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 rounding things out with the best of World Wrestling Entertainment with the Greatest Wonders list.
As with the other lists (and pretty much any opinion piece), this is subjective and I may have even forgotten about things that should be added. You may have other ideas of what else should be listed here. In that case, I invite you to post your own lists in the comments below to keep the discussion going!
Without further ado and in no particular order, let’s get started…
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens Win the Tag Titles at WrestleMania 39
The story of Sami Zayn leaving The Bloodline, the moment of the turn on Roman Reigns itself, their match at Elimination Chamber, and finally, Zayn partnering with Kevin Owens to win the tag team titles in the main event of WrestleMania night 1, in one of the best matches of the year, was such a great ride.
That’s what pro wrestling should be, in my book. It had an interesting tale to tell, with engaging characters that we could get invested in, great promos, great in-ring work to back it all up, and a finished product that ended on a good note, rather than just fizzling out or being pushed aside because “plans changed” or “we didn’t want to tell that story.” WWE knew what people wanted, presented it to them in an entertaining way, and rewarded them for their fandom.
Granted, the title run that followed left much to the imagination. Seemingly, WWE didn’t know what to do past them winning the belts. But they still did, and the moments are still there for posterity. This also proved that Zayn is more than over enough to give a world title reign in a future, so fingers crossed that happens in 2024!
Cody Rhodes Doesn’t Lose Steam + Press Conference with Jey Uso
Unlike the happy ending of Sami and Kevin winning the tag titles in Mania night 1’s main event, Cody Rhodes wasn’t so lucky. As previously stated, that is something I still think is one of the biggest mistakes of the year, and the fallout from it with The Bloodline isn’t something I think justifies it, but hurts it even more and proves the point that it should’ve happened.
However, with that being said, one of the best things of the year was seeing that The American Nightmare didn’t lose steam after that crushing loss. That’s been a regular thing to most other Superstars, where they’re pushed to the top of the mountain, fall of it just before climbing the peak, and then, either the fans get bored with them, stop supporting them, or turn on them entirely—or, WWE Creative does that for everyone, sidelining them and ruining their momentum.
Look at Shinsuke Nakamura, for example. When he failed to beat AJ Styles after winning the Royal Rumble, what happened? He was stuck as a low-investment midcarder for years to come, often with WWE not putting him on television for weeks at a time even when he was holding a title.
But not Cody. He remains arguably the top Superstar in the company, but at least the top babyface, eclipsing even Seth Rollins by most metrics. All the detours and side quests he was given wasn’t enough to get fans to stop reacting to him. He’s still got the crowd on his side.
I do not at all look at that and say “WWE was right in delaying the win, and it’ll mean so much more if he beats Roman at WrestleMania 40.” Fundamentally, I’ll disagree with that until we see concrete proof otherwise. But I’m happy that Rhodes wasn’t shafted in 2023 just to swerve audiences.
Also, this could’ve been its own section on here, but the press conference where Cody and Jey Uso were drunk, messing around, was one of my favorite moments of the whole year in WWE. That was hilarious and it’s helped turn “yeet” into a much more profitable catchphrase for Jey, who I’ll bring up again later in this list.
I’m beating this drum that WWE needs to strap the rocket to Cody, and I’m really holding out hope that I won’t be disappointed come Mania 40 like I was this year.
Gunther Breaks the Intercontinental Championship Record
While I’ve been annoyed at Roman Reigns retaining his titles, someone I’m thrilled kept his belt this year was Gunther. Breaking the Honky Tonk Man’s record for longest Intercontinental Championship reign was something a long, long, long time coming.
Plenty other people could have justifiably done it in the past. Santino Marella even had his Honk-a-Meter. But WWE finally pulled the trigger on breaking the record with The Ring General, etching him in the history books and helping restore some much-needed credibility to that title.
This isn’t a joke run. Far from it. Gunther’s been one of the most protected talents in WWE, only suffering a handful of losses, with most being in tag team matches or by disqualification, particularly in NXT UK, rather than the main roster. When someone does beat him for it, it’s going to make that person mean so much more.
The fact that Gunther had some of the best matches this year on top of it just made the title run even better, as it wasn’t remotely a case where he held it forever, but did nothing with it, like Roman (and even Rhea Ripley, to an extent). Gunther’s just out there kicking ass and being one of the best Superstars on the roster, and to see him rewarded for that was awesome. He’s going to have a great 2024.
Ex-Con Dominik Mysterio / Dirty Dom and Mami Rhea Ripley
At the beginning of the year, the Ex-Con Dom storyline and feud with Rey Mysterio was one of the better tales being told. So many moments in that story were highlights of the night, and this gimmick of Dom being some hardened criminal after spending one night in jail made for some hilarious material and a great entrance at WrestleMania.
