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Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling
This year has got off to an eventful start for professional wrestling fans. It seems hard to believe, but so much has transpired and we’re only in the second quarter of 2022.
January is usually a big month because of the Royal Rumble and New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom. Meanwhile, WWE’s biggest stories of the year culminate at WrestleMania in the spring, and Revolution was also a massive success for All Elite Wrestling.
The two biggest companies in the industry haven’t had a shortage of impactful moments. AEW and WWE may have their own distinct approach, but both have managed to make shrewd moves early in the year. And some of them could have lasting ramifications for the remainder of 2022.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at WWE and AEW’s best booking decisions of the year so far.
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10. Scorpio Sky wins TNT Championship
Scorpio Sky is one of those AEW originals who should be further along at this point. The Los Angeles native enjoyed success during the company’s maiden year, but his push hasn’t exactly been consistent.
That’s why his TNT Championship win on the March 9 episode of Dynamite seemed like just what he needed to reestablish himself. Even more, AEW made his crowning moment feel so special, allowing him to close out the show and debut his new theme song.
The use of “Up in the Clouds” from Who We Are: A Celebration of Excellence, Vol. 1 was a nice touch as Sky became the first Black male singles competitor to win championship gold.
This move would rank higher on our list if his loss at Battle of the Belts 2 didn’t put a damper on an otherwise great moment. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we see him hold the TNT title this year.
9. Alpha Academy’s Tag Team Title Run
Alpha Academy are the latest pairing for tag team specialist Chad Gable. This incarnation of his drive to win, which plays off of American Alpha, initially felt uninspiring.
However, it has become a vehicle to prove just how talented he is. We all know the Olympian has a background in amateur wrestling and has dazzled fans with his in-ring work when given the opportunity.
Still, his current work with Otis has allowed him to showcase his knack for comedy, drawing comparisons to Kurt Angle. Their win over RK-Bro on Jan. 10 to become the new Raw tag team champions could’ve failed miserably. Instead, it made Alpha Academy one of the most consistently entertaining acts on Monday nights.
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8. Theory’s Bid to Impress Mr. McMahon
Let’s face it, NXT call-ups don’t feel like a big deal anymore. That’s largely because WWE has failed to cash in on what got many of its developmental projects to the dance in the first place.
This makes Theory such an interesting case study. Although the 24-year-old won the Future Star of NXT in 2020, he didn’t enjoy much success as a singles competitor.
Nevertheless, Vince McMahon clearly sees something in the Atlanta native. So much so that he has appeared in backstage segments with the WWE chairman since the Raw after Survivor Series in 2021. It could’ve easily turned into a throwaway moment but this has surprisingly made Theory a Superstar to watch in 2022.
We rarely see anyone from NXT get this level of approval but this has turned into a solid ongoing plot line. Mr. McMahon has given him career advice on-screen, and his mentorship has also led to a match with Pat McAfee at WrestleMania 38 and his newly won United States Championship.
7. Sasha Banks and Naomi Revitalize Women’s Tag Team Division
The WWE women’s tag team division is a bit of a mess, and its middling championship has been in desperate need of an engaging team to save it from obscurity.
For now, Sasha Banks and Naomi have been a satisfying remedy. Yes, they are yet another team WWE arbitrarily put together due to lack of established tandems; and yes, their win at WrestleMania 38 was the latest historic moment to distract from the company’s inept handling of the division.
This is all true but putting the women’s tag team titles on two fan favorites is a great way to develop an interest in them again. It may not be a long-term fix but Banks and Naomi are a fun team with tons of potential.
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6. Lita’s Return
Lita is undeniably a legend and pioneer. However, the end of her career was not a proper send-off for someone who had done so much for women’s wrestling during the Attitude Era.
So, it was a pleasure to see WWE attempt to rectify this mistake earlier this year. The four-time WWE women’s champion returned in January to compete in the women’s Royal Rumble match.
Mickie James’ appearance as Impact Knockouts champion may have been one of the most-talked-about moments from the event, but seeing Lita eliminate her may have been even more meaningful.
Many fans may not remember that James defeated her for the women’s title in her retirement match at Survivor Series 2006. Afterward, The Extreme Diva was humiliated on her way out unlike her longtime rival, Trish Stratus, who had her moment in the sun.
