Updated: Jan 29, 2022
Welcome to the list of top ten AEW matches from 2021, as voted for by a selection of wrestling commentators and AEW fans. Each voter submitted their top 10 list and these are the results along with comments from myself, Gareth, and others who contributed in the voting process. As well as some statistical analysis, as is our specialty here on Pro Wrestling Musings.
10: Kenny Omega (c) vs. Rey Fenix (New Year’s Smash) – 90 points.
This was arguably the perfect TV wrestling match. It wasn’t too long and it packed so much in with various mind-blowing sequences throughout. The level of creativity in this match was exactly what you’d expect from two of the most creative geniuses in wrestling. And yet, you never knew what was coming next.
It was interesting to see Rey Fenix get more of the offence in this, Kenny Omega’s first title defence as a heel champion. Omega, however, had more of the meaningful offence dominating Fenix with strikedowns and grapples as Fenix danced and dived around to avoid Kenny’s offence.
The number of reversals in this match really tell the story of why this match was so exciting and the creativity involved in those reversals made it what it was.
@Caro_Taro from Wrestle Inn said; “Kenny Omega nailed his performance and showed everyone why he deserves to be the Belt Collector of wrestling. Rey Fenix is one of my favourite wrestlers and he more than proves his worth in this, a standout match.”
“An athletic showcase between two of the best in-ring athletes of all time.” - @GoodVsBadGuys.
“Kenny’s first title defence and he had the perfect dance partner.” - @CammyIbuki.
“Omega’s chemistry with Fenix is plain to see with so many transitions performed sublimely.” - @PeterEdge7.
10: Young Bucks (c) vs. Eddie Kingston & Jon Moxley (Double or Nothing) – 90 points.
This was the perfect match to have on the first show with a full crowd in over a year. The detestable Bucks juxtaposed with the two guys, in Eddie and Mox, you love more than anyone.
A classic and simple babyface vs. heel story told masterfully. Eddie’s selling proved he’s on the level as the others in this match as a performer. It was Eddie who really held it together and his hot tag might be the highlight of this match.
The match was very even despite a slight advantage for the Bucks who did control the pace of most of this match with submissions and strikes. Eddie and Mox fought back with explosive offence, however. Utilising strikedowns and grapples after reversing the Bucks’ attacks.
The difference, ultimately, was those devastating BTE Triggers at the end of the match which was the only thing that could take Mox out.
@Sir_Sam from the AEW Match Guide Podcast said; “I have never seen a match more perfectly juxtapose the overwhelming power of a top singles stars with the importance of teamwork in tag wrestling.”
“The worst guys you know vs. the absolute lads, rolling into Daily's Place with the best ring entrance of the year for a raucous fight that felt equal parts wild brawl and traditionally styled tag. Great fire and selling from the faces, rampant bastardry from the Bucks. This was the moment wrestling finally came in from the cold following 15 months of empty arena misery.” - @andyhmurray.
“These two teams could hardly be more different, but the clash of styles made this match unbelievably compelling.” - @sherantsmtl.
9: Eddie Kingston vs. Bryan Danielson (Rampage) – 93 points.
This match really felt like the making of Eddie Kingston as a top-level contender in AEW, despite losing. Eddie stood toe-to-toe with Bryan Danielson, and the stats show this.
When it comes to meaningful offence Eddie delivered more. But he just found himself locked in a hold he could escape, and that was the difference here. Despite losing, Eddie looked like a killer in defeat.
This match is so hard to put into words. @AndyHMurray from WhatCulture does a much better job than I could, so I’m just going to repeat what he wrote; “A flawless wrestling match. Danielson was the perfect opponent for Eddie as he possesses traits Kingston will never develop.
Bryan is clean, surgical, domineering. He knows counters to your counters to his counters. Kingston doesn't - but he's a defiant, never-say-die, gut-it-out motherf*cker and its impossible root against him, particularly when stood opposite such a pure wrestling machine.
