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WWE Network Live Special
Airdate: June 20, 2016
“Stone Cold” Podcast
Guest: A.J. Styles
After Raw ended on USA Network, the WWE Network picked up with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin sitting down with A.J. Styles backstage at Raw TV in Phoenix, Arizona for an hour conversation.
Styles was completely out of heel mode just being himself talking about the first six months of his WWE run. Styles said the locker room made him feel at home very quickly. But, he knows he has to prove himself in the ring since he’s not one of the biggest guys in WWE. Austin said he can relate to when he came to WWF/E in the mid-’90s and wasn’t one of the biggest or best-looking guys on the roster, forcing him to find his place.
Austin said he wanted to give Styles some advice. He told Styles to turn the volume up when he stomps a mudhole in John Cena the next time they get in the ring together.
Austin asked Styles where he comes from. They talked about Styles growing up on a military base since his dad was a Marine. Styles said he had a rough home life at times because his dad was an alcoholic and often-times took that out on his family. But, he knew that his dad loved him. Styles said that experience helped him learn how to parent his children.
Austin wanted to know what kind of sports background helped him with his wrestling abilities. Styles said he was a hustler who got after it in football, baseball, and basketball despite being smaller than everyone else. He said his amateur wrestling background was the hardest thing he ever did because of how difficult the training was. But, he developed the killer instinct and mean streak that he carried over to pro wrestling.
Styles talked more about his family background of growing up dirt poor, making him appreciate the little things that he now enjoys as an adult who’s made a good living for his family. Styles also talked about changing his life as a senior in high school when he became a Christian, whereas before he was a mean, angry high-schooler, especially in amateur wrestling.
As for how he got into pro wrestling, Styles said he dropped out of college with no Plan B, then ran into some high school buddies who were “jacked up” and convinced they were going to become pro wrestlers. So, he joined them at a wrestling school in Georgia. Styles said he immediately took to pro wrestling. He said his amateur background initially hurt him, because he wanted to rip guys’s heads off, so he had to learn how to pro-wrestle.
Styles said his high-flying background actually came from competitive gymnastics. He said his wife, who was his girlfriend at the time, regularly competed in gymnastics, so he learned how to do the flips and rolls that became part of his signature offense. “I wasn’t afraid to do flips,” he said. Styles said he could do a Shooting Star Press, but he wasn’t ready for the ring.
Austin wanted to discuss an urban legend of Styles making his in-ring debut under a mask as Mr. Olympia. Styles confirmed that as true. He said he just wanted to be in the ring. Styles said his mechanics were always sound, but he didn’t understand how to tell a story in the ring.
Styles credited Terry Taylor for sitting down with him when he was about eight years into the business to help him learn how to be a complete pro wrestler. Who influenced him style-wise? Styles said he gravitated towards Lance Storm’s style, then Shawn Michaels’s storytelling because everything he did in the ring meant something.
Austin wanted to know about Styles’s transition to being a full-time pro wrestler and how his wife handled it. He said it was a difficult transition until he landed in WCW at the very end of WCW’s run. Styles said when WCW went out of business, he was a little depressed because he had nowhere to go. Styles said John Laurinaitis gave him his job in WCW and he also told him that WWE was not going to pick up his contract.
Styles said being over-looked by WWE was a blow, but now he can look back on it and see that it was the best because he did not need to be in WWE at the time. “I would have fizzled it. I wasn’t ready,” Styles said. He said he needed more time on the road and more matches to have under his belt. “To me, it was all a part of God’s plan,” he said.
Styles said he was so upset being overlooked that he decided he was going to show everyone that he could get booked in Japan wrestling top stars overseas. That’s when he met Christopher Daniels at an NWA anniversary show. Styles said they had an unbelievable match the first time they got in the ring together. That match and Daniels got him booked all around the world.
Flash-forward to 2002 when he wrestled Hurricane Helms in a WWE ring, then went to a WWE camp and did pretty good. But, they wanted to move him to Cincinnati to be part of Developmental. Styles said he didn’t feel like it was right for him to move to Cincy while his wife was finishing school. He said his wife told him to go, but he wasn’t okay with it.
Styles said the next step for him was … TNA. Austin wanted to talk TNA in a surreal moment on a WWE program. Styles said he was wrestling for World Wrestling All-Stars and met Jeff Jarrett, who signed him to a deal while in Australia. Styles said he figured TNA was just another independent promotion, so he didn’t think much of it.
