Hello, wrestling fans! 2022 has been a rollercoaster ride of moments. Today, I would like to bring you the second of a four-part series covering every significant TV and backstage moment in the crazy world of wrestling. Because pro wrestling in 2022 isn’t over yet, this series will conclude in December, and then we can collectively decide on the “Best Of”, and “Worst Of” categories. There may yet be a few more twists and turns as we head to the finish line. Before then, let’s detail every major wrestling moment of 2022. This issue includes the second quarter of the year between April 1st and June 30th.
April 1 – The Undertaker Inducted Into the WWE Hall of Fame
The 2022 Hall of Fame ceremony began WrestleMania weekend on a beautiful note. Long-awaited inductions of former WWE Superstars like Vader & The Steiner Brothers were applauded and recognized, but none more so than the legend of The Undertaker. No wrestling Hall of Fame can be legitimate without The Undertaker, who epitomizes what it means to be a household name in the wrestling business. Visibly nervous, the man behind the character spoke with pride, honor, and respect. He thanked everybody who made The Undertaker possible.
As far as Hall of Fame inductions go, it will be known as one of the greatest of all time. Everything was befitting of the legacy of the character, and the hard work of the man behind it. There is some frustration there too because his passion was such that he fought so hard not to retire. We know that if he could physically wrestle at a level he’d accept, The Undertaker would still walk down the aisle. There will be no one else like him. And while it’s sad that it had to end, at least we know he can sit back and enjoy his retirement resting in peace.
April 2 – Stone Cold Steve Austin Has His First Match in 19 Years / Cody Rhodes Returns to WWE After 6 Years Away
Did this really happen? It was one of the most surreal moments of the year. For almost two decades, Stone Cold Steve Austin was adamant that he was done wrestling. He never ruled out one last match, but year after year, he would reaffirm that he was finished. Austin is an old-school guy who grew up having to get over in the backend of Ric Flair & Hulk Hogan’s era, so he never wanted to take the spotlight.
He’s a huge advocate of looking forwards. But also, he recognizes that sometimes it helps if a legend puts another guy over, in a roundabout way of passing the torch. While Steve Austin returned for one last hurrah by getting a victory over Kevin Owens, it helped to see Owens on his level. It was nostalgia done in the right way because it wasn’t overblown and newer fans got to experience a Steve Austin match for the first time (without looking back on old shows).
Also, on Night 1 of WrestleMania 38, Cody Rhodes made his return to WWE after six years away. It was surprising because he’s one of the leading guys in forming All Elite Wrestling. So many fans assumed he would be there for life. And even more of a shocker was Cody Rhodes returning with the “American Nightmare” gimmick he had gotten over on the indies, Japan, and AEW since leaving WWE.
Vince McMahon would usually want something he owns, but he let Cody have this. I believe McMahon knew that had he returned as “Dashing” Cody Rhodes, or even Stardust, it would have been ridiculed as a lost opportunity. He returned with enormous fanfare, and not long before picking up his injury, many were talking about him being the one to dethrone Roman Reigns.
April 3 – Roman Reigns Unifies the WWE & Universal Championships / Vince McMahon Wrestles His Last Match
Depending on who you ask, night 2 of WrestleMania 38 was majorly satisfying or disappointing. After months of severe hype, Roman Reigns & Brock Lesnar fought in a match that was fairly average and ended with Reigns beating Lesnar clean with no shenanigans. WWE billed it as the biggest WrestleMania match of all time, but we know it was nothing but a tagline to sell tickets. It lacked the same intensity we saw months later at SummerSlam, which was a far more memorable affair. Still, what Roman Reigns did at WrestleMania 38 was historic for the reason of unifying the WWE & Universal Championship.
They had done it before, first with the WWE & WCW Championships, and again much later with the WWE & World Championships. Roman Reigns created history because it had never been done with the WWE & Universal Championships. Yeah, many fans are sick and tired of him. They’d love nothing more than someone to beat him, but there are others who are happy he’s on top. If someone beats him (he could get injured and have to vacate) it will be a bona fide major moment, but I’m not expecting it until next year’s WrestleMania.
In a moment of possibly telegraphing what was to come, Vince McMahon threw himself into a match with Pat McAfee. Yes, he won the match, but most will remember it for the aftermath with Stone Cold Steve Austin. McMahon’s last interaction in a wrestling ring was Austin hitting him with one of the worst Stunners anyone has ever given anybody. If you listened close enough, you could hear Mick Foley crying with laughter from the comfort of his sofa. Austin laughed it off too, but there was an underlying message here. To me, it felt like this was Vince knowing it would be his last opportunity to do this, and he may have seen it as his sendoff before retiring.
April 29 – WWE Releases Several NXT Superstars
Dexter Lumis, Dakota Kai, Malcolm Bivens, Harland, Persia Pirotta, Sanjana George, Draco Anthony, Mila Malani, Raelyn Divine & Paige Proinzivalli. WWE released them less than a month after WrestleMania 38 generated over $200 million in the Dallas and Arlington regions of Texas.
