Hello, wrestling fans! 2022 has been a rollercoaster ride of moments. Today, I would like to bring you the third 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 toward the finish line. Before then, let’s detail every major wrestling moment of 2022. This issue includes the third quarter of the year between July 1st and September 30th.
July 22 – Vince McMahon Retires
The unexpected retirement of Vince McMahon is likely to go down as one of the most significant moments in wrestling history. 5 days before, WWE announced that he had stepped down as the Chairman & CEO of the company he owned since 1980. This was because of a pending investigation into hush-money being paid to employees he had affairs with. The investigation revealed at least $12m had been paid in nondisclosure agreements involving Vince McMahon & John Laurinaitis.
Despite the more questionable choices made in his career, Vince McMahon will be remembered for dragging professional wrestling up from the territory days into global mainstream appeal. He did so without mercy for the established traditions and made a juggernaut based on the kayfabe breaking concept of sports-entertainment. The in-ring action may have suffered, but he introduced professional wrestling to a new generation of fan who would otherwise not have cared.
Until we know the details of the allegations made against him, I’m not prepared to detail his career too much. I do not believe we are at the stage of celebrating his career, but it’s acceptable to acknowledge his endless passion for making WWE as big as it became. Many of us would not be here writing and reading about wrestling if it were not for Vince McMahon, and that’s a fitting way of rounding off a career that nobody will ever be able to emulate.
July 25 – WWE Under New Management
A few days after the announcement of Vince McMahon’s retirement, WWE appointed a new management structure. At the top, Stephanie McMahon & Nick Khan each share Vince’s business responsibilities as Co-CEO’s, while Triple H became the new Chief Content Officer. It speaks to the volume of work Vince McMahon did every day to need three people to cover everything.
While it’s difficult for fans to notice any difference on the business side, the effect of Triple H taking over creative was quickly felt. They only made subtle changes on the way to SummerSlam, because Vince had already written the basics, but the shows after that were the proverbial reset button. Some (but not all) of the changes include:
- Several released WWE Superstars returned. Some NXT stars who had worked on the brand a long time were called up.
- WWE abolished the name change philosophy that Vince McMahon adopted in his latter days. Only a few have yet to have their names changed back to what they were.
- More emphasis on wrestling and bringing prestige to the United States and Intercontinental Championships. Less back-to-back rematches. The 24/7 Championship disappeared from television, but remained on live events.
- Many of Vince McMahon’s banned words became free to use. Production plugged fewer replays and commentary given more freedom to express. Mentioning other wrestling companies and moments outside the universe was allowed.
- NXT 2.0 was eventually rebranded back to the original black & gold that Triple H built, simply becoming “NXT” again.
- More logical storytelling and subtle references to reward fans for paying attention.
July 30 – Bayley Returns With Friends
If anything screamed Triple H being in charge, it wasn’t Bayley returning by herself, but long-time NXT star Io Shirai and the released Dakota Kai joining her at SummerSlam. Io Shirai is a former NXT Women’s & Tag Team Champion, while Dakota Kai had also been a Tag Team Champion. Having been out for over a year with a torn ACL, Bayley’s return had been long awaited by the WWE Universe.
Before this, she had been established as one of WWE’s biggest heels and was in the middle of getting Bianca Belair over. Since then, Bayley, Iyo Sky, and Dakota Kai (Damage Control) are doing their best to run the women’s division. Winning the tag team titles was an encouraging first step. It remains to be seen if Bayley can get back on top of the division as a singles champion.
July 31 – Ric Flair’s “Last Match”
Jim Crockett Promotions returned for one night to feature a card under the banner of “Ric Flair’s Last Match”. It was historic for being the first show since 2000 (Brian Pillman’s Memorial show) to have varying involvement from major and other wrestling promotions from around the world, including: WWE, AEW, NJPW, NWA, Impact Wrestling, ROH, AAA, MLW, GCW, Terminus, OVW, Progress, DDT, BLP, FSW, and PWR.
Three title matches were scheduled on the card, including for the Impact World & Knockouts Championships, along with the Progress World Championship. Big names like The Undertaker, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, and others were in attendance. The show stayed true to the JCP format and paid tribute to former employees. In the main event, Ric Flair entered with the original “Big Gold Belt” (sometimes called the “Real World’s Heavyweight Championship”), which is the title Ric Flair took with him to the WWF after WCW Vice President Jim Herd refused to give him the $25,000 deposit he was owed.
