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PWMusing's 2023 AEW MOTY Rankings

Here at the Pro-Wrestling Musings site we have an annual tradition of sending out ballots at the end of each year to our contributors and to friends of the site asking for their input on arriving at a consensus of what was the very best of the year in one of our favorite promotions: All-Elite Wrestling.


Last week, we put out the Year-End Awards in various categories such as "Best Show" and "MVP" based on the selections and comments of our balloters. In each category, each of the 27 balloters chose one selection, with the exception of best match. For "Match of the Year" each balloter could make three ranked selections and provide a rationale for each. Since there was so much more data and commentary on matches than the other categories, I made the decision to split this off into its own separate and more-detailed write up.


Our Balloters and contributors: Abdullah Mamaniyat, Adam of Dragonscrew Pro Wrestling, Akash Merten of FiveStarNetwork, Anarfi of WRESTHINGS, Andy H. Murray of WhatCulture, Anna DeMarco of WrestlePurists, charlie of WrestlePurists, OUR DEAR FOUNDER Craig, Delboy of WRESTHINGS, Dirk Elevation, Gareth, Ibou of WrestlePurists , Joe Hulbert of WrestlePurists, Joe McCaffrey, Joseph Montecillo of josephmontecillo.com, Kieran Sweeden, Lyric Swinton of Maps & Graps, NK of WRESTHINGS, PatrickEireWres, Peter Edge, Sam Brown, Saul Kiloh, Sergei, Shreyas, Tim Morehouse, Top Rope Squishy, Traff of LARIATÉ


To arrive at Match of the Year rankings based on three ranked selections from each balloter, we assigned 5 points to each #1 selection, 2 points for each #2 selection, and 1 point each for #3 selections. There were 11 AEW matches from 2023 that were selected on any ballots at all. The top 7 baker's half-dozen covered here are those matches that at least received either more than two votes or at least one #1 selection.


And... Away we go!



The #1 point-getter was the AEW part of an inter-promotional duology and received the most #1 match votes by far, with 10 of the 27 contributors choosing it as their favorite AEW match of 2023.

This match and the Jan 4th match in the Dome were two perfect matches targeted at different audiences, resulting in completely different feels. They told one of the best storylines of the year in just two matches, something that only the best wrestlers in the world can achieve.

—Adam


I think the Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay Forbidden Door match was the best match I watched last year simply because of the anticipation and how different the feud felt overall. Bear in mind earlier on in the year we were given another banger of a match between Kenny and Ospreay at WK 17... to be honest, we were spoilt last year with the quality of matches we were given.

—Anarfi of WRESTHINGS


Ospreay/Omega at FD2 left me with a knot in my stomach during it's final moments. This is a compliment towards both men with how much good anxiety and anticipation their bout filled me with.

Tim Morehouse



The second-highest match in points was the Hangman's second Texas Death match of the year. Noteworthy that this match was selected on more ballots than even the #1 match: 19 out of 27.

An instant classic that continually achieved the pro wrestling impossible. Time after time, it had appeared to take a wrong step, then somehow proving that latest detour worthwhile. An extraordinary spectacle from start to finish, as exciting as it was horrifying.

—Joe Hulbert


Having been there in person to watch Swerve vs Hangman, I can safely say it is one of the most violent, gritty matches I’ve ever seen take place on American soil. They were able to build a level of violence I couldn’t believe, and their hate for each other was absolutely palpable. They had the audience in the palm of their hand for the entire bout, and it was a beautiful display of pro-wrestling violence.

—charlie of WrestlePurists


Swerve against Hangman was the finality (for now…) of an epic duology, embodied by the use of blood, guts and barbed wire in the best form of entertainment possible. The execution of the match was perfect, and the use of each weapon added to the goriness of a feud built on a grudge that can truly have the ‘Fight Forever’ label on it.

