First announced in September 2021, AEW’s Owen Hart Foundation Tournament looks to honor the late-great Owen Hart by partnering with the Owen Hart Foundation, as well as by spotlighting AEW’s best, most proficient pro wrestlers across a variety of styles. This single-elimination tournament, which features a women’s and men’s bracket, was lined with well-traveled and established wrestlers coming together to celebrate the legacy of a beloved industry figure and one of the most influential pro wrestlers to this day. Let’s take a look and rank the very best that the 2022 Owen Hart Foundation Tournament had to showcase.
Before all else, congratulations are in order for the first-ever Owen Hart Cup winners Adam Cole and Britt Baker, who were part of the heartwarming winners’ ceremony with Dr. Martha Hart at Double or Nothing 2022. However, most of the tournament’s strongest matches would not come from the finalists, or in the later rounds, in general.
Ruby Soho v Robyn Renegade (Qualifier)
The qualifying match between Ruby Soho and Robyn Renegade appeared to be a nondescript bout on an episode of Rampage, but when it was all said and done, it may very well have been Soho’s most exciting (if not flat-out best) match in AEW so far. Soho would be facing an unsigned talent in Robyn, who, along with her twin sister Charlette, had done most of her work on Dark. Upsets in tournaments are not uncommon, and if it wasn’t going to be Britt Baker losing to the joker entrant (like some might have considered, what with a wide selection of names in the mix), this would have been it. Following a twin switcheroo on the outside and a counter to a diving senton splash from Soho, the finishing stretch had done enough to erase any preconception that Soho was running right through Robyn (or Charlette?) and advancing any further.
The Renegades made us believe in the slightest of possibilities, but Soho made sure that that was no future at all, going on to not only qualify but beat perennial crowd-favorite Kris Statlander in the semifinals, to the great displeasure of the fans in attendance. But that wouldn’t be the only time this tournament that the fans showed no solidarity with the eventual winner.
(5) Willow Nightingale v Red Velvet (Qualifier)
Red Velvet’s best singles match in AEW would, unfortunately, come against the beloved Willow Nightingale. Just a week prior, Nightingale was wrestling at ROH Supercard of Honor for the interim ROH Women’s World title. And just as Nightingale had in ROH, she also very quickly captured the hearts of the AEW fans in attendance for this match, with her radiant smile and bright energy, as well as her ability to showcase a strong balance of power and agility.
Velvet needed to fight against Nightingale’s tackles and sentons, a dynamic the smaller Velvet is no stranger to. In the end, Red Velvet would corkscrew kick her way to victory, a result that the live crowd was not very supportive of, jeering perhaps not so much at Velvet, but at being denied seeing Willow Nightingale win. Not that it would matter much to the former, who upon hearing the boos, decided to mock the crowd’s disappointment, and weeks later form The Baddies faction with Kiera Hogan and old rival Jade Cargill.
(4) Samoa Joe v “Platinum” Max Caster (Qualifier)
Samoa Joe’s AEW debut in March would also be the shortest match in the tournament, which pitted the debuting star against “Platinum” Max Caster. All the same, it was one of the most-loved matches of the tournament, given how loud the crowd was from Joe’s entrance all the way to the final 3-count. Caster’s entrance reaction was no slouch either, as for months across every AEW show, he and teammate Anthony Bowens grinded in tag team matches and entrance bars to truly prove that “everyone loves the Acclaimed.” But from bell to bell, this match was a quick showcase of Joe’s intensity, hitting his signature strikes from the leaping enzuigiri, to the most massive topé suicida in AEW, to the match-winning Muscle Buster on a game Max Caster to advance.
(3) Dax Harwood v Cash Wheeler (Qualifier)
The most intriguing match of the qualifying rounds would involve two men who are never shy to pay tribute to Bret Hart and the Hart family, and members of the dual AAA and ROH World Tag Team Champions, FTR. Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler worked efficiently in and out of holds, transition after transition to try and get the leverage for the winning pinfall. Sound as this display of counter wrestling was (more of which would be a great addition to AEW), as the match went on, it felt too much like a preview to something greater between the two. And while there is no doubt that eventual winner Harwood and tag partner Wheeler are capable of more against each other, it is unclear when or how this series should be continued, with FTR being on the run of their careers all year.
As bigger moves and bombs are attempted, Jim Ross on commentary cannot help but refer to the two men as “world-renowned tag team artists,” and with this singles encounter, they exhibited their capability as singles wrestlers, as well.
(2) Jamie Hayter v Toni Storm (First Round)
The most-hyped match of the entire tournament delivered in the first round between Jamie Hayter and Toni Storm. In interviews leading up to the tournament, Hayter and Storm appeared to have a more respect-based disposition toward one another, with both women either admitting they hoped they would face each other in the tournament, or gushing about it. Then, when Hayter’s friend Britt Baker joined the frame, returning weeks after losing the World Championship to Thunder Rosa, hostility began to escalate, prompting tournament participant Ruby Soho to back Storm up during those interviews.
And the match it produced was a hard-hitting exchange that showed the chemistry between the two rivals, with the most wince-inducing moment coming when Hayter’s snap suplexes Storm on the floor. This match appears to be on the same boat as Harwood and Wheeler’s match, in that it felt like a preview to something more, but with a better, clearer payoff. With implications of a rift between Jamie Hayter and Britt Baker, as well as the beginnings of a bond between Jamie Hayter and Toni Storm, this match was an excellent preview into the relationship of two wrestling soulmates, with Storm winning round one.
(1) Kyle O’Reilly v Rey Fenix (First Round)
The technical savant Kyle O’Reilly against the innovative high-flyer Rey Fenix in the first round was an excellent clash of styles. Normally, Fenix would outpace his opponents with his speed and omni-directional offense, but in this match, O’Reilly looked to be ahead of his opponent by delivering kicks, chops, and palm strikes every which way. One could also attribute O’Reilly’s advantage to this bout being one of Fenix’s first matches back since his horrific arm injury early in the year. However, these two factors would make it that much more of a joy to watch Fenix manage to pull off short bursts of offense, such as his springboard-tightrope kicks and hurricanranas.
O’Reilly and Fenix going toe-to-toe, trying to solve the puzzle that is their opponent’s technical mastery, worked like magic. Every move and subsequent counter, and even their exhaustion, came together seamlessly, and it is a feat to be able to pull off a match like this. This was a match worthy of a tournament to honor the legend Owen Hart, and for all these reasons, this was the best match of the entire event.