Without a doubt, 2023 was a pivotal year for WWE. From the company being sold to Endeavor to hell actually freezing over, it has been a banner year for the titan of sports entertainment. 2023 also marks Triple H’s first full year as WWE’s head of creative, and it’s hard to argue with the work he and his team put into every WWE premium live event (PLE). Sure, Roman still Reigned, but the Rock returned to lay the SmackDown, and we saw Jey Uso truly become the Main Event. And when it comes to the future, WWE made sure to have Dominik Mysterio and Trick Williams hit the spotlight while adding Jade Cargill to the mix. But enough of who we expect to shine in 2024; let’s look back at 2023’s impact with this 2023 WWE PLE “mixtape,” full of 2023’s most memorable matches (and a couple of bonus cuts for good measure).
Roman Reigns vs. Sami Zayn
WWE Elimination Chamber (February 18)
Roman Reigns entered 2023 in his current historic reign as Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. The Bloodline story, entering year three, was some of the best drama we have ever seen in pro wrestling. His opponent at Elimination Chamber, Sami Zayn, was a significant reason for that. Zayn joined the Bloodline, with pushback from Reigns’s cousin Jey Uso, during the spring of 2022. After being forced to prove his loyalty over and over again, Zayn could not pass what would be his final test, which was to finish his former best friend, Kevin Owens. Instead, he laid Reigns out with a steel chair and vowed to take away his championship in Zayn’s hometown of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This match takes you for a ride; it’s the best example of that time when the entire WWE Universe was on the Sami Zayn bandwagon.
Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley
WrestleMania 39 (April 1)
If you look at the Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley WrestleMania 39 poster, it screams “WrestleMania main event.” While this did not close night one of the show (the Usos vs. Zayn and Owens had that distinction), it was a match that many say stole the evening. Heading into the match, Ripley made history by becoming the first woman to win the Royal Rumble from the dreaded no. 1 spot. She dominated the women’s division en route to WrestleMania, but waiting for her at the finish line was someone who was no stranger to the big stage. The last time these two squared off against each other at the showcase of the immortals, Flair, fresh off a 2020 Royal Rumble win, defeated Ripley at WrestleMania 36 for the NXT Women’s title, proving that she was built for these moments. Unlike their 2020 encounter, their return match would occur in front of fans, and Ripley entered the ring more confident than she was three years prior. Watching this, it’s clear why many thought it could have main-evented WrestleMania 39 Saturday.
Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes
WrestleMania 39 (April 2)
“I have to finish the story!” is what Cody Rhodes said he was determined to do at WrestleMania 39. Rhodes wanted to win the title that had eluded his late father, Dusty, for his entire career. To do so, he had to face someone Dusty was very high on, Roman Reigns. After returning from injury and winning the Royal Rumble, Rhodes earned the right to challenge for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. In the weeks leading up to the match, Reigns and his wiseman, Paul Heyman, reminded Rhodes how much his father adored Reigns … and that he said nothing about his son. Unlike other WrestleMania main events, fans never saw Reigns and Rhodes engage each other physically before the match. Built on Cody’s desire to “finish the story,” this was a must-see match that with time could be considered a classic.
Bad Bunny vs. Damian Priest
WWE Backlash (May 6)
When Bad Bunny joined WWE in 2021—teaming with Damian Priest at WrestleMania 37—many deemed him the best celebrity to perform in a WWE ring. WWE has numerous stars enter the squared circle, including Mr. T, Floyd Mayweather, and Lawrence Taylor. There is often pressure for them to deliver in high-profile matches, but one can argue that no one was under more pressure than Bad Bunny. After getting involved in a previous Dominik Mysterio match, Priest, Bunny’s former friend who’s now aligned with Dominik as part of the Judgment Day, took exception and chokeslammed Bunny through a table. Bunny returned the favor, calling out Priest for a San Juan Street Fight in Puerto Rico at WWE Backlash. Not only did Bad Bunny have the pressure of delivering in a high-profile singles match, but he had to do this in front of his friends and family. Their San Juan Street Fight is one I suggest watching with the volume up!
Seth Rollins vs. AJ Styles
WWE Night of Champions (May 27)
When you look at the WWE roster, you can argue that the two best in-ring competitors are Seth Rollins and AJ Styles. After Roman Reigns took a hiatus after successfully defending his Undisputed WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 39, Triple H announced that a brand new championship would be introduced. This was done primarily due to Reigns’s schedule allowing for lulls in the world championships being defended. Triple H introduced the World Heavyweight Championship, and a tournament was held to crown a winner at Night of Champions. Styles and Rollins put on a fantastic performance, further highlighting why they both deserved this recognition.
The Usos vs. Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa
WWE Money in the Bank (July 1)
Nobody wins when the family feuds, but sometimes you must get it out of your system. Since Reigns became the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, he has let everyone know that he is the Head of the Table and the man responsible for putting food on everyone’s plate. That includes his cousins Jey and Jimmy Uso. Jey was Roman’s first opponent during the Bloodline storyline, forced to acknowledge Reigns after their feud in the fall of 2020. Jimmy was resistant at first, but eventually he fell in line. The two would become the longest reigning tag team champions, and all was seemingly well with the family … until they lost those titles. During this time, they added the Usos’s younger brother, Solo Sikoa, to the fold, and he would soon become the group’s enforcer. When Reigns and Solo attempted to win those very tag titles for the Bloodline, they came up short due to interference from the twins. After Reigns displayed his frustration, Jimmy could not take it anymore and landed the superkick heard ’round the world on the Tribal Chief. A few weeks later, forced to choose a side, Jey would do the same, leading to the Bloodline civil war that had been brewing for more than two years!
