It's December, and you know what that means!
It's time to look back at the last 12 months and pick what were my favorite things in the pro wrestling world. Over the next few weeks, I'll be giving my thoughts on my favorite wrestlers, matches, and shows, but today, I decided I'd start the festivities with a look at my seven favorite promotions of 2022.
If you've been following my monthly recaps, then you might an idea of which companies might appear on this countdown, but I gotta say that this was a tough list to write. There were a lot of companies from around the world that did some great work this year, so it was hard to narrow down which ones did enough to make it here.
Before we get into the list, however, here are my honorable mentions. Some of these just missed out on the proper countdown because I either didn't watch enough of their shows, or they had some high points in their year, but also made some head scratching decisions as well (I'm looking at you, All Japan and NOAH).
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Deadlock Pro Wrestling
Garden State Pro Wrestling
Pro Wrestling NOAH
Pro Wrestling WAVE
So without further ado, let's start this countdown with a look at my number seven pick.
7) Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
Starting off this list, we have Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, a company that didn't stick out to me for being all that special this year until I really dug into some of their bigger shows. In fact, as I prepare for my Top 15 events of the 2022, I noticed that at least three events TJPW ran could make it as an honorable mention, at least!
But I think the thing that separated TJPW from other bubble promotions like All Japan and NOAH was that they didn't do nearly as many things that caused me to scratch my head. While AJPW was killing some cards with reunited the Voodoo Murders stable and NOAH was doing God knows what they were doing to their mid-card heavyweights, TJPW was consistently putting on some of the easiest shows to watch anywhere in the industry. While more of these cards were pretty forgettable, they mostly entertained me.
Some of the MVPs of 2022 for me included Miyu Yamashita, who proved time and time again that she's the best women's wrestler in the promotion by a country mile, the Magical Sugar Rabbits, Mizuki and Yuka Sakazaki, who's infectious attitude made them a delight to watch, Maki Itoh, who's still the coolest, and Miu Watanabe, who became my favorite wrestler in the promotion after her gutsy performances over the summer.
If you want to watch a joshi promotion, but don't want to watch anything too serious, I don't think you could go wrong with TJPW. Check them out!
Shows I recommend:
Grand Princess '22 (3/19)
Summer Sun Princess '22 (7/9)
Wrestle Princess 3 (10/9)
6) DDT Pro Wrestling
While I'm not going to come on here and say that I loved a ton of what DDT gave us this year, they're high spots in 2022 put them over the top and onto this list. Chief among the best things DDT did was when they entrusted their top title, the KO-D Openweight Championship, to the outstanding Kazusada Higuchi, a month after former champion Tetsuya Endo had to drop the title after he got legitimately knocked out at the Cyberfight Festival. Higuchi's reign, which is ongoing as of writing, has not only kept DDT on my watchlist, but it's also been one of my favorite top belt reigns this year.
Another thing that helps DDT get on the list is that they've been really good at elevating several new wrestlers. Just this year, DDT introduced a number of hungry young talents, chief among them being Takeshi Masada, who in his first few months in the ring, has me convinced that he's a future ace of the company. Aside from him, DDT has also elevated other guys like KANON, Hikaku Machida, and Kazuma Sumi, all of whom could become big stars in the future as well.
DDT might not have been as great as they were last year, when they won my most underrated promotion from Japan, but they still have done just enough to make it. Here's hoping 2023 is even better for them.
Shows I recommend:
Judgement Day 2022 (3/20)
Wrestle Peter Pan 2022 (8/20)
Sterness 30th Anniversary - Jun Akiyama 30th Anniversary Show (9/18)
5) Dragongate Pro Wrestling
Next up, it's time I give some props to a promotion that I haven't really talked about this year, Dragongate! The beloved "lucharesu" promotion came into 2022 with a lot of buzz, thanks almost entirely to the Shun Skywalker/Masquerade storyline, and they were able to capitalize on that with some pretty extraordinary shows in the first few months of the year.