Abdullah Mamaniyat


A horror show of a match; a hero that is willing to kill, against a villain who feels like he can't be. Going into the move-to-move moments just feels like it is doing the grander atmosphere and dark tone this story set a disservice. If I had to pick two moments though, it would of course be Hangman busting Swerve open and drinking his blood, a spot that will be imitated but never replicated, and Swerve channeling a demented 2018 Hiroshi Tanahashi, advancing across the ring while stapling himself in the chest. Both have immense visual impact but also perfectly fit with where each character is at in their mind in the broader story. Hangman, unconcerned with winning and literally out for Swerve's blood and Swerve feeling completely untouchable after being buried at Wembley and having beaten Hangman in their first match. This match painted one of the darkest, most depraved stories of vengeance I've ever seen in wrestling and in my mind it is a true masterpiece.

 —Sam Brown




The #3 point-getter in these rankings was my personal selection for match of the year. Though it got less points and appeared on less overall ballots, this Iron Man tied with the above Texas Death for the second-most #1 MOTY selections with 6 of 27. Only 5 of our balloters did not choose one of the three top point-getters as their personal #1 AEW match of 2023.


Bryan Danielson vs MJF at Revolution 2023 was a gritty and emotionally exhausting hour of wrestling. This match is one of the greatest displays of physical attrition in the history of the medium, and features an exceptional closing stretch.

—Ibou, of WrestlePurists


In my view, this match is far more than match of the year. Friedman and Danielson set a new bar here for what an Iron Man can befor what any long singles match can be, evenwith pacing that is not only revolutionary, but perhaps impossible to match. And this showed off that both the grappling skill and the storytelling acumen of both men are incomparable.

—Sergei


If you do a special type of matcha match stipulation that has existed for decadesand it’s the all-time best version of that type of match, that’s match-of-the-year stuff.

—Dirk Elevation





This oft-postponed dream match between reputed best technical wrestlers is the last match in these rankings to be chosen by more than one balloter as their #1 AEW match of the year. Danielson here is the first performer to appear in a second ranked match.


More than worth the 14-year wait, Danielson vs. ZSJ felt antithetical to much of what comprised the AEW product in 2023's latter half. Where intelligence, restraint, and true craftsmanship were often in short supply elsewhere, the two best technical wrestlers on the planet spun an intricate but attritional yarn worthy of Antonio Inoki's own wrestling dream. But despite their obvious similarities, the match's greatest strength was how it showcased Dragon and ZSJ's differences. Zack is smoother, lither, and more graceful, slipping from limb to limb, joint to joint, endlessly advancing position. Danielson is a stronger, more brutish wrestler, hence the bludgeonous finish and Sabre's snotty insistence on it not being true technical wrestling. A generational matchthe only one worthy of the once-coveted ***** award in 2023, in this writer's opinion.

Andy H. Murray






This match makes Hangman Adam Page the second wrestler to appear more than once in these rankings, and his signature match, Texas Death, the only special stipulation type to do so.


This match ranks so highly for me for two reasons: first, for the extraordinary storytelling and build. This was a match that seemed at first glance to be built on the flimsy basis of an unreasonable over-reaction to an accidental injury. But for Hangman, it wasn't the concussion itself, so much as the disrespect as a fellow father regarding Page's reasonable worry that he'd still be able to be there the way he wants for his just-begun family that was implied by Moxley's dismissiveness towards his injury and patronizing attitude. And secondly, for the amazing, state-of-the-art gimmickry that allowed the match to appear so much more brutal than it possibly could have truly been. Every time a thought like "if he were REALLY out for blood, he'd do 'X,'" crossed my mind, Page or Moxley would shock me by ACTUALLY doing "X"!

—Sergei






This marathon 2-of-3 falls tag-titles match is the highest-ranking match to air on a weekly television show and the only match to receive more than two votes without being ranked #1 for the year by any of our balloters.


This match accomplished two things: it remained enthralling for the entire 58 minute runtime.... And it retrained the audience not to assume that a match running long would end in a draw and check out mentally, something I had been calling for for months prior. It demonstrated the suspense that can be evoked by a ticking countdown and the catharsis of getting that deciding fall just under the wire.

