With 2023 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months for both the good and the bad in AEW and WWE. Welcome to the annual 4 part Biggest Blunders and Greatest Wonders of the Year lists!
To find the full lineup of articles, click on the following links:
This post in particular (as the headline states) will be continuing with the best of All Elite Wrestling from this year with the Greatest Wonders list.
I had a lot of options when picking the worst things that came to my mind. Thankfully, there were a handful of really good things that went down in AEW this year that helps offset all that bad with some major positives.
Keep in mind that this list is a mixture of mostly my personal opinions, but I try to factor in the general public opinion, too, whether I agree or disagree with it. But as always, your mileage may vary, so be sure to chime in with your thoughts (and additions, if you think I forgot something) in the comments below!
Without further ado and in no particular order, let’s get started…
Rebranding the AEW All-Atlantic Championship to the AEW International Championship
When the All-Atlantic title was first introduced, my immediate responses were 1) Why does AEW need a third midcard title that will likely just be like the European Championship?, 2) Ew, that name doesn’t roll off the tongue and it’s awkward to type. They didn’t think of that ahead of time? and 3) Wait…why are some of these countries on this belt if they aren’t in the Atlantic region?
Thankfully, someone had the bright idea of renaming it the International Championship, which is so much better. Not only does it sound more prestigious, it opens it up to any country without contradicting itself, and it is easier/nicer to type out and see on graphics.
Granted, I still have a deep dislike of titles being named both “Television” Championship (by being on TV all the time, they all are TV titles) and by being associated with regions, since what separates the AEW World Championship from the International Championship? Both belts are defended by anyone from any country, in any country, so they’re both international world titles.
But hey, in a world where we have stupid things like the United States and North American and Intercontinental Championships and whatnot, at least the International Championship is a step up from the All-Atlantic Championship.
Now, when you mention the Continental Championship, that effectively defeats the whole purpose of the International Championship, but this is the positives, not the WTF list. By and large, the International Championship had a great year.
Speaking of which…
Orange Cassidy’s Title Reign and Leveling Up
If you don’t pick Orange Cassidy’s International Championship run as the best title reign of the year, you at least have to admit it’s in the running.
The matches were a series of great contests, week after week. Every time, he got more and more beaten down, to the point that anyone seemed like a viable next champion to finally be too much to handle, which made each defense feel more important.
In the process, Cassidy took a massive step forward in his career, climbing the totem pole and going from an incredibly entertaining jobber to midcard act at the start, heading toward upper-midcard with his Jericho feud in 2022, to this year, becoming a guy who firmly cemented himself an upper-midcard, lower main event talent.
After this run, fans could buy into him being world champion and not feel like it’s a gag, like if Vince McMahon had put the WWE Championship on Santino Marella or R-Truth. No, Cassidy’s in-ring talent and character work can clearly sustain a legitimate title reign, and not just a side gimmick to chuckle at as a break from the more serious stuff.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: in a 180 degree flipped kind of way, Orange Cassidy is effectively AEW’s equivalent of The Undertaker. He’s a guy who doesn’t need a belt in order to be a perpetually featured gimmick, but if you wanted to put the title on him, all you have to do is let him do his thing and the fans would get on board.
Awesome year for one of my top 5 favorite people in the company since it started. I loved seeing him get his flowers in 2023 and prove those doubters wrong.
Improvements to a Variety of Wrestlers
On the subject of people leveling up, Cassidy wasn’t the only one. A collective of other wrestlers saw themselves get some massive upgrades this year.
For example, Eddie Kingston going from lovable underdog to ROH world champion, main event caliber star, and focal point of the Continental Classic tournament.
Kris Statlander took down Jade Cargill and won the TBS Championship. Julia Hart is now holding that belt and is leaps and bounds more important than she was as a cheerleader alongside The Varsity Blonds.
Swerve Strickland’s feud with Hangman Adam Page turned him into a potential main-eventer. If he were to beat MJF for the world title, I don’t think people would bat an eye.
The Gunns look so much better now than they did at the start of the year, don’t they?
Hook has been improving and becoming a bigger part of the roster progressively, too. Kudos to him!
The whole Timeless Toni Storm reinvention has given her a new lease on life and people are praising this as her best work yet in her career, after what I consider to be largely a dud with the whole Outcasts faction for too long of a chunk of 2023.
Big Bill, Ricky Starks, Powerhouse Hobbs, and others took some major steps in the right direction this year and should be celebrated.
Christian Cage and The Patriarchy
Who would have thought Christian Cage taking an easy jab at Jack Perry, bringing up the death of his father, would turn into the best heel gimmick of the year?
Nick Wayne’s involvement in this as a target of that, turned ally under his wing, has been hilarious. Cage saying he’s not the leader of a guy like he and Luchasaurus, but that he’s a father figure, and turning into the skid for all of this just keeps making me chuckle.
This faction is great, Christian’s having an awesome run that is so much better than what he was doing when he was brought in, and the TNT Championship had a rough year until it was associated with him.
Awesome, awesome work.
All In: London
By no means was All In a perfect show. I’m sure with the benefit of hindsight, people would love to erase CM Punk’s backstage altercation with Jack Perry from that day, adjust some matches to make them better, and so on. But in general, this was a massive success for AEW this year.
Not only did they move the goal post for what their biggest show ever had been, but they managed to tap into the foreign market idea that WWE has been capitalizing on, too. That shows growth for strategy and thinking ahead to prevent WWE from being the only ones drinking from that well.
At no other point in this year did AEW feel as big as this. As a result, AEW is hoping to recapture and exceed that success with a second go-around in 2024. Whether that’s possible remains to be seen, but since this show had a lot of good going for it, there’s certainly a chance they can top what they did this year.
