A few months ago, AJ Styles left TNA and started wrestling again for Ring of Honor. With Ring of Honor's "Second To None" coming to Baltimore on Saturday, I had a chance to speak to him about his return to ROH, his thoughts on TNA, as well as what we can expect from him and Ring of Honor in the future.
Ring Posts: What have the past few months since you left TNA been like for you?
AJ Styles: I have to tell you, man, I've been pleasantly surprised at all the things that have opened up for me. I realized that all the independents are alive and well. I've been able to wrestle all these guys, and have some dream matches in the fans eyes. It's been awesome to work for Ring of Honor again. I also recently had the opportunity to start working with New Japan. So 2014 is becoming an awesome year for me.
I imagine it has to be a weird time for you. On the one hand, you've been in TNA for so long that it has to feel odd not being there. On the other hand, this almost has to feel liberating for you that you can work your own schedule and simply do what you like.
Yeah, not that I'm working light at all, but, if I choose not to do something, I don't have to ask anybody, I can just turn it down myself. I will say, it's nice getting to just be in and out of places, and not have to defend against the, I guess I'll say, negative comments of one company. Because I don't belong to any specific company at this point. Ring of Honor, I've definitely thrown my hat in there and I'll do what I can, but I haven't signed anything with them yet. It's nice not having to worry about anything besides just putting on good matches wherever I go.
You were always considered to be one of the pillars of TNA. Did you ever imagine leaving, especially in the way you did?
No, I honestly thought I'd be the guy that TNA could say, “This is the first guy that we signed to this company, and he's retiring from our company.” And, man, what an awesome thing that would have been. So I never imagined I would leave that company, I assumed I'd retire from there. It sucks, but you can't fix that now. I left the door open, but there's so many things that are going on. That door has been closed as far as being able to tell that story, that this guy started and finished with the company. Apparently someone there thinks I was only worth a certain amount and it just didn't work out.
There are so many rumors flying around about TNA, both financially and just backstage. What do you think the state of TNA is right now?
You know, I really don't know. I know they've made a lot of cuts. That must mean they're not doing so well. Sting gone, Hogan gone, myself gone, and I'm sure we're going to see more cuts soon. From what I've heard and been told, it's been horribly mismanaged as a company. I don't know if they're going out of business. But they're definitely doing things that make people think they're going out of business. And I hope they don't. I hope TNA doesn't go out of business because I have a lot of good friends that work there and deserve to be in the national spotlight. My hope is that they never go out of business.
Speaking of friends, TNA made a surprising move last week when Eric Young won the TNA title. What are your thoughts on that?
I love it, man. Eric is a top talent. A lot of people think that he's just a comedian. The guy can WRESTLE. He's really good and he's overlooked. He's one of the most entertaining guys there. He has his own show, and it's based on him. It's him going out and doing stuff. So he knows what he's doing and he should have had something good like this happen to him a long time ago.
There are a lot of fans out there who initially thought this was all a work, and that you'd be returning to the company soon. There are some out there who still believe that. What do you say to those fans?
By now I think most have figured it out. But they believed that because they can't believe that this guy, the guy that was known as the TNA guy, they can't believe that they would let me go. Literally, they let me go. I don't think they went out of their way to make things work. I tried, but it's just hard to believe.
Is pretty much the door closed there, or if they come around, do you think you'd make your way back?
I tried to leave the door open. I haven't buried the company. Like I said, I have friends there who do well, so I'm not going to do that. But I don't know if I'll ever go back, and it's definitely not going to be any time soon. And from what one of their higher ups said, it will be “Only if there's space available for AJ Styles.” So I guess there might not be room for me, according to him.
That's so surreal to hear, no room for AJ Styles. But you've moved on now, you're in Ring of Honor. What's it like to be back there? You were one of the originals there but haven't been back since 2006.
It's great, man. I have to tell you, I've been surprised at all the talent that is there. You're stuck in this bubble, and you don't know who's out there anymore. You think maybe it was just the generation that I was in that had the great wrestlers, with Low Ki, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, all these guys I wrestled with before. You think that was a good time for wrestling. But you know what? It still is. Ring of Honor still has a lot of top talent, that I've gotten in the ring with, and some that I need to get in the ring with and I'm excited about that.
You mentioned earlier that you've had a chance to put on some dream matches, and you're looking to put on others. What are some of those matches, and who are you looking forward to having a match with now that you're in Ring of Honor?
Michael Elgin was one of those guys that I really wanted to get in the ring with, and I did [in Philadelphia at the “12th Anniverary Weekend”] and we had an amazing match. I still haven't wrestled Adam Cole yet, so that's my next big one for me I think. But there are a number of guys I'd like to see. I think the Briscoes and myself have changed a lot, so either one of those guys I'd love to get back in the ring with. There's a number of guys there that have the ability to have some awesome matches. I'd love the opportunity to wrestle each and every one of them.
In addition to Ring of Honor, you also were out at New Japan Pro Wrestling recently. How was that for you?
It was great. I put the stamp of AJ Styles on Okada [the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, New Japan's top title]. It's amazing. It's one of the most prestigious belts in the world. The IWGP belt is unbelievable, the history there. New Japan is definitely the biggest company in Japan right now. This opportunity is amazing, to be able to watch New Japan for so long, and now having the opportunity to wrestle there, it's a blessing.
What do you think it will be like to be fairly heavily involved with two companies at once, in Ring of Honor and New Japan?
