2022 sure was a year for wrestling. So many things happened in one year that they feel like they could be a chapter in a book rather than an article. Vince McMahon abdicated the company to Triple H over a scandal and AEW had its share of infighting. So many crazy things happened that it’s easy to forget that Steve Austin had a match in 2022!
How did the big shows fair in a year with so many shakeups? WWE did put together some quality shows, and there is a divide between pre and post-Triple H booked shows. So let's count them down from worst to best.
The Rumble is one of the most can’t-miss events of the year… and somehow, they missed. For the first time since 2015, the Rumble was one of the worst shows of the year. While the ’15 Rumble was a rubbish show with one out-of-place great match, this show just spread mediocrity – everything just hovered around this bar of “okay.” No major stinkers but nothing felt special. The world title matches sound good on paper – a dream match between Lashley and Lesnar? Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins? The former was okay but nothing special, and the latter had a lame DQ finish.
The two Rumble matches were underwhelming. Ronda Rousey’s big comeback just didn’t have the spark – probably because fans knew it was when not if. So many weird things have happened in 2022, it’s easy to forget that Bad Bunny being in the final four of the Rumble and Shane McMahon exiting the company over his own participation in this match happened. But Lesnar winning the Rumble sure … happened. It was too obvious to be upsetting and too contrived to be a crowd-pleaser.
I feel like we’re past automatically assuming every Saudi show will be hogwash. But that doesn’t mean they’re always great. Vince finally got his Roman Reigns/Goldberg match. The best I can say is the right man won, and it was short. Becky Lynch vs. Lita on the other hand was actually the more exciting dream match. So much of this show was so unremarkable, I had to look up what happened. And most of it left me thinking “Yup, that sure happened.” The Elimination Chamber for the WWE Championship was the match of the night – though there have been so many better EC matches. Lesnar winning the gold was a foregone conclusion, but God bless (Austin) Theory for taking so many bumps. It made me think about him being ready for primetime months before he won Money in the Bank.
WWE kicked off the year on a note that was totally … serviceable. Yeah, that’s the word that jumps to mind – serviceable. Not to mention synonyms like fine, adequate, etc. The Usos vs. the New Day was the best of the night, despite the billion times we’ve seen it before. The other tag matches, Edge vs. Miz – all that stuff was (say it with me) fine. Liv Morgan vs. Becky Lynch was another good one and a stepping stone before Liv shook her “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” push.
The main event is a story all on its own. A Seth Rollins-Big E main event already ballooned to a four-way. And then it ballooned to a five-way when Roman caught covid. Allegedly, this did not alter any Wrestlemania plans. I’d say it was weird that they planned on Reigns-Lesnar when it was the planned main event of Mania, but I wouldn’t put it past them. The main event was decent, as expected from the talents in the ring. It was also a bit of a rushed affair, but hey all killer, no filler. It was sad to see Big E’s title run end the way it did, but that felt inevitable.
This was a hard show to rank because there were three outstanding matches and nothing truly awful. But the show also never kicked into that second gear. Putting Wrestlemania into the title only draws attention to Edge/AJ using up their A-game at Mania, while Lashely/Omos didn’t really have A-game to waste. Rollins and Rhodes continued their excellent feud. Charlotte and Rousey upped the ante with a brutal “I Quit” match. The main event was really good – even if it felt like a Raw main event. (And there have been many superb multi-man tag matches on TV.) Also, knowing what we know about Clash at the Castle, the match feels a little more pointless - like McIntryre ate a loss to build suspense to eating a loss.
Well… it lived up to the name this year. Once again, we have a show that was short on stinkers but never really kicked into that second gear. Okay, one weak link: Liv Morgan lost her title to Ronda Rousey in a submission match. Both women are talented, but they just don’t have chemistry as opponents. Extreme Rules started with a banger of a six-man tag match – proving that good wrestling and goofy fun are not mutually exclusive. Sheamus got the win, but didn’t pin Gunther, making sure both men kept their heat.
The other highlight of the night was an “I Quit” match between Edge and Finn Balor. Like a lot of Edge matches, it went a little long, but it was a dramatic bout that sold just how vicious the Judgement Day is as a team. Being two of the most talented women on the roster, Bayley and Belair had a solid ladder match, but there were some been-there, done-that spots. The main event fight pit match between Rollins and Riddle was solid, but lacked that certain spark that would have made it a classic. After that was the big return of Bray Wyatt. We all knew it was coming, but we all marked out anyway.
