2023 Moments of the Year: AEW TV
AEW stepped up in 2022 with regard to stories told outside the ring. From a longstanding anti-hero arc to a controversial World title scene, to an integral co-founder shockingly bidding goodbye. The promotion has proven capable of wowing audiences weekly in the ring, as well as long-term with promos and worthwhile surprises.
In 2023, which of these moments will be etched in AEW history? Will feel-good stories outweigh its counterpart this go around?
Adam Cole Returns (Dynamite)
Adam Cole was an almost weekly fixture on Dynamite and Rampage prior to a serious head injury at Forbidden Door 2022. Which all the more made his 6-month absence feel like ages ago.
In January of 2023, Cole would make his surprise return to AEW, to a great ovation from the crowd and the commentary team, all of whom were kept in the dark about this return and had clearly missed this entrance routine. Cole returned, self-admittedly, with a new lease on life and pro wrestling, promising that he’s only scratched the surface in AEW.
Beyond wrestling announcements, he gave a most heartfelt thanks to the fans for wishing him well when his spirits were deteriorating. “I don’t care if Adam Cole ever wrestles again, I just want him to be okay.” That about sums it up perfectly.
MJF: “My sweet Liv” (Dynamite)
Some promos create anticipation for upcoming matches. Some promos introduce new sides to certain wrestlers. And some promos just really make you think about those wrestlers a lot.
The story of MJF and Liv, suffice it to say, belongs in that latter category. In it, MJF recalls a girl named “Liv” that he was driving to prom. After some friendly “distraction” from Liv, MJF couldn’t help but be the speed demon that he was. He quickly crashed into a telephone pole, but the two ultimately survived. As he woke to the sound of police cars approaching, MJF knew right then the kind of man he really was, when he switched seats with Liv.
In the face of adversity, I’m willing to do whatever it takes, screamed the World Champion. Including confess to crimes he may or may not have committed. To rent space in the head of all challengers. To prove the monster exists.
The Gunns win the World Tag Team Championship (Dynamite)
The Acclaimed versus the Gunns capped off a loaded Championship Fight Night edition of Dynamite. But make no mistake about it, the big story here was the Gunns winning the World Tag Team titles.
On the one hand, shocks like this in AEW are shocks like nothing else. You feel them creeping, you deny them, and you drop them. Then then eat you alive anyway. On top of that, it’s been refreshing to have champions nobody looks forward to seeing, and I do mean that as a positive. There is no strong divisiveness about the Gunns, and that makes them unique and this title win so special.
On the other hand, let’s admit that apart from the win over FTR, the Gunns never had a championship resume. Some people also feel that the win itself didn’t translate well on TV, being that the arena fell silent for it. I like to think that these factors and that reaction actually made this as memorable as it was.
But hey, winning the title is one thing. Let’s see where it goes.
MJF: “Hey, Birdie” (Dynamite)
Count on MJF to be our first double-entry in this category.
It took about two months since becoming World Champion, but it looks like his so-called Devil Worshippers didn’t really know what they signed up for. Gone are the crowds madly in love with MJF throughout entire segments. In their place is a high-pitched burst at the sound of his entrance, followed by post-nut clarity.
Fittingly, MJF cuts a promo about how unlovable he is, having been left in the dirt by his fiancée, and everyone who ever claimed they loved him. “But you people love Bryan Danielson,” wah, wah, we know how this goes. Then, MJF claims (or is it admits?) he is jealous of Danielson’s family life—Danielson’s actual life outside of wrestling. He berates Danielson for continuing to wrestle despite all the head trauma, for prioritizing wrestling over his own wife and two young kids, for taking it all for granted. And honestly, what do you even say to that?
Maybe nothing. Turns out, as MJF looked straight into the camera, he had one more thing to say, and one more person to address…
Mark Briscoe: “He must already be out there” (Rampage)
I try not to meddle and provide “insight” as to why someone’s promo heavily drawn from their personal life was great. But some promos need to be given their due. Days before Revolution, Mark Briscoe gave us this gem. Straight away, he talks about how people check up on him, asking him how he’s doing. He says that he feel strong, but sometimes between travels, he gets confused and tired. He woke to the roar of the crowd at a wrestling show, and he peeked out the curtain to see a tag team battle royal taking place. But his brother isn’t with him. “He must already be out there,” he says. This may be a quick, under the radar pre-tape. But Mark’s words and delivery will always reach the sky.
