Happy New Year! I hope each and every one of you had a fantastic holiday season, and a great start to 2023. We certainly all deserve some positivity after these last few years of uncertainty and restraint. You know what else we deserve? A non-predictable, sensical and most of all, FUN year of pro wrestling, no matter what promotion(s) we like/follow. As for the performers putting it all on the line for us – I wish you all good health. Fingers crossed the injury bug stays far, far away from everyone. (Seth, you ok, buddy?)
In the wrestling world, we’ve already had a few big changes to start off the new year. The first thing I want to bring up is that we are jumping into 2023 with Charlotte Flair as our new SmackDown Women’s Champion. Pardon me? Yes, Charlotte Flair is our SmackDown Women’s Champ. How did we get there?!? On the final SmackDown show of 2022, the dominant Ronda Rousey (whose work I’ve actually been enjoying with Shayna Baszler) finished off her so-called last match of the year by defeating #1 contender Raquel Rodriguez. To me, that seemed like a pretty obvious ‘W’ for Ronda, as the division just doesn’t have that much star power to it yet. No offense to Raquel, but she just isn’t there. So close, though! I see big things in Raquel’s future if she continues to improve, like main event big. There’s plenty of talented women on the SmackDown roster, just none who’ve stepped up to that next level just yet. Ronda had ended 2022 on a high and would be moving into 2023 with the title around her waist…so she AND we thought.
To everyone’s surprise, Charlotte Flair made her way to the ring while Ronda was celebrating with Shayna, and demanded a title match…not in the future, but right now! In a matter of about a minute, Charlotte had rolled up Ronda for the pin to take the title. Ooooook then, that actually happened. I’m not angry that Charlotte is champion, but I am frustrated with how it happened and how a PLE level match was thrown away. I enjoy Charlotte’s work, and when she has the right vibe with an opponent, the matches become quite special. For her return on SmackDown, Charlotte could have come out, confronted Ronda and properly challenge her for a title match at Royal Rumble, easily making it a much bigger deal. That scenario also would have *hopefully* kept both of those women out of the big Rumble match! As we all know, neither of them need that 30 woman Royal Rumble match win – save that to build someone new, please! I guess we just have to see where this goes, as long as Ronda doesn’t win the Royal Rumble match, again!
Next up, New Japan Pro Wrestling had day 1 of their biggest event of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 17, on January 4th. A plethora of title matches and title changes, it definitely screamed out that 2023 is the time for new beginnings. Kenny Omega won himself the IWGP United States Heavyweight Title for the second time, this time from Will Ospreay. This seems to cement the fact that the working relationship between AEW and NJPW will continue. I’m not sure if that’s really going to benefit any company more than the other in particular, as both seem to have their fan base already locked in.
The IWGP World Heavyweight Championship changed hands with Jay White losing to Kazuchika Okada. It’s always a big deal when the main championship changes hands, but what makes this even more interesting to me is the fact that at New Years Dash on January 5th, Jay White challenged Hikuleo to a “Loser Leaves Japan” match to be held in the future. I personally don’t see Hikuleo leaving NJPW, especially with his brother, Tama Tonga, becoming the newly crowned NEVER Openweight Champion at WK17 Day 1. Does this mean Jay White plans on taking a big money contract from a US company? We’ve already seen him show up in AEW a few times last year. As leader (co-leader? Hello, EVIL?) of the Bullet Club, Jay could join his stablemates Ace Austin and Chris Bey in Impact Wrestling. However, I highly doubt Impact would be able to shell out that kind of money for a full time contract. Would Jay White dive into the WWE Universe? It’s possible, but I don’t see a good fit there. He does have a few buddies in WWE, but definitely has more in AEW. Tony Khan truly seems to love collecting talent whether he can find a use for them or not, so my money says Jay White ends up in AEW sometime this Spring/Summer. The IWGP World Heavyweight Title loss is a great way to write Jay White off NJPW TV. It not only means Bullet Club loses some power within the company, but also loses some “danger” factor. That’ll cause some more drama! The Switch Blade era is more than likely coming to an end.
Speaking of money, let’s talk Moné. The former Sasha Banks, now going by Mercedes Moné, (or Monè on her Twitter bio) made her NJPW debut at Wrestle Kingdom 17 Day 1, hitting a DEVASTATING MANEUVER on IWGP Women’s Champion, KAIRI. Just how devastating was it? Go watch the video yourself. Yiiiiikes. Botches happen, but damn! Wasn’t this practiced like a million times beforehand? I’ve never seen a DDT performed with the wrestlers basically sitting on the damn mat already. The good news is at least people are talking. Negative or positive, NJPW is getting some payoff for all the money they’re giving Mercedes.
I couldn’t end the article without giving a shoutout to AEW for giving us a new visual vibe for 2023. Many of the things I mentioned I’d like to see in ‘If I Were In Charge – Episode 6’ actually ended up being the changes made to the Dynamite set. Good on them for changing it up and giving us a fresh feel. I personally love the LED boards, LED tube lights, lasers and especially the LED ramp. This will enhance talent quite a bit just by giving them the ability to have a more unique entrance. If used properly, this could give casual fans the chance to get to know the AEW talent a little better, or at least allow the casual fans to get excited for them by seeing a cool, very personalized entrance. This is especially important for AEW when you consider the fact sometimes we don’t get to see some talent for weeks, or even months at a time.
NoDQers, it’s your 2023 so please, chime in! I know I’ve missed a few “new” moments in this fresh, week old year, and what stood out to me might/will be different than what stood out for you. I want to know what you think is important! And as always, I’d love to hear your take on any of the points I’ve mentioned above. Remember, positivity rules, and disagreeing with someone doesn’t have to result in an ignoramus contest. Take care of yourselves.