Can’t Knock The Hustle: The 2022 Pro Wrestling Year-End Hussy Awards – Wrestling Headlines

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We have made it to the end of yet another year. For some, it was a great one, and for others, there were plenty of challenges along the way. If you’re reading these words, though, know that we’re here at the end of 2022 together, staring off into the distance as 2023 comes closer and closer to shore.
With another year coming to an end, it is time for me to deliver my year-end Hussy Awards for the pro wrestling world. As always, the Hussy Awards are sponsored by none other than #BlackTwitter.
Every year I do this, I have to explain the #BlackTwitter inclusion for my new readers. So… allow me to do just that.
Years back, when this site was still known as Lords Of Pain, I was a member of the official podcast of LoP, the Lords Of Podcast Roundtable. One year, I did a podcast episode and an accompanying column called the #BlackTwitter Hussy Awards. John Laurinaitis heard about it and respected the game so much that he even stopped by to help deliver an award on the podcast.
Why #BlackTwitter, you ask? I just wanted to be different. You’re going to see a million year-end awards pieces all over Mariska Hargitay’s internet. Those pieces almost always have the same categories with the same names… Match Of The Year, Wrestler Of The Year, and so on. When I created this, Twitter was first getting super popular, largely in part to the #BlackTwitter subset. #BlackTwitter was like a planet all on its own, featuring its own style, its own conversations, hashtags, and whatever else was needed to “trend” on the site. They were ahead of the curve when it came to treating Twitter like a worldwide chat room, with complete and total audience participation helping to bring people in. I wanted to pay tribute, so I took some of the hashtags that #BlackTwitter made famous, and I used them as the names of the awards I gave out.
All these years later, and the format is still working for me, so I’m still using it. There are seven awards to give out, so let’s use this time to introduce them and what they mean.
#TheStruggle is given to the wrestler who saw the biggest decline in their position/situation from the year before.
#Swag is given to the wrestler who saw the biggest improvement in their position/situation from the year before.
#TheThirst is given to the wrestler or personality that craved attention so much that it seemed like they were thirsty for it.
#NobodyCaresB is given to the storyline or idea that was so bad, people just wanted it to go away, even if that means there was no proper conclusion.
#Cryin is given to the best promo, segment, or moment of the year.
#Craftmaster is given to the wrestler of the year.
#!!! is given to the match of the year.
I think that’s simple enough to follow along with, so if there’s no need to explain things any further, let’s go ahead and give away our first award, shall we?
#TheStruggle is a simple concept. The nominees here are happier than anyone else in the wrestling business that 2022 is about to end, because… simply put… this was not their year. These people saw varying levels of success last year, only to see that momentum completely derailed this year. Their struggles might be their own doing, or they might not be, but they’re struggles nonetheless. Here are the nominees, in no particular order…
Big E: At this point last year, E was the WWE Champion, off of his memorable Money In The Bank cash-in to defeat Bobby Lashley. Now, nobody has any idea if E will ever wrestle again after suffering two fractured vertebrae during a match on Smackdown in March. This goes back to what I said about sometimes struggles not being the fault of the nominees. It isn’t Big E’s fault that he has seen such a decline from where he was last year, but unfortunately, it is quite the decline, so here he is.
Nash Carter: MSK did very well at back-to-back WrestleMania weekend shows for NXT. Last year, they defeated Legado Del Fantasma and Grizzled Young Veterans to win the vacant NXT Tag Team Titles. This year, they defeated Imperium and The Creed Brothers in another three-way match to win the titles for the second time. Then, less than a week later, MSK were stripped of the titles because Carter was no longer employed by WWE. He was being accused of domestic violence by his estranged wife, fellow wrestler Kimber Lee, and saw the leak of a photo that saw him performing a Nazi salute with a mustache similar to that of Adolf Hitler. Since his release, he went back to his pre-WWE name of Zachary Wentz and has bounced around the independent scene, but hasn’t come anywhere near being able to match the success he had in NXT.
Vince McMahon: Your personal opinion of Vince McMahon and the WWE product isn’t all that relevant right now, and neither are my personal opinions on them. All that matters is that 2021 saw Vince McMahon reigning atop the largest pro wrestling promotion on the planet, raking in record profits and absolutely swimming in money. Now, he has resigned and announced his retirement from the company, COMPLETELY ON HIS OWN ACCORD AND NOT HAVING ANYTHING TO DO WHATSOEVER WITH THE LATEST ROUND OF SCANDALS FLOATING AROUND HIM. He remains WWE’s largest shareholder, which provides him the biggest chunk of shareholder voting power of anyone in the company, but there are a million different dominoes that would need to fall for him to ever be seen in any sort of meaningful backstage role again.
CM Punk: Punk signing a contract with AEW to return to the ring was one of the biggest wrestling news stories in years. No matter how much hope some people had that they would see him again, most people simply figured it would never happen. Punk’s arrival was treated by AEW as a big deal, and AEW fans welcomed him as a returning King. His 2022 sure looked like it was going to be a huge year for him. He won the AEW World Title at Double Or Nothing in May, although he didn’t get to enjoy the reign, as he suffered an injury that required surgery. At All Out in September, he would win the AEW World Title for a second time, but then everything went to shit. He was injured yet again, but more damaging than the injury was his vicious post-show rant after All Out was done, sending uncensored shots at damn near half the AEW locker room. This would be followed by a physical confrontation backstage between Punk and members of The Elite. Tony Khan would strip Punk of the title and suspend him. Punk hasn’t been seen since, and a lot of the prevailing wisdom is that he won’t be seen in AEW ever again.
Jeff Hardy: Jeff, always one of the sport’s most popular performers, ended 2021 by being released from his WWE contract, but he was still a prominent member of the company’s midcard before his release, participating in high profile pay-per-view matches and competing for the United States Title. Once Jeff’s 90-day non-compete clause expired, he signed with AEW, and everyone was excited. AEW has signed a lot of people, but this is a six-time World Champion we’re talking about. Surely, he would be an instant smash. Eh, not so much. After a string of underwhelming in-ring performances, Jeff would suffer a concussion at Double Or Nothing, which was less than three months after debuting. Two weeks later, Jeff would be arrested for driving under the influence and was suspended by AEW. That was over six months ago, and it was the last we’ve seen from Jeff in AEW. Jeff has always had personal demons that he has needed to battle, and this is no different. We have to start wondering if those demons have finally cost him his wrestling career, as insignificant as that might be in the grand scheme of things.
The winner of this year’s award for #TheStruggle is… CM Punk! Honestly, I went back and forth between Punk and Vince McMahon at least a few dozen times here. In the end, I had to look at what each man continues to have in the world of wrestling. As I mentioned, Vince is still one of the most powerful men in WWE, even if that power only extends to shareholder voting power and may not necessarily get him back in the throne he once sat in. Punk, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have anything going for him right now. There’s plenty of talk that he could/should make a WWE return, and while that would definitely be newsworthy, that would also require him to, for all intents and purposes, come crawling back on hands and knees to a company that he hasn’t had a ton of great things to say about in the years since his departure. Could it happen? Of course. It just seems like Punk, from whatever we do know about him, would rather stick a rusty screwdriver into his eyeballs than do that.
Let’s switch things up now. Our first award looked at who fell off the most from 2021, so now, let’s look at who improved their stock the most from 2021. Here are your nominees for the #Swag award, in no particular order…
The Acclaimed: You could make an argument that the ascension of Max Caster and Anthony Bowens to the top of the AEW tag team scene is one of the more unlikely scenarios in recent memory. They went from a gimmicky heel tag act that wasn’t exactly being given a meaningful push to a mega face act that continue to get some of the loudest crowd reactions of anyone in AEW on a weekly basis. Oh, and they’ve been the AEW Tag Team Champions for three months and counting now. 2021 saw them as one of the more forgotten teams in the company, but they exploded in 2022, and they’ve set themselves up to potentially have an even bigger 2023 with the right opponents and feuds lined up for them.
Braun Strowman: June 2nd, 2021 was a surprising day in the world of wrestling. A mere 14 months after winning the Universal Title at WrestleMania 36, Braun Strowman was released from his WWE contract. This was in the span of time where WWE seemingly let half their roster go under the guise of “budget cuts.” Whether you like Braun or not, there’s no denying that he was one of the biggest, literally and figuratively, stars in the company. Braun didn’t wrestle a ton after the release, but he was a vital member of the Control Your Narrative promotion for a bit before making his surprise return to WWE nearly four months ago. One thing he definitely did between WWE stints was get himself into the best physical shape of his life. It hasn’t led to much just yet, but this is Braun Strowman we’re talking about here. He’s always one or two steps away from the top of the company at any given time.
