After bouncing around Georgia independents, Styles somewhat ironically gets offered a WCW contract in the final month of their existence! He has a tryout match for WWF during the Invasion era but was not successful, as well as a match on WWF Metal in 2002 losing against The Hurricane. So, he would jump around the two new short-lived promotions of the time before TNA would set up shop, the XWF and Australia’s WWA where he would win their cruiserweight championship, defeating Jerry Lynn in a tournament final.
Styles would fledgeling company Ring of Honor just ahead of the NWA/TNA’s formation, and immediately established himself as a main eventer, challenging Low Ki for the ROH World Heavyweight Title in a match that put both them, and the promotion, on many people’s radars.
He would then sign a non-exclusive deal with TNA in the summer and would become the inaugural NWA X-Division Champion, in an instant classic with Jerry Lynn, Low Ki and Psicosis that immediately put NWA/TNA on the map.
A week later, Styles would win the vacant NWA Tag Team Titles with Jerry Lynn, however, the two would fall out after the summer, and the X-Division belt was traded between the two and Low Ki for the rest of the year with Styles gaining his second reign from Syxx-Pac Sean Waltman who had also been thrown into the mix.
In 2003, Styles was already challenging in the main event picture, getting his first title show in February again Jeff Jarrett. He was unsuccessful, but would win the title in the summer in a three-way dance with the two and Raven, with some assistance from ahem Vince Russo and his “Sports Entertainment Xtreme” stable (heh heh, geddit?) Styles would eventually drop the title back to Jarrett in the Fall but not after a series of great matches, with a one on one with Raven being a particular highlight.
Styles would spend much of the next year back in Ring of Honor where he would pick up the ROH Tag Team Championship belts with The Amazing Red, defeating The Prophecy (Christopher Daniels and Xavier) and retained in a series of matches with The Briscoes (boo). During this time styles would become the first recognised “Number One Contender” Trophy Holder and perform against the likes of C.M Punk, American Dragon Bryan Danielson and finally losing to ROH Champion Samoa Joe in November 2003. In early 2004, at ROH’s Second Anniversary Show, the promotion held a tournament for their inaugural “Pure Wrestling Champion” in which Styles defeated C.M Punk in the final. A month later Styles would retain in Punk’s rematch with Ricky Steamboat guest refereeing.
In preparation for TNA’s first monthly pay per view, TNA recalled all contracted talent from ROH, meaning Styles had to vacate the Pure Wrestling Championship. Styles was rewarded with his third X-Division title in the summer defeating Frankie Kazarian in June. By the time of their debut PPV-proper Victory Road, Styles had co-held the title with Kazarian because reasons, then after regaining control of the title, lost to Petey Williams. Styles challenged Williams at the inaugural PPV but was unsuccessful.
Styles would regain the title in early 2005, defeating Williams and Chris Sabin in an “Ultimate X” Three-Way match at Final Resolution, before one of TNA’s earliest classics a month later as Styles retained against Christopher Daniels in a 30-minute Ironman match at Against All Odds.
Styles returned his focus to the World Heavyweight Title, defeating Abyss in a number one contender Six Sides of Steel match at Lockdown, going on to regain the title from Jarrett at Hard Justice. His reign wouldn’t last long, however, as he would lose a five-way King of the Mountain match to Raven at Salmmiversary.
Returning to the X Division, Styles would enter the TNA 2005 Super X Cup Tournament losing to eventual winner Samoa Joe in the semi-finals at Sacrifice due to interference from champion Christopher Daniels. This would set up arguably TNA’s greatest match, a triple-threat between the three at Unbreakable for the NWA X-Division Title, earning his fifth reign in the process.
The three would continue feuding well into 2006, with a brief interlude facing a young Hiroshi Tanahashi at Final Resolution who was essentially farmed out to TNA for a brief period as a developmental talent. The match wasn’t a classic, but it did open up Styles’s relationship with New Japan talent. Styles and other TNA talent, however, were allowed to return to ROH around this time, where the Joe & Daniels feud even spilt over to, but during this time Styles would challenge champion, Bryan Danielson, in an instant classic.