I really don’t want to begrudge Triple H when he clearly has to make lemonade out of the lemons Vince McMahon left for him. But if you knew nothing about wrestling, would you see Logan Paul vs. Roman Reigns and get excited? Or would you see it as a desperate publicity stunt? Giving the devil his due, Logan put on a pretty good match with the Head of the Table. But hearing the commentary team hustle us during the match was agonizing. They were really trying to sell this as David vs. Goliath – if David were an entitled jerk who rode a glass escalator to success and Goliath were a billion times cooler.
The rest of the show was peaks and valleys. After a practice swing at the Rumble, Lashley and Lesnar had a second chance to deliver that dream match we were expecting. Instead, their match had a stink of “WTF was that?” Strowman and Omos had a hoss showdown that made way for Braun to make fun of Dave Meltzer. Both tag title matches were predictable but entertaining. The Judgement Day got its heat back in a 6-man tag against the OC. Drew McIntyre had a dramatic cage match against Karrion Kross. Many of us are still surprised to see women on Saudi shows, but they had the match of the night. It should be no surprise that Bayley and Bianca Belair had a banger. But the Last Woman Standing stipulation gave them a chance to flaunt their creative sides. Though I am so glad a botched table spot didn’t turn out worse for Bayley.
This is another one that’s hard to rank. While the last two Manias were consistently good (or at least good under the circumstances), I feel like this one is split down the middle. And no, I’m not going to have my cake and eat it too by splitting these into two entries. Night 1 got off to a lousy start as Rick Boogs was injured, abruptly ending the tag title match. Amazingly, that was not a pall on the entire event. Then again, Reigns-Lesnar 67 also ended abruptly because of injury. But you can watch their serviceable match without knowing. Brawling Brutes vs. New Day was a pointless squash, and Omos showed he wasn’t ready for the big leagues against Lashley. Charlotte and Ronda had a so-so match that just felt like a warmup for the next show.
If you like juvenile comedy, Zayn vs. Knoxville did the job. And give credit to Sami Zayn for being good-natured enough to take spots like a board full of mousetraps. Logan Paul made a surprisingly good debut in a tag match against the Mysterios when WWE actually had the wisdom to make him a heel. The women’s tag match was more than overshadowed by Rhea & Liv dressing like Batman & Catwoman (I’m not made of stone). And Naomi & Sasha later abdicated the belts in defiance of how they were treated. After a decent McAfee/Theory match, we saw possibly the worst match of the year as 76 year-old Vince McMahon got in the ring with Pat McAfee. Though that begot the alpha and the omega of Stunner sells as Theory sold like a champ and Vince couldn’t take one at all.
Speaking of Steve Austin, he had a match in 2022. Many of us were anxious after Shawn Michaels, Undertaker and Flair imbrued their legacies with lousy comebacks. But Austin and Kevin Owens had a pretty good match. Turning it into a brawl played to their strengths. Speaking of big comebacks, many of us saw Cody Rhodes’s big return coming, but it was so dramatic and his match with Rollins was superb. Edge vs. Styles and Bianca finally getting one up on Becky Lynch were also highlights.
Money in the Bank
Pretty much as soon as they announced there was going to be an extra man in the Money in the Bank match, I knew that guy was getting it. How Austin Theory’s Money in the Bank journey ended left me with mixed feelings. So maybe, save that for another day. Liv Morgan finally shook her “always a bridesmaid” booking by winning. And because WWE inexplicably loves hot shotting the women’s briefcase, she beat Ronda Rousey almost right away. This was after Ronda had a pretty good match with Natalya – a little submission-heavy, but their styles meshed well.
Before his briefcase win, Theory dropped his title to Lashley in a pretty good match. This may have telegraphed the plot, but man Theory did some crazy selling. Bianca had a rare so-so match against Carmella. But the highlight of the evening was a tag match pitting the Street Profits against the Usos. Every time I thought the match was over, these guys just kept finding new tricks.
Hell in a Cell
There will be many eternal images from WWE – and wrestling – in 2022. One of the most memorable has to be Cody Rhodes’s torn pectoral muscle. For those of us watching the show live, many thoughts ran through our minds: “Will Cody be replaced?” "Will the match still happen?" Anyone who thought Cody would just sit it out doesn’t know Cody, and his willingness to kill himself to be loved. Rollins and Rhodes undoubtedly would have had a great match, with just the cell. But the visual of Cody going through all this torment, and knowing he had a legit injury put this over the edge. Dave Meltzer broke out the 5-star rating for a main roster WWE match for the first time in over a decade, and it was well-earned.
