2021 is coming to a close and everybody likes to do those Best of the Year lists, and as I am prone to do I was overthinking mine. So instead of trying to make some academic case as to why this wrestler, this match, etc was objectively in the top five or whatever I figured I’d just list some favorites of mine and what I enjoyed from them. Here goes:
Roman went wire to wire as Universal Champion this year, and more importantly finally got the dominant run that he should have years ago. Year after year Vince would hedge his bets, use Roman to get someone else over or give them a moment, or send him on a detour with the hope that maybe that would be the trick to get the IWC and so called smart fans to stop hating on him. And none of it ever convinced that loud minority of naysayers to see the light and stop being contrarian losers. Let me tell you, being a fan of someone who supposedly buries everyone and having to hear that as you watch them lose big matches really sucks (and for me it’s a double as you’ll see later). Stopping Roman short of true unequivocable dominance wasn’t achieving the desired result so you might as well just come up with a good run and go with it. And what a run it has been. The heel turn that those same people were screaming for without any context finally came, but it came informed by all the events of the previous five years so it actually meant something instead of being a knee jerk, flash in the pan kind of thing. And the Tribal Chief has been the best character work and storyline in the entire business since it started. It’s been great to see somebody who has been the best finally get to step into all of their abilities and get the opportunity to perform in the way they are best at.
Highlights: Double pinning Edge and Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 37, running Bryan out of the territory, facing John Cena at Summerslam, feuding with Brock Lesnar under a new set of circumstances than before, and the weekly promo segments that reached new levels of disrespect in a good way.
The Queen and the Big Dog have had a lot of parallels over the course of their careers, be it coming from wrestling families, getting a lot of undeserved criticism from different circles, and how they were booked. Both have been used a lot in recent years to give other people moments, in a lot of the same ways – getting cashed on with the Money in the Bank briefcase (three times for her and two for Roman), being one of the last ones or the last one thrown out in the Royal Rumble (twice for her, three times for Roman), and taking clean losses that have been flushed down the memory hole because they don’t fit certain narratives (Roman’s to Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, and Bobby Lashley and Charlotte’s to Carmella, Nikki ASH, and a few others). Charlotte did not get a Roman Reigns-esque run this year, but she did get her longest continuous run as a champion (August 21 through the end of the year) since 2018. And while the microwave title reigns of the prior two years did not make those four months feel very secure at all, it sure beats five minutes, five days, two weeks, and the one day reign from this July. But that short reign actually led to something else for once – an actual feud/storyline that served a purpose other than giving someone else a moment. Which brings me to the other great thing to see this year. While she didn’t get a year long title reign, she was the focal point of the women’s division on Monday Night Raw from January until she moved over to Smackdown in October, and without any other Horsewomen to play off of either. In doing so she wrestled a bigger variety of opponents than anyone this year (16 different women in singles matches alone) and worked a whopping seven TV main events. While all the buzz and attention was (rightfully) over on Smackdown with Bianca and her historic year, what she did this year should not be ignored or forgotten so quickly.
Highlights: the two wins for the Raw Women’s TItle at Money in the Bank and Summerslam, the feuds with Nikki ASH, Rhea Ripley, and Alexa Bliss, holding her own on the mic better than any previous time in her career.
After years of feeling like I’ve been fighting a war on behalf of Roman and Charlotte, this one feels entirely different, more like a proud parent. Bianca was stopped short of winning the big one in NXT in often confusing fashion (not winning the title there isn’t so bad in the big picture but losing every big match she was in over the course of a year was……a choice), so it was a relief to see the seeds get planted on the main roster to finally achieve some goals. And what a ride it was. Winning the Royal Rumble, and in a symbolic fashion where she threw out the last two women to beat her clean in Charlotte and Rhea Ripley, then on to WrestleMania to main event the first night with Sasha Banks and win the Smackdown Women’s Title, then on to do all levels and forms of media appearances, appearing at Rolling Loud, commercials, you name it. She wrestled all four of the Horsewomen this year and did great every time out (all of her matches with them are end of year list worthy and the Mania match is a Match of the Year candidate). And even after losing the title at Summerslam she continued to shine in pay per view matches capped by being the sole survivor for her Survivor Series team in November. She even got in a really fun December feud with Doudrop on television. And it feels like she’s only scratched the surface as there will for sure be more title wins and other big wins down the line (you can pencil her in for another Rumble win before she’s done for sure).
