Welcome to the Pro Wrestling Musings Year End Awards!
These awards are voted on by our small but brilliant group of contributors/collaborators. The same people who are responsible for the creative, analytic and insightful content and articles you find on ProWrestlingMusings.com.
Before you read about the winners of the 12 awards below, have a quick check through last year's award winners: click here.
Each of the awards are voted on by our group of contributors before volunteers write up a reasoning for why the winner is worthy of the acclaim. Read on for all the awards...
Unfortunately for Jon Moxley this award doesn’t come with a holiday from work as a prize. Scheduled to take a break from the company after three years leading the way from the top of the card, Jon Moxley was assigned the role of re-righting the ship after CM Punk got injured for the second time in 2022 (and went scorched Earth on the founders of the company at the infamous press conference).
But Moxley was far more than just a caretaker, he is dominating these awards across the wrestling media/fansite space. There are two reasons for this; his role at the top of the card on American TV wrestling and his in-ring performances.
Many people have given their company unspecific ‘Wrestler of the Year’ awards to Jon Moxley because of the weight of performing well as a TV Star/TV Wrestler. His ability to be a convincing presence on screen, cutting short sharp and convincing promos regularly, the gravity in which he delivers his messages with great body language, charisma and tenacity and the fact that storylines he is in usually cuts the much maligned mould of American TV wrestling.
With the exception of the Wheeler Yuta match, more on that later, Jon Moxley’s efforts in the ring don’t make many ‘Match of the Year’ lists. He is an excellent wrestler in the ring but what makes Moxley impressive is the lists of great matches he compiles rather than a handful of ‘Match of the Year Contender’-level matches. This year he did both. The Yuta match was a triumph, but he also achieved 14 matches with an 8+ rating on Cagematch, 9 of those also achieved 4+ stars on Grappl and Dave Meltzer awarded 20 of his matches 4 stars or above.
So Jon Moxley, in 2022, was a dependable, high quality in the ring and a convincing TV star that very much led the way for AEW. A fitting Pro Wrestling Musings’ Wrestler of the Year.
Writer: Craig William
Jonathan ‘Moxley’ Good’s last televised wrestling appearance in 2021, was on the October 27th episode of AEW Dynamite. He appeared to be a much larger, swollen, less dynamic, and significantly less engaging version of himself, than the one that had debuted for the company at Double of Nothing 2019.
Shortly following this, Tony Khan, and AEW released a short statement, that Jon Moxley, would be entering an inpatient treatment facility for alcohol dependency. In that time, many of the wrestling world had made poignant statements, on camera and off, about how much Jon meant to them, and their hope that he would get the help he needed, and be in a better place following it.
Jon Moxley made his AEW televised return, on the January 19th 2022 episode of AEW Dynamite. Anticipation grew for Mox’s return in the days leading up to the episode, and the whole wrestling world waited with baited breath, for ‘Wild Thing’ to play, and for the ‘Blue Eyed Battler’, to make his iconic crowd entrance. The man, who appeared on our screens and in the arena, barely resembled the man who we had last seen in October. Gone was the swelling, and redness of his face. He appeared to be in career best condition. But most importantly, he appeared, healthy, happy and clear eyed. He resembled the much younger Dean Ambrose, who had captured the WWE championship, in 2016, and was the face of the WWE SmackDown! brand.
Upon his return, Moxley made his intentions more than clear – he was going to put the world on notice, work a schedule, and with an intensity, that no one could match, and that he would prove himself to be the true work horse of the wrestling world. As I write this piece in January 2023, there is zero doubt, that even on a surface level, Jon accomplished this, and so much more. But on a much deeper level, Jon was able to give hope to so many fans, myself included, and show that no matter how low and deep you fall in life, you can come back to yourself, that there is always a tomorrow, and it is always ok to ask someone for help.
Throughout the year of 2022, Moxley would create magical moments, both in ring and on the microphone. He would prove himself to be the true face, and kingpin, of professional wrestling, and in a year of extreme turbulence globally, and within his own wrestling company, he truly is the wrestling rock that we can all rely on.
