The WWE and AEW Stories and Moments I'll Remember the Most from 2021December 26, 2021
The WWE and AEW Stories and Moments I'll Remember the Most from 2021
2021 will be a year for professional wrestling enthusiasts to remember. The past 12 months were often surreal and sometimes outright bizarre, but it's truly a great time to be a fan.
Honestly, the entire industry has given us some unforgettable moments. Kenny Omega's quest to collect championship gold provided some awesome matches with Impact Wrestling and AAA. Ring of Honor's last pay-per-view of the year, Final Battle, hosted several poignant segments, including Jonathan Gresham's world title win.
Stardom also had a landmark year as Utami Hayashishita was one of many Joshi wrestlers to earn a spot on the 2021 PWI Women's 150 list. Elsewhere, Game Changer Wrestling established itself as one of the hottest promotions in the industry with a string of great shows and gems like Matt Cardona's brief stint as its champion.
For this article, we will look back at some of the most memorable All Elite Wrestling and WWE moments of 2021. Be sure to leave a comment and let us know what you will always remember from this year.
An Unexpected Trek to the States
Minoru Suzuki's US Tour
Many Japanese wrestlers came to the U.S. and made an impact in 2021. For example, Maki Itoh took the internet by storm during the AEW Women's World Title Eliminator tournament.
However, Minoru Suzuki's trip to America was one of the highlights of the year. The King of Pro-Wrestling turned out to be one of the biggest surprises at All Out amid three major debuts and CM Punk's first match in seven years.
The leader of Suzuki-gun later had a solid match with Jon Moxley on the Sept. 8 episode of AEW Dynamite. But his strongest contribution to the company was a veritable dream showdown with Bryan Danielson on The Buy-In ahead of Rampage on Oct. 15.
Ilja Dragunov ends WALTER's record-breaking reign
WALTER has been the most dominant WWE champion since he ended Pete Dunne's 685-day reign at NXT TakeOver: New York in 2019. Ever since, many viewers wonder who could possibly overcome the Austrian behemoth.
Ilja Dragunov emerged as a favorite to win the NXT UK Championship after his critically acclaimed match with the 34-year-old in October 2020. In their first encounter, The Ring General retained the title via referee stoppage when the challenger passed out.
Dragunov returned in January and slowly made his way back into the title picture. Their bitter rivalry produced another excellent match at NXT TakeOver 36, where the Russian wrestler toppled the man who once seemed unbeatable.
A Pair of Disastrous Pay-Per-View Moments
The End of the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch Fizzles Out
Kenny Omega enjoyed a phenomenal run as AEW world champion, but his title defense against Jon Moxley at Revolution was incredibly divisive.
At the event, the two competed in an Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch, a variation of the stipulation made famous in Japan. Mox and Omega's third matchup was much better than most viewers may remember, but that's because the end of the event became a bigger talking point.
In the end, The Best Bout Machine and The Good Brothers left the challenger beaten in the ring as the timer began to count down until the ring would explode. Eddie Kingston, Mox's friend turned rival, ran down to the ring to shield him before some second-rate sparklers ignited and unimpressively dissipated.
This ending was so hilariously bad that it became one of the most talked-about moments of the year.
Becky Lynch Beats Bianca Belair in Seconds
Speaking of pay-per-view matches that left a bad taste in fans' mouths, look no further than Becky Lynch's surprise title match with Bianca Belair from SummerSlam.
WWE viewers have been clamoring for the Irish wrestler to return all year. WWE somehow fumbled what should've been a slam dunk. First, the company promoted a WrestleMania rematch with Sasha Banks all the way up to the last minute, complete with a stirring video package
Then, Carmella came out instead of The Legit Boss to a chorus of boos. Finally, The Man marched down to the ring and challenged the reigning WWE SmackDown women's champion to an impromptu title match.
Belair accepted and Lynch proceed to sucker-punch her and land a Manhandle Slam to defeat her in 26 seconds. It will go down as the most confounding booking decision of the year.
