2021 Pro Wrestling Truth Year End Awards PART ONE
Hello hello. It’s Ethan and I am back with more bullshit. The end of the year is my favorite time of the year as I get to compile all the lists, stats, and thoughts from the past 365 days and archive it all. Admittedly, I still have a decent bit of Japan stuff to watch so my Match Rating Archive will definitely see some additions and who knows, maybe even my Wrestlers/Matches of the Year lists here will too.
I’m trying to stay on track heading toward 2022 and in effort not to fall behind I am releasing this in two parts. This first part features my Top 10 wrestlers of the year list and Top 10 matches of the year list. Part two will feature the full ELITE 80 Wrestlers of the Year list and a few other random small awards & mentions.
Before we dive in, for those interested, I’ve done this year end awards compilation thing in various fashions for the following years: 2014, 2015, & 2020. All of which can be found by clicking the year that you’re interested in. I am still planning to go back and fill in the gaps for the years I haven’t covered so ignore those gaps for now and make sure to keep tabs by either checking the blog periodically or following me on Twitter @ThePWTruth. Also, each year, I keep a list of all the matches that made my virtual notebook. Anything ***1/4+ or so. Stuff that’s good enough to be noted and of course all the ****+ MOTY quality bangers. I call these my Match Rating Archive's - they are also organized by year and my 2021 Match Rating Archive can be found here.. I updated these periodically as I watch more stuff because there’s simply too much wrestling out there for me to definitively say I’ve seen everything. SO YEAH.
And last but not least, my friends and I on the Up & Over Podcast did a Year End Awards show on our YouTube a few weeks ago where you can get other opinions on the best of 2021 and also hear me explain some of mine in a little more detail. That can be found here!
Now that all that’s out of the way, let’s dive in. Thanks for reading.
Top 10 Wrestlers of the Year:
1) Bryan Danielson (WWE, AEW)
Previous ranking: #33 in 2020, #66 in 2015
How could this be anyone else? If you told me this over the summer, I might ask how. Considering Danielson took a decent chunk of the year off, you may still ask how. In the 7-8 months of the year that Danielson was active, he provided us with a legendary run of matches that deserve every bit of praise they are receiving.
Danielson began his year in the same place he’s spent the last decade - in WWE. The first 4 months of the year, Daniel Bryan was engulfed in a feud with Roman Reigns with the WWE Universal Championship as the focal point. Reigns was in the middle of a career year himself as we will touch on later and Bryan wanted one more run before he either retired, took time off, or left the company. Edge won the Royal Rumble and was set to face Roman in the main event of WrestleMania, but as always the fans wanted something different.. they wanted Daniel Bryan.
Bryan crashed the main event of WrestleMania for the second time in his career. This time, it didn’t have the happy ending like WrestleMania 30 did, however, it was a different kind of happy ending in my eyes. Daniel Bryan got one more deserved WrestleMania main event with the title on the line and he spiced up a match between Reigns and Edge like only he can. Not that those two would have had a bad match, but man.. Bryan adds a certain kind of fire that can’t replicated and this match absolutely fucking rocked.
A few weeks later, Bryan would close out his WWE tenure with ONE MORE MATCH against Roman Reigns for the championship. Bryan has always worked amazingly well with Roman, dating all the way back to their Fast Lane 2015 match. These matches in 2021, though, are on another level. Probably because Roman is on another level. He’s the cocky, arrogant, defending champion and he can give a beating to back it up. Then you have, Bryan, who can take a beating and garner sympathy like no other, but also fire back with stiffness and strikes of his own. It’s the perfect mix and I think Bryan did a lot to solidify Reigns even further with their series to start the year. I went ****+ on all of them and considering I don’t watch or care about much modern WWE, I’d say that says a lot.
Beginning in May, Bryan was absent from WWE and his contractual status was up in the air. Through the summer months, rumors began to swirl about where the former WWE Champion would end up. AEW was the main focus of the rumors and sure enough on September 5th at All Out in Chicago, Illinois - The American Dragon made his return.
For the first time in a decade, Daniel Bryan became Bryan Danielson again. The Dragon made his return to confront Adam Cole, Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, and the rest of the Elite. I was live in Chicago in attendance for this moment and can firmly say that I will never forget it for the rest of my life. Nothing will ever compare to the energy in that room.
When Danielson showed up in AEW, everyone expected some great matches. Dream matches, epics, all that good stuff. However, I don’t think anyone expected the consistent week in week out quality that we would get from the American Dragon.
Things began with the match everyone wanted to see the most, a five star 30 minute draw against then AEW World Champion Kenny Omega. I talk about this match and the importance & brilliance of it in more detail later in this article, but man… it was everything. Omega is in the heat of his run as the heel champion and Danielson is free from WWE and having his first match back as the American Dragon. Plus, it’s all happening in front of almost 20,000 people, the most people that AEW has ever held an event in front of. This is the definition of an all timer. Danielson, despite having all the crowd support, wasn’t able to clench the victory, but seeing him push Kenny to the absolute limit was a thrilling ride.
Following this match, Danielson proceed to have a variety of amazing matches including a banger with Nick Jackson on Dynamite that took me back to the time Danielson & Roderick Strong beat the shit out of the Young Bucks in PWG in 2009. He had possibly the most out of left field dream match of them all against Minoru Suzuki in early October on a YOUTUBE PRE SHOW. A ****1/2 match on a pre-show.. that’s Bryan Danielson in 2021. And oh, how could I forget the Rampage match against Eddie Kingston? Unbelievable. Outside of these high end MOTY quality matches, he also had a stretch of very good contests on Dynamite against Dustin Rhodes, Rocky Romero, Evil Uno, and a rematch from the Evolve days with Bobby Fish.
This sensational run all led to Bryan winning the #1 contender’s tournament for the AEW World Championship by defeating Miro at Full Gear in November. A moment that we didn’t know would be the last moment of Bryan as a babyface in AEW.
Coming out of the PPV, Danielson set his sights on the newly crowned AEW World Champion “Hangman” Adam Page and we saw Danielson come into old form and fully transform into the man we once knew in 2006 when he was ROH World Champion. A snobby, technical master who loved nothing more than kicking people’s heads in. Almost more than winning matches or titles. This led us to the first 60 minute draw in AEW history on free television as Danielson and Page had a classic for the AEW World Championship. Danielson was a fully formed prime heel challenger who knew he was better than Page and proceeded to beat him to a bloody pulp. Page being the valiant cowboy took the beating like a madman and threw it all right back at the challenger, thus the match ending in a draw. The second of Danielson’s AEW tenure where he has yet to lose a match.
