Styles begins by explaining why he turned down a developmental deal with WWE and decided to go to TNA in the first place.
“I had a developmental deal to move down to Cincinnati [Ohio],” Styles recalled. “But I was married and I didn’t think it was right even though my wife said, ‘go!’ It wasn’t right to leave her [and] have her move back in with her mother. My job is to take care of her, so I turned down, respectfully, the developmental deal with WWE and then within, like, a couple of months, TNA started up, which I thought was just another independent thing that I thought was happening. It wasn’t a big deal to me, but within six months, I was like, ‘okay, this might be something.’ And as it grew on, it grew and I grew to love that place because I felt like it was something I and other guys were building. We were building. We were the foundation. We were going to build this into something great. And at some point in time, at one point in time, it was great. It was a great place to be. We were having a lot of fun. We were changing the way people looked at [pro] wrestling.”
Continuing, he explains when and why he felt TNA began to decline.
“When you want to become a lesser version of something else, and when I say that, I mean WWE Light, you’re not giving people an alternative.” Styles added, “if they want to watch WWE, they’re going to watch WWE. You’ve got to be something different, so they went with a regular square ring. I thought that was a big mistake. You [brought] in guys that I don’t know people wanted to see anymore because they had grown so used to a certain style of wrestling that was happening at TNA. There were a lot of things that [brought] it down and it was guys like Christian and Kurt [Angle] who came over before all this happened that really sparked TNA and made it something bigger. It was growing because of them. But around 2009, 2010, around there, they forgot who they were and didn’t rely on the guys that got them there to the ballgame in the first place, the big game, anyway. And therefore, it started going downhill.”
From his own perspective, he left what was to be known as Impact Wrestling because the company wanted to pay him less.
“Despite all that, I saw myself as, ‘this is my home,’ and I was loyal to TNA,” Styles reflected. “But when you don’t allow me to provide for my family the way I think I should be able to by all the time and all the years I put in, well then, it’s not making much sense to me. And so, ultimately, that’s why I left, because they wanted me to take less than I was making. I hadn’t done anything wrong and I tried to be the best ambassador for the company that I could. A lot of things I thought I did right, but they didn’t see it that way, so I left. I bet on myself and I left.”
He explains how he felt after making to the transition to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he joined the Bullet Club alongside guys like Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows and numerous other guys that are currently still with the popular faction.
“I went to New Japan, and I don’t know, I felt like I was reborn with some crazy stuff,” Styles remembered. “I met Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows and bunch of other great guys. Yes, yes [Bullet Club]. And I think we changed New Japan for the good in a certain way. I’m not saying it’s me. I’m saying a lot of us had a lot to do with it. It was the timing of it and just that people could tells the guys in it were having fun. Like, we were too.”
Before coming to WWE, Styles was apparently back in talks with Impact to return to the company before he decided to come to Vince McMahon’s company instead.
“It wasn’t too long after that [NJPW stint] that TNA came back to me and said, ‘okay, we’ll give you pretty much when you’re asking for to come back.'” Styles elaborated, “I said, ‘well, I’m not coming back without somebody. I need Anderson and Gallows.’ I said, ‘I want them to come with me.’ We actually had a meeting over at Dixie Carter’s house. There were still some things we weren’t sure about and I had talked to WWE a little bit, but they hadn’t gotten back to me, so I just assumed they had other things going on. They didn’t need AJ Styles, which… WWE is a big place. I get it. I’m not the most important person in the world. I know that. But luckily, Triple H and I, we had a great conversation, like a 30-minute conversation the first time we talked. I said, ‘oh, this is going well.’ And within a week, the ball really started rolling.”
Check out unseen footage of Styles’ debut with WWE at the ‘Royal Rumble’ back in 2016.
Styles was reportedly the one who pitched the idea of bringing his former stablemates into WWE and while they initially declined, they were soon interested in them coming to the company.
“Well, I said, and this is kind of funny, I said, ‘hey, listen, well, I’ve got these two other guys, Gallows and Anderson, and we were going to go as a group over here. And they were like, ‘well, we’re only interested in you right now.’ I was like, ‘okay,’ and within that same week, they go, ‘no, we want all of you.’ And so, I was like, ‘yes!’ because I didn’t want to pull them away and, like, get their hopes up, and go, ‘oh, sorry, guys.’ So I’m so glad they got to come with me. Like, it’s a huge difference.” Styles said, “I just feel like there was a hot group of guys right there and I wish I could have brought all of them. Like, they are very loyal, as they should be, to the people that got them to where they are today, and so, Gallows and Anderson were ready to come back home. They spent a lot of time in Japan, a lot.”
Styles is open to reuniting with Anderson and Gallows in the future, though he was surpsied they had split so quickly to begin with.
“Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, we had a lot of fun together.” Styles continued, “I mean, there’s no doubt about that. And I was a little surprised when we actually split up because we just came out with Club t-shirts. I was like, ‘guys, don’t worry. We just came up with shirts. There’s no way they’re going to break up the team now!’ Sure enough, they did, but I mean, no, no explanation. Do I deserve an explanation? So I didn’t ask. It’s one of those things where, well, they think it’s best for WWE and I want what’s best for WWE. And how could I be mad or upset with what I’ve been able to do with SmackDown? Would I be able to accomplish those things if we were all together? I don’t know, so I can’t be mad at the result. I think everyone wished that it had gone on a little bit longer, but now we get to go back to it at some point in our careers and, yeah, people can be excited about that.”
With H/T to William Windsor of WrestlingInc for the transcription.
Did you ever watch the ‘Phenomenal One’ in TNA? Would you like to see him reunite with Gallows & Anderson?
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