Soldiers of Fortune
The following Thursday we learn that Crimson, Gunner and Bradley are firmly on "Team Styles," though the question of exactly how or why that happened is left unanswered. AJ is tightlipped about the nature of their alliance, but backstage the camera man catches a private conversation between the four men where Crimson, Gunner and Bradley say that they'll happily fall in line and take orders from AJ as long as he holds up his end of the deal that he made with them. AJ promises he will.
The main storyline from this point until Slammiversary focuses on this angle. Now that AJ has some support and someone to watch his back he proceeds to go on a huge win streak. Suddenly AJ is beating everyone, defeating every wrestler put in front of him and goes on to win the tournament, gaining the #1 contendership.
Not only does AJ become unbeatable, but so do his team. Crimson, Gunner and Bradley are similarly dominant. The three of them are unstoppable as singles and as a group, proving to be ruthlessly effective in whatever they're tasked with doing, all the while playing consummate babyfaces. By the time Slammiversary roles around there isn't a single blemish on the record of Team Styles.
It's at this point that the balance of power begins to shift. With Hogan and Sting being so consumed with their own rivalry, AJ and his guys start cutting a swath through both of their teams, garnering so much momentum that dissension takes root among members of Team Hogan and Team Sting. And one by one, little by little, wrestlers start abandoning Sting and Hogan to join AJ Styles instead, giving AJ a growing and increasingly diverse faction that now includes representatives from each championship division.
At Slammiversary Team Styles continue their winning ways, making a clean sweep in every match they're a part of. AJ wins the TNA world title, his team captures the undercard titles, and I mean all of them. Coming out of the PPV, Team Styles has all the championships and all the power.
On iMPACT the following Thursday AJ opens the show. Forgoing any celebrations for his title win, he tries to address the Sting/Hogan situation that has consumed the company for months, but is interrupted by Crimson, Gunner and Bradley. They remind AJ that when they agreed to follow him, promises were made. They held up their end of the bargain and now it's time for AJ to do the same. Being a man of his word, AJ agrees.
Over the following three weeks AJ gives each of them a world title shot against him. This prompts the other wrestlers that had joined AJ over the previous few months to approach him and ask for title shots as well. AJ grants their requests and, one by one, he defeats them all.
This is the big selling point to get people to start abandoning Sting and Hogan in droves now, promising to support AJ Styles, thinking it will get them an easy path to the world title, leaving Sting and Hogan with only their most loyal followers remaining. In a matter of weeks, AJ Styles has amassed a faction larger than Hogan and Sting's teams combined. They all get title shots because AJ is, after all, a fighting champion, and every single time he emerges victorious.
While this is going on, there's a subplot involving Sting and Hogan dealing with the fact that AJ Styles is winning a war that the two of them started. Them being so completely one-upped by AJ is the impetus for their hostilities finally beginning to cool. With there seemingly no end in sight for Team Styles, they realize the fruitlessness of their rivalry and the two legends start to mend fences. As they contemplate the mistakes they both made over the past year Hogan begins to do away with the "safety measures" he put in place months ago.
Meanwhile, members of AJ's faction are becoming disgruntled. With AJ giving people title shots on an almost weekly basis, many of them thought they would have become world champion by now and are growing increasingly pissed off, thinking that as long as AJ Styles is the world champion, none of them will ever be. This keeps escalating as the road to Bound For Glory continues until finally AJ's faction falls apart. His own people turn on him, rallying behind another man in the faction -- the one who was the most outspoken about AJ's supposed stranglehold on the world title, their new leader, Matt Morgan.
Again, for the purposes of the story, this person really could be any one of a number of people. It could just as easily be Austin Aries, Bobby Roode or several others. The point is that it's an outspoken heel that could be taken seriously as a faction leader and could believably pull off a coup like this. But for the sake of bookending the angle, Matt Morgan makes the most sense in this case.
AJ is once again on his own. Matt Morgan goes on to win the BFG Series. And with over half the roster now following Morgan, defeating the Blueprint looks to be an insurmountable task. Morgan's group is unstoppable and there's nothing AJ can do.
