With the half-year mark hit, many people take some time to sit back and reflect on how their year is going so far: Did I hit my target weight? Have I called Mom enough? Why can’t I still inline skate, I’ve been lacing those $300 things up for weeks now, and all I have to show for is a fractured coccyx?
In the case of us here at Voices of Wrestling, we’ve already started thinking about our yearly wrestling lists. The rule of “never make your lists until the G1 is finished” is strong advice, but it’s nonetheless interesting to get a temperature check and see who’s breaking off from the pack at this stage of the solar cycle.
Therefore, we’ve gathered some of the VOW staff to share which wrestler they feel has built a significant case to be the best wrestler of 2023 once December 31 rolls around. Of course, this is a snapshot, as we still have six more months to go, and things can deviate from this point on. Because “anything can happen,” right? -Warren Hayes
Jon Moxley (Jesse Collings)
Jon Moxley continues to raise the bar for weekly television wrestling. While some wrestlers may have had higher peaks, it is hard to argue that anyone has been more consistent on a week-in and week-out basis than Moxley, who is rapidly becoming the best weekly television wrestler in history.
Consider this; Moxley has had 19 matches between AEW television and PPV so far this year, with no match receiving a rating of under 6.0 on Cagematch and many receiving an average rating of 8.0 or higher. That puts Moxley on pace for nearly 40 above-average broadcasted performances this year in AEW alone, an incredible output of consistency and durability.
He’s done it in every way–whether it was the conventional bloodbath, such as his Texas Death match with Hangman Page, the standard singles match like his bout with Tomohiro Ishii, or in tag work with the Blackpool Combat Club, Moxley has been a force in wrestling this year and emerged as arguably its most consistent performer.
That isn’t even getting into his “bonus” performances in New Japan Pro Wrestling and on a few indie dates, adding even more high-quality work to his 2023 resume. Of course, the matches are only a part of the Moxley package–his charisma, promos, and chaotic attitude are the heart and soul of AEW Dynamite and give that show its trademark, car-out-of-control excitement. -Jesse Collings
Kenny Omega (Kevin Hare)
After a year on the shelf, Kenny Omega is back. And not just back as in, he’s wrestling. He’s back to being the focus of the wrestling world.
Omega has his groove back, and his versatility has been fully displayed. He’s had Match of the Year contender in almost any style you can think of. Ladder matches (with the Elite vs. Death Triangle), six-man tags (vs. Death Triangle), Lucha dream matches (vs. El Hijo Del Vikingo), bloody brawls (Anarchy in the Arena 2). He’s been a centerpiece of the best feud of the year, the Elite vs. Blackpool Combat Club. He was the lynchpin to one of the hottest angles of the year, Don Callis’ betrayal at the end of Omega’s brutal cage match against Jon Moxley.
This is all impressive by itself, but I haven’t even mentioned what Omega will be best known for in 2023: his two instantly legendary matches against Will Ospreay. Front runners for finishing 1-2 in this year’s Match of the Year poll, both matches were as different as they were great. The first match, in NJPW at Wrestle Kingdom, featured Omega as the invading heel against Ospreay, tearing apart the younger Ospreay. The second, in AEW at Forbidden Door, was reversed. This time, Omega was the local babyface hero fighting off the heel outsider. The matches are a masterclass in laying out two completely different matches that are still able to compliment each other.
The most exciting thing about Omega’s year may be what’s to come, too. A third Ospreay match may sneak in before the end of the year. A major match against Konnosuke Takeshita is looming and spells like an easy Match of the Year contender. Omega has only had two singles matches against BCC members – Moxley and Yuta. He could finally have a rematch against Bryan Danielson or a match against Claudio Castagnoli, their first since 2008. The possibilities feel endless, but they all end at the same place: 2023 is the year, once again, of Omega. -Kevin Hare
Hiromu Takahashi (Warren Hayes)
The Ticking Time Bomb is back in a form that had been absent for a while. So absent, in fact, many wondered if post-injury Hiromu Takahashi still had it. It would seem that, like many of his peers, the return of crowds and the unshackling of their reactions ended up kindling a fire that had never gone away.
2023 Takahashi is no longer the truly “suicidal tendencies” Takahashi of old. His neck injury changed what does in a ring, and conceivably this was reflected in some capacity in the gradual resurgence that prompted doubts about his skills. Whatever adaptations he had to do to his style not only proved effective but were also embraced, elevating his in-ring to where he feels like a more well-rounded performer overall.
