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Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2023

This is the tenth year we've compiled a list looking back at the year that was (please see here for the 20142015, 2016, 20172018, 20192020, 2021 and 2022 versions). So how did 2022 stack up?

The wrestling industry experienced highs the likes of it hasn't reached since the Attitude Era. Television ratings continued to climb in both WWE and AEW, as did attendance and viewership for some of the industry's biggest events.

There were also some big changes, both in terms of talent rosters and ownership structures. In fact, some of those changes could be felt by the industry for decades. And sadly, we lost some of the biggest legends in the industry this past year.  

In counting down the Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2023, Wrestling Merchandise and Memories considered the following criteria:


  • Was the event unique to this year? Or does it happen quite frequently? 

  • What were the overall ramifications for said event?

  • Did the development have a profound impact on how this wrestler or promotion did business?

  • Did this development receive any mainstream publicity outside of the wrestling community?


When possible, we have tried to add a date to each development. Some of them combine more than one event, and some lump a string of developments to demonstrate an overall trend.


If you'd like to be a part of this conversation, Tweet us at @canadianbulldog using the hashtag #Top50, or leave a comment below.


Ready? Here we go!


June 30
Darren Drozdov passes away

Darren Drozdov, who briefly competed during the WWF Attitude Era as Droz, passed away at the age of 54. Drozdov was known as "Puke" while teaming up with The Legion of Doom, and famously explained his unusual nickname during the 1999 documentary Beyond The Mat.


July 24
Adrian Street passes away

"Exotic" Adrian Street, a top heel in the 1960s and 1970s, passed away at the age of 82. Famous for his flamboyant persona, Street (and manager Miss Linda), was a headliner throughout Europeand competed in the NWA, Memphis and other territories.


February 14
Jerry Jarrett passes away

Legendary wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett passed away at the age of 80. The father of WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett, the elder Jarrett ran the Memphis territory with Jerry Lawler for several decades. Along with his son, he also founded NWA:TNA in 2002.


April 3
Bushwhacker Butch passes away

WWE Hall of Famer Bushwhacker Butch passed away at the age of 78. Butch competed with his "cousin" Luke all over the world as The Bushwhackers and The Sheepherders. He passed away in Los Angeles while traveling there for a Bushwhackers reunion.


February 2
Lanny Poffo passes away

Lanny Poffo, part of the famous Poffo family that included father Angelo and brother Randy Savage, passed away at the age of 68. Poffo was known during his WWF days for reciting poetry before matches, and later became Mr. Perfect's manager known as The Genius.


September 21
SmackDown announces move to USA Network

NXT wasn't the only WWE property to swicth broadcasters. SmackDown, which had been airing on Fox since 2019, will rejoin USA Network beginning in October 2024. The network signed SmackDown to a five-year contract, which may impact Raw's status on the network.


November 4
Logan Paul wins U.S. Title

Logan Paul captured the first championship in his pro wrestling career when he defeated WWE Hall of Famer Rey Mysterio to win the U.S. Championship at Crown Jewel. Just days later, Paul retired from his career as a professional boxer.


August 13
Naito wins G1 Climax

Tetsuya Naito captured the 33rd edition of New Japan Pro Wrestling's G1 Climax tournament. Naito won the massive 19 day tournament by defeating Kazuchika Okada in a 30-plus minute match that received 5.25 stars from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.


WWE hosts multiple international PLEs

With a mandate to hold more Premium Live Events outside of the U.S., WWE hosted Elimination Chamber in Montreal, Canada; Backlash in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Night of Champions and Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia; Money In The Bank in London England; and Superstar Spectacle in Hyderabad, India.


November 1
MJF Sets World Title Record

Maxwell Jacob Friedman made history in 2023 by eclipsing Kenny Omega's AEW World Title reign. MJF defended the "Triple B" this year against the likes of Omega, Ricky Starks, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Jay White.


May 4
Trinity Fatu signs with Impact

Impact Wrestling signed one of wrestling's hottest free agents when Trinity Fatu (formerly known as Naomi) returned to the ring. She would go on to defeat Deonna Purrazzo to capture the Impact Knockouts World Championship and become one of the promotion's top attractions.


September 26
Jade Cargill signs with WWE

WWE signed one of wrestling's hottest free agents in former AEW star Jade Cargill. The former fitness model had a 508-day reign as TBS Champion before leaving the promotion. Her signing was heavily promoted on WWE programming.


The Rise of LA Knight (YEAH!)

In 2023, LA Knight broke away from his Max Dupri persona and became a top WWE attraction. He faced Bray Wyatt at the Royal Rumble; competed for the Money In The Bank briefcase; won a Battle Royal at SummerSlam; and challenged Roman Reigns at Crown Jewel.


November 25
Randy Orton returns to WWE

Although it didn't end up being the biggest return of that year's Survivor Series, Randy Orton returned to WWE following an injury that kept him out of action for a year and a half. Orton helped his team win their War Games match, and weeks later signed with SmackDown.