With just a few weeks left before Bound For Glory, AJ and Morgan have an in-ring promo. They do their talking, but Morgan ultimately reveals what this was really about. Morgan's entire team appears, surrounding the ring. AJ tries to fight them off, but it's a hopeless task. They hold AJ down, forcing him to kneel before Morgan. Relishing this, Morgan asks AJ what he thought was going to happen here. He's lost. From the very beginning AJ needed help if he was going to stand a chance in this fight, but who's going to help him now?
That familiar music plays. Hogan and Sting appear on the stage together. They say that THEY will. The combined forces of Sting and Hogan's teams pour out of the locker room in defense of AJ. In seconds it becomes a massive battle with every member of the roster tearing each other apart. And at the epicenter, AJ Styles and Matt Morgan trade blows as the show fades to black.
This is where the final hype for Bound For Glory begins. Hogan and Sting, now a bit more humble, have thrown all their support behind AJ, putting the remaining members of their respective teams at his disposal. This is how the PPV card comes to together, with AJ playing the general now, having been brought up to the same level as the two legends; them now viewing him as a peer, as an equal.
At Bound For Glory, under AJ's leadership, his team defeats Morgan's team, reclaiming the undercard championships, and AJ triumphs over Matt Morgan in the main event. In the resulting fallout, Morgan's team disintegrates, finally bringing an end to this year-long story of faction warfare.
The following Thursday night, Hogan and Sting call AJ out to the ring. They tell him that it's all over: the infighting, the battling for control of TNA, all of it. Hogan admits that he became so obsessed with safeguarding the company that he ended up becoming the very thing he was trying to prevent. Sting admits that he became so concerned with beating Hogan (an obsession perhaps stemming from old wounds from years ago that never fully healed) that he lost sight of why he started down that road in the first place. Eventually, the two of them weren't really fighting over what was right or what was best for TNA anymore, they were just fighting.
And all the while, even though Sting and Hogan both had the best intentions, it was AJ who showed them the forest through the trees and put the company on the right path simply by leading by example, which the two of them had failed to do. They were both trying to safeguard the company, but in the end, the man who saved TNA from tearing itself apart (a danger they had inadvertently caused) was AJ Styles.
Hogan says that he spoke with Dixie Carter and they've agreed to create a new position in the company. He offers AJ the job of TNA Commissioner; a position that would essentially give him power in the company equal to Hogan's. AJ respectfully turns down the offer. He says maybe someday when he decides to hang up his boots, but first and foremost he's a wrestler and the TNA world champion, and his place is in the ring. Instead, he suggests that Sting become Commissioner, saying he can't think of a better person for the job. Sting accepts.
So with the angle finally concluded now, the slate is clean and TNA is free to move forward with a different status quo. Hogan and Sting run the show together, but both have now realized that they simply can't do things the way they used to anymore. They can't be the heroes that are always going to bail TNA out of a crisis because with AJ Styles as their chosen successor (for lack of a better word), they don't have to be anymore. That role is AJ's now. Hogan and Sting can still be a part of the show, they can be the shield, but AJ Styles is the sword.
If this was executed properly, hopefully it would have elevated AJ Styles enough so that he could be perceived as being on the same level as Hogan and Sting without really undermining either of them. They would be shown to be fallible, yes, but that can make a character a lot more interesting (something TNA often forgets when it comes to these guys).
So with the status quo now being Hulk Hogan, Sting and AJ Styles as the three power players in the company, with Hogan and Sting running the show, keeping each other in check, but staying out of the ring, and AJ being the guy they've entrusted with the responsibility of protecting TNA from whatever threats (either internal or external) that might pop up -- the role Sting used to fill far too often -- the company if free to move forward creatively and look to the future (see what I did there?), no longer hampered by this short-sighted notion that simply shoving the two aging legends down the audience's throats time and time again is the answer to all the TNA's problems.
It's not longer all about the Icon and the Immortal One. There's a third point to this triangle now: the Phenomenal One.