, heads back inside and hits a stall suplex on Daniels. AJ applies the Muta Lock and flips over, but Joe kicks him in the gut and puts AJ in the STF. Daniels gets in and puts Joe in the Koji Clutch, but Joe keeps the hold on AJ. They break it up and Daniels slams AJ, slingshots to the apron and hits a slingshot elbow. He tries the high knee on Joe again but Joe moves and drills him with chops. Joe hits the corner knee and the facewash w/final kick. Daniels goes to the floor, AJ reverses a whip by Joe, but Joe counters a leaping lariat with the STJoe. Daniels tries to suplex Joe from the apron to no avail, and eats a slap. AJ charges Joe but Joe ducks, so AJ hits the tope con hilo on Daniels. Joe decides to follow that up with a double elbow suicida!
Joe throws Daniels back in, and toys with AJ before throwing him in as well. AJ hits a smart move with a spinning leg sweep that drops Joe on the apron, and Daniels kicks Joe to the floor with a dose of his own medicine. AJ gets a couple of nearfalls off of an O’Connor Roll and a wheelbarrow rollup, and fights out of a side slam with elbows to the back. Daniels tries to fight, but Joe comes up and grabs a waistlock, and AJ discus clothesline Daniels into a SICK side suplex by Joe! Joe follows that up with a flying knee to AJ, but covers Daniels and only gets 2. Joe hits the inverted atomic drop/single leg dropkick/senton combo, but again only gets 2 on Daniels. Joe kicks AJ in the face, but Daniels hits a headbutt to the gut, and follows with gut punches, but charges into a powerslam. Joe only gets 2 but turns the kickout into a cross armbreaker. Daniels locks his hands and grabs the ropes with his feet. Joe chops and kicks at Daniels, but AJ prevents a Muscle Buster, ducks a palm strike and hits an enzugiri. Daniels and AJ trade strikes, but Daniels sets up for the side slam, and Joe hits the single leg dropkick to send AJ into the mat with Daniels’ STO. Daniels quickly applies the Koji Clutch, but Joe breaks it up with a kneedrop. Joe toys with Daniels, and Daniels tries a German but has no success. Joe breaks it off but runs into a full nelson, and then Daniels hits the German Suplex,
Daniels hits the side slam and connects with the Best Moonsault Ever, but only gets 2. Daniels shouts out “Angel’s Wings” and goes for it! Sure, just shout out your intentions to BOTH of your opponents. Of course, Daniels can’t lift Joe, and AJ sunset flips Daniels into a Styles Clash attempt, but Daniels kicks him off. AJ gets a crucifix and tries the Clash again, but Daniels powers out to land on his feet and hits a STIFF forearm. He turns around into a lariat that gets 2 for Joe. Joe sets AJ up for the Muscle Buster, but AJ rolls out and clothesline Daniels. AJ hits a clothesline on Joe, a spinning crescent kick to Daniels, and the Pelé on Joe, and then hits the pumphandle gutbuster on Daniels, but only gets 2. AJ follows with the torture rack, turns it into the rack bomb, but Joe breaks up the pin. Joe whips AJ to the ropes but eats the Stylin’ DDT. AJ reverses a whip from Daniels and hits a corner clothesline, charges Joe but gets dumped to the apron. Joe charges to Daniels, who lifts him up in a fireman’s carry. AJ hits the Superman Forearm to Joe, and Daniels drops him with the Death Valley Driver. AJ and Daniels break up each others pins, and AJ hip block takeovers Daniels to the outside. AJ goes up top, but Daniels grabs his foot. Joe gets up and Sparta kicks Daniels to the floor as a receipt, and then hits the Muscle Buster on AJ for the pin.
Match Analysis: This match often gets maligned for “not living up to the original”. Sequels rarely do, but in this case, you have to look at the circumstances. The first match was kind of thrown together, and while there were minor issues, it was mostly about competition and seeing who the best is. In this match, AJ and Daniels still have their competitive rivalry, but they are truly feuding with Joe. You can see it clearly as both men go after Joe in preference to each other, which is kind of strange considering Joe would be harder to beat. Joe very nearly got caught with the DVD, but circumstances prevented a loss. That’s how you book an undefeated streak once it gets past six months. You want people to believe that the streak could end, but keep it from happening. It was kind of strange, because AJ was almost the third wheel in this match, since Daniels had a much more personal issue with Joe, but his inclusion sure kept the match going at a frantic pace.
Match 5: AJ Styles & Matt Sydal vs. Austin Aries & Jack Evans (Supercard of Honor)
I’m sure one person is going to read this and go “Ring of Honor doesn’t matter”. I disagree. AJ is one of TNA’s most popular superstars, Aries had two very successful runs in TNA and prefers ROH, and Matt Sydal is currently tearing the house down almost every week in ECW as Evan Bourne. But yes, Jack Evans deserves to stay in the indys. Anyway, this is kind of an interesting feud. Sydal is part of Generation Next with Aries, Evans, and Roderick Strong, but AJ was impressed with his talent and asked him to be his partner to challenge for the ROH Tag Team Titles. One small problem: Aries and Strong are the champs. Strong had a World Title Shot against Bryan Danielson tonight that went fifty-seven minutes, so Evans is filling in. The Code of Honor is followed, although the handshake between Aries and Styles is a bit more intense. And just so you know, the action is way to fast and furious in this one, so you won’t get move by move play by play.