Eliminating James was a subtle way to give her closure. Still, it didn’t stop there as she went on to challenge Becky Lynch for the Raw Women’s Championship at Elimination Chamber in February.
The 47-year-old gave Big Time Becks one of the best feuds of her recent reign, and their match gave Lita the validation she always deserved.
5. Thunder Rosa finally beats Britt Baker
Thunder Rosa’s rise to prominence over the past three years has been quite the Cinderella moment.
On March 17, 2021, she and Britt Baker became the first women to compete in the main event of AEW Dynamite. Their critically acclaimed Unsanctioned Lights Out match would link the two from then on.
As an official member of the AEW roster, Rosa unsuccessfully challenged Baker for the women’s championship at Revolution. Unfortunately, their first one-on-one match in close to a year ended with a disappointing finish as the champion relied on interference to retain.
However, this paved the way for AEW’s first women’s steel cage match a year after their first main event together. In her hometown, La Mera Mera finally bested The Role Model and secured championship gold.
This was an excellent example of how to build a babyface challenger over time and get the audience to turn on an otherwise popular champion.
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4. Wheeler Yuta Joins Blackpool Combat Club
For indie wrestling fans, Wheeler Yuta was one of the most exciting prospects AEW brought on in 2021.
The former IWTV world champion already had an impressive body of work but mainstream viewers hadn’t seen enough to connect with him. To them, he just looked like another exceptional wrestler with no discernible character traits.
That all changed when he aligned himself with the newly formed Blackpool Combat Club. The aftermath of the Yuta and Chuck Taylor vs. Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson fight from this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Slam special changed everything.
The 25-year-old’s confrontation with William Regal led to a groundswell of support and an invitation to join the stable. As a result, Yuta has become one of the breakout stars of 2022.
3. Bianca Belair’s 2nd Consecutive WrestleMania Win
Bianca Belair’s embarrassing loss to Becky Lynch last year at SummerSlam was one of the most controversial booking decisions of 2021.
As such, it was nice to see The EST of WWE regain her momentum in time for WrestleMania 38 and a rematch with Big Time Becks. This time, the two produced a grueling and wildly entertaining match that stole the show on Night 1 of The Show of Shows.
In the end, Belair avenged her loss at The Biggest Party of the Summer and claimed the Raw Women’s Championship. It’s difficult to say the payoff was worth it because some fans still refuse to boo Lynch and it made her opponent look unnecessarily weak.
Nevertheless, this was the right decision and it helped to add another accolade to the 33-year-old’s growing resume on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
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2. Wardlow and MJF’s Split
Wardlow is quickly becoming one of the hottest wrestlers on the AEW roster. The slow burn that led him to betray Maxwell Jacob Friedman at Revolution may have created the most effective babyface turn in the history of the company.
Every week, the cheers for Wardlow get louder and louder as he gets closer and closer to a showdown with his former boss. That’s a testament to how well AEW booked this angle for the past few months.
A common trend on this list is sound booking decisions that created a new star or elevated a wrestler who was on the cusp of stardom. This is possibly the best example so far of how to do so using simple and well-thought-out storytelling.
1. FTR’s Return to Form
While one could argue that Wardlow’s turn has been the most successful, FTR’s emergence as a top babyface tag team has been a pleasant surprise.
It could have been risky to split FTR and Tully Blanchard up, but it worked out extremely well for the duo. Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood have been considered one of the best tag teams in the world since their run with NXT as The Revival.
However, their stint with AEW initially didn’t click with some fans. Their long-awaited dream match with The Young Bucks at Full Gear 2020 was divisive and it, unfortunately, happened in front of a limited number of fans.
Wheeler and Harwood’s current run delivered the best match of WrestleMania weekend when they defeated The Briscoes at Supercard of Honor to become the new ROH world tag team champions. This feat makes them the only team to win tag titles with AEW, WWE, NXT, AAA and Ring of Honor.
In the following week, they tore the house down again in their rematch with The Young Bucks in the main event of the Apr. 6 episode of Dynamite. This time around the two teams garnered an electric reaction from the Boston crowd and the match was praised.