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Recapping Landmark Changes to AEW in 2022: Growing Pains & Steps Forward

We all thought the chaos of 2020 and 2021 in pro wrestling would level out in 2022. How wrong we were. While we were all wrapped up in the drama of Vince McMahon’s exit from WWE and Triple H’s ascension to power, it shouldn’t be lost that All Elite Wrestling went through some major changes […]

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Recapping Landmark Changes to AEW in 2022: Growing Pains & Steps Forward

We all thought the chaos of 2020 and 2021 in pro wrestling would level out in 2022. How wrong we were. While we were all wrapped up in the drama of Vince McMahon’s exit from WWE and Triple H’s ascension to power, it shouldn’t be lost that All Elite Wrestling went through some major changes in its own right.

AEW had a handful of adjustments to the company as a whole in 2022—some great, some terrible, and a lot somewhere in the middle. But changes nevertheless.

As December is rounding out the year, let’s go back and take a look at some of those landmark alterations to AEW that happened in 2022, for better or worse.

Note: Keep in mind this isn’t a “best and worst moments of the year” list. That will come in time. This is just about looking at the bullet points of change that we’ll look back on as historical shifts in All Elite Wrestling.

Cody Rhodes Leaves AEW for WWE

This isn’t in chronological order, but one of the first things to happen in the year and one of the biggest changes to the company as a whole was Cody Rhodes departing for a return to WWE.

Rhodes was the one who started it all. He’s the driving force behind All In, alongside The Young Bucks. You add in Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho and Tony Khan, and you’ve got All Elite Wrestling.

For the guy who sparked this to leave must have meant a few serious issues that couldn’t be resolved. Much of that information hasn’t been stated, so we’re only left to speculate.

My theory has always been that Rhodes, Omega/Bucks and Khan have 3 different booking philosophies. Rhodes wanted to make AEW more like NWA/WCW from when he was a kid and Dusty Rhodes was running the show. Omega and The Young Bucks want to make AEW more meta and self-referential where parodies are mixed in with a New Japan Pro Wrestling style in-ring product. Khan wants Attitude Era WWF. There might be room for two, but not three of those all combating.

That, plus Rhodes still wants to win that WWE World Championship, which is one facet we do know. Hopefully, it will happen.

Whatever the reasoning, Rhodes leaving AEW was massive. One of your top executives steering the ship has left, along with being the lynch pin for things like The Nightmare Factory and the go-to advisor for a lot of talent.

Declining Morale and Backstage Issues

Piggybacking off Rhodes leaving, arguably THE biggest story of AEW in 2022 is how much the vibe changed backstage.

This company started as the rebellious alternative to WWE where “things would be done right” and it would be a product for the fans who weren’t getting what they wanted from Vince McMahon’s outdated concept of fun and quality entertainment. While there were glitches and some mistakes along the way, AEW had a lot of good going for it and it seemed like everyone but an extremely small few within the company got along like a great set of family/friends.

It was an appealing atmosphere. So enticing, in fact, that it drew many WWE Superstars toward not renewing their contracts and opting to head to AEW, instead.

It seemed like the greener grass on the other side of the fence.

But in 2022, we heard of numerous backstage incidents, arguments, feuds and problems that indicated the honeymoon was over.

Remember that whole Ivelisse and Thunder Rosa thing from 2020? Well, Rosa’s had a lot of chatter surrounding her name this year. Take it with a grain of salt, naturally, but the rumor mill was saying Rosa had enemies on the roster like Britt Baker, didn’t vacate the title from injury but because she was booted out and so on.

What’s going on with Santana and Ortiz? Are they over being a tag team, or is Santana just injured and they’ll be back as a duo once he’s recovered?

Sammy Guevara had his name in headlines a few times with problems opposite Eddie Kingston and Andrade El Idolo. The latter has been heavily speculated to just want out of his AEW contract entirely and may never be seen in the company again.

Miro is always echoing sentiments on Twitter about not being used properly. There has to be something there.

Malakai Black and Buddy Murphy were in the news quite a bit as “definitely maybe going back to WWE if they can get out of their contracts, supposedly, I guess” only to return recently. But you never know if there was some truth to any of that.

Of course, there’s been talk about everyone from Keith Lee and Shawn Spears wanting to jump back over to the Triple H regime to most recently, the William Regal situation. Whether it turns out he is already leaving AEW to go back to WWE remains to be seen, but the more it is talked about, the more likely it seems.

Don’t forget about Jeff Hardy. His struggles with substance abuse undoubtedly caused many plans to be rearranged this year.

But nothing compares to…

The All Out Brawl Out with CM Punk vs. The Elite

It’s been talked about nonstop for months. Nothing I can say will add too much more to the mix.

