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The best pro wrestling had to offer in 2022, Part One

Merry Christmas everyone! An absolutely insane 2022 is coming to a close and I couldn’t think of a better way to finish out my first year with Cageside Seats than to... do what everyone does this time of year. Hand out my top honors!

Just wanted to take a moment to say I appreciate everyone for reading my work over the past several months and taken the time to leave a comment or two. Even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on what I write about, it’s cool. I’m just happy you stopped by to drink in my words of “wisdom”.

So without further ado, here’s part one of my wholly unoriginal, obligatory and extremely meta professional wrestling year in review for 2022.

Match of the Year: Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins III at Hell in a Cell

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to nailing down a match of the year and the actual moves that are performed don’t carry as much weight with me as it may for others. Please note, I didn’t say the best match. I said Match of the Year.

Like a majority of people my age, my attention span is not very long. I am very easily distracted and if I’m not truly invested in something I will tune out without even realizing it. Today’s athletes are so advanced from even just a few years ago, that it takes a really special performer to stand out.

Can you captivate me? Can you relate to me? Can you make me hate you? Can you make me care?

Give me a great story over a 20 minute spot-fest any day of the week. There’s been some absolutely brilliant in-ring storytelling in 2022. I could easily give the nod to Okada and Will Ospreay or FTR and the Briscoes, and no one would argue with my decision. But in the end, it comes down to which match that has stayed with me the most. The one I’m mostly likely never going to forget.

My long-term memory, or lack thereof, is notorious among my family, friends, and colleagues. That said, I will never forget where I was or how I felt watching Cody Rhodes and Seth Rollins pull off what they did at Hell in the Cell.

It was the most uncomfortable I’ve been watching a match all year, but I was with them every step of the way. I felt every punch and every bump. The amount of expletives that uncontrollably spewed from my mouth on that night would have made a sailor blush.

Call it guts. Call it grit. Call it stupidity. Call it whatever you want. The moment Cody Rhodes removed his jacket to reveal his dark purple chest, everyone knew there was no way he should be wrestling. Fighting hurt is one thing. Fighting with a completely torn pectoral muscle, frankly, there is not an adjective that fully encapsulates what the American Nightmare did that night.

Not only did he and Rollins do the dance, but they put on a 5-star spectacle inside one of the most iconic structures in all of professional wrestling. A very tall task for two completely healthy performers. It’s a Hell in a Cell match that will be talked about for years to come, on par with the classics that came before it.

It’s why I’m against the idea of Rhodes and Rollins continuing their rivalry once Cody is healthy enough to return. It was the perfect ending to one of the best feuds in all of wrestling this year. I’m just not sure how you top that, when no other match did all year. At least in my book.

Male Pro Wrestler of the Year: Roman Reigns

Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Roman Reigns is the man right now.

He is the top guy, who leads the top faction, on the top show, for the top wrestling company in the world. It’s pretty much as simple as that. His 844 day reign (and counting) as the WWE Universal Champion is unprecedented in today’s world of pro wrestling and there’s a good chance he’s just getting started.

Since taking over as Chief Content Officer, Triple H has done a great job of setting up potential blockbuster match-ups for Reigns in the coming months. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, Drew McIntyre, and Sheamus could all be on deck for a shot at the Title and that’s before Roman’s heavily rumored date with The Rock at WrestleMania 39 in Hollywood.

Now, I cannot ignore the run that Jon Moxley has been on this year. In fact, I won’t. More on him next week. Chris Jericho has discovered the Fountain of Youth and continues to perform at an extremely high level. Dax Harwood may have just completed the best stretch of his career. MJF is a fast-rising star and very easily could hold this honor next year, just in time for the bidding war of twenty twenty-four.

As of this writing however, no one is a bigger attraction in the entire industry than Roman Reigns. You can hit me with work rate argument if you want. Yes, he doesn’t wrestle nearly as much as he used to, but he always delivers when called upon. And honestly, the lack of dates only makes each his appearances a much bigger deal. Every SmackDown that features the Head of the Table, just feels special. It feels like something important is going to down and thus our attention is required.

Acknowledge your Tribal Chief.

Female Pro Wrestler of the Year: Bianca Belair

What a difference a year makes. Maybe no booking decision last year was as alarming as Bianca Belair’s 26 second loss to Becky Lynch at SummerSlam. Following her historic win over Sasha Banks at WrestleMania 37, it seemed as though the E-S-T was primed to become the next big thing in the Women’s Division, alongside Rhea Ripley.

Both women left Tampa Bay with Championship gold in what many saw as a changing of the guard. After years of Four Horsewomen dominance, WWE was ready to let some new stars carry the ball for a while, right? Depends on your definition of a while, I guess.

By the time the crowd was leaving Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas that summer, the RAW and SmackDown Women’s Championships we’re right back in the hands of The Man and The Queen, Charlotte Flair.

The worry that Belair would not find her way back to the top of the mountain was legit, especially after she failed to recapture the SmackDown Women’s Championship from Lynch in the weeks and months that followed.

To WWE’s credit, they kept her strong. Rarely having her lose a televised match over the next several months. Belair bided her time while others had their opportunity to shine and never failed on a capitalize on a chance to dazzle the audience.

There may be no more impressive performer in all of professional wrestling than Bianca Belair. Her superpower is making difficult look easy and she has the personality and flare to go along with her world class athleticism. She was not going to be denied.

Belair made her way back to WrestleMania and finally got her receipt against Lynch, capturing the RAW Women’s Championship in a Match of the Year candidate.

Her booking since then has reached darn near Super Cena levels. Defeating the likes of Asuka and Carmella, Becky Lynch in another banger at SummerSlam, and a returning Bayley on several occasions. Heck at Extreme Rules, she quite literally fought off all three members of Damage CTRL by herself in route to retaining her Championship in a Ladder Match.

Her victories have not come in the face of poor match quality either. No matter the opponent, no matter the night. Not to steal a line from Carmelo Hayes, but Belair just don’t miss.

She has elevated her self to a status in WWE that has only been achieved by a handful of women over the last six years and in doing so, has become the first black wrestler in company history (male or female) to reach 200 days as World Champion.

Bianca Belair should be incredibly proud of what she has accomplished. She’s a true inspiration for young women and men across the world. And she’s just getting started.

See you next Friday with Part Two, which includes my breakout star, MVPs, and feel good story of the year!

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.

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