Styles said he spent the first six months just seeing TNA as a place to get paid on a Wednesday night (during their Wed. Night PPV era). He said people were talking about TNA going out of business, but he was just focused on having great matches with Low Ki and Jerry Lynn. Then, Panda Energy bought TNA and they slowly built to something big.
Austin brought up Dixie Carter coming on-board to run TNA. She said that even though Dixie/Panda bought TNA, they still had Jeff Jarrett to provide the wrestling knowledge to the company. He said they moved to Orlando for tapings and he was begging them to sign Samoa Joe. Styles said he knew Joe was going to tear it up. Then, here comes Christian, then Kurt Angle. “Now we’re excited,” Styles said.
Styles talked about his three best friends in the business – Joe, Daniels, and Frankie Kazarian – and how fired up they were to be part of the early TNA Sunday Night PPVs. He said they had a great feeling being independent wrestlers coming together to do something bigger than they ever expected.
Austin wanted to know how TNA felt about trying to compete with WWE. Styles said they wanted to be competition to WWE, as well as UFC. “That was the goal,” he said. “We need to bust our tail and get there.” Austin said Styles never seemed to be the centerpiece, though. Styles said he always believed Dixie was more of a fan of the guys she saw on television before she got into the business, than the people who got her into the ballgame.
Austin wanted to talk about TNA’s six-sided ring. He said he thought that made them different, which he thought was good, but then Hulk Hogan came in and decided to change things up. Styles said he was initially mad about going to a squared circle because he thought six sides made them different. But, then he took a corner bump from Kurt Angle in the standard ring and it felt much better than taking the same bump in a six-sided ring. So, he changed his tune. “Six sides is rough,” Styles said.
Austin brought it to the present in WWE. He wanted to know who the Phenomenal One is. Styles said it means that he does something special every time he gets in the ring, no matter the opponent, and he can pull it off. At the same time, he enjoys what he does in the ring, and it shows. Austin then asked Styles about his confidence level, especially being in the ring with the #1 babyface in the company last night, John Cena.
Austin switched gears back to the end of Styles’s TNA run after 11, 12 years with the company. Why leave TNA? Styles said when you work hard, you feel like you should be paid for that. He said he worked hard and never did anything to embarrass the company. Yet, they wanted him to take a paycut. “I didn’t think that was right,” Styles said. He said he bet on himself that he could go back to Ring of Honor and then get booked in New Japan. “That bet worked,” Styles said. “I believe in myself.”
Austin wanted to know about ROH and New Japan after leaving TNA. Styles said wrestling in front of Japanese fans is very different than American fans, but the wrestling is the same – an expectation of high-level wrestling. Styles told the story of Finn Balor (Prince Devitt) leaving New Japan and Styles replacing him, instantly shooting to the top of the card. Styles noted he wrestled top star Kazuchika Okada in his first match and beat him, becoming IWGP World Hvt. champion.
Ausitn said being in Japan is a whole different mindset. He said when he was wrestling, he was accustomed to listening to a crowd to make his decisions on how a match should progress, but he had to change his decision-making process in a front of a totally different crowd. Styles said he had the benefit of wrestling a few times before in Japan. But, the big factor was how good New Japan’s top three stars were – Tanahashi, Okada, and Shinsuke Nakamura. “It was amazing,” Styles said. He said he remembers one moment in particular putting Tanahashi in the Calfcrusher and seeing fans on the front row crying because they thought Tanahashi was going to tap out.
Austin said he enjoys watching Styles’s work in the ring. How did you come up with so many of your moves and sequences? Styles said he wants to be different than everyone else in the ring, so that when he hits a move, no one is thinking about a past wrestler doing that same move before him. Styles said he wants people to think: “That’s A.J. Styles’s move.” So, each move is unique with his own twist to it.
Austin doubled back to Shinsuke Nakamura down at NXT right now. He said he works snug and Styles also works snug, like knocking Miz’s teeth out when he first got here. Styles said he had no heat at all and everyone told him to bring it. He said he respects Miz a lot as a tough dude who doesn’t get credit. Styles said he thought he would get some heat when he came to WWE because he does like to bring it and be physical, but it’s the opposite case where everyone wants to protect the business by making their matches look good.
