L.E.W.D. Booking 101 – “AJ Styles: D.T.A.”
A very profound thought struck me the other day concerning the current direction of AJ Styles and his character on IMPACT Wrestling. In order to accurately express that thought here in L.E.W.D. Booking 101, I have to go back to a conversation that took place several years ago.
I have a very close friend named James* who can best be described as a casual fan of pro wrestling. Although James doesn’t indulge in pro wrestling and sports entertainment as frequently as I do, he follows the product enough to have great and analytical conversations about wrestlers and promotions at any given time. While James was (and still is) fond of WWE, he always favored WCW’s product more, especially during the mythic Attitude Era. It was during this time that he reveled in the many antics of his favorite wrestler, the man they call Sting. Even to this day he gets particularly giddy and filled with girlish glee when discussing Sting; his favorite iteration of the superstar is the “Crow” Sting, a character based off of the movie made famous by action star Brandon Lee.
Seriously; to this day, James can recite the creepy little kid monologue verbatim from the Sting’s theme at that time.
Many years after WWE’s purchase of WCW and several versions of Sting later, I asked James to explain to me his fascination with this dark and brooding Sting character. More specifically I asked him to explain why so many other fans were absolutely in love with this Sting, let alone Sting in the first place. To loosely paraphrase what he said (mostly because he won’t email me what he said):
The thing about it is this: when Hulk Hogan turned heel—and you gotta remember that Hulk Hogan was the epitome of all that was right in the world, “Eat your vitamins and say your prayers” and all that s**t—it completely messed everybody up! The person that took it the hardest was Sting, because here was somebody who did the right thing his entire career, and the only other thing “right” in the universe was Hogan.
With Hogan joining the nWo, and half of WCW doing the same damn thing, Sting was absolutely mind-f***ed. So Sting disappears and when he comes back, he’s literally dead to everything on the inside, and then he just proceeds to brood all over the damn place. And that’s what made it cool, because even though it was a blatant rip off of The Crow, it made perfect sense because a lot of younger fans were feeling the same way because of Hogan’s heel turn.
And besides, that s**t was real cool too.
James’ words resonated in my mind the other day when I started thinking about TNA’s latest M.I.A. wrestler, AJ Styles. One thing led to another, and before you know it I had this epiphany: AJ Styles will be TNA’s “Crow” Sting!
At this point you should brace yourselves, because the next comment coming from yours truly will surely shock and surprise you: out of all the things TNA has conveniently borrowed from other promotions, this character development for Styles is perhaps the best idea they’ve
stolen come up with and will probably create the most compelling and interesting wrestler the company has ever had.
Don’t expect Styles to be phenomenal in the rafters of arenas around the country anytime soon. It is also highly unlikely that the company will attempt to turn Styles into a mini-Sting like they attempted to transform him into Lil’ Naitch Ver. 2.5 when Ric Flair joined the company. What is quite probable is the creation of a neat, tweener Styles character that will operate in the same spirit as “Crow” Sting so many years ago. If my epiphany has any merit, Styles’ new character will be somewhat similar to the heel character that John Cena could have been two years ago.
This epiphany came about when I started to connect the dots between two posts about Styles on the most trusted TNA fan site on the internet. The first post came on February 8 and was nestled quietly in a recap of a Dixie Carter interview during her appearance during a Bellator fight. Apparently the TNA President had an encounter with Styles at the event, an encounter were Carter described Styles as being “cold, distant, and unapproachable.” After careful consideration of this development, I couldn’t find myself to be “mad” or disgusted with Styles’ actions at all.
While Carter’s summation of Styles’ behavior seemed “unusual” (as described by the good folks at TNAsylum.com), one could not feel any iota of sympathy for her given Styles’ craptastic 2012 in TNA.
Without dredging up too many memories of the swerves and storylines that besmirched his year and his good name, we must remember how well Dixie defended Styles during the Claire Lynch debacle. We must remember how she set her husband straight after leveling Styles with the King Mo One Hitter-Quitter. We have to recall how Dixie used her executive powers and prowess to get to the bottom of Claire Lynch’s accusations against Styles in order to exonerate her company’s most decorated and beloved star.
Seeing as all of that stuff didn’t happen it would appear that Styles is somewhat justified in having such lukewarm feelings towards Dixie Carter. Styles, after all, is easily the most recognizable TNA Original still with the company. He gave his all for Jeff Jarrett and Dixie, yet neither offered their on-air unconditional support for him during his series of unfortunate events. In fact if one wasn’t careful, one could easily get the impression that Dixie and her cronies cared very little for Styles during this period of his career; talk about a slap in the face.
The second post that caught my attention was a report on February 20 about a TNA producer’s tweet concerning Styles’ behavior. The producer didn’t explicitly say how Styles behaved, but did comment that in five years he had never “had him act like he did today.” The producer then went on to say that he was “disappointed.” Is it just me or does it sound incredibly pompous of the producer to comment on how he would or would not have had Styles to behave? It’s one thing to say that in five years you’ve never seen a person act in a particular way, but its also very telling to see someone comment that they never had someone act a certain way.
