The Wrestle Inn Wrestler of the Year 2022

While rating matches in 2022 you would have had enough stars to construct a constellation or two. Damn, there was a lot of good wrestling this year.

Thank wrestlers like Jon Moxley who brawled his way back to the top of AEW and traveled to GCW with murderous intentions, producing an impressive list of hits along the way. Thank wrestlers like Bianca Belair who claimed a spot among WWE’s elite with standout bouts against the company’s best.

Will Ospreay killed it on multiple continents. Syuri was STARDOM’s supreme empress. DDT’s Konosuke Takeshita and Kazusada Higuchi had impressive years. Miu Watanabe of Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling raised her stock with a star-making run.

But who was the best? Who delivered in the ring, on the mic and at the box office enough to earn the title of Wrestler of the Year?

The Wrestle Inn crew has your answers for you.

A dozen members of the team voted on their top five wrestlers of the year for both the men’s and women’s categories. Each first-place vote is worth five points; each second-place vote is worth four; and so on, all the way down to a fifth-place vote being worth one point. This year, we separated the polls into men’s and women’s categories in order to spotlight twice the wrestlers.

The votes have been tabulated, the math is done. We now have our two winners. A single point separated number one and two on the men’s side. The women’s winner put a bit more space between herself and her competition.

The members of the panel, who you can cheer or jeer depending on how you feel about the results, are as follows:

Wrestlers With Fewer than 5 Points:

Hangman Page, Josh Alexander, Kento Miyahara, Ren Narita, Bryan Danielson, FTR, Daniel Garcia, Yuki Ueno, Zack Sabre Jr., Kenny Omega, Jason Lee, Fujita Jr. Hayato

ASUKA, Mayu Iwatani, Deonna Purazzo, Liv Morgan, Hikaru Shida, Masha Slamovich, Bayley, Jade Cargill, Yuna Mizumori, Willow Nightingale, Mandy Rose, Taya Valkyrie, Miyuki Takase

Mayu Iwatani, KAIRI and the Parable of the Prodigal Daughter

Calling His Buckshot

Thumbly on Josh Alexander: Since claiming the IMPACT world title last October, Alexander has carried the company on his back. Even during the blip before he got it back, he was the face running the place – showing off debuting new talent, putting on feature matches, etc. Since winning it back, he’s taken on all comers from Japan, indies, and the whole of IMPACT’s roster. The guy’s such a machine he’s even continued showing up in other feds, wrestling OVER SEVENTY times in 2022 alone, all of them hard-hitting pieces of craftsmanship. The workhorse concept ain’t dead.

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Thumbly on Jade Cargill: Long undefeated streaks are hard to maintain as lively, engaging things. She’s done so by proving capable as an almost tweener face at times, changing around the background dynamics in her faction, and continued improvement in the ring.

Trent on Mayu Iwatani: She kind of went under the radar for much of the year, but anytime Mayu Iwatani had a match of any importance she absolutely knocked it out of the park, and it was the second half of the year where she really shone. A great 5 Star GP and an even more amazing run in the IWGP Women’s Tournament, The Icon reminded everyone that when pushes comes to shove, she’s still one of the very best to ever step foot inside the ring.

Outside the Top 5/Received at Least 5 Points:

Giulia, Suzu Suzuki, Miyu Yamashita, Jamie Hayter, Starlight Kid, Mei Suruga, Shoko Nakajima

El Desperado, Sami Zayn, Roman Reigns, Kazuchika Okada, Gunther*, Shun Skywalker*, Jay White

*received at least one first-place vote

Vindication: Giulia’s 5 Star Grand Prix Victory

Show My Style to the World: An Interview with Miyu Yamashita

Ciaran on El Desperado: Despite being a fan favourite, Despe’s year has gone wildly unappreciated. He started the year in the semi-main event of Wrestle Kingdom, toppling Hiromu Takahashi in a landmark match that he had struggled with prior. In a Champion vs Champion match he put on a match of the year contender against Kazuchika Okada. He ran the gauntlet in Best of the Super Juniors, making the final yet again. A fever dream of a match saw him broken and bloody at the hands of Jon Moxley. And to put the bow on his year, he defeated deathmatch legend Jun Kasai in JTO, another contender for match of the year.

Sam on Mei Suruga: The breakout year of breakout years. Mei springboarded from Chocopro, the humblest promotion around, to appearing in TJPW, STARDOM, Deadlock, AEW and even CMLL. Everywhere she went, she instantly won over new fans and admirers. What’s more, she did it all while maintaining her wholly singular style, mixing her impressive athleticism and unique personality with eye-catching and sometimes truly unhinged creativity. If you start the year wrestling on a mat in Ichigaya and end it being cheered out the building as a winner in Arena Mexico, you had a pretty damn good year.

