I don’t follow the logic. Whether the departure of AJ Styles from TNA is legitimate or part of a storyline isn’t really the issue for me. If it's real, TNA is letting one of its most talented performers drift away. If it's part of a storyline, then TNA is just doing what they've done so many times in the past, blurring the lines between real world concerns and storytelling to the point that fans don't know and don't care what to believe anymore. Either way, it's not good.
AJ deserves better, from the business and from wrestling fans. On December 16, Styles issued a public statement on his rather unceremonious (and relatively anticlimactic) parting of ways with the organization that’s been home to him for over a decade. Wrestling’s rumor mill is often rife with intrigue and venom, but with regard to Styles, the rhetoric seems uniquely ignoble. Here’s the backdrop: Since 2002, Styles has been an integral part of the U.S.' number-two promotion. Through some of the company’s more difficult stretches, he’s proven to be one of the most consistently entertaining folks on the roster. Hell, one could even make the argument that Styles helped build TNA into a credible, viable outlet for mainstream wrestling fans who might otherwise have ignored the company altogether. A top-ranked singles performer; a charismatic, energetic and able-bodied performer; a man with a passion for professional wrestling—it’s not too much of a stretch to say he’s TNA’s John Cena.
But that—all that—wasn’t enough for TNA to keep him down on the farm. And he’s just another name in a big list of folks who have slipped away from TNA this year. Stu Saks spelled it out in his “From The Desk Of...” column in the November 2013 issue of PWI when he provided a list of the folks who had been cut by TNA over the course of recent months. I wasn’t convinced, myself. Stu noted that his sources were saying that TNA was in “more trouble than it’s been in in a long while” at that point, but around the same time, I heard from some folks in the business that the state of the company was relatively strong. I don’t like disagreeing with Stu, anyway. It’s like arguing with my father-in-law about which tires are better for my car; I have my own reasons and preferences, but at the end of the day, I’d be crazy to go against the sage-like wisdom that comes with decades of experience.
Hogan’s departure, which followed the exodus that Stu Saks described, was a tremendous blow to TNA’s continuing assertions that everything was still going swimmingly for the company. The way he went out, with on-screen figurehead Dixie Carter on her knees begging him to stay, was especially embarassing. Maybe they didn’t expect things to shake out the way they did, but in retrospect, it’s really hard to see the wisdom in how the Hulkster’s exit was staged. Now we’re hearing that Jeff Jarrett, the architect of Total Nonstop Action wrestling and, for many years, the driving force behind the company on screen and behind the scenes, has officially left the company as well. Yet, as big as Hogan and Jarrett are with regard to the company’s origins and recent past, the potential loss of Styles is the biggest blow to an organization that is increasingly short on depth and substance these days.
Much to my surprise, I’ve seen a vocal contingent on social media sharing some rather bleak predictions about Styles’ potential future outside of TNA. I’ve read a lot of skepticism regarding Styles’ marketability as a WWE guy (which, all told, is likely more of a commentary on WWE than on Styles himself) and I’ve seen a fair amount of people questioning whether or not Styles could even become a formidable player in ROH and independent wrestling. Even grantland.com's David Shoemaker took a rather mean-spirited swipe at Styles shortly before his departure of TNA, as well as Adam Pearce and Christopher Daniels, suggesting they’d missed their moment and likening them to “30-year-old(s) playing Triple-A ball.”
A lot of the critique seems more like parlor games and puffery as opposed to substantive analysis of Styles’ abilities and TNA’s struggles. Styles’ noteworthy run with TNA makes one thing very clear: these entities—the grappler and his longtime home—are best served staying together. For Styles, he’s a big fish in a relatively small pond and, when he’s allowed to shine and flourish, merits top billing solely because of how and what he does in the ring. For TNA, Styles is a bankable, reliable star who never lets his fans down. Is Styles tainted through his longstanding relationship with TNA? Maybe, but only to those who make up their minds by judging individual workers on the missteps and poor decisions of the company itself, which is a rather unfortunate and shortsighted perspective. The fact is, Styles deserves better and TNA can and should do better by him. In the words of some other big-time wrestling guy, “It’s what’s good for business.”
PWI Contributing Writer