In the WWE’s continued quest to pair Dean Ambrose against opponents who will try to help him not look like an abomination in the ring, AJ Styles became the new No. 1 contender for the WWE Championship on Tuesday night.
Even though he has held the belt for a rather short period of time, post-brand split Ambrose has been gifted nothing but high-level in-ring competitors to help him try to up his game in the ring.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked, as it appears no matter the opponent Ambrose lacks the ability to have a good (regular) match. He can blame Brock Lesnar, as he did on a recent podcast, or whoever for their own “laziness,” but the fact of the matter remains the same: Ambrose is not great in the ring. He has been matched up against Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler and Lesnar, all of whom are considered good wrestlers, yet each of those matches have made wrestling fans want to pluck the eyeballs out of their respective sockets.
However, there is now hope in the near future with Ambrose, as his feud with Styles will be a chance to give his character, his in-ring work and pretty much everything else about him, a varying likelihood to be refreshed.
As Ambrose has been trending in the wrong direction for roughly six months, Styles’ star has been rising. Putting the wins and losses to the wayside, one would be hard pressed to find another wrestler with as impressive a run of 4- to 5-star matches as “The Phenomenal One” has had since debuting at the Royal Rumble.
It hasn’t mattered who he has paired with. While the WWE appears desperate to make sure Ambrose looks more like a wrestler in the ring and less like the broken mop he appears to be, Styles has been wrestling two guys – Roman Reigns and John Cena – who regularly get chants of “you can’t wrestle,” yet both of those series of matches resulted in match of the year bouts.
There’s more differences between the two than Styles simply being the superior wrestler in the ring.
Ambrose’s character has become somewhat stale. Yes, crowds still pop for him whenever they hear his music but if we were to be slightly more honest about it, the “Lunatic Fringe” dilly makes little to no sense at this point. This was highlighted on Tuesday night when the WWE Champion said that he didn’t care if his next title defense was a triple-threat match.
Thing is, he should care. Even if he is this “wild and crazy” person, he is also meant to care about being the champion. Pretending as though the odds being stacked against him is a “shoulder shrug emoji” moment is a disservice to not only him, but the title itself.
On the opposite end, Styles has already reinvented himself three times since debuting. First he was the independent wrestling darling good guy, then the leader of The Club and how he’s a solo heel act who has done – all things considered – an excellent job portraying the type of heel the WWE so desperately needs on the SmackDown brand.
In a roundabout way, the WWE has already tried to quietly save Ambrose from his own flaws, but if Ziggler, Jericho and Lesnar were small bullets of hope, Styles is a nuclear submarine coming in to make the atempted save.
Oddly, none of this might matter. The WWE Universe has already begun to notice the holes in Ambrose’s game. While it could most certainly be attributed to the Brooklyn SummerSlam crowd having more snark than needed, many audiences sound indifferent during the champion’s matches. Even with all the momentum Styles has – matches of the year, dominating the scene, etc. – it has been a long time since a live audience felt connected to a match Ambrose competed in.
This isn’t about two opposing styles making a match or feud. In reality, it is about two opposing styles potentially having a chance to further what many of us came to realize many months ago: That it doesn’t matter who is inside the squared circle with him, Dean Ambrose just isn’t as good as he was a little over a year ago. Not in the ring. Not on the mic. Not in any single way in which we should be invested in him.
With Styles riding the high of being the man since Royal Rumble, let’s simply hope his abilities either rub off on Ambrose, or his work ethic and unselfish ability to change styles when needed results in Ambrose also trying to step up his game.
Save for him continuing to tell us how hard he tries, Ambrose hasn’t done much to warrant his title run. It is time we – as well as the Ambroe himself – acknowledge this.
This feud will end up being incredibly telling.