May 27
World Freakin' Champion

Seth Freakin' Rollins added another championship to his list in 2023, becoming the inaugural World Heavyweight Champion, winning a tournament final over AJ Styles at Night of Champions. The new title was created to give WWE a second top championship.


August 5
The Usos Implode

The Bloodline had its fair share of ups and downs throughout 2023, but argubly none bigger than the split between Jimmy and Jey Uso. Jey was challenging his cousin Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship and when he was on the verge of winning, Jimmy cost his twin brother the match.


January 28
Sami Zayn leaves The Bloodline

For months, The Bloodline had questioned the loyalty of Sami Zayn, despite him constantly having their backs. But at the Royal Rumble, Zayn refused to assault his former best friend Kevin Owens, angering Roman Reigns and leading to Zayn attacking Reigns with a chair instead.


September 8
Gunther becomes longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion

Gunther accomplished the seemingly-impossible in 2023, shattering The Honky Tonk Man's 454-day record for longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion in WWE history. Along the way, the Ring General battled the likes of Sheamus, Drew McIntyre, The Miz and Matt Riddle.


October 1
Adam Copeland is All Elite

AEW announced one of its all-time biggest signings at the WrestleDream PPV, with Adam Copeland (formerly Edge) showing up at the event's conclusion. In August, Copeland finished up his WWE Hall of Fame career with a match against Sheamus in his hometown of Toronto.


August 23
Terry Funk passes away

WWE Hall of Famer Terry Funk passed away at the age of 79. One of the most influential figures in wrestling history, Funk was a top draw in NWA/WCW, WWF/E, ECW, All Japan, Mid South, USWA and multiple promotions over his legendary 50-year career. 


November 28
Tammy Sytch sentenced to 17 years in prison

Tammy Sytch, better known as WWE Hall of Famer Sunny, was sentenced to 17 years in prison following DUI and manslaughter-related charges in 2022. As Sunny, Sytch was one of the most popular female WWE personalities of all time.


September 21
Zayn & Owens win gold at WrestleMania

Lifelong best friends Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens lived out a career highlight when the two captured the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship in the main event of WrestleMania XXXIX (Night One) from The Usos.


August 27
All In sets attendance record

AEW's All In show at London's Wembley Stadium set a company attendance record of 81,035. The massive event drew international attention and featured such stars as MJF, Saraya, The Acclaimed, Will Ospreay, FTR, Adam Cole, CM Punk, Sting, The Young Bucks and Chris Jericho.


January 10
Stephanie McMahon resigns from WWE

Mere days after Vince McMahon returned to WWE's corporate structure, his daughter Stephanie McMahon abruptly resigned her role as Co-CEO of the company. While we may never learn the true reasons for her resignation, the corporate turmoil became one of WWE's biggest non-wrestling storylines.


November 25
CM Punk returns to WWE

In a move that shocked many throughout the wrestling industry, CM Punk made a surprise return to WWE at the conclusion of the Survivor Series event. Punk left WWE on less than stellar terms back in 2014 and given his recent backstage issues with AEW, Punk's return will continue to be a huge story well into 2024.


April 10
"Thank You, Trish"

What appeared to be a brief comeback for WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus turned out to be an extended run. After los the Womens Tag Team Championship while teaming with Becky Lynch, Stratus turned on The Man. This began a heel run complete with mentoring Zoey Stark and introducing the phrase "Thank You, Trish."


October 21
Ospreay, Bailey steal the show

Impact Wrestling hosted one of its most criticially-acclaimed matches ever when Speedball Mike Bailey took on Will Ospreay in a dream match scenario at Bound For Glory. Ospreay captured the win in what Impact fans immediately dubbed a Match Of The Year candidate.


November 13
Drew McIntyre turns heel

Former WWE Champion Drew McIntyre began unraveling, feeling the delayed effects of his loss at the 2022 Clash At The Castle event. Instead of taking his frustration out on Clash opponent Roman Reigns, McIntyre targeted his cousin Jey Uso, as well as Seth Rollins and others.


November 18
Page vs. Swerve

AEW's Full Gear event was highlighted by a brutal Texas Death Match between Hangman Adam Page and Swerve Strickland. The two used staple guns, chairs, barbed wire and tables among other weapons during the bloody battle. Strickland won the match, gaining his biggest victory to date.


November 7
NXT announces move to The CW

WWE's NXT brand signed a five-year television deal with The CW that will begin in October 2024. NXT had never aired on broadcast television before, previously emanating from the WWE Network and the USA Network.


July 1
SKY, Priest win Money In The Bank

WWE's Money In The Bank event crowned two new top stars in 2023. Iyo SKY won the women's briefcase (and cashed it in the following month). Damien Priest became Senor Money In The Bank, and has not cashed in the briefcase as of the publication of this list.


June 17
AEW Collision debuts

AEW debuted its third television program known as AEW Collision on the TNT Network. The Saturday night program kicked off with a bang, hosting the return of CM Punk, and regularly showed important matches, quickly eclipsing the prestige of AEW Rampage on Fridays.


