James Ellsworth is receiving relatively huge reactions from live crowds. He has been getting a lot of the credit for this — a lot of which is deserved. On the latest edition of SmackDown Live, the entire show was a dedicated build to him being in the main event against A.J. Styles for the WWE Championship. While Ellsworth leaves the show with a lot of new fans, it is actually Styles who deserves most of the praise.
The praise for Styles starts well before the main event happened on Tuesday. In earnest, it began when he signed off on this entire angle. That might not appear as a big deal, but imagine working your entire life to achieve a goal most said you’d never reach, then obtain it decades later, with one of the first things asked of you when reaching that dream is making a somewhat mockery out of it.
Styles ran with the idea, though. In what could have been an angle with the Internet Wrestling Community up in arms over a random jobber “battling” one of their darlings, “The Phenomenal One” helped Ellsworth make this entire thing well worth consuming.
As for Tuesday specifically, Styles went above and beyond making the angle entertaining. With Ellsworth doing Rocky-ish promos throughout SmackDown, Styles was spending his time doing what heels usually do — telling the truth. His truth just so happened to be that it is patently absurd for Ellsworth to get a shot at the WWE Championship.
But the real gold was during the match itself. Dean Ambrose and Ellsworth played helping hands, yet it was Styles who sneakily made the entire thing work.
The match got nearly 20 minutes. Let that wash over you like a cold shower before we move forward. Twenty minutes for a match we knew the outcome of beforehand, with one of the wrestlers purposely only getting in ONE offensive movie. That sounds like the most boring squash match in the history of pro wrestling, right?
As soon as the match began, Styles began to rail against everything Ellsworth related. “Are you kidding me,” Styles screamed as “Ellsworth” chants came from the live audience in Goldberg-chant-like-tones.
Then he’d begin to pummel on the world’s most beloved jobber. Minutes went by, Styles beat up Ellsworth, and the moment he realized things might begin to feel stagnant, he placated to the crowd in tremendous heel ways.
The highlight of the match — which most would say is Ellsworth’s near-victory after a superkick — was when Styles and Ambrose were playing hot-potato with the man with no chin. Back and forth they hurled Ellsworth in and out the ring. During this period of time, as the frustration of having to face a jobber crept into his cranium, Styles yelled (as he was tossing his opponent to the outside), “That’s where he belongs!”
There’s a beauty in that. Styles was not wrong. We can all enjoy Ellsworth and think he brings something to the table as far as storytelling is concerned, but in true heel fashion, Styles told the truth when he inferred that a man of the jobber’s stature doesn’t belong in the ring with him.
Honestly, that’s just what good heels do. They rub fans’ faces in the uncomfortable truth. We sit here and fantasy book wrestlers, stories, pick our favorites, and all that jazz, and whenever a smart heel yells something we know to be true, but ignore anyway, it only infuriates us more.
Who knows what the future holds for this gimmick? Ambrose mentioned that Ellsworth has more wins over Styles than John Cena. Leaving the angle like that, as is, seems like a good tipping point to allow Styles to remove himself from a high-level comedy angle on the main event scene, thus entering his more serious feud with Ambrose. And, to be clear, main event angles should have serious undertones.
As for Ellsworth, he has his two victories over Styles. Let him trot about the WWE Universe as this era’s version of the Brooklyn Brawler, I suppose. But I am guessing, assuming really, that whenever he moves on from his “feud” with Styles, he will fail in capturing the over-ness he currently has, as it was as much Styles that got him over as it was the jobber himself.
Anyway, bravo to all three men involved in this angle. Comedy shticks rarely work (at least well) at the top level of the sport, and these guys all pulled it off. Still, make no bones about it, while it is definitely a combination of things, the primary reason for it wasn’t because of Ambrose’s hit or miss jokes, or Ellsworth being a sympathetic figure… it was because Styles has become a transcendent talent in every possible way.