Solo Sikoa: Solo would make his debut during the Halloween Havoc episode of NXT on October 26th, 2021. His first match for the brand would come the following week. Right away, it was clear that he had a bright future, but even though he was involved in the NXT North American Title picture around WrestleMania time this year, it just didn’t seem like he was ever going to advance far in NXT. Speaking of advancing far, things would change for Solo when he flew all the way to Wales to help his cousin, Roman Reigns, defeat Drew McIntyre in the main event of Clash At The Castle. From there, his 2022 has gotten better and better as he continues to be a key component in the biggest, and best, storyline going in WWE today. He has worked his way into the position of having fans wonder if he’ll end up being the one to “turn” in the story. Like I said about The Acclaimed, Solo has been set up for a potentially massive 2023.
Sami Zayn: It wasn’t all that long ago that fans were calling for Sami to leave WWE and “jump ship” to AEW. Those fans felt Sami wasn’t being used right, and that AEW was a much better place for the “independent darlings” in the business. The end of 2021 was first rumored to be when Sami’s contract was up, and he was called all kinds of names when it was revealed that, instead of going to AEW, he would re-sign with WWE, inking a multi-year deal. Sami’s first reward for re-signing was a high-profile WrestleMania match against the star of Jackass, Johnny Knoxville. If you don’t see that as a positive thing for Sami and his career, I really don’t know what to tell you. In the immediate aftermath of WrestleMania, Sami would go on to become involved in a story with The Bloodline, and that story has continued to this day, eight months later, taking several twists and turns along the way. He has become one of the more consistently entertaining performers in the business, both in the ring and on the mic, and all because he took a chance on himself by sticking with WWE at a time when most assumed there was nothing for him there. Through it all, he is yet another person who is in line for a huge 2023 because of the growth and the work he put in during 2022.
Jade Cargill: When Jade debuted in AEW, she had the billion-dollar look to her that wrestling promotions would kill for. At that time, it didn’t matter that she sounded nervous as hell on the mic and had yet to actually wrestle a match yet. Less than a year after making her in-ring debut, she would become the very first AEW TBS Champion, and here we are, a week away (as of the date this column is posted) from her holding the title for an entire year. She looked like a billion dollars to start, but looks even better now, to go with a much-improved promo game. While her in-ring skills have improved, the way her matches are booked haven’t really allowed for her to have the types of improvements that many people have been demanding at this point. She isn’t working 20-minute back-and-forth classics yet, so it’s hard to truly gauge where she is in her journey. One thing that’s clear is that she is an absolute star, and will be a major part of AEW’s plans for as long as she remains with the company.
Konosuke Takeshita: At the beginning of 2021, I had heard of Konosuke Takeshita, but I freely admit that I had never seen any of his matches. By the end of 2021, I still wouldn’t say I knew everything about him, but I was at least being introduced to more of his work. Now, at the end of 2022, I have him listed as one of my favorite wrestlers in the business today. That’s a direct timeline of his trip to America and going from a one-time “unknown” in AEW to a part-timer with AEW, all the way to becoming a full-fledged member of the roster. If he continues this upward trajectory, he will be holding some sort of championship in AEW in 2023. It has been an incredible rise to watch so far.
Jamie Hayter: When you look at it, COVID really altered the direction of Jamie Hayter’s career. For one, she was forced to vacate Stardom’s SWA Undisputed Women’s World Championship in September 2020 because she was unable to travel to Japan and work due to COVID restrictions in the country. Perhaps more importantly, though, she was supposed to sign with AEW at the start of 2020 after wrestling a bit for the company at the end of 2019, but COVID made that impossible. It wasn’t until August 2021 that she would finally get the chance to sign with AEW. She was aligned with Britt Baker from the start, but she was clearly just supposed to be some added “muscle” for the AEW Women’s Champion at the time. As the months went by, though, Hayter began picking up a lot of momentum. She had some really good in-ring performances, and even though she was a heel, she was becoming more and more popular with AEW crowds all across the country. By the time Full Gear rolled around on November 19th this year, that popularity could no longer be ignored, and she won the interim AEW Women’s Title, and becoming the official champion four days later when Thunder Rosa forfeited her title due to injury. The new champion is riding high now, and has shown herself to be someone that the company can build the division around.
Bron Breakker: Not all that long ago, I would make sure that I signed Bronson Rechsteiner to a free agent contract when I played Franchise Mode in the Madden 21 video game. Now, the man is the NXT Champion, with about as bright a future as anyone in the business. His first wrestling match was a little over two years ago, but he is clearly someone that could/should be wrestling in WrestleMania main events moving forward. His NXT run has been so dominant that it actually feels like it has been a lot longer. When doing the research here, I almost assumed Bron had been wrestling in NXT for several years now. The scariest part is that he continues to get better in the ring, and is now being given the chance for character development to show that he’s more than just a Rick Steiner cosplayer doing a Scott Steiner impersonation.
Daniel Garcia: Signing with AEW in October 2021 was a move that didn’t grab a lot of attention beyond those people who are super big fans of the independent wrestling scene. He had a lot of potential, but he was surely going to get lost in the shuffle on an already-too-deep AEW roster with very little open spots available for new pushes. It looked like that would be the case for a while. He was on the losing end of his first six televised matches, and would go several months before winning his first televised singles match. When he got hot, though, he got molten hot. In AEW, he picked up a victory over Bryan Danielson and then won the RoH Pure Title. Outside of AEW, he won PWG’s Battle Of Los Angeles tournament and would go on to win the PWG World Title three months later. He continues to impress in the ring, and he only moves higher and higher up the proverbial ladder in AEW.
Austin Theory: You can pretty much simplify this by saying 2021 saw Austin Theory as a Vince McMahon project, while the second-half of 2022 has seen Austin Theory not as a Vince McMahon project. Vince, in typical Vince fashion, decided that he did not give a single iota of a fuck about what anyone wanted to see, putting Theory in awkward situation after awkward situation that really hurt him. Theory’s time with Triple H in charge of WWE creative hasn’t been 100% smooth, with his Money In The Bank cash-in clear evidence of that, but I think that was a necessary step in his character development. He is a much more serious character now, which is what he has needed to be from the beginning, instead of some doofus who likes to take selfies all the time. 2023 could be the year that he breaks through and becomes a legitimate main event player.
The winner is… Bron Breakker! A theme that you’ll see with a lot of the nominees here is their potential for the future. Their potential to reach the top, potential to become a main event talent, potential to win titles, and so on. With Bron Breakker, he has already reached that point, at least in the world of NXT. He’s as big of a “sure thing” as WWE has seen in a long, long time, and the fact that he has reached that level in such a short amount of time is truly impressive. As I said, you might already be able to pencil him in as a WrestleMania main event guy, perhaps as soon as WrestleMania 40 in 2024. That’s insane.
Let’s keep things moving at a steady pace and hand out our next award, #TheThirst. These people simply need attention, and that need comes at any cost. Sometimes, it isn’t anything crazy or dangerous, and instead, is just someone who wants to keep their name relevant after they spent years living that life. Here are this year’s nominees, in no particular order…
CM Punk At The All Out Media Scrum: Maybe you’re a fan of CM Punk, maybe you don’t like CM Punk, and maybe you simply don’t like Phil Brooks. No matter where you fall there, one thing that we should all be able to agree on is that the man handled the All Out post-show media scrum about as poorly as he possibly could’ve handled it. We’ve all had situations where we were upset at work, whether it’s anger geared at our bosses, co-workers, pay, customers, or any sort of combination of the above. That’s fine. There’s just a time and a place to deal with those complaints and frustrations. Punk decided to do it in a public forum, with thousands of people watching that turned into tens of thousands and then into hundreds of thousands and so on. All he had to do was be a professional… that’s it… and we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. He would still be a major part of AEW programming, and the final bridges of his career wouldn’t be burned to the ground. It’s an incredible implosion, all because he needed to get his thoughts out when they didn’t need to be.
Alberto Del Rio With The Constant “Will-He-Or-Won’t-He” Talk Of A WWE Return: To be fair, some of ADR’s WWE discussion isn’t his doing, because he’ll do interviews and get asked about a possible return. From there, though, everything is on him. He knows damn well that he isn’t going to return to the company, and all he has to do is say so when he’s asked about it. Instead, he always has to put it out there that he has been talking to people and that there’s a possibility that he could come back. It happens multiple times a year, every single year, since he was released back in 2016.
Braun Strowman’s Social Media Game: I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but Braun Strowman is a large human being. Much larger than pretty much all of us will ever have the ability to be. That’s cool. The problem is that it becomes more and more clear all the time that him talking about how much he was bullied and called dumb growing up was true, and not just created for a storyline. WWE just brought this guy back from the depths of complete pro wrestling obscurity, made him a big-time face, and he responds by… being a fucking twat to smaller wrestlers on social media for some reason? If he was a heel, the comments about wrestlers of a certain size and in-ring style would still be dumb, but at least you could write it off as “Braun heeling it up” and that would be that. As a face, it didn’t even begin to make any sense. It was amazing to see everyone form Slander Voltron and tear him apart, from fans to wrestlers (his co-workers included) alike. This was nowhere near the first time he has said something on social media that saw him get blasted. I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy. He should just… I don’t know… stay away from Twitter.
