For the seventh straight year, Wrestling Merchandise and Memories presents its Year End Awards, in which we ask our writers to vote in a number of key categories. We've also included how writers previously voted below each category.
Match Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: Thom Latimer vs Crimson vs Tim Storm (NWA 73). When the NWA traveled to St Louis for its 73rd anniversary and brought wrestling back to "The Chase" after so many years; I knew they had to make it a good show to get it to work. You can't just bring back wrestling to a classic wrestling city that's been dormant for so many years and do it half-assed. I did not expect this opening match to be one of the show-stealers, though! All of these guys are decent enough wrestlers but I'm not a huge fan of any of them in particular but they all tore the house down with this one. When I saw Latimer ascend a ladder and proceed to Swanton Bomb 56-year-old Tim Storm through a steel ringside barricade; it was a true "holy shit!" moment indeed.
The Big Rybowski: Hangman Adam Page vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Winter is Coming). I can honestly say that I had absolutely nothing for this category, then along came Adam Page vs Bryan Danielson. A 60 minute classic on free tv; sign me up! The match had a little bit of everything including the element of surprise (never expected it to go as long as it did).
Canadian Bulldog: The Lucha Brothers vs. The Young Bucks (All Out). This may have actually been the best tag team match I've ever seen, let alone in 2021. There was a great story going into it playing off their past matches and rivalry; a number of spots that called back to the personas of both teams; unique spots for both a tag team match and a steel cage match; and a happy ending for the heroic team. The match ticked off a lot of boxes for me!
Mike Rickard: The Lucha Brothers vs. The Young Bucks (All Out). This was one of the best tag team matches I’ve ever watched and the best tag team cage match since Jay Youngblood and Ricky Steamboat battled Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle at 1983’s “Final Conflict.” AEW has so many great tag teams that it took some time for these two to get a marquee match like this and both teams over-delivered. This was a fast-paced match that should have failed for featuring highspots galore, but the Lucha Brothers and the Young Bucks showed how to incorporate traditional selling into lightning-fast matches.
Previous Match Of The Year Winners
Male Wrestler Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: Nick Aldis. I always feel like I have to preface these "year-end" things by saying; I love wrestling. If I didn't then I wouldn't be here. However, I only watch what I like, and what I like (almost exclusively) is the NWA so, my picks in these categories are going to be biased in that aspect. All that being said - my male wrestler of the year award goes to Nick Aldis. I never saw Aldis compete in TNA as Magnus but I can only assume I wouldn't have liked the gimmick. Somehow he's transformed himself into a true champion and main eventer, though. He can talk, he can work and, he's always dressed to the nines when not in his ring gear. He oozes classy, old school wrestler.
The Big Rybowski: Roman Reigns. When looking back at the year that was, one person's performance clearly stood out for me. That’s why I am going to acknowledge Roman Reigns as the 2021 male wrestler of the year. He did a great job in the ring and on the mic, and his character arc was one of the best in recent memory.
Canadian Bulldog: Roman Reigns. This is the second year in a row where I've found the Tribal Chief to be the industry's pinnacle and its top star... which is fascinating when you consider just a few short years ago, no self-respecting wrestling fan would be this enamored with The Big Dog. Facing virtually everyone on the WWE roster, including Brock Lesnar, Edge, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Big E and Cesaro, Reigns has looked good against all of them. Believe that.
Mike Rickard: Malakai Black. It’s difficult to imagine a wrestler who has gone from zero to hero so quickly. Malakai has been hitting grand slams ever since he debuted in AEW, showcasing a dark malevolent character reminiscent of Kevin Sullivan in the 80s and the Undertaker during the Ministry of Darkness Era. I’m voting for Malakai Black not because he’s a main eventer but because he’s gained his success without the benefit of a monster push.
Previous Male Wrestler Of The Year Winners
Female Wrestler Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: Melina. Let's face it - Melina could never do a whole helluva lot in the ring and nowadays; she can probably do even less. I would never accuse her of being an excellent technical wrestler but the fact that she's still around trying to do what she can to be a mentor and guide young female wrestlers is commendable enough to warrant me giving her my nod this year.
The Big Rybowski: Bianca Belair. Unlike the male wrestler of the year, no one really stood out as a clear cut winner. I’m giving my vote to the EST herself, Bianca Belair. She truly had a breakout year with a huge push starting by winning the Royal Rumble, and she stepped up the the challenge and delivered.
Canadian Bulldog: Bianca Belair. This was a tough, tough year for women's wrestling due to some poor decisions and constant turnover. But The EST of WWE should be commended for competing in a storybook Royal Rumble and then main-eventing the first night of WrestleMania. Considering WWE hasn't pushed many "new" stars, this is a development that should be commended... even if the rest of Belair's year wasn't quite as remarkable.