After almost a year of feuding, Styles and Daniels would eventually put aside their beef and team up in the summer of 2006, winning the titles from America’s Most Wanted Chris Harris & James Storm at the third time of asking at Slammiversary '06, followed by a high-flying feud with LAX’s Hernandez & Homicide, eventually culminating in a fantastic Six Sides of Steel match at Bound For Glory.
Due to the debuting Kurt Angle and Christian Cage, TNA’s focus shifted as the two formed opposing factions, in which Styles joined Christian’s Coalition. This would explode at Lockdown in '07 in a ten-man match consisting of the company’s top talent at the time.
After NWA suddenly pulled out of their multi-year deal with TNA in 2007, the promotion created a brand new TNA World Heavyweight Championship, initially won by Kurt Angle from Christian, however was stripped due to a screwy finish by Jim Cornette. As a result, a five-way King of the Mountain match was announced for Slammiversary to determine the first TNA World Heavyweight champion proper between Angle, Christian, Styles, Samoa Joe and… Chris Harris? Ok. It was won by Angle anyway, making him officially the first TNA World Heavyweight Champion.
Styles would spend most of the next year in the tag division teaming with Tomko, defeating Ron Killings and a young Xavier Woods (Rasheed Lucius Creed), who was subbing in for “Pacman” Adam Jones, who despite being champion wasn’t allowed to compete during his NFL suspension, holding the titles for roughly 6 months.
Shortly afterwards, about a year after his match with Tanahashi, Styles made his first NJPW appearance as the fairly cross-promotional Wrestle Kingdom II, teaming with Christian Cage and Petey Williams against RISE, featuring a young Finn Balor!
After spending most of 2008 involved in some bollix storyline with Kurt and Karen Angle, Styles unsuccessfully challenged Sting for the TNA World Heavyweight Title at Turning Point in '08, before being written off for a couple of months with a kayfabe injury in early '09. Styles would return to defeat Booker T for his Legends (now T.V) title to become the second champion in the title’s reign.
After slowly climbing back up the title picture ladder in 2009, Styles would finally regain the World Heavyweight Championship defeating Angle, Sting, Hernandez & Matt Morgan (lol) at No Surrender in September. Styles would retain in his first defence against Sting, at Bound For Glory (ending Sting’s undefeated streak at TNA’s premier PPV) before going on to re-create the triple threat classic from almost five years before against Samoa Joe & Christopher Daniels.
A couple of months into Styles’ run, Hogan & Bischoff show up!!! In one of their first acts, Styles turns heel defeating Kurt Angle in a clinic at Genesis, before replicating the Montreal Screwjob in a rematch on Impact with Earl Hebner refereeing! Fun!
Styles’ run would lose steam over 2010, partly due to terrible booking from the terrible two, eventually losing to Rob Van Dam on an episode of Impact, ending his then record-length reign and losing his rematch at Sacrifice to make it official.
Styles wouldn’t be title-less long, however, winning the former Legends title (at that point TNA Global Championship due to British champion Rob Terry) renaming it the T.V title. Styles would lose to another Brit, Douglas Williams, a few months later. The next three years would see Styles wind-down as a top tier talent, and bar putting over the emerging Bully Ray in a Last Man Standing Match at Slammiversary 2011, didn’t do a huge amount beyond unsuccessfully challenging then-champion Booby Roode in November and December.
In 2012 Styles would be put into one of the worst angles of all time involving a woman by the name of Claire Lynch, while endlessly feuding, and then teaming, with Kurt Angle to briefly become tag champs in the middle of this horrendous storyline.
In 2013, Styles was reaching the end of his contract and was in negotiations throughout. During this time, to try and keep him, Dixie Carter booked Styles to win the Bound For Glory series, earning him a shot at champion and head of the Aces & Eights, Bully Ray, in which Styles won his final TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Styles would leave the company as champion, however, after claiming the offer given would have reduced his salary “about 60%” as TNA began its long, slow descent into financial ruin.