Ric Flair At Any Moment In Time: Is Ric Flair currently breathing? If the answer to that question is “yes” at the moment, you can bet he’s doing everything he can possibly do to keep his name in the headlines. Oh, and he’s probably trying to find a way to get paid for it, too. He had a lot of that this year, but some of that bled over from 2021, as well. Him taking shots at WWE and Becky Lynch about Becky’s use of “The Man” as a nickname was a chore to sit through. He would lose friendships and business relationships over that, most notably his friendship with Triple H, but it didn’t stop him from talking about it a lot. He would take shots at Seth Rollins for Seth having the complete AUDACITY to be a good husband and defend his wife. Ric has also spent a bunch of time pulling an Alberto Del Rio, talking about the possibility of him returning to WWE, as well as the possibility of him showing up in AEW. Oh, and there’s also his final match that, yes, is absolutely, positively, completely, 100000000000% going to be his final match… until it was over, when he immediately began talking about having another match. It’s exhausting, but it’s also Ric Flair. He hasn’t changed a bit in the entire time that any of us have known the man’s name.
Tony Khan Whenever He Says Anything: Pro wrestling and hyperbole go hand-in-hand. We all know that. There’s levels to it, though. For example, this year’s WrestleMania (night two) main event was WWE Champion Brock Lesnar against Universal Champion Roman Reigns in a winner-takes-all match for both titles. It was labeled, again and again, as the biggest match in WWE history. At face value, you hear that and you shake your head because of how over-the-top it sounds. However, if you think about it more and more, it makes sense for WWE to push that narrative. It’s the WrestleMania main event, and there have only been a few dozen of those. It has two World Titles on the line, and there haven’t been very many of those at all. Then, Lesnar and Reigns are people that the company wants you, the viewers, to see as two of the biggest stars to ever compete in a wrestling ring. On top of that, it’s a match that is taking place while the company is bringing in more money than they were during the primes of Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, or anyone else in the history of the company. The flip side of the coin is Tony Khan, who was hyperbole-ing his ass off from the moment AEW was born, when he had zero credibility in the wrestling business because he had accomplished zero in the wrestling business. That’s not a knock. It’s a fact. TK is a very old school wrestling promoter that speaks a mile-a-minute and makes just as many promises. Everything is the biggest and the best and the coolest and the most amazing and the thing that will change the business forever. He and AEW have done a ton of great things in their relatively short history, and I will never take that away from them. I just wish that he and his worst-speaking-voice-of-all-time would tone it down a bit.
The winner is… CM Punk! That makes two awards for the man (try not to take me to court, Ric) this year. No matter how many times it is talked about, it truly is incredible to think about how quickly Punk may have imploded his own career, all because he wanted to sit there and try to put his balls on the table for the world to see. All Punk had to do was not be Punk for a few minutes, and everything would be different. He would’ve gone off to handle whatever injuries he suffered at All Out, and he would’ve returned at the earliest possible chance as the brightest star in the AEW sky. There will be documentaries done about that media scrum, and wrestling fans for decades to come will study it and see what not to do.
Time to hand another award out. #NobodyCaresB is pretty self-explanatory. These are the storylines, pushes, or ideas that are thrown out there, only for the throwers to realize that, in fact… nobody cares, b. Let’s take a look at the nominees, once again in no particular order…
Parker Boudreaux: As soon as he was dubbed the “next Brock Lesnar” before he had ever spent a single second training to become a professional wrestler, it was all downhill from there. Those are insanely lofty expectations, and those aren’t the type of expectations that get met very often. He got to NXT and was saddled with the terrible Harland gimmick and stuck with the black hole of ain’t shit booking known as Joe Gacy (more on him later). Then, before he even had five televised matches under his belt, he was released from his WWE contract. To get all of that hype and then get released in the span of a few months was a bad sign. He would eventually show up in AEW and spend a few months in the lame Trustbusters stable that nobody asked for, with his matches generally getting poor reviews. It was becoming clear why WWE let him go. He was spending more time constantly tweeting about what rappers he knows than anything else, coming across like a complete doofus who is only in the business to try and become famous. Then, he gets involved in one of the worst segments of the year, as he shows up on Dynamite to join Swerve Strickland, Rick Ross, and Granden Goetzman in the Mogul Affiliates group. His “attack” on Keith Lee looked more like he was having a seizure, as he looked to be selling his own punches more than Lee possibly could. Lee would then discard him within seconds, damn near making Boudreaux’s character dead-on-arrival. It was so, so bad. He is being placed in another situation that isn’t going to treat him kindly.
Ronda Rousey: I’ve already tackled this subject in a column of its own, so I don’t need to do too much talking here. Just know that Ronda’s stock has fallen a really long way in a really short period of time. At one point, she was every bit of the superstar that WWE was promoting her as. She stood out in a sea of women in WWE, bringing something different to the table, and most of the WWE Universe loved her for it. Then, her skin got way too thin, and she let the opinions and reactions of people get to her. She seemed to stop caring, and in turn, the fans did, too. Now, she can’t seem to get out of her own way in the ring, and she has regressed in almost every possible category. How the mighty have fallen.
Joe Gacy: Was he a cult leader? A psychopath? Was he a Bray Wyatt knockoff? Did it really matter? From the moment Gacy debuted his “safe space” character in 2021, there was nothing but groan-inducing material for him. The comparisons to Bray Wyatt, fair or otherwise, were sticking to him like glue. The biggest difference, at least to me, was that Bray always had a level of intimidation and fear attached to everything he did. Gacy, on the other hand, looked like someone wearing a Halloween costume and pretending to be a “crazy” person. Had he been able to work some really good matches, you might be able to look beyond the character and the promo flaws, but… well… he couldn’t. Cameron Grimes, Tommaso Ciampa, and Roderick Strong all had, arguably, their worst NXT matches against Gacy. Bron Breakker’s momentum as NXT Champion almost came to a complete halt during his feud with Gacy. He made James Drake and Zack Gibson, who were never known for their overwhelming personalities to begin with, really boring. Now that Ava Raine is a part of his group, we’ll have to see how her career shapes up, but Gacy’s track record isn’t great, so I don’t have a lot of faith.
Vince McMahon Wanting To Return To WWE: Even some of Vince’s biggest supporters are the first to admit that it was beyond time for Vince McMahon to go. Now that he reportedly wants to return to WWE, people are spraining their necks because of how hard they’re shaking their heads. I don’t care if I have to say this a million times… the current WWE product is in no way, shape, or form the perfect form of wrestling television, but it is infinitely better than it was several months ago, when Vince had his wrinkly fingers all over everything. The only person in the entire company who probably wants Vince to return is Kevin Dunn, and who gives a fuck what that bucktooth dipshit wants?
Triple H’s NXT Buddies: Remember how I just said that the current WWE product isn’t perfect in the slightest? Well, a lot of that has to do with Triple H spamming the “return” button over and over and over again. He continues to take some of his personal favorites from NXT that were given their releases by the previous regime and throw them out on Raw and Smackdown. Noble? Perhaps. Smart? Clearly not. The math makes this an easy one to figure out. Monday Night Raw’s lowest viewership number of 2022 was the February 7th edition, which was on SyFy, and that drew an average of 1.387 million viewers. Raw’s lowest number for a regular episode on the USA Network in 2022 was the December 12th episode that saw an average of 1.472 million viewers. Smackdown’s lowest viewership number this year was the October 28th episode, which was on Fox Sports 1, and that drew an average of 835,000 viewers. The lowest number for a Smackdown episode that aired on Fox in 2022 was on May 27th, when an average of 1.878 million viewers tuned in. Again, those are the lowest numbers of the year. The highest viewership number for NXT in 2022 was on October 11th, when they drew an average of 737,000 viewers. That means, even at its most rudimentary comparison, NXT has nowhere near the amount of viewers that Raw and Smackdown have. So, even if every single person who watched the October 11th episode of NXT watched the May 27th episode of Smackdown, you’re still looking at over 1.1 million viewers that didn’t watch NXT. Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know… again, this is as basic a breakdown as you can have, so I don’t care if the numbers are “accurate” or not. This is just about television viewership, too. We’re not even talking about the people who attend episodes of NXT compared to the people who attend Raw and Smackdown. NXT hasn’t been on the road in a long time, so a lot of their attendees are the same people on a weekly basis. Triple H takes these acts from a much smaller show and throws them out there on larger shows with no introductions, video packages, vignettes, or reasons for anyone to care, and then… surprise, surprise… nobody cares. Even someone like Johnny Gargano, who has performed all over the world and been successful everywhere he has been, has had a lot of quiet reactions on Raw because the average WWE fan has no fucking idea who he is. This type of thing shouldn’t be difficult to figure out, but here we are on the verge of 2023, and it seems like all promotions are guilty of it on a regular basis. I like Hit Row, Candice LeRae, Tegan Nox, Bronson Reed, and people like that, but I can be honest with myself and say that their returns/debuts on the main roster have flopped big-time because Triple H can’t help himself but to give his buddies a job somewhere. I’m looking at you, Road Dogg.