Mike Rickard: Dr. Britt Baker. Not since Trish Stratus went from manager to women’s world champion have the fans seen a female improve so much in the ring. Dr. Baker has taken AEW’s woeful women’s division out of the dumpster and elevated it substantially. AEW’s women’s division still needs considerable improvement, but it’s finally starting to turn the corner and Baker’s work as women’s champion has been a major factor.
Previous Female Wrestler Of The Year Winners
Non-Wrestler Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: Lando Deltoro. I vote we should give this award to the poor, local ref in Texas that Devon Nickelson/Hannibal/The Blood Hunter repeatedly stabbed in the forehead with a spike, even severing an artery in the process, not too long ago. I am a huge mark for New Jack (RIP) so I feel a little strange complaining about legit violence in a wrestling match but man... that was a nasty scene and one that shouldn't happen in the business. Especially considering it was a ref and not even someone claiming to be "one of the boys" as opposed to most of New Jack's "victims."
The Big Rybowski: Pat McAfee. I’m not sure if this is going to be a popular or controversial pick, but I’m going with Pat McAfee. I really like the flavor he brings to the Smackdown broadcast. He comes across as the heel commentator without having to be a heel. I think it’s a very unique take.
Canadian Bulldog: Paul Heyman. Simply put, Paul Heyman makes every segment that he's in better. Whether it's acting as Special Counsel to the Tribal Chief, mentoring The Usos, trying to keep the peace with Brock Lesnar, or the constant bickering with Kayla Braxton, Heyman is just a pleasure to watch because he gets the conflict of pro wrestling and makes people believe in something they perhaps haven't for many years.
Mike Rickard: Don Callis. Just when fans think that wrestling managers are becoming extinct, someone like Don Callis comes along to remind the fans how much a good mouthpiece can be. While Kenny Omega doesn’t need someone to speak for him, Callis proved the perfect heat magnet for the AEW World Champion, enraging fans and making them want to see Callis get clobbered.
Previous Non-Wrestler Of The Year Winners
Rivalry Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: Jim Cornette and Brian Last vs Devon Nicholson. Granted, this isn't an in-ring rivalry but it's one of the most entertaining rivalries in the business right now as far as I'm concerned. Listening to these guys take shots at each other through various YouTube videos and podcasts never ceases to entertain. I won't divulge whose side I'm on in this rivalry but you can probably guess for yourself.
The Big Rybowski: WWE vs. AEW. Not sure if this is a cop out, but WWE vs AEW. It’s nice to have a real rivalry between two companies again and it’s really elevated wrestling as a whole.
Canadian Bulldog: Chris Jericho vs. MJF. You could add The Inner Circle and The Pinnacle to this as well, but really it was Jericho and MJF that truly made this thing sing. From a love/hate relationship that began near the starting of the year to an alliance and through the inevitable breakup which led to warring factions, Jericho and MJF created a masterclass in what a true rivalry should look like.
Mike Rickard: Chris Jericho vs. MJF. Former AEW World Champion Chris Jericho had his work cut out for him in 2021 as MJF proved to be a cunning opponent who seemed to have “Le Champion’s” number. This feud played out beautifully as the Inner Circle and the Pinnacle joined in at times, with Jericho finally putting his career on the line in order to defeat MJF in singles competition. Unlike most retirement matches, Jericho’s career seemed to be in real jeopardy and AEW played up the suspense perfectly.
Previous Rivalry Of The Year Winners
Event Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: NWA 73. Top to bottom, this card had it all in my opinion. The aforementioned Brawl In The Lou match. A guest appearance of one of the greatest NWA World Champions; Ric Flair. Three hours' worth of solid, varied, classic wrestling action. You really can't ask for much more.
The Big Rybowski: Crown Jewel. I can’t believe I’m putting this in writing, but Crown Jewel is my event of the year. Usually the WWE shows in Saudi Arabia are awful, but this one was the exception. A classic HIAC between Edge and Rollins and a handful of other good matches (Lynch vs. Belair & Banks, Roman vs. Brock and Big E vs. McIntyre) made this a really good PPV.
Canadian Bulldog: All Out. All Out was probably the first PPV I ordered/paid to watch outside of WWE in many, many years (I ordered a handful of TNA shows, but not since the heyday of Kurt Angle), and it was well worth the expense. Beyond the surprising (and not surprising) debuts, the show had my Match Of The Year candidate in the tag team title match, plus great bouts between CM Punk and Darby Allin, Chris Jericho and MJF and Kenny Omega and Christian Cage. Hard to be upset by a show that solid.