In the main event, Ric Flair teamed with AEW’s Andrade El Idolo against Jeff Jarrett & Jay Lethal. Some reviewers mentioned how uncomfortable it was to watch Flair perform, and he later admitted to passing out twice from dehydration. After winning the match, a bloody Flair got on the microphone and thanked everybody. In the aftermath, he stated he wanted to stay true to this being his last match, but later backtracked by saying that he regrets the idea to bill it as his last.
August 17 – Kenny Omega Returns
Kenny Omega’s absence from All Elite Wrestling had been noticeable for sometime. Many fans knew he had to take time off, and he did so in November 2021 to get surgeries for his knees and hernia. In the meantime, Kenny worked extensively on AEW’s first video game, Fight Forever. Don Callis made the fans groan when he teased Omega’s return a month or so before.
When AEW announced a trios tournament, they teased Hangman Page teaming up with the Young Bucks. But when this fell through and nobody had been announced, many fans were hoping on Omega returning to reform The Elite. On an episode of Dynamite, Omega returned as The Young Buck’s mystery partner. Still taped up, Kenny looked tentative in his offense as Callis explained that he’s not 100% yet, but is cleared to wrestle. Omega soon got back into the swing of things. The Elite won the tournament by defeating the Dark Order in the finals to become the inaugural AEW Trios Champions.
August 18 – The Evolution Of NXT UK
While on the way to crowning a new NXT UK Champion (after Ilja Dragunov vacated) in a tournament, WWE announced the brand would close its doors in September after almost four years of activity. The reason given was that they felt the brand had outgrown the UK and would prosper more so by relaunching as NXT Europe in 2023. NXT UK struggled more than any other brand during the pandemic because the UK government had stricter guidelines for COVID-19 than the United States. Even after shows began airing again, it took a long time to get crowds back.
I feel like this period, combined with WWE’s tendency to forget it exists (never advertising it), led to a downfall in viewership and interest. Many of NXT UK’s top stars had already moved on to America without the same caliber of talent to replace them. To show how little WWE cared for NXT UK viewers, they had Tyler Bate appear on an episode of NXT 2.0 with the NXT UK Championship, to challenge Bron Breakker in a title vs. title match at Worlds Collide. Because they taped NXT UK in advance, the appearance gave away the result of the final and spoiled the tournament. Other NXT UK Championships were scheduled to be contested at Worlds Collide.
September 3 – WWE’s First UK Stadium Show In 30 Years
For the first time since SummerSlam ‘92, the UK got a stadium show called Clash At The Castle. It was also the first PPV in the UK since Insurrextion in 2003. Triple H later said that it was the most successful international event, along with being the highest rated UK PPV and best-selling non-WrestleMania event in WWE history.
The show was headlined with Drew McIntyre challenging Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. It saw the debuts of NXT Superstars Solo Sikoa & Giovanni Vinci. Most fans will remember Clash At The Castle for the epic encounter between Gunther and Sheamus for the Intercontinental Championship. Following his loss, Sheamus got a standing ovation from the crowd. It was a fitting show for a crowd of over 60,000.
As a British fan, I am happy with what WWE provided, although I wish it had highlighted more UK talent (only Butch & Ridge Holland were from the UK and stood at ringside for the IC title match). With the upcoming closure of NXT UK, it would have been encouraging to see that the company had not given up on British wrestlers.
September 4 – Worlds Collide Ends NXT UK
Aside from the NXT UK Heritage Cup, every other championship from the brand was contested at Worlds Collide. Four tag teams competed for the NXT & NXT UK Tag Team titles. Mandy Rose, Meiko Satomura, and Blair Davenport fought in a triple threat to unify both brand’s women’s titles. In the main event, the NXT Champion Bron Breakker accepted the challenge of NXT UK Champion Tyler Bate. Predictably, both NXT Champions of Breakker & Rose won their matches and held both brand’s titles. In a tag team match also involving Gallus, the NXT Champions, The Creed Brothers, and NXT UK Champions, Brooks Jenson & Josh Briggs, lost their titles to Pretty Deadly.
Unlike other unifications in WWE’s history, the company decided that Bron Breakker, Mandy Rose, and Pretty Deadly’s reigns would not be recognized. Therefore, Tyler Bate, Meiko Satomura, Brooks Jenson & Josh Briggs remain the last champions in NXT UK history. As a British fan, it was sad to see these championships go, but if WWE can go one better with NXT Europe, then I’ll be happy knowing that this pain was for the greater good.