Ezekiel: The true definition of a one-note character, Ezekiel was a cute enough thing for a week or two. Then, in typical Vince McMahon fashion, he decided the best plan of action was to run the entire thing into the fucking ground, then dig it back up and run it into the fucking ground again. The whole thing aged like milk, despite the Herculean efforts of Kevin Owens to make it as entertaining as he possibly could. By the time WWE decided to bring the Elias character back, the damage had been done, and the WWE Universe has yet to react to Elias the way they did before the company seemingly scrapped the character in 2021. That’s a lot of stink that needs to be washed off.
Happy Corbin & Madcap Moss: One way of looking at heels in the world of wrestling is that you’re supposed to dislike them. For decades and decades, that has been one of the biggest money makers in the sport… you, as a fan, are supposed to hate a heel so much that you’re willing to spend your hard-earned money, be it buying a ticket or ordering a pay-per-view, to see that heel get their ass kicked. You’ll always hear people bring that up when you mention that you “hate” a heel. Nobody on the face of this planet, however, can say they spent a penny to watch Happy Corbin and Madcap Moss. Not their friends, not their families, not their old classmates, not their old coworkers, not their neighbors… nobody. Through the years, it has often been said that Vince McMahon would put stuff on television that he found funny, even if nobody else agreed with him. This was clearly one of those times. You just know Vince was chuckling and guffawing himself until dribbles of piss stained his slacks whenever Corbin and Moss were out there telling “jokes” to the world.
The 24/7 Title: This is similar to what we saw with Ezekiel, where it was something that was fun for a minute, but fell victim to being the same thing over and over and over and over and over again until it was finally taken behind the woodshed and done away with. Unfortunately for everyone, this was infinitely worse than Ezekiel, as it lasted longer and happened multiple times on every show. Man, woman, jobber, midcarder, celebrity, elderly person, former World Champion… it didn’t matter who you were, because you were going to win a five-second “match” via roll-up, and then you were going to lose another five-second “match” via roll-up. At least DDT Pro in Japan puts some sort of creativity and entertainment into their Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship matches. That, by the way, is a title which has been held through the years by a ladder (thrice!), a taxi driver, a chef, a Hello Kitty doll, a weiner dog, a baseball bat, multiple blow-up sex dolls, a chicken doll, a poster, a truck, a desk, a different desk, rice, curry, pork cutlet, beer, several different chairs, the title belt itself, Vince McMahon’s star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, a bus, a pork bun, a garbage can, chopsticks, the autobiography of The Young Bucks, an apple, an e-mail, a cat, several elementary school aged children, a toddler, a monkey, The Invisible Man, and Scott Hall. On one night in 2006, Yuko Miyamoto and Shinobu traded the title back-and-forth 303 times. Think about the ridiculousness of the last couple sentences you just read. Now think about the fact that all of it is infinitely better and more entertaining than the WWE 24/7 Title.
Edge As A Heel: From the moment Edge made his shocking return to in-ring competition at the 2020 Royal Rumble, the WWE Universe was ready to cheer for their returning hero. As one of the most popular performers of all-time, and someone who we all thought would never wrestle again, we were thrilled to see him again, even in a part-time role. So, naturally, WWE turned Edge heel for no reason at all, and it didn’t make a lick of sense from the beginning. He turned heel on AJ Styles after Styles accepted Edge’s open challenge for a match at WrestleMania, and then Edge became some sort of cult-ish leader of The Judgment Day starting with recruiting Damian Priest at said Mania match. Then, two months after the heel turn that nobody accepted, Edge was a face again after The Judgment Day turned on him and kicked him out of the group. Trying new things is one thing, but there should at least be an attempt to have things make sense. I know that’s asking for a lot from Vince McMahon, but hey, it’s worth a shot.
Maximum Male Models: This is going to sound like a broken record, but this was something that was cute for a week or so, but ultimately, went nowhere. Giving them LA Knight as a Manager, then taking Knight away, then putting Knight back with them, and then taking Knight away again in the span of a few weeks certainly did the group no favors whatsoever. They were a comedy act, just without the comedy. The whole thing fizzled out pretty quickly, and we haven’t even seen either MAH-SAYYYYY or MAN-SWAHHHHH wrestle on television in the last two months.
The winner is… Triple H’s NXT buddies! You could make an argument for Ronda Rousey, but miraculously enough, she still has some supporters. Nowhere near what she had during her first run, but supporters nonetheless. You could make an argument for Happy Corbin and Madcap Moss, but in the grand scheme of things, they only ruined small batches of WWE programming here and there. Triple H’s NXT call-ups are happening up and down the Raw and Smackdown roster, meaning they’re having several chances every week to screw things up. It’s a real shame.
We’re getting to the really good stuff now, folks. It’s time to hand out this year’s #Cryin award. Simply put, this is for the best moment or segment or promo of the year. Maybe it was something that had me so fired up that I was ready to run through a brick wall, or perhaps it was something that had me ready to shed some tears. No matter what, it was something that had me feeling the most feels. At its core, isn’t that what pro wrestling is all about? Here are the nominees, in no particular order…
Dax Harwood Wants To Fight Like An Eight-Year-Old Girl (AEW Dynamite – July 20th): It was supposed to be your run-of-the-mill promo to hype up FTR’s upcoming Two-Out-Of-Three Falls Match against The Briscoes at RoH Death Before Dishonor. What it ended up being was an emotional story of Dax’s daughter, who, at the age of five, found out that she had a hole in her heart, but fought her ass off to overcome the obstacle, until eventually, the hole closed up on its own. You could hear the emotion in Harwood’s voice and see it in his eyes, but you could also see the emotion in the eyes of Cash Wheeler and Tony Schiavone, as well. It was a beautiful moment that may not have a lot of the bells and whistles that some other promos had this year, but it came from a pure place, and you could sense that right away.
Jon Moxley Returns (AEW Dynamite – January 19th): When it was announced that Moxley would be returning to wrestling after a stint in rehab, we didn’t really know what to expect. What we got was a slimmer, trimmer, almost meaner Mox. The man has made a career of having quite the poker face, but as soon as he walked out into the crowd that night, you could see in his eyes just how much it meant to him that he was back. Two seconds into his promo, he had to stop to cuss a dumb ass heckler out before he would continue on. He would talk about the importance of being yourself and being able to stand before the world, scars and all, and show just who you really are. Was it his best promo? No. He has had better ones. You could say that it might have been his most important promo, though. The best part of the entire thing was just how quiet the crowd was while he was speaking. You could hear a gnat fart in that building because the fans were invested in who he was and what he had to say. That’s something you almost never hear, no matter how much wrestling you watch.
Cody Rhodes Returns (WWE WrestleMania 38 – April 2nd): For what seemed like months, we got to play the game of wondering if there was anything to the rumors that Cody Rhodes was possibly leaving AEW to return to WWE. Surely, there was no way an Executive Vice President of AEW would leave and return to the place where he was a victim of the proverbial “glass ceiling” for his entire tenure, right? Even as we were watching WrestleMania and waiting to see who Seth Rollins’ mystery opponent would be, there was plenty of doubt that it would be Cody. When the mystery was finally revealed, and that mega pop erupted, it made for quite the moment. Again, for someone to jump from AEW to WWE was insane enough at the time, but for one of the people that helped start AEW in the first place to do so? In an era of “I never thought I would see that” moments, Cody’s WWE return is right up there at the top of the list.
MJF Vows To Never Walk Out On People Like CM Punk Did (AEW Dynamite – February 23rd): MJF has walked right up to the face/heel line on several occasions in 2022, and this is one of those moments. Maxwell would tell the story of being bullied in school because he was Jewish, and how his love for pro wrestling, and specifically, his love for CM Punk, helped him get through that. Right as MJF is studying wrestling tapes and practicing his promos in preparation for a potential career in wrestling… CM Punk walked out on him, the wrestling fans, and on WWE. You can almost hear MJF’s heart breaking all over again as he talks about it. He says that he would eventually make a vow to himself that he would always be there for any outcasts in school that might look up to him like he looked up to Punk, and by this point, he has completely won the crowd over. The icing on the cake comes in the form of Punk himself walking to the ring as MJF is finished with the promo. As MJF stands there, crying, Punk is heard asking him if what he just said was real. Really good stuff all around.
Brock Lesnar Forklifts The Ring (WWE SummerSlam – July 30th): Sometimes, wrestling is just goofy, mindless fun. Even though we have seen Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns face each other a million times in the past, their match at SummerSlam delivered on just about every possible level. It was truly like watching two overpowered movie monsters slug it out and not be able to finish the other one off. In a match of goofy, mindless fun, the goofiest, most mindless fun of all was when Brock drove his farm equipment to the ring and lifted one corner way up into the air, causing Roman to comically tumble down to the floor. It’s the type of wild visual that is going to be replayed in video packages for years to come.
