There’s a new WWE Champion and his name is AJ Styles. It feels good to say that.

The picture above probably gave it away, in case you didn’t know. The victory by Styles put an end to Jinder Mahal’s 170-day reign (nearly six months) as WWE Champion. It was a match that took place in Manchester, England on a Smackdown that was taped several hours before it aired on the USA Network and other channels around the world because of the time zone difference in England. As a result of that, WWE had to tweet about the title change because they knew it would all over the internet, so they posted about it on their website over five hours before the match took place.

I’m sure some fans were mad about WWE doing that and for spoilers leaking out (I had a few Twitter followers get mad at me for mentioning it), but I don’t think knowing the result hurt the show at all. It’s the end of Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion, one of the most boring champions in WWE history. It’s something worth getting excited about it.

With a focus back on WWE, what the hell just happened on Smackdown? And I am not talking about Becky Lynch beating James Ellsworth. Let’s dive in deep, talking about the new WWE Champion, AJ Styles.

The Match Was An Entertaining Battle That The Crowd Loved

If you watched Smackdown last week and read my review then you would have thought that it was going to be AJ Styles vs. Rusev this week with the winner joining Team Smackdown at Survivor Series. Instead, WWE changed their mind two days after Smackdown and announced Mahal vs. Styles for the WWE Championship since Mahal beat up Styles last week. Why the change? No real reason given, but I think it was done to try to boost ticket sales since the Smackdown taping in Manchester was not sold out and also WWE may have felt it was time to change directions. I didn’t think Styles was going to win the WWE Title. I figured Mahal would win by disqualification to set up a future match.

The match was very good. It was probably the best Mahal match since he was thrust into the spotlight six months ago after wrestling as a lower card talent for most of his career. I think the big difference between this match and the below average matches that Mahal had with guys like Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura is that Styles is a smaller guy who can make Mahal’s power moves look good. It’s not like Mahal has a lot of power moves because his offensive arsenal is lacking, but simple spots like Mahal tossing Styles across the ring or Mahal tossing Styles onto the announce table looked devastating because of how Styles sold it.

By Mahal’s standards, it was a great match. By Styles’ standards, it was pretty much the norm for him, but it was not nearly as good as his best WWE matches with the likes of John Cena, Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose, for example.

I really liked the way that Styles took care of the Singh Brothers. After Styles hit an impressive springboard 450 Splash off the ropes, the Singhs pulled Mahal to safety to avoid being pinned. Styles reacted to that by taking both Singh Brothers out on the floor. These were great attacks with a tackle from behind. It looked like an animal catching up to their prey and ending them. Styles took out both Singhs with a forearm and knee strike.

The finish was really well done. Mahal hit The Khallas and Styles landed near the ropes, so when Mahal covered, Styles got his foot on the bottom rope to break up the pin. The crowd was going crazy for that. Mahal went for The Khallas off the ropes, Styles fought out of it, sent his neck into the top rope and Styles hit the springboard Phenomenal Forearm leading to the pinfall win in the middle of the ring. New WWE Champion.

Just to give you an example of how rare it is for the WWE Championship to change hands on Smackdown, the last time it happened was in Sept. 2003 when Brock Lesnar beat Kurt Angle in an incredible Ironman match. They have done title changes for what was the World Heavyweight Championship (the title that was mostly on Smackdown during the first brand split in the 2000s), but in terms of WWE Championship it’s been 14 years.

Styles celebrated his second WWE Championship win as the fans in Manchester, England went wild for him. Fans in England don’t go to WWE shows expecting a major championship to change hands, so they got a moment they will never forget. As for Mahal, he took out his frustrations by beating up The Singh Brothers, which shows he’s the kind of heel who blames others for his losses.

The Factors Surrounding The WWE Title Change

The big question that comes out of all this is: Why did they do the title change now?

I don’t know the answer, nor has any wrestling insider revealed the reason for it. I think that the main reason is that WWE realizes Mahal was doing a poor job as WWE Champion. Last week’s edition of Smackdown drew the second-lowest television audience of the year with 2.1 million viewers, which was a drop of about 500,000 viewers from the week before. The show was up against Game 6 of the World Series (a win by the LA Dodgers to force a Game 7 that was won by the Astros) and Halloween, so I think WWE has an excuse if they want to use it.

What’s interesting is that they announced Mahal vs. Styles for the WWE Title last Thursday, which means it was done the day after they got the ratings from the Oct. 31 Smackdown. Perhaps that rating was considered something of a nail in the coffin for Mahal’s title reign since Smackdown crowds were down all summer with several shows taped in front of buildings that were half-full. The main champion should get credit when things are going well and also blamed when things are not. That’s just how things are in that position.

