Christian Cage vs. AJ Styles
June 2, 2006
Northeast Wrestling Spring Slam Night 2

Reviewed by Jesse Collings (VOW Author Page / Host of Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast and Wrestlenomics)

Gifted by Suit Williams (VOW Author Page / @suitwilliams / Collision & ROH Reviewer)

This match took place on my 12th birthday and also AJ Styles’ 29th birthday. Styles had emerged as the breakout star for TNA and was honing himself as one of the best wrestlers in the world by also working a sizable amount of indie dates. His opponent is Christian Cage, who had recently left WWE in November 2005 and signed with TNA. 

This match is funnily enough, not taking place in TNA but in Northeast Wrestling. Northeast Wrestling is one of the longest-running indie groups still active, having started in 1996. It’s also one of the most successful, drawing some of the largest crowds in indie wrestling each year, for a promotion that is very active in bringing in former WWE talent and legends–being one of the few promotions to meet the high prices often charged by former WWE talent and semi-retired wrestlers. 

The match begins with both wrestlers entering the ring in ring jackets with large hoods that obscure most of their faces. Was this a trend in wrestling in the mid-2000s? They are both kind of signature looks for AJ and Christian, but I’m wondering if other wrestlers had the same gimmick? 

Christian is announced as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, having defeated Jeff Jarrett for the title earlier that year in TNA. Despite the fact that Christian is coming off his years on WWE TV, Styles is just as over in this match as the crowd recognizes him as a star on equal footing. The crowd is hot for the entire match and adds a lot to it. 

The match is a fairly basic, but good TV match. Unsurprisingly given Christian is involved, it’s an extremely professional match, with nothing really out of place and everything laid out well. AJ scores a visual pinfall after hitting the Styles Clash, only failing to win the match due to a ref bump which delayed the three count. Styles then misses a Spiral Tap, and Christian hits the Killswitch to retain his title. 

Something that stands out about this match is while Styles is representative of the new, push-the-pace style that was being featured on the US indies and in TNA’s X-Division, Christian doesn’t look out of place at all working within that style. Despite a vast majority of his career being in WWE, he was quickly able to adapt to the way wrestlers were working on the indies and he never looks out of place. 

Part of that is surely because Christian is a tremendously intelligent and capable performer. But it also makes me think that the gap between what was taking place in WWE and what was taking place in the indies wasn’t as large as it would be today. It’s hard for me to envision someone who was trained in the WWE Performance Center and spent most of their career in WWE, being able to be dropped onto the indies, wrestle a top indie wrestler (like say, Mike Bailey) and be able to do that style of match flawlessly. 

The gap between the WWE house style, which focuses so much more on mannerisms and basic formula than adaptability, and the faster, more creative style of the indies seems very large, and I wonder if that prevents wrestlers who lack indie experience from seeking work outside of the company once their run in WWE ends. 

Given that I believe both AJ Styles and Christian Cage are two of his favorite wrestlers of all time, I’m going to guess this was from Ewan Cameron.