He’s TNA’s first Grand Slam champion, and is considered by wrestling purists around the world as one of the greatest wrestlers of the modern. This Sunday in the US he will be challenging current TNA champion Jeff Jarrett at Hard Justice, live on pay-per-view, in a match that is sure to be truly… phenomenal. NZPWI was lucky enough to interview TNA superstar AJ Styles just days before his world title match.
James Cardno: AJ Styles… how are you?
AJ Styles: I’m doing great
Just over a week ago you had a new arrival in your household; what’s it like being a dad?
I tell you what, it’s probably the most unbelievable experience that I’ll ever have in my life. Nothing will ever compare to my son’s birth, other than maybe a brother and sister later on in the future. That’s just awesome… now THAT’S phenomenal, really.
So you’re planning for quite a large family?
Maybe about two more? Not too big.
We’re three days out from the Hard Justice PPV where you will be taking on Jeff Jarrett. What’s your thoughts leading into the match, and do you change your training routines or regimen at all as you get closer to these big events?
Well, I don’t know about changing the way I train. The only thing I think that Jeff Jarrett has over me is the fact that he’s had more matches, that he’s been there and done that a lot more than I have. He has experience. If that’s the only thing he has on me, it’s time to step up to the plate and hit a home run, because Jeff Jarrett? Him and I have wrestled before; it won’t be the first time, and it won’t be the first time that Jeff Jarrett has lost to AJ Styles, and that’s exactly what I think he’s going to do. I think my work ethic is second to none, so we’ll just see what happens.
Tito Ortiz is going to be the special guest referee in your match, and he’s quite a tough guy – if anyone can keep Jarrett in line, it’s him. What influence do you think that he’ll have on the match and its outcome.
If you’ve ever watched any match that Jeff Jarrett has been in, especially the world title matches, you saw him get the guitar and whatever he can get his hands on to make sure that he wins the match. Well… Tito’s going to make sure none of that crap happens and I’m glad he’s a ref. I’m glad he’s going to be the authority as a ref should be in these particular matches.
You’ve won the TNA World Title, the Tag Titles and the X-Division Title. Which belt meant the most to you and why?
They all mean a lot to me. The X-Division Title is a big belt for me, because it was the first belt that I won in TNA. I think that the X-Division separates us from everyone else because we have some of the best athletes, wrestlers… these guys are unbelievable. So the X-Division title is definitely something big. The Tag Team Titles are also big because these are the same tag titles that all of the older guys have won; these are old titles. And when we’re talking about the World Title, you’re talking about Lou Thesz and Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair… you’re talking about the title that all the great ones had, and to have that? I guess it doesn’t really compare to some of the other belts.
Don’t get me wrong – they still mean a lot.
Speaking about the wrestling history and the prestige behind the belts, a few years back we interviewed JBL and asked him why Texas was such a great State for wrestling. Same question to you – Georgia was one of the centres of wrestling in America. Why do you think it’s really cemented its place as one of THE places for pro-wrestling over the past century?
You know what? That is a question that I can’t answer. Growing up, I wasn’t the biggest fan of professional wrestling just because I wasn’t able to watch it, so that’s a hard question for me to answer.
Why weren’t you able to watch it when you were growing up?
Well, unfortunately I didn’t have the money so that I could have cable television. I had a little antenna that we had to twirl around and try to pick up stations when we could, so I wasn’t able to watch that much, just because of the simple fact that I was poor! So, what do you do?
This is the first PPV since the tragic death of Chris Candido. Have the boys got anything special planned as a tribute, and do you have a few words to any of his fans who might be listening?
I don’t know if they have anything planned; I would say that this whole PPV is a tribute to Chris. He was a joy to have around the lockerroom, and he’s certainly going to be missed, and certainly going to be missed by me. He was a good friend.
At least I can look back and know the last thing that I’d done or said to Chris was that I gave him a hug when he broke his ankle. I just gave him a hug and told him, “you’ll be alright, it’s not a big deal.” And that was it. Luckily, I got the opportunity to give him a hug before his death, which is really tragic.
