During his WWE world championship match with Dean Ambrose on Sunday night at WWE Backlash in Richmond, Virginia, Styles set out to prove it. He ultimately did so, pinning Ambrose in a manner perfectly befitting the cowardly but talented heel he portrays.
With so much time to work with at the end of the show, Styles and Ambrose took full advantage, slowly building up the pace of the match to accentuate the moments where they traded bursts of violence and energy -- making it clear this would be a long (timing out at 25:01) and intense battle. Each time Ambrose looked like he was taking control of the match, his comeback was short-circuited, and judging from the crowd's reaction, it seemed as if they wanted Styles more often than not.
Each stage of the match brought increasingly spectacular offense. An avalanche belly-to-back superplex began to turn the tide in Ambrose's favor. He then caught Styles in a slick tilt-a-whirl backbreaker to gain further momentum.
The crescendo of that sequence was a move not seen by WWE audiences in a long time -- a Chickenwing facebuster (once used by Beth Phoenix as the Glam Slam). WWE announcer Mauro Ranallo quickly pointed to its New Japan Pro Wrestling originator (two-time IWGP junior heavyweight champion and former Finn Bálor tag team partner) Ryusuke Taguchi to provide the context in tying it back to Styles' run in NJPW, and the move worked well in illustrating that Ambrose could bring out wild-looking offensive wrestling moves just as easily as Styles, if he so desired.
While each wrestler connected on a series of high-intensity moves, save for their finishers, neither was able to hold onto control of the match for very long. Styles twice locked in his patented Calf Crusher and even hit a springboard 450 splash (a move that rarely connects), but even that garnered him only a two-count.
Ambrose responded with his own stunning sequence. It started with a stiff double-leg drop kick as Styles hung between the middle and bottom ropes, followed by Ambrose's trademark middle-rope dive to send Styles flying over the announce table. After throwing Styles headfirst into the crowd over the barrier, Ambrose ran across both tables and hit a flying double axe-handle off the barrier. This left Styles reeling, and as the pair slowly worked back toward the ring, the crowd raised their level of participation as the match wound toward its finish.
The finale was a far different one from Styles' classic showdown with Cena weeks earlier, but that's simply because the goal on this evening was not establishing Styles as the greatest wrestler in the company -- it was about making him the top guy by utilizing any means necessary as a heel.
While the referee was briefly incapacitated, Styles connected on a low blow, a reprise of the ending of Tuesday's episode of SmackDown Live, and then finished off Ambrose with his finishing move, the Styles Clash.
By claiming the WWE championship, Styles filled in one of the few gaps remaining in his illustrious in-ring career. And with Kevin Owens and Styles now holding the two biggest championships in the WWE, any shred of doubt that remained is now gone.
A new era is most certainly in progress.
Note: For recaps and ratings of all the WWE Backlash matches, click here.