From his iconic match with Bryan Danielson at Revolution, and follow on run with the BCC; to his crowning glory moments, defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at the Forbidden Door PPV in July, and defeating Bryan Danielson once more at AEW’s show piece Grand Slam event in September; from his willingness to work for AEW without a contract, while the company around him was in turmoil, to his loyalty shown by signing an exclusive new talent and leadership contract; from his love and passion shown during his GCW title run this year, to being the face of, and investing in his home independent promotion PW Revolver; Moxley has had a year that few could possibly match statistically this year, or in future years.
Above everything Jon did on camera, and in ring; Jon gave so many of us hope, and for that, there can be no more deserving a recipient for the PWMusings Male Wrestler of the Year – thank you Jon!
Writer: Mark O'Brien
There's no doubt that one of the biggest gripes people have had with AEW in 2022 was the women's division, but by the end of the year I can see that there is clearly a very bright future for women's wrestling in promotion.
One of the main reasons is the crowning of the 7th AEW Women's World champion Jamie Hayter. Jamie first appeared in AEW all the way back in 2019, having matches in the early days of Dynamite, but was soon forgotten by the majority of the audience after the pandemic kept her away from the company for two years. She made her return on the first ever Rampage and shocked many fans, not by her return, but her dramatic physical transformation. New gear, new music, new Jamie.
It wasn't until mid 2022, however, that the fans really started to get behind her. She was finally given the opportunity to show her skills on TV, bringing something to American women's wrestling that we haven't seen for years, a more Strong-Style/Kings Road style move-set, which she picked up over in Stardom.
I think the catalyst for Hayter's rise in popularity can be sourced back to the two or three Dynamite tag team matches with Britt against ThunderStorm, Rosa & Ruby, & Shida & Storm, which were some of the better women's matches the show had in quite a while. The high paced, hard hitting action was fresh and people started to side with Jamie because of her performances.
All Out 2022 was when the lid was blown off the proverbial box in terms of Jamie's popularity. The four way match with Britt, Shida, Storm, and herself for the vacant title saw the crowd go crazy for Hayter's near-falls and especially when Britt pulled the referee away from the three count that would have belted her up. Similar to the Acclaimed situation, I think Tony knew what he had to do at Full Gear.
Hayter vs Storm was set for Full Gear and it was one of the more physical women's title matches in its history. The match started with "lets go Jamie" chants and "Jamie Hayter" chants while the two women exchanged abnormally brutal chain wrestling that telegraphed the tone for the rest of the match. The end saw run-ins from Britt and Rebel that had the crowd on the edge of their seats before Jamie was finally crowd Interim Women's World champion with a Hayter-Aid (This was then declared an official reign the next week).
The Champ's first defence was vs Shida on the December 21st episode of Dynamite and was probably the best women's match on American TV in over... 10 years? I can't really remember a more hard-hitting Japanese style slugfest with amazing spots off the apron and on the floor, not to mention a finish that looked like it came straight from a 2017 New Japan main event.
It's because of matches like these and the rejuvenation she helped impart in the AEW women's roster with her style, why she's the PWM AEW Women's Wrestler of the Year. And looking forward to 2023? She might do it two years in a row.
Writer: Adam Darwin
YO Listen! Yo… Yo…
Actually, I want you to sit down & read this article & Rap it in your head… whilst Max Caster & Anthony Bowens hit you with rhymes & leave you for dead… these boys had the year of their lives whilst making bread.
Bowens & Caster quickly became a Tag Team, naming themselves The Acclaimed & dominating the AEW Dark Roster before signing a 5 year deal. Everyone knew there was something special brewing, The Acclaimed kept rising through the ranks racking up win after win… I could see the appeal.
2022 though, holy cow what a year for these boys! The boys went from AEW Dark regulars to AEW Dynamite real quick & soon it was Acclaimed Every Wednesday. The boys meant serious business, their hip hop entrances touched the nerves of a lot of people from Kane to Simone Bilas… No one was off limits, especially Billy, Colten & Austin Gunn - a team they were allied with at one stage, then turned into a massive rival that would be super entertaining, but what came out of it was the alignment with Billy Gunn which took them to the next level - great idea to pair The Acclaimed with Mr. Ass!