Following up from that, the Dirty Dom era began, and they doubled down on the on-screen relationship between Dom and Rhea Ripley. Calling him her Latino Heat, all the Mami stuff…just gold.
Ripley didn’t have much of a title reign this year, often going weeks without defending her title, and rarely having anything much of a challenge when she did. But this story kept her relevant way better than just saying “We’re The Judgment Day and we run Monday Night Raw” every week and doing nothing more. If she was involved with Dom, it made for some good television through and through.
Shout out to Dom for winning the North American Championship and for progressing in all aspects of his career, too. He’s better on the mic and in the ring than ever before. Nice work.
Multiple Superstars Level Up in 2023
Dom wasn’t the only one to level up this year. Many other Superstars took huge steps up on the hierarchy.
- LA Knight went from having a terrible gimmick with Max Dupri to being a babyface sensation. As simple as it is, “Yeah!” has become the best catch phrase of the year, and if his fandom doesn’t die down, he could very well be looking at a title run of some sort in 2024. He’s my pick to dethrone Logan Paul for the US title, personally.
- Iyo Sky managed to go from being one of Bayley’s two sidekicks to winning the Money in the Bank briefcase, successfully cashing in for the women’s title, and still holding it months later, rather than just being a transitional champion like many others before her (like Nikki A.S.H. was, for example). She may very well even walk into WrestleMania as champion. That’s great.
- Jey Uso earned the Main Event moniker this year. His face turn was a great moment, he’s put on some great matches, the crowd loves him and he’s lapped Jimmy Uso in terms of star power to a point where he can’t even be considered in the same race anymore.
- Chad Gable had some of the best matches of the year and was arguably the most consistent in-ring performer on any brand. Coming so close to winning the Intercontinental Championship hopefully will mean something and they’ll put the belt on him at some point. For that matter, Maxxine Dupri has been way better off as part of Alpha Academy than what she was doing with Maximum Male Models. Shout out to Mace and Mansoor for not deserving being cut off the roster, by the way. They deserved another chance to succeed.
- Carmelo Hayes and Trick Williams stole the show in NXT. Some title wins and reaching the top spot on the roster, even over current champion Ilja Dragunov, has them poised to be big stars going forward.
- I could name so many more people that did some great work in moving forward in their careers this year like The Creed Brothers, Brooks Jensen & Josh Briggs & Fallon Henley, Tiffany Stratton, Zoey Stark, Grayson Waller, Wes Lee, and more, but this article would be way too long to break down all of them.
Logan Paul’s Continued Success
I am by no means a fan of Logan Paul outside of WWE, but damn if I have to say he’s one of the most thoroughly entertaining WWE Superstars going right now.
One of the best moments of the year—arguably THE best single “spot” in any match—was Logan Paul and Ricochet colliding mid-air at the Royal Rumble. That was amazing, and it led to a fun match between them months later.
On top of that, Paul winning the United States title, while still fresh, is a net positive on a few fronts. He’ll most likely have a more prominent role at WrestleMania, defending that title, than just having a random feud with someone for the pure sake of it. Since all his matches have been entertaining so far, I’m assuming that match will be one of the better bouts on the lineup for that night, and his star power will boost its notoriety in the process, too.
WWE Signs CM Punk, Jade Cargill and Lexis King
All Elite Wrestling had a few years of stealing talent away from WWE. Cody Rhodes was the first big move back toward WWE, but by and large, he was the only one, as the few others were mostly people who had popped up in a few guest matches on AEW Dark and such.
This year, though, WWE made some moves to bolster its roster by taking AEW talent, polishing them up and presenting them as “making it to the promise land” in many ways.
Jade Cargill hasn’t even done anything, but they’ve made her look like they signed such a hot ticket item that if someone wasn’t following AEW, they’d assume she was one of the biggest “gets” WWE has ever pulled off. And funny enough, even just standing there, without cutting any promos or wrestling any matches, she sort of feels like she’s better tailored for this than AEW, doesn’t she?
I always thought Brian Pillman Jr. had more potential than what he was doing in AEW. Now that he’s in NXT as Lexis King, I’m digging his stuff, and I’m earmarking him as a future NXT champion in 2024.
And then, there’s CM Punk. Your mileage may vary on whether this is a doomed signing or the second coming. Frankly, I’m on the fence about this, as I was heavily critical of his work in AEW, so going to WWE doesn’t absolve him of that whatsoever. If anything, it might mean he carries it over to Raw and starts mucking things up, getting injured and being more of a headache than he’s worth.
But fair is fair, and until something happens, we should give him the benefit of the doubt that most people deserve a second chance. So far, all signs seem to be pointing to him behaving, the crowd loving it, and there being a level of genuine excitement to seeing what he has next, rather than a sense of dread.