Evans break dances before he and Sydal wrestle (no, really) for a bit, but it soon turns into a long crisscross sequence where neither man takes a blow until Sydal hits a hard dropkick. Sydal tags in AJ, who shoves Evans towards Aries because he wants to fight Aries. A loud “Aries” chant starts, but all that happens between them is Aries powers AJ to a corner and giving a clean break. Sydal asks for a tag and Aries toys with Sydal before getting caught with a Japanese Armdrag. Sydal follow that up with a shoulder block but Aries returns both moves before grabbing a headlock. Sydal counters with a headscissors, and blocks Aries attempt at a dropkick, so Aries turns around and puts Sydal in a headscissors, only for Sydal to hit Aries’ dropkick. Aries quickly sets it up with a headlock, but fakes the dropkick and hits a punt to the chest. Aries then tosses Sydal to AJ’s corner and tells AJ to tag in, which leads to the most intense lock-up in history. Seriously, I though we were going to get to see spontaneous combustion right there.
Aries hits a forearm, and that leads to a series of doges before AJ returns the forearms. AJ grabs a headlock before tagging Sydal in, throws Aries to the ropes and Sydal gets the feint headscissors. Sydal tags back out and slams Aries to set up for a kneedrop from Styles. AJ returns the favor, but Sydal plays to the crowd and eats knees off of his standing moonsault. Aries tags Evans in, and hits a dropkick before tagging out. Sydal blocks a suplex but eats a fisherman’s neckbreaker. Aries tags out and Evans slams Sydal before hitting the Ong Bak Special (double kneedrop to the gut, with knees, not shins), but only gets 2. Aries tags back in and Generation Next hit a double shoulder block, and Aries assists Evans in hitting a phoenix splash before hitting the pendulum elbow, but AJ breaks up the cover. Aries goes back out and Evans snapmares Sydal before hitting a kick to the back and a running kick to the chest. That only gets 2, and Sydal counters a vertical suplex with a German Suplex that drops Evans on his head and gets the hot tag.
AJ sends a message by charging across the ring to hit a pair of forearm on Aries before going after Evans. Evans tries to capitalize, but AJ gets a military press before driving him to the mat. Hard. Aries breaks up the cover, so Styles hits a stalling suplex for another 2. A sick backbreaker gets another nearfall, and AJ tags to Sydal to hit the backbreaker, legdrop combination. Aries breaks up that pin as well, and Sydal eats a handspring back elbow before hitting Evans in midair with a wheel kick off of a springboard. Styles puts Evans in the Muta Lock, but Aries kicks AJ in the back. AJ keeps it on though and hits a neckbreaker. Sydal and AJ follow that up with a double team of AJ’s patented suplex into a neckbreaker, and Sydal puts Evans in the bow and arrow. Sydal tags AJ back in, but Evans weaves through until he tags Aries, who destroys both opponents with elbows. AJ eats the corner dropkick, and Sydal receives a steamroller slam. Surprisingly, Aries tags Evans in to hit a frog splash, but AJ breaks that up. AJ counters the brainbuster with a suplex to the ring rope, but eats a cartwheel kick from Evans.
Evans tries a rana, but AJ holds him up so that Sydal can hit an enzugiri. Sydal sets up for the Styles Clash, and Aries takes advantage and hits the Crucifix Bomb. Sydal hits the Here It Is Driver, and then Evans hits a corkscrew roundhouse that busts Sydal open. Evans sets Sydal up top, and dropsaults AJ to the floor. Evans lets Aries handle Sydal, and tries the Sasuke Special, but AJ catches him and hits the Styles Clash ON THE FLOOR! That distracts Aries, who hits the Heat Seeking Missile after AJ rolls Evans in, and Sydal hits the Shooting Star Press (as perfect as ever) on Evans to get the ring.
Match Analysis: I’ll admit, this AJ Styles is probably the third wheel in this match. But I chose it specifically because Styles and Bourne is probably a dream team to those who are unaware of Ring of Honor, and because it puts AJ in a role he isn’t in very often: the mentor. AJ did show some incredible intensity when he was in the ring with Aries, but for the most part, he was there to let Sydal show his stuff, and help him when he needed. Sydal more than rose to the occasion, and perhaps there was no better example than the headscissor sequence with Aries. Evans was there to eat the pin, but he actually shined as well, toning down his usual spotty nature (and by that I mean Rey Mysterio looks tame) so that he could play more of a heel, but also hitting an obligatory outstanding move. This isn’t a classic, but it’s an important match in Sydal’s career, and probably a good look as to how AJ will be wrestling in the future. Still, AJ basically handfed Sydal the victory after the brutal Styles Clash on the floor.