WWE dropped the ball with one of the biggest stars on Monday Night Raw and then decided to send him to SmackDown, and that had major ramifications across the red brand.
Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t WrestlingNews.co) pointed out that AJ Styles’ run on Raw fell well short of accomplishing its original goal, saying, “AJ was there to make new babyfaces, that was what he was there for. How many new babyfaces did he make? None. He didn’t even lose on the way out. Well, he lost to The Undertaker…but that does nobody any good.”
After becoming “The Face That Runs the Place” on SmackDown, where he was arguably the top star on the blue brand from 2016 to 2019, Styles was shipped to Raw during the Superstar Shakeup in 2019 in a move that felt much needed at the time, especially given that Styles had spent virtually his entire WWE career on SmackDown. “The Phenomenal One” was undoubtedly a big success on SmackDown, too, holding the WWE Championship for two very lengthy reigns and even challenging Roman Reigns for the coveted spot as WWE’s No. 1 merchandise seller.
In comparison to his run on SmackDown, Styles’ year-long stint on Raw, well, didn’t really compare.
Other than a very good match with Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank 2019 and his Boneyard match with The Undertaker at WrestleMania 36, Styles’ Raw run was mostly known for an ill-advised heel turn and lackluster midcard feuds with the likes of Cedric Alexander, Humberto Carrillo and Ricochet. His pairing with the since-released The O.C. and even his feud with Taker were quite underwhelming in terms of storyline quality, and though it seemed that Styles was there to help elevate those midcarders, that never really happened.
Meltzer added, “My point is that every one of these guys from Ricochet to Cedric Alexander to Humberto Carrillo – every single one of them was supposed to be in a big feud with AJ where they would get over and they would win the title and not one of them did.” In the most recent Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingNews.co), Meltzer also pointed out that “in recent months there were plans to use the United States Championship to elevate Cedric Alexander, Humberto Carrillo, and Ricochet into high card faces and all of those plans were dropped.”
Meltzer has a point, doesn’t he? Vince McMahon reportedly “gave up” on Alexander not long enough after his brief push began, and then, McMahon made the call to “bury” the former Cruiserweight star during his Clash of Champions 2019 match, oddly enough against Styles. Ricochet, meanwhile, suffered a similar fate as McMahon reportedly gave up on the unique high-flyer earlier this year shortly after his feud with Styles. The same held true with Carrillo, who also fell out of favor with McMahon and has been stuck in midcard purgatory ever since he feuded with Styles.
Now, there are two potential points of view here. One, maybe it’s just a coincidence that Styles happened to feud with all of these stars, or two, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that McMahon—well known for his love of gargantuan superstars—decided to pull the plug on the push of three Cruiserweight stars who are smaller in stature. Either way, there is no denying that the up-and-down, 50/50 booking of Styles’ feuds with these stars left them no better off before these supposed star-making rivalries than they were beforehand.
That really speaks to a bigger problem, though. As well-respected as Styles is and as great of an all-around talent as he is, Styles—like so many other current top stars—isn’t going to move the needle the way that WWE wants him to. The only time he seemed to do that on Raw was during his unique cinematic-style match with Taker, which can be attributed more to Taker’s presence than to Styles. Although Styles remains one of WWE’s most consistent five-tool players, he was hampered by lackluster booking, held back by The O.C. and plagued by a heel turn that put him in a less natural villainous role.
Now, he’s getting a chance to reinvent himself on SmackDown, where he was clearly shipped without any sort of long-term plan. Will that change his fortunes? While it looks like an Intercontinental title reign is in his immediate future, it would be surprising if he’s elevated—or elevates anyone else—beyond that level anytime soon.
Source: Forbes Business