It’s been a hell of a year for WWE, so let’s get straight to it. Here, our King Of The Ring Andy Spoors counts down his favourite 20 matches for the year…
20) JD McDonagh vs Tyler Bate – NXT – 20 September
Some things just aren’t made to last. This was certainly true for NXT UK, as the British-based brand found itself discontinued and dissolved in favour of a rebranded NXT Europe (more details to follow in 2023)
Despite the bitter blow for fans on our fair shores, it was even more of a hit for the Superstars that had put on sterling matches throughout its four year existence. There have been very few details released around the format and location of NXT Europe other than the vast majority of its roster received their release.
It is fair to say that WWE were keen to keep certain members of the roster and those that were willing have since made appearances on their stateside cousins in NXT. Two of those talents in Bate and McDonagh had the chance to show exactly why the entire world should have been watching NXT UK.
With a future Championship match on the line, McDonagh and Bate ran it back for a sequel to their outstanding match at NXT UK Takeover Blackpool II. On that night both men received a standing ovation from Triple H, Johnny Saint and William Regal.
Although not quite as special as that night’s epic battle, the chemistry was still evident as the European indie scene influence was in full flow. Here McDonagh claimed victory, throwing himself into the main event picture.
19) Seth Rollins vs Bobby Lashley vs Austin Theory – Survivor Series
Controversially capturing and then subsequently squandering the Money In The Bank briefcase threatened to derail Austin Theory’s fledgling career. Losing his guaranteed title shot instead looked like an albatross had been removed from around the young Superstar’s neck.
At Survivor Series, Theory upset the odds and captured the US Championship from Seth Rollins. Given little chance in a triple threat match, Theory emerged victorious – in large part due to fortuitous timing.
Both Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley are no strangers to big matches and a frantic three way match up gave them both an opportunity to showcase why they are counted amongst some of the biggest stars active on the roster.
With the company’s biggest championship very much limited to a part time schedule under Roman Reigns, this excellent match served as another way to build the prestige of the US Championship. It may have been one of Triple H’s best decisions as Head of Creative, with the entire roster needing something to fight for on a regular basis.
18) Big E vs Brock Lesnar vs Seth Rollins vs Kevin Owens vs Bobby Lashley – WWE Day 1
Even when Roman Reigns isn’t involved in a match, the repercussions of his absence can be felt across the business. Originally scheduled as a fatal four way match between WWE Champion Big E, Rollins, Owens and Lashley, Lesnar was thrown into the match after Reigns was forced to cancel his scheduled match with Brock due to contracting COVID.
Similar in vein to the fatal five way match at Extreme Rules 2017, the quintet of Superstars went hell for leather. Crashing through announce desks, safety barricades and exchanging finishers, it was the last minute addition to the match that would leave as the new WWE Champion.
A real sliding doors moment for Big E, who’s title reign could have been oh so different had it not been for the lingering effects of a global pandemic…
17) Becky Lynch vs Lita – Elimination Chamber
It is a rare occurrence in wrestling, that two generational icons from different eras get a chance to go toe to toe in a match. The Rock’s matches against Hulk Hogan and later, John Cena, immediately spring to mind.
The problem with these kinds of showdowns is the level of expectation paired with the ability of each of the competitors. Is one much younger than the other? Does experience beat youthful exuberance? It is these questions that have to be answered during the course of a match and they often don’t live up to the fantasy booking every fan has run through in their mind.
In Saudi Arabia, fans were offered at least a few answers when Becky Lynch faced off against one of the women’s division’s most celebrated trailblazers, Lita. Despite not being a permanent member of the WWE roster since 2006, Lita has remained fan favourite for her matches back in the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras.
Back in February, Lita not only had a chance to lock horns with one of the biggest stars of this generation, but a title opportunity too. Few might have believed Lita stood too much of a chance, but as Lita proclaimed she wanted one last run with the title and anything seemed possible.
Shaking off some understandable ring rust in the difficult humid conditions of an Arabian night, Lita gave everything she had to cause an upset. As the highflying legend hit both a Twist Of Fate and Lita-sault, it certainly seemed that experience would emerge victorious. But a last second kick out and a quick finisher from Lynch meant The Man kept her championship, well and truly taking the baton to lead the next generation for years to come.
16) Bron Breakker vs Ilaj Dragunov vs JD McDonagh – Halloween Havoc
For as dominant as Bron Breakker has been as the NXT Champion, it could be argued that he is yet to put on a classic match. The opportunity to put that criticism to bed presented itself at this year’s Halloween Havoc.
Injecting two of the top Superstars from the now defunct NXT UK into the main event picture certainly freshened things up in WWE’s developmental brand. The calculating JD McDonagh and the wild Ilaj Dragunov perfectly juxtaposed the bloody-mindedness and strength of the champion to create a fascinating triple threat match.
Over the course of 2022, Breakker has dominated the majority of his matches, save for a triple threat match against Ciampa and Dolph Ziggler. This match, however, seemed to ebb and flow throughout, with all three men showcasing their huge talents. The psychology of the match is also worth a mention, in particular from McDonagh.