To close out 2022, Danielson is set for one more match with Page on January 5th. Can Danielson start the new year by becoming AEW World Champion or will he suffer his first loss in the promotion? Only time will tell, but time has already told us that Bryan Danielson had a career year in 2021 and he might just be the best pro wrestler of all time.
I can’t think of anyone else who has had the caliber of matches that he’s had over a 19 year span. From the VFW halls & small arenas to WrestleMania main events to the first non WWE event in America to garner 20,000 fans since the late 90’s - The American Dragon is a once in a generation professional wrestler and we are getting to witness his last run and he is setting the world on fire and setting the standard even higher. Thank you, Dragon.
vs. Roman Reigns vs. Edge - WWE 4/11 - ****1/4
vs. Roman Reigns - WWE 4/30
vs. Kenny Omega - AEW 9/25 - *****
vs. Minoru Suzuki - AEW 10/15 - ****1/2
vs. Eddie Kingston - AEW 10/29 - ****1/4
vs. Hangman Adam Page - AEW 12/15 - ****3/4
2) Kenny Omega (AEW, Impact Wrestling)
Previous ranking: #2 in 2020, #68 in 2015, #57 in 2014
The #1 spot on this list was a toss up for a large portion of the year. Kenny Omega, Roman Reigns, & Shingo Takagi being the three whom were battling for the spot. Then, Bryan Danielson crashed the whole damn thing and the Wrestler of the Year was clear as day by the time December rolled around. However, that left the #2 spot as a super difficult decision. Much like Bryan solidified his spot as #1 in the fall/winter, so did Kenny Omega, but how? He was written off TV in early November after dropping the AEW World Championship to Hangman Page. Yes, he was, and in the process of that, rumors were confirmed. Kenny Omega wrestled 10 months of the year as AEW World Champion with loads of nagging injuries that will now require surgery and a case of vertigo that would spark up during matches, forcing the Best Bout Machine to learn how to wrestle with the room spinning.
We all knew Kenny was a machine, but dude what the fuck. We owe this man a lot for sacrificing his well being to this extent for our entertainment.
As far as Kenny in AEW goes, I understand the critics who think he’s fallen off and much too far into his tropes. However, I also think he’s steeped perfectly into his role as a television wrestling star. Plus, with all these injuries he’s working with I’m sure that’s affected him in some regard. Despite it all, though, we got great Kenny matches spread throughout the year and his character made for so many awesome fights from the many underdog babyfaces on the roster. Omega began the year with one of my favorite contests of the year in the form of a World Title defense against Rey Fenix before continuing his feud with Jon Moxley with the first exploding barbed wire death match jn American history. Despite the floppy finish, the match ruled and showed once again the wide range that Omega has and his willingness to wrestle just about any style of match. Heading into the spring, we got Omega in a variety of multi man tag matches with The Young Bucks, all of which delivered as always. And we also saw Kenny Omega solidify his jump to Impact Wrestling by winning the Impact World Champion and spending the majority of the year as the World Champion for both AEW and Impact, an astounding feat alone.
In May, we saw Omega in a triple threat match defending his title against PAC & Orange Cassidy in an underrated, high impact contest at Double Or Nothing. Over the summer, Omega had successful title defense against Jungle Boy and Christian Cage before having a non title 30 minute draw against Bryan Danielson which I discussed in detail earlier and even more in detail later. All of this leads toward the final chapter in his two year long partnership and rivalry with Hangman Adam Page.
At Full Gear in November, after a year of working grueling title defenses for two different promotions, Omega finally succumbed to the pressure and faced his former partner in what was undoubtedly the biggest match of the year. The story between Omega and Page has been essentially the story of All Elite Wrestling. Their match is the biggest and most significant match in the history of the company and American wrestling in general and came to a fitting end with Page finally overcoming Omega and man.. Omega gave him everything. He did everything in his power to make Page’s World Title win feel important and special as they worked a much slower paced match than many expected.
Kenny Omega has been Wrestler of The Year several times in recent memory and despite being #3 this year, this was one of his most proving years yet as we witnessed him grind through multiple injuries and hold two companies on his back with exhausting defenses across the board in a number of match varieties. The Best Bout Machine lives on and I can’t wait to see him return to the ring at some point next year.
vs. Rey Fenix - AEW 1/6 - ****1/2
w/ KENTA vs. Jon Moxley & Lance Archer - AEW 2/10 - ****
vs. Jon Moxley - Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match - AEW 3/7 - ****1/4
vs. PAC vs. Orange Cassidy - AEW 5/30 - ****1/2
w/ The Young Bucks, Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows vs. Hangman Page & Dark Order - Elimination Match - AEW 7/28 - ****1/4
vs. Christian Cage - AEW 8/13 - ****
vs. Bryan Danielson - AEW 9/25 - *****
vs. Hangman Page - AEW 11/13 - ****1/2
3) Roman Reigns (WWE)
Previous ranking: #6 in 2020, #15 in 2015, #42 in 2014
Of all the things that WWE has done wrong or been lackluster in, one thing that they hit the nail on the head on is Roman Reigns.
In the past two years since turning heel, Reigns has become everything they always wanted him to be and then some. The booking for him has been superb despite a little plodding and repetitive at times. His execution has been beyond anything I think anyone could have anticipated.
Reigns formed “The Bloodline” with his cousins The Usos and was managed by Paul Heyman for the majority of the year as he held the Universal Championship for all 365 days of 2021. Reigns began the year finishing off his feud with Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing Match at the Royal Rumble PPV. Since then Reigns boasted defenses against Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, Edge, Brock Lesnar, Rey Mysterio and even his cousin Jey Uso all of which were awesome matches. And to top it all off, he ended the year by defeating Big E in a Champion vs. Champion Match and successfully defending his title against Brock Lesnar.
Heading into 2022, Reigns is weeks away from breaking Lesnar’s reign as the longest reigning Universal Champion of all time. Will he break the record? I think so. How long will he hold it? Honestly I’d be fine with however long because I’m unsure if there’s even anyone fit to beat him right now. I’m not a Roman Reigns fan, but he is undoubtedly the best champion that WWE has had in a long time and I’m all aboard however long his reign continues heading into 2022.
vs. Kevin Owens - Last Man Standing - WWE 1/31 - ****
vs. Daniel Bryan - WWE 3/21 - ****
vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Edge - WWE 4/11 - ****1/4
vs. Cesaro - WWE 5/16 - ****1/2
vs. Edge - WWE 7/18 - ****1/4
vs. John Cena - WWE 8/21
4) Shingo Takagi (NJPW)
Previous ranking: #8 in 2020, #37 in 2015
Truthfully it’s hard for me to put Shingo Takagi at #4 on this list. With the long road he’s been on and how big of a fan I am of his, it’s hard not to just throw him up at #1, but no ones momentum can compare to Danielson’s right now.