—Sergei





The main event of the massive Wembley stadium show only appeared on one ballot, ranked #1 for 5 points total. There were three other matches that only appeared on one ballot, and one that was only on two, but of those, this World Title match was the only one to receive a #1 rank.


Although it only made one balloter's top three, I'm sure that it was bubbling just under for many... I know that was the case for me.


It probably would not be my match of the year if I hadn't experienced it in person but it was genuinely one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. Especially as someone who was (and is) very invested in the story of MJF and Adam Cole, I was at the edge of my seat throughout the match. Not knowing if or when one of them was going to turn on the other added so much intrigue to the entire event for me and I think they handled it perfectly that night. Them hugging after the match is probably one of the most feel-good moments of the year for me (I will never forgive Adam Cole for the betrayal).

Shreyas


When this was first hinted at, it didn't seem like a big enough match to headline one of the biggest shows ever. But as they built the Better Than You BayBay story, they changed my mind, and a lot of people's minds, and built anticipation for that match that suited the scale of the event in a way that was genuinely groundbreaking.
One of the most important aspects of pro-wrestling storytelling is establishing a rooting interest in the audience, which is why the build to this match seemed upside-down to many old heads. As the sign in the audience said: "I just hope both guys just have fun!" On one level this sounds like we didn't have a rooting interest, but on closer look, it tells you exactly what we were rooting for: not for a particular winner, but for the hug after that would show that the friendship many of us had emotionally invested in had survived the trial of a championship match.
The credible possibility that it would all end in betrayal and acrimony instead added stakes and nail-biting suspense to the already technically-dazzling grappling. But (for that night, at least) we got the happy ending that we wanted that was so fitting to close out one of the biggest nights in wrestling ever.

—Sergei



 

That's it for the rankings per se, but I thought that it would also be interesting to take a look at our balloters choices for top three matches and see what that implies for the best show and best performer in terms of how many top-three matches they were associated with, and compare that with what people actually voted for Best AEW Show of 2023 and Best AEW In-Ring Performer (Male) of 2023. (As, unfortunately, none of the AEW women's matches made that kind of impression on our balloters this past year.


Rank

Performer

# diff mtches

Total

Points

1

Bryan Danielson

4

9

7

13

29

72

2

Kenny Omega

2

10

5

4

19

64

2

Adam Page

2

7

11

7

25

64

4

Ospreay

1

10

5

3

18

63

5

MJF

3

7

5

7

19

52

6

Swerve

1

6

8

5

19

51


Based on the ranked top three AEW matches of 2023 the best performers were on three levels: Danielson indisputably on top with four different matches contributing to being 8 points ahead of the next level. Then there is Will Ospreay just one point short of tying Omega and the Hangman. and then there is up-and-comer Swerve just one point off from tying the World Champ for almost the entire year, Max Friedman.


When the same set of balloters were asked directly the best Men's in-ring performer of AEW in 2023, unsurprisingly the American Dragon came out way ahead by that measure also, with 20 of the 27 possible. But the runner-up was surprising: Orange Cassidy was chosen by 4 balloters, despite the fact that only one of his matches (the loss to Moxley at All Out) received just one #3 vote.


Here's how the top-3 match votes and points break down by which show the matches appeared on:

I think it's worth noting that the one Dynamite match to get a vote was the Continental Classic Blue League final, so basically a Collision match that happened to occur on Dynamite....


(Colliders, unite.)


For AEW Show of 2023, balloters clearly were basing their selection on factors other than their favorite match, as the same group of shows got votes, but rank in practically the opposite order. Only one person chose Forbidden Door as their favorite show. All Out and WrestleDream tied for runner-up with four votes apiece. Meanwhile All In and Revolution tied for Show of the year, despite the fact All In only appeared once on any MOTY selections, while Revolution had two widely-loved matches that gathered 23 different top-3 match votes between them.



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