A record of 14 wins & 3 losses in Tag Team action in '22, not a bad record considering Bowens & Caster were both on the sidelines at some point through the year from either injury or suspension. But their year really accelerated at AEW All Out 2022, where they put on what could be called match of the night against the AEW World Tag Team Champions, Keith Lee & Swerve Strickland - if they didn't before, now they had everyone's attention.
The hype & fall out from the All Out classic was unreal & all though they fell short in their first attempt to take the straps from Swerve & Lee, Tony Khan quickly realised what the AEW universe actually wanted to see. Few weeks later, the rematch was set for AEW Dynamite #155 - Grand Slam in a front of a PINK hot hometown at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City… The Acclaimed got the win via shenanigans & Caster nailing a Mic Drop on Swerve for the 1, 2, 3.
SCISSOR ME TIMBER! The match wasn't as solid as the All Out classic - but the hype & hot crowd reaction to the ending was perfect. & it was time… & NEWWW AEW WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS, THE ACCLAIMED. The first pure AEW "Dark/Originals" team/competitors to win gold in All Elite.. Caster & Bowens had an amazing year - ending the year as Tag Champions - so perfectly named.
Rounding off the year with defenses against teams like The Butcher & The Blade, Private Party, FTR, the Varsity Athletes & Swerve In Our Glory & even releasing their first music video for "A Hand For A Hand" feat. Captain Insano - The Acclaimed in 2022 really impressed me. Choosing The Acclaimed for AEW Tag Team of the Year was easy for me, they have been a constant excitement machine throughout the year - rising through the ranks & having fun whilst doing it - so say it with me Pro Wrestling Musings - THE ACCLAIMED HAVE ARRIVED…
Writer: Mikey Zaccone
Often times you can predict a match will be a match of the year contender before it even happens. That was not the case here. Wheeler Yuta surprised us all with his performance against Jon Moxley and together they put on the AEW match of the year. The match received critical acclaim from all quarters. It received 4.75 stars from Dave Meltzer, sits at a 9.13 rating on Cagematch and has a 4.49 rating on Grappl.
Before this match, Yuta was showing a level of discontentment with his career. He felt he had not achieved much alongside the Best Friends and was looking for more. He was looking for the catalyst that would take his career to the next level. That catalyst finally arrived in the form of the Blackpool Combat Club. Yuta was still waiting for his breakout performance in an AEW ring. The hardcore fanbase was aware of his great matches on the indies but on a wider scale, the AEW fanbase had yet to understand what was so special about this kid. In what was his third singles match against Jon Moxley Yuta had a chance to show everyone what he was truly capable of and that’s exactly what he did.
This match was all about the performance of Wheeler Yuta and how he ascended to the next level during this bloody brawl. Yuta showed a level of intensity right from the get-go that we had never seen from him before. He was determined to earn the respect of Moxley and the BCC. It wasn’t long before Yuta was dripping profusely with his own blood but he showed absolutely no backdown, continuing to take the fight to Moxley at every opportunity. Yuta began to win the crowd over in real time with the chants of Yuta getting louder each minute. Yuta was having the performance of a lifetime, fighting like a man possessed and the crowd was recognising it. Yuta showed incredible heart and determination, kicking out of two paradigm shifts but it was still not enough to pull off the upset against Jon Moxley. However, he did earn the respect of Moxley, the BCC and everyone in attendance.
This was an incredible, breathtaking brawl to main event an episode of Rampage with perfect performances from both men. Yuta showed he was willing to do what it takes to reach the next level, to join the Blackpool Combat Club and to become a star forged in combat.
Writer: Patrick Eire
When AEW was first formed, the idea of collaborating with NJPW for a super-show was a bucket-list dream for many fans. But due to the way The Elite left the Japanese company, many people doubted it would ever happen. However, after a few hierarchal changes in New Japan, 'Forbidden Door' was announced in 2022.
