OH, COME THE F*** ON!
Serious question: is AJ Styles cursed? Did a creepy old lady from Estonia place a hex on him that draws all the dumbest and/or unsatisfying finishes towards him, making his reign feel honestly kind of a draining bummer? Is this some giant inside joke that I don’t get? Is the Earth willing this until AJ finally admits that it’s not flat?
AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe for the WWE Championship is magnificent because, even though they’re not the AJ Styles and Samoa Joe of 10 years ago in TNA, they are still AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. Have you seen their Triple Threat with Christopher Daniels at TNA’s Unbreakable from 2008 in a while? That’s not counting all the times they’ve clashed in singles matches over the years, plus the fact that, no matter how badly WWE booking tries to negate this, they are both two of the best wrestlers alive with a ridiculously talented sense for how to build a match, tell a story, and escalate at the perfect speed to keep the crowd on the edge of their seats. They are extraordinarily good at this and the match we get here is pretty much perfect.
Joe is an incredible heel – shout-out to his promo with the pre-show panel where he singlehandedly rescued three weeks’ worth of questionable booking, at a time where I didn’t think they were going to properly payoff the constant invocations of Styles’ family, in five deliciously slimy minutes because Joe is SO GOOD on the mic. Just proper old-school despicable. He and Styles have wrestled each other on-and-off for almost two decades now, which both they and Creative have done a good job of priming everybody for, so the match is logically even-handed as both men know how to reverse or kick out of the other’s hardest hits. It starts methodical because AJ knows he needs to keep his emotions in check whilst Joe is the kind of guy who is always thinking 14 moves in advance and is deliberately trying to get underneath AJ’s skin. As the minutes roll on (this was the second-longest match of the night), both men reach deeper into their arsenals yet still can’t put the other away, and now everyone’s on tenterhooks to see what the finish will be, especially since Joe teased a Muscle Buster that Styles just managed to avoid.
Honestly, despite that opening salvo, I’m actually in two minds about the finish – Joe getting on the mic, promising to AJ’s daughter watching ringside that “Daddy’s not coming home” but that he’ll “be [her] new daddy,” leading to AJ losing it and intentionally disqualifying himself in a fit of blind rage. On the one hand, I kind of loved it because it is exactly the kind of old-school despicable heeling that I am down for, Joe sells the ever-loving heck out of it, we’ve got a natural and logical escalation for the Hell in a Cell rematch, and AJ’s daughter recoiling from her dad and almost tearfully noting “Daddy, you’re bleeding” (AJ got cut open after a nasty bump to the floor) is utter gold to this storyline. But on the other hand, it kind of murked the momentum of the match coming when it did, Joe kind of came off as an idiot for thinking it wouldn’t backfire as spectacularly as it did, and because I still remember 4 months ago when we got a similarly underwhelming finish to a New Japan-style match with promises of greater things down the line and now I never want to see Styles & Nakamura wrestle in a WWE ring again. Plus, y’know, AJ’s had screwy finish after screwy finish across this reign and that makes me weary.
We’ll see how this progresses, then. I think I wouldn’t have been so down on this non-ending, ditto the crowd who were just out of it for the vast majority of the match, had it not followed the biggest failure of a heel turn in years, been chased by a complete non-entity of an Elias segment, and surrounded on all sides by pointless squash matches and heatless filler promos for people who aren’t even active on the main roster anymore. But I’ll forgive this so long as Joe gets a run with the belt and maybe a whole bunch of hilariously uncomfortable video packages where he replaces AJ as the head of the Styles household.