The Irish Ace played into both his character and the triple threat stipulation perfectly, picking his moments to get involved, stopping the referee’s counts and generally frustrating both opponents. All three men laid on some astonishing moves, Bron executing a Frankensteiner on McDonagh into a Powerbomb by Dragunov, a particularly delicious spot.
Inevitably Breakker emerged the victor to continue his build to one of NXT’s most promising stars. A few more matches of this quality and an inevitable main roster call up will be just around the corner.
15) Bianca Belair vs Asuka vs Becky Lynch – Hell In A Cell
As outstanding as the Belair and Lynch rivalry had been, it can never hurt to freshen things up a little bit. Inserting a wildcard into proceedings is one way to do that and in the shape of Asuka, said wildcard is an ace.
A couple of months on from their match at WrestleMania, Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch seemed destined to fight forever, but in an attempt to keep momentum and opportunities flowing, Asuka’s presence gave the rivalry a shot in the arm.
Slick transitions between the trio, near falls and a litany of finishers, the result of the match was far from a forgone conclusion. The in-ring psychology and story told throughout was impeccable and a credit to all involved. Becky hitting her finishing manoeuvre on Asuka, but being dumped out of the ring and her pin stolen by Belair ensured the rivalry could grow with neither taking the loss.
It may have disappointed some that Asuka took the pin, but no one looked weak coming out of a fantastic match.
14) North American Championship Ladder Match – Halloween Havoc
NXT has endured a somewhat tumultuous year…
A vibrant rebrand to NXT 2.0 scaling back to just the three letters and reverting to the brand’s original black and gold colour scheme.
Long term champions, special appearances from the main roster and a change of creative leadership.
The landscape of WWE’s developmental brand is constantly changing and evolving. And that’s not a bad thing. Especially when five of NXT’s brightest talents are thrown together for a ladder match. With just Carmelo Hayes enjoying any experience as the North American Champion, this was a perfect proving ground for all involved.
As with any ladder match, the action quickly descended into a human demolition derby, with every participant throwing caution to the wind. From Von Wagner launching Wes Lee like a lawn dart out of the ring to the announce table, to high flying action all over the ring, this was an excellent way to showcase the future of the brand in one match.
The fact that Wes Lee finally captured his first singles title in WWE was the icing on the cake after a rollercoaster year almost left him with nothing. Both Lee and Hayes look destined to be stars.
13) Santos Escobar vs Ricochet – SmackDown Live – 2 December
The redemption of Ricochet has been a long time coming, but at the beginning of December, the ‘One and Only’ scored one of his most impressive victories to date. Billed as a World Cup, SmackDown played out a knockout tournament to determine who would next face Gunther for his Intercontinental Championship.
As part of building both the US Championship and the IC back to their previous glory days, the format worked. Somewhat surprisingly, the final saw Ricochet (USA) vs Santos Escobar (Mexico) in a battle of the high flyers.
Both Superstars have backgrounds in Lucha Libre style and boy did it pay off here. No David vs Goliath story needed and with Escobar’s fellow members of Legado Del Fantasma banished to the back early in the match, it came down to who was better on the night.
Astonishing counters, suicide dives and utilising the smallest of surface areas around the ring… this was high flying at its best. Escobar and co have only recently arrived on SmackDown following a very successful stint on NXT, and going toe to toe with a resurgent Ricochet will do wonders moving forward on the main roster.
But the night belonged to Ricochet who for too many years has languished in the lower card or in catering. It might not have taken him quite as long as Messi to lift a World Cup, but as he hit a jaw-dropping 630 Splash from the top rope, very few will begrudge Ricochet his moment in the sun too.
12) Roman Reigns vs Riddle – SmackDown Live – 17 June
The unexpected chemistry and popularity of Randy Orton and Matt Riddle’s tag team, RK-Bro, came to a screeching halt after injury forced the former out of action. With no return date in sight, Riddle challenged Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship on an episode of SmackDown with a stipulation that should he lose, there would be no further chances for the King Of Bros until Reigns no longer held the title.
A frantically paced match ensued with Riddle constantly paying homage to his shelved partner. An RKO out of nowhere had the crowd momentarily believing Riddle had finally arrived, but a last minute kick out followed up by a mid-air spear swung the match back in favour of The Tribal Chief and condemned Riddle to the back of the queue.
After declaring there to be no one left, Reigns was stunned by the return of hometown hero Brock Lesnar, who systematically laid waste to the entire Bloodline.
11) The Bloodline vs Drew McIntyre & RK Bro – WrestleMania Backlash
Originally set for a tag team unification match between RK Bro and The Bloodline, last minute changes saw four become six with both Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns inserted into the match for their respective teams. Social media moaned at the change, but there could be no complaints at the end result.
An all out brawl successfully progressed both the tag team and Undisputed WWE Universal Championship storylines simultaneously as WWE looked to arrest the usual post WrestleMania slump. Roman Reigns establishing his cocky and calculated persona was encapsulated by tagging himself into the match and circling McIntyre before tagging out again, all accompanied by the soundtrack of Pat MacAfee laughing maniacally.
Hot tags galore, a no-sell superkick into an RKO from Orton, suicide dives and one of the craftiest blind tags by Roman made this an incredible spectacle from start to finish.
Stay tuned for our top ten WWE matches of 2022…