Corey on Jay White: The leader of Bullet Club’s rise brings to mind a preordained destiny by some divine force. White has done the things he said he’d do, and he’s not even done yet. Winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion off Okada at Dominion, selling out The United Center, being a shoot pro in calling an audible to aid a concussed Adam Cole, and taking the mantle that a former Cleaner left behind.

Kay on Shun Skywalker: Shun turned himself from a bogstandard babyface into one of the most compelling heels in wrestling this year. With a storytelling style that is more reminiscent of theater than the classic soapiness of the genre, he strongly set himself apart from the competition and offered something genuinely fresh to character work enthusiasts.

Kay on Starlight Kid: Ever since her heel turn, SLK has become one of the most popular wrestlers in Stardom – and with good reason. Her fast and exciting style, her distinctive look and her impressive charisma have turned her into a genuine sensation this year and I can’t wait where she goes from here.

Alex on Giulia: Come back from a severe injury to put on incredible match after incredible match. She’s finally at that point where she’s consistently among the best in the world. Her match vs. Tam at the 5STAR GP Final should be watched by anyone who loves wrestling, and her rise this year is one of those return stories we all love.

Steve on Roman Reigns: Acknowledge your tribal chief. Champion for over 800 days and great matches with Drew, Brock, Seth, and Logan Paul.

Women’s Wrestler of the Year Top 5

5. Saya Kamitani (14 total points; 1 first-place vote)

Ethan: Saya Kamitani entered the new year as the Wonder of Stardom champion after defeating Tam Nakano in a fantastic match, and to say that the Golden Phoenix has risen to the occasion would be an understatement. Kamitani is potentially on her way to become the most successful White Belt champion of all time after having defeated outstanding talent like Himeka, MIRAI, or Starlight Kid and shall she keep retaining the title, she could become not only the longest reigning but also the champion with the most successful defenses. She is past being the future of STARDOM, because Saya Kamitani is now a reality.

Trent: It felt like for the first half of the year Saya was pumping out the best match of the month every month. Her Wonder of Stardom Championship reign has cemented the Phoenix as one of the company’s strongest big match performers. She ran the gauntlet with a range of opponents and consistently proved herself against the best.

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4. Toni Storm (15 total points; 0 first-place votes)

Alex: She rescued the AEW Championship following Rosa’s reign being an embarrassment to the company, elevated the division and everyone she stood next to. She is stood shoulder to shoulder with Mox for AEW MVP. She’s been fucking awesome, and I can’t wait for her second reign.

Ethan: Toni Storm had a rough end to 2021 after leaving WWE and it was going to be pretty difficult for her to regroup and rise again after this situation. It is safe to say that she has done so in 2022. Toni joined AEW in the first half of the year and has been constantly putting on some of the division’s best matches, even managing to win the AEW World Women’s Championship on the 2nd half of the year. Storm has been fantastic and there are still many things to come for her.

Adam: Her run as the AEW Interim Women’s champion really helped give the title some credibility after lineal champion Thunder Rosa went down with an injury. She defended the title on a regular basis and was a constant presence on AEW television programs. Plus it looks like she’s having fun wrestling again after being mired in an awful feud with Charlotte Flair last year in WWE.

3. Miu Watanabe (17 total points; 2 first-place votes)

Kay: 2023 has truly been a breakout year for TJPW’s muscular idol, with a series of fantastic high-profile matches and her well-deserved first singles title win. While she has not joined the pillars of the promotion just yet, it seems only matter of time.

Sam: TJPW as a promotion gets a lot of criticism for the way it handles younger talent. People will argue it holds talent down unduly. But for those that have followed Miu Watanabe’s 2022, they will see the promotion has pulled off, in my opinion, one of the best and most successful star-making builds in a year that saw more than its fair share of new stars. She began it by winning TJPW’s tag team tournament with Rika Tatsumi and having an acclaimed match with champions MagiRabi at TJPW Grand Princess, the promotion’s first show at Ryogoku Sumo Hall and its biggest show to date. Later in the year, she emerged as the central character of the TJPW Princess Cup, my personal favourite of all the many tournaments that ran in puroresu this year. Her stunning victories against the reigning Princess of Princess champion Shoko Nakajima, followed by another shocking upset against the undisputed Ace of TJPW Miyu Yamashita, grabbed everyone’s attention. While she would ultimately fall short in the final against Yuka Sakazaki, Miu’s performances in these matches were to me simply extraordinary displays of not just her own talent as a performer, but of everything that makes TJPW special, so much so that I wrote a whole substack article about it. While she fell at the final hurdle, Miu firmly took her place among TJPW’s top class of main eventers, following up with her first singles championship win against Alex Windsor at Wrestle Princess III. Her reign has gotten off to a strong start already and enabled her to show she’s just as capable of working as the dominant champion as she is the babyface challenger. The youngest member of the TJPW roster at just 23 years old, Miu already looks well on her way to being TJPW’s Ace of the Future.