Everyone had their expectations before the card was announced, but as we grew closer to the event criticism was aimed at the event for being somewhat underwhelming. Yet it still garnered an estimated buy rate of 125,000-127,000 and sold over 16,000 tickets with a gate earning over one million dollars. So, it's safe to say the criticism didn't discourage too many from tuning in.
And a good thing too! Because this was for many people, including the voters for the PWM awards, AEW's best show of the year!
The show opened with a riot of a trio's match between Minoru Suzuki, Sammy Guevara and Chris Jericho taking on Eddie Kingston, Shota Umino and Wheeler Yuta. The veteran presence of Suzuki, Jericho and Eddie balanced well with the youthful exuberance of Shota, Yuta and Guevara. Umino in particular shone, alongside young Wheeler.
FTR vs. United Empire vs. Roppongi Vice for the ROH & IWGP tag titles seemed underwhelming at first. But it massively overdelivered, before Pac won his first piece of AEW gold by defeating Clark Connors, Miro and Malakai Black in a crazy four-way match. Connors really made a name for himself - but it was Pac's night.
A fun trio's match followed as Sting, Darby Allin & Shingo Takagi took on El Phantasmo teaming with the Young Bucks. Thunder Rosa then retained her AEW Women's World Championship against Toni Storm in a hard-hitting match.
The two main match of the night contenders followed as Will Ospreay defeated Orange Cassidy and Claudio Castagnoli was victorious in his AEW debut against Zack Sabre Jr. We then had the low-point of the night as the four-way match for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship ended abruptly with an injury to Adam Cole.
The main event wasn't the best match of all time. But it was perfect in its own way, as the 'Ace' of NJPW Hiroshi Tanahashi challenged the ace of AEW Jon Moxley for the vacant AEW World Championship. It was a lovely way to end an extraordinary show.
Whilst I, amongst others, will hope for more 'big time' singles matches in the future, this was still a lovely show which celebrated both companies. Hopefully the first of many collaborations and if they can maintain this standard, I am sure they will continue to be named 'Show of the Year'.
Writer: Gareth Ford-Elliott
If the events after All Out end up being CM Punk's final moments in AEW, it would be a unsatisfying end to Punk's 54 week third stanza of his career, a third stanza which included the storyline of the year in AEW which will end up being maybe the best work from Punk and MJF when their career obituaries get written up.
Our storyline of the year would in fact start in the year of 2021. Fresh off a victory over Darby Allin, MJF did his MJF shtick "I'm better than you and you know it", "nobody in the locker is on my level" etc. CM Punk disagreed.
When Cult of Personality hit, the moment a lot of fans had been waiting for was about to happen, two of the best talkers of the last 10 years were about to match up. This was the moment that fans who had wanted Punk back had waited for and it was a moment Maxwell Freidman had been waiting for too. Sticking out his hand, Max smiling like a Cheshire cat introduces himself. Punk's laugh and walk out to the AEW fan was a moment of schadenfreude for those that dislike MJF, the fans and announcers are joined in the amusement at MJF's face now full of egg but it was the dictionary definition of "don't meet your heroes''.
The rest of 2021 saw MJF and CM Punk engage in a promo battle akin to something in 8 Mile, Punk be booed in Long Island, both be in opposite corners of the ring in a 6-man with CM Punk wearing Sting face paint and do the traditional Sting call still in his happy-go-lucky phase of his comeback even if the rebel side of Punk showed with a Tim Tebow diss less than 200 yards from the man who signed the Florida Gators QB less than 18 months back.
MJF's plans to cut Punk off by the knees with his Pinnacle teammates failed with MJF's future with Wardlow playing out in the background but when it came to putting up or shutting up, MJF put up in Punk's hometown with the shock win even with the traditional MJF shortcut.
