McGuire’s Mondays: Five things that dominated the year in pro wrestling


By Colin McGuire, Staffer

Well, it’s December 18. That means one week from today, it will be December 25, which is Christmas Day. That also means that two weeks from today, it will be January 1, 2024, which is New Year’s Day. And that ultimately means … well, this is most likely the last you’ll hear from me in 2023.

As such, there is no time better than now to reflect on the biggest things that happened in 2023 throughout the pro wrestling world. It was a hell of a year that saw as many twists as it saw turns. Everything old is new again (CM Punk in WWE; Impact Wrestling going back to the TNA brand) while everything new is … well … celebrating everything old (again, see CM Punk in WWE; Impact Wrestling going back to the TNA brand). Records were set, wrestlers moved companies, and rumors about television deals will almost surely drive the bus as we head into 2024.

For now, though, let’s look back at some of the most important events that 2023 offered.


2023 was all about CM Punk. Like it. Love it. Hate it. Detest it. There’s nothing anyone could do about it. The guy was the stormiest of all tropical storms, an undeniable presence that proved it doesn’t really matter where he is or what he’s doing, he’s still going to be at the top of the minds of many a wrestling fan, commentator, observer, and everyone else in between. Attempts to resist it are not only futile, but foolish. He will zag when others think he should zig. He will insist he’s true to himself while betraying everything he force-fed us fans for years (like a great professional wrestler should). He will not back down. He will endlessly smirk. He will be unapologetically CM Punk.

And to think: He only needed half the year to be the year’s most talked about story. Punk began 2023 on the mend after getting injured at 2022’s All Out. He returned to pro wrestling airwaves on June 17 as AEW launched The Unofficial CM Punk Show (That’s Not The Unofficial CM Punk Show Anymore) called Collision. He was quietly part of what felt like the best wrestling show on television for a short period of time. All he had to do was play nice with others.


Fast-forward a couple months at All Out and Punk reminded everyone that he’s made a living out of not playing nice with others, getting into an altercation with Jack Perry backstage. Tony Khan feared for his life and actually fired The Best In The World, complete with a heartfelt sit-down one-on-9,000 talk that occurred on the heels of 2023’s All Out. And yet Punk wasn’t done. Last month, he did the unthinkable – he returned to WWE after promising wrestling fans far and wide he could and would never return to such a slimy workplace.

Whoops again.

I don’t know what it is. Many people have articulated his magnetism far more eloquently than I ever could, but through it all, there’s something about him that makes me wonder if we are actually still somehow in the honeymoon phase of his return to pro wrestling (even though yes, I know, we are a couple years into it at this point). His current WWE run has already seen its share of ups (his first Smackdown promo) and downs (his first Raw promo). At 45 years old, it’s hard to think he’s about to have a series of 35-minute classics against Seth Rollins – and let’s not forget that Punk’s body broke down on him more than people like to remember in AEW. Will CM Punk be this hot a year from now? That’s the true million-dollar question. For now, though 2023 was all his.


Debate the numbers; who cares. AEW has been around for less than five years and despite being in such relative infancy, that company amassed a hell of a house in London at All In at the end of August. The pomp. The circumstance. Wembley Stadium. Chris Jericho singing his theme song. The London crowd humming MFJ’s. Saraya with one of the most forgotten feel-good moments of pro wrestling in 2023. A wild Stadium Stampede. FTR vs. The Young Bucks. A “maybe in hindsight we shouldn’t have done this” cameo from Mercedes Mone. All In delivered in most every way possible.

And considering how AEW has been through the ringer over the last 12 months, it’s even more impressive that the company was able to pull something like this off in any successful manner whatsoever. All told, the thing felt bigger than life, a stadium show that actually provided a real, live, honest-to-goodness stadium show. Not just a different entryway to the ring and an upper deck with nobody in seats. All In felt like it belonged among the most celebrated wrestling productions of all-time, complete with a pre-show that, in a shocking twist, didn’t suck, and about $4,000,000,000,000 of fireworks that are still lending smoke to the British skies.

In a year that felt and still feels like a transitional, crossroads-like 12 months for AEW, All In was the brand’s shiniest bright spot. When wrestling historians look back on 2023, it will be impossible for them to ignore the success that AEW achieved by going to Wembley. What the company did and continues to do from there is irrelevant in this context. Take away all the drama, all the nonsense, all the division that burns through different corners of the wrestling fandom world, and you have one of the greatest achievements any wrestling company has ever pulled off. Even if it’s not your favorite blend of entertainment, respect must be paid.


