wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part One) – The Biggest Disappointments of 2021

January 3, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Karrion Kross WWE Raw Killer Kross Image Credit: WWE

Welcome to Part One 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. We’re starting off with the Biggest Disappointments of the year, and much like 2020, there were almost too many disappointments to choose from. So let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. The Ongoing Fact That I Can Never Immediately Recall Who the IC or US Champs Are
4. NJPW Being a Shell of What it Was a Few Years Ago
3. Bobby Lashley’s Title Reign
2. The loss of DaParty on UpUpDownDown

1. NXT 2.0 – Nothing else was even close here since it was hard to call DaParty a WRESTLING disappointment. I have LOVED NXT for ages, and outside of War Games, I just have had no love for the new version of the program. The whole roster overhaul that happened seemingly over night, the weird new paint splatter logo… I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel like the show I have known and loved for years. When NXT has shifted from era to era in the past, it has been gradual and organic. This just felt too forced for me.

Jeffrey Harris

5. Cody Rhodes’ “History Lesson” Promo on AEW Dynamite (5/12/21)
4. Cody Rhodes Becoming a Three-Time TNT Champion
3. Bianca Belair’s SummerSlam 2021 Loss
2. NXT 2.0

1. Budget Cuts (Or Release Of About 80 Wrestlers) – You can’t excuse cutting main event talents and former champions such as Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman with “budget cuts.” Braun Strowman was headlining a WWE PPV weeks before he was released. This is nonsense. The fault is not with the wrestlers. The fault is with WWE. And for WWE to have quarterly earnings announced and boasting about record profits while they cut people right before the holiday, it’s just a bad look. But for WWE to just get rid of Bray Wyatt after they seemingly sabotaged him at every turn when he constantly turned straw into gold is unforgivable. And then look at what happened to top NXT stars and champions Karrion Kross and Keith Lee. What happened to them on the main roster was abhorrent. Keith Lee was repackaged “Bearcat.” This was a man who got over had a deep connection with the fans and an inspiring story, but no. He’s got to be a Bearcat and come out and growl because he’s a bearcat. It’s garbage.

Steve Cook

5. Mexico Keeps Booking Travis Banks For Reasons
4. Tommy Dreamer Buries Himself on Dark Side of the Ring
3. Ric Flair Gets Cancelled (For Now)
2. WWE’s Firing Spree

1. ROH Goes on Hiatus – I’ve had a lot of negative things to say about Sinclair Broadcast Group over the years, but I won’t knock them for how they handled ROH the last couple of years. They were very careful about the coronavirus, and did all they could do to prevent spread via ROH shows. After airing a ton of Best Of shows intended to highlight their wrestlers at their highest levels, they started doing regular shows again. First, they did a Pure Wrestling Tournament, which made perfect sense as ROH’s Pure Wrestling Division was one of the things that made ROH different from the rest, and was wrestling that could be better enjoyed without a crowd. Then they expanded out, and started doing live events again, eventually.

As somebody reviewing ROH’s weekly show for 411, I thought they were doing a good job with things. The one thing I wondered about is if people were paying attention. Unfortunately, they weren’t. The eventual live events didn’t draw, until Final Battle when ROH hyped that it would be the last one before a hiatus. Then people attended, and folks talked about it online and ROH wrestlers got big podcast spots. Until then, it seemed like few people other than me gave a hoot.

Usually, this award goes to people doing dumb shit. This year, I’m giving it to people that did the right thing, but weren’t rewarded for it and had to shut down as a result. That’s 2021 for ya in a nutshell.

Blake Lovell

5. Bray Wyatt’s WWE Release
4. Bayley’s Injury
3. Queen’s Crown Tournament
2. Becky Lynch’s Return Match at SummerSlam

1. WWE’s Booking of Former NXT Stars – From Keith Lee to Karrion Kross to Hit Row, the company’s handling of top NXT talent on the main roster was disappointing. Of course, it was likely to be expected since Vince McMahon’s true thoughts on NXT would eventually be on full display. But it still doesn’t make it any less disappointing that many NXT stars have either been released or booked poorly on the main roster.

Lee Sanders

4. Ring of Honor’s Struggles During COVID
3. Keith Lee Main Event Run
2. Karrion Kross Main Event Run

1. WWE on Peacock – Let’s be honest, many of us were expecting for the transition to NBC PEACOCK to be a smooth transition. We expected for all the great content we had at the touch of our fingertips with the WWE NETWORK, would remain intact. Not the case at all with NBC PEACOCK. Very limited content, no full access or great access to libraries like before, new content advertised publicly with launch dates and delayed or never aired. No rewind function for live Pay-Per-Views, consistent lag and freezing during live WWE events is just the tip of the iceberg. All things considered, 2021 has not been a kind year for WWE on NBC PEACOCK. I for one am not down with the COCK.

Ian Hamilton

5. WWE Ditching COVID Testing
4. WWE x Saudi Arabia
3. Ongoing WWE Releases
2. Ring of Honor Going On Hiatus

1. Spoken-Out Names Slowly Returning – It was inevitable as shows returned, but seeing just how quickly names with allegations tied to them returned worries me. Sure, they’re not at the top, but every slippery slope starts somewhere – be it under a hood in Mexico, or on a “family friendly” show.

