While Styles was long assumed to be the next challenger for Mahal, and then confirming the fact during a promo after losing his U.S. title, most expected the match would come down the road. Read: long after Survivor Series on November 17.
So for WWE to announce the match out of nowhere for the November 7 edition of SmackDown was unexpected to say the least. Some have speculated this could mean WWE has decided on some last minute changes heading into Survivor Series, one of the four biggest PPVs of the year, and Styles could be walking out champion on Tuesday night.
Dave Meltzer addressed the rumors on the Friday edition of Wrestling Observer Live. Meltzer seems to be of the belief that there are three possibilities at play here.
He believes there's a chance that WWE has soured on Lesnar vs. Mahal at Survivor Series, believing Mahal isn't a big enough challenger for Lesnar on such a big show, and they may want to change things up so they can feature Lesnar vs. Styles.
Something else that could be at play here could be the shoulder injury that Jinder Mahal has been working through. Though the injury has been reported to be minor, with Mahal taking some time off from television matches to let it heal recently, it could be that the injury is more severe than originally thought and he needs to drop the belt now due to needing more serious medical intervention.
Lastly, a title change may not be in the cards and the match could just be a response to a very low SmackDown television rating last week. This could just be a spectacle to pop a short term ratings increase, which would likely result in Mahal walking out champion. This seems to be the least likely, in this writer's opinion, due to the fact that last week's show occurred on Halloween night and a low rating was obviously expected.
Regardless of what happens, it is a bit odd for WWE to jump the shark with this long-planned future title match on one week's notice. With the show this week taking place in the U.K., there's also the possibility that they wanted to give the fans something special. But why give them what had been planned as a title program down the line without much build? Unless, of course, the title is changing hands.
Lesnar vs. Styles is undoubtedly a bigger match than Lesnar vs. Mahal and would add some excitement to the Survivor Series card, there's absolutely no doubt about it. While the PPV has been built up nicely to this point with RAW vs. SmackDown, the champion vs. champion match that should be a big deal has fallen flat. That would not be the case with AJ Styles as WWE Champion.
Photo Credit: WWE