Biggest Winners and Losers of WWE and AEW in 2021

Anthony Mango@@ToeKneeManGoFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2021

Biggest Winners and Losers of WWE and AEW in 2021

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    Everyone has their ups and downs throughout the year, but some tend to lean a little more one way than the other.

    Even in the world of professional wrestling, talents from All Elite Wrestling and WWE just happened to have a great year, while others struggled or found themselves in some very unfortunate situations.

    For every winner in a match, there has to be a loser. Every new champion means someone else just dropped the belt.

    Looking back on 2021, here are some of the biggest winners and losers from both companies who either had plenty to smile about or couldn't manage to turn a frown upside down.

Losers: NXT Black and Gold

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    Two years ago, NXT was put on the USA Network to compete on equal footing with Raw and SmackDown at Survivor Series. This year, WWE did a 180-degree turn, tossed it all in the trash and lit it on fire.

    Vince McMahon must have looked at the Black and Gold era of NXT as a failure for not putting AEW out of business and decided extreme measures must be taken.

    Whether they were still in NXT or had been moved up to the main roster, many talents weren't safe.

    Karrion Kross went from an unstoppable champion to a loser in awful ring gear and was fired alongside Scarlett, who never got to wrestle or even be his manager on Raw one time.

    Keith Lee spent most of the year on the shelf before returning as "Bearcat," being stripped of his personality and then getting fired.

    Tegan Nox won several No. 1 contender's matches and not only didn't get her title shot but got fired without making her Raw debut.

    Johnny Gargano, gone. Kyle O'Reilly, Bobby Fish and Adam Cole, gone and in AEW.

    Hit Row formed their team, won a title, got brought up to SmackDown and were all promptly fired weeks later.

    Bronson Reed won a title and was positioned for the main roster before being let go.

    Fresh newcomers like Ari Sterling, Asher Hale, August Grey, Curt Stallion and Franky Monet were fired before properly getting their footing. Longtime staples like Tyler Breeze, Ember Moon, Bo Dallas and Alexander Wolfe were all booted out, too. The list, unfortunately, goes on and on.

    The message was basically that no matter how beloved they were by the fans, management saw them as budget cuts and failures.

    NXT was rebranded as NXT 2.0, and that team's win at WarGames was an emphatic statement that the era of Superstars like Drake Maverick who made names for themselves in other companies but didn't fit the "land of the giants" mold was over.

Winner: Bianca Belair

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    This year, Bianca Belair checked off three of the biggest and most impressive things any woman can do in WWE.

    She started 2021 by winning the Royal Rumble. That took her to WrestleMania, where she defeated Sasha Banks to win the SmackDown Women's Championship.

    It was a historic match on top of that, being the first time ever two Black women were fighting for a singles title on The Grandest Stage of Them All, and in the main event, nonetheless.

    While she eventually dropped the title in quick fashion to Becky Lynch, The EST of WWE followed that up by becoming sole survivor on her team to win her Survivor Series match for Raw.

Loser: Cody Rhodes

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    The American Nightmare's 2021 was far from a daydream, as several of his programs in AEW fell flat.

    Virtually every step of his feud with Anthony Ogogo was bad, from the terrible weigh-in segment to criticism of his American Dream promo. The match itself failed to make up for it, too.

    Throughout the year, fans started to turn on Rhodes. The more he denied he would ever turn heel, the more the crowd started to reject him.

    Teasing a retirement just to take a few weeks off didn't help. Upon returning, he wasn't met with a hero's welcome but now gets his belt thrown back when he tosses it out to the audience.

    With no big wins and several spotty storylines that weren't at all memorable, most of what Rhodes did this year was a bust. His TNT Championship win on the Christmas edition of Rampage came so late in the year that it doesn't make up for the past 12 months.

    He's too talented to let that go on for as long as it has, so here's hoping he sorts out whatever funk he's in and 2022 is closer to his 2019 and 2020 with a significant TNT title run.

Winner: Hangman Adam Page

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    For one accolade alone, "Hangman" Adam Page makes this list. That is because it's the top title he could win in AEW and something he's been striving for since the announcement of the company's existence.

    Page was in contention to win the inaugural AEW World Championship all the way back at All Out 2019.

    Since coming up short, he's wrestled with this failure, doubting himself and having lapses in his self-esteem.

    To finally reach the mountain top, dethroning his former friend Kenny Omega in the process and silencing the doubt to end the year holding the prestigious belt makes Page one of the bigger success stories from AEW in 2021.

Loser and Winner: Baron Corbin

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    Baron Corbin's 2021 was a rags to riches story that puts him in both the loser and winner column for this list.

    At the start of the year, he was still King of the Ring—a title he'd lose to Shinsuke Nakamura. That led to a series of bad investments and complete financial misery.

