It has been a wild year. Just when you think 2022 was top, 2023 barged in like a runaway train and gave us some memorable, and not so memorable, moments.
AEW suffered some setbacks despite a very successful All In which shattered all records. Backstage issues continued to plaque the company and another altercation led to the firing of their biggest star.
Meanwhile over at WWE, Vince McMahon forced his way back in, gave up his control to Endeavor and business shot up with record crowds, gates, and merchandise…not to mention a few surprises along the way.
Below we detail our top 10 stories of 2023. The ranking was done based on market effect, surprise factor, importance of the news, and of course, popularity.
Here are Wrestling-Online’s top 10 stories of 2023!
#10: Roman’s empire comes crumbling down as The Bloodline implodes
Many called in cinema. The Bloodline was the best thing going on WWE television in 2022 but 2023 started with a major hiccup for the faction. First, it was Sami Zayn who finally turned on them, then Zayn came close to winning the title from Roman at Elimination Chamber. Then Zayn and Kevin Owens took the Undisputed WWE Tag Team titles from The Usos at WrestleMania. Jimmy turned on Roman, Jey turned on Roman and his brother Solo, civil war happened at Money In The Bank and Jey then came mighty close of dethroning Roman at SummerSlam…until Jimmy turned on him too! The current status of this unfolding drama remains uncertain, but one undeniable fact is that Roman’s once-solid empire now appears less indestructible.
#9: A Hollywood strike allows John Cena to return to WWE television for two months
When John Cena returned for a match at WrestleMania against Austin Theory, we all thought it would be a while since we’d see him again in a WWE ring. Cena surprised fans in London with an unannounced appearance at Money In The Bank to hype a WrestleMania in London, but no one was ready for what was coming next. A Hollywood strike prevented actors and everyone else from working and Cena returned to WWE for two full months, appearing every week on Smackdown and premium live events. Cena’s impactful return concluded with a loss to Solo Sikoa at Crown Jewel, perfectly aligning with the Hollywood strike’s conclusion. Cena’s two-month stint significantly bolstered WWE’s business, contributing to increased live event attendance and ratings.
#8: After 25 years, Edge says goodbye to WWE and immediately joins All Elite Wrestling
It’s not often you get what we call “lifers” at a company. Edge was thought to be one for WWE but the Rated-R Superstar had another idea. After his last match on his WWE contract in August in his hometown of Toronto, Edge said he had a WWE offer in the mail but was not sure what to do yet. Over a month later, we found out his next move: All Elite Wrestling. Adam Copeland made his debut at WrestleDream, ushering in the next chapter of his career with the iconic Metalingus song. You think you know him!
#7: Mercedes Mone` makes her debut for New Japan Pro-Wrestling and wins the IWGP Women’s title
It’s no secret that Sasha Banks was one of the most popular WWE Superstars ever. So after she walked out of the company in May, the big question was where would she land. She always wanted to try out Japan and after a lot of hype and speculation, the former WWE Women’s champion made her grand debut at Wrestle Kingdom in January as Mercedes Mone. A month later she took down Kairi to become the new IWGP Women’s champion but her reign didn’t last long. She went for the NJPW Strong Women’s title after her loss but broke her ankle during the match. Being a seasoned pro, Mone changed the ending of the match on the fly, allowing her opponent to win instead. She spent the rest of 2023 on the sidelines and out of public view…until she appeared in the stands at All In in Wembley.
#6: After retiring a few months earlier, Vince McMahon forces his way back in WWE to oversee a sale and Stephanie McMahon quits
Vince McMahon retired from WWE in July 2023 after several allegations of misconduct. We all thought we’d seen the last of Vince, but he had another trick up his sleeve. Being the absolute majority owner of WWE, the former Chairman and CEO literally forced his way back into the company, appointing two other members of the board that supported him. He said he was back to oversee the sale and if he wasn’t involved, he was not going to sign off on anything business-related to WWE, including the new TV media rights. Vince was re-installed as Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors and his daughter Stephanie, who returned to the company in July to take over as Chairwoman and co-CEO, quit the company for good as she did not want to work with her father anymore.
#5: AEW sells over 80,000 tickets for All In, smashing all records at Wembley Stadium
No one believed that AEW would be able to sell the majority of Wembley Stadium. No one but Tony Khan. The young AEW President literally went all in for All In, opening up all of Wembley Stadium for sale. And fans in Europe flocked to the English capital for AEW’s first-ever show outside North America. It was AEW’s first stadium show and one which exceeded all expectations. The company sold over 80,000 tickets to the show and generated one of the largest gates in the history of professional wrestling. It was so good that AEW announced a year ahead that they would be returning to the iconic stadium in Summer of 2024.
#4: CM Punk gets into an altercation with Jack Perry and is fired by AEW President Tony Khan
All In was definitely a newsworthy show, perhaps none bigger than the backstage altercation between CM Punk and Jack Perry. Perry taunted Punk during his pre-show match, looking at the camera and telling Punk indirectly to “cry me a river” after real glass was used in a spot. That irked Punk, who was ready backstage for Perry. A fight ensued, Punk allegedly even lunged at Tony Khan. There was chaos and Punk threatened to quit there before his match. Eventually cooler heads prevailed but that was the last match for CM Punk in AEW as a few days later, Khan fired Punk just days before the All Out pay-per-view in Chicago, bringing to an end a tumultuous relationship between Punk and AEW.
#3: Former WWE champion Bray Wyatt passes away at age 36
On August 24, the wrestling world was shocked to learn that Bray Wyatt had passed away at age 36. The announcement came from WWE Chief Content Officer Triple H on X and the entire wrestling industry lost it. Tributes poured in from every corner of the globe and both WWE and AEW held tributes to Wyatt and even Terry Funk, who had just passed away a day earlier. The WWE Smackdown show the next day was all about Wyatt and the incredible effect he left on the world of professional wrestling. The business lost one of its greatest ever minds, but his memory will live on forever. Follow the buzzards!
#2: After nearly 10 years away, hell froze over and CM Punk makes a surprise return to WWE at Survivor Series in Chicago
After CM Punk got himself fired from AEW the big question was: Will he or will he not? Out of the blue, WWE was subtly dropping several CM Punk hints on WWE television and everyone thought the unimaginable was happening. Survivor Series happened to be right in Chicago and with a record crowd inside the Allstate Arena where even the stage had to be removed, everyone was waiting for CM Punk. The show ended, the trademark logo appeared on screen, and then…cue in Cult of Personality. The roof was blown off as CM Punk made his way out in a WWE arena for the first time in 10 years. They say time heals all wounds. On a day when hell froze over, CM Punk triumphantly made his return to WWE.
#1: Vince McMahon relinquishes control over WWE and Endeavor takes over, merging WWE with UFC to create TKO Group Holdings Inc
No one ever imagined a time when WWE was not owned by a McMahon. After many decades under the McMahon family, on September 12, World Wrestling Entertainment officially became a subsidiary of TKO Group Holdings Inc., an Endeavor majority-owned company. WWE is now joined by the UFC under the same umbrella, creating a powerhouse sports and entertainment company with billions as market value. McMahon no longer remained in charge, although he serves as the company’s Executive Chairman, and was later kicked off creative by Endeavor and TKO CEO Ari Emanuel. After decades of putting out his competition, Vince finally found his match!