Ruby Soho lashes out (Dynamite)
The story of the homegrown stars vs the so-called freelancers/outsiders did not pick up steam for a number of reasons. For one, the follow-up with Hikaru Shida, an integral part of this story even happening, was virtually nonexistent. Also, the bright green spray paint shtick doesn’t translate well at all visually. And Toni Storm and Saraya being outnumbered makes it hard to see the point in faction warfare.
Enter indecisive Ruby Soho at Revolution to complete the squad. Soho’s reasoning for joining what is now The Outcasts makes a lot of sense. She called the fans out on booing her for just taking opportunities she was given. Meanwhile, Team DMD got away with anything. Just enough to give The Outcasts legs to stand on, and for Excalibur to remind us about the friends Soho had thrown away.
Adam Page and The Elite reunite (Dynamite)
It’s almost funny that AEW gets trolled for not having stories, when Adam Page himself has been a long-term story. Following a terrific rivalry with BCC’s Jon Moxley, Page would turn his attention toward reconciling with his former teammates. While things seem to have been smoothed out between Page and the Young Bucks following Full Gear 2021, the same cannot be said for his opponent that night, Kenny Omega.
But for one brief moment, as AEW broadcasts live from Omega’s hometown of Winnipeg, Page’s involvement with BCC and The Elite would intersect. For one brief moment, without Page even knowing it, The Elite came through and backed him up. One of the best cliffhangers in Dynamite history.
FTR, Jeff Jarrett, and Jay Lethal brawl (Dynamite)
Brawls in AEW on the whole tend to get cut off a little too quick. If we can pick up anything from CM Punk and Jon Moxley’s brawl last year — just give them a segment, let the show breathe, and let them fight. I’ve never seen a brawl that felt like a condensed match until this one. Satnam Singh tipping over like a tree and crashing through tables. Extended fighting by the timekeeper’s table. Karen Jarrett debuting at the end.
This entire feud was a fever dream, a portal into a story that cannot be touched. The chicken farm skits. A blind Dax Harwood hitting a picture-perfect piledriver on Mark Briscoe. But as the segment that made the match official, this brawl gets the nod.
MJF and Adam Cole meet on the mic (Dynamite)
Both mic guys brought it in this segment. They had the one-liners, the tricks. But more than anything, if we learned anything from the classic CM Punk feud; it’s that if MJF admits to liking you, your chemistry is guaranteed to be next-level. This one segment did a lot more to reestablish Adam Cole in 2023 than two months of that fuck-awful telenovela with Chris Jericho.
But I’m also sharing this spot on the list with the entirety of MJF and Cole’s interactions and dynamic (on and off TV). This little friendship has brought us the best Adam Cole since his debut; and MJF wrestling weekly, which feels very weird and very wrong. I’d argue this is up there as one of the few perfect stories we’ve seen in AEW.
CM Punk returns (Collision)
CM Punk returned from his triceps tear to kick-off the brand new AEW Collision. He drew interest, made some references, got cheered by his hometown crowd. He brought a bag with him that he teased was carrying the World title. The title he never lost, the title he earned by actually winning the best singles Dog Collar match in history.
Why would I change? he howled, I will never compromise!
“Tell me when I’m telling lies,” the refrain of his return speech.
- Tributes to Jay Briscoe (Jan)
- The Gunns and The Acclaimed attend family therapy (Feb)
- Max Caster disses Big Bill (Feb)
- MJF’s Re-Bar Mitzvah is interrupted by the “pillars” (Mar)
- Daniel Garcia challenges Adam Cole (Mar)
- Don Callis attacks Kenny Omega (May)
- Miro and Thunder Rosa return (May)
- MJF: “You want me to wrestle every week… What are you, some kind of sick pervert” (Jun)
- Eddie Kingston attacks Ortiz (Jan)
- Stokely Hathaway’s training montage (Mar)
- Anna Jay: “I got a fat ass and a bad attitude” (Mar)
- Jade Cargill and Taya Valkyrie brawl (Apr)
- “He’s gay!” (The Acclaimed and Harley Cameron promo battle) (Jun)