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AJ Styles achieves the unthinkable at Backlash

For The Baltimore Sun
AJ Styles achieves the unthinkable at Backlash.

2016 is a weird year.

I'm just going to say it. What has happened in wrestling this year is so unlike anything we ever thought would happen, especially in WWE. The likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Kota Ibushi, Bobby Roode, Eric Young and Zack Sabre Jr. have entered WWE or NXT rings. Shinsuke Nakamura won the NXT title. Finn Balor and Kevin Owens became the first two Universal champions. But nothing compared to what happened Sunday night at Backlash, when AJ Styles finally won the WWE title.

Yes, in Richmond, Va., AJ Styles outlasted Dean Ambrose in a long battle, though his win was not without some controversy. The two battled in and out of the ring for over a half-hour. Throughout the match, Styles actually received the bulk of the crowd's affection, and Ambrose, at times, seemed thrown off by it. However, they fought through the crowd, both figuratively and literally, and with some wild spots, got the crowd behind them. And once that was accomplished, it was time for the final act. Ambrose was shoved into the ref, and with the ref momentarily incapacitated, Styles hit a low blow, and then a Styles Clash for the win.

AJ Styles has reached the pinnacle of basically every company he's worked for. He won the NWA and the TNA titles in TNA. He won the IWGP Heavyweight title in New Japan. While he didn't win the World Championship in ROH, he did win the Pure championship and probably would have eventually won the world title if he had been. By winning the WWE title, he can make an argument that he won the three biggest titles in wrestling today (though yes, there are some titles, like the ROH and CMLL World Titles that could lay a claim for that as well).

I think it's an important thing that he won the WWE title. Even though it's on Smackdown, it's still the title with the lineage that goes though the legends. It's the lineage that WWE will use when they do the history of the belt. And that lineage, the same lineage that includes the likes of Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, John Cena, now includes AJ Styles.

It's weird to say that. AJ Styles is the WWE champion. Nine months ago, he was one of the greatest to never work for the company. Now he's on top of it. And if there were still any doubters of how well AJ Styles would do in WWE, those doubts are erased.

The rest of Backlash:

-AJ Styles wasn't the only one with a big title win at Backlash. There were two others. The first was the conclusion of the tag tournament, where Heath Slater and Rhyno won to become the champs on Smackdown, and also earned Heath Slater a contract in the process. This was the logical conclusion to what has become arguably the most compelling storyline in WWE right now, as the two went over the Usos. Obviously this was big for Slater, and the crowd was firmly behind him during the match. However, what has gone a bit under-the-radar is the importance for Rhyno. Rhyno hasn't held a title in this company since 2001, when he feuded for the Hardcore title and won it a few times. Fifteen years is a long time, even though he hasn't been with the company for a large chunk of that time. So to win a title in 2016, one that he competed for but never won, is huge. The question is now can they keep the same magic as champions as they did when they chased.

-The other new champion? Becky Lynch won the Smackdown women's title (will they just be calling it that, or will they give it another name?). The six-pack challenge actually was a very good match, letting all six women show off their ability in the ring. What really stuck out was that all the women had different strengths in the ring, and different looks, when for so long many women had the same look, or same style. RAW certainly has the star power with Charlotte and Sasha and Bayley, but Smackdown has a fairly deep division, and they all shone on Sunday night. But it was Becky who shone brightest, and she finally was able to win the big match and claim a title. For those who are aware of her journey, this was a great moment.

-Miz retained his Intercontinental title in a great match against Dolph Ziggler. They have always had great chemistry with each other, and this match was no different. Throughout the match, Miz played up the intensity and his feud with Daniel Bryan. At one point he even started doing the Yes chant gesture. In the end, it was Maryse who helped him get the win, as she sprayed something in Ziggler's eyes, a la Rick Martel.

-The Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton match, which had been built as arguably the second biggest match on the card, did not end up happening. Orton still hasn't been medically cleared from his Summerslam match with Brock Lesnar, and he was not allowed to compete on Sunday night. Thus, WWE shot an angle where Wyatt attacked him beforehand, and he couldn't make the match. However, despite getting a countout win against Orton, Wyatt still had to face a surprise opponent, Kane. And for some reason, Kane went over on Wyatt after Orton made his way down to the ring to give Wyatt an RKO. I didn't get it at all. What was the point of making Wyatt lose yet another PPV match, against Kane of all people? They could have made the same point with Wyatt winning, and then Orton coming out at the end.

-Baron Corbin beat Apollo Crews on the pre-show.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section here, email me, or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster. You can also hear my podcast, Jobbing Out, at

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