Wrestling Inc.'s Best Of 2022 Awards

2022 has come to an end, and what a year it was! We saw scandals lead to the retirement of arguably pro wrestling's biggest influencer of all-time, Vince McMahon. We heard harsh, uncensored words about The Elite fly out of CM Punk's mouth while he simultaneously managed to put baked goods into it. We experienced the rise of Sami Zayn in one major company, and the rise of MJF in another. And while it was also a year of major change for us here at Wrestling Inc., we were honored to continue to provide our readers with news about the industry's progress and triumphs, its tragedies and downfalls, and all the other weird and random stuff that happened in-between.

To celebrate the end of the year, we're thrilled to present the first-ever WINC Year-End Awards! With contributions from across the writing and editorial teams of both the News and Features departments, 31 members of the WINC staff submitted their top three choices in 11 different categories, the results of which were tabulated in a ranked choice vote (all genders were considered for each category). Thank you all for being loyal readers of Wrestling Inc., and please enjoy the Best of 2022!

Non-Wrestler Of The Year: William Regal

There's no shortage of people in pro wrestling who will tell you William Regal is an invaluable and irreplaceable resource for any promotion, and in 2022, he proved it. After his shocking release from WWE in January, the "Gentleman Villain" crossed over to AEW and soon began steering the company into its next chapter, helping shape future stars backstage and headlining some of its biggest storylines of the year. On screen, Regal made waves when he formed the Blackpool Combat Club, the most decorated faction in AEW's young history, and at the end of the year, Regal stepped into another vital on-screen role when he pushed MJF across the finish line of his years-long quest to cement himself as AEW's top guy by winning the AEW World Championship. Meanwhile, at the commentary table, Regal always kept things light and entertaining, setting social media ablaze with his over-the-top flirtation with play-by-play man Excalibur, his beloved "Man in the Mask," all while continuing to elevate the AEW product.

Off-screen, Regal's backstage influence may be the thing that ultimately leaves the biggest impression on AEW — even more than the cheek-shaking slaps that first brought Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson together. According to reports, Regal was often available for in-ring lessons or advice, which could prove vital in crystallizing AEW's potential future stars, including Wheeler Yuta, who became the third member of the BCC in April, and Ricky Starks, who ended his 2022 by going toe-to-toe with MJF for the world title.

In December, AEW owner Tony Khan confirmed that Regal would be heading back to WWE. While Regal's AEW tenure may have ended up being shorter than many first hoped, his impact on the promotion will be felt for years to come. – Sean Neumann

Runners-up: Paul Heyman, Paul Levesque

Others receiving votes: Excalibur, Tony Schiavone, Taz, Pat McAfee

Finisher of the Year: Bianca Belair's KOD

What does it take to develop an effective finishing maneuver? Inquiring minds should probably study Bianca Belair.

"The EST of WWE" used her Kiss of Death (KOD) to win a number of matches in 2022. The torture rack-turned-face buster is a test of strength every time Belair pulls it off, but she turned heads in the first few months of 2022 when she used it to beat the plus-sized Doudrop not once, but twice, and those wins would only set the tone for the rest of the year. The KOD finished off Rhea Ripley and Alexa Bliss inside the Elimination Chamber to help Belair secure another marquee WrestleMania match, and at "The Grandest Stage of Them All," Belair planted Becky Lynch to the mat for the three-count to win her first "Raw" Women's Championship.

