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We Need To Talk About The Voices of Wrestling MOTY Poll and 10 Things To Take From It

It’s that time of year when we look back at the year before and we give out awards honouring the best of the best in our favourite entertainment and sporting passions and while wrestling’s foremost awards, The Wrestling Observer Awards will be dissected by yours  truly later in February when the awards come out, another annual tradition came out last  week and for the third year, I was invited (eventually finding my email with the ballot) to take  part. I’ll be honest, being called wrestling media is still weird to me but it is an enormous privilege to take part in so thank you to Rich and Joe for the invite to take part in this fantastic project.

The Voices of Wrestling Match of The Year poll escaped in multiple instalments and the final results led to debates and discourse which obviously I’m continuing with this article (does that make me part of the problem?) so let’s look at the 10 things we have learnt from the the 2023 VOW MOTY poll.

Let’s get things straight. Despite the borderline clickbait headline, I’m not going to do a Joseph Monticello here where he once did a near two hour video shitting on the 2021 Voices of Wrestling MOTY poll (true story I actually once used a screengrab of that video of one of my writing submissions to try a pull a girl once. Guess how that went) With that video and his similar length video explaining why Chris Jericho isn’t the GOAT, something you can explain in less than twenty words with the phrase “he isn’t either Ric Flair, Kazuchika Okada, Kenta Kobashi or Terry Funk” it’s safe to say that period of Joseph’s work was to him what the Music album was to Madonna.

This is going to be 90% positive and that’s not just I voted in the poll but they have been on the whole precise in picking the MOTY in the project's history as we will get into later even if a few strays enter the Top 10 some years (I’m looking at you Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 31/2015)

Here is a link to the 2023 Voices of Wrestling MOTY archive if you want to look at the entire list and those who were outside the To 100

Anyways, let’s get to it.

1- AEW’s problems in 2023 were not the wrestling 

AEW in it's history has been a main debating point from grifters to famous opinionists giving us their takes about the state of All Elite Wrestling but in 2023, those opinions got more extreme in the past 12 months. Todd Martin called AEW’s 2023 a disaster, Dave Meltzer has started comparing the attendances to 2000 WCW and Eric Bischoff has claimed that AEW is going to die any day now (he’s been saying that from 2021, so this take is hardly new) Some opinions of the decreasing quality of AEW in 2023 are justified though. 

The sports entertainment direction of AEW in Q4 of 2023 was criticised by many and as “MJFism” dominated the company's main event scene in the shape of the Devil storyline the cries of fear about the changing direction in the ring increased. When it comes to "stories" told, 2023 might have been their worst year so far but in the ring from bell to bell, this was according to the voters in this MOTY poll the best year yet for AEW


With 25 matches in the Top 100 with 6 of the Top 10, AEW had their highest total of matches in the main list in a year in 2023 with only NJPW’s 2019 having more matches on the list but AEW’s 2023 was the best second best year for a  promotion in the 10 years of VOW MOTY.

So while the words disaster and terrible might have been the words said by some, when the bell rang, the AEW product was far from it

2- Will Ospreay is the favourite for Most Outstanding Wrestler in the WON Awards (and WOTY as a result)

Of the previous 9 VOW MOTY in which a large panel were selected to vote, 6 of them have seen the person with the most matches in the Top 100 also win Most Outstanding Wrestler in the Observer Awards 

2015- AJ Styles (10)

2017- Kazuchika Okada (7)  (joint 1st w/Ospreay and Sabre.Jr)

2019- Will Ospreay (9)

2020- Kenny Omega (6)

2021- Shingo Takagi (8)

2022- Will Ospreay (9)

So, 2023’s Most Outstanding Wrestler is…..

Will Ospreay

As seen above Ospreay and Bryan Danielson were the best wrestlers of 2023 with two matches separating the pair with Will's 9 beating Bryan's 7. Danielson fans will say that Danielson’s period of time off with 3 periods of time on the injury shelf meant that Danielson would have scored more matches in the 100 if he had more time in the ring but to quote Bill Parcells “your best ability is your availability” and also Ospreay did miss time after the New Japan Cup

Whether Will wins Most Outstanding is something we’ll find out in a few weeks time but with many of the World Champions from the Big 3 promotions that usually make the short list with weak cases due to lack of availability (Reigns) divisiveness (MJF) lack of being featured (Okada) or being SANADA it looks likely that for the 12th occasion there will be a Flair/Thesz and Most Outstanding Double and history tells us it looks like Will Ospreay that will join an exclusive club.

