Hello everybody, I am JeriKane, and welcome to my brand new series, Hidden Gems. Where I go back and comment on matches that were good, great even, but don’t get much attention these days. As you can see by the title of this article, we’re starting with a rather recent match, however I figured it would be a good place to begin due to the events of not only last night’s Battleground pay-per-view, but also last month’s Backlash pay-per-view.
My goal here is to steer newer fans, or returning fans, in the right direction as far as good in-ring action is concerned,. The inaugural hidden gems segment features two of the best in the game today for that are Kevin Owens and AJ Styles. Despite their lackluster performances at these past two SmackDown Live special events, KO and AJ have proved in the past that they can have an amazing match together, such as this one here. This Money in the Bank qualifier match was the final on an episode of RAW from 2016, and these two men tore the house down en route to the big PPV in only a few weeks. “How can a match featuring two of the best in WWE be one of the company’s hidden gems?” That’s how.
This match came only one night after the Extreme Rules 2016 PPV, which saw AJ Styles fail to capture the WWE Championship in a grueling Extreme Rules match against Roman Reigns. While on that same night, Kevin Owens competed in a highly regarded Fatal 4 Way match for the Intercontinental Championship against Cesaro, Sami Zayn, and defending champion The Miz. Both men failed to win their respective championship matches, and therefore had something to prove in this match beyond just qualifying for Money in the Bank. AJ Styles wanted to prove to The Club that he could win a big match on his own, without their help, and Kevin Owens wanted to prove that he was World Championship material.
This wouldn’t be the first time that these two men would clash one on one, as Styles and Owens had another match on RAW prior to WrestleMania 32 that was also quite awesome (highly recommended viewing), but this May 23rd match had much higher stakes, and improved on their previous bout by a large margin.
This one starts with some chops, and slow action, which is to be expected considering what these two men had went through only 24 hours before this match. Eventually Kevin Owens hits a big dropkick, and mocks AJ Styles after doing so. Styles hits a hurricanrana from a laying position, but eventually Kevin Owens regroups and hits a clothesline on the outside of the ring. I miss the days when KO used to shout at Michael Cole during his matches. That was always fun. More brawling on the outside of the ring, then AJ sends KO crashing into the steel steps. During the commercial, we saw Kevin Owens catch Styles on his shoulders and launch him into the ring apron. When we return, it’s Headlock City as KO has Styles down, and is in firm control of the match. Eventually Styles breaks free, and both men end up on the outside of the ring. Owens tries for a powerbomb on the bottom part of the ring stairs to no avail, as AJ sends him back first into the ring apron.
Back in the ring, we get a forearm back-and-forth battle, before AJ Styles hits his big flurry of strikes that he does. Styles hits a mini Phenomenal Forearm for only a two count. AJ then hits an amazing suplex faceplant type of maneuver, however it only grabs him a two count. They did that move again in their match at Battleground, and to be fair it looked way better there than it did here, however in this match these two are selling being tired as hell, and that’s one big part of why I love this match so much, and feel it should be talked about more. So the move looked worse, but it felt so much more… real. I really liked it. KO recovers and hits a German suplex, and covers for a two count. KO then shouts “SHUT UP COLE I CAN HEAR YOU FROM HERE” which may or may not answer my question of if wrestlers can sometimes hear commentators while they’re wrestling. I’d assume not as they’re just three voices among tens of thousands, but you never know. Owens went for a Pop-Up Powerbomb, but AJ turned it around and hit a German suplex of his own. Styles then hits an enziguri and follows it up with a Tye Breaker for yet another two count.
Styles goes for a Styles Clash, but Kevin counters and hits him with that pumphandle neckbreaker he does (legitimately had to Wiki the name of that move, my mind went blank there, now I’m ashamed I couldn’t get the name myself as it’s so simple). Another pin attempt, another two count. Both these men are getting desperate now, as some of their best moves can’t put the other away. Goes to show how important this match is. Styles sets KO on the top rope, but gets headbutted down before he can execute what he was trying to do there. Owens went for that awesome fucking jumping moonsault he does, but he misses, and my heart hurts because of it. Sad face.
Has he ever hit that moonsault in WWE? I can’t remember if he has, and I feel like I would remember him connecting with it for once, because he always misses. Regardless, action continues in the ring as the phenomenal one hits a springboard 450 splash onto KO, and KO kicks out yet again. You know, I’ve seen this match a few times, and I know how good it is, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it right now, but I’ve gotta say, what a match. God damn. I’m just getting impressed all over again.
Kevin Owens rolls out of the ring to chants of “THIS IS AWESOME” from the crowd, and while I usually disagree because they chant that for seemingly anything these days, I’ll agree this time. Styles hits a running knee to KO from the apron, but soon after gets caught with a powerbomb onto the steel steps by KO, and that’s bad news for AJ Styles and his notoriously bad back. Referee Mike Chioda gets to a count of nine before AJ gets back in the ring. KO with another Pop-Up attempt, but he once again gets thwarted, this time with a Pele Kick. AJ goes for a Phenomenal Forearm, but Kevin Owens superkicks his leg, which leads to KO finally hitting the Pop-Up Powerbomb for the one, two, three.
Ladies and gentlemen, what we just witnessed was a masterclass in the art of selling. This match is a short RAW match, but it feels like a PPV match. I mean if you really think about it, it pretty much was a condensed-for-TV PPV match. These two men went all out, hitting their big moves, fighting outside the ring, inside the ring, and getting near fall after near fall. In my opinion, it was the perfect combination of situations. They’re both tired and hurt from the night before, however they knew the opportunity that was in front of them, with a spot in the Money in the Bank ladder match.
It created a sense of urgency, and a sense of two warriors giving their last bit of energy for their chance in the ladder match. It felt like a big deal, and as a result, it became a big deal. Alberto Del Rio vs. *insert superstar here* in a qualifying match didn’t feel like a big deal, because they didn’t tell the story in the ring like AJ and KO did. For ADR and his opponent, it was just another match, and it showed. Styles and Owens proved why they’re in the upper echelon of WWE with their performance in this match.
If you haven’t yet, I highly, highly recommend you seek this match out and watch it. You won’t be disappointed. Or even if you have seen it before, watch it again. You’ll get to see what KO and AJ Styles are truly capable of when they’re not being held back by shitty booking. It truly is something special, and it will always be in my list when I discuss the top matches of the past five or so years – so it certainly counts as one of the company’s best hidden gems for me. It came from out of nowhere and just completely blew me away. It’s great wrestling, plain and simple. Take fifteen minutes one night and check it out, you might just have a new favorite match.
Match Rating: 4 gems (out of 5)
With that, I want to know what you guys think. Do you agree with this being one of WWE’s hidden gems? Disagree? What’s your favorite Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles match? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter. I love talking wrestling with people, so don’t be afraid to hit me up. Until then, I am JeriKane, and that was the first of our hidden gems.
We welcome any suggestions for future hidden gems.