2023 was a challenging year for me personally. I moved away from my longtime residence to a new state, and spent much of the end of the year in mourning, due to my father passing away. I understand that is a rather grim way to talk about a “dopey” (what’s up Joe) list of wrestling matches, but my time was very monopolized by real life, and this past year I fit wrestling in where I could, between my personal challenges.
The wrestlers on the below list will not be surprising. This will not shock you. I did not want to write about these to break down the moves within the matches. I like to recapture these match of the year ballots by translating my feelings about the matches and encourage folks to check them out if they haven’t. I also like to explain why they matter and what they mean in the moment and in a historical sense.
I’m very honored to have a ballot in the Voices of Wrestling Match Of The Year list, a media only poll, that truly reflects some of the best tastemakers coming together to help immortalize a particular year in wrestling. Keep in mind, it is only ten spots. These matches moved me the most this past year.
10. Gunther vs Drew McIntyre vs Sheamus – WWE Wrestlemania 39
This is on the list for perhaps the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time. The super heavyweight division in WWE has never been better represented than by three of the finest wrestlers to come from Europe. The NEVER division seemingly broke out in the middle of this match which was a battle over the Intercontinental title. The only slight complaint I have was about the winner. This was Sheamus’ match to win, and he just didn’t. Extremely physical warfare that represents the best about modern WWE, the few times it gets unleashed.
9. Queens Quest vs Oedo Tai Cagematch – Loser Leaves Unit June 25
On One Nation Radio, I said you could show the world’s dumbest person this match and they’d get it. In normal cage matches, the escape rule varies on how a particular person feels about it. However, in team competition the elements at play behind strategy, and the avenues for storytelling make it one of the most compelling formats of any match. Queen’s Quest, led by Utami Hayashishita and the conflicted Saya Kamitani, submit an all time classic just due to the dynamics alone. This was a Natsuko Tora legacy game. In a year of “cinema”, they made the industry leader look like they were participating in child’s play. This Loser Leaves The Unit match featured AZM and Starlight Kid weaving their storied rivalry into a bigger narrative, in which the underlings of each team would escape the cage, getting down to who really matters for each side. There was sacrifice, choice, and the eternal question once asked by Lil Jon & Jay-Z, “Who Ya Wit?” Saya Kamitani was with Queen’s Quest, and more importantly, she was with Utami Hayashishita.
8. Bryan Danielson vs Ricky Starks – AEW All Out – Strap Match
This was a match which came together on 24 hrs notice due to the firing of CM Punk. It became Ricky Starks’ finest hour in AEW, and what would define Bryan Danielson’s 2023, as he exhibited genius through limitation. I was always looking for the great Ricky Starks match to make me see what so many others saw in him, and this fit the bill, as even Danielson said Ricky carried him through this bout. This was visceral violence over 16 minutes. Ricky would rather let his body fail him than quit, and through his desperation, he walked out of that match a different man than how he entered it.
7. Konosuke Takeshita vs Kenny Omega – AEW All Out
Bell to bell, this was sensational. This ended with The United Center stunned as Omega fell in defeat to a man many looked at as his protege of sorts. Fluidity, passion, and hitting each other hard as hell made me feel like I was watching the top level of the sport . When AEW began, many fans came directly from the pipeline of New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, on this night, Omega instead donned the colors of his past from DDT, as he stared down a youth from his days in that company who had become a monster in his own right, in Takeshita. I’m a sucker for head drops and creative reversals. At the time it felt like a major step in Takeshita’s trajectory, as he represented the chance for AEW to cultivate a Japanese headliner in his prime. Clearly the biggest win of his time in AEW, this was the payoff to many of his losses the prior year that established him as a special wrestler.
6. The Elite vs Death Triangle – Game 7 Escalera De La Muerte
First off. We will never see a best of 7 of this quality again. Over two months, The Elite and Death Triangle traded big moves, flips, stories, and screwdrivers until it all culminated Jan 11th in the home of the Showtime Lakers. Yours truly narrated much of this series on Twitter over the NBA On NBC instrumental to such an effective degree, THE PROMOTION ITSELF ADOPTED THE USE OF THE MUSIC.
In only 14 minutes, the six of these guys capped off their rivalry which has been the signature in-ring feud throughout company history in every interaction. Omega-Pac, Bucks-Lucha Bros, Omega-Fenix, Bucks-Pac/Fenix, Nick-Fenix, when all put together, this match almost seemed like a farewell and a salute to the trust and professional pride that only competition from a true equal can create. This was for the Trios Championship of each other, and the peak of Trios itself in AEW.
5. Hangman Page vs Jon Moxley – Texas Death AEW Revolution
GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY.