I sure the assumption is that once a vanilla babyface, always a vanilla babyface. For the better part of his career in TNA Styles has played the one dimensional role of stellar athlete and upright model citizen/human being. Styles plays this character well because it’s pretty much him in real life. Everyone has their breaking point, however, and even the most model and upright human being has a breaking point. He arguably reached that breaking point after his demeaning loss to Christopher Daniels at Final Resolution 2012; even after Styles announced to the world on the December 13, 2012 episode of IMPACT Wrestling that he was no longer a “company man,” this plucky TNA producer still found it disappointing that Styles behaved in an unmentionable fashion?
If you’ve been subjected to a person behaving in a particular way, it’s only a matter of time before you begin to expect that behavior to be consistent and synonymous with the person. If the person turns out to be a louse, it’s easy to dismiss them and wish them well in their future endeavors. On the other hand if the person has proven to exhibit exemplary qualities, we have the tendency to abuse and/or neglect that person because no matter what happens we’ll expect them to continue to be “good” people.
The only person to come to Styles’ aid during his trials with Daniels and Kazarian was Kurt Angle. Other than that, Styles was expected to man up and handle his situation on his lonesome, even though the harassment he endured from his coworkers was ridiculously ignored by management. After putting up with that Styles was also locked out of challenging for the TNA World Heavyweight Title for one year, a crushing and heart-wrenching defeat that almost makes his presence in the company worthless for at least 365 days. The fans moved on to Austin Aries, Robert Roode and Jeff Hardy; the only person that cared about AJ Styles, it seemed, was AJ Styles. And even he neglected his own needs, wants and desires for the sake of the company and making Dixie Carter look like one million dollars.
From that perspective, how dare anyone expect Styles to behave a certain way or even tacitly imply and/or demand he behave a certain way any reason. Being himself hadn’t gotten him very far since he lost the TNA World Heavyweight Title to Rob Van Dam in April 2010, so what good will the goody-two shoes bit do for him at this point?
After all that, what does any of it have to do with “Crow” Sting? Simply put, the very man that Styles was should be long gone by now. Having grown bitter and disillusioned with all that he knew to be right in the world, Styles’ character should evolve into a self-serving man justified by the inconsiderate actions of the institution that was once his life and livelihood. He doesn’t have to be overly obnoxious in his disdain for the company (Aces & Eights), and he doesn’t have to be an Attitude Era-esque edgy and cool tweener either (Ken Anderson).
All Styles has to do is be himself minus the concern and care for being Dixie’s golden boy and the fans’ favorite athlete. Styles has to become the wrestler that competes for the company’s top prize while maintaining an eff you attitude towards anyone or anything that represents the institution that snubbed him. Styles shouldn’t perform for the fans, nor should he be the face of a company in need of a savior. Styles does what Styles wants for Styles’ benefit. This was essentially the same rubric for the evolution of Sting’s character in WCW after Hulk Hogan’s heel turn and the creation of the nWo, except there were actual buzzards and crows involved.
Sting’s descent into this depressing and unforgiving darkness revitalized the character and WCW. In the same way that this dark and emo Sting resonated in the hearts of many fans, so too can this new AJ Styles character. How many of TNA’s fans have been abused and taken for granted by their employers? How many fans have felt betrayed by TNA’s sports entertainment-like approach in their product as of late?
If we can be narcissistic for one second, how cool would Styles look with new, darker gear?
This drastic character makeover for Styles couldn’t come at a better time in the company’s history. With the very flat Aces & Eights storyline going nowhere fast (perhaps, in hindsight, purposefully so…) and their almost hostile takeover of the company, TNA needs a familiar face to help drag them out of the social group’s fun house of inequity. With their show being taken on the road after the upcoming Lockdown pay per view, TNA needs a homegrown top star to build their franchise around, a top star that can make the same media rounds as John Cena while drawing interest towards the product instead of away from it. With a concentrated effort to focus on building four pay per views out of the year, TNA needs a star that will increase buyrates at the mere mention of his name.
Personally speaking I would pay money to see a moody, grizzle-faced AJ Styles tan Jeff Hardy’s high-flying fanny six ways from Sunday for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
Even thought I still believe my epiphany to be one unique to my own experience, I’m also sure that most fans have already speculated on Styles’ character development. Whether you’ve considered this level of maturation for Styles or not, the reality is that change is coming for one of the company’s most prized wrestlers. Do not be surprised to see Styles return to the scene as angry and bitter as Sting did in WCW many years ago; do not be surprised if he returns only to rage against the machine with his own agenda instead of defending TNA from the rising tide of the Aces & Eights domination.
Do be surprised if Styles turns out to be the leader of the Aces & Eights, because I for one am expecting this new wrestler to rely on his own abilities and to not trust anyone, anywhere at anytime.
But above all else, expect to be thoroughly surprised and pleased at wherever Styles and the creative heads take his character. As long as the man isn’t inexplicably kidnapped or forced to wear a leather vest, the end will justify the means.
*Note: The moniker “James” was used in this piece because Adam didn’t want me to use his real name.