3- Kent Brockman got it wrong. Democracy does work

The voters in the VOW MOTY poll have voted Will Ospreay vs Kenny Omega as the 2023 MOTY and for the seventh time in the 10 year history of the poll, the highest rated match of the year on Cagematch won. Add the Observer Awards and the 6 out of 9 times the winner of the MOTY award has matched the No.1 in the VOW poll plus Dave Meltzer giving every winner bar one the 5 stars+ this tells you that VOW's annual tradition gets it right the majority of the time.

Those that were Cagematch’s Match of the Year that didn’t win the Voices of Wrestling poll (Neville vs Zayn in 2014, Omega/Okada I in 2017 and WALTER/Dragunov in 2021) finished in the VOW poll 5th, 2nd and 6th respectively 

Of the Observer MOTY winners that didn’t scoop the top shot in VOW’s list (Okada/Tanahashi on 4/1 in 2016, Omega/Okada I and Okada/Ospreay in the G1 Final in 2022) those matches finished 2nd in 2016 poll and 3rd in 2023

And only two matches from 2017 onwards have finished in the Top 10 in a VOW list and rated below 9.00. Those matches being Blue Demon. Jr vs Dr Wagner. Jr (Meltzer gave it ***¼) and Thunder Rosa and Britt Baker’s Lights Out Match (my putting this at No.1 probably pushed this match into Top 10 tbf

The above tells you that the voters are getting it right with their selections and prove Old Kent wrong. In fact Democracy does work

4- Actually it doesn't

I’ll say it. Joe vs Punk at Wembley wasn’t good.

A lot of 2023 in Review write-ups are looking at this match with favourable eyes. Joseph Monticello voted this 10th in his Match of the Year Top 20 in his Review of 2023, Hardwerk wrote glowingly on this match as did some in the MOTY Poll 

“Masterful. Two consumate pros, holding 80,000 rabid European fans in the palm of my hand. I was fortunate enough to be ringside for this, and we lived every milisecond of this encounter. Utterly unique for 2023″ -Mark O’Brien

Even with the callbacks to Hogan’s hulk-up, John Cena’s five moves of doom, and of course, Terry Funk, it was a match worthy of getting the stage of over 70,000. At the time of me writing, it is unknown whether or not CM Punk returns to the ring, and truth to told: I don’t want him to return. This match is as a fitting end to his career as you can get, battling a storied rival to the biggest crowd of you’ve ever performed Infront of. CM Punk’s swan song and love letter to professional wrestling.

These two men are a dying breed of in-ring performers—there is no one out there like Samoa Joe or CM Punk when it comes to professional wrestling—and to see them wrestle together whilst I sat inside Wembley as a twenty-year old, who used to watch their Ring of Honor matches over and over, it’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.” -James Carlin

Judging by Punk’s first two showings in WWE so far, consummate is not a word I would use

To be fair, the two write ups on this have bias in the fact they were there at Wembley Stadium, which is understandable. Being there live brings a warped perception to your ability to rate wrestling matches but on the Thursday after when watching All In on ITV4, the realisation was that this wasn’t good at all.

Punk is to be frank was taking the piss in this match. Instead of selling, he was impersonating Terry Funk. Of the Funk homages on the weekend after the death of one of wrestling’s greatest, the Terry Funk Hardcore Memorial Match (or whatever it was called) on Smackdown two days before felt more authentic than Punk waving his arms about and doing the holding onto the ropes deal at the start of the match and the Hogan “callback” which some people have insisted was the end joke to a running gag/moment in the previous 10 weeks of Collision tells you how seriously CM was taking this. 

Had this been other wrestlers who didn’t get along with Phil Brooks in his time in AEW doing  the spots I mentioned above, certain grifters would have gone for them and maybe that’s the problem. The rose tinted glasses worn by some on Punk twitter have clouded their opinion on what was essentially was a ***½ match all because of Joe and him dragging Punk kicking and screaming to this rating. I could go on about how Punk twitter has made wrestling in 2023 less fun for me but that might be an article for another time.