A lot of what made DG interesting to me was that they spent a lot of time in early 2022 shuffling up the factions in their promotion. Masquerade ended when Shun Skywalker turned on everyone to join R.E.D. That same night, R.E.D. itself evolved into Z-Brats after members of the heel group kicked out their leader Eita. Dragon Dia returned and teamed up with Yuki Yoshioka, a fellow returnee, to create D'Courage. The old guard of Natural Vibes, lost Genki Horiguchi and Susumu Yoshioka but gained the break dancing android, Strong Machine J. And the once landmark faction M2K, returned as M3K as Masaaki Mochizuki was joined by his former partners as well as his own son, Mochizuki Jr. All of these roster alignment changes made DG really interesting to watch, as you'd never know when the next turn would happen, which made even the smaller shows must-see.
Another thing that made Dragongate must see for most of the year was their influx of new rookie talent. I've already mentioned Mochizuki Jr., but he wasn't the only new face to really make an impact. Guys like Minorita, ISHIN, Ryu Fuda, Kaito Nagano, and the unbelievable Takuma Fujiwara have injected new life into this exciting promotion, and in recent months, they've also debuted Takuma Nishikawa and Yoshiteru Kato, both who might become future superstars in the future as well.
Suffice to say, if you have some room in your pro wrestling viewing schedule, I'd highly recommend you all check out Dragongate. At it's best, the wrestling is the best in the world, and there's always something interesting going on.
Shows I recommend:
Open The New Year Gate 2022 Night 4 (1/12)
Dead Or Alive 2022 (5/5)
The Gate of Destiny 2022 (11/6)
4) All Elite Wrestling
While AEW appears smack dab in the middle of this countdown, I'd say that 2022 was a definite step down, especially as just last year, they easily won my favorite company in North American in 2021. What was once viewed from the outside as a pretty harmonious locker room, has seen that image completely shatter in light of a metric ton of unfortunate controversies that have made watching the product a little bit of a chore at times.
I'm not going to go into all the controversies AEW went through in 2022, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the biggest of them all. Back in September after hosting the All Out pay-per-view, CM Punk and his friend Ace Steel had a genuine fight backstage with The Elite following a now infamous press conference where Punk lost his mind and lambasted a number of his co-workers, all the while AEW President Tony Khan sat right next to his new world champion unable to stop him. This event, now known as "Brawl Out" by fans, not only proved that AEW was not nearly as harmonious as it was a couple years prior, but it really effected my love of the company as a whole.
Nevertheless, there was still plenty to enjoy from AEW in 2022. They ran two of the best shows of the entire year, first with Revolution 2022 back in March and then with Forbidden Door in June, which they co-hosted with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Multiple new stars saw their stock raise, from The Acclaimed, who together won the AEW Tag Team Championships, and made "scizzoring" the hottest thing in wrestling, Jamie Hayter, who won the AEW Women's Champion, and immediately became the best wrestler to win said belt, and finally MJF, who finally reached the pinnacle of AEW when he won the World Championship. And most importantly, beyond New Japan and maybe Stardom, had the best in-ring product in the world.
It wasn't a pretty year for All Elite Wrestling, but when I look back at all the positive things that they did in 2022, I have to give them more credit than I have given them for most of the year. So a number four spot, while a bit disappointing, is appropriate.
Shows I recommend:
Revolution 2022 (3/6)
Forbidden Door (6/26) w/ NJPW
Dynamite #150 (8/17)
Just like with AEW, WWE's 2022 can also be split up into two distinct eras. But while AEW's game-changing moment after All Out brought the company down in a lot of ways, WWE's moment actually did the opposite, which subsequently allowed them to leapfrog AEW and into third place on my list. Of course the moment I'm referring to was the day Vince McMahon stepped down as the man in charge, and Stephanie McMahon and Triple H finally received the keys to the kingdom.
To put it briefly, WWE is fun to watch now, and that is a direct result of Vince finally leaving. Wrestlers once fired because of "budget cuts" are coming back every week or so. Matches are getting more time to build. When speaking, the wrestlers actually sound like human beings and not soulless husks of meat speaking in a way that exists in the uncanny valley of speech. And, most importantly, they're actually telling some interesting stories.