Well at first it won't be too hard. Ring of Honor is going to have a few shows with New Japan coming up, so you'll be able to see some of New Japan's wrestlers work with the Ring of Honor wrestlers. I think that's great for Ring of Honor, it's huge for Ring of Honor. But I'm going to do both. I'm not getting any younger so I have to do what I can to make my name for myself, and make it bigger, now.
You mentioned those joint shows in Toronto and New York City with Ring of Honor and New Japan. That announcement really got the independent fans buzzing at some of the possibilities of the matches. What do you think those shows are going to be like?
Oh man. You're definitely going to get to see some matches that people have always wanted to see. The fact that you have two wrestling companies that are known for having great matches putting on shows together, and both companies are so well-respected by the wrestling community, I think it's going to be magic.
When you went over to New Japan, you aligned yourself with, and became the leader of, the Bullet Club. What do you expect out of joining those guys and the matches that you can put on together?
I'm so excited to be part of that group. Just the things that they're doing, they're very unique. They're doing things that are really different, especially for New Japan. Usually in Japan, it's just based on the wrestling. But in New Japan you get a little more out of the storylines and whatnot, to build up the wrestling matches, and that's a good thing. Not so much that they're on the mic every second, and fans are like “Oh my god, let's see some wrestling,” but there's just enough to get the next match built up. It's definitely something special to be part of the Bullet Club, and I'm grateful to be a part of it.
A few years ago, ROH seemed to be on the verge of a big step forward when the Sinclair Brodcasting Group bought the company. Since then they've been on a plateau somewhat. What do you think ROH needs to do to take that next big step?
I think that we've got to get on a primetime slot. It needs to be on a weekday, not a weekend, so we can get out there and get noticed. I don't know how it's going to happen, or if we have that ability, but we need to get people to watch the product. The product is great, it deserves to be watched by thousands of people. It's hard to say what the next move is to get more publicity. You don't want to move too fast and all of a sudden there's no Ring of Honor, but I think they deserve to be on TV in a bigger stage.
Do you think the recent returns of more well-known guys like you and Chris Hero will help increase that profile?
We're hoping. That's what we're trying to do. We're out there busting our tails to make sure that we spread the word about Ring of Honor. It's tough man. I'm not going to say that we're the two guys that are going to change things. I'm hoping that we help and then when you see the product you understand why it's so well respected.
For a while the pecking order in pro wrestling has clearly been WWE, then TNA second, and Ring of Honor has been a clear-cut No. 3. Recently, though, TNA has seemed to be on the decline, and Jeff Jarrett officially announced his new wrestling promotion, which seems to have a TV deal attached, though we don't know what it will be right now. You've worked with and for Jarrett, how do you think that's going to change that landscape?
It's nuts to think that we could have four major wrestling promotions in the United States. Jeff's very smart, there's no doubt about it. He knows what he's doing, and always has a backup plan. He took TNA from nothing and turned it into something that's still around 12 years later. That's pretty darn good. That's an accomplishment right there. I trust Jeff. I trust him to put on something good, and something that people will watch.
Do you think you might consider Global Force Wrestling if a door opened up for you?
Sure, this is what I do. This is my job.
Do you think there's a chance for Ring of Honor to possibly move up that pecking order?
Definitely, especially if we get that primetime TV slot. These guys are some of the best wrestlers in the world, and if more people see that, then yeah, we could definitely move up.
On Saturday, at Second To None, you're getting that rematch with Michael Elgin. What can fans expect out of it?
I can tell you one thing, it's going to be hard-hitting. Elgin is one of the strongest men I've ever been in the ring with. It's going to be a match that you don't want to miss. I thought our first match was very entertaining, so I can only think the second one is going to be that much better. It's going to be fun to get in the ring with him again and tear it up.
The match is to become the No. 1 contender to the Ring of Honor title [currently held by Adam Cole]. How much would a looming match with Cole entice you?
Absolutely, I think that's what it's all about. I've never been the Ring of Honor champion. I've been the Ring of Honor Pure Champion [a now-defunct title], but I've never held the Ring of Honor title, so that's definitely something that I want to get my hands on.
TNA had a few house shows in Maryland, but they had nothing specifically in Baltimore, so it's been a while since you've actually wrestled in Baltimore. Are you excited about potentially getting in front of a crowd that may not have been able to see you for a while, while also getting in front of them for a new company?
That's exciting, being in front of crowds that I haven't seen in a while, and them accepting me as one of their own. I know some of those guys who have left and come back have gotten booed, so to have them accept me as if I've never left has felt good. To be in front of that different crowd, that Ring of Honor crowd, you better have tough skin, because if they don't like you, you're going to know it.
By this point, especially because of Ring of Honor's presence in Baltimore, many of the people reading this will be familiar with ROH. But if they aren't, or if they haven't seen you, what can they expect to see on Saturday?
There's going to be stuff you've never seen before, that's guaranteed. There are going to be athletes doing things that you didn't think were possible. Hard-hitting guys that know how to entertain and have unbelievable matches. I think these guys are some of the most talented wrestlers in the world and deserve to have all eyes on them, especially Saturday.
AJ Styles and the rest of the Ring of Honor wrestlers will be at Second To None at the William J Myers Pavilion in Baltimore on Saturday. You can find more information at rohwrestling.com.
Thoughts, comments? Leave them in the comment section below or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster