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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

WWE's A.J. Styles competitive in the ring and in video games

Inside a wrestling ring, A.J. Styles is one of the most skilled competitors of our generation. But he said what happens outside the ring gets his competitive juices flowing almost as much.
Styles is a video-game aficionado, as he told the Sentinel in a phone interview Tuesday. The prowess of other WWE superstars on gaming systems meant Styles made friends easily when he came to WWE two years ago.
“These are a group of guys and girls I really enjoy going to work with,” Styles said. “You walk in and you’ve got [the New Day’s] Xavier
Woods and his video games – that’s right up my alley. So a bunch of us start playing UFC or Madden, and that’s fun. Because you know, idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
Styles, Woods and the rest of WWE’s Smackdown Live roster will invade Amway Center on Tuesday, Jan. 2, for a TV taping.
Many of Styles’ greatest moments in the sport have happened in Orlando, a city he called home for several years. He was a star in TNA (now Impact Wrestling) from 2002-13, wrestling countless matches at Universal Studios’ Impact Zone. He had a starring role in the biggest wrestling event in the city’s history, WrestleMania 33 in April, when he faced Shane McMahon.
But his favorite memory of the City Beautiful happened in January 2016, when he made his WWE debut at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view at Amway Center. He was returning to the States after two years as a star in New Japan, and the whole thing made him a little nervous.
“Everything pales in comparison to the Royal Rumble,” Styles said. “…The response I got that night from the fans, after a couple of years out of the U.S. mainstream, is something I’ll never forget. I was really worried about how much the people would actually remember me, but that response made it something really special.”
Styles, 40, has been a top-billed superstar ever since, and he’s the current holder of the WWE championship. He is one of the business’s most respected workers by his peers. Fans who follow the sport closely voted him “Wrestler of the Year” and “Most Outstanding Wrestler” in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in both 2015 and 2016. That respect is important to Styles.
“I take a lot of pride in what I do,” Styles said. “No matter who I’m in the ring with, I want it to look like what it’s supposed to be. We call it sports entertainment, but it’s supposed to be a contact sport. I want to make that in-ring contact as real as possible, and [also make it real] outside the ring.
“The magic is making the fans question whether these two guys really like each other or hate each other. That performance is what the business is all about … it’s the storylines that people remember.”
Besides video games, another passion for Styles is University of Georgia football. His Bulldogs face Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 with a berth in the national-championship game on the line, so by Smackdown the next day, he could be feeling the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
“It’s a big day for me,” Styles said. “Hopefully I’ll be excited and ready to celebrate when I get to Orlando. This could finally be the year … it’s been [38] years since a championship, since the days of Herschel Walker. So I think it’s time.”
To a prior generation of wrestlers, celebrating or unwinding after matches could mean having a few beers and getting into varying amounts of trouble. Styles said that sort of attitude has changed in today’s WWE – thanks in part to his beloved Xbox. His recent obsessions, for the new Xbox One X, include the Forza Motorsport 7 racing game and Call of Duty.
“I mean no disrespect to the guys who did it a different way at the bars or whatever,” Styles said. “The truth now is, when we get to a city, we find a good gym, something good to eat, go to the building and play video games until it’s time for our matches. That sounds like a great day to me.”
Smackdown Live is set for 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, at Amway Center. Tickets are on sale now at Ticketmaster.com.
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