Shout Outs to Several Matches
Simply put, here are some of the best matches (from my perspective) that AEW put on this year, worth giving some mighty praise to:
- MJF vs. Bryan Danielson, 60-Minute Iron Man Match for the AEW World Championship at Revolution
- Kenny Omega vs. El Hijo del Vikingo from the March 22nd episode of Dynamite
- The Four Pillars Four-Way for the AEW World Championship between MJF, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy and Sammy Guevara from Double or Nothing
- Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship from Forbidden Door
- Bryan Danielson vs. Kazuchika Okada from Forbidden Door
- MJF against Adam Cole in the main event of All In for the AEW World Championship
- Bryan Danielson against Zack Sabre Jr from WrestleDream
- Texas Death Match between Adam Page and Swerve Strickland from Full Gear
Knowing that you can add a good number of other matches to this list, too, just makes it even better.
Expanding the Events
Sometimes, less is more. I often think that when a typical AEW or ROH event has 15 matches on the show and goes on for 5-6 hours where some of them could be on Dynamite. But from a company’s perspective, as well as from the POV of fans who can’t get enough of the content, AEW had a few upgrades this year in putting out more quantity.
Dynamite is the flagship show and akin to WWE Raw, so when Collision came about, that became AEW’s equivalent to SmackDown—a true B-brand, whereas Rampage had struggled to reach that notoriety.
Three more pay-per-views were added to the lineup with All In’s return alongside the debut of WrestleDream and Worlds End coming up. While I’m not the biggest fan of those names, or the placement on the calendar (having All In days before All Out, putting Worlds End on December 30th), they’re chances for the company to make more money.
Whether you like it or not, Ring of Honor produced far more content this year than in 2022, too.
Expansion shows growth. Had AEW simply gotten rid of Dark and Dark: Elevation, and not added these other programs and events, it would have seemed like the inevitable trend for 2024 would have been getting rid of Rampage, cutting down on pay-per-views, etc. Now, it seems more likely than ever that the company could transition to a monthly special model like what WWE has had for many years.
Bringing in Adam Copeland
Edge had grown stagnant in WWE. When that happened, he had three options: 1) stay where he was at and continue to tread water until retirement, 2) hang up his boots and call it a career, or 3) go to AEW and play with some new toys.
He chose to “go have fun with Uncle Jay” and I think it’s going to be well worth it in the long run.
Copeland not only gets a chance to flex his character work and mic skills without having as many restrictions as he does under WWE, but wrestling fresh talent will keep him on his toes longer. We’ll get to see, and already have seen, new things from him as he works with people he’s never crossed paths with. And all of those younger guys who can sit under his learning tree will come out of the experience as better performers, too, whereas if he had stayed in WWE, they wouldn’t have had that opportunity.
What they have in store for his future is unknown, but I’m more excited to see Copeland against guys like Hangman, Omega, Guevara, Cassidy, Strickland and so on, than if he had just continued to feud with The Judgment Day for another year.
Securing Will Ospreay
Signing Will Ospreay felt like it was inevitable, to the point that the announcement didn’t feel quite as epic to me as it could have. But that’s ignoring that the alternative was to lose Ospreay, and that just would have been a massive fumble.
Supposedly, Ospreay was in talks with both WWE and TNA, but after working with AEW for as many matches as he had in 2023, I saw this as a guarantee. If he had signed elsewhere, it would have meant that AEW wasn’t offering enough, which could spiral out of control. Either the funds weren’t there, or the other benefits (like having a measure of creative control, flexibility with his performance, etc) were dying out and AEW as a whole would be less desirable for people to want to work there.
Also, just keep in mind how talented Ospreay is, generally speaking. Having him on your team means you’re pretty much guaranteed to have at least one great match per show, whenever he’s on the card. With All In coming back to Wembley, could we see him winning the world title? Maybe. That’d make for a pretty cool moment, and I’m sure he’s going to have some great matches with a large number of wrestlers on this roster.
Better Than You Bay Bay (Mostly)
If you ignore the hiccups of Adam Cole’s injury and such, this storyline of the friendship between Cole and MJF has done so much good.
MJF was in a rut as a heel. We’d seen him do the shtick of forcing his opponents to wrestle a gauntlet to get to him, cheat to win, and go back to the well for the next feud. Switching up the dynamic and turning him babyface allowed him to try out some other character work and freshen things up.
By association, Cole was able to reattain his status as a main event star after spending so much time on the shelf. There was a serious danger that he could have fallen down the hierarchy and just become another one of the guys, like what happened to so many others (like Keith Lee, Andrade, Miro, etc) before him. Had Cole not gotten injured, we might have even seen him become world champion.
It’s still a possibility. This storyline has taken many detours from what was originally planned, but it might end up coming back around to the original goal, whatever that might have been. In the meantime, as much as I’m sick of Roderick Strong’s character, and as much as I don’t know what the purpose of the ROH tag titles are right now, I’m enjoying a lot of what this Better Than You Bay Bay angle has birthed, and I’m still curious what’s going to happen next.
- Before it fizzled out, seeing The Elite reestablish itself with Page in its ranks was very cool.
- The whole “He’s gay” chant moment was big for a lot of people in ways that a lot of other people wouldn’t understand.
- Final Countdown (one of my favorite songs of all time) and other music being licensed kept popping up for some great moments.
- Cancelling AEW Dark put a smile on my face. Not out of any malicious intent, but because I hated how pointless those shows were, how stupid it was to have a sub-show called “Dark: Elevation”, and for them to move out of the way in favor of Collision was a huge net positive.
- It hasn’t finished, so I’m still curious how this Triple Crown thing is going to play out, but the Continental Classic as a tournament in and of itself has been good. If it continues to do well, it could become AEW’s version of the G1.
What do you think were the best things to happen from AEW this year? Drop your list in the comments below!