The Best Of 2021- Matches
What a year it's been. As I write this, it's 1:27PM on New Year's Eve. It's as hot as Derrick Lewis' balls over here, so I guess summer decided to finally show its face properly. Personally, it's been a pretty great year for me, which seems kinda crazy considering we spent a third of it in lockdown here in Australia. But I made some great progress in my physical and mental health, some great strides in my career, and even though work kept me super busy, I still found the time to watch a fair amount of pro wrestling and MMA.
A little reminder for those who have forgotten or haven't read the "about me" section on this site- my pro wrestling fandom, for the most part, is WWE, AEW and the Aussie wrestling scene. So we're going to dive into a top 10 of the best matches and moments, but it'll be from those promotions, so don't come at me with "this NJPW match smoked all of them" or "how could you miss this banger from WXW in Germany?" Or, actually, do that, because if I really have missed something that awesome, I'm keen to check it out, just don't be a dick about it.
In a similar vein, the list of MMA fights will be from the UFC. The Ultimate Fighting Championship put out the 3rd most events in a calendar year of all time, so it's a lot to follow. I do follow One FC on Instagram though, and they seem to be doing some cool stuff, so maybe I'll play a little catch up over the school holidays on them and maybe a bit of Bellator etc. as well.
Full disclosure- when I started writing this article, it was going to be best matches, best fights and best moments in the one article. As I've carried on writing, I've realised what a massive chunk of writing that is, both for you to read and for me to write on this hot summer arvo, so we're going to break things up a little. Keep an eye out for the best fights and the best moments articles, coming soon!
Let's do this!
TOP 10 MATCHES
10. WWE Championship- Bobby Lashley vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Braun Strowman- WWE Wrestlemania Backlash
It gets lost in the shuffle a bit because of the awesomeness of Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro on this show (more on that later), and the ridiculousness which was that zombie lumberjack match, but in the co-main event of Backlash, three huge men worked their asses off in front of the Thunderdome to put on the hoss fight to end all hoss fights. It reminded me a little of Sheamus vs. Big Show from Hell In A Cell 2012- I don't think people were expecting much from this match, but for whatever reason, all three men came in with something to prove, and went balls to the wall. It might be Braun Strowman's best ever match- which makes it even more bewildering that the Monster Among Men was released from his WWE contract right after this battle of behemoths.
9. CM Punk vs. Darby Allin- AEW All Out
Hands up if you thought CM Punk was going to return to wrestling this year in AEW? Okay, there might be a few of you, since people have been predicting Punk's return since he left in 2014, and picked AEW as his landing place since it came into life in 2019, but still, it was awesome to see him back. And Darby made the perfect foil for him- as one of AEW's youngest, brightest stars, it gave him the Punk rub while giving Punk a credible opponent for his return match, and Darby's reckless style created enough action and excitement to mask any of Punk's potential shortcomings in the ring after 7 years away. Was Punk a step slower? Yeah, probably. But he still did a damn fine job, and if wrestling is all about that emotional ride, Punk and Darby did a masterful job taking us on that ride in Chicago.
8. Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis) vs. Generation Now (Matty Wahlberg & Ricky South)- PWA Back In Black Label
(Photo Credit- New Photography Studios)
Aussie Open are one of the hardest hitting tag teams I've ever seen, and they are currently terrorising the Australian wrestling scene as PWA Tag Team Champions. They've also made a strong name for themselves overseas, and are currently also part of Will Ospreay's faction, the United Empire. So, when they made their PWA debut as a team to answer the open challenge of Matty Wahlberg and Ricky South, the roof almost came off the Factory Theatre. The two teams held nothing back in a 20 minute war. Ricky South would win the PWA Heavyweight Champion not long after taking his lumps in this match, and if you're watching NXT 2.0 and Monday Night Raw, wondering if that Grayson Waller guy is any good, check out Matty Wahlberg's performance in this match!
7. WWE Universal Championship- Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro- Wrestlemania Backlash
Wrestling fans, particularly the diehards that make up the quote-unquote "IWC", have long been clamouring to see Cesaro get a fair shake at main event glory. Following a breakout victory over Seth Rollins at Wrestlemania 37, Cesaro would get his chance against the Tribal Chief, Roman Reigns. Cesaro's blend of power, technique and pure physicality meshed extremely well with Reigns' aggressive approach. Although it seemed going in that the result was never in doubt, Cesaro's passion and intensity made you forget about that for a few moments. A Wrestlemania worthy main event that made Wrestlemania Backlash a well received PPV- zombies aside.
6. PWWA Championship- No DQ- Jessica Troy vs. Charli Evans- PWA It Started Out With A Kiss
Jess and Charli are two of the best wrestlers Australia has produced, and they basically destroyed each other for our entertainment. The Arm Collector, Jessica Troy, brought out her trademark mannequin arm wrapped in barbed wire, and experienced hardcore/deathmatch wrestler Charli had chairs, thumbtacks, wooden skewers... it was wonderfully violent. Both ladies took obscene amounts of punishment, before the barbed wire mannequin arm was used for the very inventive finish. Broadcast on FITE TV, this showcased Aussie wrestling at its brutal best.
