D-Rock's Top 10 AEW Matches of 2021
Well, 2021 may have been a shitshow in a whole lot of other ways but it sure was an amazing time to be a wrestling fan. AEW has rekindled the passion for wrestling in so many of us not only with their ability to create amazing moments but also with some of the best wrestling the world has seen in years. Enjoy my picks for the top ten AEW matches of 2021...
10. Hikaru Shida vs. Serena Deeb -- AEW Dynamite #109 -- ★★★★¾
This could easily be Match of the Year in any other year and it's truly amazing that it's somehow only the third best women's match of the year--honestly, it's almost interchangeable with Ryo/Shida match below but the story tipped the scale just slightly. At the same time, the story here is also pretty great with Shida's quest to be the first woman in AEW with 50 wins being dramatically delayed by Deeb in their previous match followed by an attack with the trophy which led to this absolute clinic. The chemistry between these two is so incredible that I could watch them wrestle each other another fifty times without getting tired of it. Here, of course, Shida avenges her loss in the TBS title tournament and picks up her 50th win in dramatic fashion but the feud continues with another post-match attack. I really do hope these two are "destined to do this forever."
9. Hikaru Shida vs. Ryo Mizunami (AEW Women's Championship) -- AEW Revolution -- ★★★★¾
This might be the most underrated AEW match of 2021. First of all, the story they told leading up to the match and in the preceding video package were great. Ryo blazed her way through the women's world title tournament and put on some bangers along the way--her match with Nyla Rose was particularly impressive--but the big thing for me was how they laid out the history between Shida and Ryo. Namely, they talk about how Ryo was about to retire from wrestling until she wrestled at Double or Nothing 2019 which inspired her to become AEW champion. On top of that, they bring up the fact that years ago Ryo told Shida that if Shida wrestled for 100 years she would never beat her--and that disrespect bleeds right into the match itself with Ryo paintbrushing Shida and mugging and posing and seemingly not taking her very seriously. The match itself is an incredibly hard-hitting Japanese strong style battle between two phenomenal strong style wrestlers. Ryo Mizanami is so technically sound and does such a great job making Shida look like a million bucks and Shida always looks fantastic whenever she wrestles someone she can actually hit hard without fear of injuring them. The match hits a turning point when Shida disrespects Ryo in kind with some paintbrushing of her own causing Ryo to go absolutely HAM on her and for the rest of the match these two beat the absolute tar out of each other, throwing everything they've got at each other but both women just keep coming back. In the end, Shida has to throw several consecutive knockout blows at Ryo which she keeps kicking out of until she doesn't, then Nyla Rose comes out to get revenge on Ryo for her loss, Shida defends Ryo, Britt and Maki Itoh (god I miss her) come to Nyla's aid, and that brings out Thunder Rosa to set up a trios match and ultimately the unsanctioned match between Rosa and Britt.
8. Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki -- AEW Rampage #10 Buy-In -- ★★★★¾
I was privileged enough to witness this one in person and it definitely did not disappoint but I don't think I realized just how good it was until I rewatched it for this list. I can see why people complained about this match being "the same thing over and over" but to pigeonhole it in that way does it a massive disservice because all of that was in service of a very specific story that fit this matchup perfectly: two of the hands-down best strikers in the business who have made their name absolutely obliterating other dudes with forearms and kicks just straight up dropping all pretense and wailing on each other to find out who is truly the best striker. And it's not just that either, because eventually they actually start wrestling each other and that part of the match is a masterpiece unto itself. Simply magnificent.
