The pro wrestling world was on fire in 2023 with the top promotions all gaining significant traction, thanks to the top superstars who have carried the business for years.
WWE benefited greatly.
In one of the more surprising moments outside the ring, WWE and UFC merged to form a new company, TKO Group. It launched a new era for the company.
It was among the most notable WWE happenings in 2023. Let’s look back at some of the best moments of the year.
Cody Rhodes returned to a WWE ring for the first time since he tore a pectoral muscle and wrestled in a Hell in a Cell match against Seth Rollins in June 2022. Rhodes was the final entrant in the men’s Royal Rumble match and eliminated Gunther to earn a shot at the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship against Roman Reigns. From then on, he would focus on “finishing the story.”
Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan began the match as the first and second competitors, respectively, and cleared everyone out of their way. It was down to those two and Asuka. After the Japanese superstar spit mist in Morgan’s face, Ripley eliminated her. Ripley then head scissored Morgan to the floor to win the match. She challenged Charlotte Flair for the title.
Before everyone’s attention turned to WrestleMania, Roman Reigns and The Bloodline had unfinished business with Kevin Owens at the Royal Rumble. Reigns and Owens went 1-on-1, and Reigns retained the title. Reigns gave Zayn the opportunity to beat Owens down after the match, but he declined and instead gave Reigns a chair shot, officially ending Zayn’s time with the faction.
Zayn challengeD Reigns at the Elimination Chamber premium live event for the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship in his hometown of Montreal. Zayn came close to upsetting Reigns in front of an electric crowd but fell short. However, The Bloodline would fracture even more with Jey Uso refusing to beat down Zayn.
John Cena confronted Austin Theory in an intense promo weeks before WrestleMania 39. After Theory made fun of his thinning hair, Cena said he would “rather be bald than have them pipe in fake crowd noise for my matches because nobody cares.”
Cena roasted Theory and made their United States Championship match at WrestleMania official. Theory won the match.
Ripley and Flair had their match at WrestleMania 39 Night 1 at SoFi Stadium and put on a pretty strong performance for the crowd.
In a lengthy match, Ripley knocked out Flair at the top rope and got her ready for the Riptide. Ripley completed it and slammed Flair home. She would cover Flair for the 1-2-3 and win the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
She was later named the RAW women’s champion and holds the title to this day.
It was uncertain who was going to win this match going in. Reigns had the lengthy title reign and the boost of The Bloodline behind him despite its apparent fissures. Rhodes had said he needed to “finish the story” to everyone who would listen.
As Rhodes thought he was going to win, Solo Sikoa entered the ring and hit the Samoan Spike on Rhodes. Reigns pinned Rhodes and picked up the stunning victory.
Bad Bunny and Damian Priest faced off at Backlash in Puerto Rico. Bad Bunny came out to an electric crowd and was considered to have one of the best entrances all year.
The match was intense as ever as Priest delivered a Falcon Arrow to Bad Bunny on an elevated platform through the table. Later in the match, Bad Bunny hit the Bunny Destroyer on Priest and got the pinfall. But the match was considered one of the best of the year.
With Reigns becoming more exclusive to SmackDown, Paul Levesque unveiled the World Heavyweight Championship on RAW with a tournament for the championship.
Seth Rollins and A.J. Styles were the finalists for the tournament and fought at Night of Champions in Saudi Arabia. The two went back and forth with a bevy of aerial maneuvers to get a leg up against each other. Styles even used Rollins’ pedigree finisher to try to get the fall.
However, Rollins got the upper hand with a superkick and a pedigree of his own. He then hit the Curb Stomp to finish off Styles. Rollins has held the title since then and has proclaimed himself a fighting champion.
Gunther has been one of the most dominant superstars in WWE over the last year. He won the Intercontinental Championship in June 2022 and had a wild match against Sheamus and Drew McIntyre to retain the title. By September, he became the longest reigning Intercontinental champion, surpassing The Honky Tonk Man’s 454-day reign.
Gunther was ranked No. 4 in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Top 500 singles wrestlers in 2023. Gunther is likely being set up for a major 2024.
Damian Priest and Iyo Sky both won their respective Money in the Bank ladder matches and earned a championship title shot any place and any time. Priest has been holding the briefcase since then and has missed out on cashing the title in, most recently at Survivor Series: WarGames.
Sky cashed her briefcase in at SummerSlam after Bianca Belair defeated Flair and Asuka in a triple threat match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. She then retained her title at Fastlane thanks to help from the returning Kairi Sane. With Damage Control by her side, Sky appears to be set to be a champion for a long time.
LA Knight had a sudden and organic rise to the top of WWE. From nearly winning the Money in the Bank ladder match to teaming up with John Cena, Knight certainly earned his shot at Reign’s championship at Crown Jewel.
Though he lost, Knight’s personality and gimmick harkened back to the old Attitude Era for pro wrestling fans. He’s one of the top guys on the SmackDown roster and is poised for an even bigger 2024.
On the surface, there was nothing about Logan Paul that screamed professional wrestler. But he started the year proving the naysayers wrong. He had an incredible coast-to-coast spot with Ricochet at the Royal Rumble and then entered his WrestleMania 39 match against Rollins on a zipline.
Paul appeared to earn the respect of the pro wrestling world with his performance in the Money in the Bank ladder match, though he came up short. He then defeated Ricochet at SummerSlam with the help of brass knuckles. The YouTube star caped off his incredible year with a U.S. title win against Rey Mysterio.
Paul figures to be a big player in the company in 2024 and will soon have his first challenge for his title.
In 2023, WWE had some massive returns from superstars who have previously left the company. Sane returned later in the year, but it was Chelsea Green and Nia Jax who came back to the Royal Rumble. Trish Stratus and Lita also returned to the ring.
Carlito came back at Backlash to help Bad Bunny defeat Priest, and Jade Cargill became the first former All Elite Wrestling superstar to make a WWE appearance.
At Survivor Series: War Games, there were three major returns. Before Orton, R-Truth was seen in the back interacting with some other superstars. It had been about a year since he’d been seen on WWE TV after he suffered an injury.
Orton was already set to participate in the War Games match with Rhodes, Zayn, Owens and Rollins against Judgment Day and McIntyre. He helped the Rhodes-led team win the match.
But what nobody expected was the return of CM Punk. The crowd went crazy as Punk made his appearance at War Games. Punk and AEW had parted ways only a few months prior. Now, both Orton and Punk are set to build major matches in 2024.
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