US cruiserweight wrestling and the X-Division seems to be undergoing a bit of a split at the moment where guys like Jack Evans are really pushing the acrobatic boundary as far as possible, while guys like you and Christopher Daniels, in spite of being able to pull off moves like the Spiral Tap, seem to be focusing more on making slightly older moves as crisp as possible. Would you agree with that and, if so, is it a conscious decision that you made?
I think that wrestling , in particular the X-Division, isn’t just about high-flying. It’s about guys being able to do crazy moves, and I don’t mean flying moves. You talk about crazy? How about Petey Williams’ Canadian Destroyer? You won’t see that anywhere else, it’s crazy. And that’s part of being extreme, doing extreme moves like that.
I would say that an all-around wrestler is better off than a guy who can just flip. Don’t get me wrong. Jack’s definitely coming on as a top guy, doing crazy flips like that. I just hope he doesn’t get hurt. Don’t get me wrong – that’s exactly the way I used to be. The crazier flips I could pull off, the better off I thought I was going to be, but that’s not the case any more. I think the all-around wrestler is definitely the one that people want to watch.
Speaking of getting injured in the ring, there was an incident a few months ago where you landed the Styles Clash on Frankie Kazarian, I think it was? And the move didn’t go as well as it could have.
You know what? If there’s a knock-out move, that’s definitely it. If someone tucks their head, it can break your neck. It can be a real serious injury. I know a kid tried to pull off the Styles Clash on another kid and actually broke his neck in the independents over here. It can be a serious move, but it doesn’t have to be – it can be a safe one if you want it to be. People doing the wrong things… you know, it’s just a freak accident that happened, and Frankie will never let it happen again, I’m sure.
So you didn’t have any hesitation about using the move the next time, or any worries?
Oh no, not at all. It’s almost like a Stunner – you’d be surprised how people can get hurt on the Stunner, just because they took it wrong. It’s the same thing with the Styles Clash; it’s a safe move if they take it right. It’s not that hard to figure out. But somehow they manage a way to hurt themselves.
Popular opinion is placing Matt Hardy as possibly coming to TNA when his no-compete clause expires. As someone who was really responsible for intiating his brother Jeff into TNA, what’s your thoughts about the possibility of Matt coming to join his brother, and what role you might play in that?
I don’t know exactly what role he’ll play, but I’m definitely hoping that he gets here, because it’s going to be something awesome. I’d love to see Matt and Jeff back together, and Matt? He’s a big part of wrestling. I can’t believe that they let him go; I can’t believe it. It still baffles me. But we’ll pick him up, we’ll take him to another level if he wants to go. He can definitely help our company, and we’d love to help him out too.
You wrestle around the world; I know you went over to Ireland. Some of our contacts over there mention you wrestled with Irish Whip Wrestling against Christopher Daniels. Do you notice any difference going from the six-sided Impact ring to the old squared circle, and which do you prefer now?
You know, it’s not just that I wrestle in “six sides.” On the weekends and whatnot I still wrestle the four sides, and it doesn’t bother me. You can’t forget how much you’ve been around the squared circle rather than the hexagon. It’s not that big of a difference, it doesn’t bother me that much. I’ve got to be honest with you though, I love the six-sided ring moreso than the squared ring.
Are the ropes that much tighter when you’re running the ropes? Are there any other differences you find?
Pretty much just the ropes; the turnbuckles are closer together, therefore the ropes are going to be a little bit tighter. You can definitely get lost in the ring. Like if you go to shoot a guy into the turnbuckle, and he’s in the ropes; or you need the ropes and he’s in the turnbuckle. Either way, you’ve got to get used to it and need to know what you’re doing in there. You’ve got to get in the ring and play around a little before you just jump in there and wrestle, because you’ll get lost.
You’ve certainly been built as one of THE guys for TNA, and you’re certainly considered as one of the most innovative wrestlers in the world today. Do you feel any pressure from that?
