There’s more great pro wrestling in 2022 than we know what to do with—we should know, we bring you a regular cheat sheet with the three best matches of the past week—one from WWE, one from AEW, and one from the rest of the immense wrestling world. Seeing as it’s the end of 2022, it made sense to look back at the top matches of the year, featuring stellar three-match tag team series, a frog-splash selfie, and buckets of blood.
20. The Brawling Brutes (Butch, Ridge Holland, and Sheamus) vs. Imperium (Giovanni Vinci, Gunther, and Ludwig Kaiser)
Simple pro wrestling at its finest, this bout was basically two opposing gangs showing up in an alley and beating the hell out of each other. They tore into each other with chops, kicks, punches, and pieces of wood. Anytime Sheamus and Gunther matched up this year it was tremendous; throw in the rest of their crews (while throwing away the rules), and you’ve got magic.
Best Moment: Imperium pinning Sheamus’s arms to a wooden bar and lacerating his chest with chops.
19. “Mad Dog” Austin Connelly vs. Max the Impaler
An intense, vicious fist fight between two of the up-and-coming stars of the indie scene. “Mad Dog” was one of my favorite wrestlers to watch all year—a seething, frothing ball of muscle who goes after his opponents like a possum after a rat. Max is a post-apocalyptic monster who tries to rip the flesh off their adversaries. Violent blows with both fists and weapons, and a gruesome finish.
Best Moment: Connelly wrapping a chain around Max’s throat to choke them into unconsciousness.
18. Dustin Rhodes vs. CM Punk
A battle of legends from different generations. Rhodes was the old gunslinger coming off of the ranch one last time. His body can’t keep up with the younger Punk, but he had his moments and it was great to watch him find openings to turn on the jets to try to steal a win. Rhodes is nearing the end of the road, and it is great that we have gotten to see him have some classic matches in his final years.
Best Moment: Rhodes missing a cross body and taking his signature “bouncing off the mat” bump to the floor.
17. Will Ospreay vs. Orange Cassidy
The most unexpectedly great match of the year (and a major stylistic clash, on paper) was also a dramatic roller coaster of a bout. Cassidy flummoxed the cocky Ospreay with his shtick (putting his hands in his pockets, throwing weak kicks). This fired up Ospreay, forcing him to make mistakes. This all built and built to an intense finish. A true surprise that blew away all expectations.
Best Moment: Cassidy blocking a superplex by bouncing Ospreay’s head off of the ring post camera.
16. Biff Busick vs. Jon Moxley
In addition to his AEW matches, Moxley spent much of the year touring indie promotions and having nasty, bloody fights. Busick was coming off a long WWE stint and eager to reestablish himself, and the two went to war. Busick ended up drenched with his own blood as he ferociously took the fight to Moxley, only to get taken out by Mox’s huge knee. In many ways, this should have served as Busick’s entry to the Blackpool Combat Club; instead, he is taking time away from wrestling (although he has popped up in the WWE Performance Center). Still, it was a hell of a one-off battle.
Best Moment: The crowd singing “Bro Hymn” by Pennywise (Busick’s theme) as they exchanged slaps (and blood flew off of Busick’s face).
15. MJF vs. CM Punk
CM Punk at the height of his power—a beleaguered babyface, a little past his prime—trying to battle a younger, stronger, more athletic opponent, one who is hellbent and hidebound on taking him out. Punk spent his time in AEW trying to reestablish a slower, more deliberate style of work, and this was his throwback classic. It was also a match that made MJF, the first guy to beat Punk in AEW, a wrestler who is on the level of the best in the world.
Best Moment: MJF and Wardlow executing a perfect pass of the diamond ring to slug Punk.
14. Ilja Dragunov vs. Jordan Devlin
This was a “loser leaves NXT UK” match, and had the feel of a match with huge stakes, even though they competed in the isolated bubble environment of NXT UK. Devlin (a.k.a. JD McDonagh) launched a vicious attack on Dragunov’s neck, and there were multiple moments when it felt like the match should be stopped. Dragunov fought like he was fighting for his life, and Devlin fought like he was trying to end it.
Best Moment: Devlin dropping Dragunov directly on his neck with a brainbuster on the top turnbuckle.