In the day after I wrote the above, it was confirmed that CM Punk was injured at the Royal Rumble which now makes me think that the high ranking was maybe justified considering that Punk got through a singles match without injury which might have been a bigger miracle at Wembley Stadium than anything John Paul II trudged up when he visited the place in 1982

5- Women's wrestling wasn't as good as last year

2022 was a high point for women’s graps with 20 matches hitting the Top 100 with Stardom having 10 matches in. The years before, saw 2021 have seven matches that featured women in the Top 26. In 2023, four were in the Top 26 and the highest ranked match was the Queen’s Quest vs Oedo Tai cage match on 25/8 but with 7 matches from Stardom in the Top 100 this year, less than the main roster of WWE for the first time since  2018  with 14 matches featuring women in the 100, the joint worst in this decade so far.

Main roster WWE and Stardom

The reasons for the decrease in quality? First, 2022 was a special year for Stardom, third in the list behind NJPW and AEW with those 10 matches, the second in Best Promotion in the Observer Awards and the first genuine female contender for WOTY since Manami Toyota in 1995 in the shape of Syuri, Stardom’s 2022 was great but they were not able to capitalize because of injuries, Mercedes Mone not being the success Bushiroad expected her to be and their main tournament, the 5 Star GP, clashing with the G1

WWE despite a Top 25 match in Charlotte vs Ripley, didn’t feature women as much as fans had hoped when Triple H took over creative and AEW saw Jamie Hayter miss 7 months with a long term injury, The Outcasts being The Outcasts and Toni Storm getting stuck in the Sports Entertainment vortex that enveloped AEW in Q4.

Maybe 2024 is the year that continues the success of 2021 and 2022 or were those years an anomaly? We’ll find out this time next year.

6- I found the name of my potential wrestling detective show

We Are The Fighting Detectives would be a kick ass name for a CBS show in which former pro wrestlers go into the private detective industry.

We Are The Fighting Detectives was the name for a kick ass show on October 12 which was headlined by the Astronauts team of Fuminori Abe and Takuya Nomura (who were the promoters) in opposite corners

In many other years, this match gets into my Top 10 but I had it 14th in my 2023 list. The rapid escalation of violence after a respectful start after a bite of a nipple makes this a really fun spot with the pair beating the snot out of each other throughout.

It’s 8th place is certainly warranted and while one of the best things about VOW’s MOTY is that is open eyes to crackers from promotions that are not the established companies that dominate the current landscape, it doesn’t apply to this match considering it’s 9.26 rating on Cagematch and the hype that surrounded the match thanks to Jospeh Monticello and Joe Lanza's rave reviews of the contest, they are many in the Top 100 and many that appeared on ballots that are hidden gems and with wrestling most scrutinised match rater not giving the battle of the Astronauts a rating, one of 20 that didn’t get one, it’s houses like Voices of Wrestling and it’s annual tradition that is making us aware of hidden gems like Demus vs Wotan (32nd) and Tomaya Harata vs Violento Jack (93rd) and that can only be a good thing.

7-CMLL is back, AAA went backwards

2023 will be known by some as the year CMLL found the mojo it left down the back of the sofa in the past 5 years. With five matches in the Top 100 list in 2023 which as many as CMLL had in the previous 4 years

AAA who had had 11 matches in the 100 in that same timeframe got zero matches into this years list.

2023 wasn’t just the year that AAA lost it’s mojo, it was incinerated in the dumpster fire that was the past year of AAA

From Konnan’s booking that felt like a tribute act to the golden days of Vince Russo's time in WCW and the lack of quality in the ring, AAA’s 2023 stunk. The only redeeming quality of the series of TripleMania’s were luchablog’s reviews which showed the contempt for the companies product that it deserved and the fact that the highest ranked was a match from the Impact/AAA joint show on 6/12 which was Trinity/Chris Sabin vs Chik Tormenta/Dinamino at joint 157th with just one vote tells how bad AAA’s year was

Hang on, Naomi was in AAA’s MOTY. Wrestling is the gift that keeps on giving 

8-WWE isn't back (and got worse as the year went on)

Voices of Wrestling has always treated the in-ring product that the New York territory has produced with scepticism. Well since 2017 to be fair (the Mania 31 main event finished 6th in 2015)

People have claimed that WWE have improved in-ring since Paul Levesque took over the book in the summer of 2022. While it seems Paul doesn’t read nor is he aware of what happens behind closed doors at WWE HQ, Paul has been at the helm at a “revival” in the WWE product. But has he?