Not only did the move help Belair achieve new milestones, but it allowed her to stay at the top of WWE through the end of the year. Belair pulled off a double KOD at Extreme Rules when she tossed Dakota Kai and IYO SKY out of her way — in the same match, Belair emphatically slammed Bayley while also holding a ladder so she could climb up to retrieve her title. Even inside WarGames, Belair found ways to innovate when she sent Bayley crashing into the steel structure with the KOD in the closing moments of the battle between their respective teams. Bigger or smaller, one or two, inside or outside of the ring, with a ladder in hand or in the confines of a cage — Belair's KOD is Finisher of the Year because she can pull it off under any circumstance when her back is against the wall. – Colby Applegate

Runners-up: Wardlow's Powerbomb Symphony, Adam Page's Buckshot Lariat

Others receiving votes: Roman Reigns' Spear/Guillotine Choke, Seth Rollins' Curb Stomp, Sami Zayn's Blue Thunder Bomb, Steve Austin's Stone Cold Stunner, Drew McIntyre's Claymore, Claudio Castagnoli's Giant Swing, Will Ospreay's Stormbreaker, Saya Kamitani's Phoenix Splash, Jon Moxley's Death Rider, PAC's Black Arrow, FTR's Big Rig,  Athena's O-Face, Eddie Kingston's Backfist to the Future, CM Punk's GTS, Ace Steel's biting

Breakout Star of the Year: The Acclaimed

Yo! Listen! This year's biggest mic drop has belonged to Max Caster and Anthony Bowens. In a promotion that features lauded tag teams such as FTR, The Lucha Brothers, The Hardy Boys, and The Young Bucks, it was the homegrown duo of The Acclaimed who got themselves over in an organic way. While the "scissor me" shtick and highly entertaining promos, alongside their pairing with "Daddy Ass" Billy Gunn, played a huge role in forming a connection with the fans, it was the development of their in-ring work that took the team to the next level.

All Out 2022 might go down in the history books for different reasons — namely, what happened after the show went off the air — but it also marked a turning point in The Acclaimed's career. While they didn't beat Swerve in Our Glory for the AEW World Tag Team Championship that evening, the team was red-hot, with the Chicago crowd highly invested in a fantastic match and popping for everything they did, to the extent that AEW CEO Tony Khan was later asked if he'd considered calling an audible and changing the finish of the match. It was clear from that moment that The Acclaimed were AEW's newest superstars — to use Bowens' words, they had arrived. And at long last, at "AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam," The Acclaimed defeated Swerve in Our Glory for the gold. It was a feel-good moment for everyone who had watched this young team rise through the ranks of one of the toughest tag divisions in wrestling to reach the top of the mountain. The power of the scissor is strong in them. – Sergio Pereira

Runner-up: Sami Zayn

Others receiving votes: Konosuke Takeshita, Wardlow, Ricky Starks, Daniel Garcia, Austin Theory, Bron Breakker, Roxanne Perez, Mike Bailey, Shota Umino, Ren Narita

Tag Team of the Year: FTR

FTR entered 2022 seemingly adrift creatively and with little apparent direction in their home promotion, All Elite Wrestling. Fast-forward to the end of the year, and Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood are once again top guys. Despite losing the Ring of Honor World Tag Team Championship to the Briscoes at Final Battle and the AAA Tag Team Championship to Dragon Lee and Dralistico at Gira Aniversario XXX Noche De Campeones, they spent most of 2022 as triple champs, holding both those titles as well as the IWGP Tag Team Championship, a near-unprecedented amount of simultaneous tag team gold.

FTR's work over the past year includes what are already being hailed as some of the best tag team matches of all time. Their trilogy of ROH tag title matches against The Briscoes dominated Match of the Year conversations across the wrestling world, and that's just the beginning. On "AEW Dynamite," there was the match against CM Punk and Jon Moxley on February 9  — Harwood and Wheeler point to this performance as the turning point in their transition from hated villains to beloved fan favorites — their latest tag title showdown against The Young Bucks on the April 6, and a long-awaited AEW Tag Team Championship match against The Acclaimed on December 7. FTR also defended the IWGP tag titles against Aussie Open and United Empire, defended the AAA tag titles against The Lucha Brothers at TripleMania, and seized opportunities for dream matches against the Rock 'n' Roll Express and The American Wolves. And on November 27, FTR teamed with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat to defeat Brock Anderson, Jay Lethal, and Nick Aldis in what was likely Steamboat's last match.