For instance, I’m way more interested in Punk against Seth Rollins for the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of the first night of WrestleMania 40 coming to pass than if it had been Rollins against someone like Drew McIntyre again, aren’t you? I want to see if Punk can have a good feud with guys like Owens, Zayn, Rhodes, Damian Priest, Shinsuke Nakamura, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, AJ Styles, so on and so forth.
How these signings will pan out in 2024 is anyone’s guess, but so far, they’ve been positives that make it seem like the grass is indeed greener on the WWE side. The more this happens, the more enticing it will be for AEW talent to want to jump ship.
The New Championships…for the Most Part
WWE took some steps in the right direction this year with adjusting a few of the championships. Truthfully, it isn’t a home run for each decision in my mind, but there are some big pluses worth talking about.
For one, instead of having both the world titles held hostage from an absent Roman Reigns, WWE finally allowed another world title to be defended on a regular basis. I like the look of the World Heavyweight Championship quite a bit as well, even though I like the real WWE Championship right now the best than any design other than the Winged Eagle. Unfortunately, I can’t say I love the name, or how it has a different lineage than the previous World Heavyweight Championship, which just makes for all sorts of needless confusion, and I do anticipate an odd scenario where we’ll have the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship (which is represented with a new gold title, as well as two other belts) split up and/or merge. Will we really have the Universal Championship and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (without “World Heavyweight” in the name anymore, but having that on the belt design itself), and the “WWE World Heavyweight Championship” on Raw? Messy. But it could’ve been way worse, in so many ways, and at least we have a fighting champion.
I wasn’t annoyed with the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships like some other people. Overall, having the WWE Women’s Championship that says undisputed on it, as well as the WWE Women’s World Championship, isn’t a naming convention I like, either. But hey, the women get belts that can be traded between rosters in the WWE Draft in a better fashion, the belt designs look great, and those are good things.
Getting rid of the NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships was necessary. It’s a shame the main roster tag titles still haven’t gotten an upgrade in the process.
Bringing back the Heritage Cup, even though I’m not a huge fan of it, has given people on that roster something else to do, so that’s a positive.
Now can we PLEASE get some changes to the men’s tag titles??
San Juan Street Fight at Backlash
If you’re looking for a match that has some of the biggest pops of the year, a lot of great action, makes a large number of people look great in it, AND features some returns, look no further than the San Juan Street Fight that took place at Backlash in Puerto Rico.
The crowd was super hot for Bad Bunny, creating one of the best entrances of the year. All the fighting was fun to watch between he and Damian Priest, who won over many more fans backstage, supposedly, with his performance. Zelina Vega earlier in the night had a career highlight as well (and one of the best ring attires of the year, too), and then, we get a surprise return from both Savio Vega and Carlito, leading to Carlito rejoining the roster? Awesome!
Best WWE Matches of 2023
Some of these were touched on already in this article, but here’s a list of some standout best matches of the year from my perspective:
- Men’s Royal Rumble
- United States Championship Elimination Chamber Match
- Undisputed WWE Universal Championship Match: Roman Reigns (c) vs. Sami Zayn from Elimination Chamber
- SmackDown Women’s Championship Match: Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Rhea Ripley from WrestleMania 39 (Night 1)
- WWE Tag Team Championship Match: The Usos (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn from WrestleMania 39 (Night 1)
- Intercontinental Championship Triple Threat Match: Gunther (c) vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus from WrestleMania 39 (Night 2)
- San Juan Street Fight: Bad Bunny vs. Damian Priest from Backlash
- Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship Match: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa from Night of Champions
- The Usos vs. Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa from Money in the Bank
- Intercontinental Championship Match: Gunther (c) vs. Chad Gable, Monday Night Raw, September 4th
- Men’s WarGames match from Survivor Series
- Men’s Iron Survivor Challenge match from NXT Deadline
Go back and check them out if you missed them.
- I love the big WWE Championship belt at the new headquarters. That looks so cool.
- Shinsuke Nakamura’s push as of recent times, where he’s allowed to just speak Japanese and is given the anime vignettes, is a huge step up in his presentation. I say that as someone who doesn’t even like anime. It’s just different and feels more natural.
- Newcomers Kelani Jordan and Dragon Lee are two of the standouts who joined the roster this year and are doing some great stuff.
- As silly as it is, the Chase University content on NXT frequently gets a chuckle out of me. Thea Hail is the star of that group, but Andre Chase and Duke Hudson do some great work, too. Even Jacy Jayne has been more fun with this angle than what she was doing beforehand.
- Samantha Irvin brings so much enthusiasm and variety to her job as a ring announcer that she’s making her way onto my Mount Rushmore list.
- Superfan: The Story of Vladimir was FINALLY released, and it was fantastic.
What do you think were the best things to come out of WWE this year? Tell us your list in the comments section below!