However, this has definitely been the year of not only the American Dragon, but the Rampage Dragon as well! Shingo Takagi came into NJPW in 2018 and was slotted as a junior heavyweight. A shocking decision for some considering Shingo was largely regarded as more of a heavyweight style wrestler due to his style and size during his decade plus long tenure in Dragon Gate. Despite this, Shingo killed it as a junior, soon finding himself in the finals of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in 2019 with Will Ospreay. A man who would become his greatest rival in the company and who I think helped transition Shingo to the heavyweight division as Ospreay was heading that way himself.
This year, Shingo was hands down the best pro wrestler in New Japan Pro Wrestling and all of Japan in general, for me. Starting the year as the NEVER Openweight Champion with stellar defenses against Jeff Cobb and Hiroshi Tananhashi (both of which got ****3/4 from me.) Unfortunately, Shingo lost the latter and Tanahashi began a reign as the Openweight champion.
This, though, opened the door for Shingo to move further toward the ultimate goal - the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Shingo entered the New Japan Cup and once again made it to the finals before falling to his rival Will Ospreay yet again despite an awesome match. Ospreay would go on to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title which leads to the best New Japan match of the year as Shingo challenged his greatest rival for the ultimate prize and man..
I’ll let you read further into this piece for my full thoughts on the match because it fucking rules and is one of only two matches I went the full five on this year. Shingo once again came up short, but the fight itself was phenomenal. And all that matters also is that just about a month later Shingo got his chance for redemption against Kazuchika Okada at Dominion.
All the stars aligned on this night as Shingo Takagi seized the moment and defeated Okada in the biggest match of his career to become the 3rd IWGP Heavyweight Champion. What a fucking feat. And Shingo did NOT take it for granted. Takagi held the title through the end of the year with a hellacious tear through the G1 and an awesome title defense against Zack Sabre Jr to close out the year.
I truly believe Shingo was the most consistent in-ring worker this year and that his work has gone under the radar due to a number of reasons. For one, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on NJPW more so than American promotions. Whether it be the fact that some shows had limited to no attendance or half the roster not being able to compete due to being unable to travel due to restrictions, it’s been a tough year.
There’s also the unpopular opinion that Shingo Takagi is just a transitional, placeholder champion which I would be willing to dispute with anyone who chooses to argue the point. Shingo Takagi has been one of the best wrestlers in the world since 2009, before Will Ospreay was ever thought about, and this title reign is a long time coming for the 39 year old. He’s beaten Okada for fucks sake, what more do you need to solidify a champion?
Heading into 2022, Shingo’s biggest test comes to fruition as he must defend his title against Kazuchika Okada who proceeded to bring back the old IWGP Title as a way to get in Shingo’s head coming out of his G1 Climax victory. And to make matters worse, if Shingo is able to retain the title against Okada… his old rival is waiting in the form of Will Ospreay on Night 2. Lordy Lordy I hope we get the fifth match between the two!!
vs. Jeff Cobb - NJPW 1/4 - ****3/4
vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - NJPW 1/29 - ****3/4
vs. Will Ospreay - NJPW 3/21 - ****1/2
vs. Will Ospreay - NJPW 5/4 - *****
vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - NJPW 7/25 - ****1/4
vs. Tomohiro Ishii - NJPW 9/18 - ****
5) Eddie Kingston (AEW, Indies)
Previous ranking: #26 in 2020
Eddie Kingston is definitely the most popular wrestler / babyface of the year. Last year, we saw him rise to notoriety with his TNT Title match with Cody and signing with AEW. This year, we saw Eddie transform into one of the faces of the company. The guy who sends the crowd home happy. A truly beloved babyface, so much so, that he made the crowd BOO CM Punk. Yeah.. but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The first half of the year saw Eddie Kingston attached at the hip with his best friend Jon Moxley as they partnered up following their rivalry over the AEW Title and waged war against Kenny Omega & The Elite. This leads us to Eddie’s first MOTY candidate of the year as he & Moxley challenged The Young Bucks for the AEW Tag Team Titles at Double or Nothing in May.
This was also the first show post-covid with an arena full of fans and as a result, the moment we realized who the new batch of stars were with Eddie Kingston leading the pack. The crowd chanted his name during he & Moxley’s INCREDIBLE entrance that I was so lucky to witness live as I was in an attendance for this incredible event. This match and moment will stick with me forever. Moxley & Kingston lost, but not after becoming more and more beloved due to the super valiant effort they put in, throwing everything against the Bucks, eating shit and coming back for more.
Kingston meandered around the upper mid-card for the rest of the year in a lot of great tags before finding himself in another barnburning period in the fall where he had an incredible match with Bryan Danielson and found himself embroiled in a feud with CM Punk.
If we needed any other sign that Eddie is the hottest property in this company, the feud with CM Punk most definitely drove that point home. Kingston grabbed this moment and took full advantage of it. Punk was even taken aback by how the crowd was more in favor of Kingston than himself and they proceeded to have one of the best matches of the year in a bloody, brutal fight that stole the show at Full Gear.
Kingston is heading into 2022 in a feud with Daniel Garcia. I shudder to think of what King may get into in his third year in AEW, but I can’t fucking wait to find out. My big wish is that he gets the chance to go to Japan and work a G1.
w/ Butcher & Blade vs. Jon Moxley, Rey Fenix, & Lance Archer - AEW 2/19 - ****
w/ Jon Moxley vs. The Young Bucks - AEW 5/30 - ****3/4
vs. Bryan Danielson - AEW 10/29 - ****1/4
vs. CM Punk - AEW 11/13 - ****3/4
6) “Hangman” Adam Page (AEW)
Previous ranking: #14 in 2020
And just as I was detailing one of the most popular competitors in all of wrestling, I move onto another one. This man may just be the most relatable character in modern pro wrestling in 10+ years. “Hangman” Adam Page: the Anxious Millenial Cowboy.. the woke cowboy if you will. The centerpiece of a story that began before AEW even began airing on TNT.
