Hello and welcome to the AEW End of Year Awards for 2021 as voted for by Pro Wrestling Musings' contributors. A reminder that these awards are specifically for All Elite Wrestling as a company, hence nothing from any other wrestling company is in this article.
Wrestling Act of the Year (Kenny Omega).
[@Gareth_EW] Wrestling Act of the Year is the most prestigious award going, this is essentially AEW's MVP for the year and includes men's, tag team and women's performers in the running.
Our winner is Kenny Omega and I will let Jae go into why that is below in the next award, also won by Omega. But simply put Kenny was the heartbeat of AEW this year, wrestling a world championship match at all of AEW's PPVs, having some of the best matches, coming into his own as a great TV character and telling arguably the greatest story wrestling has ever seen. Whether you agree that it is, there's no doubt that Hangman and Omega's rivalry is in the conversation.
Not to mention Kenny did all of this whilst wrestling injured and with vertigo. As much as his quality didn't hit the peaks he reached in New Japan, it is perhaps a bigger achievement considering the context in which he was wrestling.
Men's Wrestler of the Year (Kenny Omega).
[@jaefinley13] Is a person wrestler of the year because they are in multiple classic matches or main events? Or because they win several titles across the world? Or maybe it's their character's arc over a given year? Or perhaps the wrestler of the year is the person who is MVP of their promotion, putting over other talents and making the industry a little better? Truth be told, these are all fair criteria. This year, there's no need to debate which criteria should guide us since one wrestler excelled under all of them: Kenny Omega.
Kenny Omega held the AEW, AAA, and Impact World Championships for most of 2021, main-eventing multiple pay-per-views and television episodes. Omega earned five stars or more on the Meltzer Scale in matches against Rey Fenix in January, Bryan Danielson in September, and Hangman Page in December. Along the way, he elevated Jungle Boy and Dante Martin, reminded the world that Christian Cage is top-tier, and he danced a beautiful storyline with Hangman Page that reminded the wrestling world to dream big and expect more.
2021 was better, and professional wrestling is better, because of Kenny Omega.
Women's Wrestler of the Year (Serena Deeb).
[@Gareth_EW] First of all, it is an indictment of AEW that the woman PWM has voted as wrestler of the year has wrestled six matches on TV and one on a PPV buy-in in 2021. Let us not forget that. Serena Deeb has been criminally underutilised this year.
But that only strengthens her argument when it comes to nominating her for this award. Her quality has been so high, and so consistently high, that she's managed to put herself in this conversation.
Don't get me wrong, I can certainly see the argument for others. Thunder Rosa and Britt Baker had great years. But that consistency wasn't there with Baker and Rosa was as underutilised as Serena Deeb on TV and PPV.
Deeb started the year still holding the NWA Women's World Championship which she defended in matches against Tay Conti, Red Velvet and Riho. Serena seriously helped get Conti and Velvet over whilst helping their development also in those matches. Then that match with Riho was one of the best in the women's division all year.
After dropping the title to Kamille in NWA, Deeb took time off to recovery from an injury. Upon returning she had a fantastic trilogy with Hikaru Shida which really was the shining light in the last quarter for AEW's women. Each match was fantastic and it allowed Serena Deeb to enact her heel turn, which has taken her to the next level as a character.
Serena Deeb proved her worth in 2021. Whether she holds a championship or not, she needs to be better utilised in 2022.
Tag Team of the Year (Young Bucks).
[@GoodVsBadGuys] Between Matt’s excellent selling and Nick’s hot-tag sequences and babyface fire, the Bucks are a really fun team to support as babyfaces, which is what they were for the first 3 months of 2021. They wrestled one of my favourite matches as good guys against MJF & Jericho.
From April onward, as heels, solidified by their vile treatment of SCU in an emotional feud. They really took off and reached another level. While they cut back on their move set from their lofty standard, most fans wouldn’t notice, and they still have a ton of tools to play with. Their nasty edge helps tell stories and create moments for righteous revenge for babyfaces.
The Bucks were able to elevate MJF and Eddie Kingston in the Spring, Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus in the Summer, then create a huge moment and push for the Lucha Bros with their epic clash at All Out to kick off the fall. They took the Winter to focus on their Trios work with Adam Cole where they further elevated Jungle Boy, but still had a large enough body of work as a tag team to warrant team of the year honours.
When you talk about money matches on Pay-Per-View, Matt & Nick give you more bang for your buck, with their three tag title matches on PPV averaging a 4.583 from me, 4.23 from GRAPPL, and 4.916 from Meltzer. Those numbers, their merch numbers, their ratings numbers, and their performances, are ALL ELITE, creating basis for the argument that the Young Bucks are not the best team in AEW in 2021, but the best team in the history of professional wrestling.
Match of the Year (Lucha Bros vs Young Bucks).
