Mount Rushmores of Wrestling is a series that breaks down the cream of the crop of professional wrestling in our quest to come to a consensus on the top four of any given category. In today’s edition, we’re looking at the best matches of 2021.
Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship: Fastlane 3/21/21
Tyler: I know it’s strange, when I only get to choose two matches for 2021 Matches of the year, to pick one from the Thunderdome Era, but I see that as a strength, not a weakness. It just highlights the lengths these three men—Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns, and Special guest enforcer, Edge—went to to put on such a memorable performance and beat out so many other matches after fans were allowed to return.
This Universal Championship match had it all: the perfect blend of professional wrestling, sports entertainment, and storytelling. A fantastic bout that saw Roman Reigns prove to Daniel Bryan he could stand toe to toe in the ring with the challenger in terms of wrestling. It also saw Bryan keep his promise to Roman that he would tap out the Champion, which he did (but the referee was knocked out, which led to great sports entertainment). Edge, who was the special enforcer, had to referee and ultimately cost Bryan the match and his second shot at main eventing WrestleMania, which was a fantastic story told from beginning to end.
Big E vs. Bobby Lashley for the WWE Championship: Raw 9/13/2021
Jay: Listen marks, I know what you’re gonna say. But before you start yelling about the match length and the poorly understood wrestling jargon that Meltzer taught you, I want you to watch this exactly four minute segment.
Did you watch it? OK, good, so you noticed how it only took Big E and Lashley 77 seconds of match time to work the crowd into a frenzy that shook the building, right? You saw how two big meaty men only needed 77 seconds of slapping meat to sell how powerful and monstrous they were to audiences around the world? You saw how fast Kofi and Woods ran down with almost tears in their eyes to congratulate their Big E when he won? And don’t lie, you f***ing roared when you saw Big E raise the title for the first time as even the fireworks and Byron-motherloving-Saxon were on point for the moment. I don’t care about the circumstances, I don’t care that WWE’s current state makes SummerSlam 1995 look like a golden era, and I don’t care that it wasn’t a 60 minute broadway because no other match this year shook the pro-wrestling fandom that hard, and shook them hard enough to write articles about at midnight on a Monday night. Big E beating Bobby Lashley for the WWE Championship was a fantastic match that gave us a perfect moment in pro wrestling.
Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega: Grand Slam 9/22/21
Tyler: Hey, completely different guy! The man from the last match, while they may look similar and have very similar names, are quite different. Daniel Bryan is an incredible wrestler. But he’s very much the underdog, always working from behind. Bryan Danielson is the best wrestler in the world. And he’s going to kick your f*cking head in.
In his very first match outside of WWE in over 10 years, Bryan Danielson did the most anti-WWE, pro-pro-wrestling move possible: he had a 30-minute tie. In his first ever 5-star match of his career, he put on a clinic with the then-AEW World Champion Kenny Omega in a dream match that literally last spring felt like would never happen when Bryan was main-eventing WrestleMania.
While Bryan’s WWE career was absolutely historic, this match immediately felt different. You knew you were watching The American Dragon Bryan Danielson wrestle once more. Daniel Bryan is dead. Long live Bryan Danielson.
Kenny Omega vs. Hangman Adam Page for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship: Full Gear 11/13/2021
Jay: Y’all knew this was coming. This match was the culmination of a story that has been unfolding since September of 2019. It was the story of Hangman Page hitting rock bottom, losing himself into the abyss one finds there, losing the confidence and support of his friends, and then finding the inner strength to overcome all of that to become a champion. I’d happily relieve all the moments that brought this match to fruition, but this match is a masterpiece even without that lovely remembrance. Whether it was the prematch package that recapped how this match came to be, the numerous callbacks to prior matches, The Young Bucks coming out and acknowledging how far Hangman had come, and even Hangman’s goddamn nameplate graphic during his entrance that reads “we’re proud of you,” and I’m not crying, you are. It’s professional wrestling at its finest.
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