wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Eight) – The Best Matches of 2021

January 10, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
AEW Dynamite Kenny Omega Bryan Danielson

Welcome back to Part Nine 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 Matches of the year. Let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens (WWE Hell in a Cell)
4. Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan (WWE Fastlane)
3. Bianca Belair vs Sasha Banks (WrestleMania 37)
2. Finn Balor vs Pete Dunne (NXT Takeover: Vengeance Day)

1. Ilya Dragunov vs WALTER (NXT Takeover 36) – I need to keep better records of matches I love during the year than I do, and I know whatever I decide to put for #5-#2 are going to be the first four other matches I remember liking. But I couldn’t NOT throw my vote here for MotY for WALTER and Dragunov.

WALTER is a guy I’ve had limited experience with. I’ve liked what I’ve seen, but it’s been limited. Dragunov is a guy whose name I knew, but that was all. So I wasn’t highly invested in this match to start, and all they did was make me a RABID DRAGUNOV FAN by the end of this truly fantastic encounter.

Never before has one guy gone from “Oh, I hear he’s supposed to be good” to “HE GOD DAMN WELL BETTER WIN THIS MATCH” in about 7 minutes for me like Ilya because these two just made me care so damn much.

Jeffrey Harris

5. Edge vs. Seth Rollins (SummerSlam 2021)
4. The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Bros. (AEW All Out 2021)
3. Hangman Page vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Full Gear 2021)
2. Hangman Page vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Winter Is Coming 12/15/2021)

1. Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Dynamite Grand Slam – 9/22/2021) – AEW took a big gamble putting this match on free TV, but they waned to make a big splash for their debut in New York City at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The atmosphere and crowd for this event was electric. Arthur Ashe looked fantastic on TV, and Danielson and Omega delivered with what hopefully will not be the last match ever between these two.

Steve Cook

5. Thunder Rosa vs. Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D. (AEW Dynamite: St. Patrick’s Day Slam)
4. Adam Page vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Full Gear)
3. WALTER vs. Ilya Dragunov (NXT TakeOver 36)
2. Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam)

1. Bryan Danielson vs. Adam Page (AEW Dynamite: Winter Is Coming) – It was a tossup between the top two for me here, as both were absolutely tremendous and knocked my socks off. I give the nod to the Page match because it managed to hold my attention for sixty minutes, which is nearly impossible these days. Those who read my reviews know it’s hard for me to pay attention to much of anything. The funny part is I think I liked their second match even better.

Andrew Cazer

5. Matt Cardona vs. Nick Gage (GCW Homecoming)
4. Bryan Danielson vs. Adam Page (AEW Winter Is Coming)
3. WALTER vs. Ilya Dragunov (NXT TakeOver 36)
2. Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly (NXT Great American Bash)

1. CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston (AEW Full Gear) – I was at Full Gear and spent a better part of 20 minutes chanting my ass off for two of my favorite superstars in a match I couldn’t have booked myself on a wrestling simulator. This was a dream match I had never even given a second to consider. Being from New York that relationship to Kingston is hard to kick, even when he’s facing your favorite wrestler probably of all time. I cheered for both guys and was beyond satisfied with the match and the result. There may even be unfinished business there. In a random midwest, neutral territory site, Kingston had at least 40% of that crowd on his side against CM Punk, arguably the most popular active wrestler today. It was unexpected but it was awesome. Of course many wished the match could’ve gone longer but it was a fight that went 11 minutes and was full of action. I can easily see others arguing for other matches as MOTY and I can’t say i’d disagree too hard but the value this match provided me as a fan it’s easily the best match of the year for me.