7. The Young Bucks vs. Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston (AEW Tag Team Championships) -- AEW Double or Nothing -- ★★★★★
Sometimes the thing you remember most about a match is how it made you feel. This match was the first time Eddie Kingston had ever wrestled in front of a crowd in AEW and he instantly became a folk hero. The reaction he received from the crowd was so heartwarming and I still remember sitting in my room with Stephen yelling and screaming for Eddie in this match like it was a Heat playoff game. The match itself, like so many tag matches in AEW, especially involving the Young Bucks, was beautifully orchestrated for maximum drama and when you add in just how badly we all wanted to see Moxley and especially Kingston win the tag titles, you get something really special. The way they fight through every obstacle the Bucks throw at them culminating in Moxley kicking out at one! And that's when the Bucks finish them off which is a perfectly infuriating ending.
6. Pac vs. Andrade El Idolo -- AEW Rampage #11 -- ★★★★★
This is another one I got to see in person and this one I definitely did not need to watch twice to realize how amazing it was. Although I will say that it was actually even better the second time. These guys went absolutely bonkers on each other and tore the goddamn house down. Two of the best and somehow most underrated workers in the world doing everything so goddamn well--I will never forget that beautiful upside-down sell on the apron by Pac--you can't help but tip your cap to them. An absolute privilege to witness live and quite possibly the second best wrestling match I've ever seen live (second only to Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT Takeover Dallas).
5. Lucha Bros vs. The Young Bucks (AEW Tag Team Championships Steel Cage Match) -- AEW All Out -- ★★★★★
This is just kind of the ultimate AEW match in a lot of ways. Totally insane, over-the-top, dramatic, bloody, full of callbacks and even a great hardcore-meets-comedy moment with the spiked Nikes coming into play. Lucha Bros' entrance was exquisite, the spots were out of this world, and the Lucha Bros FINALLY got the tag title run they've so richly deserved for the better part of two years.
4. C.M. Punk vs. Eddie Kingston -- AEW Full Gear -- ★★★★★
Honestly I kinda knew this was gonna be on this list from the start when Eddie caught Punk off guard with a spinning back fist and then laughed maniacally in the middle of the ring. That image is indelibly etched in my mind but so too is the epic promo battle between the two that EASILY takes "promo of the year" honors as it felt so undeniably real and truly emotional in ways that the highly-praised Punk/MJF battle just didn't. The rest of the match was absolute classic old school wrestling which both guys are incredibly good at but the thing that sets this match apart for me is that they actually found a way to get people to BOO C.M. PUNK. I mean that's incredible. That to me is every bit as impressive as any 30/60-minute time limit draw.
3. Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega -- AEW Dynamite Grand Slam -- ★★★★★
An absolute masterclass of professional by gods wrestling by two of the unequivocal best on the planet. I've often felt Omega was a little bit overrated as someone who brings a whole shitload of workrate to the table but, in my opinion, not much else. He'd already been slowly proving me wrong little by little over the course of his time in AEW but this match was the moment when I full on admitted I was wrong and accepted the fact that he is one of the best goddamn wrestlers the world has ever seen. It definitely didn't hurt that Bryan Danielson brings out all of his best tendencies in terms of drama and pacing and ending the match with Omega locked in the LaBelle Lock as time ran out was absolutely perfect no matter what the naysayers say because it left us all wanting more.
2. Adam "Hangman" Page vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Championship -- AEW Dynamite: Winter Is Coming -- ★★★★★
Absolutely unreal. What can you even say about this? Sixty full minutes of some of the best wrestling this life has to offer on free TV--and even the commercial breaks, which many complained about, I felt were used perfectly during pauses in the match for medical attention and for the insane table spot. Yes, lots of people complained about the time limit draw but those people are philistines. This probably should be the match of the year but there's one other match that I truly felt did more with less than either of these incredible time limit draw matches...