I don’t need to rehash you the entire story because it’s already been well documented. This year, we saw Hangman’s journey to finding confidence in himself unfold and come to a sweet, sweet ending as he defeated Kenny Omega to become the AEW World Champion and most importantly prove to himself that he is worthy of being the World Champion.
There were many steps along the way including an awesome elimination match in Charlotte, NC at Fight for the Fallen where Page teamed with the Dark Order and came SO close to earning a match with Omega only to fall in the end. This set the stage for his time off and ultimate return to win the Casino Ladder Match in early October. From there we were off to the races.
Looking back, there are so many memorable moments and matches that made this rollercoaster ride of a story so special and the moment of the Bucks’ seemingly approving nod to Page as he nailed Kenny Omega with two buckshot lariats will be in replay reels forever.
Page closed out the year with an epic 60 minute draw against Bryan Danielson for the AEW Title. I really feel like we are seeing Page made into a true top world class talent, especially with matches like that where Page doesn’t look out of place whatsoever. Page gets big pops in every town and it’s so exciting for him to be the first truly fresh talent to win the AEW Championship. I’m very interested to see what 2022 holds for the Hangman.
vs. Brian Cage - AEW 5/30 - ****1/4
w/ The Dark Order vs. The Elite - AEW 7/28 - ****1/4
vs. Jon Moxley vs. PAC vs. Lance Archer vs. Andrade El Idolo vs. Matt Hardy vs. Orange Cassidy - AEW 10/6 - ****1/4
vs. Kenny Omega - AEW 11/13 - ****1/2
vs. Bryan Danielson - AEW 12/15 - ****3/4
7) Jon Moxley (AEW, GCW, Indies)
Previous ranking: #1 in 2020, #21 in 2015
Jon Moxley. I remember when Moxley left WWE and showed up in AEW, I was shocked. The dude could’ve had it made in WWE for life like his Shield brethren. But that’s not enough for Moxley. I knew Mox was passionate about pro wrestling and wore it on his sleeve, but as each year goes by we see it more and more and more.
With that in mind, I think the best way to describe 2021 is the year we saw the most raw and real version of Jon Moxley that we’ve ever seen. Moxley began the year feuding with Kenny Omega and they had the first ever exploding barbed wire death match on american soil at the Revolution PPV. Moxley then proceeded to team with Eddie Kingston, having a classic against the Young Bucks in May at Double or Nothing, and some very fun babyface trios matches teaming with Darby Allin. The rest of Mox’s year in AEW was spent seemingly waging war against all the New Japan guys he wanted to face as we saw him face off against both Minoru Suzuki and Satoshi Kojima as the summer closed out.
Despite losing the AEW World Title at the end of 2020, Mox didn’t lose any momentum at all in 2021 in AEW. He arguably became a lot grittier and I think his squash match against 10 in October is the perfect example because MAN. That was borderline murder.
I really think the most notable part of Mox’s year, though, comes from his time in GCW and on the Indies. Seeing Mox go to these smaller companies and absolutely give everything he has on top of his AEW schedule is just.. bonkers. From his blood sport match with Josh Barnett to his feud with Nick Gage & winning the GCW World Title to facing Jimmy Jacobs in October and reigniting an old rivalry. Moxley made the rounds and left his blood on almost every canvas he stepped foot to create his art on.
By the time November rolled around, we all got some sad, but inspiring news. Moxley checked himself into an inpatient rehab facility for his alcohol issues. Moxley, a new father and husband, taking the time to address this issue and get help is inspirational. Moxley is one of the toughest dudes in wrestling ever and not even he was too tough to get help. We love you, Moxley and we can’t wait to see you back in the ring. Your well being and your family’s well being always comes first.
vs. Kenny Omega - AEW 3/7 - ****1/4
vs. Josh Barnett - GCW 4/8 - ****
w/ Eddie Kingston vs. The Young Bucks - AEW 5/30 - ****3/4
vs. Lance Archer - AEW 7/21 - ****
vs. Nick Gage - GCW 10/8 - ***3/4
vs. 10 - AEW 10/27 - ***1/4 (THE BEST SQUASH MATCH EVER)
8) Minoru Suzuki (NJPW, AEW, GCW, DDT & Indies)
Previous ranking: #10 in 2020
Suzuki was a little bit further down my list until I really started thinking about people who stood out in my mind this year. Suzuki’s excursion in America is a big part of my feeling on this.
A US excursion really isn’t something I anticipated from Suzuki in 2021, but I am very glad it happened and honored I was able to witness it live in person on a couple of instances. I saw him show up at All Out in Chicago to confront Jon Moxley and then witnessed his insane match with Homicide for GCW in Queens later that same month. Both moments / matches were molten hot and more than lived up to the vibe Suzuki gives off that hooked me when I first saw him in 2014.
On top of that, I think his stint in the US is something that will be among the Top 10-15 things people remember from this year. Suzuki’s year in Japan wasn’t stellar and I’m glad he was able to come to the states and have a number of dream matches, all of which delivered, some even going beyond expectations. Suzuki grinded for several weeks having big match after big match against top talent across the US Indy scene and in AEW. A real statement was made by the 53 year old legend.
Minoru Suzuki continues to prove himself as one of the greatest of all time and this year’s excursion will be something that I look back on for years to come. Suzuki is an international superstar and this year confirmed it.
vs. Tomoaki Honma - NJPW 3/6
w/ Lance Archer vs. Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston - AEW 9/22
vs. Homicide - GCW 9/24 - ****1/2
vs. Daniel Garcia - West Coast Pro 10/8
vs. Bryan Danielson - AEW 10/15 - ****1/2
9) Darby Allin (AEW)
Previous ranking: #17 in 2020
This may be a controversial take considering some consider Darby overrated. However, I don’t think the stature and importance of Darby in the year 2021 can be denied.
Darby became a star in 2020, but he became a superstar in 2021. I can be the first to criticize the formulaic structure of the majority of Darby’s matches. He basically just gets destroyed and/or tries to destroy himself every time out, but that’s also his drawing factor for some, I think. When Darby shows up, you know you’re gonna get something nutty.
Beyond that, Darby just feels like a star. This is largely thanks to the booking and how he’s been handled which has been PHENOMENAL. The addition of Sting definitely helped him as well. With that in mind, let’s get into Darby’s year.
