If there’s one thing that most people that hear me talk about wrestling can say, it’s that I’m absolutely enamored with just about everything that AJ Styles does. Ever since first seeing AJ develop in the days of TNA’s youth, I’ve firmly believed that he is the most complete wrestler we’ve been able to see in a long, long time. His recent showing at Wrestle Kingdom 10 against Shinsuke Nakamura (which we reviewed) is just further proof of the brilliance of Styles and his ability to work any style of match, versus any opponent.
Further to that point, in my journey to delve into past TNA pay-per-views, I found a diamond in the rough on what was arguably a lackluster pay-per-view in Hard Justice 2008. Outside of three matches, the entire pay-per-view failed to deliver. What did end up delivering, however, is a particular match between one AJ Styles & Kurt Angle. If you’re wondering about the backstory on this match, it’s a moot point to bring up. The match was booked because AJ Styles accidentally married Karen Angle on an episode of Impact. For those of you who may be wondering while reading this if your eyes are deceiving you, the answer is no. Regardless of what happened with a shoddy storyline, the match itself is something to behold.
Despite an atrocious storyline, as mentioned briefly above, Angle and Styles had some serious bad blood going into this match. For his end, Styles was becoming a cocky, arrogant, son of a bitch and really grew into his own during this storyline. He was absolutely confident in his ability to do anything. On the parallel, you had Angle, one of the most accomplished and established technical wrestlers ever to step foot into the squared circle. The two clashed in an absolutely bloody and physically intense match, which on viewing several times over, still holds up as well as the original watch. One interesting stipulation added to this match is that it’s being done Texas Death Match style, meaning that either Angle or Styles had to first pin their opponent before they could enter the traditional “can you answer the ten count” portion of a Last Man Standing Match. Styles and Angle kicked the absolute crap out of each other, and the anger, resent, and ferocity that each competitor had came out instantly.
Kurt Angle plays the shithead heel part here perfectly, as he knows full well that he’s ignited an otherwise dormant emotional fire in Styles that cannot be contained. Angle was a mentor to Styles, and Styles was the star pupil that Angle had always hoped for. Going with the theme of the pay-per-view, every single match on it was in some way, shape, or form hardcore. To be fair, calling this match hardcore would be a bit of a stretch. Angle and Styles are two of the most incredibly gifted technical wrestlers to lace their boots in TNA, and this match was exemplary of said technical prowess.
The middle of the match actually showcased the brawling skills that each man possess too, with several minutes being devoted to strictly outside brawling, use of the barricade, and steps. Typically you won’t see that stuff in a Styles or Angle match, but it was a nice touch given the Texas Death Match style rules being applied here. The ending of the match, however, is actually kind of horrifying based on how well Angle sells what happened. Styles ends up headbutting Angle and then DDTing him off the top rope, which nails him the three count pin and keeps Angle from answering the ten count. As we all know, Angle has had neck issues not only in the past, but present day as well. Angle sold this like an absolutely serious injury, and commentary to their credit did the same as well. While EMTs come down to the ring and tend to Angle, getting him on a stretcher with a neck brace on, Styles decides he needs to end it once and for all, and hits a brain buster on an absolutely prone Angle, much to the shock and horror of everyone watching.
Post match shenanigans kept me from going higher with this match on my rating, as Sting, who had been hiding in the rafters with Kevin Nash the entire pay-per-view, makes his presence known by hitting the light’s out gimmick and appearing to Scorpion Death Drop an exhausted Styles. While that did sour the moment, this was one of the best showings on the part of Styles as a member of the TNA roster. He implored his technical prowess, his athletic ability, and his talent for matching any opponents style to make a masterful match up with one of the most accomplished wrestlers of his time period. If you’re like me and looking to sink your teeth into more of the excellence of AJ Styles, consider adding this match to your list of “must watch” material.