2016 was arguably the year of AJ Styles. After years of being the face of TNA, and on the heels of being the best wrestler in the world in New Japan, Styles debuted at the Royal Rumble, had a WrestleMania match against Chris Jericho, beat up John Cena a whole mess of times, and has now been WWE Champion for over three months. But 2017 is shaping up to be even bigger for him.
Before Christmas, WWE.com ran a poll asking who they wanted to see in the main event of WrestleMania 33. Styles ran away with the polling, and WWE pulled it down a few days later. But if that’s not a good indicator of what the fans want to see, I’m not sure what is. And don’t think that WWE and other industry insiders don’t know what they have in Styles. They know very, very well.
Jim Ross is one of the people in the know who sees the trajectory Styles is on, and thinks 2017 is going to be the year Styles for realsies becomes the new face that runs the place. From good ol’ J.R.’s latest blog post:
It seems easy to predict that by year’s end, if not before, that AJ Styles will be WWE’s most popular in ring star as the grass roots feedback that AJ is receiving from WWE fans should resonate as legit, market research. It’s hard for highly skilled, physical talents who do amazing athletic things, like AJ and Neville, for example, to be able to get the fans in mass to boo them. What’s not to like?
The reaction of the paying customers should rank as the best market research a company like WWE can receive.
For years, fans have accused WWE of not listening to reactions and letting stars become stars organically. Daniel Bryan’s rise to the top was probably the event that broke that trend, more or less for good (regardless of how that story ended). Styles becoming a dominant WWE Champion and carrying an entire brand mere months after debuting in the company should probably be all the proof we need that WWE knows he’s the dude.
It would be shocking if Styles doesn’t end up with a main event or title match at WrestleMania. Bookmark this article now so you can laugh at my foolhardiness later.