Welcome everyone to a special installment of Wrestling with Lenny! I haven’t watched a number of the recent AXW and AEW shows, so some of this may be slightly outdated, but I wanted to offer a special New Year’s Eve installment of what to watch for in the world of wrestling beyond PWI for 2023! This will consist of top ten superstars, tag teams, stables, or even promoters to keep an eye on in the New Year. Hard to believe that we are starting our fourth year in this era! We haven’t seen an era last this long since the Second Era lasted about 5 and a half years!
Anyways, here’s the countdown, if you will…
10. Damien Priest
Damien has emerged as an up and coming star on the AXW roster. This young man shouldn’t be overlooked whatsoever. He’s got the look and the skills to rise to the top and he’s knocking on Matt Cardona’s door. Mickey and the Board here in PWI were eyeing Priest for a contract not long ago and his signing by AXW shows that we weren’t the only ones who noticed what he’s capable of.
I look for Priest to capture that Main Event title before the end of the year. Personally, that’s where I see him posing the biggest threat for reasons I will re-elaborate on later. A world title is in his future, just not yet.
9. Sasha Banks
The Boss made a statement in her short stint with the PWI from 2019-2020 until the then-EWA drafted her. While she has wallowed along with the rest of the BWM Inc. roster who waited to be featured, it seems that Megan Mouse how righted the company ship and has truly reinvented her brand with AEW. No one benefits from that more, in my opinion, than Sasha Banks.
Banks has been itching for the spotlight ever since Alexa effectively ran her out of the PWI. She has “world class superstar” written all over her! If she hasn’t already captured the gold, I definitely see Miss Banks becoming the Knockout’s champion very soon.
8. Matt Cardona
In AXW the competition is fierce. The company boasts the smallest roster in the industry, yet everyone there is treated like a star. Out of that insanely gifted group, Mr. Cardona thought deeply that he was the only one who truly deserved to be THE GUY (not that the retired weirdo who calls himself “The Guy”, but rather THE guy that every promoter dreams of) and he has more than delivered for himself and Mr. Cross.
Cardona’s reign has been raging for months now, but it still feels like it just begun. I have said it before and I will say it again: there’s still NO ONE in the company who can presently depose Cardona (there, I said I would come back to why Priest isn’t going to become the world champion yet). I wouldn’t be surprised if Cardona continues to reign through to the summer at this rate.
7. Aiden English & Sami Zayn
Yes, I am very high on Aiden and I absolutely LOVE his pairing with Sami Zayn. English has practically carried AXW’s ratings for much of its existence, and it goes to show that comedy really is a crucial part of this business. Cross may pretend that he doesn’t want Aiden on his roster, but he desperately needs him on screen each and every week as long as English keeps bringing in the views.
With Sami thrown in the mix this Aiden saga has a new layer which makes it even more “must see” than before. Sami’s been a well-known conspiracy theorist about the industry for quite some time, and now that he is paired with the scandalous comedy-prone talent Aiden, there’s no telling where this will go. In 2023, I suspect that we may get our first ever Aiden English match (I don’t recall him wrestling before this) and possibly an interesting story with English and Zayn tagging up. I can’t wait either way! #JusticeForEnglish
6. AJ Styles
The AEW Champion, the phenomenal one, the incredible AJ STYLES! Mickey and company have wanted his services each and every draft since 2011, but Benny and company have always made sure to exempt him. It was long overdue for him to become the world champion ANYWHERE and now that he has the gold, I think he has the same strengths going into 2023 that we see with Cardona in AXW: no one can realistically unseat him…yet.
I know that some of you may be scratching your heads right now and pointing to stars like Lesnar, Danielson, and MJF, but I feel I can confidently bet on Styles remaining champ for a while because this guy has had this coming for a very long time. Quite frankly, whenever he loses it I don’t see him ever reclaiming the gold. Just my bold prediction.
5. Ronda Rousey
Yes, yes, I know that she isn’t the Knockouts Champion anymore, but believe me when I say this: the Knockouts roster is going to regret Rousey losing that gold! Why? Because Rousey is dangerous and she is looking forward to chasing the gold again. Ronda has had an impressive showing each time we’ve seen her in the ring, and when she starts going through her victims it will be a matter of time before she is capturing that title again.
I see 2023 being even more productive for Rousey than any other year where she has been featured. Honestly, I see her as the only serious threat to Sasha’s pursuit of the gold, and I believe we will get these two facing off for the prize…soon.