No spot went harder than Kingston flipping a middle finger while passing out in Danielson's triangle choke this year. A phenomenal conclusion to the closest AEW has come to producing a classic King's Road war.”
“I think this match will become one I show people who want to get into wrestling.” - @Sir_Sam.
8: Minoru Suzuki vs. Bryan Danielson (Rampage Buy-In) – 105 points.
This was a match any New Japan fan has seen a hundred times, but in the best way.
And yet, it was only the second time we’d seen this match. The first since 2004. And it was happening in an AEW ring on a YouTube buy-in. Everything about it was so familiar and yet so strange at the same time.
The crowd in the arena bought into it perfectly and their lust for violence and the talent did not disappoint.
The stats for this one really does not tell the story. It was less about what these men could do and more about what they could stand to take. That’s what ultimately decided this match.
@AndyHMurray from WhatCulture said; “This felt mythical. Almost dreamlike in its atmosphere, it was pure gladiatorial combat - and theatrical without being gaudy. Two master craftsmen who commanded the room and both felt ten feet tall, never doing too much, knowing that in this setting, it was more important to do the little things right than overindulge.”
“A dream match that over delivered.” - @mannyboy3298.
“Phwoar. Get in there, my son.” - @TheDamnImpicat.
“A tough, hard-hitting match. It perfectly shows off Bryan Danielson's versatility in the ring against a veteran in Suzuki.” - @Caro_Taro.
7: CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston (Full Gear) – 126 points.
If Eddie vs Bryan was the making of Eddie as a top guy in AEW, this was where Punk really stood up to the plate and, in doing so, he had to tap into that darker side of himself.
Eddie took Punk to places he’d not been in AEW as of yet, and that alone was enough to put Eddie over in this match. Punk tapped into what he knew and that is what got him through this match, even if that was things he’d learned in another place from a certain former rival. Punk used everything he said Eddie doesn’t have. He used his smarts, whilst Eddie used what he always uses. His heart and his anger.
@Sir_Sam from the AEW Match Guide Podcast said; “The moment CM Punk had to get out of the kiddie pool and become the man he once was. The authenticity of these two men's dislike for one another was something else and it so incredibly showcased two flawed heroes going at each other with the gloves off.”
“Incredible atmosphere. One of the best of the year in that regard. A masterclass in how to take backstage chitter-chatter from over a decade ago and build a money-spinning PPV match in under a fortnight from two of the realest, most believable guys to ever do it. Eddie Kingston turned the building against CM PUNK. Come on.” - @andyhmurray.
6: MJF vs. Darby Allin (Full Gear) – 165 points.
This was an excellent way to elevate two young guys to solidify them both as legitimate stars without relying on a readymade main event talent. This took the idea of the pillars, established them and then proved why that moniker had been given to them.
This match was built around quick, technical wrestling combined with big spots which were built to perfectly throughout the structure of the match. The fast-paced action is shown in the volume of reversals in this match, averaging almost 3 reversals per minute, along with various exchanges of quick pinning combinations.
MJF dominated the match with big offence, but Darby’s quickness and volume of strikes and reversals kept him in this match, forcing MJF’s hand to cheat.
@NKpreach from the Wresthings podcast said; "MJF and Darby are two of the biggest 'home grown stars' in AEW and arguably the two most promising of the 'four pillars'. MJF’s in ring skill can often be overlooked due to how entertaining he is as an on screen character.
However, in this match MJF’s skill as a wrestler is on full display. There are some excellent sequences between him and Darby throughout. This match captures the essence of both characters and tells a great story. It will be remembered in years to come and something that will be referenced and called back to in the future."
“Now that the Four Pillars are canon, any match between them is going to be subject to intense scrutiny. This one still managed to over-deliver. MJF is the most loathsome heel in the world and Darby actually seems more impressive when he loses.” - @sherantsmtl.