[@CraigPWMusings] The Young Bucks are always divisive but for me and many others they are maturing into an incredibly special act. In fact, they were my vote for Act of the Year and to give a peak behind the curtain, they only just missed out to Kenny Omega. So why did this match end up number one?
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Dave Meltzer gave this match 5.75 stars, GRAPPL users gave it 4.8 and CAGEMATCH users gave it 9.5/10. It is the highest rated match (in AEW or outside) on GRAPPL, the 5th highest on CAGEMATCH and the 2nd highest by Dave Meltzer in 2021.
For me, the statistics really tell the story. This match was a 20-minute festival of carefully constructed wrestling chaos that didn’t even come close to over-staying it’s welcome. I like fast paced and impactful action in my wrestling and this one with almost 60 Reversals and almost 30 Grapples certainly delivered.
However, with the men in the ring you may expect this match to ‘spam’ big spots and no-sell. When we consider the minute-by-minute, this match followed a classic hot babyface start, heel heat midsection and babyface comeback structure with periods of ultramodern exchanges throughout. To that end, the Fenix dive at the end of the match was so impactful because the two teams built the match to crescendo there, rather than just pack in moves unthinkingly.
This match was a true joy to watch and an incredible achievement for the Bucks as they reached the heights of Revolution 2020 again without Kenny Omega. A high 4.5 stars from me.
Storyline of the Year (Hangman's Journey).
[@TrishSpeirs48] Perhaps the most important part of wrestling is the ability to make you feel. Whether it be joy, despair, hope, anger or elation, it’s an element that very few forms of entertainment can provide quite as well. And with that said, nothing else this year invoked as many of these emotions as the culmination of an almost three-year journey for "Hangman" Adam Page.
Page’s journey in the first part of the year focused on overcoming his fears and self-doubt. He finally accepted new friends into his life whilst rebuilding his confidence alongside his win record just as former tag partner Kenny Omega used increasingly nefarious methods to keep hold of his title. By the time the two men had their first face to face meeting at Miami’s “Road Rager” event on July 7th the atmosphere was electric.
The program between the two was presented across multiple platforms, incorporating years of history and has been a critical and commercial success for both the company and its new homemade champion. It has created in the “Anxious Millennial Cowboy '' a smart babyface who is likeable, confident and most importantly authentic whilst providing moments of comedy and fun alongside serious tension.
Full Gear felt like the ultimate payoff, a catharsis for those who endure similar struggles in their daily lives and perhaps one of the most feel-good moments in wrestling in decades. The emotional resonance of the story’s conclusion, steeped in the drama and history that preceded it, is that in “Hangman” Adam Page AEW has created their first World Champion who feels like he is “ours”. He is a representation of our failures and our insecurities, our day-to-day battles to find a place in this ever-changing world and with his victory; a celebration of our triumphs as well.
Promo of the Year (Eddie Kingston vs CM Punk).
[@PeterEdge7] In the 8:18 video posted on YouTube by AEW, it asks in the headline if the truth was too much for CM Punk when Kingston put him on blast. The truth that is in Eddie Kingston’s mind is what makes this segment one for the ages.
Based around the demand from Punk for Eddie to apologise for interrupting him when talking about his love of Halloween after Kingston’s heart-breaking loss to Bryan Danielson in the semis of the Eliminator Tournament, Kingston proceeds to tell his truth.
Eddie tells the story of when Punk chewed him, and his tag partner Blackjack Marciano, out at an IWA: Mid-South event calling them fat, lazy and unsafe after Marciano had accidentally injured Delirious in a match. Kingston is everything at this moment that we love about him. He’s an open book, talking about getting into wrestling to get away from his “mental crap” and it’s obvious that that night Punk, who Eddie says he idolised, broke his heart when he buried him in front of his peers. In fact, it is Eddie who wants an apology from Punk.
Punk doesn’t apologise. In fact, he tells his truth. Punk says what he said that night was because he and his peers saw potential in Eddie and again Punk hurts Kingston, calling him a “bum”. Punk is looking for Eddie to be physical first, to convince the audience that he’s not the bad guy in this. Eddie tells Punk that no-one wants him here. Is that the truth or is Eddie telling himself that to help himself at that moment?
Punk once again goes low, answering Eddie’s challenge for Full Gear by telling him that Dark is more his level and this time his antagonism works. Eddie says “fight me” 8 times looking unhinged. Punk is almost trying to calm Eddie down when he touches him on the chest. The electricity from the fans isn’t the reason Punk accepts, despite Punk’s gestures. Those Dark comments were just posturing but as Punk tells his Full Gear opponent that he’ll see him on the 13th before Eddie gets one last shot in.
“...do me a favour, quit again, leave for 7 years and don’t...”
That is the wound to the pride of Punk, the rankle to the now happy, content and emotionally baggage free CM Punk. The events of January 2014 are the one thing that Eddie can hold over the man he loathes and refuses to forgive, and he uses it to crack Punk.