As we know, Dexter Lumis & Dakota Kai later returned to WWE and are now playing big roles on the main roster. Malcolm Bivens returned to being Stokely Hathaway, and Harland as Parker Boudreaux in AEW. Persia Pirotta possibly lost the most because she was regularly featured on NXT 2.0. The only positive to come of this news is there have been no further releases since then.
May 16 – Sasha Banks & Naomi Walk Out of WWE / Jim Crockett Promotions Revived to Produce Ric Flair’s Last Match
The wrestling world still awaits the result of the incident involving Sasha Banks & Naomi. Unhappy with their booking, the tag team champions walked backstage, dumped their titles on the desk, and walked out. WWE management was furious, and lines being fed to the announcers disgraced the pair in public. They have since appeared at fashion shows and other venues while serving a suspension.
Nobody knows when, or if, they will return to WWE, but it’s rumored to be more likely with Triple H in charge of creative. New tag team champions were decided months later in a tournament. I only like speculating to a point, so until more details emerge, it’s a wait-and-see situation that could go either way.
May 20 – The Usos Unify the Raw & Smackdown Tag Team Championships
Randy Orton and Matt Riddle formed an unlikely team of RK-Bro that gained them a ton of popularity and championships. However, when rumors circulated that Randy Orton was working injured, WWE threw RK-Bro into a feud with The Usos. Wanting to prove who the best team is, WWE teased a unification match. This didn’t happen right away, though, because it looked like WWE had second thoughts about it.
However, by May it had become clear that Orton needed to take time away to heal a back injury, so WWE went ahead with the match on an episode of SmackDown. The Usos made history by becoming the first team to unify the Raw & SmackDown titles. It made all the Bloodline the undisputed champions of WWE.
May 29 – Adam Cole & Britt Baker Become the Inaugural Owen Hart Cup Winners
While some WWE fans groaned about Martha Hart selling the Owen Hart name to be used by AEW, I believe they did right by his legacy. It’s understandable why his widow would not want to associate her late husband’s career with the company responsible for his death, but that’s a topic for another day. What we should celebrate are the tournaments leading to the inaugural winners of the Owen Hart Cup.
Booking two significant others like Adam Cole & Britt Baker is symbolic of the relationship Martha had with Owen. Since his passing, the Owen Hart Foundation has raised over $4m toward scholarship funds and a homeowners program. The added exposure serves to help more people realize their dreams. His legacy continues to provide a positive influence.
June 1 – MJF Cuts a Worked Shoot Promo Before Being Taken off TV
After the news of MJF no-showing a fan signing, reports became rampant about his status with AEW. It was assumed he was unhappy with his contract, which he alluded to in (what management called) an unscheduled interview with Ariel Helwani. Despite this, MJF showed up at Double or Nothing to work a short match with Wardlow to end their feud. A few days later, on the next episode of Dynamite, MJF was given the time to vent and tell the world how he felt. He did not hold back, cutting a promo that was likely more real than him portraying a character.
Tony Khan likely felt it was healthy for MJF to get how he felt off his chest publicly, and the result resonated with fans. Some of his comments rubbed other AEW talent the wrong way, as they felt he was insulting and ungrateful. He eventually returned this month, immediately highlighting how he was making “way more money” than he was before. Whatever tension there was between MJF and Tony Khan has since been resolved, although it may not seem that way because his character still references the “bidding war of 2024”. In reality, Tony is letting him do this to garner heat. MJF has since said that he had no issue over how he was used, but with the money he was being paid.
June 26 – AEW & NJPW Produce Their First Cross-Promotional PPV Event
New Japan is arguably the biggest cross-promoter in wrestling history. In the past twenty years, it has had ties with Ring of Honor and TNA Wrestling to varying degrees. The last big cross-promotional event was the ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden, which highlighted what New Japan does best, while simultaneously showing the decline of ROH. By the end of the year, New Japan had launched its American brand of wrestling shows and was no longer working with ROH.
NJPW was not initially interested in working with AEW because of its uncertainty over how successful it would be. And then, of course, the pandemic hit, and travel restrictions made things difficult. By 2021, New Japan had talent exchanges with AEW, Impact, GCW, MLW, and possibly more. Having a super show was off the table, however, because COVID-19 restrictions made it a logistical nightmare. At the end of the year, it looked more of a possibility, and Tony Khan began talks with New Japan about producing the Forbidden Door event. Sadly, several top stars like CM Punk and Bryan Danielson were injured not long before and things had to change.
Still, the event was satisfying. I wouldn’t say it will go down as the greatest of all time, but it didn’t suck either. 4 hours of quality wrestling and Claudio Castagnoli’s AEW debut. That’s what I’ll remember it for. Oh, and having English and Japanese announcers, which I thought was a sweet touch. Forbidden Door highlighted an American promotion with a major TV deal cross-promoting with New Japan for the first time since WCW at the often-forgotten “Collision in Korea” in 1995. That’s significant enough to mention here. And this concludes the first half of 2022! Next month, we shall talk through the third quarter. Thanks for reading.