Cody Rhodes Reveals The Severity Of His Injury (WWE Hell In A Cell – June 5th): Cody’s torn pectoral muscle was one of the more unfortunate legit injuries in recent memory as far as poor timing goes. WWE was clearly ready to give Cody everything he could ever want and need, and then, just like that, he needed to go away for a lengthy period of time, only two months after he returned in the first place. We heard Cody was going to go through with his Hell In A Cell match against Seth Rollins with that torn pectoral, and we all assumed it would be some sort of swerve. They would hit us with the old bait-and-switch, and just as we’re about to get the match, Cody gets attacked and is written off until he’s healthy again. We waited… and waited… and waited. Cody stepped into the Cell, and we waited… and waited… and waited. When Cody took his ring jacket off and revealed that his entire right titty was purple, as well as his entire upper arm, we all had the same reaction. Go back and listen to that crowd response again. They’re loud and making noise, but as soon as the full severity of Cody’s injury was revealed, they fell into a hush. My jaw legitimately dropped when I saw it. Then the crazy son of a bitch wrestled a full 25-minute match with it! The swerve never came!
InDex Reunion (NXT – August 23rd): Back to the goofy, mindless fun again. If you look at wrestling over the last several years, the one storyline that got over that probably shouldn’t have gotten over is Johnny Gargano and his NXT “family” stable, The Way. More specifically, though, the romance between Gargano’s “daughter,” Indi Hartwell, and Gargano’s archnemesis, Dexter Lumis. Not only did that get over, it became one of the most over things in all of NXT. When Lumis was released from his contract, that appeared to be the end of it, but then Triple H decided Lumis should make his return. After some appearances on Raw, Lumis would return to NXT and surprise his storyline wife, who was cutting a dejected promo after taking another in-ring loss. The crowd popped huge when Lumis appeared from underneath the ring, and they popped even bigger when Lumis and Hartwell embraced for the first time in months. You can see people in the crowd wiping away tears as it happened. My favorite part of it was their second hug. The first hug clearly looked to be a storyline hug between Dexter Lumis and Indi Hartwell. After they kissed, their second hug looked much more like a hug from Samantha De Martin to her friend, Samuel Shaw, welcoming him back. Just my observation, at least.
Drew McIntyre & Kevin Owens Have A Promo Battle (WWE Raw – August 15th): It was the early days of the “Triple H Era” in WWE, and the WWE Universe was looking for a sign that things really were changing with Vince McMahon no longer in the position of power he had held for decades. This promo segment was one of the first real signs that things were going to be different. The promos themselves were really good, of course. Owens and McIntyre are some of the best in the business on the microphone, so that was never going to be a question. It all started with Owens declaring that he was going back to his “Prizefighter” days, which were some of the best runs he’s had in his career. Both men were heartfelt, passionate, and seemed to be flying more freely on the mic, instead of working with a heavy-handed script. It was all wrapped up with a nice bow at the end when McIntyre said that both he and Owens were WRESTLERS in a WRESTLING RING so it was time for them to stop talking. The new “era” had arrived, and it was clear for everyone to see.
Jey Uso Isn’t Feeling Very Ucey (WWE Smackdown – October 28th): One of the best things WWE has given to us in 2022 is Sami Zayn as a member of The Bloodline, first in an honorary role and then in a more official one. The most fun part of the pairing is Sami actively trying to make everyone in the group break character during promos and segments. Before this promo, we had seen him make this guy crack and that guy crack, but this one took things to an entirely different level. It started innocently enough. We got a good back-and-forth promo between Sami and Jey Uso, as they tried to put their beef aside on orders from the Head Of The Table himself. Then, in a wonderfully done moment, Sami mentions that Roman wants them to squash things, and Jey, in a blind rage, says that he doesn’t give a damn what the Tribal Chief says. Roman’s face sells it PERFECTLY, like a father who just heard his son cuss at him for the first time. The loud “you fucked up” chant from the crowd, directed at Jey, was a great touch. Just when you think Roman is going to mollywhop Jey, Sami steps in and says that Jey didn’t mean what he said, and that he only said it because he hasn’t been feeling “ucey” lately. Immediately, Jimmy Uso is covering his mouth in the background to stifle laughter. Jey has to bury his face in his hands to do the same thing. Paul Heyman is in the background fighting off a smile. As soon as the crowd begins to chant “ucey” over and over again, Roman himself begins to laugh while Jey completely loses it and is clearly laughing his ass off behind his hands. They all continue to break character for a bit, and a new catchphrase is born.
MJF Tells William Regal His Villain Origin Story (AEW Dynamite – October 18th): Another big-time promo for MJF here. This time, he gets to tell the story of William Regal providing hope to him when MJF was 19 years old and still fresh in his wrestling training. MJF would impress Regal with his in-ring skills and promo work during a WWE tryout, but once Regal discovered that MJF wasn’t yet a legal adult, he said that he wanted MJF to check back in with him down the road for a job. MJF would follow the orders of Regal and keep Regal up-to-date on his progress, sending him a match and a promo via e-mail every month. After the third e-mail, Regal basically shot back and told Max to stop wasting his time. MJF’s promo took a turn at this point, and he said that Regal’s e-mail made him want to kill himself. As MJF continues speaking, a warped smile begins to grow on Regal’s face, and the veteran starts to show a gleam in his eyes. Regal was watching, up close and personal, as MJF was becoming the star that he was destined to be, and he was excited about it. MJF shined brightly here, but Regal played his part to perfection, and that was before he even got the chance to cut a great promo of his own, saying that he was glad MJF was able to use his rejection as motivation to become a top talent but that, compared to what Regal was doing at that age to break into the business, MJF had it easy. It was a highly emotional segment, and one that was delivered so effortlessly that the AEW crowd began to turn slowly on Regal, booing him during MJF’s promo and telling him that he fucked up.
The winner is… MJF Tells William Regal His Villain Origin Story! Not only is it my choice for the best promo of 2022, it is already one of my all-time favorites. It was the perfect blend of shoot, work, and worked shoot. MJF was able to get a ton off of his chest. Regal was able to show, yet again, that nobody in the history of wrestling has been able to get more out of simple facial expressions than him. The crowd ate it all up, reacting strongly to MJF’s promo, damn near making him a face in the process. A tremendous 15 minutes of compelling television.
Next up is our next-to-last award, #Craftmaster. As the name implies, these people are viewed as the true masters of their craft this year for what they were able to do inside the ring in 2022. Matches won, main events, titles won, money made, stars earned… all of it adds up here. The nominees, in no particular order, are…
Roman Reigns: When this column goes live, it will be the 850th day of Roman’s Universal Title reign and 269 days since he also won the WWE Title at WrestleMania. When you’re the top guy in the top wrestling promotion on the planet, that gives you a ton of points when it comes to things like this. The issue with Roman, of course, is his lack of activity. As of now, he has only wrestled ten times on television or pay-per-view during the 2022 calendar year. That’s an insanely low number of matches for the champion of a company like WWE. You can hold that against him if you like, but I can’t. It’s not his fault that WWE booked themselves into that weird corner, gave him both of their World Titles, and then had nothing to do for long stretches of time. When Roman does wrestle, you’re almost guaranteed to get quality. The only match he had in 2022 that wasn’t close to the four-star mark was his match at Elimination Chamber against Goldberg, and let’s be honest, that had 100% to do with Goldberg and 0% to do with Roman. Whether you like Roman or not, you have no choice but to acknowledge him.
Josh Alexander: The current Impact World Champion is currently in the middle of that title’s longest reign in over 11 years, creeping up on the 250-day mark. If he reaches January 4th as the champion, he will become the longest reigning Impact World Champion in history. In his time as champion, he has high quality matches against opponents of all shapes, sizes, and in-ring styles. He has also stepped outside of the Impact bubble and had fun matches against Jonathan Gresham (TERMINUS), ACH (AAW), Konosuke Takeshita (Garden State Pro Wrestling), Jacob Fatu (Jim Crockett Promotions for Ric Flair’s Last Match), and many more. A lot of people tend to overlook Impact these days because of their low viewership numbers, but that’s not fair to the hard working men and women there. Kentucky Fried Chicken made more revenue in 2021 than any restaurant in the world, but does that mean that KFC has the best food in the world? Nobody has sold more albums in the history of music than The Beatles, so are they the best musical act to ever live? Come on… you know better than to put all of your eggs in the viewership basket.
Kento Miyahara: All Japan Pro Wrestling’s top guy, Miyahara is in his sixth reign as the AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion. He won the title for the fifth time to kick 2022 off, would have a nice five-month reign, only to drop it in June before winning it back again three months later. I’ve been a big fan of the guy for years now, first talking about him in either 2016 or 2017 during my 30 Under 30 column series, but I still don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. You know how people with only a certain level of knowledge of video games think everything is “Nintendo?” Actually, a better example would be how the average person in this country knows WWE, even if they don’t watch wrestling, so whenever they hear about a wrestler, they automatically assume that person works for WWE? That’s just how big WWE is. It’s similar to New Japan’s success in Japan. If you were to ask a lot of wrestling fans who don’t watch Japanese wrestling, there’s still a good chance that they’ve heard of New Japan for one reason or another. Beyond that, though? All Japan, NOAH, Dragon Gate, Stardom, and so on… they just don’t have the same reach and market share. When it comes to Miyahara, though, there aren’t many wrestlers on the planet who are as consistently good as he has been over the last several years, and 2022 is no different.