Darby spent the entirety of the year aligned with Sting and competing in a number of high profile tag matches, all of which delivered in some sense. That’s the thing about Darby.. his singles match can be repetitive, but he’s established such an aura as a top babyface superstar that his drawing power is undeniable. You care about what Darby does because he's important. That says a lot for someone who was a relative unknown a few years ago. He & Sting have become quite the team and witnessing them live at Double or Nothing against Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky was one of the highlights of my year.
Teaming with Sting isn't all Darby did this year, though. He came into the year as TNT Champion and defended it on TV on a TON of times in great matches against the likes of Brian Cage, John Silver, and the man who would dethrone him in May, Miro.
Outside of the TNT Title reign, Darby had the honor of being the first target and opponent of the returning CM Punk. What a huge accolade on top everything else that happened this year for Darby. His rise to prominence and consistency make Darby an undeniable Top 10 wrestler of the year.
vs. Brian Cage - AEW 1/13 - ****
w/ Sting vs. Ethan Page & Scorpio Sky - AEW 3/7 - ****
vs. Miro - AEW 5/12 - ****
vs. CM Punk - AEW 9/6 - ****
w/ Sting & CM Punk vs. FTR & MJF - AEW 12/22 - ****
10) Yuji Okabayashi (BJW, DDT)
Previous ranking: #64 in 2020, #12 in 2015
This is a last minute addition that I just couldn’t go without mentioning.
Yuji Okabayashi. A man I like to call the best kept secret in Japanese professional wrestling. I’ve told this story a bunch, but discovering he & Daisuke Sekimoto’s work in 2015 was groundbreaking for me and I still to this day can’t get enough of Strong BJ.
For those who have never seen him before, I’d compare Okabayashi to Tomohiro Ishii. One of those guys who is never not gonna go hard at 100% and someone you know will give you an amazing match no matter what. I also think some comparisons could be made to Shingo Takagi.
That’s neither here nor there, though. The truth is, I didn’t watch as much of Yuji Okabayashi in 2021 as I wanted to (as of this writing), and there are plenty of matches I need to find a way to watch and odds are big changes could be made to some of my lists. Watching wrestling in general is hard for me because of how little time I have between work & personal life, plus the difficulty of finding BJW & DDT stuff sometimes contributes to me missing certain matches I need to see, but having seen the majority of Yuji’s big matches in the year and some of his undercard stuff, plus knowing his consistency, I am confident I made the correct choice in throwing him in at #10 here.
w/ HARASHIMA vs. Kazusada Higuchi & Yukio Sakaguchi - DDT 4/11
vs. Kazusada Higuchi - DDT 11/14
vs. HARASHIMA - DDT 11/21 - ****1/4
INDIVIDUAL AWARDS :::::
Tag Team of the Year - THE YOUNG BUCKS
Previous rankings: #1 in 2013, 2014, & 2015
So, as of this writing, I realized I didn’t name a tag team of the year last year. God I’m slacking. But hey, here we are and this one should come as no surprise. The Young Bucks have owned this award for the last decade and despite 2021 being a year where some people grew tired of them, there’s still no other team on their level.
In this calendar year alone they had the all timer against Moxley & Kingston at Double or Nothing, a classic rivalry ending Steel Cage Match with the Lucha Bros at All Out, and a bloody underrated emotional roller coaster against Daniels & Kazarian on Dynamite. The caliber of those three matches alone is something you don’t see a lot of teams have in their entire career, much less in a single calendar year. That’s really been the story of The Bucks’ entire career, though. They’re the greatest tag team of all time and I don’t think that’s a bold statement anymore, it’s just fact. Not to turn this into an argument for that, but tell me a team who’s had as many awesome, high quality matches as consistently as them for 12 straight years. Or a team who, on top of that, basically sparked the start of a company to rival Vince McMahon for the first time since WCW. A tag team?! Doing something that major?! Not in Vince McMahon’s American wrestling world baby. But yes it motherfucking happened and we are living in it.
ANYWAYS, on top of those three legendary matches, The Bucks delivered top quality wrestling on AEW TV throughout the year, time and time again. It’s almost been a detriment to the AEW Tag division because no one can seem to get on their level, even with the belts are strapped to them. The Bucks just set the bar so high and it’s almost unreachable. Now, sure, I get the arguments that some of their matches have become much too self indulgent and tiresome. Self indulgence has sort of always been their thing, so I feel like this opinion is subjective rather than an objective fact. However, I did find myself tired during the trios match at Full Gear with Jurassic Express.
None the less, the fact remains that The Young Bucks were the tag team of the year in 2021. It’s gonna take a lot to knock them off the throne they’ve built for themselves and with that in mind, it won’t surprise me if we see them right back in this same spot again next year.
w/ Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega & The Good Brothers - AEW 4/7 - ***3/4
vs. PAC & Rey Fenix - AEW 4/14 - ****1/4
vs. Christopher Daniels & Kazarian - AEW 5/12 - ****
vs. Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston - AEW 5/30 - ****3/4
vs. Penta El Zero Miedo & Eddie Kingston - AEW 7/7 - ****
vs. Jungle Boy & Luchasaurus - AEW 8/18 - ****1/4
vs. Penta El Zero Miedo & Rey Fenix - Steel Cage Match - AEW 9/5 - ****3/4
w/ Kenny Omega & Adam Cole vs. Bryan Danielson, Christian Cage, Jungle Boy & Luchasaurus - AEW 10/6 - ****
RUNNER UPS FOR TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR:
2) Death Triangle (Penta El Zero Miedo, Rey Fenix, & PAC)
Freebird rule applies here. I think this is the easiest pick for #2 ever. Under any other circumstance in any other generation, this trio would have been #1 by a long shot. They had such an awesome year of matches and moments, that it’s hard to fathom they aren’t picked as the team of the year. I mean, just look at The Young Bucks best matches of the year listed above.. about half of them are with some form of this unit. I almost did this as the Lucha Bros, but to not include PAC after his multiple great performances teaming with either Fenix or Penta in big matches, it felt unfair. Despite the ups & downs of travel restrictions and injuries, these three managed to have a stellar year holding titles from AAA to AEW and in September, the Lucha Bros had arguably the biggest moment of their career defeating long time rivals, The Young Bucks, to win the AEW Tag Team Titles for the first time. A long time coming and well deserved.
3) Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi)
What a duo these two are. It’s funny because I’ve always loved ZSJ and I used to hate Taichi, for no apparent reason other than me clearly being an idiot because he rules. With that in mind, though, it took a year or two for me to warm up to this team and now they’re just a blast to watch for me. Sabre & Taichi held down the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Belts for the majority of the year with two reigns. During the pandemic era that has plagued New Japan, Sabre & Taichi have been two of the most consistent and hard working talents in the company, boasting grueling 30-40+ minute defenses against the likes of Tetsuya Naito & SANADA. Admittedly some of those went way too long unnecessarily, but they still busted their ass and the effort is too strong not to count for something. Not to mention their utter dominance of the Heavyweight tag division. A great year for the Tekkers.
