At WrestleMania 36, AJ Styles became the first non-magical WWE Superstar to be buried alive when he took on The Undertaker in a Boneyard Match. Without storyline powers to “resurrect” him, how would Styles return to WWE programming? On Monday Night Raw this week, the WWE universe got its answer.
After a month off of TV, AJ Styles returned to Monday Night Raw and quickly qualified for the Money in the Bank match by winning a Last Chance Gauntlet Match. Afterwards, he exclaimed that he was back, acknowledged that the Undertaker had buried him alive, and essentially said, “so what?”
It’s always hard to book a buried alive match, since without having some sort of supernatural powers to explain their resurrection in kayfabe, not every superstar can be buried and just show up again, alive and well. Throughout the history of buried alive matches, The Undertaker, Mankind, and Kane have been the only superstars on the roster that could come back after being buried alive with little consequences to their storylines or characters.
So, headed into The Boneyard match at WrestleMania 36, two of the biggest questions were how the match would end, and which superstar risked getting buried alive. The Undertaker made the most sense for a burial-type ending, since he can come bounce back from a minor case of death a lot easier than Styles could. That made it a bit of a surprise that Styles ended up being the one buried alive, and kicked off speculation on how AJ Styles could return seemingly return from the dead. Apparently, WWE’s answer is that in Styles’ case, being raised from the dead is easier than it looks, and despite the Undertaker’s best efforts, AJ would not, in fact, rest in peace.
Did WWE miss a big opportunity by not leaning more heavily into the dark outcome of the Boneyard Match, or would taking Styles’ “death” too seriously have ended up coming off as too broad, or comedic? Having AJ no-sell the finish of the Boneyard Match certainly seems to have softened ramifications of burying someone alive. But for AJ, this outcome is much more positive, as it lets him head back to Raw without skipping a beat or having to make major changes to his character.
Of course, one cannot help but image what WWE could have done with Styles’ return. Could lost footage from the Boneyard match have been “found” showing AJ crawling out of the grave and swearing revenge? Perhaps the Phenomenal One could have walked out on Raw covered in dirt that he’d need to shake off as he entered the gauntlet match. While these could have been memorable moments, that does not mean they would be better than how WWE actually handled Styles’ return.
The Boneyard match was unquestionably the high point of WrestleMania 36, and Styles can never be ruled out when it comes to the main event scene within WWE. After his hard work in the Boneyard Match, Styles has to be considered a favorite to win his Money in the Bank match. The briefcase — and title opportunity within it — just might be AJ’s reward for being a big reason why the Boneyard Match was so successful, and he might already have a tailor-made feud waiting for him after Sunday’s PPV.
After he won the Last Chance Gauntlet Match, the first name that Styles dropped in his promo was Aleister Black. Not only did he say he was going to win the briefcase, but Styles tossed out the possibility of throwing Black off of the roof during the match. Black was quick to respond, and he even acknowledged that Styles had been buried alive the previous month. So, it’s possible that the burial angle was not brushed off entirely, but used instead as a possible jumping-off point for a feud between Styles and Black coming out of Money in the Bank.
Aleister Black is one of the only superstars on the current roster whose gimmicks leans into the realm of the mystical. Could that work in both Black’s and Styles’ favor as they build towards a potential feud? If Black is thrown off the roof at Money in the Bank, that could create the possibility of his resurrection being measured against Styles’, which could certainly make for entertaining viewing.
Zombie AJ Styles is a great thought, and the fun that could have been had with that gimmick cannot be denied. But, it’s now possible that the WWE universe might get Zombie Hunter Aleister Black out of this storyline instead. If that does end up being the case, then the fallout from the Boneyard match would be so worth AJ no-selling his brush with death.
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AJ Styles might not be a literal zombie, but his burial is now canon after both he and Aleister Black referenced it during AJ's return on Raw.