Let's crawl to the finish, shall we?
As the impending specter of Vince McMahon once again lurks over WWE like a shadow, let's remember what may go down as WWE's creative peak in a post-attitude era world. For those just tuning in, here's #90-81, #80-71, #70-61, #60-41, #40-31, AND #30-11.
The top 10 is as follows:
#10: Seth Rollins def. Roman Reigns © via disqualification; Roman Reigns retains the Universal Championship; Royal Rumble
Heel vs. heel is always a tough ask, but with two heels who are often cheered, this hill wasn't as steep. The build suffered due to Rollins being a last minute replacement, so what should have been a great month of promos in the lead-up was really rushed. The match itself was great, however. Rollins used a lot of psychological warfare in the quick build, and continued right up until the bell. Seriously, go back and watch Roman's face as the Shield music hits. Old school Seth looked like a million bucks here, and he can say something no one else can; "I beat the Tribal Chief". Granted it was a DQ so no title changed hands, but still a nice little tidbit.
#9: Bianca Belair © def. Becky Lynch to retain the Raw Women's Championship; SummerSlam
While not quite their first encounter, there was plenty to like about the conclusion of Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch's year-long story. This match was really about Becky throwing the kitchen sink at Belair, but nothing working. She knew she was beat, and after being beaten, she finally gave Bianca the respect she deserved. Couple that with the debut of Damage CTRL immediately after, and Becky standing side by side with Bianca to face the new threat, and we have some good stuff.
#8: Austin Theory def. Seth Rollins © and Bobby Lashley to win the United States Championship; Survivor Series: War Games
A late entry onto this list, but a beyond solid one. Bobby Lashley and Seth Rollins seemed destined for another United States Championship match after Theory failed his cash-in attempt, but the young cat weaseled his way into this match anyways. What transpired was just an incredibly well-coordinated match that flowed beautifully without a hitch. Theory's beyblade entrance and Bobby not quite connecting on the spear at the end takes the viewer out of the match a bit, but the good far outweighs the bad. For a guy desperately trying to be taken seriously, this match felt incredibly important. Baby Theory held the US Championship the first time, but grown-ass man Theory held it the second time.
#7: Cody Rhodes def. Seth Rollins; WrestleMania, Night 1
This wannabe writer still feels goosebumps thinking about this night. Not only did Cody Rhodes' surprise debut at WrestleMania completely win the crowd over, but the actual match they had afterwards was a banger. It may have gone on a tad too long, but it featured some great storytelling and was the beginning of what is a strong contender for feud of the year. The highlights include Cody's Stardust cartwheel, his borrowing some of his dad's famous moves, and Rollins's "welcome to the big leagues" trash talk. In the end, the right guy won. Cody is home.
#6: Roman Reigns © def. Brock Lesnar to retain the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship in a last man standing match; SummerSlam
This match was an incredibly important palette cleanser in the annals of the Brock vs. Roman feud, and hopefully it also serves as its conclusion. And to think that it almost didn't happen. After a disappointing WrestleMania Night 2 Main Event, Brock and Roman went their separate ways. Roman was set for a summer of feuding with Matt Riddle, Randy Orton, and Drew McIntyre while Lesnar sat at home in Canada and waited for his next big paycheck. Then Orton got hurt, and WWE needed a SummerSlam main event. Lesnar came back, but vowed to back out after Vince McMahon stepped down as WWE Chairman. He was eventually brought back into the fold, and thank the Lord because this match may have been the best match the two have ever had. Brock rode to the ring in a big ass tractor, eventually using it to completely capsize the ring. It is a moment that will live on in WWE history, along Theory getting swatted away like a fly in the midst of his cash-in attempt and Roman posing atop Lesnar (along with a pile of debris) to retain his belts.
#5: The Usos © def. The Street Profits to retain the Unified Tag Team Championship; Money in the Bank
Hot take, but in recent times the Usos work much better with The Street Profits than they do with The New Day, with this tag team match serving as my main evidence. The story of Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins coming up short time and time again was a painfully powerful story to watch, and this match was the catalyst as the Profits would be cheated out of a win when the Usos would fail to get both shoulders down but got the pin anyways.