The Most Significant Title Wins of 2021
2021 hosted some shocking title wins, but none more unbelievable than Christian Cage's Impact World Championship victory over Kenny Omega on the series premiere of AEW Rampage.
No one expected the Canadian star to wrestle full-time again—let alone hold a world title this year. In January, the 48-year-old made a surprise return in the men's Royal Rumble match. Two months later, he debuted at AEW Revolution and signed a multiyear deal.
On Aug. 13, Cage did the unthinkable as he pinned Omega in the opening match to become the Impact world champion. It was his first world title win since 2011, when he defeated Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Money in the Bank.
Meanwhile, Big E made history as the first Black winner of Money in the Bank. He went on to cash in his briefcase on Bobby Lashley to secure the WWE title on the Sept. 13 episode of Raw. The fans will remember the momentous occasion as the first time a Black wrestler lost the mantle to another in the history of the company.
We would be remiss if we didn't talk about Adam Page's emotional AEW World Championship win at Full Gear. The culmination of his two-year journey to become the company's flag bearer was one of the most well-executed storylines of 2021. It cemented Hangman as a top babyface and a complex character.
The Women Take Center Stage
Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa Redefine Division in Unsanctioned Lights Out Match
Britt Baker grew into one of AEW's hottest stars. CM Punk even deemed her the real fourth pillar of the company during his war of words with MJF.
The Role Model has already improved on the microphone as a heel and created a highly entertaining character. However, her unsanctioned Lights Out match with Thunder Rosa is a defining moment for her and the women's division.
The brutal main event of the March 17 episode of AEW Dynamite pushed limits of what women could do on network television. In the process, it propelled both competitors into superstardom.
Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair Headline WrestleMania 37
WrestleMania 37 was one of the best pay-per-view events of the year. More to the point, The Showcase of the Immortals hosted the main event that will stand the test of time.
On Night 1, Bianca Belair challenged Sasha Banks for the WWE SmackDown Women's Championship match with historic implications. It's impossible to overstate just how important it was to see two Black women headline the biggest pro wrestling event in the industry.
The Legit Boss delivered an all-time great performance, but this was a star-making showing for Belair. Ultimately, the EST of WWE defeated the champion in what will go down as one of the best WrestleMania main events ever. It was a special moment that earned the two an ESPY award.
The Year of Noteworthy Returns and Debuts
2021 has been a year of improbable returns like Christian Cage. To that end, Katsuyori Shibata recently announced that he will compete in his first official match since 2017 at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16.
In March, wrestling legend Sting teamed up with Darby Allin to take on Team Taz in a Street Fight at AEW Revolution. The pay-per-view marked the 62-year-old's return to in-ring competition following his retirement in 2016.
At Money in the Bank, John Cena made an electrifying surprise return to WWE as the company went back on tour. The star of The Suicide Squad garnered one of the loudest reactions of the year as he entered the ring with Roman Reigns in the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
However, it wasn't quite like the last big reveal at AEW All Out as Bryan Danielson debuted months after he headlined WrestleMania 37. The American Dragon has to be a favorite for wrestler of the year because of his run of high-quality matches with The Tribal and the undefeated streak in his new home.
The 40-year-old has arguably produced four match-of-the-year contenders, an incredible television match with Kenny Omega and the best AEW world title match ever. Still, it wasn't enough to upstage the most surreal occurrence of 2021 as CM Punk finally made his return to professional wrestling.
The straight-edge star stunned the professional wrestling world and accrued mainstream attention as he entered the United Center at The First Dance special. In front of his hometown, the Chicago native gained the loudest sustained pop in recent memory.
This beautiful and surreal comeback story paved the way for his competitive match with Darby Allin at All Out, an incredible encounter with Lee Moriarty, and a blistering promo with MJF. Admittedly, it's still hard to believe The Second City Saint is back, but wrestling is better because of it.