After a brief return to Ring of Honor at the beginning of 2014 where Styles would defeat Roderick Strong, Jay Lethal & Chris Hero, Styles signed a contract with NJPW in March of 2014. Styles immediately attacked champion Kazuchika Okada and positioned himself as the number one contender and the new leader of The Bullet Club (as Prince Devitt has recently signed for NXT) ahead of Karl Anderson. On his debut at Wrestling Dontaku, Styles wins the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship from Okada, immediately ushering in a new era for New Japan.
Styles would feud with Okada throughout the summer, retaining his title twice both in America for an ROH co-promotion triple-threat with Styles, Okada and Michael Elgin (boo) and a singles match back in Japan at Return to Yokohama Arena. Styles entered the 2014 G1 where he suffered his first defeats, finally to Okada and also Tetsuya Naito. In a non-title match on the tournament’s final day, Styles would lose to Hiroshi Tanahashi, setting up a title shot down the line, which Tanahashi would be successful in at King of Pro-Wrestling 2014, ending Styles’ reign.
Shortly after A.J. STYLES BROKE YOSHITATSU’S NECK DOING A STYLES CLASH! Gross! As a result, Styles was pushed as a “killer” and took on Tetsuya Naito at the following Wrestle Kingdom in a classic.
A month later, Styles received a rematch with Tanahashi and successfully gained the IWGP Heavyweight Title for the second time. His first defence came in a fantastic match with 2015’s New Japan Cup winner, Kota Ibushi.
In the summer, Styles’ second reign would lose to where it began, as Okada wins the title back at Dominion and retain in a rematch at King of Pro-Wrestling 2015. Towards the end of the year, there was much speculation about Styles’ future as his contract was nearing expiry, with many rumours coming from his return to America at Christmas to perform at Ring Of Honor’s end of year show, taking on Jay Lethal for the World Heavyweight Championship in a losing effort.
Styles would return for Wrestle Kingdom where he would face Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, which is arguably both men’s best matches with the company, with both knowing they would soon be leaving for WWE, as well as the match that put Wrestle Kingdom on an international stage.
After installing Kenny Omega as the new leader of Bullet Club the following night at New Year’s Dash, Styles left the company, having officially handed in his notice that day. Styles made a brief pit-stop in England shortly after this, facing Rey Mysterio at the fledgeling 5-Star Wrestling promotion (RIP) in Sheffield, before losing to John Morrison in the inaugural title match in Newcastle. Styles would then travel down to that London to face Zach Sabre Jr. for the Rev Pro Championship in a losing effort.
And then… a few days later… it happened! AJ Styles enters 3rd in the 2016 Royal Rumble to a bemused Roman Reigns, who was defending his title in the match, to one of the loudest pops in Royal Rumble history.
Styles would then immediately enter a feud with Chris Jericho, gaining his first singles PPV match at Fastlane, then forming a brief tag team called Y2AJ (rip, this merch) before falling apart again and performing in an ever-so-slightly underwhelming Wrestlemania re-match.
Styles quickly became the number one contender to Reigns’ WWE World Heavyweight Title but lost both his matches at Payback and Extreme Rules. After failing to qualify for the Money in the Bank match, Styles turned his attention to a returning John Cena and wouldn’t you know it, DEFEATED THE 16-TIME CHAMP TWICE TO… BEAT UP JOHN CENA! While their initial clash at MitB had some interference from The Club’s Gallows & Anderson, their big-time match at Summerslam finished clean as a whistle and re-invigorated Cena’s late-career renaissance.
As a result, Styles was rewarded with a title shot against Dean Ambrose at Backlash, bringing an end to his fairly miserable title run. Styles would feud with Ambrose and Cena for the rest of the year, including some absolute bollix with James Ellsworth (boo), before losing an instant classic with Cena again, at the following year’s Royal Rumble.
Styles would be unsuccessful in regaining the championship at Elimination Chamber, as Bray Wyatt shocked the world to win. Styles instead would enter a feud with Shane McMahon to have arguably the match of the night at Wrestlemania 33; a match way better than it had any right to be.