Punk would get a second chance at MJF with a stipulation of his choosing and it was with a Valentine reference that we saw this feud kick into all-timer territory and with one line, we saw the Punk that he tried his damnedest to shield from the AEW faithful
Upon showing a picture of a young MJF meeting his hero, sat cross legged in the ring Punk said that it was just Friday the day he first met MJF. A line meant to wound, a segment meant to once again be a moment of schadenfreude for Max was once again a moment of heartbreak for MJF
MJF's promo the next week has been covered as our Promo of the Year and I'll let Dan's fantastic description of MJF and his origin story have its flowers but that night we saw a man whose heart was broken twice by his hero and while the schadenfreude moment would come at the hands of Wardlow when he gave CM Punk the diamond ring in between the months of November 2021 mad March 2022 the MJF character in front of our eyes and that some might say is the point of pro wrestling storytelling.
Writer: Peter Edge
So the saying goes, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist. And yes whilst that was a pretty neat trick from Mr Satan, AEW’s resident devil Maxwell Jacob Friedman went one step better than that…he made the world feel sorry for him.
It took MJF under 7 minutes to take AEW fans from the very brink of hatred to wanting to give him a cuddle, something that very few people have been able to do in wrestling over its entire history. And keep in mind that all of this was delivered against CM Punk, a man who had received the hero’s welcome to end all hero’s welcomes after returning from a 7 year hiatus.
The way MJF played with the crowd here was genuinely some of the most compelling television I’d seen in years. You could sense something different was coming from the first moment he opened his mouth. The tone was different. The eyes were different. Even in the face of a cavalcade of boos, the atmosphere was different.
He began by referencing CM Punk’s dig from the previous week where the pride of Chicago had stated that his meeting with a young MJF was ‘just another Friday’ to him. For Maxwell though it was much much more than that, and he rapidly made every single one of us feel like the scum of the earth for even thinking that CM Punk was in the right.
MJF tapped into the insecurities of every one in attendance that night as he set out his motivation for becoming a pro-wrestler. This previously self-assured, privileged narcissist was suddenly telling us about his time at school where he suffered from bullying and a feeling of social exclusion. He talked of his inferiority complex over his size, his learning difficulties which crippled him, and perhaps most strikingly talked about the anti-Semitism he had experienced at that young age. We had seen him as the pinnacle (pun intended) of affluence and arrogance, but he still suffered from his memories of being ‘the ADD riddled Jew-boy’.
This was just the launching pad however as MJF built from that story of childhood misery into unconcealed rage that his hero, CM Punk, had abandoned him when he needed him the most. For Maxwell, Punk had given up and if ‘The Best in the World’ was a quitter, then why should little old MJF even bother trying? And worse still, here was CM Punk in the modern day belittling how much that moment meant to a troubled young dreamer.
For those 7 minutes it felt like every single despicable action perpetrated by MJF was justified. More than that it was arguably all CM Punk’s fault. Maxwell made us feel as if he was the greatest rags-to-riches story in all of wrestling…and he had done it all to show that he was better than the man who had left him in the dirt.
The passion MJF generated in this promo was incendiary. The fury was palpable. The emotion was genuine. Even CM Punk himself believed it, as he felt compelled to come to the ring and almost comfort the man who one week earlier he’d promised to choke with a chain. The confusion and anguish on Punk’s face aptly mirrored what we all felt after MJF’s words. Had we seen a true character transformation?
Of course we hadn’t. MJF proved that just one week later, destroying Punk and showing this promo for the sinister theatre that it had been all along. But for 7 days after that 7 minutes we wondered and we considered whether maybe, after everything he’d been through, MJF deserved to be considered as the best in the world. In any case, on this night, that’s exactly what he was.
Writer: Dan H
It can't be understated just how important presentation is to professional wrestling storytelling, and it can't be understated just how good at presentation CM Punk is. (Or was, as the case may be.)
Storytelling in pro wrestling is about making the audience feel what you want them to feel. And what sets the stage for making the audience feel what you want them to feel in a match is all of the aspects of presentation that go into an entrance: music, lighting, ring gear, little gestures and taunts.
And, usually, one of the biggest aspects of that is ritual and repetition. CM Punk's entrance has been made all the more epic by the familiar feedback and riffs of Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" consistently going back to 2011. That consistency of ritual made the change-up on the night of one of Punk's most important matches ever at AEW Revolution all the more striking and effective.
