Behold: My list of most memorable wrestling matches from 2023

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Will Ospreay

Will Ospreay
Photo: Getty Images

The best time of year, when you get to go back through all the wrestling you watched and definitely not think your life has a sum total of jack and sh*t. Better to focus on trying to get back to the feeling that these matches generated inside of you when you were watching live, because that’s the whole point.

Anyway, this is just a list of my 10 favorite matches of the year. They’re not what I think is best or made some statement, just the ones I liked best. So, yes, I had to have seen them, which, yes, means there’ll be a dearth of WWE matches because I don’t watch it. It’s not for me, isn’t going to be ever again, and both they and I are happier this way. So, I don’t want to hear it. Anyway, I think this is mostly sequential. I think.

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Photo: Getty Images

There will be those who say their rematch at Forbidden Door in Toronto was better, and that’s fine. I was in attendance for that one (humble brag, drink) and it whipped ass for sure. But this one repeatedly brought me out of my chair at 4:30 am or whatever it took to watch live. Heading into this, there had been some chatter that we may never get a Kenny Omega singles classic again, as he’d been hesitant to pull that trigger in AEW.

But put Freddie Mercury in Wembley Stadium, or in this case, put Omega back in the Tokyo Dome, and you’re going to get magic. Ospreay, who is as desperate as can be to be Omega (and probably already is if he wasn’t reportedly such a prick and had any sense of humor whatsoever), can claim to be one of Omega’s few equals in the ring when Kenny turns it up to 11. These two varied from wild acrobatics to making every move seem like an absolute bomb to an actual blood rivalry, hitting every note a fan would want. Kenny’s win, an I’m-still-the-master laying it on the table, set the stage for their next classic six months later.

This was Mercedes Mone aka Sasha Banks’s first match outside WWE, so to say it was highly anticipated would be undershooting it by a few miles. But Mone, being the absolute star that she is, smashed those expectations and more with a dance partner in Kairi she had always wanted to ball out with, but never really got to in WWE.

It started with Mone’s tribute to Hana Kimura, and then Mone and Kairi proceeded to spend 25 minutes exhibiting every type of style they could think of. This had lucha sections, technical mat wrestling sections, extreme match sections and beat-the-piss-out-of-each-other sections. It was the match Mone’s biggest fans always dreamed she could have if WWE ever took the shackles off or she went elsewhere, and man, were we proven right and then some.

Most did not have Adam Page becoming the death match king in 2023, and yet, here we are. This was the first of his hellish, brutal classics, beating Moxley at what was supposed to be his own game. Ending it by literally hanging Mox over the top rope with a chain certainly gave the whole thing a sheen, but the entire match is brutally beautiful. Page has a unique ability in any of his big matches to make every move, be they conventional or with something covered in barbed wire, feel like he’s bringing the opponent’s world down around their ears.

Yes, it’s callous to include a match in which Dante Martin’s ankle ended up looking like a Picasso, but I’ve lost all human compassion anyway. While the other matches on here contain a lot of story and pathos and a build, sometimes you just want to get drunk and watch a spot-fest car crash. Also, I’ll watch Penta read the phonebook, much less do crazy wrestling stuff that defies all logic.

OK, fine, I’ll put one New York match here. While most WWE matches look the same to me, this one stood out in that Triple H just let three massive guys beat the holy hell out of each other for 15 minutes. There wasn’t any nous to this one, very accessible, and far more hard-hitting and violent than some empty, gimmick matches you’ll see. It hinted at a greater variety WWE could have had after escaping the direction of Vince McMahon, but it hasn’t really embraced yet.

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Image: Freelance Wrestling

Gotta get one from my local indie in here, as Chicago’s Freelance Wrestling has become something of my monthly oxygen supply. The Bang Bros team of Davey Bang and August Matthews do a pretty fine impression of what it would look like if the Young Bucks and Lucha Brothers had two children, while Laynie and GPA are a real-life and in-ring couple, Freelance lifers, who also prove Frank Zappa’s axiom “Love is for a**holes.” (yes, it was actually broken hearts, but let’s just go with it)

Bang Bros’ tag-title run had led to a string of incomprehensibly good defenses on Freelance’s monthly show, and while Laynie and GPA can’t fly with them, they didn’t need to when they were pulling out all of their dirty tricks. When they walked out with the belts there was palpable anger in the house, which is exactly what there should be.