I Contain Multitudes: The Many Talents of Miu Watanabe

2. Bianca Belair (21 total points; 3 first-place votes)

Adam: She’s been on top of the women’s division in WWE and has had marquee matches at WWE’s biggest events of the year (SummerSlam, WrestleMania) and will be involved in the first ever main roster women’s war games match at Survivor Series. The match she had with Becky Lynch at WrestleMania was one of the best WWE matches of the year and a true-feel good moment when she won the Raw Women’s Title on wrestling’s biggest stage. I can’t think of a better women’s wrestler (at least in terms of the wrestling that I follow) this year.

Thumbly: I won’t use Vince’s early poor use of talent around her against her – as the year went on and leadership changed, she continued to anchor the entire division in WWE and show more and more talent and star power. It’s different wearing the crown for a long time than chasing it, and not everyone can land that change. She has and then some!

Corey: Overcoming Becky Lynch—twice—to be in the champion position she’s been in, AND seeing her booked so strongly, Cena-style, Belair takes none of it for granted. You can tell by the emotions on her face, the effort put into her gear, and the quality of her matches that the EST is not just bragging about being the best in the company. She just is.

Steve: Absolutely dominant year in feuds with Becky and Bayley. Great in ring performances and amazing charisma.

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1. Syuri (28 total points; 4 first-place votes)

Trent: Syuri’s incredible 2021 kind of worked against her because it set expectations so high for her World of Stardom reign. Yet when you look at her body of work this year, she has more than lived up to those expectations. Top tier matches against a range of opponents. She matches Tam Nakano’s emotional storytelling, she worked from underneath against a dominant Himeka, she put on a fierce and violent war with Risa Sera. The only complaint would be that her year started a little quietly, but she more than made up for that with a predominantly amazing year as Stardom’s top wrestler.

Alex: After the Red War with Utami, it was difficult to see how Syuri could top that, but she did. She solidified her status as the best striker in wrestling and as one of the best wrestlers in the world. There are few better than Syuri, and fewer still have had better years (maybe Ospreay?)

Ethan: Syuri had a phenomenal 2021 with her SWA reign and eventually winning the Red Belt as well after a successful 5Star GP run. It seemed pretty difficult to top that year, but she has had a year-long story with Giulia and splitting away from DDM, great defenses against Risa Sera or Tam Nakano just to name a few and has made herself an undeniable reality in the world of professional wrestling. This is Syuri’s world, and we’re all living in it.

Men’s Wrestler of the Year Top 5

5. Mike Bailey (10 total points; 0 first-place votes)

A Drink at the Inn With: Speedball Mike Bailey

Adam: I wanted to choose someone from the independent scene for this list and the first person I thought of was Speedball. He signed with Impact and had great matches against X-Division foes there (eventually winning the title at Slammiversary). He had a match against Trey Miguel at the Impact “Against All Odds” special that’s a candidate for match of the year. Outside of Impact, he’s literally been all over the independent scene in the US. He’s wrestled for places like GCW, Wrestling Revolver, West Coast Pro, JCW and others. The main thing that I remember from this year though is him wrestling nine matches (or was it 10) in the span of three days over WrestleMania weekend. The quality of opponents has been top notch too with bouts against Konosuke Takeshita, Bandido, Jon Moxley, Jonathan Gresham, Trey Miguel and (as of this writing) a scheduled match with KENTA on December 3rd for Wrestling Revolver. If the “king of the Indies” nickname is available, it might as well go to Speedball.

4. Kazusada Higuchi (13 total points; 2 first-place votes)

Sam: When DDT champion and longtime main eventer Tetsuya Endo went down in unfortunate circumstances at Cyberfight’s biggest event of the year, Kazusada Higuchi stepped into the breach, marching his way through a fantastic King of DDT run to the top belt, elevating himself from reliable midcarder to the company’s new de facto Ace, as symbolised when Sanshiro Takagi himself handed him a literal DDT Flag to bear. Every from match of his title reign has ranged from great to incredible. Also, one half of one of the best tag teams of the year in Harimao with Naomi Yoshimura, with whom he held the DDT tag belts simultaneously with his singles championship. Higuchi not only stepped up when DDT needed him most, he exceeded everyone’s expectations and became in my mind Puro’s brightest new star of the year.