From the slow-building strains of "Miseria Cantare," to the dramatic lighting and fog, to the confused and rattled look on his opponent's face, to the striking ring gear with its thick black-and-white stripes, everything about the presentation of that entrance expressed the melodrama, seriousness, and contrast from business-as-usual of that moment.
CM Punk may be done in professional wrestling and he may not be. But if he is, he gave his fans a final run with some genuinely immortal moments.
Writer: Sergei Alderman
The Twitter profile for Max Caster describes himself as “Best Wrestler Alive”. While this may be a bit of a reach, there’s no doubt that Caster has improved tremendously as a performer. In the 2021 edition of the PWI top 500, he ranked #295. A year later and Max has worked his way up to #171.
The first few months of 2022 weren’t necessarily challenging for Caster. Part of a heel comedy duo, he played the role of goofy heel fine. Squashed by the likes of Wardlow, Pentagon, and Samoa Joe, it wouldn’t be until the face turn of the Acclaimed that Caster could show some range. It was the feud with the Gunn Club that Caster was eliciting the crowd’s sympathy. After the Acclaimed put the Gunn boys into a dumpster, they went immediately onto their feud with Swerve in Our Glory. It was here that the crowd support of the Acclaimed reached dizzying highs as they tried their hardest to will the championships onto the Acclaimed at All Out. It would take less than two weeks for the crowd’s desire to match reality.
None of this happens had Caster and Bowens not been able to transition to babyfaces. Caster’s ability to read the crowd is a big part of his success. Change his opening rap around a bit to insult the heels and not the home crowd does some of the work, but it’s the performance between the bells that carries the rest.
Writer: Timothy Morehouse
Late in 2021, Tony Khan got (in my opinion) unreasonably contentious regarding Big Swole expressing her concerns about Black American representation in AEW. And AEW then lost one of their most promising new talents due to over-reacting to Lio Rush having Swole's back. Rush's tag matches as Dante Martin's partner/mentor were exciting and truly next generation grappling. And he had a sly charisma that would be hard to replace.
(I promise this talk of 2021 and Lio Rush will lead to talking about Swerve Strickland being the AEW signing of 2022!)
The loss of Rush left some prominent and specific gaps at AEW, in terms of state-of-the-art wrestling, in charisma, and in representation.
Swerve Strickland is able to show off next level moves like in his tag-title battles at the side of Keith Lee versus the Acclaimed. But he can also put on a technical clinic that combines flashy moves and agility with slick counter-wrestling, as we saw in his battle with longtime nemesis, Darby Allin.
He has an amazing charisma with a catchphrase fans love to call-and-response with him. And one area he has a leg-up on Rush, he is able to turn around and get the fans to turn on him with his smarm. And he definitely represents the culture that had been notably under-represented in AEW before they brought he and Keith Lee in.
Strickland's signing has paid dividends for AEW already, but I have no doubt that the best is still to come!
Writer: Sergei Alderman
Konosuke Takeshita is no rookie. The exciting 27 year old is already a decade into his pro wrestling career and his achievements include being the youngest DDT Openweight Champion as well as headlining major cards in recognisable venues across Japan.
His arrival into AEW last May was something of a revelation. The man christened "Soup" began with an outstanding match again then World Champion "Hangman" Adam Page before engaging in crowd raising bouts with the likes of Claudio, Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley. His mix of speed, agility, strength and selling quickly enamoured him to the AEW crowd;- even to the point of turning audiences in his favour against more well known babyface opponents.
Konosuke Takeshita is one of the most encouraging signings AEW has made over the last year. He begins 2023 as one of their strongest prospects and a man who could quite easily become their first international homemade star. To achieve this he needs strong stories to support his in ring exploits. Don Callis' interest in Takeshita should bring him into the sphere of Kenny Omega- a man who was very much involved in his formative years. Interaction between the two feels inevitable and that is definitely something to look forward to.
Writer: Trish Spiers
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