2023 Matches of the Year: AEW Rampage
In 2022, Rampage had what many consider AEW’s Match of the Year in Wheeler Yuta’s bloodbath versus Jon Moxley. Apart from this gem, however, the slow pace of stories on the show creates a lack of any feeling of urgency to it. Such has been the story of AEW’s second TV program. The highs have been ridiculously high, but will they continue to be few and far between? Or will this year change the pace of Rampage?
Jade Cargill (c) v Skye Blue (Battle of the Belts: TBS Championship)
Jade Cargill’s career-long streak and TBS title reign have been nothing less than dominant. But despite being one of the longstanding stories of the division, a huge chunk of her matches have been one-note affairs. Then, out of nowhere, 2022’s most improved rookie Skye Blue would give Cargill her longest and most impressive match thus far.
The Skye Blue that the champion faced a year ago returns with more refined transitions to go with her lucha game. Against the evolving powerhouse Cargill, this made for a much more compelling TBS title defense than usual. The final finishing stretch, however, is what sends this match to the top. A great display of strength, evasion, quickness — lightning in a bottle.
I get not booking this match too often, but something tells me these two wouldn’t mind doing this again.
Jamie Hayter (c) v Emi Sakura (Women’s World Championship Eliminator)
Jamie Hayter’s title reign is something the women’s division desperately needed. Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa’s rivalry, as well as Toni Storm’s World title reign showed that the division had gems to be mined. But Hayter continuously bridges the gap between the most compelling wrestlers, and organic and overwhelming fan support.
Following a late-2022 classic against Hikaru Shida, Hayter had her eyes set on “The Queen” Emi Sakura. Which is monumental for two reasons, the first being this was Sakura’s long overdue return to AEW TV since 2019. The second being the blistering and battering bout that this would end up becoming.
Hayter spent much of this match fighting from underneath, as the veteran flexed her dominance and familiarity with the champion. But Hayter would absorb the best of Sakura’s offense and eventually out-wound the challenger, proving that Hayter hits harder. Overall, a welcome reintroduction for Sakura, and a great omen for Hayter’s reign, which has led to the best Rampage women’s match to date.
Orange Cassidy (c) v Lee Moriarty (All-Atlantic Championship)
This is exactly what you’d expect from the kings of sloth-style and TAIGASTYLE. It was a lot of technical escapes, and a lot of fun.
Moriarty attempted the impactful strikes early to avoid playing a fair technical game with a deceptive expert like Cassidy. Eventually Cassidy brings out his underrated high-flying game to score two giant DDT’s. Moriarty is forced to revert to his technical ability, but the champion is just superior in that department, escaping a hold with a surprise pin. Stuff like this is about the most fun example of mental gymnastics you can find in wrestling.
(But deviating away from the match. As the Rampage main event, the live crowd might eat it up. But one of the least prominent championships in AEW being defended against a challenger who has barely been built-up, let alone appeared on TV, is going to be a hard sell for people who aren’t already fans of exactly these guys or of technical wrestling. Rampage is really going to need to put more emphasis into their main events going into Year 3 now.)
Dustin Rhodes v Swerve Strickland
It’s a testament to the power a simple build-up has that a rare DQ finish did not mar this great main event. It’s also a testament to Dustin Rhodes, who still proves to be “The Natural” with another under-the-radar gem. The year prior saw him paint a classic with fundamentals against CM Punk. And in 2023, he does the same against one of the low-key most detestable wrestlers on the roster currently, Swerve Strickland.
A good bulk of this match was punches and kicks, but it felt every bit emotionally charged and dynamic. Strickland wrestling on the back foot so much considering his general demeanor throughout this mini-rivalry is cathartic. The fact that he isn’t so over-the-top with his arrogance somehow makes that visual better. But he steals that catharsis the first chance he gets by getting first blood on Rhodes, and the fight is on.
It’s matches like these that have fans clamoring for less-featured names like Rhodes to have another major title match. But acknowledging deep down that it’s… whose house?
Sammy Guevara v Konosuke Takeshita
Sammy Guevara’s chemistry with fellow high-flying daredevils is great, but I pick his chemistry with Konosuke Takeshita any day. Guevara is so likable in an unlikable way. This match might not necessarily explain it, but it sure as hell shows it. He’s got such an incredible moveset and evasions in the ring, if you didn’t know any better you’d probably like him. Takeshita is so naturally gifted he’ll meet his opponents in the style they’re comfortable in and make it look easy. This is one of either man’s best matches this year, sadly a sleeper hit on Rampage.
Taya Valkyrie v Emi Sakura
The story of this match is the chops. The beautiful simplicity and efficiency of chops.
But the real story is we get another Rampage banger courtesy of Emi Sakura. We don’t get enough Emi. Not when her matches are this simple and brutal, not when her crossbody sandwich into the steel steps is a majestic sight. And Taya Valkyrie, as expected, would fade into the background after the Jade Cargill feud. But for those who need a reminder, point them to this match. Valkyrie is a warrior, a veteran who would be a joy in these hard-hitting matches. More of this, please.
Zack Sabre Jr (c) v Action Andretti (NJPW World Television Championship)
As part of a special Rampage Championship Friday, ZSJ and Andretti had an easy Top 5 Rampage match of 2023. And seeing as it’s ZSJ facing a baby Ospreay, the formula for success was there.
The NJPW World TV champ quickly won over the crowd in his official AEW debut with his octopus-like offense. It would also be the best Andretti has looked since the Chris Jericho match once upon a time. Strong debut for ZSJ as a whole. It’s matches like this that can really showcase Rampage as its own unique platform.
Big Bill and Brian Cage v Trent Beretta and Matt Sydal (Blind Eliminator Quarterfinal)
Two of the actual odd pairings of the Blind Eliminator Tournament put on a fucking banger no one expected. (It’s kind of strange that the only tournament match with purely random teams had one of the strongest showings.) Solid action built toward the reason this makes it on the list. Big Bill and Cage landed a beautiful simultaneous Jackhammer and Boss Man Slam. Answered with great fire and top rope teamwork by the underdogs Beretta and Sydal. Answered by the big men rising from the ashes to hit a sick Powerbomb Lariat combo. This was genuinely the most impressive extended finishing sequence I’ve seen in a long while.
Happy Rampage 100!
- Young Bucks v Aussie Open (Feb)
- Riho v Emi Sakura (Feb)
- El Hijo del Vikingo (c) v Komander v Dralistico — AAA Mega Championship (Jun)
- Jack Perry v Douki (Jun)