WWE champ AJ Styles ready to rock Alabama for its 'crazy fans' and because it's 'close to home'
Posted: Jan 14th 2017 By: AI.com
WWE champ A. J. Styles ready to rock Alabama for its 'crazy World Wrestling Entertainment returns to Birmingham for the first time since September's "SmackDown Live" broadcast this weekend, bringing with it several of its biggest superstars.
John Cena, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Bray Wyatt, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss and several others will appear at the house show, which will not be televised, on Saturday in
Legacy Arena at the BJCC starting at 7:30 p.m. You can still purchase tickets online.
Leading the entire pack will be current WWE Champion A. J. Styles, who has enjoyed one of the company's best-ever rookie years in less than 365 days.
Born in North Carolina and raised in Georgia, Styles spent 17 years working his tail off in indies, Total Nonstop Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and other companies all towards reaching the ultimate goal in making the WWE roster.
Not only did he reach that last January when he debuted at the Royal Rumble, Styles took 2016 by storm, putting one several of the year's best matches and becoming the WWE Champion for the first time in his career.
At 39, the high-flying Styles shows no signs of slowing down either. In fact, it feels like he's only just getting started, having finally realized a near-lifelong dream of making the WWE, let along headlining shows like Saturday's and this month's Royal Rumble, which will air on the WWE
Network Jan. 29.
We caught up with Styles via telephone recently to talk about his relationship to Alabama and southern crowds, his faith and its role in his journey to WWE and how he rates
his first year with the company.
After starting in Cornelia, Ga., back in 1999, it took about 17 years for you to arrive at WWE. I know the first-ever TNA show was in Huntsville, Ala. What can you tell me about your experience with Alabama through wrestling or otherwise?
AJ Styles: Alabama's just as crazy as pretty much any other part of the country. They just love to see good wrestling and good entertainment, to be honest with you. I always like going to Alabama, not only because they've got crazy fans there, but heck, that's close to home for me.
As a southerner, what's something you might appreciate about performing in front of southern crowds that others on the roster might not?
AS: I think first and foremost is that I don't have to worry about my accent. People can totally understand what I'm saying from Alabama. It's what I'm used to. This is where I cut my teeth. It's just kind of like being home. I get to do anything and everything that AJ Styles has been doing the
past 18 years.
I know you're a man of faith and family. How has your faith impacted your career and how did you lean on it during that 17-year journey to where you are now?
AS: I would love to tell you that it's been absolutely perfect, that I've been a man that's been super Christian. But I've had mistakes, dumb things I've regretted, so it's not a perfect life. But it's one that has helped me make better decisions. That's part of what my faith is all about, being a Christian, that I know I'm not perfect, and therefore, I'm going to screw him. But thank God, he will forgive me for these foolish things that I've done. And I've leaned on my faith a lot, especially in the past couple of years leaving TNA and not knowing where to go next and just prayed about it. That led me to Ring of Honor, that led me to New Japan. That ultimately led me to one of the best places I've ever worked in WWE.
Was there ever a moment where you thought you didn't need WWE because to do the success you found outside of it, was it always about keeping the faith and continuing to press on
towards that goal?
AS: It was one of those things where I just realized it just wasn't in the cards for AJ Styles, that he never would be in WWE, and I was OK with that. I'd come to grips with that it was one of those things that just isn't meant to be. And that's not a bad thing. I've been pretty successful wherever
I've been and enjoyed wherever I've been. It was just icing on the cake when the opportunity presented itself to come to such an amazing roster and company.
How do you look back on your first year at WWE?
AS: It's one of those things like 'Oh, wow.' I hope I'm able to continue kicking tail. Nothing's going to change. I'm going to go out there and do what I do and keep working hard. It's hard to look back and reflect. There may be glimpses of 'Oh wow, I can't believe that happened. All right, back to work.' Someone tweeted me about this time last year, the WWE said something on their website about Nakamura, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows and AJ Styles may be coming to the WWE, and I thought 'Wow that's pretty cool. That was a year ago today.' So I thought that was really neat.
Do you have a favorite match from 2016?
AS: I have a lot of great matches in 2016. There are some I was real proud of. With Roman Reigns -- and don't get me wrong, WrestleMania was also a big one, too -- but I just felt like my matches with Roman Reigns set the tone of how AJ Styles was going to be presented in 2016, like this guy who gets after it and has great matches with just about anyone on the roster.
Shortly before the brand extension, on Chris Jericho's podcast, Seth Rollins said that once he returned from his injury, he was most looking forward to working with you. But that obviously can't happen at least in the traditional televised sense. How has the split changed your ideas or
expectations of how and with whom you hoped to work in the company?
AS: The great thing about it is there are so many options for me because I've only been here a year and worked with a certain amount of guys. Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt and all those guys I'm going to have the opportunity to get in the ring with. And Seth Rollins is on that list as well. That's
going to happen. There's no doubt. At some point this year, hopefully there will be another draft. And whatever happens, at some point, before him and I both retire, we're going to
see each other in the ring. There's no doubt about it.
How do you and the creative staff adjust, if at all, when your popularity as a bad guy gets you over with fans as more of a good guy in terms of how the crowd receives you?
AS: Sometimes I feel like if I'm not getting people to boo me, then I'm not doing my job right. So that's on me. I need to be better about being the bad guy. And sometimes they just refuse. These fans just refuse to accept me as the bad guy. That has a lot to do with how much time I spent outside the WWE and coming here and doing so well, they respect that, I guess you could say. But it's up to me to make sure that these fans find a way to boo me. And I think that when you're in the ring with guys like John Cena where people love to boo him but when you cut a promo the way he did last Tuesday night, you've got to love that. You've got to love the passion that he presents, and that ultimately makes me the bad guy when someone with that passion comes at you like
that. It was a really great moment.
Who would you put on your personal WWE Mount Rushmore? Who are the top four most important wrestlers in WWE history?
AS: If we're talking about guys who set the tone, you've got to go way back. But if we're talking about guys who made it possible for guys like AJ Styles, Shawn Michaels kind of opened that door, along with Daniel Bryan. I'm not saying these are the top guys, but I'm saying there are a lot of
guys who made a difference in the career of AJ Styles. To pick four I think is impossible. So many different guys have come in, whether it be the kind of gear they wear or the style they wrestle, they've changed what we know as entertainment for the better. And that's opened the doors for all kinds of different talent that come in here and that ultimately get to make a living doing what they love.
WWE will perform in Legacy Arena in Birmingham on Saturday starting at 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets online via Ticketmaster.
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