DEATHMATCH WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Nick Gage
This was a hard one considering there’s some really great deathmatch workers that stood out to me in 2021, but one man really took things to a different level and that is Nick Gage. Gage has been a staple for fans of deathmatch wrestling for the better part of two decades and this year, the King made his way into the mainstream and as a result, so did Deathmatch Wrestling. That’s what makes this pick so easy for me.
Whether it be his featured Dark Side of the Ring episode or his crazy match with Chris Jericho on TNT that I don’t think any of us ever expected to see, Nick Gage was arguably the most beloved wrestler of the entire year and he did it all whilst CARVING MOTHERFUCKERS UP. Nick Gage took his already legendary career to new heights this year and seeing him live & in person is a personal highlight of 2021 for me. There’s no one better than The Man. The King. The fucking God of this shit. Nick fucking Gage.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: Britt Baker
Looking back, it's been such an awesome ride getting to watch Britt Baker develop into the superstar she became in 2021. I can't say I ever anticipated her to be this caliber of a star, but god damn if she didn't prove myself and anyone who ever doubted her wrong. In 2021, there was no woman more important in professional wrestling than DMD herself. From her insane, generation defining match against Thunder Rosa on Dynamite in March to becoming the AEW Women's World Champion in May, Baker was the best thing in women's wrestling in 2021. Her reign as champion truly took the belts and entire women's division in AEW to new heights. She's almost so good, it made everyone else underneath look just like that.. beneath her. Were there better in ring workers, technicality wise? Sure. Britt is still green in some regards and she's in her first big run as champion. However, NO ONE has the presence & aura that Britt Baker has and no one had a match like her match with Thunder Rosa in March. This year was just the beginning for Britt and that's kind of scary when you think about it. I am excited to see the heights she can reach in the coming years and I know she will be carrying the entire AEW Women's division with her for the ride!
TOP 10 MATCHES OF THE YEAR:
1) Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson - AEW: Dynamite - 9/22/21 - *****
There were a lot of great matches this year, as this entire list displayed. There’s even more than I could recognize here in this list. There were certainly many more to choose from than in 2020. This made it hard to choose one particular match that stood above the rest. I had to dig deep and really ponder on what should be known as the 2021 Match of the Year. That one match you will think of when you think of 2021. If you go to re-watch some stuff from this year, that first match you will go to. After much thought, I think I’ve figured out exactly what that match is and it is this. Kenny Omega one on one with Bryan Danielson in front of the biggest crowd AEW has had to date.
There’s truthfully so much to unpack about this match that makes it perfect. The work alone is superb. Danielson in typical Danielson fashion pushed Omega to the best match of his entire AEW Title reign and the best singles match he’s had since his New Japan days. I’m not nearly the Kenny Omega critic that some are. I actually love the guy and he’s right at the top of my current favorite wrestlers list. HOWEVER, I do see and hear the critiques he has gotten in recent years. This match, though, proved that big match Tokyo Dome Kenny is still in there.
It helps that this had a bigger feel than any of his other singles matches have had. The Moxley matches were hype, but they were largely plunder. The tag matches with Hangman were all great and the Revolution tag was my Match of the Year last year, but tags are a different ballgame. This felt like a clash between two titans. Two stars of a generation who went on vastly different paths and by some insane fate ended up in the same room on this night to deliver an epic like only they can.
In 2010, Bryan Danielson went to WWE and became the guy. He main-evented WrestleMania, won the WWE Championship, and gave fans the last truly great storyline in modern WWE. In this same time frame, Kenny Omega rose to the apex of the wrestling world outside of WWE and outside of America. He became a full time resident of Japan, rose from junior heavyweight to heavyweight to the leader of the hottest stable in the game. Main evented Wrestle Kingdom and became the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Both of these men revolutionized the industry in their own ways and on their own paths, but the catch is that the paths both men diverged on met here. And the things they did in their own separate parts of the wrestling planet is honestly what created what we now know as All Elite Wrestling. It’s what made 2021 what it was. And that’s what makes this match so special. This, in a way, was an encapsulation of the past 15 years of wrestling as a whole.
Everyone knew it. Everyone watching at home, everyone in the building, and the two men standing in the ring. The opening camera shot as the bell rang and the crowd roared told the entire story. The expression on both men’s faces. It told it. And for the action to follow up in the fashion it did, paced and executed to a perfection. Wrestled with precision and laid out with care. This 30 minutes felt like 12 or 15. Much like Omega’s legendary 90 minute match with Okada felt more like 30-45. It was a breeze to sit through. And I say that as someone who can get bored with wrestling pretty easily.
This is also something we’ve never seen in AEW.. a draw. And there’s no better person to have been the first than Bryan Danielson. This, in general, was something different and something much needed in AEW. A company larhelet built on high spots and work rate, Bryan Danielson brings something entirely different to the table (as he would anywhere he works) and is refreshing & groundbreaking. Especially so when paired with the stylings of Kenny Omega whom Bryan forced him out of his AEW formula for arguably the first time since the company’s inception.
So, yeah. No need to gloat further. This is the Pro Wrestling Truth 2021 Match of the Year and one that will live on for many years to come as a match that captured the essence and rarity of what wrestling was in 2021.
2) Will Ospreay (c) vs. Shingo Takagi - IWGP Title Match - NJPW: Wrestling Dontaku - 5/4/21 - *****
The second of only two matches that I gave five stars this year.
The Ospreay/Shingo series has quickly become a house classic. Truthfully, I never would have anticipated these two having a rivalry that I feel is worthy of a Wrestle Kingdom main event, but they have. Their 2019 Best of the Super Juniors final earned five snowflakes from me and I’m happy to say they’ve came around to that same award again. You know something is special when a pairing has two five star matches together. I think the reason they were able to is because the settings are entirely different and the fact that they already had one barn burner gave them a lot to build off of.
Their first meeting in the aforementioned BOSJ finals in 2019 was almost like a farewell to the junior division for both men. They reached the peak of that style and that division and onward they would plow towards becoming heavyweights. That, to me, is what accentuates this story beyond what they do in the ring.. it’s how far they’ve come.