13. Bryan Danielson vs. Jon Moxley
This match served as the formation of the Blackpool Combat Club, and was a perfect mission statement for the type of grinding, physical, brutal pro wrestling they were trying to establish. Two of the best in the world adding an extra crank and twist on every hold they put on and using extra steam on every strike they threw.
Best Moment: Danielson putting Moxley in a triangle choke, and Mox ripping at his eyes and beard to get out, while Danielson beat on his bloody head to lock it in tighter.
12. Villano IV vs. Pentagón Jr.
There is nothing in wrestling as emotionally powerful as a lucha libre mask match. Villano IV wouldn’t go quietly, pounding and bloodying his younger opponent, pulling out all the tricks he learned over the past 40 years to try to steal a win (and Pentagón’s mask). An incredible capper to an incredible career for Villano IV and an iconic moment for Pentagón Jr., as well.
Best Moment: Villano IV removing his legendary mask for the last time, surrounded by his tearful family.
11. The Briscoes vs. FTR II
The rare rematch that lives up to the original. This was a beautifully built two-out-of-three-falls match that featured three crescendos instead of just one. Dax Harwood got his chest chopped bloody and both Cash Wheeler and Mark Briscoe were bleeding from their heads. Tremendous intensity, and violent, hard-hitting action, with an epic final showdown between Jay Briscoe and Dax.
Best Moment: Wheeler’s surprise back suplex on Mark from the top rope hard to the floor.
10. Bryan Danielson vs. Adam Page
AEW Dynamite, January 5
A blood-soaked AEW World title classic, the kind of match which made wrestlers like Terry Funk, Ric Flair, and Harley Race legends. Their previous match ended in a time-limit draw, so this had judges at ringside if it went 60 minutes again. By the end, both wrestlers were drained of both blood and energy, and Page’s final triumphant moment was the highlight of his title run
Best Moment: Page practically decapitating the American Dragon with the greatest buckshot lariat of his career.
9. Matt Makowski vs. Tom Lawlor
A former Bellator fighter (Makowski) battled a former UFC fighter (Lawlor) in a nasty fight that mixed MMA attacks with traditional, hard-hitting pro wrestling. There were great grappling and submission exchanges and some shockingly violent strikes. Makowski missed most of the year with a knee injury; he might have made this list multiple times if that hadn’t been the case, and Lawlor is consistently a highlight in both New Japan and the indie scene.
Best Moment: Makowski spinning a cutthroat torture rack into a cross armbreaker.
8. Charlie Dempsey vs. A-Kid
An absolute classic that fell under the radar of almost anyone, a great example of how NXT UK was putting on bangers in a total vacuum. This was a British Rounds match between Dempsey (the son of William Regal) and A-Kid (who would go on to wrestle as Axiom in NXT), featuring a great mix of grappling, violent strikes, and suplexes. Both wrestlers looked great, but Dempsey in particular looked like the natural heir to the British grappling tradition of his father, Fit Finlay, Dave Taylor, and Terry Rudge.
Best Moment: Dempsey winning the first fall with a disgusting bow-and-arrow submission that bent A-Kid like a pretzel.
7. Bianca Belair vs. Becky Lynch
Arguably the modern queen of WrestleMania, Bianca Belair had her second straight classic on the biggest stage in wrestling. Belair is an athletic marvel and has tremendous charisma; she is the closest thing the WWE has had to the Rock since he left. This match also had a great heel performance by Lynch, with her frustration boiling over and her ego eventually costing her the win.
Best Moment: Belair using her power to lift Lynch out of a triangle choke and send them both to the floor.
6. The Briscoes vs. FTR I
A dream match that actually delivered on its promise. Two of the top tag teams of the 21st century locking up and having a great mix of a classic U.S. Southern tag and modern tag spotfests. A slow build into an explosive finish, and a match that stole WrestleMania weekend.
Best Moment: FTR opening Jay Briscoe up by catapulting him face-first into the bottom of a table.
5. Sheamus vs. Gunther
Sometimes wrestling is the best when it is simple, and this was simply two guys who hit very hard, hitting each other very hard. Gunther is the best in the world at raising welts, and Sheamus’s fish-belly-white skin is a perfect canvas
Best Moment: Pick a chop, any chop.