Harwood and Wheeler took their game to new heights and made history along the way in 2022. That's why FTR are Wrestling Inc.'s Tag Team of the Year. – Matthew Carlins

Runner-up: The Acclaimed

Others receiving votes: The Usos, Swerve In Our Glory

Event of the Year: WWE WrestleMania 38

2022 featured several brilliant wrestling events across the business, but as it so often does, the pomp and circumstance of WrestleMania shone through as the best of the bunch. WWE's biggest weekend is one the entire industry looks forward to each year, and while it doesn't always deliver, WrestleMania 38 most certainly did.

There was something for all fans across the two-night event — comedy, drama, engaging tag team bouts, memorable celebrity appearances, and most importantly, fantastic wrestling. Whether it was Cody Rhodes' epic return against Seth Rollins or Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair putting on a clinic, fans were certainly not disappointed by the bell-to-bell action across these two shows. However, for those wrestling fans looking to be entertained by stories and comedy, WWE provided that, as well. Johnny Knoxville's encounter against Sami Zayn will stand the test of time as one of the best examples of a match the entire family can enjoy, while the celebrity inclusions of Logan Paul and Pat McAfee also managed to deliver great matches, all while serving their purpose of bringing more eyeballs to the product.

The key to a great event is memorability. Will people still be talking about it a year after the fact? When it comes to WrestleMania 38, the answer is a resounding "yes." Roman Reigns established himself as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion by defeating Brock Lesnar, a key puzzle piece in the Bloodline story; Rhodes made his comeback; Steve Austin wrestled for the first time in 20 years. While other 2022 shows might have provided more five-star classics, none were able to entertain with the glitz and glamor of WrestleMania, which is why it was the event of the year.    – Matthew Wilkinson

Runner-up: WWE Clash at the Castle

Others receiving votes: AEW Revolution, AEW Double or Nothing, AEW Full Gear, AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door, WWE Survivor Series: WarGames, Ric Flair's Last Match,

TV Show of the Year: AEW Dynamite

Minute for minute, "Dynamite" probably had more great wrestling than any other show on TV in 2022. More than that, though, it continued to be a place where big things happened, the beneficiary of being the flagship TV show of a promotion that only runs five pay-per-views per year. It was the place where we saw Cody Rhodes' final AEW match, and the first MJF vs. CM Punk match. Every major title changed hands on the show, whether it was Thunder Rosa finally dethroning Britt Baker, Jon Moxley becoming AEW's first-ever three-time world champion when he beat Bryan Danielson, or The Acclaimed becoming tag team champs in front of an electric New York audience. Month after month, "Dynamite" delivered PPV-worthy matches both in terms of in-ring quality and storyline significance.

Looking back though, this year of "Dynamite" was about moments. Moxley's quick dismantling of Punk in their title unification match was one of the biggest shocks in wrestling, in a year filled with them. It was the home of every buzz-worthy MJF promo, including the scathing worked shoot that ended up being his final appearance for months. It was the place where we learned that everyone from Saraya to Jeff Jarrett were AEW-bound. "Dynamite" left the United States for the first time in 2022, making its Canadian debut with a show Toronto. It seems hard for AEW's number one show to have a more newsworthy year in 2023 than it did in 2022, but with a big debut in the United Kingdom already announced, we can't wait to see AEW try. – Trevor Dame

Runner-up: WWE SmackDown

Others receiving votes: WWE Raw, IMPACT!

Promotion of the Year: World Wrestling Entertainment

Going into 2022, few saw World Wrestling Entertainment as much of a contender for promotion of the year. A lackluster Royal Rumble event after a hastily-rescheduled Day One show seemed like bad omens, and the start of, at best, another year of WWE maintaining the status quo.

So what happened? WrestleMania 38 was well-built and shocked the world with Stone Cold Steve Austin's and Cody Rhodes' return to WWE — followed by the latter's nightmarish injury shortly thereafter. Sami Zayn, Roman Reigns, and The Bloodline ruled the world and created a tension-filled narrative around Sami's spot in the faction. Bray Wyatt came back after a creative build that kept viewers captivated. The Judgment Day was introduced, restructured, and given a new leader in Rhea Ripley and a nuclear heat magnet in Dominik Mysterio. Most importantly, Vince McMahon stepped down, and Triple H stepped up.