4. WWE Universal Championship- Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan- WWE Wrestlemania 37
Originally set to be Roman Reigns vs. Edge one-on-one, Daniel Bryan was a somewhat late addition to the Wrestlemania main event on night 2, and the match was all the better for it. Really cool story with Edge & Bryan, two men medically forced to retire, back in action on the biggest stage. Both challengers used their veteran cunning and skill, which particularly stood out when they had Reigns in a double crossface while attacking each other with headbutts. Ultimately, the Tribal Chief stacked them up for a double pin, but it was the start of a great year for Edge in-ring, and the final WWE PPV appearance of Daniel Bryan.
3. Smackdown Women's Championship- Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks- WWE Wrestlemania 37
Wrestling is all about those special moments, and those emotions. The emotions flowed freely on the main event of Night 1 on WM37, as both Banks and Belair were brought to tears at the magnitude of the moment- for their gender, for their race, but most importantly, for themselves, the work they had put in and the journey they had been on. All that was very lovely and nice, but when the bell rang, it was down to business. The Boss was her usual outstanding self, but Bianca was able to display her power and really come out as a superstar with some incredible spots, including using her braid as a whip that left welts on Sasha's body- Belair used that move in NXT, but on the main roster, they wisely saved it for a big moment on the biggest stage, after Sasha spent much of the match trying to use the EST's own braid against her. A star making moment, win and match. Excellent stuff!
3. NXT UK Championship- WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov- NXT Takeover 36
These two had one of the best matches of 2020- under the radar, in an empty studio, on the NXT UK brand- the least loved/hyped of any brand under the WWE banner. WALTER is an absolute tank, and his strikes put fear in the hearts of everyone...except Dragunov. Dragunov is about half WALTER's size, but pretty much matched him with ferocity here, forcing the Ring General to tap out on the final NXT Takeover.
2. PWA Tag Team Championship- The Velocities (Paris De Silva & Jude London) vs. Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis)- PWA Black Label: Velocities vs. Aussie Open
(Photo Credit: New Photography Studios)
You know how I said Aussie Open were maybe the hardest hitting tag team I've ever seen? Well, that may be true, but the Velocities could be perhaps the best tag team in Australia. Over 35 minutes of mayhem, with the power and soul crushing strikes from Fletcher and Davis, against the speed, technique and innovation of Jude and Paris. This even got the attention of Dave Meltzer, who gave the match ****3/4. About halfway through the year, this sowed up MOTY for Aussie wrestling, and with the rematch set for Jan 14 at PWA Welcome To The Black Label Parade, they might be ready to snatch up 2022 early as well.
1. Hell In A Cell- Edge vs. Seth Rollins- WWE Crown Jewel
Edge had a fantastic 2021. 2020 saw his seemingly impossible return after 9 years in retirement, but unfortunately a triceps injury in "the Greatest Wrestling Match Ever" with Randy Orton put him on the shelf again. The Rated R Superstar would enter the Rumble match at #1 and win the thing, and after coming up short in challenging Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship, would turn his sights to Seth Rollins- who threatened him in 2014 with the Stomp and said he would "kill him". A healthy Edge hadn't forgotten or let that transgression go, so Edge and Seth Rollins had a tremendous trilogy of matches- one at Summerslam, one on Smackdown in Madison Square Garden, and finally, a HIAC in Saudi Arabia which was the best of them all. The ultimate payoff for the ultimate grudge match, and I love that the match happened for an appropriate reason, not just shoehorned in because it was time for the Hell In A Cell PPV. Edge and Rollins came up with some violent and creative spots, and it ended with the good guy prevailing in an epic battle. WWE's best match in 2021.
1. Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega- AEW Dynamite Grand Slam
Yes, I've got two matches in the #1 spot. I truly couldn't separate the two. You would think the lack of a finish might hurt this one, but it actually adds to a greater story. Daniel Bryan left WWE after losing a match to Roman Reigns on Smackdown, and Bryan Danielson re-emerged in AEW, making his surprise debut at the All Out PPV, but this non-title match against then AEW Champion Kenny Omega was his first actual match in All Elite Wrestling. Not only that, it was in New York City- traditionally WWE territory- in AEW's first stadium show. Bryan and Omega held nothing back, with the champ looking like the Kenny we saw in NJPW, and Bryan looking infinitely more violent and vicious than he ever did working for Vince. We had a 30 minute time limit draw, so Bryan didn't lose in his first match, but AEW's champion doesn't immediately take a L to a "WWE guy" either. Pro wrestling at its finest!
I really should have made a top 20 or something. Anyway:
- Edge vs. Seth Rollins- Summerslam
- Roman Reigns vs. John Cena- Summerslam
- Edge vs. Seth Rollins- Smackdown
- Young Bucks vs. Lucha Bros- AEW All Out
- Ricky South vs. Caveman Ugg- PWA It Started Out With A Kiss
- Kenny Omega vs. Hangman Page- AEW Full Gear
- Bryan Danielson vs. Hangman Page- AEW Winter Is Coming
Hope you all have a fantastic New Year's, I wish you all the best for 2022! See you back here soon for the best fights article, the best moments article, and of course, the WWE Day 1 WrestleWatch review!
Until next time, take care.
By Mick Robson