January 2016 has been one of the most interesting beginnings to a wrestling year in a long, long time. It also has been an exciting time if you're a fan of the Phenomenal One, A.J. Styles. The guy already had an early match of the year candidate at Wrestle Kingdom 10, was one-quarter of the topic of a white-hot rumor that is now halfway to being true and finally debuted in WWE, on the main roster no less at the Royal Rumble.
He was treated like the superstar that he is. Allowed to keep his name, look, nickname, and attitude, the crowd in Orlando went bananas when he arrived, a standing ovation after being tossed by Kevin Owens and as of this writing has already had a dream match with Jericho on Raw. Even JBL named–dropped New Japan's IWGP championship reign as Styles walked to the ring.
Now that he's here, who should he face? After the match with Jericho, he had a -gasp- storyline driven match with Curtis Axel, who was steamed as AJ for being eliminated by him at the Rumble. No disrespect to the Social Outcasts, but hopefully Vince knows that the Phenomenal One is far better suited for the top of the card, especially heading into WrestleMania season, with a roster depleted of top guys thanks to injury.
Even though he just debuted, Styles is a top guy, and he's not injured, which considering the current run of injuries should be all the qualifications needed to have top billing at the show of shows. The big question now is who will be facing the future hall of farmer in Dallas.
15 Cody Rhodes
While not high up on the card, Cody Rhodes has always been a solid hand and up for anything that comes his way. Growing up in the business, he would happy as a pig in you–know–what to be going up against A.J. on the grandest stage. If the tweets he sent out recently about Stardust coming to an end are true, then a match with AJ in Texas would a huge coming out party for Rhodes. It would serve many purposes on all fronts. It would give AJ and experienced WWE hand to work with as he continues to learn the WWE style, and with many fans enjoying Cody's work, it would be a great re-debut for the "thun of a thun of a plumber."
14 Triple H
Image via Ewan A Dougall
HHH has built one of wrestling a bets roster down in NXT and has shown that he knows exactly what this business needs. But that doesn't mean that his father–in–law does the same thing. He would much rather bury talents and have them lose to HHH (re: recently Sting), so it stands to reason that he could dangle the ultimate carrot in front of our faces and somehow book AJ vs. HHH for the title–there's plenty of time between now and 'Mania to flip the script. Note to all fans - this scenario is not ideal at all, AJ would be buried and this early into his WWE career, might not be hooked to be able to recover.
13 Chris Jericho
On the Raw after the Royal Rumble, we got to see a dream match-up between two men who had similar career paths. AJ made Y2J look old, maybe it's the fact that he seldom wrestles now. But with Y2J here through 'Mania, it's plenty of time for the former 6-time world champ to vent about losing to AJ, get back into big time ring shape and demand a rematch, stating AJ needs to prove himself on the grandest stage against himself, then he'll truly be able to be called Phenomenal.
12 The Undertaker
The Phenomenal One against The Phenom. The headline is more or less all you would need to sell tickets. After spending the past year and half solely dealing with Brock Lesnar and Bray Wyatt, the man has had a career resurgence, which he deserves heading into the twilight. If WrestleMania is the Dead Man's Last Ride, he might be so inclined to give himself, AJ, and the fans a big treat - for the first time, the last time, and the only time. Sure AJ would lose, but the notch on his belt for being Taker's last opponent would be everlasting.
11 Brock Lesnar
Speaking of brand new matches never before seen, our first wrestling fans wet dream match on this list would be if the AJ set his sights on the Beast. All the storyline would have to call for is for Styles to call out Lesnar since slaying the beast would mint him as an instant force to be reckoned with. While it wouldn’t be part of the storyline, these two are actually the last two gaijin to win the IWGP World Title, a fact not lost on die-hard fans, you know the ones who attend WrestleMania. With the aerial assault AJ could deliver, the Beast would have to step up his own game and perhaps showcase how he can get air as well.
10 Luke Harper
With Bray Wyatt's soul and body fixated on slaying the Beast, he asks his most trusted bother, Luke Harper to deal with the oncoming threat on the horizon–AJ Styles. In reality, the former Brodie Lee is one of the most talented men on the roster and based on the lack of footage found on the Internet, the two Indy darlings have never squared off. Out of all the men on the current roster, Harper is one who can not only hang with Styles and wrestle his style; he can also work and show AJ the WWE style, which would help groom Styles for bigger and better things in the company.
