AJ Styles has pretty much set the world on fire in his year-plus in WWE, and has become one of the company’s most popular, marketable, and valuable Superstars in that time. In a rarity for WWE these days, Styles went straight to the main roster when he came in from New Japan, debuting at the Royal Rumble and making nonstop splashes ever since.
While it seems like an absolute no-brainer that Styles would go straight to the main roster, the only other incoming (non-returning) stars to not first go through NXT before moving to the main roster have been The Club, and that’s probably largely because Luke Gallows had already spent years in the company. (Braun Strowman and James Ellsworth have been the other two notable exceptions, because they’re both freaks in their respective ways.) No matter how big the star — Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Eric Young, Samoa Joe, Finn Bálor — they’ve spent time in NXT first.
In the above interview with Inside the Ropes, Styles explained why it’s vital that new talent goes through NXT first — even though he himself didn’t.
“I think that everyone needs to go through NXT. And I’m saying this not [having gone] through it, I know, guys! But if you knew how quickly I had to learn, once I got there, how important things are to the big man. Is it a little stressful? Absolutely. But there was something that I needed to learn very quickly, and I couldn’t be asked twice to learn it. It was one time, that’s it. Luckily I was able to learn very quickly. But it’s very stressful for someone who may have never been in that main event scene anywhere else. The indies are completely different than WWE. There is a night and day difference between the two products, and you need to learn how the system works so you can better — when you get to that main roster, you’re ready, and no mistakes are being made.”
Styles, of course, absolutely knows what he’s talking about, and his passion and insistence on the matter really speaks to how much he believes in the importance of getting your reps in in NXT. The learning curve is indeed steep, even for someone like Styles, who has been wrestling on television for over a decade. He really makes you believe that the only reason he was able to skip the process is because he’s AJ-by-God-Styles, and the pressure was definitely on.
A lot of veterans could adapt to that learning curve, but that amount of pressure is definitely a legitimate concern. WWE doesn’t want to put people on television without any experience unless they’re going to bring the goods. Or if they can flip an ambulance. Either way.