When Hangman Page entered the building with that song blaring, the tone was set for two dudes to absolutely beat the entire hell out of each other. SERIOUSLY. LOOK AT THIS MAN. This match defined aggressive male energy, non toxic division. Forks, bricks, moonsault barbwire flips and dozens of truly sick visuals emanate from this match. Moxley and Hangman, much like Ludacris in 2009, were in a battle of “How Low Can You Go.” However, the battle was over morality, and sickness during combat rather than knee strength. At the end of this match, I knew something special had happened, as Hangman added another chapter of excellence in what has become his signature match.
4. Will Ospreay vs Shota Umino – Power Struggle
This brother Shota Umino is a bad man. A future ace in waiting, he got his last shot at NJPW’s Will Ospreay, as any future meetings will come with a different dynamic. 12 months prior, Umino and Ospreay met in what became Umino’s first true breakout singles performance in my eyes. This match was about showing how far Shota had come in the 12 months since. Will Ospreay very much in the role of senior in this match was equal parts spectacular and brutal. He even mixed in spitting to get his point across. The drama levels constantly escalated while Umino just kept digging deeper, and walking through every piece of artillery that the best wrestler in the world threw at him. Jon Moxley’s presence toward the end of the match truly pulled me in emotionally as I too did not want to see Umino just give up. The sequences are outstanding, and the counters had me cursing at the top of my lungs. This was pro wrestling perfection. What Hiroshi Tanahashi gave us for so many years, I felt like I was watching his real successor. Umino did not leave this match as an equal of Will Ospreay, he left this match finally as THE Shota Umino.
3. Will Ospreay vs Kenny Omega – Forbidden Door 2023
A match 99.5 percent good as the original. A rematch of mammoth proportions nearly equaled what I voted for #1 on this list. A complete flip of dynamics from the previous 6 months with only a wonky Don Callis appearance fit into 40 minutes of devastation. AEW vs NJPW was the bed of the event, and Ospreay and Omega went out there as if they were disrespected by not being placed in the main event (AGAIN) and quite frankly, they wiped the floor with what was. I thought this was insulting not to have gone on last. I have a feeling this match not being the main event was a victim of who was set to win the last match. This was so good the safety police were on the attack on all fronts which led to the great response from Kenny Omega, “You wouldn’t tell Mike Tyson how to box, and you can’t tell Tyson Smith how to wrestle.” Omega was able to show he could be the best wrestler in the world still on a given day, as Ospreay continued to display why he’s day to day the best on the planet. There were some of the greatest nearfalls I’ve ever seen in this match. This match is why I love pro wrestling.
2.Swerve Strickland vs Hangman Page – AEW Full Gear
Never have I watched a match and knew I was watching one of the greatest matches ever so quickly. From the abbreviated entrance of Page, to the stapling of each other, Swerve walking through staples, stapling himself, and the spitting of Swerve’s blood in the air by Hangman…we were in another galaxy merely minutes into the match. This match made Swerve Strickland into a future world champion. I’m a mark for watching wrestlers ascend from one level to another, and this one was the idealized version of that. Two years to the day that Swerve was released from WWE, this matched owned Los Angeles in a way not seen since Kobe Bryant dropped 60 in his last game in the NBA.
There was so much urgency, heart and thoughtfulness put into this match. The home invasion was paid off. The finish itself found Hangman choked out in a similar way he choked out Jon Moxley in a Texas Death match. SWERVE DEATH VALLEY DROVE HANGMAN ON A BRICK IN FRONT OF WESTSIDE GUNN. A MAN WHO DOES NOTHING BUT RAP ABOUT BRICKS OF COCAINE. This forever went into AEW history as one of the most violent matches ever, and certified Swerve and Hangman as career rivals seemingly with unlimited chapters to come.
1. Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay Wrestle Kingdom 17 1/4
A mega dream match that beat the insurmountable hype. This was one of the most thorough executions of a pro wrestling ass whooping I’ve ever seen. Omega was absolutely brutal in his offense as he unleashed a performance that stands up with any in the history of that building. This felt like the biggest match ever from just the entrances alone. In his first time back in New Japan since his departure to AEW, Omega walked in the Dome like he was god himself coming back to reclaim his position that was filled by Will Ospreay. Ospreay was always the successor to Omega. Throughout every great match, Ospreay got closer to getting people to live and die with him. I believe this match put Ospreay in another class to where people could connect with him beyond his physical gifts. I feel Ospreay later took this blueprint with him to his match with Shota Umino. My mouth set agape for the last 20 minutes of this match. We never got to see Kobe vs Lebron in the NBA finals, but we did see Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay in 2023. This felt like the sliding doors of generational greatness separated by a decade. We caught this as Will was walking into his zenith, while Omega was still at his. Some dream matches never quite get there, and really should stay dreams. I’m glad we got to wake up and see this one for real.
Rich Latta is the co-host of One Nation Radio and is sitting down because he can’t stand these fools.