Jon Moxley: On a near weekly basis, Mox has been there for AEW in 2022, doing any and everything they have asked of him, and doing it with great success. He won the interim AEW World Title this year, and then won the title unification match two months later, only to drop the title less than two weeks later… just to turn around and win the title again two weeks later after CM Punk was suspended and stripped of the championship. Mox fell victim to that weird stretch of booking and to Punk being cursed, but the success can’t be taken away from him. Now he’s firmly planted in the role that sees him facing a wide assortment of opponents every week and pulling the absolute best out of them. Youngsters, fellow veterans, brawlers, technicians, high fliers… it doesn’t matter. Oh, and he had all that AEW success while also being the GCW Heavyweight Champion for most of the year, participating in some truly violent bloodbaths and showing that he might be the wildest man in the business.
Syuri: It can be argued that Stardom was the hottest in-ring promotion in all of wrestling this year, putting on great show after great show, with an incredible variety of performers that can all make claims to be mentioned on lists like this. When your promotion has built up that much momentum, and you’ve been the top champion in said promotion for the entire calendar year, you’re going to get the nod. Syuri became the World Of Stardom Champion on December 29th of last year, and she continues her reign to this day. Fans of kickboxing and MMA might recognize her by her full name of Syuri Kondo, where she had great success as a kickboxer (13-1 record) and then in MMA (undefeated in Pancrase and became their Women’s Strawweight Champion before joining the UFC and winning her debut fight). That fighting background has truly helped her excel in pro wrestling, and her hard-hitting (helped by none other than Yoshihiro Tajiri being one of her wrestling trainers) matches are a regular showcase for Stardom. There was a brief stretch of time at the beginning of 2022 when she was a triple champion, holding the World Of Stardom Championship, one-half of the Goddess Of Stardom (with Giulia) Championships, and the SWA World Championship. She would voluntarily relinquish the SWA Title to focus on the other two in early January, and would then go on to lose the Goddess titles the following night. Even if it was only for a very brief period of time, it’s still pretty rare to see anyone as a triple champion in the same promotion, but she can forever say that she accomplished that.
Dax Harwood: I’m sure that some people will be upset that I’m not including Cash Wheeler to list FTR as a tag team here. This isn’t a knock on Wheeler at all, though. FTR had an all-time great year as a tag team, but Dax Harwood added some fantastic matches as a singles wrestler, as well. Dax had seven televised singles matches for AEW this year, and all seven of them were among the best televised singles matches the company had this year. The only “knock” on his resume this year is that he lost six of those singles matches, with his only victory coming against… Cash Wheeler. A win/loss record is part of the judging criteria here, so you have to take that under consideration. In the world of tag team wrestling, though, what a year. What a freaking year. FTR started 2022 as the AAA Tag Team Champions, and still have those belts in their possession. They would win the RoH Tag Team Titles in April and would hold them all the way until Final Battle a couple weeks ago. They won the IWGP Tag Team Titles in June, and like the AAA belts, they still hold those, too. Strangely enough, it was AEW where they had their “least” amount of success, as they didn’t even compete for the AEW Tag Team Titles until December 7th, and they lost that match. Even without the AEW belts to complete their superfecta, FTR had an insane year, but Dax narrowly beats his partner out to get the nomination here.
Daniel Garcia: A three-month reign as the RoH Pure Champion. The winner of the 2022 Battle Of Los Angeles tournament in PWG, joining the likes of Kenny Omega, El Generico, Ricochet, Adam Cole, Zack Sabre Jr. and Low Ki as winners of the prestigious event. Winning BOLA earned him a shot at the PWG World Title, which he won on May 1st and has held ever since. He was also successful in brief stints with multiple independent promotions around the country. My only issue with his 2022 is something I’ve discussed in my columns before. He wasn’t part of the winning side in a televised AEW match until March 23rd, and not as a singles wrestler until July 27th. He has been trapped in the Jericho Appreciation Society, and that vehicle hasn’t exactly done much to help anyone other than Chris Jericho. Go figure. As successful as his 2022 was, and as many high quality matches as he had this year, Garcia is someone who might have an even bigger 2023 if he can escape the clutches of Jericho.
The Usos: A tag team that is actually included as a tag team! While both Jimmy and Jey have had some really good singles matches this year, their singles work wasn’t a focus at any point like Dax Harwood’s was. The Usos started the year as the Smackdown Tag Team Champions, and would add the Raw Tag Team Titles in May. Because Vince McMahon fell in love with the idea of unifying his World and Tag Team Titles for no fucking reason this year, and because that’s not a booking decision that someone like Triple H can just come along and undo on a whim, Jey and Jimmy continue to be dual-but-not-dual champions today. Thus far, we haven’t seen them officially combine their two reigns into one with one set of belts, despite the constant rumors that WWE was going to do just that. They have been fighting champions, too, teaming up for 16 successful defenses in 2022. It’s hard to complain about a schedule like that when a team is hitting on all cylinders like The Usos are, putting in arguably the best work of their first ballot WWE Hall Of Fame careers.
Bianca Belair: If the best women’s wrestler in the world doesn’t reside on the Stardom roster, perhaps she calls Monday Night Raw her home. Bianca Belair has made her first reign as the Raw Women’s Champion count, winning the title at WrestleMania and still holding it nine months later. In those nine months, she has defended her title in matches like a No Disqualification contest against Sonya Deville, as well as a Ladder Match and a Last Woman Standing Match against Bayley. She also found the time to compete for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles, albeit unsuccessfully, as well as participate in the Women’s War Games at Survivor Series, where she found a bit more success. With my own personal star rating scale, I have Bianca competing in a dozen matches this year that approached, or outright reached, the four-star mark. She was able to do all of this on a consistently stacked women’s roster on Raw, unlike the roster on Smackdown that has been about as weak as possible, especially since Sasha Banks and Naomi walked away. With her combination of strength, speed, and athletic ability that is unmatched in the history of women’s wrestling, she has the potential to be this dominant, and be included as a nominee here, for years to come.
Will Ospreay: When Will Ospreay is involved in a match, you can pretty much go ahead and pencil four stars in and work from there. Admittedly, I haven’t seen everything he’s done, but I don’t think I’ve seen him in a singles match that was less than four stars since the New Japan Cup, and that was all the way back in March. That happened nearly ten months ago! All those stars came with a bunch of success, as well. He started the year as the RevPro British Heavyweight Champion and the Warrior Wrestling Champion. The Warrior reign lasted until June, while the RevPro reign lasted until August. June also saw him win the IWGP United States Heavyweight Title, and he continues to hold that title today. It’s impossible to argue with those kinds of results, as he has won, and won big, everywhere he has wrestled this year.
The winner is… Will Ospreay! As I said, I don’t have him listed in a singles match that was less than four stars since March. By the way, that less-than-four-star match? Only half-a-star away from that mark. Ospreay has had an incredible in-ring year, and although he didn’t reach the top of the New Japan mountain in 2022, he achieved too much overall success for me to go with anyone else here.
The time is here, everyone. After going through everything else, it is finally time to hand out our final award. With #!!!, we’re looking at the best masterpieces of in-ring work that the wrestling world was able to witness in 2022. These are the matches that made me sit up and take notice more than anything else all year long. For the final time this year, here are the nominees, in no particular order…
Bron Breakker vs Tyler Bate (NXT Worlds Collide – September 4th): This was their title unification match that combined the NXT Championship and the NXT UK Championship. Both men looked like a million bucks here, with Bate’s British style able to wrestle circles around Bron, but Bron’s brute force able to close the gap and keep things even. Both men were able to build the drama as the pace of the match quickened, and we got some very believable near falls down the stretch, including Breakker kicking out of a Tyler Driver ’97 that was at 2.99999 and had the entire Capitol Wrestling Center believing that the match was over. Bron would go on to win the match with a Spear that nearly broke Bate in half. The match itself didn’t feature a ton of build and story behind it, which is the only real negative I can think of. It was thrown together at just about the last minute, and was more about getting rid of the NXT UK Title as the brand itself was being shut down, but hey, at least we got a super fun match out of it.
FTR vs The Briscoes (RoH Death Before Dishonor – July 23rd): This was their second of three classics during the year. After the first one, there was a ton of hype for this one, but it had huge shoes to fill. I’ve seen some complaints that the match was too slow to start, but I’m not holding it against them. They had 45 minutes of in-ring time to fill, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to be balls-out from beginning to end. It’s not like they went wrestled a match that featured the pace of two snails on ecstasy fucking. It was an extremely well put together match that saw the second fall get better and faster paced than the first fall, and then the third fall get better and faster paced than the second fall.