9 Dolph Ziggler
In terms of the roster, wrestling Dolph could be seen as a step down in the wrong direction, since Ziggler is seldom seen as a top guy and generally just revered as a good hand. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a heck of a match to see. The showoff starts getting miffed that the fans are all paying attention to AJ and have stopped paying attention to him and promises a big time WrestleMania moment when he proves that Styles isn't all he's cracked up to be. Seeing as how Vince clearly has little interest in pushing Ziggler, Dolph would no doubt give the performance of a lifetime again AJ to show he deserves to be on top, making AJ even more palpable in the process.
Our first competitor on the list that has met Styles in the ring before is Neville. The two wrestled a match in 1PW when Neville was still Pac and Styles had a lot less hair. These two don’t need much of a storyline either, except both wanting to one up each other and show the world what they’re capable of. They met briefly in the Royal Rumble and if their match in in 1PW is any indication, they would have one of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all time. If Vince McMahon doesn't understand why the crowds love these two so much, this would be the match to show him.
7 Austin Aries
One world traveler/former world champion/indy darling debuted on the main roster while another was sent to NXT, that’s all the story you would need here between the Phenomenal One and the Greatest Man That Ever Lived. Aries could play the jealous superstar who assaults P1 and complains to anyone who would listen instead of the people responsible for signing the two stars. So the two legends in the making have no choice but to collide at the show of shows. While most of the world knows all about Styles, this match could also serve as a coming out party for Aries, whose cocksure heel persona could shoot him straight to the top.
6 Roman Reigns
While in New Japan, AJ delivered a Styles Clash to Yoshitatsu, inadvertently breaking the neck of the Bullet Club hunter. From that point on, AJ was seen as a "killer" by NJPW, which would make him a prime assassin for the Authority to finally get rid of the Big Dog. Similar to his Fastlane 2014 match with Daniel Bryan, a match would AJ would showcase Reigns knows how to more than three moves. Even in a loss, AJ would look just fine, and the match would itself could be the start of a hot program that could finally show the fans how good Reigns is and that he might even deserve the top spot.
5 Samoa Joe
It's the Styles Clash vs. the Muscle Buster in a match that would surely be a big time event match on the grandest stage between two-thirds of the most memorable match in TNA history. Styles and Joe have done this dance many times before and there really wouldn't need to be any big story except for these two it has always been about titles and respect. With no title on the line, the Samoan Submission Machine and the Phenomenal One would be all about respect as the two world-traveling superstars do battle to see who is going to be the one who reigns supreme over the next generation pouring in.
4 Dean Ambrose
Out of all the Indy darlings and dream matches on this list, oddly enough, AJ and the former Jon Moxley, Dean Ambrose never squared off before, or at least in some memorable form or another. That being said, if the WWE was ever going to restore prominence to the Intercontinental title, now would be the time. Currently held by the wildly popular Ambrose, AJ could target the Lunatic Fringe and let the world remember that the IC title is step one towards the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and declare he's challenging Ambrose at WrestleMania. Popular star vs. incoming popular star for a long dead title in an effort to revitalize it? Mission would be accomplished in a nanosecond.
3 Finn Balor
If the WWE is going to name drop the Bullet Club on their website, then they might as well acknowledge that they currently have the founder and the third leader of the BC in their employ, not to mention two of the best wrestlers in the world. What a way to debut the Demon on the main roster. Balor could be a heel in this scenario, upset that he got to the WWE first, created the Bullet Club and here comes AJ to steal his thunder. With so many injuries at the top of the roster, why not bring in Balor now and start a war for respect and supremacy and since Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson were also part of the big BC rumor, why not bring them in or other BC guys as part of the Balor or Styles Club and have gang warfare waged at WrestleMania.
2 Kevin Owens
By far one of the loudest pops at the Royal Rumble was when Kevin Owens, bruised and broken from his war with Dean Ambrose hobbled to the ring and immediately went after Styles. The crowd simply ate it up. Styles vs. Owens main evented House of Hardcore 5, which was the first ever HOH main that owner Tommy Dreamer stepped aside and clearly some fans in Florida remembered what a match it was. With AJ needing some big wins on his (hopefully) road to a title, a fight with the Prizefighter would be one for the ages as both stars make their WrestleMania debuts. Imagine the sight of the Pop-up Powerbomb being reversed into a super Pele kick.
1 Shinsuke Nakamura
As of this posting, the King of Strong Style will be in Florida getting his life in America situated. But with the lack of stars right now and the fact they've already wrestled a match of the year candidate at Wrestle Kingdom 10, perhaps it's time to outdo one another again on the grandest stage of them all. After falling victim to the Bombaye kick, the Phenomenal One calls out Shinsuke Nakamura, even calling him a coward for going to NXT instead of coming to find him on the main roster. That's all you need to set the stage for the rematch of the year, and what would undoubtedly be another match of the year.