Ranking the 5 Best WWE and AEW PPVs of 2021
2021 was a strong year for professional wrestling with several top-notch pay-per-view events. Although the global pandemic is still affecting our everyday lives one way or another, a renewed semblance of normalcy helped to elevate great shows into something more.
Thanks in part to the return of live crowds, viewers could enjoy shows the way they were intended again. Empty arena shows filled the void for us, but let's be honest, wrestling doesn't work as well without crowd participation. It's an integral part of the performance for wrestlers and the audience.
WrestleMania welcomed the WWE Universe in April before the company left its innovative virtual fan experience, the ThunderDome, for good and went back on the road. Meanwhile, All Elite Wrestling finished up its run at Daily's Place in Jacksonville, Florida, in front of limited crowds and put on a stretch of excellent live shows.
This has been a historic and unpredictable year for both companies. Let's take a look at the five best WWE and AEW pay-per-views of 2021.
Royal Rumble 2021 was easily a standout from the events that took place in the ThunderDome. It's hard not to get excited for the most rewarding WWE pay-per-view of the calendar year, and the January show mostly delivered.
Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens' Last Man Standing match for the WWE Universal Championship and Edge's comeback story were highlights. However, the women's Royal Rumble match stole the show as Bianca Belair scored a satisfying win to punch her ticket to WrestleMania.
Money in the Bank
Money in the Bank 2021 in July was the first WWE pay-per-view held outside of Florida and the confines of the ThunderDome in Tampa over a year. As such, the Dickies Arena crowd in Fort Worth, Texas, lent unmistakable energy to an uneven card.
Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley delivered a fantastic Raw women's title match, while Big E became this year's men's Money in the Bank winner. Lastly, Roman Reigns and Edge competed in a solid main event, but the most talked-about moment afterward was John Cena making his surprise return.
Double or Nothing
Double or Nothing 2021 may not be as highly regarded as the two other AEW shows we'll talk about later. The May event also didn't provide a divisive ending like Revolution's Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch.
Nevertheless, this was an electric show as fans returned to Daily's Place to enjoy the pay-per-view. Riho and Serena put on one of the best women's matches of the year on the Buy-In. We also got our first hint of just how popular Adam Page is as he opened the show with a fun showing against Brian Cage.
The Young Bucks quietly provided one of the best matches of the night against Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston. Britt Baker ended Hikaru Shida's record-setting reign to become AEW women's world champion.
Jungle Boy outlasted Christian Cage to pick up a massive win in the Casino Battle Royale. Finally, Kenny Omega entered the arena draped in gold and successfully defended his world title against PAC and Orange Cassidy in an incredible Triple Threat match.
WrestleMania 37 was a return to form for WWE in many ways.
On April 10, The Showcase of the Immortals made its triumphant return to Raymond James Stadium, the venue where the event was supposed to take place in 2020. It was a truly cathartic experience to watch Vince McMahon and the WWE roster open the iconic show in front of a live crowd in Tampa after the uncertainty COVID-19 caused last year.
The two-night event had its flaws, but there were enough memorable moments and impressive matches to leave a lasting impression. For better or worse, it will go down as one of the most historic WWE pay-per-views of the year as two Black women competed in the main event for the first time ever.
For those reasons, Night 1 was the better show. The second day had its strong points, but not much was quite as good as Cesaro vs. Seth Rollins or Bianca vs. Sasha Banks. Bad Bunny also turned some heads in his in-ring debut—complete with a show-stopping entrance.
Roman Reigns' successful universal title defense against Edge and Daniel Bryan was undoubtedly the highlight of Night 2.
WWE Crown Jewel
WWE's shows in Saudi Arabia are a tough subject for most fans. Many of the other events that have taken place in the country have been a bit of a disaster.
It's also hard to look past the company's problematic partnership with the General Sports Authority in support of Saudi Vision 2030. For some viewers, the implications behind it will always stop them from truly enjoying these shows.