Takahashi’s year kicked off by regaining Mr. Belt-san at Wrestle Kingdom in a great four-way battle and his output since has been nothing short of exceptional. Great-to-excellent matches notably against Lio Rush, YOH, Titan, Robbie Eagles and Mike Bailey, while even securing a World Heavyweight championship match against SANADA. Not to mention working third from the top at Keiji Mutoh’s retirement show in the Tokyo Dome against AMAKUSA, which just so happened to be another top tier match.
His output is unmistakable, his aura incontestable. No one else in the NJPW junior heavyweight division feels like they’re on his level. He’s not just the ace, he’s the final boss, and one of NJPW’s most exciting and consistent wrestlers this year to date. -Warren Hayes
Claudio Castagnoli (Will Young)
The year is only half over, so it remains to be seen exactly how the Wrestler of the Year 2023 race will shake out. There are some major contenders at every turn but, when I think about the most consistently great performer going right now, I find myself coming back to my guy Double C.
After years of being the aggrieved online wrestling fan’s pet cause (hey, I’m counting myself among that crowd, too), it feels like Claudio is finally in the spot that was meant for him. He is (as of this writing) simultaneously the top guy in Ring of Honor as their champion and a regular staple of AEW television as part of the Blackpool Combat Club. Claudio began the year as ROH Champion and it’s been a natural fit for him, allowing him to put on good-to-great title defenses on both PPV and television on the regular. Add to that his presence in multi-man tag matches with the BCC around the globe, and suddenly, one of the best in-ring workers in the world has never felt so relevant.
He has also settled into the elder statesman role in the Tony Khan-iverse; no longer the constantly-bubbling-under mid-card guy struggling to convey himself, Claudio has leveled up in confidence and physical charisma, now carrying himself like the veteran he is and with an unmistakable air of haughtiness. This character tweak is especially evident in the feud he continues with Eddie Kingston, which resulted in perhaps the best ROH match of the year (and an Match of the Year contender in its own right) at Supercard of Honor. It makes for a great pillar for babyface challengers to overcome and adds a character dynamic to Claudio’s usual fantastic output.
Time will tell if Claudio manages to live up to or outdo his first half of 2023, but I’m comfortable naming him as my Wrestler of the Year so far. For me, consistency is king, and there’s nobody who exemplifies that more, to me, than Claudio. -Will Young
Orange Cassidy (Brady Trappett)
Wrestler of the Year cases are often made in the back half of the year, but as we begin a summer where AEW will be the center of attention, the first person that came to my mind was Orange Cassidy.
While Orange does not peak as high as some of the other wrestlers selected, he has been the backbone of AEW television week in and week out. In a year where AEW has been inconsistent, Orange Cassidy has been a constant to look forward to every week. Through June, Orange had 35 matches. He has wrestled on 20 of the last 21 Dynamites and has appeared on every AEW PPV this year. Along with the frequency and consistency of his matches, Orange is enjoying the best title run going in AEW. He even has a story that has carried through the year, which maximizes your investment in every one of his title defenses. Dynamite feels incomplete without hearing Jane and watching what’s left of Orange desperately try to hang on to his title.
At the end of the year, the Wrestler of the Year debate usually comes down to who appeared in the most match of the year contenders. While I don’t necessarily disagree, Orange Cassidy’s volume and consistency cannot be ignored.
When I think of the first half of 2023, I think of Orange Cassidy’s International Championship reign. -Brady Trappett
Steve Maclin (Ewan Cameron)
Why am I voting for Steve Maclin? Quite simply, he’s the wrestler in North America that has elevated himself the furthest, and in 2023 has become a franchise player for his home promotion with both main event presence and the skills to justify his position.
When Steve Maclin (formally Steve Cutler) left WWE a few years ago, no one really cared. Signed by Impact, he began working a fairly generic ex-military gimmick that was fine but didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. Yet, the more matches he worked, the more it became apparent that, technically, he was getting better and better. For many who hadn’t seen him work, his title win against Kushida at Rebellion was a glorious coming-out party for a man who looks like a slab of beef but whose work has come to define a new era of big-man wrestling, one that melds purposeful technique with explosive offense.
Two weeks later, Maclin would emerge victorious from what was perhaps this year’s most bloody match, a critically acclaimed weapons match that confirmed him as one of the best brawlers in the world. A month later, he would lose his Impact title to Alex Shelley in a staggeringly poignant and technically perfect matchup. While the loss was disappointing, many pointed out that Maclin emerged from his three-match title run much stronger that he went in. Despite Impact being North America’s clear third promotion, his work made people who hadn’t been paying attention finally give him the plaudits he’s due.
So there it is, it’s going to be difficult to top this run in the latter half of the year, but a perfectly booked three-match title run, with two perhaps three Match of the Year contender, and a wrestler whose improvement shows his passion to the craft is why I choose Steve Maclin as my wrestler of the year so far. -Ewan Cameron