Despite decades of being an elite in-ring performer, AJ Styles had to wait until he was 39-years-old to sign a WWE contract. Styles' wait was so long, that he actually believed that he'd never step inside a Vince McMahon owned ring.
In an interview with The Daily Star, Styles revealed that a move to WWE never seemed within the realm of possibility. After all, WWE has never had an affinity for smaller wrestlers, especially if they're from the south.
"I think I just assumed me and the WWE just weren’t a fit, we would never work together. I learned to live with it, and I just assumed they didn’t need an AJ Styles. Thankfully I was wrong. It took me a while, but when I got here the timing was perfect.”
Since becoming a WWE Superstar, Styles has been a title holder more often than not. Whether he's rocking the WWE Championship or the United States Championship, the 41-year-old typically has WWE gold around his waist. Since joining SmackDown after the first Superstar Shake-Up, Styles has been a pillar of the show, if not the face of the Blue Brand.
However even though Styles' success in WWE is undeniable, he had to overcome a skeptical Vince McMahon upon arrival. In an interview with Dirt Fork, Styles revealed that WWE didn't have high hopes for him.
"From my understanding, I was looked at as a mid-card at best in the WWE. That was the plan and I was okay with that because it was still a great job, a great payday and a great way to take care of my family," he said.
But after an electric debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble, Styles made an impression—on everyone but McMahon.
"I didn’t necessarily think that’s where I was going to be but there was that time when I made my debut and fans knew who I was in Orlando. They made some noise and it was pretty great. Vince [McMahon] assumed it was a fluke. He didn’t think too much of A.J. Styles."
Styles would eventually be personally challenged by McMahon.
"I don’t even think I was supposed to be on Raw that next Monday. But the turning point where Vince really saw something in me was when I had a regular match, a babyface match, went out and did my thing," said Styles. I came back to gorilla and Vince says, ‘Come here for a second. I’ve got other guys who can do exactly what you just did out there. You didn’t do anything special. I need a pit bull. I need a guy who just attacks. I need a guy who gets after it,'" Styles recalled.
Styles answered McMahon's request and that moment may have proved to be a pivotal time for his WWE career.
"I said, ‘Well, I know that guy. I know exactly who that guy is’ and there was the opportunity to be on Miz TV and I handled it just like I was ready to eat this guy’s lunch and basically, I think the way that turned out was the turning point for Vince," he said.