Asuka vs. Bianca Belair vs. Charlotte Flair
WWE SummerSlam (August 5)
When you discuss the history of women’s wrestling a decade from now, you won’t be able to do so without mentioning Bianca Belair, Charlotte Flair, and Asuka. When Belair joined the SmackDown roster, the immediate dream match fans penned was between her and Flair. Waiting in the wings was Asuka, who ended Belair’s historic Raw Women’s title reign. (The title was renamed the WWE Women’s Championship after Asuka’s win.) When Flair returned to the WWE for the first time after losing the SmackDown Women’s title at WrestleMania 39, she “jumped the line” and challenged Asuka. Belair took exception, considering she did not lose the title fair and square. Flair accidentally striking Belair (and costing her the title) during a match with Asuka set up the Triple Threat match at SummerSlam. The best part? Iyo Sky was waiting in the wings with her Money in the Bank briefcase, eager to cash in and shift control in WWE in Damage CTRL’s favor.
Becky Lynch vs. Trish Stratus
WWE Payback (September 2)
Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus have a lot in common. Not only are they both looked at as two of the greatest women ever to set foot in a WWE ring, but they are both needle-movers who have carried the women’s division on their backs during their respective primes. Before WrestleMania, Stratus returned to assist Lynch and Lita in defeating Damage CTRL for the Women’s Tag Team Championship. Stratus would soon would join Lynch and Lita in a six-woman tag team match against their foes. After a backstage attack forced Lita out of active competition, Stratus stepped in and became the reason they lost the titles. Stratus would then attack Lynch, coining the term “Thank You Trish” in an attempt to regain respect for laying the foundation. Stratus began to mentor Zoey Stark, who helped Stratus defeat Lynch at Night of Champions. The two would cross paths again in the six-woman Money in the Bank match as Stratus and Stark ensured Lynch did not leave with the briefcase. As their feud intensified, Adam Pearce decided to lock these two in a steel cage and let them settle their differences at Payback. This bout would be the first time Stratus ever performed inside the 15-foot-high steel cage, and it would not disappoint, further solidifying Stratus’s legacy.
The Women’s WarGames Match
WWE Survivor Series: WarGames (November 25)
Spoiler alert: Both WarGames matches at Survivor Series delivered. Let’s start with the women. Kairi Sane shocked the world when she returned at Crown Jewel to help Iyo Sky retain the WWE Women’s Championship against Bianca Belair. Sane would become the newest member of Damage CTRL, making them a force to be reckoned with. Then, on an episode of SmackDown, Belair teamed up with her SummerSlam opponents, Asuka and Charlotte Flair, to face Sky, Sane, and Bayley. Little did they know, Asuka was in cahoots with her former partner Sane, ultimately joining Damage CTRL. Shotzi attempted to assist, but she was laid out for her efforts.
With WarGames on the horizon, Belair, Flair, and Shotzi needed one more partner. Flair would call on her former friend, Becky Lynch, join the team. If you go back to the 2021 Survivor Series, you can see their real-life animosity transfer into their in-ring work. The question going into this match was whether Lynch and Flair could get along, or would Damage CTRL continue to wreak havoc?
The Men’s WarGames Match
WWE Survivor Series: WarGames (November 25)
On the men’s side, the Judgment Day has been dominating Raw for the latter half of 2023. They have tried to take out Cody, Rollins, Zayn, and Jey Uso. Since joining Raw, Uso has been apologetic for his actions with the Bloodline, but Drew McIntyre is the one person who isn’t buying it. To gain vengeance, McIntyre joined the Judgment Day for this match. Down one member, Cody promised to call for backup, striking gold with his mentor and friend, Randy Orton. (Fun fact: Jey Uso and the Bloodline put Orton out of action in May of 2022.) This massive main event was the perfect place to contain all of the havoc that the Judgment Day has wreaked on these WWE superstars, and the heels ended up getting their comeuppance. Oh, I forgot to mention this took place in Chicago, which gave way to one of 2023’s biggest surprises, as CM Punk made his hometown the place where he would return to WWE after walking out in 2014.
Now, if you get through those matches and want to watch more of 2023’s best, here are three bonus matches to watch.
Gunther vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus
WrestleMania 39 (April 2)
Gunther was in the middle of a prestige-restoring run with the Intercontinental Championship, facing two guys who match up with him physically. For Sheamus, this was the chase for the one title that he’s yet to win in WWE; for McIntyre, this was the chase to get a major title win in front of the WWE Universe after the pandemic robbed him of his “WrestleMania moment” in 2020.
Bianca Belair vs. Iyo Sky
WWE Backlash (May 6)
Bianca Belair was in the middle of her Raw Women’s Championship run, with Iyo Sky being a formidable opponent. Sky had the fortune of Damage CTRL in her corner, but the biggest surprise to some was how the crowd in Puerto Rico responded to this match.
Brock Lesnar vs. Cody Rhodes
WWE SummerSlam (August 5)
After Rhodes fell short of finishing his story, he was set to face Roman Reigns and Solo on Raw in tag team action the night after WrestleMania 39. But there was a stipulation: whoever teamed up with him would never get a title shot against Reigns in the future. That didn’t mean much to the Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar. And yet, before the match began, Lesnar attacked Rhodes, leading to a trilogy of matches between them. Going into SummerSlam with the series tied one victory apiece, the stage was set for an epic finish to this chapter in Rhodes’s story.