4. L.A. Park vs. Villano IV
The first step of the incredible Villano IV final act. This was the first round of AAA’s Ruleta de la Muerte tournament, which would end with Villano IV being unmasked. A pair of lucha legends with plenty of tread on their tires fighting for their identities and leaving pieces of themselves in the ring. The ultimate raging against the dying of their light.
Best Moment: Both men on their knees exchanging punches like Marquez and Barrera.
3. Roman Reigns vs. Logan Paul
Logan Paul showed he was an all-time wrestling prodigy, and Roman Reigns showed he was able to deliver an iconic main-event match with someone in his third match. Maybe the greatest celebrity match of all time (Floyd Mayweather vs. Big Show is the other contender) and a great example of maximalist wrestling at its best
Best Moment: Logan Paul delivering a frog splash through a ringside table while taking a selfie.
2. The Briscoes vs. FTR III
A reckless double dog collar match that left all four wrestlers looking like they swan-dived into a wheat thresher. All four showed a total disregard for their own safety and the safety of their opponents. An incredible capper to one of the greatest three-match series in the history of wrestling,
Best Moment: Wheeler yanking Mark Briscoe off the top rope by his neck, sending him crashing kidneys-first onto a pile of steel chairs.
1. Anarchy in the Arena: Jericho Appreciation Society (Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, Matt Menard, Angelo Parker, Daniel Garcia) vs. Blackpool Combat Club (Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley), Eddie Kingston, Santana, and Ortiz
A riot masquerading as a wrestling match, with multiple wrestlers engaged in a contest to see who could leave the largest amount of blood on the arena floor. From the first 10 minutes with everyone brawling as “Wild Thing” played on repeat, to Garica and Kingston brawling over the concourse, to Moxley trying to carve his name into Matt Menard’s head with a fork; pure mayhem. Every wrestler had their moments, but it was a career performance from Eddie Kingston, who was basically Ash in Evil Dead II.
Best Moment: Eddie Kingston stumbling from the back of the arena soaked in blood, carrying a gas can, ready to burn it all down.
Honorable Mention Awards
Best Match Under Five Minutes
Eddie Kingston vs. Slade
Beyond Americanrana 2022: Blackout, August 21
Kingston showed up in Beyond Wrestling and had a Hagler-Hearns first-round-level slugfest with Slade, a wrestler listed as being from Rikers Island that you totally buy as a guy with a sharpened toothbrush in his boot. Three minutes of hell.
Best Moment: Kingston’s back fist right to the side of Slade’s neck.
Best Brainless Spotfest
Noisy Boy vs. ASF vs. Jack Cartwheel vs. Komander vs. Cometa Maya
Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and watch guys do spectacular stuff, and these are five of the most spectacular wrestlers in the world. Komander in particular had a breakout 2022, walking the ropes and flying high on shows in both Mexico and the U.S. Hell of a fireworks show, with all five wrestlers trying to out-perform each other
Best Moment: Komander walking the ropes for a dive, everyone moving, and then walking the ropes backward to hit a Quebrada.
Best Match Without a Ring
Masa Takanashi vs. Chon Shiryu
ChocoProLIVE! #195, January 21
There was a lot of interesting ringless wrestling in 2022, including some shocking brawls in ICW-No Holds Barred, but this bizzarro spectacle took the cake. These two were wrestling in what looked like a Japanese daycare center. Takanashi used walls and sinks and a windowsill to destroy Shiryu’s legs, while Shiryu flew in and out of windows.
Best Moment: Shiryu diving through a window and hitting a head scissors takedown.
Best Piece of Unearthed Footage
Daniel Noced and Guy Renault vs. Petit Prince and Alan Mitchell
Oct. 12, 1974
This was part of the treasure trove of unearthed French catch wrestling from the 1950s all the way to the 1980s. This match was highlighted by Petit Prince, the Gaelic Rey Mysterio, one of the most electric high flyers of all time. He was doing lightning-fast ranas and arm drags in the late 1960s, and here he shows off his entire bag while paired with Daniel Noced, who was one of his great rudo opponents. Alan Mitchell was a slick British technician who had dozens of ways to clown his opponent. For everyone who thinks 1970s wrestling is dry and boring, check this out.
Best Moment: Petit Prince getting thrown into the ropes and landing upside down with his foot caught in the top rope.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.