So it’s that time of year again where me and some friends on the internet submit ballots for the NY 50, our top 50 WWE performers for the year. This is my fourth one and in previous years my winners were Charlotte Flair (2018), Kofi Kingston (2019), and Drew McIntyre (2020), and in this year’s ballot there are some questions to be answered: Would Drew repeat at the top? Would Charlotte reclaim her spot as top woman worker in the company? Would Roman Reigns finally get to the number one spot where I would have had him if I did this in 2016 and 2017? How would the NXT rebrand affect everyone there? (Hint: not favorably).
Now my system. I live graded everyone’s pay per view matches, and when need be I went back and rewatched. For people who did double duty at the Royal Rumble I gave one big grade for the whole night. I gave an overall grade for TV, where I basically counted up how many matches they did and considered the best ones. In the case of tie score I made judgement calls, and if someone’s score had them in a place that was out of wack then I went with common sense (for example, Nikki ASH finished lower on points than she should have been ranked so I moved her up). So yeah there’s a lot of subjectivity involved here as with everyone else. Lastly I gave volume bonuses for TV, PPV, and house shows. I figure if you take the risk by working and traveling more you should be rewarded for it. So here’s 50 through 6:
50. Tamina 49. Alexs Bliss 48. Zelina Vega 47. Omos 46. Liv Morgan 45. Nia Jax 44. Bayley 43. Shotzi 42. Doudrop 41. Dom Mysterio 40. Natalya 39. Raquel Gonzalez 38. Pete Dunne 37. Carmella 36. Apollo 35. Johnny Gargano 34. Tommaso Ciampa 33. Nikki ASH 32. Dakota Kai 31. Street Profits 30. Sami Zayn 29. Jeff Hardy 28. Naomi 27. Shayna Baszler 26. Ziggler and Roode 25. Becky Lynch 24. Randy Orton 23. Damien Priest 22. Rey Mysterio Jr. 21. Rhea Ripley 20. Xavier Woods 19. Cesaro 18. Asuka 17. Kevin Owens 16. Usos 15. Finn Balor 14. Kofi Kingston 13. Sasha Banks 12. Shinsuke Nakamura 11. Edge 10. Sheamus 9. Seth Rollins 8. AJ Styles 7. Matt Riddle 6. Big E
And now the top 5:
5. Bobby Lashley
Bobby had a great run as WWE champion from March to September, and kept working great after losing the title to Big E in September. This was the best year of his WWE career by far both in terms of ring work and card position. An assist should go to MVP of course for helping facilitate this backstage and playing a big role on camera as well. As much as we hated the Hurt Business breaking up having to go without them helped Bobby’s overall performance as a solo act. I’m hoping that this isn’t a one time peak but if it is then this is a great one to have.
Bobby finished higher on my ballot than guys who had huge years like Sheamus and Big E because he worked more important matches most of the year. For five straight pay per views he was defending the WWE title, including in a cell match main event. And even after he was dethroned he worked Goldberg at Crown Jewel and on the road in matches against Big E. And before winning the title in February he was a dominant force as US champion while being a TV regular all year. This is the year Bobby was working all his career for and I’m rewarding him here.
4. Drew McIntyre
Drew was my overall points leader for most of the year, based off the volume of his TV work. So why is he fourth? No fault of his own really. After Hell in a Cell he just didn’t work as many important pay per view matches and as a result didn’t get to put in many big performances down the stretch. But falling from 1 to 4 given those circumstances isn’t anything to be ashamed of for sure. Next year will be interesting for sure as now he’s on Smackdown and may not be wrestling on TV as often, but will for sure be crossing paths with the Tribal Chief at some point in a big pay per view match or two.
Drew was a TV workhorse on the men’s side up through the draft. He didn’t just work a lot of matches he worked big, important matches on many a Monday night and continued being busy on Smackdown albeit with lower stakes. And he closed out the year working every night on the road in November and December. Drew was within a hair of repeating on my ballot, and had he been in bigger spots in the back half of the year he would have. But number 4 isn’t a bad place to land given that he went most of the year without the title and half the year not challenging for it.
