AJ Styles recently described how his time in TNA helped him prepare for his debut and subsequent role in WWE.
Styles is perhaps one of the most recognisable Superstars in WWE at the moment. Debuting with the company in 2016, Styles quickly became a main event player for WWE. Within his first year he would capture the WWE Championship. Since then he has gone on to capture multiple championships across the company, headline various pay-per-views and feature in major storylines across Raw and Smackdown.
But before the WWE Universe knew the name AJ Styles, he made his way to the top of another pro wrestling company, TNA. Following an unsuccessful tryout with WWE in 2001, Styles made his debut for TNA in 2002. He would appear on their first ever pay-per-view in May of that year. A week later, he became the inaugural X Division Champion.
During his time with TNA, Styles would become one of, of not the face of the company. During his mammoth 12 year run with TNA, ‘The Phenomenal One’ would win every championship in the company. Speaking with Bleacher Report ahead of ‘WWE Untold’, Styles reflected on his time with TNA, and how the experience would ready him for WWE:
“I was able to learn from a lot of different people [in TNA]. You talk about guys that used to be in WWE: Booker T and Kurt Angle, who I had fantastic matches with. I wrestled Kevin Nash, a ton of different guys who were in WWE at one time, and I was able to learn from them as well. I wouldn’t be the man, the wrestler that I am today had I not been in the ring with guys like that.”
Following his departure from TNA, Styles would appear for promotions such as Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, joining the coveted Bullet Club in the latter.
Styles would finally make his way to WWE in 2016, debuting in the Royal Rumble match. Despite rumours at the time suggesting AJ may appear at the event, his debut came as a surprise to the WWE Universe. His entrance into the Rumble remains one of the most memorable debuts in recent pro wrestling history.
Knowing he was bound for WWE following his departure from TNA and NJPW, Styles kept his debut plans a secret from friends and fellow performers, only telling TNA alumni and long time friend, Samoa Joe. AJ recalls the lead up to the event, and not being sure of his role at the pay-per-view:
“Nobody kept me in the loop. So I was waiting around thinking, ‘I hope I can get into the Royal Rumble. That’d be cool, but I’d understand if I’m not. I didn’t really tell anybody because it was one of things where I didn’t really know. Was I actually going to be in the Rumble, or was I going to be doing something in the Rumble? I didn’t know, so yeah, I didn’t tell a soul, as crazy as that sounds.”
WWE Untold: AJ Styles’ Royal Rumble Debut airs this Sunday on WWE Network
Credit Source for Interview: Bleacher Report