Trent: With DDT ace Takeshita spending more time in America, DDT needed someone to truly step up and do business at the top, and Higuchi has been that man.

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3. Konosuke Takeshita (15 total points; 0 first-place votes)

Corey: Konosuke Takeshita impressed many in the west during his recent run in AEW prior to being officially signed to the company. It’s easy to see why, with matches against Claudio Castagnoli, Eddie Kingston, and Jon Moxley, showing the world what DDT is truly about. This wholesome, Cinnabon-loving goof is going to be the talk of the industry, as he’s even impressed WWE. Looking forward to his 2023, for sure.

Kay: Takeshita has been fantastic this year, not just in his extremely successful excursion, but also in the culmination of his decade-long rivalry with former tag team partner Tetsuya Endo. A supremely talented wrestler that will hopefully continue to impress in both Japan and the states with his double contracts.

Ethan: If you didn’t follow Japanese wrestling before hearing about Konosuke Takeshita, you would think he is just a breakout star but do not get it twisted, Konosuke Takeshita is one of the most decorated wrestlers in the history of DDT, he started the year with his 5th KO-D Openweight Championship reign and ever since he lost it, he decided to take on new challenges and bring himself on a world tour that has seen him get worldwide recognition and that tour lead him to sign for AEW. Konosuke is already one of the best wrestlers in the world, so keep an eye on him now that he is All Elite.

Sam: The modern-day Manami Toyota, every time I see him, I’m forced to reconsider what humans are physically capable of. Had his usual great matches in DDT, was a breakout star in AEW without cutting a single promo, electrified the US indies. Greatest excursion ever.

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2. Jon Moxley (27 total points; 3 first-place votes)

Ethan: Jon Moxley made his return this past January after being away for 3 months to take care of himself. It seems like his new state of mind also carried onto pro wrestling because Jon has had arguably the best year of his career, he has established himself as one of the most important wrestlers for AEW, been the world champ multiple times and has always been reliable in every way. Jon has been absolutely phenomenal.

Thumbly: Jon Moxley did more for his wrestling company, and for WRESTLING, than any other person can lay claim to this year. He provided stability and credibility for AEW throughout the year, carried the main event scene on his back, put on terrific matches and moments, and headlined a historic Forbidden Door. When the company was legit in an unstable moment, there was Mox giving us the real talk and using his compelling yet chill charisma to let us continue to believe and enjoy. All while having just overcome personal demons at the start of 2022. The guy is basically my hero, and he should be yours too!

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Adam: Moxley stepped up in the ugly aftermath of the “Brawl Out” incident to be the savior of AEW and kept the company strong throughout the fall. He came back from rehab earlier this year and immediately proved that he hadn’t lost a step at all. The match he had against Wheeler Yuta on Rampage proved to be one of the best matches in the short history of that program (and also memorable thanks to the amount of blood Yuta lost). Moxley is one of those guys that you can plug into any situation, and he immediately elevates anything.

Steve: It was already an incredible year in GCW and AEW but stepped up to another level by leading the company after the fiasco of All Out.

Alex: Forget the four pillars, Moxley has been the foundation of AEW since the Daily’s Place era. He’s carried AEW again and again and again while putting on some of the best matches and cutting some of the best performances of the year. Give him his awards and give him his damn holiday.

1. Will Ospreay (28 total points; 3 first-place votes)

A Drink at the Inn With: Will Ospreay

Trent: Are we questioning this bruv? Just look at the resume, the man has been putting on banger after banger all over the world. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the Tokyo Dome in the main event or wrestling on the British independents, the man has put his stamp as being one of the best wrestlers in the world.

Steve: Whether in Rev Pro, GCW, AEW or New Japan, you always know when Will steps into the ring the match is going to be amazing.

Ciaran: Whether your metric is workrate, storytelling, Meltzer stars or something else entirely, Ospreay is in the number one position. He has had 5 star matches in 3 different continents, on the biggest stage of a Tokyo Dome main event to the independents helping elevate growing talent. What’s astonishing is Ospreay missed time in the ring due to a serious kidney infection that had him on death’s door, the impact causing him to change his whole lifestyle, yet he came back in miraculous time and never missed a beat. 2022 was truly the year of Will Ospreay.