1. Thunder Rosa vs. Britt Baker (Unsanctioned Lights Out Match) -- AEW Dynamite #77: St. Patrick's Day Slam -- ★★★★★
This is, quite simply, the best AEW women's match ever and one of the best overall AEW matches ever. Everything about it worked so beautifully. The story leading up to it was compelling and well-done--nothing fancy but it did what it needed to do to set this up and get us invested in how much these two hate each other. And that emotion is what makes this match truly special--the visceral hatred between these two is palpable in this match. I'm sure there are purists who may have felt this match was a little bit on the sloppy side but honestly this match is "sloppy" in the absolute best way possible. It's dirty and grimy and nasty and the whole thing is such an epic struggle that it makes it feel so much more real than any other more technically sound match could ever be. Not only that but both these women are so incredibly good at creating great visuals--especially Britt, whose ability to find the camera and use it to make these great moments is uncanny--and using the tools of hardcore wrestling with devastating effectiveness (Rosa using the ladder to bust Britt open is the most obvious but my favorite is Rosa getting out of the Lockjaw by rolling Britt into the thumbtacks) is what really sets this one apart and makes it so distinctly memorable. The fact that Rosa has to pin Britt with like 70% of Britt's body under the ring is such a fittingly "sloppy" conclusion to this "bowling-shoe-ugly" slugfest and just the perfect icing on the cake.
NON-AEW MATCH OF THE YEAR: Daniel Garcia vs. Wheeler Yuta -- IWTV 100 -- ★★★★★
This thing was an out-of-body experience. The pace that these two worked for a full hour, the way every time they seemed like they had to be spent they would charge ahead with yet another burst of energy that seemed to come out of nowhere, and the fact that Garcia probably should have won but the match was ruled a time limit draw even though the pin appeared to happen before time ran out, all make this my Match of the Year "1a."
The Young Bucks vs. SCU (AEW Tag Team Championships) -- AEW Dynamite #85 -- ★★★★¾
What a ride this was! The story leading up to it was simple but elegant as one of the greatest tag teams of a generation looked the twilight of their career in the face and vowed that the next time they lost, they would break up, taking them all the way to a shot at the tag titles. They also went into a lot of the personal history between SCU and the Bucks which of course adds a whole other dimension to the match. The match itself is everything you would expect from two of the best tag teams to ever step in a ring--brutal, emotional, dramatic, and full of holy shit moments. The Bucks throw everything they've got at SCU--including Good Brothers and Brandon Cutler--but SCU fights through all of it only to be cheated out of that one last tag title reign they so richly deserved. AEW really botched the post-match here, electing not to stay with the emotion of SCU breaking up and instead cutting straight to Moxley and Kingston to further their ongoing feud with the Bucks. If not for that, I might have actually rated this higher but as it is it was one of the best AEW matches of the year.
Serena Deeb vs. Red Velvet -- AEW Dynamite #86 -- ★★★★¾
One of the most underrated AEW matches of the year, Deeb and Velvet tore the house down on this one. Deeb was on a remarkable run of stellar matches and this was one of the best, with Red Velvet establishing her as one of AEW's hottest rising stars.
Serena Deeb vs. Riho -- AEW Double or Nothing -- ★★★★¾
Talk about a dream match. The only thing that could have made this better is if it was on the main card instead of the Buy-In but these ladies put on a show in front of one of the first full crowds since the pandemic started.
Bryan Danielson vs. Eddie Kingston -- AEW Rampage #12 -- ★★★★¾
This might be the most underrated match of the year. The story leading up to it was great, with Danielson leaning a bit into a more heel persona by challenging Kingston to live up to the potential he never seemed to be able to live up to and insulting Kingston in the process. Eddie Kingston has been AEW's king of old school for a while now and when you mix that up with one of the best wrestlers on the planet, the result is magical. I wish so bad I could put this in the top ten but there are just too many great matches from 2021. Still, none of us will ever forget that finish with Eddie passing out in the triangle choke giving Bryan the finger. Phenomenal stuff.
MJF vs. Darby Allin -- AEW Full Gear -- ★★★★¾
Another highly underrated match in my opinion. This thing was absolutely EPIC. These two stole the show at Full Gear in an unexpected clash of styles and personalities that saw both men throw every by gods thing they had at each other only to have MJF, the unbelievable asshole he is, pick up the win with a shot with the Dynamite Diamond Ring.