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AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon: A WM match as polarizing as any

AJ Styles
(Courtesy of Miguel Discart, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Anyone paying attention to the build for WrestleMania 33 the past few months has likely noticed one glaring issue: OK, but what about AJ Styles? Everything and everyone of note looked to be locked up in their own programs, leaving Styles without a clear direction. Of course, there had been reports for months that Styles was to be matched with, of all people, SmackDown Live commissioner Shane McMahon — a matchup so seemingly odd, many refused to accept it until they saw it with their own eyes.

Well, any speculation is now over. The end of SmackDown saw it made official; Styles will face McMahon on April 2.

The fact it is official now, though, does not make it any less odd. The matchup, at face value, is a former WWE world champion, possibly the best in-ring talent in all of WWE, and one of the few wrestlers who had a legitimate argument for being the Wrestler of the Year in 2016, going against a WWE authority figure and occasional in-ring performer.

Not exactly the marquee WrestleMania matchup you would expect for a wrestler of such high prestige. It is, thus, the opinion of many fans that the whole program is a waste of Styles’ talent and not only are they not looking forward to the match, but they are actually bothered by it. Not everyone feels that way, though.

Some think not only is it a perfectly fine matchup, but that it also has the potential to be one of, if not the best match on the whole show. Legendary commentator Jim Ross shares similar thoughts.

“AJ’s greatness will shine through in Orlando on April 2 and Shane’s alpha male personality will push him to be better than he likely actually is. This will end up being a better booking than many perceive plus it was, as the creative worked its way out, the best available option for, arguably, the best in ring talent in the world, AJ Styles, which is a whole other story. I look forward to watching these two do all that’s humanly possible to steal the show in Orlando.”

Regarding the program’s booking, Ross is not wrong either. The storyline, in actuality, not only makes sense, but has quickly become one of the most intriguing in WWE currently. Styles spent the second half of 2016 on top of WWE as world champion. Cena and he had their trilogy match at Royal Rumble, for what will likely hold up as the best match in WWE this year, where he lost the title and the downward spiral began.

He proceeded to go through an entire obstacle course of jumping through hoops in order to get his title back, including never getting an official title rematch, an Elimination Chamber that saw the title change hands to Bray Wyatt, failing in a Triple Threat title match where he was not even the one pinned, a No. 1 contender Battle Royal after Royal Rumble winner Randy Orton seemingly gave up his WrestleMania title shot, securing his contender status after a controversial ending in the Battle Royal, and then losing it again after Orton went to reclaim his title shot and defeated Styles to secure it.

All the while, Styles still did not have a match at WrestleMania, and he began to put more and more of the blame upon McMahon for his recent fall from grace.

His rage led to a brutal sneak attack on McMahon in the parking garage where he laid him out after throwing his head through a car window.

Of course, in kayfabe, McMahon is not merely the chairman’s son and a commissioner. While first and foremost recognized as such, he too has his reputation for ridiculous toughness and a willingness to take on anyone when push comes to shove, as well as try to win by any means necessary. He took on Undertaker in Hell in a Cell; he’s had wars in the past with Kane; he had one of the best Street Fight’s ever with Kurt Angle; and the list goes on.

With that in mind, of course he booked a match against Styles following the attack.

Again, it’s not exactly the WrestleMania match anyone could have envisioned for Styles. Styles standing opposite the likes of Seth Rollins, Cena, or Kevin Owens with some major title on the line sounds much more proper. Even a last-minute setup with a recently debuted Samoa Joe or returning Finn Balor sound nice, though a full-fledged program would certainly produce better results somewhere further down the line.

Nonetheless, we should remember the two men we are dealing with, as Ross noted. Styles, again, is probably the best in-ring talent in all of WWE and one of the best in the world. And McMahon, for all his faults and lack of conventional training, does seem to have this insatiable urge to go out and put it all on the line when he does find himself in a big-time match. You mix McMahon’s itch to do death-defying spots and Styles’ ability to pull a quality match out of just about anyone — we very well could have the show stealer between these two men.

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