Though Air Raid had a brief run in WCW, many had their first impressions of AJ Styles with the team, accompanied by a surging star in Air Paris.
Though AJ Styles has been in the spotlight the last 20 years, Paris largely stepped away from wrestling. When speaking with Fightful, Air Paris, real name Frank Parris, remembered how he originally came in to the company as an extra on the January 4, 2000 WCW Nitro. He wasn't on a contract then, but was there regularly.
"Well, I was there basically from that January appearance," Paris said. "I think I only missed, probably, two shows period from there ‘til the end of the run. That was all per appearance. They were paying us insanely to do security spots. Honestly they were giving us $500 a night, paying for our rental cars, paying for our flights. It was nuts. They were bringing, like, twelve of us in every week, too. I always liked to tell people those were the checks you take those into the bank. You don’t go through the drive through with the Turner logo on ‘em at 21. Terry and J.J. Dillon had been coming to [NWA] Wildside a bit, and Bill Behrens’ course was so instrumental in, of course Allen’s career, everything that basically I feel like I got with as far as forward in pro wrestling I probably owe to him or Bert [Prentice] because they put me in front of the right people. Bill’s one of those guys who’ll run through a wall for somebody if he believes in ‘em. But, he’s gonna expect you to run through a wall back. So, when you’re working, you gotta really go hard for him and work really hard and you’ll get everything that you put in back from a relationship with Bill Behrens as far as that. Nobody in the business is a better agent or will work harder for you."
Before Styles and Paris hit WCW TV as a member of the Cruiserweight Tag Team division, they hit WCW TV in a different way.
"We got a dark match in Baltimore, the night we did the angle—I believe, the book signing angle—where me and AJ are in the line and I take the bump from the shot from DDP when he gets up. That one pops up still on social media a lot. AJ Styles is DDP’s biggest fan. We did our dark match that night. We got pulled right into a side room when we got through the match. We had whatever the crowd was in Baltimore that night chanting “holy crap,"" said Paris.
Paris and Styles got their big break, and a big break it was. It launched the television career of both, helping lead Styles to where you see him today. For many, the Air Raid team is still affectionately remembered almost two decades later. However, the the contract offer that WCW sent to Styles and Paris wasn't quite what they were expecting.
"Arn Anderson and those guys pulled us into a side room and told us, “Get some gear. We’re gonna give you guys an opportunity.” One cool little memory from that I haven’t thought about in years is I think AJ was wearing track pants—he was doing like a high school role model gimmick, had warm up pants and the visor turned sideways. I had the Hardy Boyz knock off stuff. Arn Anderson said, “If you guys were wearing gear, if didn’t look like those people, they’d never forget who you are right now after the match you just had.” So, that was a cool moment with him. But, a week or so later we had a Fedex, had a contract in it, turned it down, sent it back—you want to talk about nerve wracking, to get a contract and then send it back, turn it down to ask for more money. I think we would have been the lowest paid people ever in the history of WCW if we took that first one. Bill got us a little bit more money and a little bit more per appearance and then we were sort of off to the races for about two and a half months," said Paris.
Those two and a half months were good for Air Raid. They weren't winning matches, but they were capturing the attention of everyone who watched them. WCW was bought out by the then-WWF, and along with that came the end of the team's run. You'd often hear of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Goldberg and other huge names that waited out their WCW deals. Paris and Styles did the same -- it was just significantly shorter. Needless to say, their deals were not quite as great as Hulk Hogan's. Styles and Paris were paid for 90 days and let go.
"Not as good as those big names that got to sit out." Paris told Fightful. "Basically I think those contracts were for three years. I believe it was a 90 day out, though, or something to that effect. You’ll hear Jim Cornette say it a lot -- “If you sign a five year contract with a 90 day out clause then you’ve signed a 90 day contract, basically.” So, that’s where those big name guys didn’t have those. So, I’m certain that’s probably where they were able to sit at home and not have to worry about it. Once the company was bought out, we were left off the last Nitro. Then, gosh, I got a call about doing an independent show, like a run of shows in California and I didn’t have any idea if I should do it because technically I was under contract. I talked to Bill, he said, “We don’t know what’s going to happen. This is guaranteed pay day. Go do it.”
When WWF was going through a list of WCW names, Paris and Styles didn't make the cut. He remembered getting the call.
"So, when I was in California I got a call to call Johnny Ace, [I] called him back. He broke the news to me, “Yeah, we’re letting you guys go. Give me six months up there, I’m gonna do everything I can for you. I love you guys. I’ll work really hard.” He hadn’t called me yet, but I saw AJ was up there. So, I’m thinking that at some point my call’s gotta be coming. It’s only been, what, 19 years? Somewhere in that neighborhood almost. I didn’t change my number, Johnny, so don’t forget me. But, yeah, that’s kind of how it was. That was sort of a bummer. The real bummer was the last day of our contracts was my birthday that year. So, I took that and I tell people now that you should never let a 21 year old make any sort of life decision on his own. I took that and I pouted, and I felt like wrestling owed me something. I took my ball and ran as far away from wrestling as I could for a while," said Paris.
Paris told Fightful that Styles encouraged him to stick it out and continue the team on the independent circuit. He admits that he felt jaded at the time and opted to promote some shows instead of actively working at the time. Today, he's married with children, and one of his daughters even celebrated with AJ Styles in the ring at a WWE live event during one of his WWE Title reigns.
You can see our full interview with Air Paris above, and follow him on Twitter.