Highlights: Winning the Rumble, Winning at Mania, the feud with Deudrop, Survivor Series, Crown Jewel, Hell in a Cell vs Bayley, both matches with Charlotte on RAW, the obstacle course run on Smackdown.
Realized potential is the best way to put it. When E first settled in on the main roster the base material was there but something was missing to put it all together. We know now that the thing was the New Day. It was there that he became a fully fleshed out performer and the man we all know and love today. And thank God that the stupid calls to have one member of the group turn on the others were never heeded by management, because that would have been one of the worst things ever. Instead we got five great years as a trio before they were split by the draft in 2020. While we got mad for a moment I saw it as a necessary evil – E needed a run on his own if he was going to reach his potential as a solo act, and they could still always get together to do things when the need arose. It turned out the old man knew what he was doing. E hit that next gear we all hoped he had and now he ended the year as the WWE World Champion, delivering in the ring and on the mic week in and week out. A year and a half ago we weren’t sure if he’d get this chance and now he’s here, and it was a lot of fun to see play out over time.
Highlights: Winning Money in the Bank and cashing it in to win the title, the three way on RAW with Roman and Bobby Lashley, the cage match with Bobby, the promo segment and six man tag to open up RAW the week after he won the title, beating Drew McIntyre at Crown Jewel.
AJ started out hot with a great run in the Elimination Chamber before settling into more a mentor role as Omos tag team partner. AJ is in the home stretch of his career so anything that limits the wear and tear for a while is a good thing, and tagging with Omos for most of the year did just that while he still pulled out the occasional big singles performance to remind us what he can do. As someone who was very late to the AJ Styles party – I wasn’t watching during his heyday in TNA and didn’t catch much of his New Japan work either – I very quickly became a big fan of his in WWE. The moment he debuted at the Royal Rumble is one of the magic moments of the past decade for sure and I didn’t know what he looked like even then so it was all new to me! But after the feud with Reigns, the feud with Cena, and the first World Title reign on Smackdown I was a believer. On to 2021 – AJ struck gold as a legit funny TV character working with Omos while still doing his thing inside the ropes. And now it looks like another singles run may be coming in 2022 so buckle up and let’s go.
Highlights: The Chamber match, his matches with Riddle on RAW, his promos with Omos
Another guy I was late getting on board with. I missed his first run in WWE entirely, and wasn’t sold on his second one until he got in with MVP. There was potential but there was a personality deficiency onscreen that kept getting in the way. Even a win over Reigns in 2018 at Extreme Rules didn’t help. But with the formation of the Hurt Business he hit his stride and began to be portrayed the way he should have been, as a dominating force just obliterating people. Every one of his title matches during that run was either King Kong vs Godzilla or total domination and it was great to see, be it on his way to winning the World Title or in defending it. Bobby was one of cornerstones of the WWE’s return to Big Man Wrestling along with Reigns, E, Drew McIntyre, and the returning Brock Lesnar. Like E this was a year of realized potential, and even after losing the title he finished strong enough to look ready for another go round at the top in 2022.
Highlights: Winning the title from the Miz, all the VIP lounge segments with MVP and the ladies, the cell match with Xavier Woods, the decimation of Kofi at Money in the Bank, the triple threat at Backlash, all the title matches with Big E, his December on RAW.
Taylor and the group he leads, Shane Taylor Promotions, were my favorite thing outside of the world of the WWE this year. Taylor was a former ROH TV champion, and I’d had my eye on him for a while but putting the group together in 2020 really got my attention to the point where they were a singular reason to keep up with Ring of Honor and ultimately got me back into watching ROH regularly again. I even ponied up for a couple of Pay Per Views and attended one in person largely to see these guys in action. STP also provided some great promo work year-round on ROH TV and in several vignettes of their own making. They took their act outside of ROH as well, hitting the indie scene as a group and as individuals all year long. I’ll go as far as to nominate them as the best act going outside of the confines of the WWE for 2021, they did that much for me. 2022 is uncertain with ROH closing up for a few months, but Shane and STP made an overwhelming case for anyone to bring them on board in the new year.
Highlights: The six man tag match at Death Before Dishonor, the Fight without Honor between Shane and Kenny King at FInal Battle, any of the promos they did.
