In a year that will forever be known as the emergence of the indie darlings as part of the New Era, no moment holds a candle to “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles winning the WWE World Championship. Wrestling announcers have always taken liberties when saying that a debuting wrestler is, at that time, the “hottest free agent in the industry,” but Styles’ arrival in the WWE was one of the rare occasions when the title fit.
Now, WWE needs to put him up against a foe worthy of being a figurehead in the story of his historic title reign. His current dance partner, Dean Ambrose, is currently nowhere near being worthy of the role he currently holds opposite Styles.
Ambrose had a moment when he appeared to be perched to become a permanent, and most importantly, influential member of the WWE main event staff. Going into this past year’s WrestleMania, he positioned himself as being a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar as they approached their street fight at the “Grandest Stage of Them All.”
I had called not for a Dean Ambrose win, but for a Stone Cold Steve Austin-Bret Hart WrestleMania 13 finish that would find Ambrose losing due to passing out rather than a clean pin, which would have made him more over than a clean pin over Lesnar would have. Alas, Lesnar won clean, and Ambrose would go on to have a 2016 that would see him winning the WWE World Championship.
This would have gone down as a signature year in the career of any professional wrestler, but it would be Austin, the man that provided a blueprint of how the Ambrose-Lesnar match should have ended, that would call Ambrose out while “The Lunatic Fringe” was on his podcast. Austin stated that he thought Ambrose had been “resting on his laurels,” choosing to simply coast as World Champion rather than push the envelope. Austin, like WWE creative, like all of us expected to see more out of a WWE World Championship reign staring the “Lunatic Fringe,” a moniker that implies that envelopes should be habitually pushed under his watch.
Instead, Ambrose’s title reign will be best known for an attempt to re-establish Dolph Ziggler as a substantial player within the WWE, only to prove, in time, that he is worthy of the midcard, but not the main event.
Throughout all of this, Ambrose had heelish moments. If he is the standard for a “Lunatic Fringe,” then the Ice Capades would be his asylum.
Right now, Ambrose is left without Shield brethren to compete against, making him simply a guy in an undershirt and jeans who makes faces. AJ Styles holding the World Championship needs to be a celebrated event, and he deserves better than an underwhelming Ambrose to throw forearms at.
Unfortunately, Styles is left without much main event competition on SmackDown. John Cena, who has produced magic with Styles (they deserve a “fight forever” chant) is part-time, devoting much of his time to trogliditical stinkbox that is “Total Bellas,” leaving only Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt, both, admittedly, sexy choices to challenge Styles (imagine a Phenomenal Forearm-RKO combo). However, they are wrapped up in an angle, leaving only Ambrose by his lonesome to fill the Ziggler role of trying to prove that his moment in the sun was not an anomaly.
The lackadaisical Ambrose may deserve a chance to prove his worthiness as part of the main event scene, but this siege should not come at the expense of AJ Styles. His title reign is one that wrestling fans thought was the “never” in the industry’s most overused phrase “never say never.” For the modern-day diehard wrestling fan, Brock Lesnar is not the only must-see event on the WWE roster. The belt around the waist of Styles may even be a more sought-after image than that of Lesnar (or Goldberg, for that matter) inside of a WWE ring, and it needs to be treated as such. Ambrose may have his time in the spotlight again, but he is currently nowhere near ready to reap the benefits of being associated with AJ Styles and his WWE World Championship reign, the most important one since CM Punk’s. He is a symbol of the voice of the people, and the symbolism he carries needs to do more than spin its wheels.