By themselves, each of these decisions made a significant impact on WWE, but taken as a whole, they forced WWE's hand, leading the company to decisions that would take the E back to the forefront of pro wrestling. Triple H's booking style took a minute to take hold, but once it did, WWE started putting on some fantastic shows, including Clash at the Castle, WWE's PLE return to the United Kingdom, Survivor Series, which reformatted to bring the WWE's version of the WarGames format to the main roster, and even Crown Jewel, which featured a main event that far outperformed critics' expectations. With no premium live events (or AEW PPVs) scheduled until 2023's Royal Rumble, WWE fans are excitedly fantasy-booking surprise returns and Reigns' eventual downfall. WWE is back on top, and hopefully 2023 keeps this positive momentum going. – Russ Good

Runner-up: All Elite Wrestling

Others receiving votes: World Wonder Ring STARDOM

Promo of the Year: CM Punk Works With F***ing Children, AEW All Out, September 4

Just what did CM Punk have planned when he sat down at AEW's post-All Out press conference? Like God looking down on the city of Nineveh, the new AEW World Champion seemingly declared, "Behold, I am against you," cast abominable filth upon his transgressors, and made them a spectacle. That September night in Hoffman Estates, Punk lashed out not only at the wrestling media, but his co-workers in AEW — former champion "Hangman" Adam Page and EVPs Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson, and Nick Jackson — all while seated next to AEW CEO Tony Khan, who has claimed he was too distracted to step in and bottle the acid that his champion was slinging with reckless abandon.

The tirade, fueled by muffins and spite, has gone on to achieve a near-mythic status, having reportedly caused a locker room brawl that led to multiple titles being vacated and marking an ignoble end to one of the biggest wrestling returns of this young century. While plenty of promos this year, both in-ring and backstage, used clever wordplay or made winking references to outside stories, there was only one promo, delivered directly to the media, that sent wrestling fans scrambling down a myriad of rabbit holes, trying to find the exact moment that Punk snapped.

Was it truly an offhand comment from Page that incensed Punk all those months later? Was Punk, knowing that he was about to deal with yet another injury, trying to deflect from his physical condition and ride off into the sunset on his own terms? Was it a shoot that turned into a work, or a work that turned into a shoot? All we know for sure is that Punk left fans with a plethora of questions before vanishing as quickly as he had returned, leaving only rumor and innuendo in his wake. – Ross Berman

Runner-up: MJF's pipe bomb, "AEW Dynamite," June 1

Others receiving votes: Jon Moxley returns to AEW, "AEW Dynamite," January 19; MJF's emotional CM Punk promo, "AEW Dynamite," February 23; MJF bloodies CM Punk and names himself the devil, "AEW Dynamite," March 3; Adam Page calls out CM Punk about worker's rights, "AEW Dynamite," May 25; William Regal tells MJF he's had it easy, "AEW Dynamite," October 18; Johnny Gargano returns to WWE, "WWE Raw," October 22; Sami Zayn says Jey Uso isn't feeling Ucey, "WWE SmackDown," October 28

Match of the Year: Anarchy in the Arena, AEW Double or Nothing (three-way tie)

If there's one thing you can count on in pro wrestling, it's that fans — and writers — never agree on anything, and Wrestling Inc's end-of-year poll was no exception. While our ranked choice system was able to come up with a single victor in every other category, when it came to determining Match of the Year, we ended up with a three-way tie, and since wrestling doesn't have penalty kicks, extra innings, or other designated tie-breakers, we're going to settle things via the mic (or, in this case, the keyboard).