The Celtic Warrior had a great 2021, and made another case for being named among the most underappreciated wrestlers of the last decade. The feud that had been hinted at with Drew McIntyre came to a head leading into Elimination Chamber and began a collection of great stuff all year. From the Chamber Match to the Street fight at Fastlane to the US title match at Mania to the feud with Damien Priest, Sheamus was on fire all year.
Highlights: any match with McIntyre or Priest, the Mania match with Riddle
- Edge vs Seth Rollins: Best feud of the year IMO. Perfect beginning, middle, and end with three great matches to punctuate each part. The return of the Bloodbath, and Seth’s home Invasion of Edge were great moments in getting heat on each other, and great mic work throughout.
- Shane Taylor vs Kenny King: It started with a betrayal when King sided with his faction over his friend and attacked Taylor during his title shot at ROH champion Rush, continued on through several tag team and trios matches between Taylor’s Shane Taylor Promotions and King’s Le Faction Ingonerables, and appropriately ended at Final Battle in a Fight Without Honor when both men killed each other for almost 20 minutes then made amends once things were settled.
- The Bloodline vs Everyone: From Kevin Owens to Daniel Bryan to Cesaro to Edge to the Mysterios to John Cena to the Street Profits to the New Day to Brock Lesnar, Roman and the Usos lined them up and knocked them down. There were respectable challenges and there were hate filled feuds and they were all done greatly. This was the best faction run in a long time, with only the Undisputed Era in NXT in the same stratosphere.
- Charlotte vs Alexa Bliss – It would have been great if they got to go longer for this one but in a month’s time they put together some very good promo exchanges and a good pay per view match at Extreme Rules.
- Bianca vs Doudrop – a month of good TV that started with a run in to prevent Bianca from winning a title shot and continued on through three good matches culminating in a very good finale where we saw Bianca hit the KOD on Doudrop for the win.
- Damien Priest vs Sheamus – From just before Summerslam to the week after Extreme Rules these two gave us some hard hitting, brutal matches on both pay per views and television that were a good marker of Priest’s run on the main roster.
- Roman vs Finn Balor – Weird finish to the match at Extreme Rules notwithstanding we got a few weeks of heat to set things up for what was a great match in its own right.
- WrestleMania Night 1 – Good to great from start to finish (Bobby vs Drew, Seth vs Cesaro, Braun vs Shane McMahon, Bad Bunny/Priest vs Miz/Morrison, and of course Sasha vs Bianca)
- Backlash – lots of great stuff here throughout (Charlotte/Asuka/Rhea, Mysterios vs Roode/Ziggler, Bayley vs Bianca, Bobby/Drew/Braun, Roman vs Cesaro and yes…..the Zombie lumberjack match)
- Money in the Bank – First PPV with fans in over a year with some great matches (Charlotte vs Rhea, the Men’s ladder match) and a few more very good/entertaining ones (Uso vs Mysterios, Roman vs Edge, Bobby vs Kofi), and a pretty good tag match between AJ/Omos and the Viking Raiders
- Smackdown at MSG – Great stuff to open from Brock and the Bloodline, the second chapter of Edge and Seth Rollins (I was there, too!)
- Raw, September 13 – A good opener between Charlotte and Shayna Baszler, Priest defends against Jeff Hardy, and a very good main event between Bobby and Randy Orton plus Big E cashes in the briefcase!
- Raw, September 27 – Bookend matches between Bobby and Big E including a cage match, a proper Extreme Rules match between Priest and Sheamus, and a great match between Styles and Riddle
- Extreme Rules – no skips on this one. Other shows had higher peaks but this might the most consistent PPV all year
- ROH Final Battle – the last show for ROH as we know it, and I was there!! The Fight without Honor along with a very good main event, a good six man tag title match, a great tag team title match, and a very good Pure title match. If this is it for ROH it was a good way to go out.
OTHER INDIVIDUAL MATCHES
- From Summerslam: Seth vs Edge, Charlotte vs Nikki ASH vs Rhea Ripley
- From Crown Jewel: Becky Lynch vs Sasha vs Bianca
- From AEW Grand Slam: Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega
- From ROH Death before Dishonor: Jonathan Gresham vs Josh Woods
- From Smackdown: Sasha vs. Bianca
- From Raw: Charlotte vs Bianca (both)
- From Survivor Series: Charlotte vs Becky, Roman vs Big E, Men’s Elimination Match
So that’s my list, at least one I can get in before the New Year starts. Trust me I got more I could add if I had more time. But do check this stuff out that I talked about here and enjoy. And Happy 2022!!