While we may be over 3 weeks shy of 2023 being in the rear view, the year itself has felt as though a solid couple of years have occurred, and nowhere is this truer than professional wrestling. Though as much as I'd genuinely like to espouse the amazing things that happened this year and call it a day, the good of the year is nothing without the arguably equal amount of bad that occurred this year.
There were a lot of things that bettered the landscape of wrestling in 2023. First and foremost to me, more wrestlers have felt like stars than there has been in quite some time. You've got your obvious main eventers and legends of the sport that always feel like a big deal, but the year has seen many new faces start to brighten the marquees of companies everywhere. Names that come to mind include LA Knight, Swerve Strickland, or other unexpected ascensions for wrestlers that already had some name value to them, such as the comedic gold of Bullet Club Gold, the rise of the pillars of AEW, perpetually wheelchair-bound Roderick Strong, the Alpha Academy getting their due, the recent movie magic of "Timeless" Toni Storm, hell, even the rise in heeldom of Dominik Mysterio has been at the very least entertaining throughout.
Alongside this, a personal highlight has been the rise of events taking place outsode of the States for major American companies. All In at Wembley, Backlash in San Juan, the announcement of events in Germany and my home nation of Australia for the year to come. Sure, we'll still be getting everyones favourite Saudi blood money spectaculars, but they're even managing to pull out good matchups now that they've stopped being quite so non-canon. Speaking of international wrestling, the scenes around the world are starting to return, from the slow rise of Britwres back to its former glory, to the stellar work from both New Japan and Pro Wrestling Noah in recent months, with new stars being built left and right in NJPW, from Shota Umino to Ren Narita to Yuya Uemura, the future looks bright for puroresu, after a bit of a middling early 2020s on the part of the King of Sports.
Another positive has been seeing wrestlers choose to jump ship, from Jade Cargill and Charles Montgomery Punk heading to the WWE to Adam Copeland's debut for AEW, even to the lesser ship jumps, like Lexis King in NXT or Lana yet again feuding with her husband in AEW. Even barring the top 2 companies, the proverbial decks have been constantly shuffled, with the many returns of Triple H's booking to many indy companies consolidating fresh rosters, even to fresher faces in puro companies like fellow Aussie Jack J. Bonza arriving in this year's World Tag League.
But, of course, with the good comes the bad. My personal pick for the worst thing to happen this year in wrestling is a pretty obvious choice: the loss of many great competitors, past and present. This year saw the wrestling world lose names such as Terry Funk, Jay Briscoe, Lanny Poffo, the Iron Sheik, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Adrian Street, among many others. But the obvious choice for biggest loss will go down as the loss of Windham Rotunda. Though his loss was incredibly brutal for everyone across the industry and fandom, a positive of the situation was the uniting of the wrestling world in mourning and celebration of the career of the former Bray Wyatt, with WWE, AEW, even the indies honoring him in some way.
Now that the truly saddening negative has been discussed, on to some lighter negatives, like Vince McMahon pulling one hell of a long con back into power this year, now heading up not only the WWE, but by proxy, the bloody UFC through chairing TKO Group Holdings. While a landmark announcement, the introduction of the combat sports juggernaut cast shadows from the jump, with everyone's favourite immortal scarf-hater finding his way back into the upper eschelon of the business in a swift motion that may not have only affected his coiffers, but his daughter's relationships with not just him but her own husband. With the announcement came a few firings, as was expected, with names such as Matt Riddle, Maximum Male Models and Hit Row being released in the aftermath, along with a slew of behind-the-scenes talent, all while both companies and their new parent record "record-breaking numbers" off of everyone else's backs.
Now onto the subject of one Phillip Brooks. In 2021, I was like anyone else, absolutely ecstatic at the thought of CM Punk making his return to wrestling, especially through the alternative of AEW, as many would've assumed him and the WWE would want nothing to do with each other. By mid-2022, the shine had come off the apple so hard that the fruit was beginning to rot, after a combination of several injuries affecting his workrate in the summer, to the infamous Brawl Out saga in the autumn, I was losing respect for a man I once idolised. When he returned on AEWs brand new Saturday show, Collision, in June, I held out hope that maybe he could've patched up his issues with the Elite contingient and might be more focused on this new show, but from the outset it seemed as though nothing had been solved. He came out making it very clear that this was "his show only", barring talent from even being in the back, making restrictions, whether neccessary or not and generally still being bitter towards the Elite and other people who dared cross him. Then came All In and the backstage fight with Jack Perry over a glass spot. While neither did the right thing if we're all honest, both got about what they deserved for the debacle, with Jack at present serving an indefinite suspension, and CM Punk... *checks notes* destined for a marquee spot at WrestleMania after returning to the WWE, a place he burned his bridges with almost a decade ago, at November's Survivor Series event in, take a guess, Chicago, one of the few towns that'll probably still have the grumpy bugger at this point. Can't wait to see him "main eventing night 4 of a buy-one get-one free extravaganza" in Philly next year.
But just to prove that I actually enjoy all wrestling, an obvious criticism of AEW is, yet again, a lack of spotlight on the packed women's division. The endless run of Outcasts vs some form of Britt Baker, Jamie Hayter and a partner of the week was mind-melting through the early months of the year, as was seeing hometown girl Saraya win the women's championship at All In, a place that was pretty obviously destined for Hayter, had she not been shelved due to numerous injuries, The Athena-Billie Starkz program in ROH was more than deserving of television time on the Turner networks, as was Athena in general, as she's had a stellar run as the head of the now AEW feeder brand/seperate federation's women's division. The talent-rih midcard featuring people like Ruby Soho, Kiera Hogan, Abadon and Mercedes Martinez among others has felt entirely underutilised through the year, leading to a feeling of sameiness in the booking of the women's division that definitely didn't start this year, but has felt even more prevalent. And for the love of God, can we stop feeding poor Emi Sakura to the new champs?!? She's been the ultimate fall girl in AEW for quite some time, all while having sterling runs on the indies, specifically as the Deadlock Pro women's title holder.
The bottom line
While I could harp on endlessly about the many other gripes I have with wrestling this year, such as the toxicity of the internet fanbase or the return to prominence of the Au Natural Boy, Ric bloody Flair, or drone on about my love for the Reiwa Musketeers or how much someone like Swerve has grown on me, to the point where I listen to his theme constantly, I figure that cataloguing my personal picks for the best and worst of this year is good enough. At some point, I may just catalogue my 5 best and worst matches this year, that I've seen, since I'd rather not try to jump on any bandwagon I have no horse in. I hope that whether you liked or hated my thoughts on the year that (almost) was, you at least found it interesting enough to read all the way through.