It's almost easy to forget the rest of the show happened, but this was hardly a one-match show. Lashley’s handicap match was forgettable, and Smackdown got shafted with only one (okay) match on the card! Plus, Kevin Owens followed up being Steve Austin’s comeback opponent by beating (drum roll) Ezekial… Ezekial. Yeah, many of us were elated at the return of Elias for a reason. Austin Theory defended his US title in a solid but forgettable match. The Judgement Day beat Finn Balor and his team of good guys before Edge and Balor traded places. The best of the other matches was a nailbiter of a triple threat as Becky, Asuka and Bianca opened the show.
Survivor Series Wargames
Boy… Survivor Series sure pulled an about-face in quality. In 2021, Survivor Series was voted the worst show of the year both by this author and by the Wrestling Observer. Besides problems that were unique to that show, the “brand warfare” was beyond stale after five years. Triple H decided to interject a little life with the return of one of his favorite gimmick matches.
Wargames started on a high note with the women’s Wargames match. Maybe there were some noticeable botches and moments that felt obviously staged. But overall, it was a wild brawl. Ms. Peaks and Valleys Ronda Rousey had probably the only weak match of the night against Shotzi. The match was a little sloppy and most noteworthy for a bizarre spot where Shotzi dove onto Rousey while taking out a few audience plants. (Cause if they weren’t plants, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.)
Balor and Styles had an absolute banger, as to be expected from those two. The triple threat for the US title was absolutely spectacular… even if there were some scary botches. The main event combined great storytelling with hardcore brawling. With a red-hot stable like the Bloodline, they feel like they were made for this type of match. The story centered on whether the Bloodline could trust new teammate Sami Zayn. And Zayn proved his worth. Whether Wargames overstays its welcome as Brand Warfare did, this was a top-notch show.
Clash at the Castle
Clash came so close to being the best of the year. For starters, every match was good to great. Dave Meltzer broke out the 5-star rating again for Gunther vs. Sheamus in their brutal affair. No gimmicks, no special stipulations, just two guys kicking the stuffing out of each other in one of the best matches of the year. The opening 6-woman tag was better than it should have been, Liv Morgan got at least one title defense against Shayna Bayzler, and Edge continued his feud with the Judgement Day. After a false tease the previous month, Seth Rollins and Matt Riddle had a great match.
The main event was an epic showdown between Roman Reigns and Drew McIntrye. This was it, Roman held the gold for two straight years and he was up against the heir apparent on his home turf. After another great no-frills match, Drew… lost. Look, a lot could be said about armchair booking. Though after this, the Head of the Table’s title reign totally circled back to “if not tonight, save it for Mania.” And then, despite losing, Drew celebrated by singing American Pie with Tyson Fury. Comparisons to Summerslam ’93 felt inevitable. Still, even with a head-scratching ending, this was a great show.
It feels appropriate the best show of the year was the first one under Triple H’s rule. And boy, did he make his mark. There were definitely flaws – like the awkward Liv Morgan/Ronda Rousey match and Bobby Lashley squashing (Austin) Theory without any real rhyme or reason. And while Logan Paul has proven he can go, the decision to make him a legit babyface will always be baffling. Also, the false tease of Rollins-Riddle feels like one of the last remnants of Vince’s booking. But it may have saved the show from being bloated.
But there was far more good stuff than bad on this night. The show got off to a great start with Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair. Not only a superb match, but Bayley led a series of comebacks of that also served as a reminder that Triple H was ushering in a new era. The tag matches were good – even if it felt like the Usos and the Street Profits used up a lot of their A-material a month ago. But the highlight of the night was… Lesnar’s tractor. Lesnar’s tractor! Even some of us doubters had a feeling that a Last Man Standing Match would add a little excitement to Lesnar and Roman’s series of infinity. But none of us thought we’d see Brock Lesnar tip over the ring with his tractor! I guess practice actually does make perfect as Lesnar and Reigns (hopefully) concluded their feud with a match that combined brutality and a little silliness in one of the best main events of the year. I’ll stand by Summerslam as the WWE show of the year because, warts and all, it left the fans happy and signaled the beginning of a bold new era.
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© 2022 Alex deCourville