They had a meeting or two in between the BOSJ finals and this IWGP Title match, but neither reached the levels of those two matches.
Seeing these two go from the finals of the biggest junior heavyweight wrestling tournament in the world to competing for one of the most prestigious heavyweight championships in the world is a fucking movie. Shingo has deserved it for a long time and Ospreay… i find it hard to say good things about Ospreay because he’s such a shitty person, but I’ll just say he transitioned well from junior to heavyweight. So, seeing the result of these things made for an amazing contest.
This is one of those matches where you must watch their prior meetings to fully appreciate some of the things that are done. Because beyond the story, they wrestle a match that has multiple callbacks to their prior meetings and god damn are they awesome. So many counters and exchanges and counters to exchanges.. just fucking ballistic stuff that Ospreay has become known for and Shingo is that fiery babyface ass kicker fighting from underneath.
Shingo is here trying to finally get his due. He gets brought into NJPW as a junior after having an already Hall of Fame career in Dragon Gate and the Indies and proves himself to be the best wrestler in the company almost every year he’s been here. We know it and the crowd in attendance knew it. They wanted Shingo to get what he deeerved and Shingo’s fight is subsequently all the more fantastic because of it.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t have a happy ending, but god damn if it ain’t a ride. These boys almost killed one another and this one will be remembered for a loooong time. People have drawn comparisons to Okada / Omega and Okada / Shibata and while I don’t think this is quiite there, it’s damn close and if these two are taking the NJPW torch for the next 5-10 years, I’m beyond happy.
3) CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston - AEW: Full Gear - 11/13/21 - ****3/4
Considering the first two matches on this list are 30 minutes and 44 minutes respectively, it may come as a surprise that the 3rd match on this list is a fraction of that. Despite that, it’s definitely in the league of the top two matches on this list and it’s a testament to the two performers involved.
In November 11th, CM Punk and Eddie Kingston fought for 12 minutes and it was arguably the most compelling 12 minutes in pro wrestling this year. Sometimes you don’t need a slow build. Sometimes you don’t need a flashy finishing sequence. Sometimes you just need a gritty, bloody brawl to tell the whole damn story.
And with two men who are as skilled on the microphone as these two, the story was laid out weeks in advance so all that was left for these two to beat the shit out of each other. Punk and Kingston are two of the most relatable performers in the last 15 years of wrestling. You could show anyone those two and they’d likely find them cool or find something to relate to. Much like this match, if you showed this to a non-fan (even though I hate this analogy), they’d love it or at the very least appreciate it for what it is.
I already wrote a lengthy review for this match when I reviewed the PPV less than two months ago so head there if you want a little more in depth of a look, but man this fucking ruled and is the only CM Punk match in 2021 that reached the heights of old. This may honestly be my favorite match of the year. Punk and Kingston did in 12 minutes, what some can’t do in 20, this is an old school battle for the ages. One of a kind.
4) “Hangman” Adam Page (c) vs. Bryan Danielson - AEW World Title Match - AEW: Dynamite - Winter is Coming - 12/15/21 - ****3/4
I just recently wrote about this one so I may not go super in depth, but man… what a fucking treat we got on free national television. Bryan Danielson coming to AEW was a ride and to me this was the pinnacle of it all.
Dragon is the perfect first challenger for Hangman for a myriad of reasons. The character he’s portraying is obviously a great counterpart for the underdog, beloved, anxious millenial cowboy. Dragon knows he’s the best wrestler in the world and he came to AEW to see how good everyone here really is.. he said it himself the night of his debut! Now here, months after his debut, he becomes number one contender to the AEW Title and a man he’s never ever wrestled is the champion. Not only is he someone he’s never wrestled, he’s someone that is almost as over as he is, but with much less time in the business. A man who’s loved and universally regarded as the face of AEW.. Hangman Adam Page.
For these reasons, Dragon takes Page lightly and is almost annoyed by the fact that people consider him even in the same league as Danielson. This simple story and the promos that led into the match made for an explosive 60 minute draw on national television that I very well could bump up to five stars on a re-watch.
The energy is huge, the story is there, the crowd is hot and the stakes are high. Page’s entire schtick plays into such a big match like this perfectly because sure, he overcame his fear of losing every title match he ever got, but now he’s champion and has a more important opponent for his first defense than anyone he’s ever faced. And in the weeks leading up to it, he’s been basically called a fluke & a buff by this same man. So, naturally, Page is antsy and it’s displayed in the early going of the contest.
Now, while there was some emphasis on the emotions, stakes & anxiety of Hangman, what was displayed moreso was the simple fact.. Bryan Danielson is a better wrestler than Page.. and they both know it. Page went for all his usual stuff in the first 10-15 minutes.. Danielson countered it all and did jumping jacks in the corner, mocking and laughing at Page each time he outsmarted and outworked him. And to Bryan’s brilliance, he continually did this throughout the match. They built toward Page hitting all his stuff eventually, b it then he would hit it, he wouldn’t again. Danielson outwrestled Hangman through and through the first 20-30 minutes of this.
Then, things turned. Danielson didn’t just outwrestle Hangman. About a quarter or half way through, Danielson chose to just beat the ever living shit out of the champion. A busted head thanks to the ring post leads to a brutal assault of fists to open the cut even more. Danielson gave no fucks and wanted blood.
But if we know anything about Hangman Adam Page, it’s that what he lacks in experience, he makes up for in resilience and the audience loves him for it. One of my favorite parts of this match was Danielson pounding away at Hangman and though Hangman was showing no signs of life at the time, the crowd still chanted with all of their heart and lungs “COWBOY SHIT” over and over. It put goosebumps all over my arms in the moment.
It may sound corny, but that phrase has come to mean so much and hearing it in this fashion, in this moment, fully emphasized that as Hangman began to power back and when that motherfucker finally rises and manages to clobber Danielson with a lariat, I came unglued and so did the arena. This leads to a molten hot finishing run of desperation. Both men refusing to quit. Time running out. 60 minutes is gone and we’ve just witnessed one of the best World Title matches on American soil. God damn.
Watch this match if you haven’t. And to think we get a rematch just five days into 2022… strap in yall.
5) The Young Bucks (c) vs. Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston - AEW Tag Title Match - AEW: Double or Nothing - 5/30/21 - ****3/4
This is a match that may seem a little high on the list to some, but I’m sticking to it.
Double or Nothing 2021 was a special event for me and I detailed why on the Up & Over Podcast Year End Awards that we did this past week. Check that out for this in much more detail and long form.