#4: Gunther © def. Sheamus to retain the Intercontinental Championship; Clash at the Castle
Sheamus's career renaissance has really been something to behold. After a mixed bag of feuds over the last few years, the Celtic Warrior really found his footing as a no nonsense babyface opposite the imposing Gunther. Add in the personal history of Sheamus never winning the IC strap, Gunther's quest to make the belt honorable again, the long history of iconic IC matches, and a blazing hot UK crowd and this meat-slapping fest was an all timer, up there with Michaels-Ramon, Hart-Smith, and Steamboat-Savage. If you want to convince a wrestling skeptic to watch wrestling, you could do a lot worse than starting them off with this match. The best part? The match was great and the build was literally just Sheamus and Gunther staring at each other while their buddies whaled away around them. No words, no backstory, just action and intensity.
#3: The Bloodline def. The Brawling Brutes, Drew McIntyre, and Kevin Owens in a War Games match; Survivor Series: War Games
While featuring less high spots and visually appealing wrestling moves than the women's match, the men's match took the cake in terms of long-form storytelling. Sami Zayn was positioned as the focal point of this match, as his frienemy Kevin Owens was pulling him toward the light while Roman Reigns and the Bloodline pulled him in the opposite direction. After Jey Uso raised some questions about Zayn's loyalty, he eventually turned on his friend Kevin Owens and gift-wrapped him for Uso, who scored the win for his team.
#2: Cody Rhodes def. Seth Rollins inside Hell in a Cell; Hell in a Cell
Talking about making lemonade out of lemons. When reports surfaced that Cody Rhodes tore his pec working out, the collective wrestling fanbase was pretty bummed out. His white-hot momentum, it felt, had been stopped dead in its tracks. Cody, however, continued on with the match anyways. Since the tear could not get worse, he endured. Ever the safe worker, Seth Rollins protected Cody and led him through an emotional match that featured polka dots, a grueling bruise reveal, some strap match action, table spots, and more. Cody got his hand raised in victory, ensuring that the WWE fans would not forget about him as he embarked on the long road to recovery.
#1: Bianca Belair def. Becky Lynch © to win the Raw Women's Championship; WrestleMania, Night 1
Lynch and Belair's first singles meeting since SummerSlam was great for many reasons. All of the reasons, actually. It checked every box. Long-form storytelling? Yes. Great pageantry? Check. Excellent in-ring action? 100%. Great chemistry? Bingo. Since the ending also wasn't a given, many a watcher were on the edge of their seat watching the latter half of this match, waiting for Bianca to beat the KOD. And what's more, this was not even the end of the rivalry. They would continue down a path that ended at 2022's SummerSlam, where everything would come full circle. This match, however, was the high point.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
So as a bit of an apology for this series taking so long (being a teacher is, like, really time consuming...) I figured I'd do some ~analytics~. Granted, the only numbers I'm breaking down are numbers that reflect my own personal opinions, but I wanted to see how wrestlers stacked up as PLE performers over the course of 2022. I also wanted to see how the PLEs performed against each other, and which titles had the best matches surrounding it. Here's what I got:
Quantifying my top 10 PLE performers of 2022:
The formula for this was pretty simple. Assign a point value to every match in reverse order of ranking (#1 match gets 90 pts, the #2 match gets 89 pts, etc) and see which wrestlers accumulated the most points (so both Lynch and Belair get 90 pts apiece for being the #1 match, Cody and Seth get 89 pts apiece, etc). The minimum amount of matches that a wrestler needed to compete in in order to be ranked was 5 (for the "Big 5"). Then, I divided the amount of points each wrestler received by the amount of matches they participated in. Example: Seth Rollins had 10 PLE matches, so his point total is divided by that. Based on that criteria, here were my top 10 PLE performers of 2022 (tag teams are included as a team).