Austin asked what Styles’s favorite career moments are thus far. Styles referenced the Royal Rumble. Did you expect the giant pop? Styles said he was worried about no one knowing who he was, but it was the perfect place for him to debut in Orlando, where he spent the majority of his career. Styles said he could have stood on the stage for five minutes just soaking up that moment.
Why did you decide now is the time to come to WWE? Styles said there was an opportunity. He said he got in touch with a friend who got in touch with Triple H, who was going to call him. The call didn’t come. So, he thought to himself that he’s 37-years-old and it’s just not meant to be for him to ever go to WWE. And, he was okay with that. Then, two weeks later, he got that call.
But, during that time, Styles acknowledged talking to TNA about getting back home to America. He said he missed his kids while in Japan and being that far away frightened him. Styles said he was talking to TNA about doing something, as well as ROH and New Japan, who were/are working together. Styles said he had a conversation with some people in TNA about plans, but then Hunter called. And, they had a great 30-minute conversation – the first time he ever talked to Hunter. Styles said he knew WWE was where he needed to be. “Here I am,” Styles said.
Styles said it was very difficult to tell New Japan that he was leaving because they were so good to him. He said Karl Anderson approached NJPW booker Gedo first to tell him. “Oh no!” Styles recalled Gedo’s reaction. Styles said Anderson told Gedo he was leaving…plus Gallows…plus Styles. He said he knew it would be a big blow to New Japan, but they were still good to him on the way out.
Austin wanted to know about the difference between working for WWE versus TNA, ROH, and New Japan. “This is the most professional place I’ve ever worked,” Styles said. “They have great catering here!” he joked. Styles said all of his expectations were met and beyond.
Austin asked Styles about his communication with Vince McMahon and Triple H. Styles said he knows exactly who is in charge in WWE, whereas before in other promotions, he didn’t know exactly who to go to, highlighting the long-time complaint about TNA. “Now, there is one man in charge of everything,” Styles said. He said he can also talk to Hunter if Vince isn’t available.
Styles said he believes WWE is giving him every chance to make a name for himself. He said they have given him that. Styles made an interesting comment that Vince did not see anything in him in the beginning. But, he ran with the “pitbull” character to prove himself to McMahon. “There is no way that Vince McMahon saw anything special in me in the beginning,” Styles said. But, Vince wanted that character, and Styles gave it to him.
Austin asked Styles about his first WrestleMania experience at WM32 in AT&T Stadium. Styles said it was surreal and awesome. But, he said he couldn’t hear the fans in the ring because all of the sound was going up to the roof because the stadium was so huge. He said he didn’t know if the fans cared about the match or not because he couldn’t hear them. So, that was a learning experience.
Austin brought up Styles losing his first WrestleMania match to Chris Jericho and his kids being a little upset. Styles smiled and said he had to tell his kids that yeah, he lost the match, but dad really won tonight. Because he won the #1 contender match the next night on Raw. He wanted them to also recognize that daddy was at WrestleMania, so that’s never a loss.
Austin asked Styles if he prefers being babyface or heel. He said he prefers to work where he’s needed in the show. He said it’s a lot easier to be a heel than face with the things you can get away. And, he said that turn is also what can make you a stronger good guy again down the road.
Asked if he feels held back or like there is a glass ceiling in WWE, Styles said no way because he feels confident in his abilities to go out in the ring and “get A.J. Styles over.” He said he will make people want to see him in the ring.
Austin asked Styles about having more to offer in WWE. Styles said he has a lot of big stuff that might come out later in his run. “There’s stuff that I’ve got that – if you use it all the time, it’s not special. If you hold onto it, it’s exciting.”
Austin put over Styles’s matches with Roman Reigns and John Cena from the post-WrestleMania PPVs. He told Styles that it’s shark-infested waters in WWE, so good luck. Austin’s music played to wrap up the interview, then Austin and Styles shook hands to end the session.
Overall, a really interesting conversation with a great deal of talk about TNA and the promotion’s original ambitions before certain people got in the way. Plus, interesting conversation about Styles’s run in New Japan working with the big stars. Styles said all the right things about the first six months of his WWE run, sounding like Sting as a team player not worried about wins/losses because he knows people want to see him in the ring. The note about McMahon not seeing him as special when he first came to WWE was interesting. Now, it’s obvious that Styles has proven himself as a valuable part of the roster after losing twice to Roman Reigns and setting up Cena’s character for a big face return.