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AJ Styles outlasted Daniel Bryan in a lengthy and entertaining match on the June 12 episode of SmackDown to win the vacant Intercontinental Championship.
Styles appeared on Sunday’s Backlash pay-per-view and suggested that he intends to address Bryan on Friday’s SmackDown. That could mean that their rivalry is set to continue, but once it reaches its conclusion, the door will be open for someone new to step up and challenge The Phenomenal One.
Here is a closer look at a few talented SmackDown Superstars who would make for great opponents as Styles attempts to prove his worth as Intercontinental champion.
After being left off WWE programming for a few months, Shorty G has been a far more consistent presence lately. His return to the SmackDown spotlight could be a sign that WWE is preparing him for a push.
Shorty G resurfaced a few weeks ago in a battle royal and beat Cesaro in a singles match later that night. On the next episode of SmackDown, he teamed with New Day in a winning effort over Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura and Mojo Rawley.
While Shorty G has had some fleeting pushes, including a run to the finals of the King of the Ring tournament last year, a feud with Styles over the IC title may be precisely what he needs to become a consistent presence on TV.
Shorty G is one of the most impressive athletes in all of WWE, and he has no shortage of legitimacy as a former Olympic wrestler. Shorty G also has a big personality, but he has been saddled with a bad gimmick.
Styles and Shorty G faced off in a singles match once before three years ago, and although Styles won the match, Shorty G performed well and showed that he is capable of going toe to toe with one of the best.
A proper rivalry with Styles could work wonders for Shorty G, and perhaps it could even result in WWE dropping the silly Shorty G moniker and allowing him to be Chad Gable once again.
Gable is a master technician with the potential to be one of WWE’s biggest stars, and perhaps Styles can help the WWE higher-ups see that.
Like Shorty G, Jey Uso has been something of an afterthought lately, although their circumstances are different.
Uso has been a tag team wrestler for his entire career alongside his twin brother, Jimmy Uso. The Usos are one of the most successful tag teams in WWE history, but fans have never really gotten to see what either of them can do on their own.
Jimmy suffered a knee injury at WrestleMania 36 that is expected to keep him out for months, however, which means Jey is now a singles wrestler should WWE opt to utilize him.
Jey made it to the final two of a battle royal on SmackDown a few weeks ago before getting eliminated by Sheamus. He hasn’t appeared on SmackDown since, but the fact that he had such an impressive run in that match suggests WWE may have interest in continuing to use him.
Styles and Jey have faced each other in several tag team matches over the years, but they have never met in a singles bout. If WWE wants to help Jey develop into a legitimate singles star while Jimmy is out, then there is no better person to get the most out of him than Styles.
The Intercontinental Championship should be about having great matches and building new stars, and if WWE views it in that light, then Uso is an ideal choice to challenge The Phenomenal One.
Styles may have defeated Bryan for the IC title, but he isn’t far removed from his most recent loss, as he shockingly fell to Drew Gulak on SmackDown two weeks ago.
AJ was facing Gulak in order to prove a point to Bryan, but he was so concerned with Bryan’s presence outside the ring that he allowed Gulak to beat him with a pinning combination.
Since Gulak pinned the now-champion, conventional wisdom suggests that he could be in line for a title shot. There is also little doubt that he and Styles could put on some special matches with the Intercontinental Championship hanging in the balance.
Gulak is similar to Bryan stylistically, so he should mesh well with Styles. He is also Bryan’s coach, meaning it would be a natural storyline progression for Styles to transition into a feud with him.
Gulak’s path through WWE has been impressive, as he debuted in the Cruiserweight Classic and was part of the cruiserweight division before working his way to the top and becoming Cruiserweight champion.
He was then moved to SmackDown as a regular part of the main roster and entered into a feud with Bryan before becoming his friend. Now, Gulak has a win versus Styles under his belt and could be in line for his biggest push yet.
If that happens, all signs point toward Gulak continuing to deliver and rise to the occasion.
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