A lot of people hype John Cena and CM Punk or John Cena and Edge as John Cena’s best feud but let me tell you, a feud that I believe to be more legendary and epic was the feud between John Cena and AJ Styles. The peak of this was their match at SummerSlam in 2016.
AJ Styles was already well known to the wrestling world from his time in TNA, ROH, and New Japan. Styles had done it all in TNA. From putting the X-Division on the map to his tag team run with Christopher Daniels, to winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, and being the first-ever TNA Grand Slam Champion. He then left and won the IWPG Heavyweight Championship (same as Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle). But the one thing we hadn’t seen from Styles and weren’t sure if we’d ever see was Styles step into a WWE ring. Then in 2016, at the Royal Rumble, we would see it. AJ Styles debuted in the WWE to much fanfare and based on the reaction the WWE Universe couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Now there was the question if AJ could make it in the “Big Leagues. In TNA Styles was a big big fish swimming in a tiny little pond but could Styles really hang with the guys in the WWE? At first, I wasn’t sure if Vince was sold on him as he was being booked 50/50 with Chris Jericho in his first major feud in WWE which was head-scratching. Jericho is a legend so no disrespect there but if the idea was to push Styles it didn’t make a lot of sense for him to lose clean to Jericho in his WrestleMania debut. I thought he was being buried. But it turns out Jericho had spoken to Vince directly to tell him that AJ was great and that they needed to push him.
The next night on Raw he would win a fatal 4 way to become the #1 Contender to the WWE Championship, and after having a program with Roman Reigns (the top guy) AJ would move onto none other than John Cena.
Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows would then join Styles reuniting from their days in Japan and they went on to come up with the hottest catchphrase of the summer that year, and something we saw them do often, and that was “BEAT UP JOHN CENA!!!
After working a small series of matches Styles went on to challenge John Cena for a match at SummerSlam and this was a marquee match for Styles. It was his opportunity to prove to everyone that he could hang with anyone on any stage. And for everyone that watched this match, you know exactly what happens next.
AJ Styles and John Cena tore it down that night and in a classic affair we saw Styles defeat Cena clean and earn the respect of all the higher-ups in the WWE. This match single handily made AJ Styles’ WWE career because after this the company had no other choice than to put the WWE Championship on him.
He would defeat Dean Ambrose and would begin his first reign as WWE Champion. AJ turned that Championship into what it’s supposed to be, the working man’s championship. AJ held the title until Royal Rumble where he would lose it to none other than John Cena. Now, even if AJ had been buried after this I wouldn’t have cared because my favorite wrestler went from a small promotion like TNA to being the top guy for the biggest company in the industry. However, Styles didn’t get buried because he couldn’t. He went on to prove to be the best wrestler in the WWE (better than Roman, Seth, Cena, etc) and that comes as no surprise.
If the WWE could follow this booking they’d have no problem creating new stars.
I know I’ve talked a lot about Styles but I’d be foolish not to mention John Cena and the ability he has to turn guys into stars. Cena has changed the fortunes of guys like Edge, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and AJ Styles and while Cena is the golden shovel himself, he has shown he’s willing to do the job for the guys that deserve it, which I can say that I respect that about him.