Saya Kamitani vs Natsupoi (Stardom Cinderella Journey In Nagaoka – February 23rd): Unlike the other Stardom Match Of The Year candidate from this same show (more on that in a bit), this one was a different style than I’m used to seeing with the women in joshi puroresu. While they were able to maintain a very good pace to their action, Kamitani and Natsupoi really looked to drop as many hard-hitting bombs on each other as possible. We’re talking the “drop you on your head and neck” style that the men’s matches in Japan often feature. I didn’t really know what to expect from the match, but I found myself blown away, with both women converting me to fans of theirs when all was said and done. That’s a beautiful thing when you’re watching something new.
Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 2 – January 5th): If you know me, you know that I feel Okada is one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all-time. If you’ve read this column until this sentence, you know that I just gave Ospreay my version of Wrestler Of The Year for 2022. Is there any surprise that a match between the two of them made my list of Matches Of The Year? There shouldn’t be. A lot of matches from Japan get knocked for a supposed lack of ring psychology, usually because someone saw a short video of a match on Twitter that took a 30-minute match and showed 90 seconds of highlights with no context. This match had more than its fair share of psychology. Ospreay was desperate to win this one. First and foremost, Okada’s IWGP World Heavyweight Title was on the line, and that’s a title Ospreay was forced to vacate due to injury last year after only being the champion for a month-and-a-half. Perhaps more important to the psychology, though, Ospreay has not fared well, historically, against Okada in singles matches. Before this one, Okada had a 5-1 record against Ospreay in singles competition, including a win at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom event. This desperation would lead to Ospreay not only pulling out special moves of his own, but also special moves of some of Okada’s biggest rivals. I love little stories and callbacks like that in wrestling matches. It’s something that doesn’t happen anywhere near enough.
Bron Breakker vs Ilja Dragunov vs JD McDonagh (NXT Halloween Havoc – October 22nd): Bron brought the power and the aforementioned brute force. Dragunov brought the frenetic pace. McDonagh brought the methodical, break you down limb-by-limb style. Putting them all of that together delivered what might have been the best match NXT saw all year. This was such a physical battle, with all three men showing off bruises and welts from stiff strikes and brutal offense. If you really look at the way Bron Breakker has been booked in 2022, this match fit in with a very important thing that NXT has been trying to do, and that’s to keep him involved with veterans that can help him look as good as can be. It started with him winning the title from Tommaso Ciampa, then to a match with Santos Escobar, then moving on to a feud with Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode, then to Gunther, Joe Gacy, Cameron Grimes, JD McDonagh, Tyler Bate, this match, and then to a feud with Apollo Crews. That’s such a smart move, largely keeping him away from younger, inexperienced talent, even though the NXT roster has been full of that for most of the year.
FTR vs The Briscoes (RoH Final Battle – December 10th): The expectations for this one were through the roof. So much so that there was a “holy shit” chant at the sound of the opening bell, and nobody had been touched yet. I’m not someone that likes to refer to things like wrestling matches or sporting events as a “war” too often because I feel that term is overused in these situations, almost disrespecting actual wars and what people involved in them have to go through. If I was going to refer to a wrestling match in 2022 as a “war,” though, it would probably be this one. All four men gave their all here, bleeding buckets and beating the hell out of each other. As the shortest match in the trilogy between the teams, and half the length of their second match, the pace here was breakneck from the start. It was an old school gimmick match (Double Dog Collar) that featured a nice blend of old school (FTR) and new school (Briscoes) action. It was the perfect way to close out one of the best match trilogies that pro wrestling has ever seen.
Starlight Kid vs AZM (Stardom Cinderella Journey In Nagaoka – February 23rd): Before 2022 started, I told myself that I would make an effort to watch more Stardom. I had seen matches here and there before, but I wanted to try and watch more full shows and keep better track of what was going on. This was the first full Stardom show I saw this year, so I was able to go into things with a clear mind and let the in-ring action speak for itself. My first sign that things were going to be fun here was that it was for Starlight Kid’s High-Speed Championship. That’s about an apt a name as you’re going to find, as these two women went to a wild pace almost immediately. I found myself really getting into the match as I watched. You know the deal… even if you’re watching a match by yourself, you’re saying things like “whoa” or “holy shit” to the screen on several occasions. I like that both women were able to switch things up at points in the middle of the match, going from that impossible-to-keep-up pace to more of a chain wrestling style. Of course, that didn’t last long, and they went right back to a pace that really has to be seen to be believed. Their in-ring chemistry was fucking fantastic, made even more amazing by the fact that, at the time of the match, AZM was 19 years old and Starlight Kid was slightly older at 20 years old. You’re going to be hearing a lot more from these two women moving forward.
Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay (NJPW G1 Climax Day 12 – August 6th): To show you just how much I enjoy when these two face each other, this is the FOURTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR that a Takagi vs Ospreay singles match has been nominated for my year-end Match Of The Year, and it was my pick to win in 2019. The story here was that Ospreay had been successful against Shingo in the past, but when Ospreay wins, the matches tend to be longer because it takes more for him to overcome Shingo’s insane power offense. In the match itself, we got a lot of Ospreay trying, yet again, to use his speed and aerial tactics, only for Shingo to bully him. There’s even a spot where Shingo, seemingly angry that Ospreay’s offense isn’t as hard-hitting as he wants it to be, slams himself into the turnbuckle to prove a point. A really good clash of styles here, and as the story was told, it was another win for Shingo in what I believe was the shortest match they’ve had against each other. The man’s a monster.
Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar (WWE SummerSlam – July 30th): Godzilla vs King Kong. Michael Myers vs Jason Voorhees. That’s what this was. Putting these two in a Last Man Standing Match was a stroke of brilliance. They hit each other with everything they had, time and time again, because they knew they had to. We’ve seen them face each other enough times, and they knew it was going to take an extra amount to pick up the win. It can be difficult to add the right level of creativity and freshness to Last Man Standing bouts, but that’s what we got here, both through the interference of The Bloodline, as well as Brock’s multiple uses of a Front End Loader. While this clearly was never going to be a masterpiece of technical wizardry, it would be difficult to find a match that was more of a blast to watch from beginning to end than this one.
El Hijo Del Vikingo vs Fenix (AAA Triplemania XXX Mexico City – October 15th): If you were to rank the best Lucha or Lucha-style wrestlers in the business today, you’re going to have both of these men at or near the very top of that list. They’re great at this style, and it’s not a surprise that we got a real spotfest here. I fully understand that this type of thing isn’t for everyone, but then again, no match or style is for everyone, so quit complaining. To go with the mile-a-second spots, I appreciate that they were able to mix things up a bit with Fenix getting busted open and that changing Vikingo’s strategy. Two super fast, super athletic, and super creative performers unleashed for 20 minutes as they compete for the top championship in AAA, and therefore, in all of Mexico? Yeah, this one was a ton of fun.
Becky Lynch vs Bianca Belair (WWE WrestleMania 38 Night 1 – April 2nd): This was everything a big WrestleMania match is supposed to be. Both competitors looked like a million bucks with new gear, new hair, and so on. They both had special entrances for the match, and there was a clear big-fight feel in the air that you could feel through the screen. In my Running Diary for the show, I said that the match was “really ugly, but in a great way.” After watching it again, I fully stand behind that statement. This had more of a “real” fight feel to it, with both women having awkward spots because they were going for a grittier feel. This was a “blood feud” that had reached crazy proportions, so a smooth, maybe even overly choreographed match wouldn’t have felt right. Another star-making performance for Bianca Belair here, who is well on her way to an all-time great career.
Will Ospreay vs Michael Oku (RevPro High Stakes – January 29th): I will freely admit that I had never seen Michael Oku in action before this match. Sure, I had heard things about him here and there, but I had never actually watched him. In one match, I became a fan for life. He plays such a phenomenal underdog babyface, and that is the perfect foil for Ospreay, who is at his prick-ish best here. There is so much drama here that it’s hard to keep track of it all. As I said, Ospreay decided to turn the prick dial alllll the way up to the maximum here, using Oku’s family and girlfriend, who are in the front row, for more and more and more and more heat. As the match goes on, and as Oku continues fighting back, this only pisses Ospreay off even more. The match really begins to shift once Oku is sent crashing to the outside and comes up bleeding from the forehead, turning Ospreay into a shark that smells that blood in the water. He begins working on that cut, trying to bust Oku open further and further, and he doesn’t care how he has to do it. Of course, Oku being the fiery babyface that he is, he steps his game up when his back is against the wall, and he never stops fighting. There’s an attempt to throw in the towel for Oku, but… surprise, surprise… Ospreay is an asshole, and he’s not going to accept that. The closing stretch of the match is wrestling emotion at its finest, as Ospreay tries to cave Oku’s skull in with repeated Hidden Blades, but he makes sure to glare at Oku’s family as he performs the move. He’s such an over-the-top villain here, but it works. It all works.