While the booking style of Triple Paul is better off dissected in a future column when I look  at the 2023 Observer Awards (Paul is winning Booker of the Year, isn't he?) the bell-to-bell action from WWE can be judged with the MOTY list as a decent indicator and while as previously mentioned WWE got more matches into the 100 than Stardom for the first time in 5 years,  the amount of matches in the list while up wasn’t drastically up from previous years.

The most interesting stat is that not one main roster WWE match from the final 128 days of the year got a vote. The Top 4 WWE matches in the poll were on Wrestlemania weekend. No.6 was a Bad Bunny match (tbf the Bunny vs Priest match was my WWE MOTY) A look at the WWE matches in the Top 100 tells you that while WWE pulled off the big matches when it mattered, the meat and potatoes were under cooked when it came to WWE and the action in-ring.

9- Who was the person who made Joe Lanza’s head explode?

Adam Cole/MJF II was divisive. Some people enjoyed it, some hated it. One of the architects of Voices of Wrestling Joe Lanza hated it. His review of the match on the Instant Reaction show of All In was lively in his dislike of the match. My invited guest from the Notting Hill Carnival asked the next morning as I was listening was....

“Why is that man so angry”

“I don’t know, it’s his gimmick”

FWIW I liked the match. Live in Wembley it was a visceral experience but on each rewatch, it’s quality has decreased with it’s logic holes that were laced throughout and definitely not worthy of a spot in the Top 100. The first match between the pair was a better match which was voted into Sadness Village outside the Top 100.

With three matches in the 100, All In shared top spot for the most matches on the list with Forbidden Door, Revolution, All Out, WrestleDream and the 23/4 Stardom show but the best match of the day imo, FTR vs The Young Bucks didn’t make the 100 also ending up in Sadness Village with Stadium Stampede being the third match from All In that got into the Top 100.

The first reaction amongst friends in seeing MJF vs Adam Cole in the countdown was “Lanza’s head is going to explode isn’t it”

With a Flagship, a Royal Rumble review and BONUS Flagship show since, that explosion didn’t happen but to be a fly on the wall when the realisation came that Cole/MJF II was on the big list.

So who was the person whose vote almost caused Joe Lanza’s head to explode (probably to the joy of those who insist on ask fluffy questions at WWE press conferences)

Oh, this means the staff of PWMusings aren’t getting a ballot next year. Thanks Sergei, thanks a lot

10- Gimmick matches are in vogue

With two Texas Death Matches, a strap match and an Ironman Match in the Top Ten, the amount of four “Gimmick Matches” in the Top Ten might have been down from the five in 2022 but the combined nine from the last two years compared to the ten in the seven years before shows that the stipulation match is back.

While not the first “Ironman” Match to hit a Top Ten, Danielson/MJF is the first proper Ironman or in the case of Sasha Banks vs Bayley in Toronto, an Ironwoman Match to be in the Top 10 with Kenny Omega vs PAC along with Banks/Bayley having an original time of half an hour.

As to why it is the case that stipulation matches are now populating the Top 10, it's a case of the Khanverse being the dominant force in the rankings and that they know how to do gimmick matches and with the formerly superior promotion in the VOW MOTY, NJPW not being a promotion that relied on stipulations during their peak period (they are making up for it with the KOPW title though) but also the surge in popularity in deathmatch wrestling and wrestlers involved in the top matches knowing how to do deathmatches (not in GCW, XPW and CZW though)

So, with us 1/12th of the way through 2024 and unlike last year we haven’t got the probable MOTY under our belt even if Danielson/Okada II will probably get into the Top Ten, who will fill the Top slot for the ‘24 edition. 

Will Ospreay will be popular, AEW will be popular so expect the combination of the two to feature heavily along with Kazuchika Okada if he also becomes All Elite. (hope this doesn't age badly)

NJPW with the two big losses might struggle with ageing legends and the Reiwa Musketeers still yet to hit top form.

WWE will be WWE and it looks like the in-ring action will be the last thing on their minds based on what happened in January and Stardom will have 7 matches in the Top 100 because its Stardom.

Enjoy your wrestling in 2024 folks


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