MINNEAPOLIS — The dream match between AJ Styles and Finn Bálor was surrounded by some of the more unusual circumstances in WWE history. But the unexpected became the unbelievable in a first-time-ever, one-night-only exhibition that had the WWE Universe screaming “This is awesome!” at full throat before the bell even rang. Given the storied and occasionally shared history of the two Superstars, it’s difficult to dispute that unabashed excitement.
The Demon has one of the more spotless records in WWE — Bálor’s alter-ego has only been defeated one time, and never on WWE TV. But Styles, who traveled 18 hours from SmackDown LIVE’s tour of South America to cross brand battle lines and compete at WWE TLC, clearly had no intention of being another foregone casualty of the first-ever Universal Champion. As such, The Phenomenal One wasn’t just unfazed by Bálor’s otherworldly presence, he gave The Demon more of a fight than, perhaps, he was expecting.
But The Demon, too, had an answer for almost everything Styles threw at him. The entire match wasn’t so much a cavalcade of big moves and near-falls as it was a chess match, with each Superstar slowly whittling away at the other’s defenses. The war of attrition eventually broke out into a brawl on the outside so intense that The Demon got in the referee’s face to stop the count when it seemed as though AJ would be unable to return to the ring. (Who’s going to argue with that?)
Styles repaid Bálor’s hesitation by double-legging him over the announce table, but The Demon was almost at full-pitch at this point, and there was little The Phenomenal One could do to stop him. He did slow him down with a top-rope Pele Kick and hurricanrana, but a missed 450 Splash opened the door for Bálor to rocket Styles across the ring with a running dropkick and close the door with an incredible Coup de Grâce.
Even at this level, game recognizes game, and The Demon helped Styles to his feet in a rare show of humanity before sharing a “Too Sweet” in the middle of the ring. It was a fitting conclusion to a match between two Superstars who were both slightly more than man, and WWE TLC was all the more extraordinary for it.