Admittedly, Crown Jewel was possibly WWE's best pay-per-view of 2021. Now, we aren't asking anyone to ignore the nature of the 10-year deal with the General Sports Authority because that's precisely what "sportswashing" hopes to achieve. However, Crown Jewel made this list because we're seeking to be as objective as possible.
The event opened with a match-of-the-year candidate as Edge and Seth Rollins concluded their trilogy of bouts in the most inventive Hell in a Cell match in some time. Mansoor vs. Mustafa Ali and Bobby Lashley vs. Goldberg were both a pleasant surprise.
Later, Xavier Woods was part of the feel-good moment of the event as he defeated Finn Balor to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming King of the Ring. Lastly, Bianca Belair, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks contributed a phenomenal SmackDown women's title match to cap off an eventful night.
AEW Full Gear
AEW Full Gear in November was a show summarized by its peaks and valleys. The high notes were superb, but the few low points were abysmal.
The opening encounter between MJF and Darby Allin set the bar so high as a logical pick for the match of the night. The Lucha Brothers tag title defense against FTR and then Bryan Danielson's hard-hitting exchange with Miro kept the momentum going, but the event came to a screeching halt midway.
The Minneapolis Street Fight and the tag match featuring Cody and PAC vs. Malakai Black and Andrade El Idolo felt like unnecessary additions to a robust card. Nevertheless, CM Punk and Eddie Kingston helped get the show back on track with a fantastic showcase of pro wrestling storytelling.
Thankfully, AEW managed to end the night right with an exceptional main event and a definitive end to Hangman Adam Page's journey to win its world championship. It was a perfect conclusion to a story two years in the making and a fitting end to the company's last pay-per-view of the year.
NXT TakeOver: Stand and Deliver
NXT TakeOver 36 marked the end of an era for the black-and-gold brand as its final titular pay-per-view.
The August show hosted a certified banger in WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov, but Stand and Deliver was a better all-around showcase of what made NXT so special at its peak. The two-night event was the pinnacle of the developmental brand's last run before its current rebrand to NXT 2.0.
Night 1 offered amazing matches like KUSHIDA vs. Pete Dunne and then WALTER vs. Tommaso Ciampa. Additionally, MSK defeated The Grizzled Young Veterans and Legado Del Fantasma to secure the vacant NXT tag titles in a tremendous Triple Threat match.
On the second night, Karrion Kross regained the NXT Championship following a standout encounter with Finn Balor.
However, the centerpiece of the show was Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly's 40-minute unsanctioned match. Their bitter rivalry finally came to a head as O'Reilly defeated his longtime friend and former stablemate on one of the highlights of WrestleMania weekend.
AEW All Out
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. AEW All Out was hands-down the best pay-per-view of the year.
AEW put together an absolutely stacked card in September that delivered on everything it advertised and so much more. Miro and Eddie Kingston opened to a hot crowd in the Now Arena in Illinois and produced a surprisingly thrilling match that could've gone either way.
Then, Mox took on Satoshi Kojima before Minoru Suzuki entered the arena and received a warm welcome as the fans loudly sang "Kaze Ni Nare." It was the first—and the most legitimate—surprise appearance of the night.
It's fair to say that the snarky crowd was expecting Bryan Danielson and possibly another big name, but Suzuki stunned most of the audience. His brief brawl with Moxley set the tone for the rest of the night.
It may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but there wasn't a single bad match on this card. QT Marshall vs. Paul Wight didn't light the world on fire, but it served as a proper cooldown following CM Punk's first match in seven years in his hometown.
Britt Baker and Kris Statlander had excellent chemistry. The Lucha Brothers had the best entrance of the night and put together an all-time great cage match with The Young Bucks. Ruby Soho received a huge pop as the Joker in the women's Casino Battle Royale.
This was all before The Second City Saint made his way to the ring and proved he hadn't missed a beat in a hard-fought match with Darby Allin. It was a near-perfect night of wrestling, and Danielson and Adam Cole's debut was the icing on the cake.