5: Kenny Omega (c) vs. ‘Hangman’ Adam Page (Full Gear) – 190 points.
This match was the culmination of a near 3-year character arc for Hangman and whilst many people expected an epic, the likes of which Kenny made his name in, what was more needed for the story was exactly what we got.
A competitive match, but one where Hangman was clearly the better man.
The stats show this to be true. Whilst Omega had the slight advantage with overall match offence, Hangman had the majority of the big offence.
It was even enough but Hangman was always coming out on top. Perhaps if there was slightly more doubt about the result, the drama, which was expertly crafted, would have resonated better with more people.
@GoodVsBadGuys from Pro Wrestling Musings said; “There has been no better story told in wrestling during this century than Hangman Page & The Elite. This was a really good in-ring match that paid off the best and longest story in wrestling and that deserves acclaim.”
“The culmination of a 2-year storyline. Hangman finally realising he’s enough and deserves the gold was beautiful to see. The added touch of The Bucks promising they won’t interfere which at this point Kenny doesn’t know, has just set up years of more Elite drama. Just brilliant stuff.” - @CammyIbuki.
4: Britt Baker vs. Thunder Rosa (St. Patrick’s Day Slam) – 214 points.
This match had a very hit-and-miss build. Oftentimes completely neglected on Dynamite in the months it took to build. That, combined with the focus on name-calling and mindless brawling, nobody could have expected what was to come.
And what came is a true milestone moment in North American women’s wrestling. But not only that, a fantastic hardcore wrestling match which Mick Foley even gave the thumbs up too.
It was a chaotic match in which Britt Baker marginally dominated with 57% of the match offence. And it was Baker who will be remembered most from this because, despite losing, it was she who was made a star from this match.
@PeterEdge7 gave this as his match of the year and said; “Was it the best technically? Probably not but it’s my favourite match in AEW this year. With its intensity coupled with the shock and awe of Baker's blood loss, it showed the women's division can compete with the other divisions in AEW.”
“The incredible, bloody visuals will ensure this is remembered as a classic match... A blistering, violent, chaotic war befitting a rivalry that burned brightly in short, heated angles. It felt like one of the most hateful things AEW produced all year.” - @andyhmurray.
“A very good match but is just as much a moment in time that serves a marker for how big and important women's wrestling in AEW can feel.” - @Sir_Sam.
“A defining moment for both AEW and wrestling as a whole as AEW's women put on a display of violence only previously reserved for the men.” - @TheDamnImpicat.
3: ‘Hangman’ Adam Page (c) vs. Bryan Danielson (Winter is Coming) – 322 points.
At the time, I was personally disappointed, as many were, at the result of this match. But that is only because they were 3 seconds away from the perfect match for Hangman. A draw wasn’t the wrong result, but this match would have been perfect with a conclusive finish. However, having seen the rematch I would say that the draw was the right result.
Bryan was extremely dominant, as we can see from the stats. Having 66% of match offence and enacting 50 counts of big offence, to Hangman’s 33. Bryan also spent 8% of this match locking Hangman in submissions. All of this combined allowed Hangman to sell expertly throughout, and garner incredible sympathy.
Despite throwing almost 100 fewer strikes than Danielson, Hangman managed more strikedowns and double the grapples of Bryan. When Hangman did get offence in, he made it count.
@AndyHMurray said: “If there's any justice in the world, this match will be the making of Hangman Page. An incredible story, as Page grew in confidence and held his composure, cutting off his world-class opponent's shortening control periods with increased assertiveness, proving himself worthy of Best in the World consideration. Phenomenal selling on his behalf.
Danielson, meanwhile, was an incredible dickhead ring general whose confidence came close to shattering towards the end. Round two could be even better.” (And it was).
“Having two men fight for 60 minutes on television and end up with no winner sounds and maybe is crazy but this was just amazing on every level- the skill displayed, the story being told, everything came together perfectly.” - @sherantsmtl.
