AJ Styles’ non-title victory last week over Ricochet was as much an appetizer as it was a shocker — here was a Superstar returning from injury, defeating a newly-crowned champion and seemingly seizing next-man-up status — but what happened in the follow up(s) this week was a statement.
Still trying to bring out “the real AJ Styles,” Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson stoked some backstage scuttlebutt to turn the friendly rivalry between Styles and Ricochet into a heated battle with the title at stake. During the title fight in Raw’s main event, The Phenomenal One seemingly pinned Ricochet to become United States Champion, but the decision was reversed after a review, as Ricochet’s foot had been under the ropes. Hence, the bout was restarted.
With his victory taken from him, Styles was left flustered and out of sorts for several reasons — the looming presence of Gallows & Anderson at ringside being one and Ricochet’s persistence the other. Nothing Styles did seemed to be enough to keep the champ down; he had taken AJ’s best shot, and the challenger struggled in orchestrating a follow-up. A Brainbuster and rack bomb couldn’t get the job done, but a dizzying rollup by Ricochet did, and he scored the 1-2-3 against Styles for a title retention.
Styles seemed to begrudgingly accept the results of the bout, even once again shaking Ricochet’s hand. But when Gallows & Anderson climbed on the apron to mean-mug their good brother, Styles surprised everyone by seemingly agreeing that he wasn’t quite being himself. The Phenomenal One turned around and decked Ricochet, kicking off a three-pronged beating that included a Magic Killer from The Good Brothers and a second-rope Styles Clash from AJ. It goes without saying that Ricochet showed his mettle tonight. But there’s an argument to be made, in hindsight, that he didn’t quite know who AJ Styles was. It’s a mistake painfully rectified and dearly paid for.