Roman Reigns 63.1 pts
Seth Rollins 59.3 pts
The Usos 59 pts
Becky Lynch / The Miz (tie) 54 pts
Bianca Belair 52.4 pts
Kevin Owens 52.2 pts
The Street Profits 49.8 pts
Edge 42 pts
Finn Balor 41.7 pts
So a couple fun things of note: Involvement in the Men's Royal Rumble Match reeeeaally tanked a lot of men's scores, keeping guys like Drew McIntyre, Brock Lesnar, and AJ Styles out of the mix while giving guys who didn't participate like Miz, Seth, Finn Balor, and Edge a big boost.
Speaking of Miz, being coupled with great workers like Edge and Rey Mysterio as well as chronic 2022 overachiever Logan Paul massively helped his stock. Roman Reigns took the cake, thus proving you don't have to be on TV every week and in every PLE to be a great performer.
Reigns was in 8 of the 13 PLEs this year, and made the most of those appearances. Rollins also compiled a buttload of points, and in a drastically diverse fashion. He dabbled in the Universal Title scene, took Cody Rhodes to the limit in three matches, beat up on Matt Riddle, and had a banger of a match for the US Championship.
On the women's side, Becky and Bianca elevated each other all year, proving that iron does in fact sharpen iron. The perfect opponent really does make or break a fighter.
Meanwhile, in the tag division, both The Usos and The Street Profits have been given plenty of flowers but deserve a damn flower garden. The Street Profits, in particular, did not win on the main card of any PLE match in 2022 but still managed to elevate their stocks as both Montez and Angelo feel poised to have great singles runs whenever they stop tagging. Unlike the Usos, both took part in the Men's Royal Rumble but managed to have very high averages despite it.
On the flip side, the numbers dictated that the worst PLE performer (and frankly it wasn't close) of all 2022 was Ronda Rousey. In nine matches, she managed to average just a measly 24.2 points per match, worst amongst singles titlists in 2022. Her title matches against the likes of Shotzi, Liv Morgan, and Charlotte Flair simply did not resonate. Damn shame.
I won't go into super detail about ranking the titles, but here was the PPM average for every title in 2022:
Intercontinental Championship 87
Raw Tag Team Championship 64.8
Universal Championship 63.5
United States Championship 59.75
Raw Women's Championship 58.75
Smackdown Tag Team Championship 57.8
WWE Championship 49.3
Women's Tag Team Championship 42.5
Smackdown Women's Championship 27.9
The IC title was only contested in one PLE match this year, and since it scored super high, averaged the most points. But RK-Bro, The Usos, The Street Profits, and Alpha Academy had some classic matches over the Raw Tag Team Championship, and so did Lynch, Asuka, Bayley, and Bianca Belair in regards to the Raw Women's Championship. The Smackdown Women's Championship was thoroughly devalued as a result of underwhelming reigns from Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, and Liv Morgan.
Lastly, I added up the point values of each match and attributed them to the PLE they were a part of, then divided that by the amount of matches in that PLE. Here is how WWE's 13 main roster PLEs stacked up against each other in 2022:
WrestleMania, Night 1 63.7
Survivor Series: War Games 56.6
Clash at the Castle 55.3
Crown Jewel 51.9
Extreme Rules 42.5
WrestleMania, Night 2 42.4
Money in the Bank 41.4
Day 1 40.3
Hell in a Cell 39.3
Royal Rumble 31
Elimination Chamber 19.3
Notice how, despite Mania Night 1 being #1, there isn't a Vince-produced PLE until Mania Night 2? Tripe H-led WWE led the way in 2022, with every PLE he produced scoring significantly higher than any Vince-produced PLE not called WrestleMania. Staples like Money in the Bank, Elimination Chamber, and Royal Rumble came off as dull and uninspired. Just a thing to note as, once again, Vince's ghost lurks over creative. If that depressed you, here's Triple H overselling for a minute and a half.
See ya again in 2023!