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Sports

The Post’s 2022 pro wrestling awards

The Post’s Joseph Staszewski brings you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.

With 2022 coming to a close, The Post gives out its pro wrestling awards after what was another fantastic year for the industry. Congrats to all the winners and a Happy New Year to all.  

Male Wrestler of the Year

Jon Moxley

This was a two-man race between Moxley and Roman Reigns, but the quality of the three-time AEW world champion’s work across multiple companies, leadership in time of crisis and consistency earned him a slight edge here. Moxley, who wrestled 61 times on TV or pay-per-view, was there for AEW when it needed him most. He canceled his planned vacation to bring stability to the company and the world title after losing the belt to CM Punk before the All Out debacle. He wrestled everyone up and down the AEW roster from Punk, “Hangman” Adam Page, MJF and Chris Jericho to Wheeler Yuta, Matt Menard and Dante Martin. Moxley was also the Game Changer Wrestling champion, including two bloody wars with deathmatch legend Nick Gage and also wrestled for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. We probably won’t see a year like this again as Moxley’s new contract will have him wrestling less outside AEW.   

Honorable Mention: Roman Reigns, Jay White, MJF, Josh Alexander

Female Wrestler of the Year

Bianca Belair

We’ve wondered who would be the person to put herself on the level where the WWE’s Four Horsewomen reside, and Belair has done that. The Raw women’s champion for 262-plus days matured into a true superstar this year. Her feuds with Becky Lynch and Bayley were both high-level programs. Belair’s match with Lynch at WrestleMania was one of the best of 2022, period. Add to that winning the Elimination Chamber, delivering in the first WWE women’s singles ladder match with Bayley and taking part in the first women’s WarGames on the main roster. 

Honorable Mention: Becky Lynch, Bayley, Mandy Rose, Jade Cargill, Jordyn Grace

Tag Team of the Year

FTR

The year FTR had will go in the pantheon for tag teams. Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood are currently the IWGP and AAA tag team champions, and previously held those plus the Ring of Honor belts all at one time. They had one of the great trilogies ever with The Briscoes, concluding with a rare double dog-collar match. Wheeler and Harwood wrestled anyone and everyone across multiple companies, fought each other in the inaugural Owen Hart tournament and were a part of Ricky Steamboat’s farewell match.

Honorable Mention: The Usos, The Briscoes, Motor City Machine Guns, The Acclaimed

Match of the Year

Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins, Hell in a Cell

Special things happen when a match’s storyline spills into real life. Cody Rhodes choosing to wrestle with a torn pec, and the moment his black-and-blue chest was revealed, did that in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. Then he and Seth Rollins went out there and killed it in a brutal Hell in the Cell match to finish their trilogy that will be talked about for years to come. 

Storyline of the Year

Sami Zayn and The Bloodline

What was supposed to be a few cameos by Sami Zayn has taken on a life of its own and become the best and most nuanced story in wrestling. Zayn looking to find family and acceptance from WWE’s coolest group has endeared him to the audience. He’s become a main-event player and he’s added a freshness, joy and comedy to Roman Reigns and The Bloodline we haven’t seen before. Who can’t relate to someone wanting to hang with the popular kids and then actually doing it?

Promo of the Year

MJF’s ‘pipe bomb’

We haven’t seen anything quite like it in wrestling since CM Punk’s original one in 2011. MJF’s real-life contract dispute with AEW president Tony Khan spilled over into the television product and it left fans asking the question: “Is this real?” MJF’s frustration turned into an angry, fiery and raw display in which he asked to be fired and called his boss a “mark.” It all concluded in an epic return at All Out three months later and an eventual world title win.

Pay-Per-View of the Year

AEW Revolution

There were a lot of strong candidates for this, including Clash at the Castle, Forbidden Door, because of its historic nature, and Night 1 of WrestleMania, because of its sheer fun. But looking back on my reviews from this year, none received a higher grade than Revolution. This was CM Punk at his height in AEW with the dog-collar match against MJF that saw Wardlow break out out on his own. William Regal made his surprise debut after the match of the night between Bryan Danielson and Moxley. We saw Sting jump off a balcony (before it became a regular thing), Swerve Strickland joining AEW and ton of other great matches on a card without a weak spot   

Manager of the Year

Paul Heyman

Heyman’s brilliance is how many ways he can influence and enhance a story. For a while, it was Heyman who was a central figure in Roman Reigns’ story with Brock Lesnar, then early on he was the gatekeeper to The Bloodline for Sami Zayn and was central to selling the one-lucky-punch angle to Reigns’ match with Logan Paul. Heyman remains the gold standard. 

Honorable mention: Don Callis, Gedo, MVP, Scarlett  

Best return/debut

Bray Wyatt at Extreme Rules

You can make a strong case for Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania because of its impact on the industry, but the careful detail and revolutionary setup for Wyatt set it apart. For weeks and weeks, fans were sent down the rabbit hole chasing Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” being played in arenas, QR Codes, phone numbers, videos and clues to figure out who the “White Rabbit” was. There was at least some doubt, until Wyatt returned after more than a year away, that it may not be him. The moment itself was delivered with the mystique and pageantry it deserved.

