By Erik Beaston | On Twitter @ErikBeaston
June 11, 2003 was the most significant night in the still-young history of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. On that night, AJ Styles captured his first NWA World Heavyweight Championship, defeating Jeff Jarrett and Raven in a Three Way Dance and became the young face of the upstart promotion.
Over the next 12 years, The Phenomenal One would develop into the franchise star and one of the consistent bright spots of a promotion that needed that centerpiece in order to grow, evolve and develop into the company it wanted to be.
Sixteen years later, on August 31 in Chicago, “Hangman” Adam Page will have the opportunity to make history of his own when he squares off with Chris Jericho for All Elite Wreslting’s world heavyweight title in the main event of the All Out pay-per-view.
Much like Styles before him, he has the chance to catapult himself to the top of the company and serve as its centerpiece for years to come. As history dictates, though, there are both positive and negative steps AEW officials must take to avoid the mistakes made by Jarrett’s promotion some 16 years ago.
DO Book Him Alongside Known Entities
When TNA arrived on FOX SportsNet in 2004, one of the smartest things that company did was highlight Styles in the main event of the first broadcast. From there, it aligned him with recognizable stars like Jeff Hardy and “Macho Man” Randy Savage heading into the first pay-per-view extravaganza, Victory Road. In doing so, Styles got the rub and was instantly legitimized in a way that even winning the world title a year earlier could not provide.
Fans tuning in for the first time knew he was a big deal because, “oh, he’s right up there with Savage, Hardy, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall…he must be important.”
AEW has at its disposal the likes of Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, all of whom have a previously established relationship with Page dating back to Being the Elite.
Pairing him with his buddies, letting him feed off their energy and benefit from their credibility will only help him look and feel like more of a main event attraction than he already does. Think of high school: if you hang around the cool kids, eventually people begin to perceive you as said cool kid. Reputation by proxy is a staple of wrestling booking, sometimes for better or worse. Page is more than talented enough to experience the former.
DO NOT Book Known Entities at His Expense
Even after capturing the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, Styles found himself in a rivalry with former tag team partner D’Lo Brown while Jarrett’s ongoing feuds with Vince Russo, the sEx faction and Raven all took center stage.
The result? Styles’ title reign was bogged down by what felt like secondary programs. It became harder for fans to buy into him as world champion when the booking team was not interested in booking him in a manner that reflected the title around his waist.
The newly signed Jon Moxley, Executive Vice Presidents Cody, Omega and the Bucks, and the ever-prominent Chris Jericho will all command airtime. They will form the foundation for the product because of their enormous success and the audience’s familiarity with them.
If AEW decides to book Page to become the first world champion in the company’s already noteworthy history, it will have to resist the urge to present him as anything but the face of the promotion.
Otherwise, he will absolutely struggle to find credibility in that role, not unlike Styles, whose first reign could be classified as somewhat of a disappointment for that reason alone.
DO Let Him Beat Established Stars
Styles was allowed the opportunity to defeat guys like the aforementioned Brown, Jarrett and Raven during his first title reign. Even if the circumstances were not always ideal, he was still allowed to collect wins over them as the company continued to build his resume from the ground up.
Luckily for Page, he does not need quite the assistance from a credibility standpoint, thanks to his exploits in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Ring of Honor.
Still, letting him build his star on victories over names and faces that fans outside of local civic centers, fire halls and rec centers recognize is the way to go in order to maximize the potential of a Page reign.
Let him beat Jericho in convincing fashion. Allow Hangman to out-wrestle someone like Cody. Book him to top Omega in hotly contested match.
A champion is only as good as the competition he has to work with and Page has a significant edge over Styles in that field.
DO NOT Book Him To Lose Nontitle Matches
Ok, this has nothing to do with Styles’ TNA run and everything to do with the way wrestling has been booked over the last decade or so, where champions lose non-title matches to set up championship encounters.
It is antiquated, it makes the champion look like a fluke who only holds the title because he can win 50-percent (or less) of the time and does nothing for the challenger, who can never seem to win when everything is at stake.
For some reason, there are other companies who still think this is a viable manner in which to book champions and set up title bouts rather than being even a smidge creative and writing literally any other storyline.
Give me Kane unmasking, electrocuting Shane McMahon’s testicles and unleashing hell all over WWE before you reward Baron Corbin for pinning Seth Rollins in an unmemorable tag team match in the second hour of an episode of Raw no one is watching.
The more AEW builds its stars and gives its champion, whether it is actually Page or if it goes with Jericho instead, the better opportunity that initial titleholder will have to enjoy a successful reign that builds their legacies and the credibility of the title.
Anything else would be a detriment to a company that, thus far, has done everything right.
Now it is time to consult history, replicate what worked, dispose of what did not the last time an upstart company attempted to solidify its company’s place on the world stage with a fresh face, and reap the rewards.
By Erik Beaston | Follow on Twitter @ErikBeaston
Erik is a feature WWE writer for Bleacher Report. You can read more of his work here.