Carmelo Hayes vs Ricochet (NXT Worlds Collide – September 4th): Going in, you knew it was going to be a match that had the potential to blow everyone away. Two of the fastest, most athletic performers in the business today placed in the show-opening “top THAT” spot? It couldn’t be anything other than a sprint, and that’s exactly what it was. Ricochet got a chance to show the world what he’s still capable of, as he hadn’t always been able to do so on a main roster that was controlled by Vince McMahon. Carmelo Hayes got a chance to show the world one more time that he’s more than ready for a main roster run of his own… especially since that main roster isn’t controlled by Vince McMahon anymore. Even though Melo won, I wouldn’t call it a “passing the torch” moment, as Ricochet has had a better four months since this show took place, but it could definitely be viewed as Melo really planting his flag in the ground and calling the future his.
FTR vs The Briscoes (RoH Supercard Of Honor 15 – April 1st): The first match of their 2022 trilogy, this one had the benefit of lower expectations. Sure, we all figured this was going to be good, but I’m not sure many were truly expecting a Match Of The Year classic. While their second match featured the Two-Out-Of-Three Falls stipulation, and the third featured the Double Dog Collar stipulation, this was just pure tag team greatness without the need for anything extra. If you want hard-hitting action, FTR and the Briscoes gave it to you here. If you want creative tag maneuvers, FTR and the Briscoes gave it to you here. If you want blood, FTR and the Briscoes gave it to you here. This was an incredible tag team contest, and it ended up setting the rest of their trilogy up perfectly.
Syuri vs Utami Hayashishita (Stardom Gold Rush – November 19th): As I mentioned earlier, Syuri won the World Of Stardom Title at the very end of 2021 and was still the champion at this point, almost a full year later. The woman she beat for the title? Utami Hayashishita, who held the title for 409 days before the loss. This was a big title rematch, coming off of Hayashishita’s non-title victory over Syuri during the 5STAR Grand Prix tournament in July. A true “big fight” in Stardom, and both women treated it as such. This was such a hard-hitting, back-and-forth contest, but I think it was really a showcase for the former champion, who was able to prove that she was still one of the best in the business and capable of having special matches like this, with or without the title.
The final winner of the year is… Will Ospreay vs Michael Oku! Again, this was as emotionally charged as you’re going to see a match be in 2022, with Oku and Ospreay playing their roles to pure perfection. They take you on a roller coaster ride that you’re not going to want to see come to an end. Pro wrestling, at its very core, is art, and this was a fine example of that.
There you have it, folks. We’ve reached the end of the 2022 #BlackTwitter Year-End Hussy Awards. I know it was a really long read, so I want you to know that I truly appreciate you if you’ve read it all. Now I turn it over to you. You can either use my categories or whatever other names you want, but I want to hear about some of your picks for the best (and possibly worst) of professional wrestling in 2022. As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind. I’ll be right back here next Wednesday with the latest edition of my 30 Under 30 series. Until then, be good to each other and enjoy the rest of the holiday season.
Now, let’s get to the Power Rankings!
Weekly Power Rankings
Jamie Hayter vs Hikaru Shida: Great, great match with both women looking amazing. Now, allow me to tell a quick story. As I was watching Dynamite, my four-year-old daughter was sitting in the recliner with me. She was playing with her tablet instead of watching the show, but that was to be expected, as she doesn’t have a great interest in any sort of television due to her short attention span. Sure, she would occasionally look up at the television when certain noises or flashy visuals would happen, but she’d be right back to looking at her tablet within a couple seconds. During the introductions for this match, my daughter happened to look up at the screen… and she didn’t look away for over ten minutes. She watched intently as these two women had one of the better women’s matches you’ll see on free television. While she didn’t make it to the end of the match before she went back to her tablet, that ten minutes might as well have been ten hours. Again, she has a short attention span, so even things that she loves right now (Peppa Pig, Minions, etc.) need to be watched in short YouTube videos or else she’ll lose interest. To see her watching Hayter and Shida for that long really warmed my heart. She has seen clips and brief moments of wrestling before, but this was easily the longest she’s ever watched wrestling with me. If you’re not aware of my story, I first saw wrestling when I was four, and I’ve been hooked ever since, so we’ll see how things go with her.
Fightful’s Grapsody Podcast Landing A Tony Khan Interview: There are always the jokes of “such-and-such site is playing favorites and working with AEW” that you’re going to see, but do you truly understand how big of a deal it was for a site like Fightful to land Tony Khan, of all people, for an interview? We’re not talking the Wrestling Observer, PWInsider, PWTorch, or any of the sites that might come to your mind first when you think about interviews with some of the bigger personalities in wrestling. Fightful is a rapidly growing site in the market, but Grapsody is barely a year-old as a podcast, so it’s crazy to see them get such a big name for their show. Kudos to Will Washington, Righteous Reg, and Phil Lindsey for that.
Stokely Hathaway Feels Bryan Danielson Is A Raggedy Bitch: “Raggedy bitch” is one of my favorite insults, so to hear it on wrestling television was great for me. The fact that Stokely delivered it so casually made it even better, and even funnier. I legitimately laughed.
Julius Creed vs JD McDonagh: The match was really good. That’s not the problem here. My problem is that JD McDonagh, for all of the great in-ring performances that he’s had in NXT, has not won a match in what seems like forever. It’s weird to me, that’s all. As far as Julius Creed goes, he looks like he could be a singles star one day if the tag team with his brother doesn’t work out, or if they eventually split up like almost every tag team does at some point.
Sami Zayn: That was a great promo from Sami on Smackdown. He usually gets to be the comic relief for The Bloodline, but he switched gears here, delivering an intense promo to hype up the upcoming match that will see him team up with Roman Reigns to face Kevin Owens and the returning John Cena. It’s not a side you get to see from Sami very often, and that was evidenced by Roman’s face as Sami spoke. Roman looked at Sami like a proud father who was finally seeing his son grow up and become the man he always wanted him to be. It’s yet another layer to the story, and will end up being another reason for heartbreak when the group finally destroys Sami at some point.
Death Triangle vs The Elite: The matches continue to be a lot of fun, but like many of you, I’m ready for the series to be over so that everyone can move on to something different.
Wes Lee vs Tony D’Angelo: It was a good performance by D’Angelo, who still looks to have a bright future with the company, but it was also a much-needed win by the North American Champion, who can continue to build momentum. I’ve said it before, but Wes Lee can be a major player for NXT should the powers-that-be want him to be one.
Dax Harwood Getting A Podcast: The man has never been afraid to speak his mind, so that already intrigues me as far as a podcast goes. The debut episode hasn’t even happened yet, but there is already plenty of buzz. CM Punk is the topic of the debut show, which could be very newsworthy, as it will be one of the first times an AEW employee really talks about Punk publicly since the shit went down after All Out. Perhaps more importantly, though, is Dax’s quote about Cody Rhodes, saying that he hopes he gets to work with Cody “very, very soon.” With FTR’s AEW contracts expiring in a couple months, and with them being one of Triple H’s favorite acts in NXT, that has caused the rumor mill to go into overdrive. I’m not saying we WILL see FTR in WWE a little after WrestleMania season is over, but the fact that we MIGHT see them there is reason for people to start talking. That’s quite the hook for your podcast.
Jon Moxley vs Darius Martin: Stop me if you’ve heard this one… Jon Moxley had a match on AEW television against a random opponent and the match ended up being pretty good. Moxley’s real-life GM Mode continues on.
Ricochet & Braun Strowman vs Ludwig Kaiser & Giovanni Vinci: Mindless fun in a holiday-themed match. It’s a WWE specialty. Essentially, an entertaining house show contest that just so happened to be aired for the world to see. No complaints here.
This Week’s Playlist: “Silent Weapons” by Autumn Lies Buried… “Chimera” by Acacia Ridge… “Brace For The Freight Train” by Dagames… “In The Light Of Innocence” by The Veer Union… “Cessation” by In Fear… “Metatropolis” by Project 86… “Let Down” by The Anchor… “Diamonds” by Any Given Day… “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger… “Inside Out” by Eve 6… “Here’s To The Night” by Eve 6… “The Distance” by CAKE… “The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones… “Got You (Where I Want You)” by The Flys… “Shine” by Collective Soul… “The World I Know” by Collective Soul… “Drive” by Incubus… “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers… “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World… “The Way” by Fastball… “Lightning Crashes” by Live… “I Alone” by Live… “Gone Away” by The Offspring… “Want You Bad” by The Offspring… “When I Come Around” by Green Day… “Epic” by Faith No More… “Movies” by Alien Ant Farm… “Father Of Mine” by Everclear… “I Will Buy You A New Life” by Everclear… “Everything To Everyone” by Everclear… “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon… “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum… “All I Want” by Toad The Wet Sprocket… “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit… “The Best Is Yet To Come Undone” by Lit… “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind… “How’s It Going To Be” by Third Eye Blind… “Lump” by The Presidents Of The United States Of America… “Good” by Better Than Ezra… “Desperately Wanting” by Better Than Ezra is your daily source for pro wrestling news headlines. Our coverage includes WWE, AEW, IMPACT, NJPW, ROH, MLW and more. Formerly Lords of Pain (LOP), we have been publishing WWE news and rumors since 1998! We are an independent news outlet and are not affiliated with any wrestling promotion.
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