But the tl;dr of it all is that CM Punk didn’t get along with much of The Elite and their cohorts, leading to a bit of a civil war in AEW. Hangman Adam Page’s title loss to Punk only made things worse, with promos about the reality behind this feud.

Punk falling victim to an injury so soon after being crowned champion didn’t help, by any means. Then, after returning and regaining his championship at All Out, he proceeded to get injured again, badmouth his coworkers on the media scrum, and get into a fight backstage.

The details change here and there, along with the validity of each report. But at least where we stand right now, we’ve got a chair thrown, a dog injured, Kenny Omega bitten, Ace Steel fired, Punk stripped of his title and seemingly gone, The Elite stripped of the trios titles, and lawsuits possibly on the way.

This has been the biggest black mark on AEW in 2022, with many criticizing Tony Khan’s leadership capabilities and the company directive as a whole.

If anything good came out of it, it could be that Chris Jericho, Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley have apparently taken on more leadership roles and are well-perceived, but you never know what to believe anymore.

Interim Championships Experimentation

Speaking of that Punk injury, that wasn’t even the first interim title situation that happened in AEW this year.

Starting off 2022 was the interim TNT Championship holdover between Cody Rhodes and Sammy Guevara. That led to Guevara beating Rhodes to become the lineal champion, and almost seemed like a waste of time, as they could have just waited another week or so.

Later in the year, though, we’d get Punk’s injury. Instead of stripping him of the belt, Khan decided to crown an interim champion at Forbidden Door in Moxley, who would go on to beat Punk. Then, lose to Punk a few days later. And then, a few minutes later, when Punk had his media scrum stuff, we’d find ourselves back without a champion, only for Moxley to win it yet again.


And then, there was Thunder Rosa. Again, Khan decided he’d rather have an interim women’s champion, than to just have Rosa vacate the title. After months of dancing around Rosa vs. Toni Storm for a title change and even doing the match, when they were set to have it yet again, it was changed and Storm walked out as interim champion.

She kept that belt until Full Gear, losing to Jamie Hayter.

Thankfully, a decision was made to retroactively erase the “interim” from those title reigns. Storm is now recognized as a legitimate former AEW women’s world champion, Hayter is the current and Rosa’s title reign doesn’t count all those days Storm was defending that belt.

2022 will probably be looked at as the one and only year AEW experimented with the idea of interim champions. It started at the beginning of the year and by the end, it seems Khan’s decided vacating the belt is just best.

Battle of the Belts

Speaking of belts, this year started the AEW Battle of the Belts lineage.

This one is a rare positive for growth, rather than a growing pain. It wasn’t all bad this year!

Admittedly, these specials haven’t been as great, impactful or important as they could be. But in theory, having a Saturday Fight Night bonus hour of title defenses, almost like Saturday Night’s Main Event or a mini pay-per-view, is an idea that can work well.

AEW has a limited amount of expansion it can theoretically do without stretching itself too thin. It can be argued AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation already cancel each other out, and you only need Dynamite, Rampage and ONE of those shows, for instance.

But Battle of the Belts is a good thing to test out. It just needs to be tweaked where the matches are things people actually want to see and not just title defenses on paper, but with champions defending against people who don’t stand a chance.

I’d love to see the January 2023 Battle of the Belts feature three matches like Samoa Joe vs. Wardlow for the TNT Championship, for instance, wherein there’s a good chance the belt changes hands, rather than The Acclaimed defending the tag titles against a team that stands no chance against them, like The Butcher and The Blade.

AEW Dynamite Switches to TBS

From October 2019 up until January 2022, AEW Dynamite’s home was TNT. Hence, you know, the TNT Championship as its primary midcard belt.

This year saw the change over to TBS for Dynamite to offset Turner Media acquiring the rights to the NHL, airing that on Wednesday nights on TNT instead.

Despite the switch, ratings have remained consistent. If anything, they’ve improved in some ways.

The average rating for 2019 was 0.38. 2020 was 0.31. 2021 was 0.33. So far, for 2022 on TBS, Dynamite has averaged out to a 0.34 rating.

Plus, switching over to TBS opened the door for a new title to be created.

New Championships and Owen Hart Cup Tournament

Jade Cargill won the inaugural TBS Championship on that January 5 edition of Dynamite on TBS. She’s held the title ever since and used that to make her mark.

Also this year, we saw the addition of the All-Atlantic Championship, first going to PAC and now around the waist (or, more so, in the bag of) Orange Cassidy.

The AEW World Trios Championship was created this year. While The Elite were stripped of the belts the day they won them at All Out, they’ve been feuding with Death Triangle and will likely win them back in due time after this Best of Seven Series concludes.

AEW also introduced the Owen Hart Cup Tournament. While not a traditional championship, it is a pseudo-title in that it was an accolade to win this year. The trophy’s future is still up in the air, but it’s so far the only thing Adam Cole has won.

AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door

Dynamite moving to TBS and opening the door to that title’s creation has to remind you of another door opening up: The Forbidden Door.

AEW expanded its pay-per-view lineup to go from its traditional four (Revolution, Double or Nothing, All Out and Full Gear) to five with its New Japan crossover, “AEW x NJPW: Forbidden Door” event.

Undoubtedly, almost none of this card was what was originally planned. Even the previously announced match between CM Punk and Hiroshi Tanahashi wasn’t probably the first idea, but Punk’s injury put a stop to that, even if it was.

Nevertheless, despite all the changes that had to reshape this card, it ended up being a monumental one for the company, crowning some champions and establishing that a cross-promotional event like this could happen in the modern era.

Many fans are assuming there will be another Forbidden Door event in 2023. That remains to be seen. But considering how FTR, Kenny Omega and others are playing nice with New Japan for Wrestle Kingdom, my money is on yes, it will go down sometime next summer.

ROH Acquisition

On the subject of other promotions, one of the biggest gains to happen this year for AEW was Tony Khan’s acquisition (in many ways) of Ring of Honor.

It seems that still isn’t 100% fully ironed out, but for all intents and purposes, ROH has become a sister brand to AEW, much like how WWE was able to fold WCW and ECW into itself.

Khan remains adamant he’s shopping around for a television show dedicated to Ring of Honor. I’m not so sure that’s even necessary, unless AEW Dark: Elevation is nixed. Personally, I’m of the rare opinion that I’d like to see ROH go away and to just have the Ring of Honor Championship as a midcard title in AEW that follows the Pure Championship rules, while getting rid of the FTW Championship.

In any case, we’ve had a few ROH pay-per-views happen under Khan’s thumb this year, with Final Battle coming up this weekend to cap things off.

This has created new titles for people to win and another subsection of the company to make stars that wasn’t available in 2021.

Injuries and Exits vs. Signings

Rounding out this list of landmark changes to the year, you can’t not talk about injuries, departures and signings. Leaving for good, being absent for quite a while or coming in for the first time can change things drastically.

We’ve talked about Rhodes, Punk, Rosa and such, but not the situation with Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish.

Earlier this year, it seemed those three were destined to be a big part of AEW in 2022. They’d clearly feud with The Elite over the trios titles, Cole would obviously win at least a midcard title, so on and so forth. Right? Wrong.

Instead, Cole and O’Reilly fell to injuries that currently have them in limbo with question marks over whether or not they’ll EVER return to the ring. Meanwhile, Fish is out of the company, with not many good things to say and some scuttlebutt about him trying to convince Cole and O’Reilly to leave alongside him.

Kris Statlander likely would have been a bigger part of the TBS Championship scene if she weren’t injured in August.

Ruby Soho’s injuries sidelined her and caused some stir about in-ring safety and provided more heat for Guevara’s camp.

Hangman Adam Page’s concussion was scary and it is good to see him back in action.

Christian Cage’s feud with Jungle Boy Jack Perry has caused that feud to hit a stall. It remains to be seen how they can come back to that.

Jonathan Gresham was in and out of the company, as was AQA. Joey Janela, Marko Stunt and Jack Evans were some of the originals who finally had their contracts come up without a renewal. Alan Angels left, as did Stu Grayson.

But we did get quite a few new signings, including: AR Fox, Ari Daivari, Athena, Bandido, Brody King, Buddy Matthews, Claudio Castagnoli, Danhausen, Konosuke Takeshita, Rush, Samoa Joe, Swerve Strickland, Toni Storm and more, along with the in-ring return of Saraya.

Does the Good Outweigh the Bad?

Some new roster members, a couple new titles, Battle of the Belts, Forbidden Door and ROH were positives to the year. Unfortunately, it came with a constant flux of changes to the creative landscape with injuries, in-fighting backstage, morale problems and some huge departures.

We don’t have the benefit of hindsight right now. However, I think with 20/20 vision, we’ll look back on 2022 in AEW as one of those years that was rough, but necessary.

Think of it as puberty. The first few years of AEW was nothing but fun and games. Then, this was the rough patch that called out some problems that needed to be fixed.

It may take more than just 2022 to resolve all that. We could end up saying 2023 was the second half of this process. But I think AEW is going to come out of this stronger in the long run.

Some of the bad won’t ever be corrected and will leave scars. CM Punk, in particular, is going to have lasting repercussions. But a lot of it has already healed and many others will pass in time. We won’t be talking about Guevara vs. Kingston by the end of 2023, most likely. It won’t sting as much that Rosa, Storm, Baker and Hayter feuded for what felt like half the year when it isn’t as fresh in our minds (even though I’m still salty about how long Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio kept feuding 10 years ago).

This won’t be a banger year for AEW, but it will be looked at as a necessary year for the company’s future. Hence, it had some growth, but it had to go through some growing pains to get there.

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