Sorry Asuka, but Rousey still owns this division. You’re awesome, but you have your work cut out for you in proving that you are more than her placeholder.
4. Wade Barrett
Wade is someone who I can see becoming the World Champion anywhere, but he still doesn’t need a title right now. Not every talent can say this about themselves, though, and it is an honest testament to what has made AXW successful so far. The philosophy of “less is more” has helped stars like Barrett thrive in this new environment, and his ability to rise to prominence in AXW from his beleaguered erstwhile status in PWI reminds me of the rejuvenation of Sean Olson by LWF in 2004.
Wade’s little faction will also prove to be a formidable force in 2023. Everywhere that Wade goes you can expect to see his minions, and that will absolutely bolster his chances of becoming world champion by the end of the year. Either way, the upcoming year is looking very good this guy.
3. Bryan Danielson
When AEW drafted Danielson (formerly Daniel Bryan) from the PWI this past summer, Mickey and the Board were furious, but they knew that this loss was to be expected. With such a massive roster, the PWI is always going to be exceedingly vulnerable with each draft (something which has led Mickey to constantly push for canceling the draft…ha ha). Danielson was definitely on an upward trajectory here and Megan picked him up at the best possible time.
In 2023, I see Danielson as one of the select few true threats to AJ Styles for the world title. He can go the distance and the groundwork for his push has already been laid by the PWI. Styles should keep his eye on his friend from the indies. Danielson may be smiling now, but that smile will go away once an opportunity to unseat his buddy comes around. Will Danielson become world champion next year? It is more likely now than it has ever been.
2. Camden Cross
Camden Cross upset the proverbial applecart in 2022. In 2004, Jeff Murrey did the same thing when he launched the Last Wrestling Federation. He barreled into the midst of a war between two halves of the Mouse Family and caught both of them off guard by winning ratings battles than numerous analysts thought he had no business winning. Cross could very well do the same thing with AXW.
While the promotion started out being known as Higher Level Wrestling, the confusing sudden rebranding didn’t appear to inhibit the success of the company. Cross has delivered on his promises of high level entertainment without over-saturation, and he has sprinkled the awesomeness of high profile surprises (including numerous appeals to nostalgia) into his program along the way. AXW has everything that you could want in a wrestling company, and Cross can’t be thanked enough for how much he has given this era a second wind.
What’s there to expect in 2023? Well, Camden isn’t going to slow down at all. His next big show is late next month, and it features a massive royal rumble-style battle royal. I anticipate that we might get a flurry of surprises in that show, and then there’s the possibility of AXW entering the draft. If that happens, Cross could solve his women’s roster problem in one fell swoop!
Heading into the one year anniversary of HLW/AXW’s launch, I am excited to see the journey he is about to take us on. One thing that we have to remember here about Cross: he’s not Jeff Murrey. The KEY difference between Murrey in 2004 and Cross in 2022 is that Murrey literally started the mainstream of this industry in the early 1990s, and had the advantage of that legacy before launching the LWF. Cross, on the other hand, came out of the woodwork (a.k.a., podcaster land) and created a viable threat to the Mouse Empire!
OF COURSE, I PUT MJF HERE! Who the hell did you think stood a chance beside him of being the top star to watch in 2023?! Orange Cassidy?! Cameron Grimes?! Kevin Nash?!
No. MJF is…correction IS the FUTURE of this industry. I can’t think of a single superstar who was on a faster trajectory to the top in the modern era than MJF. He was on the exempt list of PWI until Mickey’s hard on for Granddaddy Duxen and the Young Bucks made him forget that we had a damn GOLD MINE ON OUR HANDS!
Lenny…we’ve been through this. BREATHE! Don’t riot about this. Your readers deserve better. Remember what Doctor Guy said, you need to compose yourself.
I don’t know why I typed all of that out. Nor do I know why I typed that…or this.
Maxwell Jacob Friedman is the single GREATEST threat to Styles in 2023. Even so, he’s not exactly on the championship track right now. Yes, we will see him enter into the conversation soon, but I suspect that Megan Mouse is going to let it brew for a moment before she pulls that proverbial trigger. Until then, I will be left here to sob and hug my autographed poster of the one that got away as he entertains us on his way to icon status.
Mickey, wherever you are: I will never forgive you for this.
That’s it for my top ten to watch in 2023! Stay tuned because another top ten might not be far behind! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!