AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura are headed to WWE Money in the Bank on Sunday, June 17. The two men will square off for Styles’ WWE Championship, in a feud that has only gotten better over time. While some fans have complained that there seems to be no end in sight, the truth is that AJ and Nakamura are in the midst of telling a very compelling story in WWE.
This is what championship rivalries are all about. Everyone knew that AJ Styles was one of the best in the world. It was never really up for debate. But the longer his run in WWE continues the more fans see just how good he really is. Of course important rivalries are paramount to building a guy’s reputation and Styles is no different.
When he came to WWE in 2016, he was paired with Chris Jericho. Their partnership soon lead to betrayal and the two became bitter enemies. This feud introduced AJ to the WWE mainstream and was important to his career because it allowed him to gain a foothold in the company.
That foothold led him to Roman Reigns and then to John Cena. Styles went from the new top guy to the former top guy. Styles and Cena fought and AJ ultimately won the feud. The Phenomenal One was rising to the occasion and making his case for being the hottest star in the business.
Watch AJ wait for Nakamura’s “apology”:
The case was closed when he won his first WWE Championship from Dean Ambrose. The day that so many believed would never happen actually did and AJ embraced it to the fullest. He became the smarmy and overconfident champion, the guy that dared anyone around him to step up and shut him up. He was so entertaining of course that he did turn babyface again and that came after beating Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 33.
His feud with Kevin Owens brought the United States Championship and a feud with Jinder Mahal brought the WWE championship for a second time. Styles delivered a great performance against Brock Lesnar and then it was on to Owens and Sami Zayn. Now Shinsuke Nakamura is the next challenger to AJ’s throne on SmackDown Live.
Jericho, Reigns, Cena, Ambrose, McMahon, Owens, Mahal, Lesnar, Zayn and now Nakamura. He even worked a match with Finn Balor along the way that fans won’t soon forget. This is a Hall of Fame resume and it’s only growing stronger.
AJ Styles is now a fixture in WWE. He’s no longer the indie darling that came in to a hero’s welcome. He has assimilated into the WWE machine and has arguably done it better than anyone from his world. He never worked in NXT and he didn’t need to. Styles was ready for prime time on the day he signed his WWE contract and it’s obvious the company made the right call.
Now he is indeed settling in with Nakamura. The two men have a well documented history in New Japan and that history laid the foundation for the work they’re doing now. Even the critics must admit that the heat between them has reignited and they have found their second wind in this rivalry.
Watch AJ vs. Nakamura on SmackDown Live:
Shinsuke Nakamura is the perfect foil for AJ Styles. Their chemistry is very real and it’s not just because of their shared past in Japan. Nakamura is the flip side of AJ’s coin, the man that is his equal yet also his opposite. Shinsuke is AJ’s Joker and his ruthlessness is on display for the whole world to see.
The low-blows were shocking at first and then they became funny. Why was WWE pushing this so hard on the fans? Why even take it to that depth? But as many questioned why, the real point may have been missed. It’s only now becoming clear that the bad blood between them is nothing more than a mind game created by Nakamura himself.
Shinsuke has no reason to hate AJ. Why would he? They may have history but it’s not exactly a bad history. They’re both extremely competitive Superstars and they both hate to lose. Nakamura won their first match in New Japan. He had bragging rights over AJ. Nakamura was confident heading into their match at WrestleMania 34. Why wouldn’t he be?
But when he lost, everything changed. Nakamura didn’t come to WWE because he wanted to make friends. He came to Vince McMahon’s company because he wanted to win. Losing to the man that he defeated two years prior made Nakamura snap. The repeated low-blows over the course of the next month were not for comedic effect. They were delivered by design so the feud would continue.
Nakamura baited the hook and AJ eagerly took the bait. He played right into Nakamura’s hands. What could have been just one main event match at WrestleMania has now turned into fully developed rivalry. Nakamura had three chances to get the belt and then he finally pinned AJ on SmackDown Live in a non-title match. Now Shinsuke has another opportunity at the most important title in the company at Money in the Bank. Nakamura knew what he wanted and took the necessary steps to get it.
Watch Nakamura reveal the MITB match stipulation:
This is the narrative that exists between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. What began as the most anticipated rematch in recent pro wrestling history evolved into a storyline that is now very much WWE. The best part though is that fans have gone along for the ride. They care because of the effort both men give and that effort is only going to continue.
AJ Styles is the top titleholder in the industry and he’s going to war with one of the best in the world. No one could pull off this rivalry like Styles and no one could deliver one five-star match after another like Styles. This is where he shines the brightest. This is definitely the story that AJ Styles wrote.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Wrestling Rumors. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, iHeart Radio, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com