2: Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (Grand Slam) – 444 points.
At their biggest ever show, AEW put on their biggest ever match. A true dream match for this generation of wrestlers. I wrote a detailed analysis of the story and stats for this match here on Pro Wrestling Musings, if you wish to read it.
As fantastic as this match was, you couldn’t help but feel that the two men left most of what they had to give in the bank. A 30-minute time limit was simply too little and whenever Kenny Omega is ready to return, this will be top of many people’s lists for him to wrestle.
Bryan Danielson dominated a lot of this match, but Omega managed to get a sustained period of offence after delivering one of the meanest snap-dragon suplexes I’ve ever seen. I was fully worked into thinking Bryan had re-injured his neck for a few minutes.
It was those hard-hitting moments from Omega which kept him in this match. Too much taunting cost Omega, however, and he was unable to capitalise on his advantage. This match was a perfect example of cause-and-effect in pro-wrestling match structure. A clinic in match psychology and storytelling.
@Caro_Taro said; “A once-in-a-generation TV match that only happened because of the perfect alignment-of-the-stars. It's a love letter to the 2010s -- the technical creative renaissance that professional wrestling has experienced in the last decade.
While Danielson continued to make a name for himself in the WWE, Kenny Omega dominated New Japan Pro Wrestling. with both men being the brightest stars of their time. Their two paths finally collided and gave us the best wrestling match of the year, and arguably the best AEW match of all time.”
“Omega hadn't wrestled like this since New Japan. That isn't to dismiss his acclaimed AEW work, but to acknowledge the beast in him. He was an animal here, throwing his entire body into every spot, bringing his A+ when his body was barely holding itself together. Danielson was Danielson, that is to say, one of the greatest, most thoughtful wrestlers of all time.” - @andyhmurray.
“The biggest thing that sets professional wrestling apart from straight sport is the ability to incorporate storytelling into the action. Both men had matches against Bryan Danielson that were arguably better from a technical point of view, but this is the one that ties in all the elements of what makes wrestling uniquely enjoyable.
An exceptionally well-executed bout capping off a story arc that started when AEW started, ending in a moment of pure euphoria. Only wrestling could do this.” - @sherantsmtl.
“What an introduction! To make a statement the way Danielson did in New York is historically significant; just wait until Omega is healed up.” - @AEWMetrics.
1: Young Bucks (c) vs. Lucha Brothers (All Out) – 445 points.
And coming in at number one we have… The Young Bucks vs. the Lucha Brothers at All Out.
Two years after their genre-defining tag team ladder match, AEW decided to put these two teams in a Steel Cage, and what a decision that way.
It was crazy. How they managed to pack so much action in with so much emotion I will never know. True geniuses. For my money, this is the best steel cage match of all time and one of the best tornado tag team matches ever.
It feels pointless to talk about the stats because this really is a “you need to see it to believe it” kind of match. But to summarise, it was a very even match where it seemed neither team could possibly die.
My favourite moment was Penta pushing his brother Fenix out of the way of a superkick and eating it himself. A beautiful moment of characterisation from the two men in AEW who rarely display much character beyond their wrestling styles.
@Sir_Sam said; “I will forever have the image of Penta's torn up, bloody mask smiling to his little girl in the crowd burned into my mind. The perfect ending to an incredible title reign from the Bucks.”
“The popcorn match of the year. Memorable spots and daring stunts, but with far, far too much animosity to make those thrills feel cheap. If your heart wasn't in your mouth for the duration of this, you might be the Tin Man.” - @andyhmurray.
“To paraphrase a certain WhatCulture presenter, Was this the best steel cage match EVER?” - @chunkyboyjames.
“This was like a smorgasbord of all the wonderful craziness wrestling has to offer: a crazy stipulation, splashy presentation, unreal athleticism, gore, and a genuinely emotional climax.” - @sherantsmtl.
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