For over a decade, one of the most prominent names in professional wrestling to have not wrestled under a WWE contract was the "Phenomenal" AJ Styles. He had major success in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and most notably TNA, but nothing compared to the year he was about to have in 2016.
As the most polarizing figure in the WWE and WWE World Champion at the time, Roman Reigns, awaited the next participant in the 2016 Royal Rumble, not even he could have predicted the crowd's reaction to the third entrant. The countdown buzzer sounded, and an unfamiliar organ melody played, transitioning into the now well-known hip hop theme as Styles approached the entrance ramp to an eruption from the Amway Center crowd in Orlando, Florida.
Styles put forth a great effort in the match itself, lasting nearly 30 minutes and eliminating a couple of superstars, but the impact of his debut was only the beginning of his success. 2016 was the year of AJ Styles, who was widely considered the performer of the year, not just in the WWE, but in any promotion.
Following his WWE debut, Styles went on to have a very compelling feud with another all-time great in Chris Jericho, which included a fantastic match at his first WrestleMania in Dallas. Styles then began one of the rivalries of the year with poster boy John Cena. His feud with Cena culminated with a match for the ages at SummerSlam, where the torch was seemingly passed to Styles in victory.
He quickly climbed the ranks, putting on superb match after superb match, stealing nearly every show he was a part of. Less than nine months after his debut at the Royal Rumble, Styles found himself in the middle of a feud with Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Championship. On Sept. 11 at Backlash, Styles defeated Ambrose and became champion, cementing the greatest first year in WWE history since Brock Lesnar in 2002.