The second Ring of Honor show takes place and Claudio wins the world title, his first ever as a pro wrestler. Former champ Jonathan Gresham walks out on the company. It is revealed that Vince McMahon paid four different women a total of twelve million dollars to keep them quiet over sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Vince McMahon steps down as CEO and creative head of WWE. Vince McMahon steps down as CEO and creative head of WWE. Vince McMahon steps down as CEO and creative head of WWE. Vince McMahon steps down as CEO and creative head of WWE. Vince McMahon steps down as CEO and creative head of WWE. Vince McMahon steps down as CEO and creative head of WWE. VINCE McMAHON STEPS DOWN AS CEO AND CREATIVE HEAD OF WWE!
While Vince remains the majority shareholder, he completely relinquishes all control of the company. Stephanie returns to WWE as the new CEO (co-CEO with Nick Khan). Johnny Ace, the toad, is ousted. Bruce Prichard is temporarily named head of creative. Triple H eventually returns to assume the role himself, the role he had seemingly been groomed for going back fifteen years. Shane remains on the outside looking in. PROBABLY SHOULDN’T HAVE BOOKED YOURSELF TO GET OVER IN THE RUMBLE, EH SHANE?!
Also, Ric Flair announces he will wrestle another retirement match. This wouldn’t even qualify as a shocking story even if it was the only news item of the year.
AEW’s build to All Out is a hot mess, with Punk coming back probably a bit before he’s ready, and the company having cooled off over the summer due to too many talents being signed and not enough TV hours to feature them all. Long-term storylines have fizzled in favor of weekly hotshot supercards. Crowds seem cool on Punk, who responds to the less-than-euphoric reactions in a mature and veteran way: He insults and pouts and blames everyone but his own grey and half-broken-down self. Moxley vs Punk is the expected match and though the crowd is still excited to see Punk, the bloom is off the rose. And though fans continue to love Mox and appreciate how he carried the company during a tumultuous summer, fans are ready for new blood. MJF is still MIA.
WWE SummerSlam does not take place in August for the first time in its thirty-five-year history. It happens on the 30th of July to ensure no issues using the Tennessee Titans football stadium as the hosting venue. Brock Lesnar drives a tractor into the ring and attempts to flip the entire thing over onto Roman Reigns. Yep. That’s what happened.
AEW’s All Out was at first a success and then an unmitigated disaster. The PPV knocked it out of the park but the after-show, featuring newly-crowned CM Punk being interviewed by the media, consisted of the new champ lashing out at everyone from Colt Cabana to Hangman Page to the rest of the Elite. In the middle of his tirade, he offered anyone who wanted to come talk to him to find him in his locker room. Soon after, the Elite did just that, bringing the head of talent relations and the company’s top lawyer with them. Upon entering the room, Punk threw a sucker punch, hurled a chair, and Ace Steel took a bite out of Kenny Omega’s arm. Oh and Punk injured himself AGAIN in the middle of the match with Moxley, taking him out of action for another few months. He has not returned to AEW and all indications are he simply wants to part ways with the company.
AEW’s ratings dipped consistently below a million with Punk and the Elite suspended. This coupled with the enthusiasm in WWE-land—due to Triple H being a less insane booker than Vince McMahon—has seriously hindered the company’s momentum. In fact, it’s fair to say its momentum is completely in the negative. MJF is back, having returned at All Out, and he is set up to be the next challenger to the AEW title, currently held—once again—by Jon Moxley. The rest of the card feels aimless, though there’s some life in the tag division, due to The Acclaimed still being over and featured weekly on TV (not a reliable combination in AEW-land). WWE is less chaotic and less prone to wild swings of lunacy but the overall product is a bit thin and tired, with only Sami Zayn on Smackdown providing a spark. Wrestling in general is down and ratings for both companies have sagged since the summer.
The Elite return, MJF wins the AEW title, Ricky Starks ascends to title contender…and the ratings are as bad as ever. It will take AEW a while to dig out of the hole they are in, and it’s only going to happen with patient booking and a laser-sharp focus on the most popular acts of the roster. On that note, Ring of Honor’s inclusion has been a net negative, but Tony Khan promises that December’s ROH PPV will mark the next phase of the secondary company, and that the heavy dose of ROH talent on Dynamite will soon be a thing of the past. What that means exactly is still TBD. WWE’s Survivor Series came and went and other than the show featuring the first “main roster” version of WARGAMES, and a short-term injury to Roman Reigns (a ruptured eardrum), there’s little to report.
William Regal, less than a year after being fired by WWE and hired by AEW, is granted his release from AEW in order to return to WWE. Triple H was reportedly furious over his firing as he saw Regal as his potential right-hand man whenever he took over the company. That day came sooner than anyone predicted and Tony Khan was gracious to release him from his reported three-year deal (on the condition that Regal not be featured as an on-screen character). Regal stands to be the Pat Patterson to Triple H’s Vince McMahon, a sharp vet to bounce ideas off of and help carry the burden of booking the show. No word yet if Tony Khan has such a person around him. Based on how this year has gone, he certainly needs one.
LATE INSERT: This tweet appeared in mid-December and I couldn’t help but laugh. 2022 teases what could be an evil wilder 2023…
Vince McMahon has also told people that he intends to make a comeback at WWE, saying he got bad advice from people close to him to step down and that he now believes the allegations and investigations would have blown over had he stayed. https://t.co/xSH94LMCFc https://t.co/D851vN0GV5
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) December 13, 2022
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This year began with WWE reeling and AEW cruising. It ends with WWE cruising and AEW reeling. In between featured more twists and turns than could ever have been imagined. One never knows how the winds of change will blow. This time next year, if this year is any indication, we may be looking at a completely different pro wrestling landscape. For all we know, Impact could be the biggest brand of them all.
Until then, here’s to 2022, (so far) the wildest and wackiest year of pro wrestling I’ve ever experienced.
May it rest in peace.