First up: Anarchy in the Arena, the match that stole the show at AEW Double or Nothing. While these days the rivalry between the Blackpool Combat Club and the Jericho Appreciation Society seems to have gone on forever, it was exciting and new back in May, and any match involving Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston, Brian Danielson, and Chris Jericho is a must-watch. While the highlights of the match are too numerous to list, the JAS coming out in full boy-band regalia was hilarious, as was Kingston and Matt Menard's mustard bath, not to mention "Wild Thing" playing on an endless loop until Jericho smashed the soundboard over Moxley's head.

There were several moments of comedy in this match, but did we mention the blood? So much blood, and for once, not all of it belonged to Mox. This epic brawl lived up to its name by taking place all over Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena and weaponizing just about anything not nailed down. While some may have been upset by the JAS's victory, it was actually fitting that the sports entertainers prevailed in wrestling's most wildly entertaining spectacle of 2022. – Maria Scinto

Match of the Year: FTR vs. The Briscoes, ROH Supercard of Honor (three-way tie)

This year saw FTR and The Briscoes treat wrestling fans to a trilogy of matches that rank among the best tag team bouts in recent memory. The teams' ongoing rivalry didn't receive much focus on AEW television due to the Briscoes' reported heat with Warner Bros. Discovery officials, but each match proved to be the main selling point of Ring Honor's Supercard of Honor, Death Before Dishonor, and Final Battle pay-per-views. Such is the power of dream matches, and the chemistry between dynamic duos.

There's a strong case to be made for any of the FTR/Briscoes matches being the best of 2022; however, their first showdown surpasses the first two for a couple of reasons. First, it was a highly anticipated affair following the teams' brief scrap at ROH Final Battle 2021. As such, the end result didn't feel predictable or set in stone. Both teams went in seeming evenly matched, and the fact they had no prior history of facing each other worked in the match's favor.

That having been said, the Supercard of Honor match is just a prime example of two top tag teams doing what they do best. It starts off with some traditional wrestling before descending into an all-out brawl that boasts some truly sickening bumps and exhilarating near falls. While their other matches also retained these elements, the freshness of the inaugural encounter makes it special, and worthy to be called 2022's match of the year. – Kieran Fisher

Match of the Year: GUNTHER vs. Sheamus, WWE Clash at the Castle (three-way tie)

In an era where athletic, acrobatic wrestlers are the majority, sometimes it's still nice to see, as Big E might say, "big meaty men slappin' meat." And there aren't many matches that epitomize that concept like GUNTHER and Sheamus' classic encounter for the Intercontinental Championship at WWE Clash at the Castle. The epic showdown began with GUNTHER's fellow members of Imperium — Ludwig Kaiser and a returning Giovanni Vinci — brawling with Sheamus' Brawling Brutes (Ridge Holland and Butch) while GUNTHER and Sheamus remained still in an in-ring stare-down, waiting for the match to begin. Once the bell rang, GUNTHER and Sheamus wasted no time — the meat slappin' had begun.

For nearly 20 minutes, the two European gargantuans put on a brutal affair, featuring tons of chops, slaps, kicks and forearms to each others' chests, necks and faces. GUNTHER chopped Sheamus' chest so hard and so much that Sheamus' chest looked like hamburger, as aptly put by commentator Corey Graves during the match. The Cardiff crowd loved every bit of this face-off and faithfully backed Sheamus' attempt to prevail over the "Ring General" and win the Intercontinental title for the first time in his career, but GUNTHER ended up being too much for the "Celtic Warrior."

