After securing wins over Edge, Rey Mysterio, and Bobby Lashley on SmackDown, AJ Styles is one win at Night of Champions away from WWE's newest and shiniest prize, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Soon, fans will see if the 45-year-old former Mr. TNA can earn singles gold in WWE once more, marking the first time he's held a solo title since all the way back in he held the Intercontinental Championship in the fall of 2020, and prove to wrestling fans the world over, from Saudi Arabia and beyond, that the second leader of Bullet Club is still one of the most ‘phenomenal' performers in the world today.
And yet, during his press conference in Jeddah, Styles didn't want to talk about his past, his tag team with Omos, or being the leader of a new club, The OC; no, he wanted to talk about his Night of Champions challenger Set Rollins and where his head has been at over the past few weeks.
“Where is Seth Rollins now?” AJ Styles asked Michael Cole and Byron Saxton. “There’s no disrespect to Seth Rollins; god knows everyone would love to be a Hollywood star, but I’m more focused on what I’m doing here in the WWE, becoming the new World Heavyweight Champion.”
Now granted, as Cole pointed out on the mic, Rollins was only gone for two weeks filming his scenes, and he not only prepared for the absence with a long-form pre-tapped interview with Corey Graves that was clipped up on RAW but by remaining physically and mentally ready on set. Still, Rollins hasn't wrestled a match since the May 8th edition of RAW, whereas Styles, coming off of an injury no less, has wrestled in five matches since securing his spot at Night of Champions, including in a (pre-tapped) win over Karrion Kross on the go-home edition of SmackDown. If the best way to get ready is to stay ready, Styles has been prepared for this moment for the better part of a month.
"Where is Seth Rollins now?"@AJStylesOrg says while @WWERollins is focused on making movies, he is focused on becoming the new World Heavyweight Champion…#WWENOC pic.twitter.com/MumSEwgcIO
— WWE (@WWE) May 26, 2023
AJ Styles reflects on his path to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Stopping by My Love Letter to Wrestling with Mark Andrews, Styles was asked about how it felt to get back into the ring on SmackDown after a five-month absence due to ankle surgery. Though Styles did worry about his cardio, he was happy to get back in the ring after a grueling recovery process.
“At least they didn't throw me in two matches and then throw me in a world championship match as soon as I get back. Oh wait, they did. If you've ever been hurt, there is nothing like being in a wrestling ring shape. The only way to do that is getting in a ring and wrestling. It doesn't matter how much cardio you do outside of the ring; it doesn't prepare you for in-ring. A little worried, but after being in the ring, I was like, ‘I'm okay, I'll be alright,'” Styles said via Fightful.
“This is the longest I've ever been out with an injury. I say this to people, after 24 years, I was due to have a pretty good injury. The last injury I had that kept me out was in TNA and I was out for six weeks, I tore my hip labrum. I was in a boot for a while, and I felt like I was trying to learn how to do things again. ‘Hold on a second, I've been doing this for 45 years; how did I not know how to walk right?' It was really painful in some places. I went and got another MRI, and once I realized it was this inflammation, the bones pretty much healed, the inflammation is pain; once I knew that in my head, ‘Okay, I'm not going to tear anything, I'm not going to re-break anything, I can get after it.' Once that mental block was gone, it was easier for me to focus on what I needed to do, and it seemed like it progressed a lot quicker.”
Though Styles technically got in a little physicality before his first official matches back on the Blue Brand, having to wrestle three current or future Hall of Famers for a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is a pretty good way to prove oneself worthy of the brand new gold and black belt. With one hurdle left to clear before he can call himself champion once more, one of the more challenging hurdles in the entire WWE Universe, no less, Styles is on the cusp of making history at Night of Champions, a prospect that must have seemed unimaginable when he was on the couch using crutches to move around back in Jackson, North Carolina.