It still hasn't hit Allen Jones.
No matter how many times he walks down the aisle in the toy department, no matter how many times his two young sons may find a mini-version of their dad behind see-through plastic, the man wrestling fans call "the Phenomenal A.J. Styles" doesn't think he's reached the summit of his career.
"It's cool to have the action figures and get to be in all of the video games," the TNA (Total Nonstop Action) wrestling headliner says, almost tossing the accomplishments aside like one of his opponents. "But I don't think I've made it yet."
TNA tapes "iMPACT!," in Orlando. The area known for its Magic Kingdom is also where a story line can have a former NAIA wrestler, like Styles, put the scare into an Olympic gold medalist, like Kurt Angle.
Viewers will have to look elsewhere for the story line of the scrawny teenager who dove onto mattresses with dreams of being a pro wrestler -- that isn't Styles.
"I didn't grow up watching wrestling all that much," Styles said. "A lot of the guys that are in wrestling were avid wrestling-watchers. I went out and I thought I was going to be a professional football player, basketball or baseball player -- something like that."
The limited exposure actually may have helped Styles in his climb to main event status at TNA. He's less prone to mimic the flying elbow drops of a Randy "Macho Man" Savage or the figure-four leg-locks of a "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Some innovative moves, like his pile-driving to face-planting finishing maneuver, the "Styles Clash," have been the result.
"The only person that I want them to think of, as far as fans go, is A.J. Styles," he said. "I didn't want to be like anybody."
The fact that wrestling fans have come to know the 30-year-old Gainsville, Ga., man at all comes from an unlikely set of circumstances. A friend talked the standout, multi-sport high school athlete into coming along for a pro wrestling tryout. A.J. stepped into the ring almost on a lark.
"I told them that if they ever found a place to train that I would go with them. That being said, I went with them, took my first thump -- my first fall -- in the ring and thought 'I can do this' and here I am," he said.
There were plenty of thumps between "I can do this" and "here I am." The wrestler known for taking risks in the ring has occasionally taken a chance or two in his personal life.
Styles walked away from a partial wrestling scholarship at Anderson College in South Carolina to pursue his current career. He also didn't have the connections to bypass the independent circuit where wrestlers try to cultivate a loyal following by throwing themselves around dimly-lit high school gymnasiums with no television cameras.
The aches and pains of the independent circuit are some of the most vivid for Styles. So are the lessons.
"You have to go above and beyond to make sure you catch their attention," Styles said of the audience. "So the next time you're at that independent show, more people are going to show up. That's your job -- to make your name on the independents so you can get to the next level. That's exactly what guys are doing."
Styles took another chance when he passed on a developmental deal with cable wrestling's glitzy older brother, the WWE. The timing was all wrong: His wife, Wendy, was still in college. Her plans were set first and, as a result, they came before his.
Without the developmental deal, Styles appeared to be drifting back to the hardly-phenomenal days of independent circuit tumbles, part-time jobs driving ambulance and spot work mowing lawns. Monday night cable fame was harder to come by in 2002. Vince McMahon's WWE had recently bought out rival WCW, formerly owned by Ted Turner, leaving fewer big-stage wrestling options.
"If you're getting into it for the money, you're probably getting into it for the wrong reason," Styles said. "To some degree, especially on the independents there is no money to be made -- sure, you make a little bit, but you're not going to be living in a mansion. So you've got to be patient. Wrestling is a lot like life. It's all about the experience. You've got to get in there."
About two months after turning down the WWE, Styles signed with well-known Monday night wrestler Jeff Jarrett and his father, Jerry. The Jarretts wanted Styles to headline cards for their new organization with a quirky, six-sided ring.
Titles have come and gone, but some of the challenges are still around after seven years with TNA. Time away has made Orlando a second home of sorts for Styles -- he knows where to find all of the good restaurants and gyms.
TNA tapes broadcasts on Monday and Tuesday. The talent is off Wednesday and Thursday. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, TNA wrestlers are on the road doing house shows.
Sometimes they'll have an entire week off. At other times, long stretches pass before they can see home.
"If I were a single man, I would be just as happy (at home or on the road), but being that I have two kids and a wife -- that gets pretty hard," Styles said.
And, don't forget his feuds with the coworkers: A.J.'s main antagonists are the Main Event Mafia, led by Angle. The villainous group of former world champions have filtered in after making their names in other organizations. Styles calls them "guys who think that they're the reason wrestling is where it is today."
"My argument to them would be that there would be no TNA without guys like me and Samoa Joe," Styles said.
Like anything in professional wrestling, don't expect disagreements to be put to rest when TNA's wrestlers come to Spencer on March 28. Do expect to be entertained -- Styles, the action figure, requires a mold. Styles, the wrestler, wants to break it.
Others on the roster also bring interesting characters, international flavor and a work ethic to the ring.
"Our wrestlers are second-to-none when it comes to actually wrestling," Styles said. "We have everything that you want -- if you want some entertainment, we've got that. We've got just about anything that you'd want to see."
Since his phone call to promote the TNA event in Spencer, "The Phenomenal" A.J. Styles defeated Booker T to become the new TNA Legends Champion. The title changed hands at the "Destination X" pay-per-view after Styles caught Booker with the Styles Clash. After his victory, A.J. took the Legends Title into the crowd and held it above his head.
Styles had some additional insight about his career as a professional wrestler:
* How would Allen Jones describe A.J. Styles?
"As far as my character is concerned, you know, he's a guy who never gives up. He fights to the end and he'll fight anybody, but in the end, he's just a good-hearted wholesome kid."
* Tell us about the strange fan encounters you've had.
"I don't think I've had too many encounters. I don't know -- maybe it's because I'm a little bit weird myself and don't notice it."
* Is it more important to be a performer or an athlete?
"It's all part of the same package. With either one of those, you can stand out. Mine just so happened to be the athletic part. There are other guys, like Hulk Hogan, it's performance and charisma in the ring. That's what made wrestling what it is when he was wrestling. The guys who are really blessed can do both. There's definitely a couple of those guys."
* How long will fans be able to see A.J. Styles?
"My goal is to put 10 years into wrestling and honorably go out as someone who is respected and did his best out there, but at the same time knows his limits and knows when his time is up and is ready to pass the torch."
The superstars of Total Nonstop Action (TNA) will bring "TNA Live!" to Spencer Saturday, March 28 at the Clay County Regional Events Center with action set to begin at 7:30 p.m.
Scheduled to appear on the card, Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle, "Big Poppa Pump" Scott Steiner, Team 3D, "The Phenomenal" A.J. Styles, TNA World Tag Team Champions Beer Money, Inc., ODB, and others.
Tickets are on sale at the Clay County Regional Events Center Box Office, www.ticketmaster.com, charge-by-phone (800-745-3000), and all Ticketmaster locations.
Limited tickets available as low as $20.
TNA is proud to offer a $5 discount to all college students and military personnel with form of I.D.
TNA Wrestling stars and its six-sided ring can be seen weekly on "TNA iMPACT!" Thursday at 8 p.m. on Spike TV.