This was getting back to the heart of what AEW is, which is that they will just throw 50+ minute matches on TV simply because they feel like it. FTR were in the middle of their incredible run, featuring the trilogy with the Briscoes, and were letting it all hang out seemingly every week over the summer. Those who had seen Jay White in Japan felt he had a tendency to make matches look like extended classics without actually making them so. But this one proved he could do the latter. Just a masterpiece of a heel team being drawn into being something more than they’d been, but falling short at the end, as they can’t make it in the straight world. And yet another notch on the belt of FTR, who have proven there’s not two wrestlers who can have a wider range of opponents and matches in the world.

Athena has been just about the only reason to regularly check in on ROh’s weekly show, and it’s funny to think her dominant run and catapult to being the face of ROH started on an AEW Dark Elevation match where she simply beat the tar out of Jody Threat enough to get the internet buzzing. Athena is arguably the best women’s wrestler going today, it’s just a shame so few see it.

Nightingale had a huge 2023, which this match was the peak of, getting to wrestle Mercedes Mone for NJPW Strong, as well and becoming a hit with AEW fans. These two put on a 20+ minute show-stopper worthy of the main event slot it got, with Athena’s viciousness juxtaposed against Nightingale’s bubbling athleticism and strength. Great dance partners, and hopefully they’ll get to do this again on an AEW stage soon.

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A lot of people’s list could just be Ospreay matches from 2023, he had that good of a year. This gets on the list because it’s probably the last great Naito match will get, even if Ospreay kinda had to drag him to it.

Much like Omega at the beginning of the year, the G1 tournament started with most fans wondering if Naito simply had passed his sell-by date. He looked slow and sloppy, and while Naito’s nonchalance is sort of the bedrock of his character, this was something else. But it turned out to be part of his story in the tournament, ramping up as it went along to put on two bangers to close it out in beating Ospreay and Okada. The old dog still has a trick or two left, after all.

The only other time I’ve seen most of the people at a bar simultaneously have their hands on their heads in disbelief is at a soccer pub. But that’s the pose most of us were in throughout this blood-soaked dream of a match, as Page and Strickland took everyone places they didn’t know existed, much less wanted to go. Mere minutes into this one, Page was drinking the blood dripping off Strickland’s forehead, and a few minutes after that, Strickland was putting staples in his own chest. The spots were gnarly, and yet we couldn’t look away. The perfect use of what a death match should be, paying off a very personal rivalry and elevating both participants. Strickland is now the biggest star in the company and one of the biggest in the world in the aftermath, and if AEW would ever keep Page on screen for two consecutive weeks, he’d be the company’s biggest babyface. Just the art form at its highest level.

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Not that this was the best match of the year, but there’s nothing a wrestling fan enjoys more than watching someone they’ve followed on the indies rise up to the big time simply because they had kicked so much ass on the indies that the buzz couldn’t be ignored. Keith spent 2022 and 2023 building up so much momentum around the country, having match after match that had wrestling Twitter in a froth, perhaps highlighted by his series with Speedball Mike Bailey. Keith showed out when given two matches on ROH’s last pay-per-view, hardly looking out of place vying for the company’s TV title on the main card. Which earned him his first live TV match against Cassidy the next night, where they put on a banger. I can say Keith had been the highlight of Freelance’s show here month after month, but there are fans across the nation who would say the same thing about their local promotion. His persona of “If the fight scene from A Boy Named Sue came to life in the form of one human” leads to hard-hitting, poignant matches, but he can roll with anyone. 2024 is shaping up to be a big year, quite possibly adorned with an #AllElite graphic, and not only will Keith be rewarded but so will all the fans who have been journeying with him.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky

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