A.J. Styles was overdue for some good fortune.
TNA Wrestling was set to introduce a collection of veteran grapplers that was being hyped as "They." But those plans were scuttled when Kevin Nash and Booker T (real name Robert Huffman) returned to World Wrestling Entertainment at January's "Royal Rumble" pay-per-view show rather than join Sting and Scott Steiner in TNA.
Forced to scramble for replacements, TNA matchmakers turned its Fortune faction of Styles, Kazarian and Beer Money (Robert Roode and James Storm) from villains to babyfaces to fill the "They" role. This has led to a more high-profile role for all four performers. Styles is now the unit's de facto leader in a feud against the 11-member Immortal sect led by Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff.
Styles said he wasn't that surprised when TNA's front office told him of plans to split Fortune from the Immortal group.
"I knew we eventually would have to go there anyway," Styles said during a Tuesday telephone interview. "Fans wanted to see Fortune turn on Immortal. They never wanted to see Fortune be a part of Immortal in the first place. When we teased going against them, it created a big rumble.
"I think it's a blessing in disguise that those guys took jobs with WWE. We're moving forward here with something I hoped that would be done."
At this time last year, Styles was the company's world champion. He defeated Sting (Steve Borden) in October 2009 in what at the time was hyped as a passing of the torch between a pro-wrestling icon and his successor. TNA also moved its weekly "Impact" telecasts from Thursday to Monday nights in hopes of competing head-to-head with World Wrestling Entertainment programming on USA Network.
Within two months, TNA had retreated back to Thursday nights and Styles had his title reign end after a company-record 211 days when losing to Rob Van Dam. Styles has remained a fixture on TNA programming, but wasn't given the same caliber of promotional push like when he was champion.
An attempt to package Styles with Ric Flair and groom him as the new Nature Boy was especially ill-conceived. A married 32-year-old father of three, Styles is well known among TNA fans as a family man rather than the playboy character Flair portrays both on and off camera.
"It didn't fit my personality at all," a laughing Styles said. "Ric casts a big shadow. I think I've learned more about how to get out of that shadow when I was up against him rather than with him. When you're with Ric, he's going to get your attention."
Styles, though, said he did benefit from being paired with the industry's greatest all-time performer.
"I definitely learned some stuff like the way to cut an (interview) and stuff like that," Styles said. "I respect him. Even though he's 62, he's still one of the most entertaining guys in pro wrestling."
If last year wasn't tumultuous enough, Styles also suffered his biggest injury since making his TNA debut on the company's first show in 2002. Styles suffered a torn hip labrum and hip flexor while playing with his kids during the Christmas holiday.
"I was probably hurt already anyway but I didn't realize how bad the injury was," said Styles, whose real name is Allen Jones. "It was excruciating pain. I couldn't even walk. The doctor was surprised that I've come back already. Maybe it's something about wrestlers in general healing faster. We're stubborn so we jump in early."
One leap that Styles is unwilling to take: Getting too wrapped up in whether TNA is going to spotlight younger talent alongside ex-WWE performers with more mainstream recognition. Asked whether the torch is being passed again with the Fortune push, Styles said, "I don't know. The whole thing with Sting and I, the torch was supposedly passed, but here he is back again (as TNA world champion). I don't know if there is a torch to be passed anymore because so many people change their mind about whether they're staying or going or retiring.
"The biggest thing is, I want to be part of something that everybody knows about whether it's Fortune or TNA, something that's as big as WWE. I'm not saying I want to go to WWE or anything like that. I want TNA to explode."
Styles faces Matt Hardy on Sunday's "Victory Road" pay-per-view emanating from Orlando, Fla. For more information, visit www.tnawrestling.com.