    King Corbin was eventually declared "Bum Ass Baron Corbin" by Pat McAfee as his appearance progressively worsened each week with stained, ratty clothes and awful facial hair as he struggled.

    Without a doubt, his character was at the lowest of the lows until he randomly hit it big in Las Vegas to earn back all his money and then some.

    This immediately turned him back into the pompous jerk he was before, now going by the moniker Happy Corbin.

    Alongside Madcap Moss, these two losers are smiling ear to ear, feeling as though they're winning in life every day.

Winner: Miro

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    When Miro joined AEW, it was a chance at a renewal for his career. Unfortunately, he immediately hit a rough patch as his Best Man gimmick alongside Kip Sabian didn't go over too well.

    This year, though, Miro ditched that and took on a new persona of The Redeemer, and things finally clicked.

    He steamrolled through the competition and captured the TNT Championship. Then, he continually sought out people to humble and was one of the most dominant champions of the year.

    While he eventually dropped the belt to Sammy Guevara, God's Favorite Champion found himself over this title reign and can now realistically challenge Page for the AEW World Championship.

Winners: The Bloodline

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    By hook or by crook, everyone who has come in contact with The Bloodline in 2021 has been smashed.

    Roman Reigns is approaching legendary status with his Universal Championship reign. His list of accolades at this point exceeds hundreds of former wrestlers combined and even puts many Hall of Famers to shame.

    The Tribal Chief dominated this year, just as he said he would, with performances such as his emphatic pin on both Edge and Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania.

    Backed up by SmackDown tag team champions The Usos, who have run roughshod over the tag division as per usual, this faction has continually asserted its position atop the totem pole.

Winners: The Elite

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    The Elite took charge this year and not only added strength to their numbers, but plenty of gold, too.

    The Young Bucks captured the AEW World Tag Team Championship, The Good Brothers joined in on the fun as Impact tag team champions and Kenny Omega held four belts at the same time, including the AEW World Championship.

    For months, they reigned supreme. Eventually, they even added several more allies to their cause in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly, who have helped pick up the slack after Omega's absence.

    No other faction in AEW came close to The Elite's success, nor the amount of television time they commanded. They were easily the biggest focal points this year and managed to put on some of the best matches in 2021 while the cameras were pointed in their directions.

Winners: RK-Bro

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    Riddle kicked off the year as United States champion, which he lost at WrestleMania. However, coming out of that, he not only regained another championship in the Raw tag team titles, but he won something even more important: true friendship with Randy Orton, of all people.

    The Original Bro pestered The Viper about becoming a team long enough that it actually worked.

    These two formed RK-Bro, which was just voted by a Twitter poll on a recent edition of SmackDown to be the best tag team currently in WWE.

    As champions, their bond has grown. They're perpetually one of the most fun acts on WWE television every week and it's done wonders for both their careers.

    Riddle looks more poised than ever to be a main event player and Orton was saved from his awful feud with Bray Wyatt, going from a dour story with no direction to something vibrant and fun with a clear objective: set it up so when they split, it hurts, and fans are on Riddle's side to get revenge on Orton.

    While everything is still going smoothly for the unlikely duo, their success in 2021 has set up what will likely be a great 2022.

Loser: Brian Cage

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    When Brian Cage joined AEW in 2020, he started off with a bang. Right out of the gate, he won the Casino Ladder Match to earn a title opportunity. There was a solid chance he would be the top champion in the company, but it wasn't his time.

    Sadly, instead of picking himself up and making 2021 the year where that manifested, quite the opposite took place.

    He's essentially done two things this entire year: lose his feud with Sting and Darby Allin, then drop the FTW Championship to Ricky Starks after leaving Team Taz. That was in July, and it took him until October to have a rematch, which he lost.

    There hasn't been any measure of revenge on his part, nor is he in any title hunt. He's spent more time lately addressing his lack of a push and how he's being underutilized than actually doing anything on television.

Winner: Damian Priest

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    Few Superstars have had the amazing win-loss record that Damian Priest has accomplished in 2021.

    Out of 60 matches, he's won 53. Those seven that he lost were all far from weak scenarios, too.

    One was a disqualification where he left both Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs on the ground. Another was a tag team match that he didn't suffer the pinfall for.

    He lost a handicap match where his two opponents still had to cheat. Priest lost a battle royal but came very close to winning.

    The Royal Rumble was a 1-in-30 shot, and his only true loss was just days into 2021 at NXT New Year's Evil, where he lost to Karrion Kross, who was still a nigh-invulnerable machine and the top priority on that brand at the time.

    Priest also captured the United States Championship at SummerSlam and has held it ever since, defending it on a regular basis.

    At WrestleMania, he was part of the high-profile celebrity match with Bad Bunny, which made him one of the most featured stars during that season.

    This has been a fantastic year for The Archer of Infamy and hopefully a sign 2022 will follow suit.

Winner: Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D.

