(Photos coming tomorrow)
It’s official! At Royal Rumble 2017, John Cena did the impossible: He tied Ric Flair’s hallowed record of 16 World Title wins after defeating AJ Styles in an emotional match witnessed by 52,020 frenzied fans inside the Alamodome.
For years, it seemed inconceivable that any Superstar could approach Flair’s record, let alone match it. Year after year, however, The Champ continued his hard work and determination, relentless in his drive to elevate himself. And though he captured the United States Championship just 14 months ago, he hadn’t won a World Title since June 29, 2014. That perseverance, however, would pay hefty dividends at Royal Rumble in his pursuit of the WWE Championship.
The record-breaking victory was far from guaranteed. After all, Styles, who debuted at Royal Rumble 2016, has enjoyed what has been, arguably, the most impressive rookie year in WWE history. Not only did he defeat Cena at SummerSlam, he also captured the WWE Championship a month later at Backlash. And one month after that, The Phenomenal One successfully defended his title against Cena and Dean Ambrose in a Triple Threat Match at WWE No Mercy.
Styles wanted desperately to keep that momentum racing into his Royal Rumble bout. Early in the historic match, Styles hoisted his opponent upon his shoulders for an Argentine Backbreaker, then transitioned into a Spinning Powerbomb before covering Cena, who managed to kick out at two.
The two competitors would trade punishing maneuvers as Cena leveled his opponent with an Attitude Adjustment. After kicking out at a heart-stopping two-count, Styles would soon take to the air, raining down on Cena with a Phenomenal Elbow.
After trading a ferocious series of blows, The Champ, perhaps in an homage to the man whose record he was chasing, snapped on Flair’s signature Figure-Four Leglock, but Styles powered out and countered with a cross armbreaker.
As the chants from the WWE Universe grew louder, The Phenomenal One flattened Cena with the Styles Clash. Unbelievably, it would not be enough. Cena would fight back, even climbing to the second rope before heaving Styles onto the canvas with an Attitude Adjustment. Styles would, somehow, some way, kick out at two and later pummel Cena with a second Styles Clash.
The Cenation Leader refused to let the record slip between his fingers, though. Instead, he pushed The Phenomenal One over the edge with, not one, but two more Attitude Adjustments. This time, there was nowhere to go for Styles, who had finally failed to escape the match-ending pin.
The emotion of his milestone was nearly overwhelming for Cena as the crowd showered The Champ with reverential applause, and soaked up a moment that will forever live in WWE history.