One-on-one with AJ Styles

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A few weeks back when I had the chance to sit down with AJ Styles, I separated the interview into two different parts. The first half was about his road to the top of WWE, which can be found here. The second half of the interview was a rapid fire sequence of questions about a wide-ranging list of topics. 

Me: What’s the scariest moment you’ve had in the ring?

AJ: “There’s a match called the Ultimate X and I got kicked by Chris Saban where I turned inside out and fell from like 15 feet. I thought, oh my God I’m landing on the back of my head and then I landed perfect. It was then that I decided I would never, ever do something like that again. But that was the moment where I saw my life flash before my eyes because I thought I was either going to be knocked out or something worse was about to happen.”

“A lot of my stuff, super scary stuff, has been done it seems like somewhere else, whether it be a 450 through a table, a springboard 450 through a table on the outside, or the spiral tap. There’s some goofy stuff I’ve tried to do to make sure some stuff is entertaining. And trust me, I’m not done yet. My brain still works like that. I’ve got one gear and whatever happens, happens.”

If you were stuck on an island, what three video games would you bring with you?

“Oh God man that’s so hard. Do I have Internet?”

“I’ll allow it.”

“I think at this point, after playing Battlefield [1], the newest one. I think I’d have that one because it’s so good. The story is one of the best I’ve played. It’s so great!”

“…God… I want to say Uncharted, but which one do I pick? The collection only has one through three. So you know what, I’d do that because you can play it over and over and find all of the little collectables in it.”

“I think we have to go old school because it never really gets old. I think you could go with Mario All-Stars. That’s an old school game. Get my retro fix.”

“Sounds like you’re playing a lot of adventure games.”

“Yeah! A lot of guys like the sandbox stuff, I don’t. I don’t like going here to get that. More like a Metroid style, I don’t like that. The Grand Theft Auto games I like ‘em, but they’re so vulgar that I can’t play them at home. I keep it safe.”

“Orton sent me some stuff about Mafia III. There are Playboy models that you can pick up. He’s like dude check this out and I’m like oh my God that’s crazy. Some of those games are fun, but they’re not kid friendly, you know.”

What do you listen to on the road?

“I’m more of a…I like Christian hip hop. Or old school R&B.”

You’re theme has a gospel hip-hop flow.

“Exactly. That’s exactly what it is. I think they already had the music ready and available. They were just looking for the right guy to give it to.”

You’ve had some awesome themes throughout your career.

“I’ve had some pretty good ones.”

Is that by luck or did you have input along the way?

“There’s been times where there has been horrible music and I’m like listen bro we cannot come out with this. There’s been close calls for sure.”

What match would you like to go back in time and attend live?

“Oh man…I’d like to see Undertaker and Mick Foley in Hell in a Cell. I’d like to go watch that live. It’s the craziest thing right? Like to see that. Mick Foley falling from the top of the cage through a table. Just ridiculous.”

“I’d say another one is Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mike Tyson as the enforcer. Just a great freaking dynamic with everything that was going on. The build up to that was so good.”

Where did your logo come from?

“And friend and I sat down at a restaurant and we were just talking, talking, talking just shooting ideas, spitballing. I came up with the P1 and then I went to a buddy of mine that runs a T-shirt making place and uh, he put his brain to work. I kind of told him what I wanted and he came up with it and I bought it from him.”

If you could play a professional sport right now what would it be.

“Football, no doubt.”

What position?

“Uhh…either outside linebacker or running back. I’d go with safety too. This is going to sound cruel and stuff like that, but when I played football I never tackled somebody to tackle them, unless it was in desperation. I wanted to hurt you when I tackled you. I wanted to put a hit on this guy that he just doesn’t want to run back to my side anymore, or he’s going to do whatever he can to avoid me. It’s part of the intimidation process of the whole thing. I think it’s part of football, you know.”

“And then running back, getting the rock man.”

You were the face of the X-Division in its heyday, the cruiserweight division is back, but they’ve struggled to get real momentum. What do they need to do to get the crowd invested in their matches?

