Taking a look at AJ Styles first year or major exposure in the world of professional wrestling.
AJ Styles is one of the most popular wrestlers going in the WWE today (June 2017). Prior to his debut at the Royal Rumble in 2016, fans had been wanting to see him compete in a WWE ring for several years. However, WWE seemingly wasn’t all that interested in his talents. According to rumors, Styles was offered developmental deals at the peak of his TNA run. Yeah, that’s a little nutty, isn’t it?
Styles got his start in NWA Wildside and was trained by Rick Michaels. They had a lengthy feud in the company and Styles was quick to become a featured player there. Styles, unknown by many fans, actually competed in the Cruiserweight division for WCW during their final months of operations. He teamed with Air Paris, but they were largely used as an enhancement team.
Following the demise of WCW, Styles continued to compete on the independents and also had a WWE dark match on July 9th against Rick Michaels, his trainer. He wasn’t signed following that match and would compete for the startup XWF, which was ran by Jimmy Hart. While competing in the XWF, Styles actually lost a match to current Impact announcer, Josh Matthews. He also had a singles match against Christopher Daniels. According to the research I’ve done, that appears to be the first time they matched up in a singles match. That match was taped on November 14th, 2001. During this series, that’s a match that will happen quite often.
At the end of 2001, AJ Styles won the NWA Wildside Heavyweight Championship from Rick Michaels. January 21st, 2002 AJ had another tryout match for the WWE taking on The Hurricane in a match that aired on WWE Jakked. The following day, Styles battled Rico in a dark match. Styles lost both matches, obviously.
Styles worked for the upstart WWA promotion that had it’s first show in Las Vegas before eventually transitioning to being an Australian company. He lost a six-way Cruiserweight elimination match. That occurred on February 24th. He also competed in the 2002 Super 8 tournament for the ECWA, managing to reach the finals where he lost to Donovan Morgan. On March 23rd, Styles lost the NWA Wildside Heavyweight Championship to David Young in a three way dance that involved Rick Michaels.
After losing the NWA Wildside Heavyweight Championship, Styles battled David Young to a twenty minute draw on March 31st. On April 12th, Styles won the WWA International Cruiserweight Championship defeating Jerry Lynn to win the tournament. AJ Styles made his debut for Ring of Honor on April 27th losing to Low Ki. I often don’t remember that Styles worked for ROH before TNA. Does this make him an ROH original?
On June 15th, the day for the debut to TNA Wrestling, Styles competed in the 2002 Jersey J-Cup tournament losing to Reckless Youth in the semifinals. The following day, Styles won the NWA-TNA X-Division Championship in a four way double elimination match defeating Jerry Lynn, Low-Ki and Psicosis to become the first champion. AJ would also compete in the ROH Heavyweight Championship tournament reaching the second round losing to Christopher Daniels.
AJ Styles became TNA’s first ever double champion winning the NWA-TNA Tag Team Championships with Jerry Lynn to go along with his X-Division Championship. They defeated the Rainbow Express on July 3rd. Styles was a double champion until losing to Low Ki in a three way match with Jerry Lynn also involved. Styles and Lynn continued as tag champions when Styles competed in a ladder match for the NWA-TNA X-Division Championship also involving Low-Ki, which Lynn won this time on August 21st.
On the same day, Styles battled Jerry Lynn in a best of three series that saw them wrestle in a ten minute Ironman match, no disqualification and falls count anywhere match. They ended on a tie 1-1. On August 24th, Styles failed to dethrone Low Ki of the ROH Heavyweight Championship. Meanwhile, in TNA, Styles continued to chase after the X-Division Championship, but was unsuccessful in a ladder match against Jerry Lynn on October 2nd after beating Low Ki the previous week in a number one contenders match.
Styles came up short again on October 9th in a multi-man ladder match that saw Syxx-Pac win the NWA-TNA X-Division Championship. Two weeks later on October 23rd, Styles pinned Pac to regain the X-Division Championship. The following week Styles defeated Amazing Red to retain the title in their first encounter in TNA. Styles competed in the 2002 Ted Petty Invitational losing to Christopher Daniels in the first round on November 1st. The following day, Styles won a four way involving Super Dragon, Matt Stryker and M-Dogg 20.
AJ would lose the NWA-TNA X-Division Championship to rival Jerry Lynn on November 6th. Three days later, Styles was victorious over American Dragon (Daniel Bryan) in a number one contenders match for the ROH Heavyweight Championship. On November 16th, Styles became the number one contender to the ROH Heavyweight Championship by defeating Christopher Daniels. Meanwhile in TNA, Styles was unable to regain the title from Jerry Lynn in a triple threat match also involving Kid Kash on November 13th.
AJ challenged Colt Cabana for the IWC World Championship on November 17th but came out on the losing end. He also failed in his rematch against Jerry Lynn on November to regain the NWA-TNA X-Division Championship. Styles attempted to win the ROH Heavyweight Champion on December 7th, but was unable to defeat Xavier. Styles bad luck continued on December 8th losing to PWF Universal Champion Chris Hamrick.
Styles finished 2002 losing to Amazing Red on the December 11th TNA show. He also failed to become the number one contender for the FWA British Heavyweight Championship during a tour of England. Styles lost a triple threat match to CM Punk which also included Christopher Daniels on December 27th for a chance to compete for the IWC Heavyweight Championship. AJ lost his final match of the year to David Young.
That’s the beginning of AJ Styles career. I don’t think I realized that Styles didn’t have a dominating start to his career as I previously thought. What are your memories of AJ Styles during this timeframe?
Thanks for reading.
31-year old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Longtime fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings. Avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on the old school wrestling.