3. Charlotte Flair
A big bounce back year for the Queen. After finishing number one on my ballot in 2018 she finished 11th and 12th the last two years before moving back into the top 5 for 2021. Despite missing a month due to COVID including WrestleMania she was the linchpin on RAW up through the draft, logging in the most match time of anyone there by a wide margin, was tied for the lead in total matches worked on RAW and had six TV main events. She also worked five straight pay per view title matches after WrestleMania, the brand vs. brand singles match at Survivor Series and was a mainstay on the house show tour. Charlotte spent her Spring and Summer feuding with Rhea Ripley and Nikki ASH, who had respectively recently been called up and returned to Monday Night RAW.
The three way feud which culminated at Summerslam recemented her position and helped better establish Rhea and Nikki, the former who’d faced some vocal online criticism in her early days on RAW and the latter who was working to get a new gimmick over. Quite frankly it’s time to give credit where it’s due to the Queen, contrary to what the internet tells you, for leaving a lot of people in a better spot than they came from after working with her. And finally her Survivor Series match capped off the year with another great performance in a match of the year candidate.
Post draft she continued on as Smackdown champion and picked up where she left off working regularly in all venues throughout the end of the year while giving new roster additions Shotzi Blackheart and Toni Storm their first serious singles action on the blue brand. All in all it was a low-key great year which largely flew under the radar because the buzz was mostly focused on Bianca Belair and then the returning Becky Lynch. That’s the difference between her ranking on my list and Belair’s – Bianca was in bigger matches that got a bigger spotlight and had the weight of history on her performances, and that was in itself an extraordinary challenge that put her over the top. But essentially running the RAW division up through October (32 matches in 36 active weeks on the show) with no fellow Horsewomen to lean on (she had singles matches with eleven different women before October, and after that four more, more than anyone in 2021), which more than earns her this ranking.
2. Bianca Belair
The new star of the women’s division showed what she could do all year, in the biggest moments on the women’s side across the calendar. She was in all the most important women’s matches of the year and showed out in all of them. She worked with all of the Horsewomen, in big high profile matches, and showed she belonged in the ring and in the moment each time. She worked on the road, on TV, and all but one pay per view this year. Basically she did all you could ask of a new star and had what may be the best 12 months in the ring of any woman in history (it’s this and Charlotte in 2018, and hers is more important in the history books). She’s poised for a repeat in 2022 as she’s on RAW now and will consequently get to work a lot more regularly on TV than she did on Smackdown. So we’re just getting started, folks.
The contrast between she and Charlotte is fascinating; the difference is Bianca had more pay per view matches, and as I said before those matches were more important in the story of WWE for the year and wrestling history in general. Charlotte meanwhile worked more TV matches, worked longer TV matches, and with a greater variety of people. The miniscule point differential between the two (less than five points) tells you all you need to know as to how close it was. As it is Belair was in huge spotlight outside of wrestling as well and that makes a major difference. Delivering like she did under those circumstances is worth a bunch of bonus points on its own, and it turns out the pay per view bonus points Bianca got were the difference between the two on my ballot.
1. Roman Reigns
Roman was number three last year despite being off the board for almost five months, so it is only fitting that after being around all year in 2021 he ascended to the top spot. Since 2016 if he was there all year then he was the guy for that year, case closed. And for this year the only knock on him in my system was that he didn’t work very many TV matches, but even that didn’t matter because the ones he did were mostly great, and his character work was so good that not working as much on TV actuall added to it. Plus, his work on the road (which I got to see myself a few times) more than made up for not wrestling on TV as much. He was one of a few guys who did almost every road date and that was for a reason. The man was operating on a level above everyone else not seen in years. So yeah, we’re acknowledging him.
Roman was the main reason I didn’t just stick with what the point totals said this year. Had he worked as many matches on TV as others he’d be number one in a runaway on points; as it is he finished second. But unless there was a specific closing shot they wanted at the end of a show – Edge at the Rumble and Miz cashing in at the end of Elimination Chamber- Roman went on last no matter the opponent and was charged with leaving the final impression on everyone watching the show. He tied for the most pay per view matches this year and they were all good to great.
So that’s it. Roman finally gets a win on my ballot; if I’d been doing this in 2016 and 2017 he would have surely won it both years. As for 2022 Ronda Rousey is back and will at least be working pay per views and a few road dates. If she works any on TV she’ll be a lock for a high finish. Roman looks like a candidate for back to back years at the top if he just works a few matches on TV again. The women’s side is crowded with Charlotte, Bianca, Rhea, and Naomi logging in a lot of time across the board and Becky continuing on as RAW champion.