Styles would be unsuccessful in winning that year’s Money In The Bank match (lol Baron Corbin) but would win the U.S Title from Kevin Owens a month later at Battleground. The feud would peak at Summerslam, though really with special guest referee Shane McMahon, Styles’ involvement was just a plot device to further on the Owens/Shane feud.
After losing the title to Baron Corbin (lol) in a match that also featured Tye Dillinger (LOL, 2017) at Hell in a Cell, Styles stood in for Bray Wyatt in an impromptu match with Finn Balor at TLC where they teased a Bullet Club reunion. Two weeks later, in the build-up to Survivor Series, Styles would defeat Jinder Mahal (LOL, 2017) for the WWE World Heavyweight Title on Smackdown in Manchester, beginning his year-long reign. This also meant Styles would face RAW Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series instead of Mahal, in a non-title Champion vs. Champion match, which thankfully led to an absolute barn-stormer.
Styles would (obviously) retain in Mahal’s rematch at Night of Champions, and enter a slightly bollix-y feud with Owens and Zayn in the following months. Eventually, this would lead to Styles trying to re-ignite one of his greatest rivalries with Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania 34 leading to a summer of dick-punching!
The feud couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, though they at least finished it with a banger at Money in the Bank. After a brief stop in the road vs Rusev, due to being briefly red hot thanks to “Rusev Day”, Styles would enter a feud with one of his other greatest rivals, Samoa Joe. This would prove much more successful than the Nakamura feud where they had several great matches, starting with their encounter at Summerslam. The match would end in a D.Q due to a fit of rage from Styles after Joe proclaimed to his wife and kids that he was their “new daddy”.
Shortly after passing a full year of being champ, Styles would lose to eco-warrior gimmicked Daniel Bryan on Smackdown, mimicking the year before as Bryan would now go on to face Lesnar at Survivor Series instead. Bryan would retain at TLC in an absolute classic, just don’t talk about their Royal Rumble encounter a month later.
Styles would also be unsuccessful at Elimination Chamber, setting up a feud with Randy Orton that I guarantee you have already forgotten about. Apparently, they had a match at Wrestlemania and everything!
Following Mania, Styles re-entered the title picture feuding with Champion Seth Rollins, having been drafted to Raw. The two would have a fantastic match, though Styles would be out from injury for a couple of months as a result.
Upon returning, Styles feuded with Richochet over the U.S Championship? He won the title at Extreme Rules and then they even had a match at Summerslam? Anyone? No?
At Survivor Series (the one with NXT) Styles took part in a cross-brand triple threat bringing back former rivals from New Japan and Ring of Honor with Shinsuke & Roddy Strong. After being unsuccessful in Royal Rumble, Styles had a match with Aleister Black at Elimination Chamber? Is this an April Fools?
OH WAIT, of course, this was the set up to The Undertaker match! He returned to defeat Styles in a gauntlet match in Saudi Arabia and then interfered against Black, arguably entering a feud with the wrong man of the two!
So here it is, we get to the unrivalled, COVID-era ushering, bollix that is AJ Styles vs American Badass 'Taker in what might finally be his retirement match. And what a memeable laugh it was. I’d personally argue Cena vs Wyatt on night 2 was better, but this set the standard of the “cinematic match” for 2020, one we are still living in the shadow of somewhat, a year later.
In the following months, Styles had his most recent title run to date winning the Intercontinental Title in a tournament set-up due to Sami Zayn vacating the title after not initially performing during COVID. The final consisted of a modern classic and arguably match of the year with Daniel Bryan. Styles would lose to Jeff Hardy a few weeks later before Zayn would return to reclaim the title he never lost in a ladder triple-threat between the three of them.
Since then, Styles has been hanging around with a big lad called Omos, who will debut at Wrestlemania 37 when the two of them challenge The New Day for the RAW Tag Titles, which if he wins, he will become a Grand Slam champion.