Jake Chambers

5. WWE Losing So Many Great Wrestlers to AEW
4. Usos’ Storyline From 2020 Hitting a Wall
3. Big E. as WWE Champion
2. No NXT UK Takeover

1. NXT Retreating From the “Wednesday Night Wars” – The Wednesday Night Wars was always a soft competition in comparison to the Monday Night Wars of the ’90s; no one really wanted to step on any toes or push their content to the extreme. It was a very millennial kind of fight: everything is great so let’s just do our best and hope everyone wins. But in the end, WWE lost this schoolyard slapfight by AEW out-NXT-ing NXT with better super-indy style matches and angles. This is disappointing because I loved NXT, and like many, I was thinking this would be the future direction of the entire WWE. I’m disappointed because the much-heralded NXT godfather HHH exposed his creative weaknesses by failing pretty miserably in the face of competition. And I’m disappointed because this all represents how little competition really matters in pro-wrestling anymore, whether it’s on the business side or in the post-kayfabe “we’re all artists” nerd-ass wrestling we’ll probably be stuck with for the rest of our lives. NXT, HHH, WWE, y’all should have pushed harder; disappointing.

Thomas Hall

5. The Rock’s 25th Anniversary
4. Queen’s Crown Tournament
3. Rhea Ripley’s Raw Women’s Title Reign
2. The End Of The Original Ring Of Honor

1. The Final Demise Of The Classic NXT – It is rare to find a wrestling show that has me looking forward to watching it every single week. There will always be parts of shows that get my interest up, but to have a show from top to bottom work almost every time? That’s not the kind of things you ever get to see. It was however the case with NXT, as I do not remember being more satisfied with a wrestling show on a week to week basis.

Then everything to switched around, as the battle with AEW Dynamite began. The show was suddenly two hours long and the quality started going down. I stopped having the feeling that I was watching something special and started feeling like I was watching Raw or Smackdown in black and yellow. There were bright spots, but the show was losing ground to Dynamite (hardly the greatest sin in the world). Ultimately it was moved over to Tuesdays, but then we got to the biggest change of them all.

A long (and at times seemingly never ending) string of releases gutted the NXT roster, turning it into a small group of veterans and a bunch of unproven rookies. That is how it remains now: a true developmental show, as the next generation gets ready before our eyes. The show might not be the worst thing ever (and it gets a lot of unfair criticisms), but it’s hard to watch the letters NXT appear on my TV and not think back to how good things were before and now aren’t because Vince McMahon didn’t like what he was seeing.

Kevin Pantoja

5. AEW’s Booking of Santana & Ortiz
4. The NXT Women’s Tag Team Titles
3. The Explosion at the End Of Moxley/Omega
2. Kota Ibushi’s IWGP World Title Reign

1. WWE’s Mass Releases – This is always the most difficult award for me to write up. I can never remember specific disappointments so I feel like I’ll leave some out that I shouldn’t. I also don’t like to include things like deaths because those are tragedies and not just disappointments from a wrestling standpoint. With that out of the way, it’s always a shame to see just how many wrestlers WWE is willing to cut. While part of me isn’t disappointed because some manage to find new homes elsewhere, it’s still sad to see that some lose out on their dream jobs. Adam Cole will be perfectly fine in AEW and he’ll likely remain happy there but he was someone who really wanted to be in WWE and it became a place that wasn’t for him anymore. Keith Lee, Toni Storm, Mia Yim, Tegan Nox, and the list goes on and on.

Jeremy Thomas

5. AEW Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch
4. NXT Becomes NXT 2.0
3. Tony Khan Can’t Shut the Fuck Up on Twitter
2. ROH Goes On Hiatus

1. WWE Releases a Large Chunk Of Its Roster – Yeah, it’s really hard to see anything else but this at #1. And listen, I get it. WWE is a publicly-traded business; they have an obligation to deliver financially for their investors, and the pandemic has been a rough time. But there’s making cuts when the pandemic starts and there’s making cuts throughout 2021 when you’re announcing some pretty hefty profits. The kicker for me personally was their release of 18 members of the roster on the same day that they were touting a highly-successful third quarter thanks to the return of live fans. There’s a jaw-dropping level of audacity there that I just can’t properly quantify.

And more than the actual releases themselves, it was particularly disappointing how they handled the cuts. Things like Vince McMahon responding to an investor call question about talent going to AEW by saying, “perhaps we can give them some more” and then cutting over a dozen people in the following week. Or calling people up to the main roster and then releasing them literally without giving them a chance, like Hit Row. (Technically Karrion Kross was “given a chance,” but not really.) Even Vince dropping a line on Raw about how much he likes firing people during the holidays, while not as significant as other parts of this, still speaks to the message that “We will use your loss of a job as a punchline.”) I know that the wrestling industry is a business and sometimes a cutthroat one, but even by those standards this was all pretty stunning to see.

AND 411’s TOP 5 Disappointments of 2021 ARE…

5. Becky Lynch Defeating Bianca Belair in Squash Match at SummerSlam7 points

4. WWE Poorly Handles Their NXT Stars On Main Roster9 points

3. NXT 2.014 points

2. ROH Announces Hiatus19 points

1. WWE’s Talent Releases28 points