September 6-7 – CM Punk & The Elite Suspended After A Backstage Fight
Yeah, this is probably the biggest “drama moment” of the year. When I saw the media scrum later (didn’t watch it live), it felt like an elaborate work to me. Some of it felt real, especially the Colt Cabana stuff, and possibly the comments about Hangman Page, but throwing insults out there about MJF and The Elite too? All while sitting next to Tony Khan? It didn’t seem plausible to me that CM Punk would be so unprofessional and destructive. He had talked about respecting peers before, so had this not been a work, then it would be hypocritical.
He should have been happy, having just beaten Jon Moxley to become the undisputed AEW World Champion. This should have been the beginning of a new era where CM Punk would help build AEW to another level. Instead, he allowed his frustrations to take the perception of AEW down a peg, all while embarrassing Tony Khan in front of the media. Had anybody not wondered about the atmosphere backstage in AEW, they would be now. I’m struggling to figure out if CM Punk did this because he thought he was invincible, or that he seriously thought this was the right move.
Perhaps something happened earlier in the day, and this was him venting, not realizing the shitstorm he was about to create. The fans have become accustomed to him dropping pipebombs, but when this starts happening outside the confines of a wrestling show. When it has the goal of harming the reputations of people you work with. It’s bound to spark an uneasy situation, and that’s exactly what happened when The Elite confronted him backstage.
I’m not about to detail everything we were told about that alleged fight, because one day we’ll probably hear all about it on an episode of Dark Side of the Ring. However, what I will say is it’s some of the dumbest crap I have ever heard in wrestling. Three guys who are meant to be EVPS, the undisputed World Champion, and his trainer who also works as a producer, can’t be mature enough to put their egos aside and talk it through like adults? They have to cause drama after one of AEW’s most successful PPVs.
Like I said in a previous article, I don’t care if none of them come back, although at least Kenny Omega looks like he’s trying to make amends by plugging the video game in Japan. The Young Bucks do their passive aggressive thing on social media, and Punk remains quiet while probably seeking legal advice. Meanwhile, Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho, Bryan Danielson, and the rest of the roster have to step up and do their best to damage control a situation that should have got nowhere close to this. What happened to the meeting they had? There were rumors that there were backstage tensions, so they called a meeting and Tony Khan said it was positive.
He said it was simply a matter of doing some housekeeping. Yet, while it looked like they had turned a corner, clearly there remained some underlying tensions between CM Punk and others that were not addressed properly. Instead of that getting sorted out behind closed doors, Punk threw it out there while eating cupcakes during a scrum that was supposed to be about plugging the future of AEW. If you have issues with someone, do it like a professional and talk to them. Otherwise, nobody else wants to know.
Yes, I know wrestling sites like these have always thrived on the backstage drama. Fans find it intriguing to know what happens behind the curtain. But rarely, like in this case, the toxicity draws the curtain away and is on show for the world to see in its glory. Naked and without shame, the heat between CM Punk, The Elite, and whoever else, burned everybody. When I tuned into Dynamite, Tony Khan admitted this was not a work. Without bluntly saying so, he confirmed the reports were true and my heart sank for every talent sat backstage.
They formed AEW to get away from politics and to provide a place where the love of professional wrestling can be celebrated. No egos. No drama. Go out there and show the world what you’ve got. And since then, the roster has impressed me with how it has stepped up. They have shown us how professionals do it. CM Punk and The Elite should take notes, but knowing them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still playing the blame game.
September 21 – Saraya (Paige) Here!
God, I love when wrestling springs up a surprise. Sir-rey-uhh here! She may be rusty on the microphone, but the fact is that she is a draw. Probably the most popular British women’s wrestler of all time. She’s already doing the right thing by pushing for more emphasis on AEW’s women’s division. To be fair, Tony Khan should have been doing this anyway… but now he has an expensive signing giving him the evils if he doesn’t.
I believe she will get back into the groove soon, and it helps that she has many great minds and talkers around her. Saraya has to remember that while she enjoyed a lot of success in WWE, she did not reach her peak. There’s still much to learn, and I believe she could be better than she was in WWE if she isn’t complacent. She needs to realize that improving her mic game to better develop a character is what will get her back to the top.
And I’m not saying this to be critical. I want her to succeed because I want what is best for her, and I see what Jamie Hayter is doing. I’d love nothing more than to see her and Saraya revolutionizing women’s wrestling in AEW. With that said, this concludes the third part of the series. I will bring it back in late-December when we can look at all the wrestling moments that have defined one of the craziest years in the world of professional wrestling. Thanks for reading!