The Wrasslin’ Essay: How Iguodala and Styles Clash

Like fine wine, AJ Styles and Golden State Warriors' forward Andre Iguodala share a similar trait.

Talent is one of the truly inexplicable aspects of humanity. Through genetics, rearing, or Providence (depending on philosophy), aptitudes present themselves early in life and continue to develop with practice and reinforcement. Of course, some talents, such as athleticism, are valued far more in our society than others. Athleticism is unique even within the world of talent, however, due to its rapidly eroding nature. Artists, writers, and the like can trade their talents for money until their bodies fail, but the professional athlete is a man on fire—a person whose most valued characteristic will be all but gone by their forties.

However, a tiny percentage of that tiny percentage gifted enough to be professional athletes have a talent within a talent: they get better as they get worse. Even as they fight the inherently eroding nature of athleticism, these impressive few find ways to maintain their value and dynamism through intelligence, guile, and experience. Two such stars are currently featured prominently on national television: Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors, attempting to win his second consecutive NBA Championship, and AJ Styles of the WWE, attempting to win his first WWE Championship.

During the 2008-2009 season, his age-25 year (approximately an athlete’s peak), Iguodala started every game and played nearly 40 minutes per night. This year, at age 32 (approaching the point of gut check for all but the very best NBA players), Iguodala started just one game, appearing in 65 and averaging just under 27 minutes per contest. In spite of Father Time, however, the 2015 Finals MVP still has a minute-to-minute impact comparable in many ways to his peak. Iguodala averaged slightly more rebounds this year per minute than he did in ’08-’09 (0.152 compared to 0.144), including valuable offensive rebounds (0.0030 compared to 0.028) while stealing the ball more (0.042 compared to 0.040 per minute) and turning it over less (a huge differential of 0.0679 per minute at age 25 to 0.0456 at age 32). Iguodala should be getting worse at a rapid pace, but somehow he’s essential the same player (if not slightly better) per minute in every category but points (he’s slipped from 0.471 PPM in ‘08-‘09 to 0.264 today).

For obvious reasons, wrestling can’t be quantified by statistics in the way that other American sports obsessively are (perhaps one of the things that prevents many from applying the word “sport” to it). With that said, conclusions can be drawn based on appearances in main events, engagement level from fans and, arguably, star ratings issued by well-respected wrestling journalists. When it comes to match quality, AJ Styles is in the highest tier of twenty-first century North American wrestlers. During his time in ROH and TNA, Styles helped set the ridiculously high bar that current fans use to assess wrestling matches. He was a participant in one of just six Meltzer-approved Five Star Matches that have occurred this side of the Pacific since the turn of the millennium (with two of those matches heavily featuring Japanese talent brought into ROH). To date, he is also the only wrestler to emerge from TNA as a true global main event star. Believe it or not, however, that Five Star Match with Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels at Unbreakable happened more than a decade ago, and at 38, Styles is certain on the wrong side of his prime.

Styles’ age presents itself in the ways it does with all athletes: he doesn’t move as fast (although he still moves very fast), he doesn’t jump as high (although he still jumps very high), and his movements don’t seem as crisp and fluid (although he still seems very crisp and fluid). He no longer does many of the flashy, high-impact moves that initially made him a star, and his high-flying abilities are now mostly reserved for finishes and false finishes, replaced with slams and matholds. A cynic could easily say that AJ Styles has gotten “worse.”

In truth, though, just like Andre Iguodala, Styles is better than he’s ever been. He’s gotten better as he’s gotten worse. His matches, once so fast-paced and athletic as to prevent the suspension of disbelief that’s necessary to create a “big fight” feel during a wrestling match, now feel like they move at Ric Flair speed: nimble, but methodical. His connection with the crowd, once earned simply through being more impressive in his movement than everybody else, is now far deeper and more real. During the brief moment that he seemed poised to hit his Phenomenal Forearm and win the World Heavyweight Championship at Payback, Styles for just a second pumped his fist to the crowd with his back to them, and they erupted at approval at the very thought that he maybe, just maybe, could win the title. It was a better pro wrestling moment than any of the ultra-athletic contests he participated in when he was younger because he was truly working the crowd, and they were right there with him.

When Iguodala was gaining exposure as the running mate of Allen Iverson, he was branded by the SportsCenter crew as “The Other A.I.,” a nickname implying second banana status. There was a perception that, while capable of spectacular slam dunks, he was somehow an incomplete superstar (lowercase “s”), just as it was often said that AJ Styles would never be a true Superstar (uppercase “S”). When Iverson left Philly for Denver in 2006, Iguodala became the man and had an individually spectacular run that never translated to the ‘Sixers becoming a top NBA contender – similar to the fashion in which the consistent praise for Styles never translated into big money for TNA. Now, both men, in what is probably the early twilight of their careers, are finally at their best and flying the highest they’ve ever flown. They’re at the top of their respective industries, and they’re better than they’ve ever been, even though they’re worse than they’ve ever been.

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David Gibb

Contributor at Wrestledelphia
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