At the end of the match, GUNTHER hit Sheamus with a powerbomb; Sheamus miraculously stood up, but the ensuing lariat ended up finishing him off for the three-count. Sheamus then received a huge standing ovation as the fans thanked him for what was likely the best match of his long career, and certainly the best match of 2022. – Wesley Roesch

Runner-up: Sami Zayn vs, Johnny Knoxville, WWE WrestleMania 38

Others receiving votes: Adam Page vs. Bryan Danielson, "AEW Dynamite," January 5; MJF vs. CM Punk, AEW Revolution; Bryan Danielson vs. Jon Moxley, AEW Revolution; Kevin Owens vs. Steve Austin, WWE WrestleMania 38; Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins, WWE WrestleMania 38; Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins, WWE Hell in a Cell; Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns, WWE SummerSlam; The Acclaimed vs. Swerve In Our Glory, AEW All Out; El Desperado vs. Jun Kasai, JTO TAKA Michinoku Debut 30th Anniversary; The Bloodline vs. The Brawling Brutes, Drew McIntyre, and Kevin Owens, WWE Survivor Series; The Briscoes vs. FTR, ROH Final Battle

Storyline of the Year: Sami Zayn and The Bloodline

If Sami Zayn's match with Johnny Knoxville at WrestleMania 38 proved one thing, it was that he could put on one of the most entertaining matches of all time with literally anybody. But if his work this year with The Bloodline has showed wrestling fans anything, it's that there are layers upon layers to Zayn that make him a must-watch performer, every single week.

Following the Knoxville match, Zayn spent most of 2022 seeking the affirmation of Roman Reigns, often playing the oddball trying to fit into a group that, on the surface, didn't make much sense — The Bloodline, after all, consists of members of the Samoan Anoa'i family, to which Zayn does not belong. As Zayn himself has pointed out, the idea is inherently relatable — plenty of us have been there in some ways, just trying to fit in with the coolest kids in the room. But the biggest reason the dynamic between Zayn and every member of The Bloodline worked so well came down to the sincerity with which Zayn approached his role. At the end of the day, Sami Zayn just wanted to be accepted. And when push came to shove, he was willing to do whatever it took to earn that acceptance, even if it meant turning on his lifelong best friend, Kevin Owens.

While we'll have to wait until 2023 to see how this story concludes, it has undeniably been the most compelling wrestling narrative of 2022. Reigns recognizing Zayn as the "Honorary Uce" was a moment; the hug heard 'round the world from Jey Uso may have been the moment; and yet, the cherry on top has been witnessing the WWE Universe acknowledge what has lived within Zayn all this time: a bonafide star in WWE. – Shaun Ranft

Runner-up: MJF vs. CM Punk

Others receiving votes: The Blackpool Combat Club vs. The Jericho Appreciation Society, Wardlow vs. MJF, MJF vs. AEW, Bianca Belair vs. Becky Lynch, Billy Gunn joins The Acclaimed

Wrestler of the Year: Jon Moxley

At the end of 2021, Jon Moxley's future looked uncertain. After checking himself into rehab for alcoholism in November, it was unclear when, if ever, Moxley would make a return to wrestling. However, a surprise comeback on "AEW Dynamite" in mid-January saw Mox looking healthy and in better shape than ever before, kicking off his 2022 run with a heart-wrenching promo that felt as genuine as can be.

From there, in just the first half of the year, Moxley would feud against Bryan Danielson, form a new faction featuring Danielson and William Regal, face off against the Jericho Appreciation Society, and then put the entire company on his back as AEW Interim World Champion when reigning CM Punk suffered an injury. Later in the summer, after a number of grueling defenses, Mox unified the titles in a shocking 30-second victory against Punk, before ultimately dropping the championship back to him at AEW All Out. After Punk was injured again in that match, however, Moxley would regain the belt just weeks later, defeating Danielson at the end of a tournament to become the only three-time AEW World Champion in history. He held the belt for several more months before being defeated by MJF, with some unexpected help from Regal, at AEW Full Gear. Throughout all of this, Moxley put on memorable matches with the likes of Konosuke Takeshita, Rush, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and many more.

In a year of turmoil for a relatively new promotion navigating its first major instances of public backlash, Mox carried AEW from the start of 2022 to the end, delivering phenomenal performances both in the ring and on the mic, and making him an obvious choice for Wrestler of the Year. – Nick Miller

Runners-up: Roman Reigns, Bianca Belair

Others receiving votes: Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, CM Punk, MJF, Dax Harwood, Will Ospreay, Saya Kamitani