Mike Rickard: All Out. 2021 saw a number of good pay-per-views with some pleasant surprises such as SummerSlam and Crown Jewel. However, AEW has the pay-per-view format done to a science as they’ve managed to make must-see matches on free TV while saving the crème de la crème for pay-per-view. All Out exemplified this with good to great matches from start to finish as well as the surprises fans love to see (such as the debut of both Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole).
Previous Event Of The Year Winners
Promotion Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: NWA. To quote the late, great Gomer Pyle - "Surprise, surprise, surprise..." because my promotion of the year award goes to the NWA. Who would've guessed, huh? Seriously, the NWA is where it's at as far as I'm concerned. NWA Powerrr always has the classic studio wrestling style going for it and (especially lately) Billy Corgan doesn't mind spending a little money to bring in extra star power and surprises for each NWA pay-per-view. They're even expanding with a new weekly YouTube show starting next year. I can't wait to see what the future holds for this historic wrestling promotion.
The Big Rybowski: WWE. Still WWE for me, but it’s getting closer. I just think the production value and “big budget feel” are what keeps WWE on the top
Canadian Bulldog: AEW. It's tough to argue this one, given the banner year All Elite Wrestling has had on a number of fronts. Significantly ramping up its talent roster, adding a new show and presenting consistently-good pay-per-view events, AEW has managed to do the one thing no one ever thought possible: give the juggernaut WWE a serious run for its money.
Mike Rickard: AEW. Has AEW peaked? That’s the question fans are asking after the promotion signed CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, and a number of other WWE Superstars while still promoting its homegrown stars. 2021 was arguably AEW’s finest year and while the WWE is still a corporate giant compared to AEW, it just doesn’t know how to book its many talented stars well (and when it does, rarely consistently). AEW continued featuring must-see matches while running long-term storylines that fit together perfectly over time. The WWE, not so much.
Previous Promotion Of The Year Winners
Tag Team Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: La Rebelión. Second-generation wrestler Bestia 666 (son of Damian 666) and his partner Mecha Wolf are two of the most exciting, hard-hitting luchadors that I've seen compete in a long, long time. Here's hoping they remain NWA tag team champs and remain in that particular tag team division for the foreseeable future.
The Big Rybowski: RKBro. Some decent choices for this year, but for me RKBro are at the top of the list. I like how they developed from a jokey gimmick to a legit tandem throughout the year. They were definitely the main focus of the WWE tag team division for the better part of the year, and I think they did a great job with it.
Canadian Bulldog: The Young Bucks. For the second year in a row, I'm giving my vote to Matt and Nick Jackson. They consistently put on tremendous matches but more importantly, their characters significantly evolved this year as they rejoined The Elite and recast themselves as sleazebag characters that fit in perfectly with the likes of Don Callis, Kenny Omega and Adam Cole.
Mike Rickard: The Young Bucks. The Young Bucks’ stranglehold on the AEW World Tag Team Championship was only bested by the Jackson Brothers’ stranglehold on having the best matches of any tag team competing today. It’s not that there aren’t other excellent (and even great tag teams) out there. It’s just that it’s difficult to think of any who consistently put on such great matches in 2021 against a wide range of opponents.
Previous Tag Team Of The Year Winners
Wrestling Merchandise and Memories Article Of The Year
Adam Zimmerman: This is always a hard call. I love Canadian Bulldog's sense of humor when it comes to a lot of his articles. Always worth a chuckle or two. Mr. Rickard is one of the most knowledgeable wrestling historians that you can run across. I guess I do okay with my stuff sometimes... maybe. You really can't go wrong with Wrestling Merchandise and Memories. My suggestion would be to check out every article from the site that pops up on your various newsfeeds on social media. Each new day presents a new opportunity to see a potential "article of the year."
The Big Rybowski: I’ll be honest here - my favorite article on the site this year was actually a repost of an older article that I must’ve missed originally; Introducing the 10WF. Classic Bulldog humor and embodies everything that makes the site great.
Canadian Bulldog: There's been a lot of great WMaM articles this past year; ones that I've written and ones that I've read. But I think it would be tough to top Mike Rickard's WWF Wrestling Classic What If Tournament, which captured readers' imaginations for the better part of three months; equal parts fantasy booking, history lesson and great writing.
Mike Rickard: Top 50 Hulk Hogan Rivalries. The Hulkster’s been stabbed in the back so many times (and done a little backstabbing himself) but I forgot how many times it’s happened until I read this.
Previous Article Of The Year Winners
Thank you so much for reading Wrestling Merchandise and Memories this year!
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