Standing across from AEW in 2023 was, of course, a resurgent WWE, which had its most life-altering year ever as it merged with Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, to create TKO. This meant a million different things, but the underlying effect that everyone notes above almost all else: Vince McMahon was no longer the top guy in his company. So far, that change has served as the shot in the arm WWE needed for quite some time in order to get back into good graces with its fanbase. The old “anyone but Vince” mantra when it comes to who some would like to see run creative in WWE actually unfolded in front of our very eyes in 2023 and the results have been almost universally praised.

Better matches. Less nonsense. Interesting stories. A cohesive vision. These are just some of the consequences of the shift in power in WWE and the change in the product has been palpable. On top of that … hey, look: The wrestlers get a week off for the holidays this year! Can you believe it?! Turns out, the company won’t crumble and the business won’t die if you actually treat your performers like human beings with real lives and not like emotional robots who throw good-looking punches that never truly hurt anybody!

I never thought I’d see the day that a McMahon wasn’t at the head of whatever WWE was doing, but being exposed for asshole behavior can change trajectories for anyone. When you combine that with McMahon’s age and questionable health, the company proved that anything really can happen in WWE. It was a landmark year for the world’s biggest pro wrestling company and it feels like they aren’t about to slow down anytime soon, either. Despite the WWE detractors, the most successful brand of a genre ultimately always helps lift the profile of the genre as a whole, and as such, WWE’s massive success is pro wrestling’s massive success, too. How it can follow up such a transformative 2023 in 2024 might end up being the business’s most intriguing story.


Or should I say “Impact Wrestling?” It was announced in the last quarter of 2023 that Impact will head back to its old “TNA” banner a couple weeks into 2024, so instead of using this space to mock what feels like a short-sighted decision, how about we take a minute to recognize and appreciate the work that Impact achieved since it shed the TNA moniker some six years ago.

Scott D’Amore’s team has been putting on perhaps the most solid wrestling television programming that people either can’t find or don’t watch. Not all of it is great (I loved me some Tommy Dreamer back in 1996; in 2023 … hey Busted Open is a great show), but there’s something to be said for a reliable pro wrestling program that offers a little bit of a lot for fans and gives some great wrestlers time to shine on cable television whereas they might not have the opportunity otherwise. Shoot, even Kazuchika Okada isn’t mad at that place anymore.

It’s all to say that I’m not so sure that giving up on the Impact brand this early into its existence in favor of a moniker that isn’t necessary and doesn’t particularly have the best memories attached to it is the way to go. But even with that in mind, Impact’s ability to change the perception of that company, no matter what its name is, has been one of the most understated achievements of the last five years in all the business. My hat is off to those who put in the time to help rebuild that thing ostensibly from the ground up. And here’s hoping that if nothing else, the wrestlers continue to thrive, even after the letters on the side of the ring change with the new year.


The curious case of New Japan Pro Wrestling. While it feels like the company has made more inroads in America over the last few years than it perhaps has ever achieved before, NJPW feels like its a crossroads, too – albeit one that is different from the similar predicament in which AEW currently stands. Heading into 2024, Okada is flirting with other companies, Will Ospreay is headed stateside for his full-time gig come February and the brand’s main champion, Sanada, feels like a wet blanket of a top guy (with all due respect, of course). On top of that …

… um, the Bullet Club is still a thing?

It’s weird because it feels like just yesterday that WWE was stinking out arenas all across the U.S., AEW was merely an idea, and Ring Of Honor was collaborating with New Japan to sell out Madison Square Garden because the thirst for Japanese wrestling in the U.S. was at a fever pitch. Heading out of 2023, the company’s role in the greater wrestling landscape feels like it’s the lowest it’s been in years. And that’s a shame because, of course, they still have some great stuff going on.

My mockery of the Bullet Club be damned, Clark Connors, Alex Coughlin, Gabe Kidd, and Chris Bey are very good, very solid Bullet Club members that could use the platform to further themselves in the same ways someone like Prince Devitt (a/k/a Finn Balor) did back during the beginning of this thing. While the belt is ugly as hell, the NJPW TV Champ Zack Sabre Jr. is still one of the best technical wrestlers on the planet. Hiromu Takahashi is a lot of fun. And in Giulia and Mayu Iwatani, the company has two fantastic women’s champions.

But what does the future hold? Some of their biggest stars are either leaving, maybe leaving or getting noticeably older. Can the aforementioned Bullet Club members step up and make names for themselves as the next generation of NJPW stars? Are there other younger talents out there who can elevate the company (whatever happened to Red Narita, anyway?)? 2024 is going to be an awfully intriguing year for New Japan Pro Wrestling and that’s because its 2023 felt underwhelming at best. Here’s hoping the next 12 months prove to be fruitful for the house that Antonio Inoki built.


Readers Comments (1)

  1. A lot of great news stories, but my favorite moment of the year remains Becky Lynch’s tearful tribute to Bray Wyatt following her match with Stark. Some moments just transcend the business, and that was one of them.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.