It’s a chant we’ve heard for years — sometimes justified, other times not so much. Yet, when we look back on the year that was 2021, we were given amazing professional wrestling from WWE, AEW, Impact, NWA, Ring of Honor, MLW, Japan, Mexico, Europe, and the American independents.
The writers, editors and friends of The Pop Break got together to discuss their favorite matches of 2021!
The Match: Team Black & Gold: Tommaso Ciampa, LA Knight, Pete Dunne, and Johnny Gargano vs. Team 2.0: Bron Breakker, Grayson Waller, Tony D’Angelo, and Carmelo Hayes
The Show: NXT War Games 2021
Chosen By: Matthew Widdis
If there’s anything I like as much as a good wrestling match, it’s watching haters eat humble pie. Some were already up in arms about how someone wasn’t a fit for “real NXT” or how they could already predict how “the wrong side was going to go over” or even that all was lost because we didn’t hear “Whoa-ah Gaimes!” What we all got was a match that was good enough to make them shut their mouths and enjoy it.
Five remarkable veterans and three promising talents beat the brakes off each other for 38 minutes in a match with damn near everything, weapons and tables, leaps from the cage, callbacks from feuds past, setups for angles to come, guys known for their technique getting in dramatic monologues and guys known for their mouth wowing the crowd with the big moves. And, yes, it ended with a push towards a new vision but, even if you’re against that, there’s no denying it started with the most (rebel) heartfelt goodbye entrance you could ask for.
The Match: Lights Out Match – Thunder Rosa vs. Dr. Britt Baker, DMD.
The Show: AEW Dynamite St. Patrick’s Day Slam
Chosen By: Rob Williams
This was a tough one for me, because after easily narrowing down my top two MOTY picks, I still couldn’t choose between Thunder Rosa V. Britt Baker (Lights Out Match) or Luchas Bros. VS. Bucks Cage Match at All Out. Both matches had more spots than Cruella’s wardrobe, and the perfect use of “color” as they say in the biz.
At the end of the day I had to go with the Lights Out match because I was invested so much that I was legitimately worried about both ladies’ safety. Britt working the cameras with that crimson mask and Thunder Rosa’s constant emotion throughout gave it such a powerful aesthetic. The moves on the apron, off the top, on the thumbtacks and through the tables were all insane.The emotion was even there from the small crowd of AEW talent watching. Could you imagine if this match had been in a capacity arena? Regardless, the second the match was over and Thunder Rosa burst into tears of intense emotion you knew that this was something special, and groundbreaking for AEW.
The Match: “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki
The Show: AEW Rampage Buy-In (October 15)
Chosen By: Brian McNamara
I don’t think anyone has had as good of a year in wrestling as Minoru Suzuki. His tour of the USA this summer led to some stellar bouts. But the best one has to be his half-hour bout with Bryan Danielson. It felt special, and it was given the right amount of time and space. Danielson’s brief AEW tenure has also been stellar, so this match presents us two men firing on all cylinders. There’s minimal grappling and, frankly, minimal wrestling, but the chemistry of the two created a strike and kick match that could hold your attention for the full length. You’re sold on there being legitimate anger between the two, a history. You can get wrapped up in a few of these strikes looking stiff, too real.
There are technically better matches this year, with better wrestling or storytelling, sure. But there’s something about seeing these two legends going at it, not holding back and showcasing their strengths. It’s engaging, thrilling. And it’s the match I’ve revisited the most this year. When Suzuki delivers that one elbow strike that flattens Danielson early in the match it’s devastating. You gasp, you cringe. And then these men just absorb kicks and chops. It’s just that good, a wake up call for a different type of wrestling that isn’t normally seen on mainstream shows. An elbow strike to a whole new world of grappling.
The Match: Darby Allin vs. Maxwell Jacob Friedman
The Show: AEW Full Gear 2021
Chosen By: Christian James Wagner
When you think about the greatest matches of 2021, I can assume the internet crowd will choose a match featuring The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, or Bryan Danielson. However, there is one wrestler in AEW who is constantly overlooked for his wrestling ability who has the ability to make his opponents look great while also getting heat from…a headlock takeover. That’s right, I’m talking about the man who will start a bidding war in 2024, MJF. Therefore, my choice for match of the year is MJF v. Darby Allin from AEW’s Full Gear PPV.
Make no mistake, Darby Allin deserves an equal share of the credit for putting on one of the greatest opening matches to a PPV ever (hello Bret v. Owen WM X). This was not simply an AEW spot fest match that gets 6 stars because Meltzer loves his flips. On the contrary! The build-up to this match brought the psychology that was executed in the ring to a whole different level. This felt like an athletic competition where you felt the animosity between the two. There were ebbs and flows in a believable manner. They worked body parts, slowed it down when they needed to, and didn’t get flashy for the sake of it. It did not feel overdone or running long. In the end, just as how MJF predicted, he won with a headlock takeover. Not only did this elevate both MJF and Allin, it proved MJF is capable of being both the best promo in the business and one of the best wrestlers as well.
The Match: AEW World Title Match – Hangman Adam Page (C) vs. “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson
The Show: AEW Dynamite Winter is Coming
Chosen By: Steve Miller
This match edges out the Omega and the Lucha Bros/Young Bucks matches because it finally gave the final stamp of approval to Page as a top name in the business and truly legitimizes the EVP’s belief in him. It changed the dynamic of the company and the U.S. wrestling industry. For the first time in what seems like forever, a top organization appears dedicated to not presenting the same old, same old.
In WWE, this would have been a 12-15 minute, interference-ridden, win for Danielson, maintaining the status quo, and keeping a good person down. But, this is old-time, NWA booking that produced a match for the ages and served the purpose of elevating a star. The last time we saw this on National TV was Sting/Flair at Clash of Champions 1.The Buckshot Lariat was the final move of this map, but it was felt all the way in Stamford.