Pressure? No… You know, for me, I think I work well under pressure. And I don’t consider myself ‘one of the best’. I want to be, I’ll keep striving to be, but I don’t consider myself as better. I think Christopher Daniels and Chris Benoit, those guys are the best. I want to be like those guys; I want to take it to another level like those guys do and be able to just get in there and have a great match every time people are watching.
You’re a very strong Christian, AJ. What do you think it is about the world of professional wrestling that leads so many of its employees and people to find Christ and be born again?
Well, it’s hard to believe – there’s not THAT many people… There’s been a couple; Ted Dibiase and Sting and Russo… You know what? Maybe it’s because they’ve lived such a hard life, and this wrestling business is so hard that when it comes right down to it, when they hit the bottom, they realise what’s important, and it’s not wrestling. It’s where you’re going to be, what’s going to happen when you die. Jesus Christ? There’s nothing else like that. Even if these guys have had a kid, then they’ve got to know how precious life is, and how only God can do something like that; only God could make something as beautiful as a baby. I don’t know exactly why, but maybe that’s the reason? It’s so hard to stay pure and stay out of trouble that when you finally get out of it, it’s easier to look up and go, “man, what am I doing here?” and realise what’s more.
I know you’ve said in the past that you don’t get the chance to watch many other wrestling feds on TV, but have you had the chance to see Christian of the WWE’s entrance to the ring recently? There’s some obvious similarities there – the hooded jacket and stuff. How do you feel when you see people from the indys or various other feds borrowing aspects of your style, of your approach… Do you feel it’s a tribute, or a rip-off… how do you feel about that?
A little of both. I mean these are guys… At first I get a little angry with them, sort of thinking well gosh, you can’t do it yourself, so you depend on me to make sure you look good. But then again, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to stay in wrestling and to keep people looking at you. I have seen Christian with the hood and everything like that; I don’t know about the moves or whatever, but what am I going to do about it? So I’ll just keep doing my thing and let people keep copying me, and I’ll take it as a compliment.
Running quickly through your moves, if we could just grab a few words on each of them… we’ve got the Styles Clash; you came up with that on a trampoline with your brother-in-law I understand a couple of years back?
Yup, him and his friends were trying to powerbomb each other, and they just couldn’t pick each other up, so they’d just dangle upside down in front of them while the other guy had his legs, and it just popped into my head, and I walked over there, and he was the first one to take it.
Is your brother-in-law going to enter the ranks of wrestling?
Oh, he’d better not. He’s too young and hopefully he’s smart enough not to do something like that.
Then you’ve got the Pele Kick, that awesome backflip enzeguri
You know, I’ve seen it done before. I can’t exactly say I made that one up! But I just tried to put my own little twist on it, just like everything else, to make it my own, but I can’t take full credit for that one.
All these moves we might see in action with Jarrett, of course, at Hard Justice. We’ve got the beautiful backflip DDT you do.
That one, I’d seen Dragon Kid do something similar and again, I put my own little twist on it to make it my own. Some moves I come up with on my own; others, there’s no new moves, so you have to tweak them a little bit to get the reaction you want out of them.
And finally, of course, that beautiful Shooting Styles Press of yours, AJ. Christopher Daniels calls his moonsault the Best Moonsault Ever. Would you call yours the best Shooting Star Press ever, and if not who do you reckon in the world today has the best one?
I’ve got to say… maybe the one I do to the outside, the Shooting Styles Press? Maybe. But as far as inside the ring, Paul London has me beat by a LONG shot, and we all know that. It’s beautiful – can’t deny that.
Finally, we were lucky enough to have guys like Chris Sabin and Frankie Kazarian come down here for a tour with the WWA a few years ago. Is there any chance we’ll see the Phenomenal One in New Zealand any time in the future?
Well, you never know, man. I don’t have anything booked at the moment, but then again? I don’t even know what I’m doing next week. So I’d say it’s quite possible. I’ve been everywhere else in the world, so I can’t see why not there.
AJ, thank you so much, just on behalf of all the fans in New Zealand who’ll be listening to this interview, thank you so much for entertaining and providing such a spectacle in the ring every time you go out there. You’ve got a huge base of fans down here on the other side of the world, and best of luck this Saturday at Hard Justice.