We’re days away from 2023 and it calls for some serious contemplation of the events that unfolded in 2022, especially in the sports world. Everyone has ups and downs throughout any given year, but some wrestlers in WWE just happened to suffer more than others.
Whether they kept staring up at the lights while being pinned, put on terrible performances that hurt their overall career value, fell victim to debilitating injuries, struggled with awful creative directions or even found themselves fired, certain wrestlers — and sports executives — stand out as the biggest losers among the pack.
Let’s look back on 2022 and the performers in WWE who had the most miserable of times this year.
5. Austin Theory
While 2022 may have been the most successful year for Austin Theory — ahem, Theory — there were some moments that made him look like a knob despite his accomplishments.
The two-time United States Championship holder and Money in the Bank briefcase winner also had some rubs with some WWE Hall of Famers. Who wouldn’t want main event segments with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon? He experienced both in one single WrestleMania.
He won the United States Championship twice and the Money in the Bank briefcase, and he was involved in main event segments with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon at WrestleMania.
But let’s be serious: if you look under the surface, Theory’s 2022 wasn’t all that impressive.
His first U.S. title reign fell flat, losing it to Bobby Lashley at Money in the Bank. Despite the loss, he won the Money in the Bank match against the likes of Drew McIntrye, Madcap Moss, Omos, Riddle, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, and Sheamus.
You would think that the briefcase was a potential level-up to go for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. However, it was more of an albatross and burden.
Theory fell victim to the contract curse wherein WWE creative frequently books whoever is holding the briefcase to perpetually lose, likely thinking it’ll all balance out once they cash in and win the title.
Similar to Otis and former talent like Damien Sandow, it doesn’t work out. As a result, Theory spent months looking like a fool, unable to cash in his title shot.
Instead of targeting Roman Reigns and the biggest gold, he wasted the briefcase on the championship he lost, the U.S. Championship. Even worse, it was during an open challenge, and even he failed to regain his title.
Theory later admitted that he was never going to win the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. Big mistake, as that messaging came across to the lackluster creative team as justifying this to the fans.
In a strange sense, Theory regained the title soon afterward via a fluke pinfall which made him appear lucky. You know WWE creative has nothing else better to do when they book a fluke win just for being in the right place at the right time instead of being a worthy competitor.
Between this and the guidance he received from McMahon, Theory is arguably in a worse position in the company than he was in January holding the same title. Instead of making any significant growth or progress, he has taken six steps forward only to trip and fall down six steps.
4. Roderick Strong
Roderick Strong was a crucial part of The Undisputed Era in WWE’s NXT developmental territory until he became the lone wolf.
Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, and Bobby Fish left for Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling. His wife Marina Shafir would also go All Elite.
It also appeared Strong would leave, only for his requested release to be reportedly denied.
It cannot be said that WWE kept him for good reason either because he’s had a terrible 2022. When he’s actually booked on the card.
Strong has a 3-12 win-loss record in 2022, which began with losing the NXT Cruiserweight Championship in a unification match against North American champion Carmelo Hayes.
Not only did he lose the belt, but also his purpose and identity as the brand’s leader. Even worse, the cruiserweight division and the associated 205 Live TV program were eliminated. That has been replaced by NXT Level Up.
After that, it did not appear that Strong would be bouncing back anytime soon. He’s gotten into arguments with the Diamond Mine faction, where he was accused of ruining the group from within. That ended with Damon Kemp attacking him from behind and has been on the inactive list due to injury for the past several months with uncertain indications of if and when he could return, assuming he doesn’t just sit out the remainder of his contract and join his wife in AEW.
3. Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke’s year has been an absolute joke.
She once had a gimmick as an accountant for Titus Worldwide, Titus O’Neil’s fictional enterprise just so that she could understand how numbers can be deceptive on paper.
Brooke had 15 title reigns in 2022, which sounds impressive. Sadly, those reigns were for the now-defunct 24/7 Championship, which was never anything of significant value, and it was more of a downgrade than any midcard or main event title in 2022.
She spent most of the year running around with Reggie, Akira Tozawa, and Tamina in one of the worst storylines and defending the title at untelevised house shows.
Meanwhile, she became a bit of a punchline with Corey Graves, Rollins, and others randomly taking shots at her skill level and lack of accomplishments.
As a result, Brooke was effectively always trying to defend herself and the 24/7 Championship.
Unfortunately, she never got that opportunity. She lost the title to Nikki Cross on the November 7 broadcast of Raw, who promptly tossed the belt in the trash afterward. It appears the title has been placed permanently in retirement.
Brooke didn’t even get the distinction of being the last champion. She deserved the distinction of losing the title in a unification match with the Raw Women’s Championship. She was instead merely cast aside with the belt that her career revolved around for the past year.
2. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H
Health and family are important reasons to step away from the business. However, when scandals are swirling around, it’s not surprising that you’re suddenly thrust right back to work.
Triple H was put out of action in the fall of 2021 due to viral pneumonia that resulted in heart failure. He was already working in an executive capacity in the company as Director of Talent Relations until his medical leave of absence resulted in his father-in-law replacing him with John Laurinaitis. In March, Trips announced that he was retiring from in-ring action. At WrestleMania 38, he opened night 2 as the company’s Chief Operating Officer.
In September, Trips was promoted to Chief Content Officer, but honestly, I don’t see how that is considered a promotion. It honestly sounds more like a demotion.
As for his better half, Stephanie McMahon has been around the operations of WWE since 1989 and was in action inside the squared circle from 1998 to 2018.
She served as the company’s Chief Brand Officer from 2013 until announcing in May that she was taking a leave of absence from the majority of her corporate responsibilities at WWE. She stated that her leave was to focus on spending time with Trips and their three children but looked forward to returning in the near future.
However, Steph’s leave was short-lived, as one month later, she was appointed as interim chairwoman and CEO of WWE. On June 17, an investigation by the company’s Board of Directors revealed that her father paid “hush money” to a former employee following an affair. It was the first of many allegations levied against her father.
Following her father’s retirement from WWE, McMahon officially became the company’s chairwoman and co-CEO alongside Nick Khan. As a result, Trips replaced Vince McMahon as head of creative.
Their career flops were not necessarily of their own creation, but rather the chaos both have been brought into at the hands of her father and his father-in-law.
1. Vince McMahon
This selection should have been quite obvious, given the previous coverage of McMahon since we relaunched earlier this month.
McMahon has been the subject of several scandals involving women with which he either had an affair with or in at least one scenario, sexual assault.
Since his retirement earlier this summer, things are (somewhat) looking up for WWE. WWE’s creative department is gradually improving, although it seems that it isn’t entirely translating to the talent quite yet. Previous McMahon hirings are being let go, and some McMahon firings or layoffs are being rehired.
According to numerous reports, including our own, McMahon wants to return to the helm of the company, citing that he was given “bad advice” leading to his resignation and retirement. He further believes that the scandals surrounding him would have “blown over” had he not departed from the company.
Shortly after that story broke, two more recent allegations came to light, including the sexual assault of former female referee Rita Chatterton and the assault of a former spa manager.
The situation is more complicated, as while McMahon possesses 80 percent of the voting power in the company, his reinstatement would still need approval from the WWE Board of Directors.
The scandals surrounding McMahon relating to not only the hush money instances but also the more recent revelations make McMahon the biggest flop in 2022 for WWE.
This article was previously published on Ambush Sports Network.
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Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.