September 22
WWE fires talent

Less than two weeks after Endeavor completed its acquisition of WWE, the company made its largest roster cut of the year. Among those who were wished well in their future endeavors were Matt Riddle, Dolph Ziggler, Shelton Bejnamin, Emma, Riddick Moss and Elias.


Rise of The Judgment Day

The Judgment Day became wrestling's top faction in 2023. Rhea Ripley held the Women's World Championship for most of the year; while Dirty Dom Mysterio captured the NXT North American Championship. In addition, Finn Balor and Money In The Bank winner Damien Priest captured the Undisputed Tag Team Championship.


October 10
Super Tuesday

AEW and WWE's NXT brand went head to head on Tuesday, October 10 and both companies pulled out all the stops. AEW featured a Women's Title change and the in-ring debut of Adam Copeland, while NXT brought out John Cena, Cody Rhodes and The Undertaker. NXT won the night, both in viewers and in the demo.


November 18
Will Ospreay signs with AEW

AEW signed one of wrestling's hottest free agents in Will Ospreay at Full Gear. Ospreay, who made several appearances for AEW in 2023, will continue to make appearances for New Japan Pro Wrestling even after his current deal with NJPW expires.


January 4
Mercedes Mone signs with New Japan

NJPW signed one of wrestling's hottest free agents at Wrestle Kingdom 17 when Mercedes Mone (formerly Sasha Banks) debuted. She defeated Kairi to capture the IWGP Women's Championship in February, before suffering an injury.


January 19
Jay Briscoe passes away

Former Ring of Honor World Champion Jay Briscoe passed away at the age of 38 following a car accident. Briscoe had been a top attraction in ROH since its inception in 2002, often teaming with brother Mark. The Briscoe Brothers had just concluded a big rivalry with FTR.


January 4/June 25
Omega and Ospreay steal the show... TWICE!

Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay had a pair of Match of the Year candidates in 2023. Omega defeated Ospreay for the IWGP United States Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 17, while Ospreay regained the gold from Omega months later at Forbidden Door.


February 21
The Great Muta retires

The Great Muta, a legendary performer who dominated for decades in New Japan, WCW and elsewhere, called it a career after having a series of farewell matches in Japan that ended with a loss to Tetsuya Naito. Muta was also inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2023.


September 23
Christian Cage wins TNT Championship

For months prior, Christian Cage had claimed he was the TNT Champion, despite the title being defended by his protege Luchasaurus. But an episode of Collision, Luchasaurus defended the gold against both Cage and Darby Allin, with Cage winning the belt for himself.


July 5
Better Than You, Bay Bay

What began as a "forced" partnership between AEW World Champion MJF and his rival Adam Cole turned into one of 2023's most endearing storylines, as the two became BFFs through a series of fun sketches and tag team matches. Better Than You, Bay Bay even captured the ROH Tag Team Championship together.


April 2
Roman Reigns defeats Cody Rhodes

Speaking of record-shattering title reigns, Roman Reigns continued his as Undisputed WWE Universal Champion when he defeated Cody Rhodes in the main event (Night Two) of WrestleMania XXXIX. The finish was very much a shock to many fans, who were expecting Rhodes to "finish the story" at WrestleMania.


June 7
The Iron Sheik passes away

WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik passed away at the age of 81. An accomplished amateur wrestler in his native Iran and former bodyguard for the country's Shah, Sheik lost the WWF World Champion to Hulk Hogan in 1984, changing wrestling history forever.


January 28
Rhodes, Ripley win Royal Rumble

Both Cody Rhodes and Rhea Ripley had major victories in the 2023 Royal Rumble. Rhodes went on to challenge Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, while Ripley defeated Charlotte Flair to capture the SmackDown Womens Championship.


May 17
Superstar Billy Graham passes away

WWE Hall of Famer Superstar Billy Graham passed away at the age of 79 following years of health issues. Graham was a bodybuilding standout before going into wrestling, influencing everyone from Hulk Hogan to Scott Steiner.


August 24
Bray Wyatt passes away

Bray Wyatt (real name Windham Rotunda) passed away at the age 36 from health complications. Wyatt was one of the most influential stars in modern WWE history, pushing the creative envelope and developing a cult-like following among fans.


January 5
Vince McMahon rejoins WWE Board

2023 started off with a bang when Vince McMahon, who had resigned as WWE Chairman the previous year against a slew of allegations, finagled his way back to the company's Board of Directors in order to help facilitate a sale of the promotion.


September 2
CM Punk fired by AEW

Following a year-long series of behind-the-scenes problems with CM Punk, AEW owner Tony Khan fired the performer with cause. The straw that broke the camel's back appeared to be a backstage incident at All In, in which Punk fought with Jack Perry, leading Khan to say he was fearful for his own life.


September 12
WWE merges with UFC

The biggest wrestling headline of 2023 began on April 3, when WWE and the Ari Emanuel-led Endeavor Group Holdings announced the wrestling promotion would merge its mixed-martial arts counterpart Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) under a new conglomerate known as TKO Group Holdings Inc. The deal was completed in September and marked the first time that WWE or its predecessor companies were not majority owned by a member of the McMahon family.

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