The headbutt Punk gives Kingston sets off a pull-apart brawl. Eddie looks like a man who is having an out of body experience maybe because he actually was. Eddie would lose on the 13th but on the 5th, Eddie got to rid his emotional baggage.
In a very competitive field this segment was a majority pick for the winner. The authenticity from Eddie, the first time we see cracks in the “new CM Punk” make this the must-watch segment of the year and the rightful winner of Promo of the Year.
Most Improved (Tay Conti).
[@AndyDCollier] AEW has been a place for younger wrestlers to grow and develop throughout 2021. There are plenty of examples of this - Dante Martin, The Acclaimed, Daniel Garcia, Lee Moriarty, Wardlow, HOOK, Lee Johnson to name a few. But the award for most improved in 2021 goes to Tay Conti.
Tay's first Dynamite match of the year was for the NWA championship against Serena Deeb. Conti showed promise but also that she wasn't ready for a main event spot. In contrast, the match with Britt Baker for the AEW championship at Full Gear showed her as an equal to the champion in ring.
Whilst Dark and Elevation can be long and sometime dull shows due to mostly being enhancement matches, you can easily see how having televised matches in front of a live crowd has helped these younger performers to develop. Tay has the most wins of anyone in AEW during 2021 (46) and most of these came on Dark or Elevation, which is a testament to how important these overlooked shows are.
Conti has been wrestling since 2017 so is now coming up to her 5-year anniversary in the sport and has never looked more confident. She has a variety of moves, understands how to sell and has developed a personality that crowds can get behind. After seeing her final match of the year on Rampage, it is clear she has grown tremendously as a performer throughout the year.
What's next? Well, she should definitely be in line for a TBS title opportunity somewhere down the line, perhaps another AEW championship match too. And if AEW introduce Women's Tag Titles then her and Anna Jay would be hot favourites for being the first champions.
Best New Signing (Bryan Danielson).
[@ProWrestlingJoe] There were a lot of signings this year and I think most fans would agree that the majority of them were strong additions to the roster. Even so, with great competition for this award, I didn’t really hesitate to give my vote to Bryan Danielson. You could argue that someone like Adam Cole will have a more lasting impact on the company in terms of longevity, or that Malakai Black brought something completely unique to AEW that no one else could offer, but when you just take into consideration what the new signings have done so far, there’s only one answer for me.
Not only has he gone from strength to strengths in the ring for AEW as we all assumed he would be, from his first match with Kenny Omega to his last match as of the moment I’m writing this, going the full hour with Hangman Adam Page, it’s his character work and how easily he has filled the roles that AEW have needed him to fill for their stories that honestly can be seen as what his greatest contribution has been so far. I suppose why he’s the best new signing can be summed up in one sentence, he’s the best wrestler on the planet currently, no one is doing the character work, the promo work and the in-ring work like Bryan has since coming to AEW. And the best part, we’re guaranteed at least three years of this version of The American Dragon.
One to watch in 2022 (Hook).
[@TheOneBuzzard] In 2021, HOOK was sent and 2022 looks to be a great year for him.
Starting as just a brief mention in Cody’s promo battle with Taz in late 2020, HOOK became a prominent member of Team Taz where he was mostly used in post-match beatdowns. Seeing him judo throw the likes of Orange Cassidy and Jungle Boy shows that there was an amount of trust put into this 22-year-old. After that, and the iconic “Send HOOK” line from CM Punk, turned him into a cult favourite.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding HOOK and when his debut against Fuego del Sol on Rampage was announced people were both excited and intrigued.
Coming down the aisle to the awesome theme by Action Bronson with a great air of confidence and a general coolness, the son of Taz showed that he has the charisma of a star, without saying a single word.
In the ring, HOOK looked like he’s been doing this for 5 years at least. Crisp throws, smooth reversals and impactful suplexes combined with his great facial expressions, HOOK looked awesome.
As much fun as it was seeing him throw Fuego around, it was much more impactful when he did it to Bear Bronson in his second match. The crowd ate it all up leading to the huge pop when HOOK stood right up after being hit with a Sit-out piledriver.
2022 looks to be the beginning of a great run for the young wrestler. Feuds with Dante Martin and Lio Rush are basically set, and I think a match between Martin and HOOK on PPV, no matter the winner, would elevate both, like when MJF vs Jungle Boy from DoN 2020.
I think the final steppingstone for him should, and probably will, be CM Punk. A match between the two is needed at some point, one that should solidify HOOK as a valuable wrestler for AEW’s future.
I expect him to have a route like MJF had when AEW started, wrestle rarely but in important matches, as well as tagging with fellow Team Taz members. Perhaps for those 6-man titles that I hope arrive in the next year. As far as titles go, there is a strong chance he will wrestle for the TNT title in 2022 but he is still some way off the AEW World Championship.
HOOK’s 2022 looks to make him the next big young star of AEW and to value him as a great wrestler from a young age. I think he will thrive a lot against established stars and help him achieve that megastar potential that we all know he has.