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The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Twelve) – The Best In-Ring Performers of 2021

January 14, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
AEW Dynamite Bryan Danielson

Welcome back to Part Twelve of the 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards of 2021! The Year-End Awards have been out for a couple of years but they’re back, and here’s how they work. For the next couple of weeks, we will present our top choices for a particular topic relating to wrestling in 2021. All the writers here on 411 will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic and the end, based on where all of the votes rank on people’s list, we will create an overall Top 5 list. It looks a little like this…

1st – 5
2nd – 4
3rd – 3
4th – 2
5th – 1

Once everyone’s had their say, we will tally the scores and get our overall top 5. Tonight we’re looking at the Best In-Ring Performer of the year. Let’s get right to it…

Steve Cook

5. Will Ospreay
4. Kenny Omega
3. Jonathan Gresham
2. Shingo Takagi

1. Bryan Danielson – This guy delivered in every match he was in. He spent the last part of his WWE tenure putting over Jey Uso & Roman Reigns, giving them the best matches they’d ever had. Then he went to AEW and immediately had the best match Kenny Omega ever had outside of the Tokyo Dome. Afterwards, he worked through the Dark Order and then gave Adam Page a match to put the Hangman on the map. There’s another one coming.

Jeffrey Harris

5. Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D.
4. Taiji Ishimori
3. Hangman Page
2. Bryan Danielson

1. Kenny Omega – Sorry if I’m gonna sound like a broken record here, but it’s got to be Kenny Omega for me. It’s about match work, promo work, and I loved the Belt Collector angle Omega had for 2021. Plus, his feud with Hangman Page was the culmination of about two-and-a-half years worth of storytelling that began even before AEW’s debut event with Double or Nothing 2019. That was a long, slow-building feud and the payoff was perfect. Omega was an excellent champion, but he’s also a company man and knows when it’s time to put the other guy over.

Andrew Cazer

4. Kazuchika Okada
3. Roman Reigns
2. Kenny Omega

1. Bryan Danielson – Danielson had matches with everyone from Roman Reigns to Kenny Omega in 2021 and consistently impressed. After being forced to take time off for a number of years he has not skipped a beat and since joining AEW has gone out of his way to simply work to be the best wrestler in the company. I can see an argument for both Omega and Reigns but Danielson has great matches with both of those guys along with a number of other guys they have faced off with as well. There are still a number of ‘dream matches’ for Danielson in AEW as they’ve barely scratched the surface so he could easily be vying for a spot in the top five next year as well.

Jake Chambers

5. Zack Sabre Jr.
4. Ilja Dragunov
3. Hiroshi Tanahashi
2. Bryan Danielson

1. Shingo Takagi – Shingo was consistently and undeniably awesome in the ring for NJPW from January straight through to December in 2021. Across those 12 months an interesting narrative arc was demonstrated in the language of pro-wrestling. We saw Shingo work his way through some epic loses in the first quarter, adjust to the New Japan main event style and become an unlikely IWGP champion (after taking a risk on crowning high-flyer Will Ospreay backfired). Throughout the middle of the year, Shingo proved to be more than a transitional champion (unlike the dry runs of EVIL in 2020 or Jay White in 2019), kept up the pace in the gruelling G1 Climax, and finally settled in during the last quarter of the year as a stable, credible main event championship presence. Some may gravitate to the emotive forms of pro-wrestling like the Hangman Page story this year, but for me I love it when a long-form narrative can be communicated in the ring work exclusively. Achieving this is incredibly difficult because of many random athletic factors like injury or performing under pressure, but also elements unique to pro-wrestling such as the unpredictable sways in fan opinion. That we got to have a calendar year where Dragon Gate’s Shingo Takagi firmly established himself as the best wrestler in Japan’s most popular heavyweight promotion was a shocking, thrilling, and satisfying experience.

Ian Hamilton

5. Ricky Knight Jr.
4. Will Ospreay
3. Kenny Omega
2. Shingo Takagi

1. Bryan Danielson – Hands down, if you’re looking at in-ring work, the second half of Danielson’s 2021 pretty much laps the field. That’s not to dismiss Danielson’s WWE run this year, but comparisons are like chalk and cheese, particularly if you’re more of the old-school “workrate” fan.

Kevin Pantoja

5. Bianca Belair
4. Roman Reigns
2. Shingo Takagi

1. Bryan Danielson – As good as Bianca Belair, Roman Reigns, WALTER, and Shingo Takagi are, nobody can tough Bryan Danielson. For WWE, he was doing tremendous work and had several ****+ matches with Roman Reigns on his way out. The man was out of the public eye for months, only to show up in AEW and just put on banger after banger. From little seen matches on Dark to quality TV matches to major clashes with the likes of Kenny Omega and Hangman Page, Danielson is something special. He keeps leaving and coming back and not missing a beat. Forget 2021, Bryan Danielson is the greatest in-ring wrestler I have ever seen and I’ve been watching wrestling since I was 3.

Robert Leighty

5. Johnny Gargano
4. Adam Cole
2. Kenny Omega

1. Bryan Danielson – Danielson gave me more great matches than anyone this year and delivered in every big match. Even with the time off between WWE and AEW his resume was more than anyone else in my view. He is amazing inside the ring and everything he does has a reason and purpose. He did everything the right way as he finished up in WWE with an amazing cage match to put Reigns over and has killed it since his AEW debut. This was his year.

Thomas Hall

5. Roman Reigns
4. Serena Deeb
3. Josh Alexander
2. Jonathan Gresham

1. Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson – I don’t think this is much of a surprise, as Danielson is about as complete of a worker as you will find in the world today. The guy can do just about anything asked of him and that never seems to change. His AEW run will get the most praise, but don’t forget his first four months of the year where he had at least two classics, including the main event of Wrestlemania. Danielson is rapidly reaching that all time elite of the elite level and he was easily the best of the year.

Jeremy Thomas

5. Jonathan Gresham
4. Kenny Omega
2. Shingo Takagi

1. Bryan Danielson – This can’t be much of a surprise to anyone. Bryan Danielson had top notch matches no matter what promotion he worked for, whether being part of the main event scene in WWE at the start of the year or in AEW at the end. Danielson had two of the top five matches in our Matches of the Year award and those weren’t even a minority of the great matches he had in 2021. There isn’t much more to say here, other than that Danielson deservedly walked away my #1 spot with ease.

AND 411’s TOP 5 In-Ring Performers of 2021 ARE…

5. Jonathan Gresham8 points

4. WALTER10 points

3. Kenny Omega20 points

2. Shingo Takagi21 points

1. Bryan Danielson43 points


* 1. The Biggest Disappointment of The Year: WWE’s Talent Releases – 28 points
* 2. The Best Non-Wrestler: Paul Heyman – 40 points
* 3. The Best Tag Team: The Lucha Bros – 32 points
* 4. The Worst Major Show: WrestleMania Backlash – 18 points
* 5. The Best Major Show: AEW All Out – 34 points
* 6. The Best Weekly Show: AEW Dynamite – 42 points
* 7. The Best Promotion: AEW – 47 points
* 8. The Best Match: WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (NXT Takeover 36) – 35 points
* 9. The Most Overrated Performer: Charlotte Flair – 14 points
* 10. The Most Underrated Performer: Damian Priest – 11 points
* 11. The Best Women’s Wrestler: Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. – 35 points