In short, this event was the first full capacity PPV for AEW since the pandemic and being their live and feeling that energy for the first time was nothing short of amazing. Hangman Page’s entrance and match with Brian Cage blew the roof of the place, but this match.. this is where it all set in for me.
Forever engrained in my memory will be the entrance from Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston. “Wild Thing” hits, Mox charges through the door with his best friend behind him. Eddie feels the love from the AEW crowd for the first time after being with the company for almost a year without in house fans. A special moment for him I’m sure as this confirmed that he was one of the biggest babyfaces in the company. And then, Moxley, a man who’s fueled by the adrenaline live combat, knowing he’s about to feel it all over again… the energy was chaotic and contagious and what better opponents for two beloved badass brawlers than the skinny, smart ass, chicken shit Tag Team Champions, the Young Bucks.
That really tells you all that you need to know. These two teams delivered the perfect match for their characters and the setting. Absolutely fucking nuts from bell to bell with the crowd hanging on every single move as we were DYING for Mox & King to dethrone the Bucks because from a realistic standpoint, who would have a better chance at doing it than these two who look like they could actually beat the Bucks up in real life? The believability was there so every near fall meant the world. And even though Mox & Kingston come up short, they come out of this even bigger stars than they were before. Mox’s babyface performance here was Hogan levels of awesome and Eddie Kingston was right there behind him. This cannot be denied.. another all timer from the Bucks. Hell. Yes.
6) Britt Baker vs. Thunder Rosa - Unsanctioned Match - AEW: Dynamite - 3/17/21 - ****3/4
This is possibly the most significant / important match of the year.
Britt Baker & Thunder Rosa changed women’s wrestling on this night and there is no other way of describing it. You had Trish/Lita, you had the four horse women, and now in the new decade, you have Britt/Rosa.
Never ever did I expect this match to get as nutty as it did. Never ever did I expect two women to have what was basically a deathmatch on national television for a major wrestling company. And never ever did I anticipate to see Britt Baker with the most insane gushing cut of the year, bleeding profusely throughout this match.
Everything about this one sends chills back up my spine. At a time where a lot of people were doubting the AEW Women’s Division, Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa said “oh yeah?” And proceeded to flip a middle finger right in the face of all of those losers.
These women beat the living hell out of each other with weapons and you could feel the hatred between them as this issue had been going on for several moments. It’s a groundbreaking match on so many different levels and I’ve been dying for the rematch ever since. So hey, Tony, if you’re reading this, please grant my wish in 2022!
7) The Young Bucks (c) vs. Lucha Bros (Penta El Zero Miedo & Rey Fenix) - Steel Cage Match - AEW 9/5/21 - ****3/4
Heading into 2021, I began wondering if Penta & Fenix would ever get their moment in AEW. It seems for a while like their series of matches with the Bucks on AEW’s inaugural events was gonna be their peak.
I mean, there’s no bigger team than the Bucks in AEW and I didn’t foresee TK running Bucks/Lucha Bros again, but I’m happy to say I was wrong. The Steel Cage Match stip is something these two teams haven’t done before together and they’ve not done many respectively either which made for a special attraction. Especially when that’s combined with the history these two teams have.
Much like I wondered if the Lucha Bros would ever get their due, I also wondered who in the hell were the Bucks gonna drop the titles too? Come to find out, the answer was right in front me all along. The crowd loves Penta & Fenix and they have mega history with the Bucks… what better way to dethrone the Bucks than by doing so with one of their greatest rivals of all time who desperately need their due. So yeah, this was just virtually perfect.
You know how these two teams work, it’s flawless. They gel together so well and with the history & the stipulation, they had a wide open canvas to create one of the greatest tag team matches of all time and yet another hall of fame worthy performance from the Young Bucks. I was there live in Chicago for this and seeing Fenix do his crossbody off the top of the cage was breathtaking. These guys are all on another level and their feud is the Edge/Christian-Dudleyz-Hardys of this generation. What big thick piece of icing on that cake this was. Holy moly. What a moment for the Lucha Brothers and one that is so so well deserved.
8) Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bianca Belair - Women’s Title Match - WWE: WrestleMania - 4/10/21 - ****3/4
The historical significance of this match alone warrants it being near or at the top of this list. Two black women in the main event of WrestleMania .. just absolutely phenomenal.
I don’t watch much WWE, but the fact that this was happening made me tune in. I mean, this is just something you have to witness and they knocked it out of the park. The big match vibe was there from the time both women made their entrances and remained from bell to bell.
This was my favorite WWE match of the entire year and I truly don’t think anything else in that company can touch it. I watched this on my phone in a hotel room and I was gripping my bed at multiple points because of how into the back & forth I was. Sasha & Bianca deserve all the credit in the world for creating such a special match and moment. It’s a shame how WWE handled Bianca after this because on this night, she was made into a full fledged superstar.
9) Shingo Takagi (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - NEVER Openweight Title Match - NJPW 1/30/21 - ****3/4
I’m ending this list with two Shingo matches because that man had one hell of a year. This first one does see him lose the NEVER title, but man I think he gained more from this than he lost.
Seeing Shingo mix it up with guys like Okada and Tana is never not surreal for me. Shingo is just still a Dragon Gate guy in my head and the fact that he is where he is blows my mind. Not that I’m surprised because he deserves it.. just in the grand scheme of things.
None the less, yes. Shingo brings the Tana of old out just like he did with Okada during the G1 and it is a barn burner. I wrote about this match here so rather than break it down all over again, I’d recommend to taking a look at my initial review of this banger.
10) Shingo Takagi (c) vs. Jeff Cobb - NEVER Openweight Title Match - NJPW: Wrestle Kingdom 15 - 1/5/21 - ****3/4
Two studs out to steal the show and they did just that. This is probably my favorite match of the entire Wrestle Kingdom weekend last year. No bullshit, no stalling, just a fucking fight. I don’t even need to write anything else about this. Just watch this and enjoy the big fight feel of this bombfest. Shingo got some light out of Jeff Cobb and seemingly lit a fire under his ass as Cobb had his best year in a while and it all started with this match so HELL YEAH.
Final thoughts: Alright yall, that’s all for Part One of the 2021 Pro Wrestling Truth Year End Awards. Part Two will be up within the next week and will include the full Elite 80 Wrestlers of the Year list! Thanks for reading and I look forward to another year of watching & reviewing pro wrestling and talking about with you all. <3
ALSO my 2022 Match Rating Archive/Tracker has already began and can be found here.