One last thing: Let’s just say that Brian Danielson is the Wrestler of the Year. His two, 60 minute, time limit draws with Page and Kenny Omega were amazing. He was able to take two of the best professional wrestlers in the world to another level.
The Match: AEW World Title Match – “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega (C) vs. “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson
The Show: AEW Dynamite Grand Slam
Chosen By: Kimmy Sokol
2021 has had its fair share of highs and lows. When it comes to the match of the year we have a lot of different contenders. From the historic lights-out match between Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa, the dream match between Walter and Ilja Dragunov, or the groundbreaking tie between “Hangman” Adam Page and Bryan Danielson. As groundbreaking as these matches have been, they are not my match of the year. Although biased because I was there for this match, my match of the year took place at AEW Grand Slam: Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega.
Now this match has been a dream match for so many wrestling fans. Before their match took place at Grand Slam these two have only wrestled once; in Ring of Honor in 2008. In 13 years these two have accomplished quite a lot. Multiple championships, multiple pay-per-view main events, 5 star rating matches, PWI #1 wrestler of the year, etc. Once Bryan Danielson had jump ships to become “All Elite,” this match was one everyone wanted, and what better place to have this match than AEW’s New York City debut!
This match was a technician’s fan’s wrestling dream. So many counters, scary bumps (that V-Trigger on the ramp),and no outside interference from the elite or Don Callis. Since the championship was not on the line fans were questioned as to who was going to win this dream match. Unlike another company, AEW likes to take us on a journey. This dream match was once in a lifetime, but will happen again which is why a tie was the right decision. This leads to a second match up, possibly in AEW’s first iron man match or a two out of three falls match. This decision, which was not popular by many, left the fans wanting more and is very different from what wrestling is today. Which is why, for the technicality, the storyline, and for the hopes match two is even better. Omega and Danielson is my match of the year pick.
The Match: CM Punk vs. Darby Allin
The Show: AEW All Out 2021
Chosen By: Julian Dimagiba (Young Rising Sons)
Picking one match as MOTY is pretty difficult. Especially in today’s age where there are absolutely no shortages in opinions. But, the beauty in professional wrestling is being able to enjoy all different aspects of it. Storylines, athletics, “work rate”, not being the “other company”, whatever else comes to mind that peaks the interest in the viewer. With that being said, my match of the year choice would have to be CM Punk versus Darby Allin from All Out.
Now, some might wonder why this is my choice. It may not have even the best match of THAT NIGHT (Bucks/Lucha?), let alone AEW and pro wrestling in general. But for me, it’s the story leading up to what became a really good match. CM Punk, who for Seven years avoided professional wrestling after losing his passion and interest in it, was lured back by a new, fresh company. A company that offered a big-scale alternative to WWE. Something that arguable hasn’t been seen since 2001 (sorry TNA).
CM Punk returning to professional wrestling personally resonates with me in the sense that sometimes, you need to walk away for a little while in order to spark a passion and love that you may have lost. That is something that spans in any aspect of life. Punk returning to pro wrestling sent a message to anyone that has lost their passion in something. There is always time and energy to be able to bring that passion back to you. That is what this match represents to me. Which is why it is my MOTY.
The Match: AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament Match – Eddie Kingston vs. “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson
The Event: AEW Rampage 10/29
Chosen By: Michael Dworkis
I picked this match, more for Kingston’s performance and truth be told, the guy should be named Wrestler of the Year. He carried a number of feuds throughout 2021. Additionally, his public discussions and tales of struggling with mental health are considered heroic by many.
Except he doesn’t want to be a hero. He’s grateful for what he has.
Eddie Kingston is the definition of a humble human being.
So why this match? It was awesome. It was Eddie Kingston versus Bryan Danielson on free television. It was a pay-per-view quality match. A display of wrestling, fighting, struggling, all from two individuals who a veteran at the craft of character emotions on full display. It was the ultimate form of a broadway drama unfold in a wrestling ring.
Simply put, Eddie and Bryan are two of the best at their craft.
The Match: AEW World Match – “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega (C) vs. “Hangman” Adam Page
The Event: AEW All Out 2021
Chosen By: Bill Bodkin
There was so much good wrestling this year. Go to the indies and you’d be dazzled by Lee Moriarity vs. Alex Shelley or Deonna Purrazzo vs. Rok-C or countless others. You could go to WWE, Impact, NWA, MLW, ROH, PWG, GCW or whatever promotion you want and find an amazing match.
Hell, I can probably pick 10-15 matches from AEW that should top my list — Mox & Eddie vs. The Bucks, The Bucks vs. The Lucha Bros, Kenny vs. Fenix, Thunder vs. Britt, Eddie vs. Miro, Arcade Anarchy, anything Bryan Danielson has done … and the list goes on.
However, I have to go with the payoff of one of the best modern-day long term stories: the championship chase for Hangman Adam Page. It was one of the most realistic, personal, hilarious, heartbreaking, emotional, and ultimately joyous storylines any wrestling promotion has done in a long, long time. Told over 2.5 years with dozens of wrestlers involved this epic story touched upon real life “anxious millennial” issues like depression, anxiety, self-doubt, self-hatred, using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and not believing you deserve anything good in your life.
It’s a storyline myself and many others could grab onto and feel right in our soul and that’s something you don’t get often in wrestling. The pay off for this story was an excellent match between two former partners. Kenny, who we found out later was dealing massive injuries and vertigo, put on one last masterclass before riding off to get himself right. As for Hangman, this was the match we were all waiting for — the big, career defining performance. This solidified him as the man in this promotion and it’s lead us to not one but two amazing matches with Bryan Danielson, a man you’ve seen numerous times on this list.