“I would say, don’t be in a hurry to be in a hurry. Take your time. Make it mean something, everything means something, you know. Take the time and let it sink in during the matches. Just because you’re a little bit smaller doesn’t mean that everything is faster. It doesn’t mean that at all psychology wise. Psychology plays a big part in what we do.”

Inside baseball question here; It seemed like you were struggling with nailing down the springboard DDT in a WWE ring.

“It’s me not knowing the ropes that well and you get more familiar with them and understanding how to use those ropes.”

“It looks like you have to stand on the rope and then put your weight on it.”

“Right. Usually it was just like boom, go springboard because of the cables. I immediately springboard. With the ropes you have to sit into it and then now go. Which you know I started doing it with Dean again because I figured it out, but you have to put it in the right spot so you just don’t do it willy nilly and make people go ohhhh…he did that move again.”

“I’ve got a lot of offensive moves and that is definitely a benefit [of working around the world]. And again just because you have them, doesn’t mean you use them all in one match. It’s always good to space your moves out and make people say ohhhh…I haven’t seen that in awhile.”

What was going through Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque’s head during Daniel Bryan’s return?

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*Note* This is a small part of an interview with Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque that will be published in full later on today. 

So Daniel Bryan’s return on Tuesday. By now everyone knows his road back and how much it took for him to get cleared, so when I saw him get physical in the ring for the first time in two years, I was obviously thrilled, but also incredibly nervous because of his medical history and scared due to the nature of the business. What was running through your head as you watched that segment unfold on SmackDown?

“So one thing that I have learned as an athlete over all of these years is that you have to learn to trust the process of the medical professionals. When I came back from my quad injury, there was a point in time when they told me that, ‘You’re good to go,’ but still in your mind you’re wondering ‘should I be tentative? Should I not do this, should I not do that?’ You second guess things and you have to realize that you have to get that out of you. You’re either good or you’re not. There’s no, ‘oh you’re pretty good, you should be OK!’

If you approach it and say, ‘I gotta do this and protect this and I have to do this differently than I have before,’ and I’m not talking about changing your style, I’m talking about just protecting yourself and not committing yourself 100 percent. If you do that, you’re almost insuring yourself if something were to go wrong.

My hope was that Daniel would go all out. Having seen him at various points of his journey back, I really wasn’t afraid of the fact that he was going to hold back because I had already seen him at that level. It was emotional watching it. It was exciting watching it. I was thrilled for him.

Am I a little nervous? Yeah, that’s the human part of it, but I have to trust the medical people to say we don’t believe it’s in your best interest physically to do this anymore and some of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do in this business is look talent in the eye and tell them that.

To be able to trust the medical professionals and have them say that with everything that has happened and where we are right now that he can do this again is awesome. It really is awesome. For him as a human being to have a second opportunity at his dream when he thought it was gone is a rare thing.

That’s going to make a lot of people out there go, ‘Well what about me?’ But that’s a rare, rare, rare, rare thing and I don’t know how many people will ever get that opportunity.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Daniel Bryan medically cleared to return to WWE

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After more than two years of medical evaluations, Daniel Bryan has been cleared to return to in-ring competition by neurosurgeons, neurologists, and concussion experts including Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Javier Cárdenas and Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher.

The final key was Bryan being cleared by WWE’s medical director Dr. Joseph Maroon and today that hurdle was leaped.

Even though Bryan was forced to retire from in-ring competition after a series of concussions in 2015 and 2016, he never gave up on his dream of returning to the ring.

Bryan tried every resource he could to get his mind and body in a position where he could be cleared by Dr. Maroon, but as of a few months ago, it looked like Bryan’s on-screen role as the general manager of SmackDown was going to be his permanent placement until his contract ended in the fall.

Bryan hinted at working in Mexico (CMLL), Japan (New Japan Pro Wrestling), and the U.S. (Ring of Honor) after his WWE contract came to an end, but now that has completely changed.

What Bryan’s role will be at WrestleMania is up in the air right now, but it makes sense for him to tag with Shane McMahon against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, as the four have had a long-term on-screen storyline.

Twitter: @ScottDargis