Chief among them, of course, is the one that revolves around Roman Reigns and The Bloodline, which to be fair was started by Vince McMahon, but has reached a zenith under good old Trips. Everything from the inner-faction animosity between Sami Zayn and Jey Uso, to the incorporation of Solo Sikoa has happened under Hunter's watch, and with the most recent chapter written at Survivor Series, this has the makings of an all-time great storyline.
WWE is not perfect by any means, but I can safely say that I haven't had this much fun with watching their product in a very long time. Here's hoping they keep it up.
Shows I recommend:
SummerSlam 2022 (7/30)
Clash at the Castle (9/3)
Survivor Series 2022 - WarGames (11/6)
2) New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2022, and they did so in style. Not only did they shake up many of their house show runs by adding old stars onto their cards, but they also collaborated with other companies more than they have since I started watching them in 2015. In all, NJPW celebrated their golden anniversary with three massive joint cards:
Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 3 with Pro Wrestling NOAH
Forbidden Door with AEW
Historic X-over with Stardom
Not to spoil my Top 15 shows of the year list, which will be coming out at the end of the year, but two of the three shows I've listed above were among my favorites of 2022, while the third was a really fun watch in it's own right as well.
While New Japan was changing their collaboration philosophy, what didn't change was their incredible level of in-ring action. Usual suspects like Kazuchika Okada, Shingo Takagi, Tomohiro Ishii, and Will Ospreay all finished the year with wrestler of the year credentials, but it was newer talents like Ren Narita, Shota Umino, Titan, and the LA Dojo that injected some much needed life into New Japan cards. For a company that's been guilty of shifting their focus really slowly, they made a real effort to shake some things up in 2022.
As it stands in 2022, I'd say they more than held their own as a top promotion in the world once again. And I can't wait to see how they build off that in 2023.
Shows I recommend:
Wrestling Dontaku 2022 (5/1)
Forbidden Door (6/26) w/ AEW
Historic X-over (11/20) w/ Stardom
Stardom was my favorite wrestling company on the planet in 2022, and it wasn't even close. Sure, there were a few months here and there where other promotions like AEW, New Japan, and WWE had the spotlight, but they wouldn't keep it for too long before Stardom came back with an incredible run of shows, a terrific tournament, or something along those lines. I wish I could say it was a tight race this year, but that wouldn't be the truth.
It would be impossible to talk about every awesome thing Stardom did in 2022, but I'll try and limit myself to a list of some notable highlights. They added a few notable wrestlers, like MIRAI and Thekla, who have strengthened the roster even more than it already was. They bolstered their schedule by adding both the incredibly silly "In Showcase" series, but also the "New Blood" series, which has helped to shine a light on some of the most exciting lesser known talents in joshi today. Continuing on, Stardom held some of the best events all year, including the two night "World Climax" extravaganza, the entire 5STAR Grand Prix tournament, and the instant classic "Historic X-over", which they ran along with their brother promotion, New Japan.
But above everything else, the reason why Stardom has won my favorite promotion in 2022 was because they simply told the most consistently entertaining stories all the while also showcasing some of the best wrestling on the planet. It's as simple as that. If I wanted to watch incredible in-ring work with inconsistent storytelling, I'd watch AEW or WWE. If I wanted to watch incredible storytelling with bad in-ring work, I'd watch an action movie. But if I wanted to watch something that hit that perfect sweet spot between those two pillars of wrestling, Stardom was my go to choice all year long.
So there it is, my Top 7 favorite promotions of 2022. If you made it this far in the blog, thank you very much, I really appreciate it. Let me know on Twitter (@SoSBaseball) what you think you're favorite company, or companies, were this past year, and get ready for more end of year lists coming soon this month!
Shows I recommend:
World Climax Night 2: The Top (3/27)
5STAR Grand Prix 2022 Night 20 (10/1)
Historic X-over (11/20)
Featured Image Credit - @TangoWithAngo on Twitter
Contact me at either AndrewSoS@protonmail.com or @SoSBaseball on Twitter if you want to collaborate!