Wrestler of the Year – Bryan Danielson
Honourable Mentions – Kenny Omega (AEW), Shingo Takagi (NJPW), Roman Reigns (WWE)
Despite sitting out for half of the year, Bryan Danielson more than made up for it in the first and second thirds of the year. As Daniel Bryan, he main evented Wrestlemania for the first time since Wrestlemania XXX, as he faced both Roman Reigns and Edge in his bid to win the Universal Championship. He failed to win that match, but put on a classic performance that showed why he was one of the best wrestlers in the world.
Further matches against Roman Reigns impressed, being some of the best WWE matches of the year. He lost a career-vs-title match to Reigns on Smackdown in the end of April, and was released by WWE a week later. However, WWE were keen to extend is deal, even reportedly offering him the chance to wrestle in the G1 Climax if he re-signed with the company.
After a lot of thinking and four months out, he signed with All Elite Wrestling and made his debut at All Out 2021. Coming out as Bryan Danielson at the end of the show, he drew huge buzz from all kinds of media, as fans were excited to see Bryan Danielson kicking more heads in, something that had been lacking in his WWE run.
He didn’t wrestle for the few weeks of his AEW. Instead, he goaded Kenny Omega, then AEW Champion, to step into the ring with him for the first time since before his stint in WWE. Omega accepted, and the two faced off in one of the matches of the year at AEW Dynamite Grand Slam. It was a fantastic match, which you can read about here in depth, which ended in the pair drawing after the 30 minute time limit was expired.
He then went on an incredible run of matches to earn a shot at new AEW Champion Adam Page. He beat Dustin Rhodes, Eddie Kingston and Miro to win the AEW Eliminator tournament. Each match was incredibly different but each one as incredible. His match especially against Eddie Kingston was one of AEW’s match of the year.
He went on to have a pair of matches against Adam Page. Turning heel, he spend 60 minutes beating Page down until the pair succumbed to the 60 minute time-limit and ended up as a draw. Between then and the rematch just after the New Year, he wrestled and beat almost the entire Dark Order, with each match being won with a different submission manoeuvre.
He has not had a bad match yet in AEW, and every match he has been in has been in contention for match of the year. Because of this, I choose Bryan Danielson as my Wrestler of the Year
Tag Team of the Year – The Young Bucks
Few tag teams have ever had the run that the Young Bucks had in AEW. They won the championship at the end of 2020, and carried those Championships all the way through until September 2021. In the meantime, they had incredible matches with such a wide variety of tag teams its hard not to compare them to the greatest tag teams of all time.
One match that really impressed was the match in which they lost the Tag Team Championships. A steel cage tag team match, the first in AEW history, took place at All Out 2021. They defended, and lost their belts to the Lucha Brothers, aka Rey Fenix and Penta el Cero Miedo. The match was one of the most brutal, violent encounters in AEW history, with the highlight being the Young Bucks super kicking their opponents in the face, using a shoe filled with thumbtacks.
That was just one of the incredible matches they have had in 2021. They also had a number of fantastic matches as part of the Elite, teaming with Kenny Omega and the Good Brothers (Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows). They honed their character woke and became larger than life characters outside the ring. They improved this year over an incredible 2020 and that’s what makes them the tag team of the year.
Match of the Year – Jay White vs Kota Ibushi – IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night 2)
Honourable Mentions – Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega (AEW Dynamite Grand Slam), Bryan Danielson vs Adam Page (AEW Dynamite), WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov (NXT Takeover 36)
Whilst 2021 was still suffering from the effects of COVID-19 on crowd attendance, it didn’t stop the best wrestlers in the world from performing their craft. Whilst some of the best matches took place in front of capacity crowds, on their feet and cheering on their favourites, the match of the year took place in front of a polite and muted Tokyo Dome.
With how long 2021 felt like, it’s crazy to think that Kota Ibushi vs Jay White took place this year. The two former IWGP Heavyweight Champions did battle in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 15, night 2, with Ibushi putting his world championship on the line. These two men are two of the best in the world, so a five star classic was almost expected. However, it exceeded all expectations and made the world finally accept that Jay White is a main event star in NJPW.
Due to COVID laws in Japan, fans in the Tokyo Dome were not permitted to be as rowdy as they usually would. There was no shouting, jumping or singing allowed during the show. The fans were permitted to clap, which meant that long swathes of the match took place in complete silence, the fans taking in every move and hit the two men could inflict on each other.
If anything, the silence improved the match. Jay White did not shut up during the match, trash talking the champion constantly and cracking jokes to his manager and fellow Bullet Club member Gedo. It really made the match even more must watch, with incredible and crisp in ring activity buoyed by the irritating Jay White calling Ibushi everything under the sun whilst Gedo laughs on the outside.
Both men were perfect in this match. 48 minutes they spent in the ring, spilling blood sweat and tears in a bid to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Despite coming out of the match as the star of NJPW, Jay White suffered defeat at the hands of Kota Ibushi after a pair of Kamigoye’s. It was the best match of the year and one of the best Wrestle Kingdom matches ever.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.