Jake Chambers

5. Rampage Brown vs. A-Kid vs. Nathan Frazer (NXT UK, September)
4. Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam)
3. Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro (Wrestlemania Backlash)
2. Shingo vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW New Beginning in Nagoya)

1. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (NXT Takeover 36) – A modern blood transfusion of the head-dropping, chest-ripping, power creep wrestling of ’90s~’00s All Japan / NOAH from two guys who must have watched every marquee match from that era on a loop. This match stood out on the NXT Takeover card as much as it does on any list of great matches from 2021 because there was just nothing else like it. I only wish this had properly taken place on an NXT UK show, like their first match up, rather than an import to NXT US that features no connection to these champions or stories. Regardless of whatever brand you usually support, if you didn’t pump your fist in the air at least once during this match then you’re doing life wrong

Robert S Leighty Jr.

5. Edge vs. Seth Rollins (WWE Crown Jewel)
4. Men’s Money in The Bank Ladder Match (WWE Money in The Bank)
3. Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Grand Slam Dynamite)
2. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (NXT TakeOver 36)

1. Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan (WrestleMania 37 Night Two) – Real quick, I don’t watch AEW PPV because I don’t want to spend that much money for a show. If it wasn’t for Peacock I wouldn’t pay for WWE shows either. With that said, The Main Event at Mania gets my vote because it was an amazing match with a wonderful crowd and it was the most fun I had watching a match since the pandemic started. The surprise was how much the crowd was fully behind Edge and while Bryan being added was a late choice it gave us the wonderful story of all 3 men fighting their way back from health issues to get to that point. Just great stuff with drama and innovative spots that made he happy to be a fan.

Ian Hamilton

5. MJF vs. Darby Allin (AEW Full Gear)
4. Ethan Allen & Luke Jacobs vs. Michael Oku & Connor Mills (Rev Pro Live At (Not) The Cockpit 52)
3. Jeff Cobb vs. Shingo Takagi (Wrestle Kingdom 15)
2. Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam)

1. Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER (NXT Takeover 36) – These two have had matches all across Europe, and while it sucked that their built-up rematch ended up happening in the States and not in the UK, at least they were able to show why those of us in Europe were banging the drum for them for all these years.

Kevin Pantoja

5. Britt Baker vs. Thunder Rosa (AEW St. Patrick’s Day Slam)
4. Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks (WWE WrestleMania 37 Night One)
3. Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Grand Slam)
2. Jay White vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night Two)

1. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (NXT TakeOver 36) – As usual, I can’t say for certain if this is how the end of my Top 100 Matches will look since I haven’t completed that as of this writing. That being said, this is where I’m at off the top of my head. Two monumental women’s matches, a 30-minute draw that lived up to the hype, and the best Tokyo Dome main event I’ve ever seen. To top them all, it’s the fight between WALTER and Ilja Dragunov that felt like two dudes who would do anything to win. It’s a masterpiece of a match and just the right amount of violent. I loved every second of it.

Jeremy Thomas

5. Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks (WWE WrestleMania 37)
4. Hangman Page vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Winter Is Coming)
2. Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Grand Slam Dynamite)
2. Hangman Page vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Full Gear)

1. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (NXT Takeover 36) – It’s really hard to deny that the trio of Hangman Page, Bryan Danielson, and Kenny Omega had the best series of matches of the year. But the best single match of the year, by the slightest of margins, comes from two different men entirely. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov was my vote for the best match of 2020, and they delivered a second year of the row with their absolutely epic battle at NXT Takeover 36. Everything clicked in a match that just saw two longtime rivals beat the ever-loving snot out of each other. This was a bout that felt exactly like the big-time battle it was, and we got the title change as Dragunov put an end to WALTER’s legendary NXT UK Championship reign. I certainly don’t blame anyone for putting the trio of AEW matches that everyone loved at #1, but this one was just a hair better for me.

AND 411’s TOP 5 Matches of 2021 ARE…

T-4. Bianca Belair vs Sasha Banks (WrestleMania 37)6 points

T-4. Hangman Page vs. Kenny Omega (AEW Full Gear)9 points

3. Hangman Page vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Winter Is Coming)15 points

2. Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Grand Slam Dynamite)22 points

1. Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER (NXT Takeover 36)35 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