A. J. Styles

A. J. Styles

By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 1, 2002

A.J. Styles just might be the best performer you’ve never seen.

The 25-year-old phenom has taken the Tennessee-based NWA-TNA by storm since the company’s inception several months ago. And while you probably won’t be watching him display his amazing talent on the WWE’s bigger national stage anytime soon, Styles is of the most exciting workers in the business today and has helped catapult the NWA-TNA’s X division into one of pro wrestling’s elite categories.

It’s not as if the “big boys” haven’t tried to recruit the Gainesville, Ga., native. The now-defunct WCW offered Styles the paltry sum of $400 a week for a developmental contract, while the WWE earlier this year upped the ante to $500, with the proviso that Styles move to Heartland Wrestling Association headquarters in Cincinnati. Styles appreciated both offers, but politely declined, since it would have been difficult financially for him to relocate while his wife finished out her senior year at North Georgia College.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]But, as Styles says, good things comes to those who wait, and his break came in the form of an NWA-TNA contract and the opportunity to work for longtime promoter Jerry Jarrett.

“Everything is going great. There’s no way I can complain,” says Styles, who took the two initials from his real name, Allen Jones, for his ring moniker. “They’ve done more for me than I could have ever expected. Jerry Jarrett is great. I love working for him. They went out on a limb for me, and I’m not going to forget that.”

The WWE’s loss has been the NWA-TNA’s gain, as Styles has been a shining star for a promotion that faces the uphill battle of trying to get viewers to sample its pay-per-view product on a weekly basis. While the upstart company struggles to carve its niche in the wrestling industry, Styles has emerged as a breakout talent in the group’s X division, which features some of the top cruiserweights in the business. A three-way ladder match with Styles, Jerry Lynn and Low-Ki that aired this past Wednesday night has already been heralded as a strong match of the year candidate.

“The X title is the best thing the NWA could have done,” says Styles. “I think guys like Low-Ki, Jerry Lynn and myself have taken that belt to another level.”

Styles, the NWA-TNA’s first X division champ, isn’t your typical star who has been either spoiled by an extravagant lifestyle or become jaded by the politics of the business. While the four-year veteran hasn’t been around long enough to fit into either of those categories, he’s not likely to fall into those traps. Styles fully understands that fame can be fleeting, and has a contingency plan in case wrestling doesn’t pan out.

“I told my wife the other day that if wrestling goes under, I’m going to be a cop,” says Styles, who has also worked as an ambulance driver and a landscaper.

“I’ve watched ‘Cops’ too many times and seen some redneck or hoodlum beat some cop up, and I bet they won’t be beating me up.”

Styles, a two-time state wrestling champion in high school and a collegiate grappler at Anderson College, also has his priorities in order. Faith and family play a major part in his life, and he says most of his colleagues respect him for his beliefs as a devout Christian.

“The good thing about TNA (Total Nonstop Action) is that they understand who I am and what I’m about. (As a heel) I’ll be as mean as I can be. I try to take it as far as I can without crossing that line.”

Styles also understands that at some point in his career, he may be asked to do something that clashes with his real-life convictions.

“I’d work around it,” he says. “If it were a promo I didn’t agree with, maybe I’d say it in a different language. I wouldn’t do certain things. This is a business where you sometimes feel like you’re walking on thin ice. But I don’t feel like I’m walking on thin ice here. They help us with our matches. I’m giving them everything I’ve got, and they’re helping me in return.”

Styles says that fellow born-again Christians like WWE star Shawn Michaels are an inspiration.

“I’ve never met Shawn Michaels, but he has no idea how much he’s inspired me,” says Styles. “I don’t know the real guy behind that character, but I saw it when he wore that shirt (on WWE television) that says ‘Saved One.’ I can’t wait to meet him so I can give him a hug and tell him how much I appreciate what he’s done.”

Styles, who will meet former NWA world and WWE Intercontinental champion Ken Shamrock at the NWA’s 54th anniversary show Oct. 26 in Corpus Christi, Texas, admits that money was a factor in his decision to pursue the wrestling business, but he has learned to love the business with a passion.

“There’s been times when I’ve tried to focus on God and the church, and a wrestling move pops up in my head. I admit I got into it for the money, and maybe by mistake I fell in love with it, so I can’t stop now. But it’s not going to be the end of the world if I ever have to give it up.”

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Besides plying his wares on the weekly NWA-TNA pay-per-views, Styles also wrestles for a number of independent ventures, such as the East Coast Wrestling Association, Ring of Honor, the Christian Wrestling Federation and NWA Wildside. Styles has been greatly impressed by the locker-room chemistry at NWA-TNA.

“There are no big heads and no cliques. We’re all on the same level, having a good time, just goofing off. I didn’t see a lot of that in WCW. There were quite a few cliques and big heads there.”

Styles recalled his first meeting with the controversial Marcus “Buff” Bagwell in WCW.

“Not that Buff’s a bad guy, because I’ve actually come to know him a little better and he’s pretty cool,” says Styles. “But I remember the first time I met him. He was changing and I was sitting in the seat beside him, not really paying him any attention. He said, ‘Hey, man, can you move, because I’m claustrophobic.’ I thought, hey, if you don’t want me sitting here, just let me know. But it was like that in WCW.

“And I never talked to Scott Steiner while in WCW, because the way he walked around, I thought he might kill me. But when we were on the WWA (World Wrestling All-Stars) tour of Australia, he was a super nice guy. I had just let everybody else tell me stuff about him.”

The innovative Styles, who has perfected such spectacular moves as the Styles Clash, the Shooting Styles Press and the Spinal Tap, says his smallish size – for a wrestler – dictates his high-risk, high-impact style.

“I’m going to have to do that stuff,” says the 5-9, 200-pounder. “Rey Misterio has to. But I also realize that your body just isn’t going to stand up for that long. It’s brutal. I’m 25, and my knees are killing me and I have a giant knot on my elbow as we speak. I’ve had my hand and foot broken all in one year. I’m hoping that I can find that one move.”

As for his wife, Wendy, Styles says she’s not quite the fan that he is. “I don’t think she likes it that much – especially when I come home all beat up and can hardly walk up the stairs. But she’s awesome.”

- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (Steve Williams) filed for divorce from Debra Williams on July 22, 20 days before charges were formally filed against him for assaulting his wife earlier this summer. An arrest warrant was issued by Bexar (Texas) County District Attorney’s office on Aug. 12, and Austin turned himself in to authorities the following day. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and released after posting a $5,000 bond.

- Raw drew a disappointing 3.9 last week, down slightly from the previous week’s 4.0, but all the more disappointing since it followed a strong Summer Slam pay-per-view.

- The WWE announced last week that Vince and Linda McMahon will not receive bonuses this year due to a downturn in performance caused by declining ratings and lower pay-per-view purchases.

According to reports, Vince was paid $900,000 and Linda McMahon was paid $675,000 in bonuses last year. Vince will continue to draw his $1 million salary and Linda will draw $750,000.

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” currently No. 35 on The New York Times Extended Bestseller List.