On April 8, wrestling fans across the world will on the edge of their seats as they watch a match that few, if any, ever thought possible in a WWE ring: AJ Styles versus Shinsuke Nakamura.
Two of the most decorated professional wrestlers on the planet will combine for what many – including the stars themselves – are calling a “dream match.” For Nakamura, this will be his first time wrestling at the WWE’s biggest event, WrestleMania, while for Styles, it will be his third time performing in the “Showcase of the Immortals.”
There’s an electricity surrounding this match that has made it the talk of the professional wrestling world thanks in part to their first match against each other at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016.
Just days before arguably the biggest match of his career, Styles spoke to Yahoo Sports about the unique nature of this bout and how he and Nakamura wound up here in the first place.
Yahoo Sports: This is your third WrestleMania since joining WWE. Outside of the obvious, you holding the WWE Championship, how is this one different than the other two?
AJ Styles: Well, I’m in there with Shinsuke Nakamura, which is definitely different than the guys who I was in the ring with before. Not to say that they weren’t great, Chris Jericho in my first one and tearing the house down with Shane McMahon last year, but this is Shinsuke Nakamura, this is special. Just saying the two names together, right there you’re excited about this match because you know what we’re capable of.
Would you say this is the main event of show?
It’s definitely being called the main event and I think that we’re main event caliber and this will be a main event match. There are a lot of main-event matches on the show, but we’re the one to watch.
Shinsuke winning the Rumble two months ago made this a very long and unique build. What are the challenges of building up a match for two months and one that the fans so desperately want to see?
It’s a challenge, knowing what people want to see and trying to tell that story while also saying, ‘hopefully AJ keeps it throughout’ because I’ve had two title defenses in that span. It’s hard to build a match when you know you still have to build [those title defenses]. It’s difficult knowing that there’s an opportunity with Shinsuke Nakamura but you have to get through five other guys first. There’s a lot of things that go into building this up.
You made your debut on a huge stage at the Royal Rumble in 2016. Shinsuke on the other hand got some time in NXT before he was called up to the main roster. Which route do you think worked better for AJ Styles?
I think NXT is a good thing for sure, there’s no doubt about it. If you’re asking would I have rather just not went to the Royal Rumble, I’d say no because that’s the coolest way to debut in WWE history, coming out in the Royal Rumble. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. NXT is good for a lot of people and it was hard for me at first because there is a learning curve that you need to pick up quickly in the WWE. Positions, everything else, that’s why NXT is so important. I would definitely go to the main roster every time though.
Since the brand split in 2016, you’ve been one of the consistent talents on “Smackdown Live.” Being WWE champion shows there’s a trust in AJ Styles at a high level, what are your thoughts on the WWE essentially building one of its flagship products around you?
I don’t see “Smackdown Live” as being built around me. It’s one of those things where there is so much talent on Smackdown that I can’t really say that. We have The New Day, The Usos who are tearing the tag scene up, it’s amazing right now. Of course, we have the women that we have that are amazing talent. It’s everybody building Smackdown, but I do appreciate the fact that I have been the champion for a while now. I think that’s really cool that they have me as the champion they trust in so I want to hopefully keep putting butts in seats.
Fans are more knowledgeable than ever, and your especially getting to see that during the lead-in to your match at WrestleMania. Considering the level of in-ring talent and the kind of atmosphere these fans provide, are we in a “Golden Age” for wrestling right now?
I think so. I think it’s easier for them to get into a match that they’ve seen somewhere else because they’ve always wanted to see it in WWE but just didn’t know what was going to happen or if it was going to happen, including myself. Now that there’s the chance and the opportunity for Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles to do it in WWE, listen, it was big in Japan, but now it’s bigger, way bigger and everyone knows it. Getting to do it at WrestleMania, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.
Feeling any pressure considering how hyped up this match has become?
No pressure at all. I can only go out there and give you my best every time. Even if I get overwhelmed a little bit with people talking this match up, I feel like I work well under pressure so either way, I’m going to be good.
Win or lose at WrestleMania, you’ve been at the top of “Smackdown Live” for so long, is there a chance we see AJ Styles on “Monday Night Raw” in the near future?
I will do whatever it takes to make sure WWE stays entertaining with AJ Styles a part of it, but I’ve been [on “Smackdown Live”] since I’ve been here man and I have a lot of pride in being there. There’s just something about it that is me. The opportunity to prove yourself and see how much better you can make the product and I don’t really want to go anywhere else. But, if Raw comes calling, I’ll answer.
If you stay on “Smackdown Live,” we could see you face Daniel Bryan now that he’s cleared?
I think having him back is unbelievable, something we didn’t think we’d see. I didn’t think I’d see him back on WWE television, but the fact that he’s back, ready to rock, cleared, it’s very exciting. There’s potential matches that people in WWE have yet to see and that’s a good thing. That’s what you want. I’m so excited for him, so happy for him, that he gets an opportunity to do what he always wanted to do.
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