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    Britt Baker had a breakout performance in her Lights Out match against Thunder Rosa earlier this year. She was already on an upward trend, but that kicked things into a whole new gear.

    Using that momentum, the good doctor rose the ranks to become No. 1 contender to Hikaru Shida's AEW Women's World Championship.

    Shida, who had held the title longer than anyone at that point, succumbed to Baker, who has remained the champion ever since their clash at Double or Nothing in May.

    If this success keeps up, Baker will be heading toward possibly overtaking Shida's 372 days as champion, too. She's already passed 200 days and has proved herself more than capable of hanging onto the belt.

    Most recently, CM Punk even referred to her as one of the pillars of AEW who should be spoken about instead of MJF. While that was mostly a shot at Friedman, there's also truth to it, and to be considered the fifth star in that discussion is a major win.

Winners: WWE Departures to AEW

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    WWE has never been the only professional wrestling company in business, but for many years, anyone not there was trying to get a WWE contract.

    This year in particular, though, AEW proved that it is not only an alternative but the preferred option for many former WWE Superstars.

    Christian Cage was always in Edge's shadow in WWE. He was never booked as a sustainable main event player and had to leave for TNA to level up, only to still struggle to reach the top spot. In 2021, he finally came back to action after years on the shelf, only to bet on himself and leave for AEW rather than sign with WWE. There, instead of being a part-time bit-player like he would have been in WWE, he was a top contender for months and scored one of the only pins Omega suffered this year.

    CM Punk made his return to wrestling following his departure from WWE, which effectively killed his passion for the business. Now, as part of AEW, it seems he's regained that love for professional wrestling.

    Bryan Danielson has always been a wrestler more than a sports entertainer. He could have chosen to stay in WWE, but given how much more energy he seems to have wrestling new opponents and the style he wants, it looks like signing with AEW has been a net positive for him, too.

    Mark Henry and Paul Wight were being treated as though they had nothing else to offer in WWE. They left and have found new roles for themselves in AEW.

    By and large, everyone who used to be in WWE and went to AEW looks like they're having a better time than they've had in a long while. Plenty of places can pay you for a job, but loving what you do can often mean so much more than a bigger paycheck.

Honorable Mentions for Winners

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    Thankfully, there are still many more winners to talk about, at least in short form.

    Xavier Woods realized a childhood dream by becoming King of the Ring this year. Zelina Vega also captured the inaugural Queen's Crown that very same night.

    Omos has been treated exceedingly well in 2021. He's perpetually protected, won the Raw Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania and was given a spotlight to win a battle royal at Survivor Series, all while teaming with the legendary AJ Styles.

    Tyler Bate won both the NXT UK Heritage Cup and the NXT UK Tag Team Championship titles to become the first Triple Crown champion for the brand.

    Ilja Dragunov finally slayed the dragon known as Walter to become the NXT UK champion.

    Indi Hartwell and Dexter Lumis had a successful wedding, which is extremely rare in professional wrestling.

    Bron Breakker came into NXT like a storm. His true crowning moment will be at the start of 2022 when he wins the NXT Championship at New Year's Evil, so look out for him to be on next year's list, too.

    Cameron Grimes won the Million Dollar Championship and got to work with Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase.

    Reggie went from Nia Jax's boyfriend to a weekly focal point as 24/7 champion, holding the title longer than anyone else has at this point. Dana Brooke is now the champion, and this is her first title after being with WWE for eight years.

    Tamina finally won her first major title, too, after toiling away for a decade to become tag team champion alongside Natalya.

    On the AEW side, Sammy Guevara won his first title when he dethroned Miro for the TNT Championship. The Lucha Bros finally became tag team champions and Hikaru Shida was the first woman to reach 50 wins.

Honorable Mentions for Losers

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    Rounding out this list are a few more unfortunate souls who could be added to the losers, but in many ways aren't even worth talking about because of how underwhelming their years were.

    Bray Wyatt was a total bust this year. His feud with Randy Orton was directionless, he lost at WrestleMania in an awful match and then left the company, with his gimmick being passed on to Alexa Bliss.

    Retribution amounted to a total failure. Slapjack and Mia Yim are gone from WWE; Mustafa Ali is back to the same midcard role he was in before; T-Bar has yet to regain his prominence from his NXT days as Dominik Dijakovic; and Mace hasn't really been seen since being drafted to SmackDown.

    The Hardy Family Office is an entire collection of losers. None of them achieved anything this year, and the group has never quite looked as though it's cohesive no matter what random pairings are put together.

    Baron Black takes the cake for having the worst win-loss record at 0-33, while Ryzin isn't too far behind with 0-22. If talent from AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation doesn't count, just look at Chaos Project as the worst tag team, as Luther is 3-31 and Serpentico is 5-42 records are atrocious, while Fuego Del Sol has the worst babyface record of 4-33.


    Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.


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