It was back on the Oct. 17 edition of Smackdown when Mahal challenged Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. At that time, I have to assume WWE was planning on doing Lesnar vs. Mahal at Survivor Series. I found it weird that Mahal would issue the challenge considering the company later announced all Raw champions would challenge all Smackdown champions. Once again, this is WWE’s creative team confusing the audience and showing that they don’t plan things out as well as they should.

Even though I’m excited about Lesnar vs. Styles, there’s a chance that it doesn’t happen.

As most WWE fans know, champions usually get a rematch for the title they lost within a few weeks. It’s very possible that Mahal gets his WWE Title rematch next week on Smackdown Live and could win the title back. Perhaps the Raw brand could “invade” Smackdown during the match and then Mahal could capitalize for a cheap win. I don’t know. Just throwing it out there as a possibility. By doing that, WWE can still do the Lesnar vs. Mahal match they have promoted for the last month.

The title reign of Styles could end in the next month too. That’s because WWE has two shows in India on Friday, Dec. 8 and Saturday, Dec. 9. It’s a Raw brand show, but Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers are going to be a part of it. As of this writing, Styles isn’t being advertised for the shows. However, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Styles gets added to the card and perhaps Mahal will win the WWE Title back at that show.

I really hope Styles has a long reign with the WWE Title. I hope he holds it until WrestleMania. I hope his WrestleMania opponent is Shinsuke Nakamura and that they get a chance to have a classic match. That’s a lot of hoping, right? It would be nice if that hope became a reality.

What’s Next For AJ Styles?

Next up for AJ Styles as the WWE Champion is the biggest test of his WWE career so far, the WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. Like I said earlier, though, that is only if Styles doesn’t drop the title back to Mahal on next week’s Smackdown.

This could be a great match depending on Lesnar. The reason I say that is because some Lesnar singles matches are short and don’t have much of a story. When he faced Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire in July, it only went 6:25. We wanted to see more. Two months later, Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman at No Mercy went 9:00. It was good, but not as great as it could have been. The SummerSlam match was a lot better because it was four guys and Lesnar took a beating from Strowman (going through two tables) before coming back to retain the Universal Title.

When I think of Lesnar vs. Styles, I really hope they can do something close to as good as Lesnar vs. CM Punk at SummerSlam 2013. That match went 25:17 and Lesnar sold so well to make Punk look like a legit threat to beat him. Punk was very good in the ring four years ago, but Styles is even better than him. Even if they went 15 minutes with this match, it could be outstanding because Styles will make Lesnar look strong. It’s just a matter of Brock being willing to have some moments where it looks like he might lose.

As of right now, Styles vs. Lesnar is a go for Survivor Series. In one week’s time, it may not be. Welcome to WWE in 2017 where crazy shit happens all the time and sometimes without any explanation at all.

At least we can celebrate Styles as WWE Champion. He’s the best wrestler in the company and he deserves it as much as anybody.

** Just a note to say that my usual Raw and Smackdown reviews that I’ve been doing here on The Comeback all year long are not going to continue. In talking to editors, we decided to change up the format of what I write for this site. It’s an ongoing process as we try to figure it out. They like me and they want me here, so I’ll be here because I love being a part of this team. I just won’t be doing the same Raw and Smackdown reaction pieces every Tuesday and Wednesday like I have been.

I’ll still keep doing recaps of the WWE shows on my site TJRWrestling, so please check that out because I’ve been doing this for nearly two decades and still enjoy it very much. Changing things up here at The Comeback is cool with me. Like I said, I enjoy being a part of this site and it will continue.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He's written for WhatCulture, Bleacher Report, Layfield Report, Rajah.com and many other places. You can follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net.

  • Buddy Manning

    Great read as always John! I agree with you about Block’s “attitude” at Survivor Series being an intrical part of the equation. If the rumor of Brock being the one to tell management that he didn’t want to wrestle Jinder because it wasn’t a “money” match and he is right.IF they keep the title on A.J. and he does face Brock, I honestly think Brock will put in some effort to make it a great match. As much respect A.J. already had BEFORE he stepped foot in a WWE ring (we won’t count that one off appearance over a decade ago) in addition to the consistency, durability, and reliability he has shown since his Rumble debut, I bet Brock will bump for him a few times and of course A.J. will sell his ass off and really make Brock look like a BEAST!!! I’m going to hope that WWE does the right thing and let A.J. keep the strap, face Lesnar, and then, as you said, continue to hold it and do a slow build for a Wrestlemania showdown with Shinsuke! Happy belated birthday by the way fella!!