Male Breakout Wrestler of the Year

The Acclaimed

We are going to go with a team here because everybody loves The Acclaimed. Max Caster and Anthony Bowens went from mostly working AEW Dark matches to one of the hottest acts in the industry. They also made Billy Gunn – after stealing him from his own sons – relevant again with their “Scissor me Daddy Ass” catchphrase. The duo became the AEW world tag team champions at Grand Slam during a superb trilogy with Swerve Strickland and Keith Lee. The fans’ passion for The Acclaimed made them undeniable in 2022.

Honorable mention: Wardlow, Bron Breakker, Tama Tonga, Logan Paul

Female Breakout Wrestler of the Year

Liv Morgan

We had wondered for a few years if Liv Morgan had what it took to be a main eventer as she went through a few gimmick tweaks. Morgan proved she was in 2022, winning Money in the Bank and then cashing in on Ronda Rousey to a huge pop for the SmackDown women’s championship on the same night. She went on to have a fruitful 98-day reign and more great matches with Rousey as everything began to click for her — especially in the ring.

Honorable mention: Roxanne Perez, Cora Jade, Jamie Hayter

Best OMG Moment

Brock Lesnar arriving on a tractor and lifting the ring at SummerSlam

CM Punk’s All Out press conference was a different kind of “Oh My God” moment, as we stick to things planned for shows itself. SummerSlam was Triple H’s first big show as head of WWE creative and Lesnar’s tractor antics showed the company was back in the larger-than-life-moment business. In a Last Man Standing match, it was pretty jarring to see Roman Reigns fall out of the opposite side of the ring and the structure sitting lopsided after Lesnar was done with it.  

Biggest Story

Vince McMahon stepping down from WWE amid a sexual harassment scandal

The thought was always that McMahon would run WWE until he no longer physically could. That all changed after a Wall Street Journal report revealed WWE’s board of directors was investigating McMahon paying around $15 million in hush money to several women who alleged sexual misconduct from 2006-22. It all led to McMahon, 77, retiring as CEO and head of creative with a tweet in late July, stunningly ending four decades at the helm.

The 10 count

The Rick Ross-led face-to-face between Swerve Strickland and Keith Lee may have been one of the more bizarre and confusing segments of wrestling TV in a while. The members of Strickland’s new Mogul Affiliates faction attacking Lee got very little pop and Ross, who did have some great one-liners, probably talked a little too much. Still, Strickland stomping a cinderblock from the top rope on Lee saved the segment and if AEW keeps Ross with the group it would only help build Swerve’s star power.


Love the idea of Ricky Starks feuding with Chris Jericho and thought the former FTW champion delivered a perfect babyface-after-a-loss promo. Starks opening the show also says how much AEW is committed to him. Still, I would have liked a segment where Starks came out to help Action Andretti instead of the other way around. Just think it would have better explained why Starks and Jericho would need to feud.


If NXT wasn’t going to have Carmelo Hayes win the Iron Survivor Challenge, then a feud with Apollo Crews makes a ton of sense to start getting him ready for Bron Breakker.


New Day is going to put such a fabulous spotlight on the NXT tag team division.


I’m starting to wonder if I REALLY, needed to see Death Triangle vs. The Elite seven times. Match 5 got a little hooky with Brandon Cutler showing up in an elf outfit and them putting a Christmas tree in the ring.


Grayson Waller seems like the guy who would want to use the old Bret Hart-Goldberg chest-plate angle from 1999 to get one over on Bron Breaker and his Goldberg tattoo. Recreating WCW angles from 1999 is usually a bad idea, but this get a pass because of Breaker’s ties to Goldberg. 


Bray Wyatt using the Mandible Claw to take out a cameraman was the first time The Fiend’s return could be entertained.


It’s not always easy to get audience sympathy for someone as big and strong ad Raquel Rodriguez, but WWE has done a good job with her arm injury. But man, Ronda Rousey wanted to see Shayna Baszler be a killer again but all the Queen of Spades does now is lose more often than not.


At this point, how many jobbers is Jade Cargill going to wrestle on TV. It feels like it’s only an attempt to pad her undefeated streak.


WWE announced the Mountain Dew Pitch Black match for The Royal Rumble. It has been rumored to be Bray Wyatt’s first TV match since returning. It will be interesting to see if WWE does any more corporate-sponsored matches in 2022

Extra: Peacock, WWE and Tom Rinaldi did an excellent job with the new Ric Flair documentary. It is certainly worth the time as we learn that Richard Fliehr isn’t even his birth name.


Wrestler of the Week

Jaime Hayter, AEW

AEW fans had been clamoring for the company to put the women’s championship on Hayter for months and she rewarded their confidence in her first title defense. She and former champ Hikaru Shida put on one of the best women’s matches in the company’s short history in the main event of Dynamite last week. It will only raise more anticipation for Hayter’s next clash.

Match to Watch

Kevin Owens and John Cena vs. Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn, SmackDown (Friday, 8 p.m., Fox)

There are a lot of rarities going on in this match. First off, it will be Cena’s only WWE match of 2022 to keep his streak of at least one each year for 20 years alive. Second, it will only be Reigns’ third match on free TV this year. So this is certainly something special. Weave in the nuanced story WWE is telling with Zayn, Owens and The Bloodline and this one is really hard to miss.

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