TeeCoZee’s Top 25 Matches Of 2021 [That He Saw]: #25-16

I did a lot of things in 2021. Like, I literally did 365 days worth of things. Or maybe it was 350. Either way, it was a lot of days. I got off my lazy ass and moved to a new apartment, in a new neighborhood, in the middle of winter. I wrote something every single day until mid-September. I half-way started a new career. I started seeing a therapist. I ate tons of pizza and even more sandwiches. But most of all, I watched wrestling. A lot of wrestling. An uncomfortable amount of wrestling. And when I ran out of new wrestling to watch, I watched almost 2 years of the WCW canon. When I wasn’t in front of a screen, I was listening to wrestling podcasts. When I wasn’t doing that, I was scrolling Wrestling Twitter. When I wasn’t doing that, I was going to shows. And so on. And so on. 2021 will always be the year that I became completely engulfed by wrestling.

But herein lies the problem: I spent way too much time watching wrestling without having something to show for it. So for the rest of the month, I’m going to be making something of it. I’ve devised a list of my favorite 25 matches of the year. I re-watched all of them and made rankings accordingly. Then other good matches happened and I had to completely rearrange the list. But now that Winter has come, I feel pretty confident that this is the definitive list.

A few caveats:

– I’m writing this in 3 parts, so that it’s not only easier for me, but easier for you, the reader. Plus, I’d like to create suspense for the handful of people that are actually going to read this.

– I did not watch Stardom, Dragon Gate, DDT, AJPW, Impact or NOAH. In certain circles, that would make this list obsolete. To that, I say “suck it, nerds”. It’s my list, damnit!

– Will Ospreay is not on this list, because he’s a dick.

25) Rey Fenix vs Kenny Omega (C)
AEW World Title – AEW Dynamite New Year’s Smash – 1/6/21

When the year started, I was by and large still just a WWE fan. I had watched some AEW matches here and there and was thoroughly entertained, but I was nowhere near ready to commit. So excuse my ignorance when I got one good look at Rey Fenix and said to myself that it would be a squash. That was my conditioning talking. In the world I knew, a small masked wrestler had no business trying to beat the champ. It was also my assumption that a heavyweight champion would be too stiff to work at a lucha pace.

About 5 minutes in, I realized the genius of Kenny Omega. I also realized how incredibly wrong I was about everything, ever.

To do flashy spots is a two-way dance and they did things that I had never seen before. Rey did death-defying acrobatics while Kenny adapted to the style seamlessly. This was a showcase of two professionals at the height of their craft. At one point, Rey took a violent knee to the face and he immediately sprung up before he even hit the mat to deliver a superkick of his own. That was the moment I fell in love. That was the moment I realized that I needed to expand my horizons. That was the moment I realized that I loved wrestling more than sports entertainment. That was the moment my obsession took full grip.

That was the moment that made this list possible.

24) Drew McIntyre (C) vs Keith Lee
WWE Heavyweight Title – WWE Raw: Legends Night – 1/4/21

This match won’t make a lot of year-end lists. In fact, I’m sure a lot of people probably don’t remember it. It’s totally understandable. Raw Legends Night was an absolute flop of a ratings grab. It was depressing to see former superstars lurking backstage with nothing to do. The match ended with a very unfortunate and confusing promo by Goldberg, which set off a chain reaction of schlock. After this match, Keith Lee’s rocketship to the moon sputtered in mid-air and crashed. But this match represents a really small sliver in time when Keith Lee was on his way to said moon.

The fan-favorite underdog Lee took on the champion the only way he knew how: with undying grit. The two juggernauts put on a PPV caliber match on free TV after a holiday weekend. At the time, it seemed crazy [because I didn’t realize that this was common practice with AEW and they were using this to compete]. It spanned two commercial breaks. These guys put on their own personal best match in recent memory and it was seemingly Keith Lee’s coming-out party. It’s just unfortunate that nobody showed up. Keith Lee’s time on the main roster was tumultuous to say the least. But if there’s one moment that we should all remember, it’s when he got Drew McIntyre up to the top rope and performed a deafening Spanish Fly, with an echo that can still be heard today. Now that he’s free to do whatever he wants, I hope Keith Lee ends up somewhere that allows him to put on matches like this full-time. I would throw all of my money at them.

23) Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston vs The Young Bucks
AEW World Tag Team Titles – AEW Double Or Nothing – 5/30/21

I would never recommend getting into wrestling during a global pandemic. Even though I did it, I wish I could’ve experienced it live before they were performing in quiet, hollow buildings. While we got a glimpse of the Before Times and the After Time to come at Wrestlemania 37, something about it still didn’t feel right. It was 25,000 people in a place suited for 60,000. It just felt…hollow. A month later, AEW hosted Double Or Nothing at Daily’s Place, with 5,200 strong hanging from the rafters. This felt right. This felt real. And the second that “Wild Thing” started playing, the whole building exploded. Even though it was the second match, that was the moment that ended the Covid Era. As Moxley and Kingston worked their way through the crowd, chugging beers and smiling their asses off, we all witnessed the world that was taken away from us and the world we earned back.

All 4 guys took the energy from the crowd and channeled it in their own ways. The Bucks did their flashy flippy shit, while Moxley and Kingston simply refused to stay down. It was an entertaining back and forth that wasn’t succinct, but never wore out its welcome. After a never-ending barrage of near-falls, they were all battered, exhausted and unwilling to leave the hot crowd. Despite the result of the match, the real winner was Eddie Kingston. Before the pandemic, he was jobbing in VFW Halls to make ends meet, ready to give up on the dream. A year later, he had over 5,000 people chanting his name and plenty of bangers to come. If that doesn’t make you romantic about Pro Wrestling, you should probably stop reading this and go do whatever it is you do for fun.

22) Ninja Mack vs Cole Radrick vs Dante Leon vs Nick Wayne vs Jimmy Lloyd vs Deranged
Six-Way Scramble – GCW Getlosalot – 9/24/21

At this point, it’s hard to deny that GCW is quickly becoming one of the hottest products in pro wrestling. Despite their production value, grating commentary and lack of television exposure, they’re selling out venues and putting on first class indie wrestling on a bi-weekly basis. A popular mainstay with their shows is the patented scramble [or scramble fuckfest]. The match is basically what it sounds like: get 6 wrestlers in a ring and have them do spot after spot after spot after spot until somebody eventually gets pinned. It’s the wrestling equivalent to a slam dunk contest and it’s fucking beautiful. This particular scramble was not by any means the best one. In fact, it might’ve been the sloppiest that I’ve seen. I’m moreso reserving this spot for the existence of the scramble, but I’m listing this one in particular because it holds a special place in my heart.

Because I got to see it with my own two eyes, 20 feet away from my dropped jaw.

You can watch high-flying maneuvers on TV and not bat an eye. But seeing it up close and personal elevates it to a whole other level. I was straight up mystified by Ninja Mack, as he continuously leapt through the air with the knife-like precision of an Olympic gymnast. It was also the match that drew my attention to Nick Wayne, one of the most exciting new wrestlers in recent memory. He’s barely old enough to drive, but he can perform Poison Rana with his eyes closed. And after 6 short minutes, it was over and the whole room needed a moment to catch their collective breath. We gave them a standing ovation and threw balled-up cash. They deserved a whole lot more.

21) Jungle Express [Christian, Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus] vs SuperKliq [Adam Cole, Nick Jackson and Matt Jackson]
Falls Count Anywhere – AEW Full Gear – 11/13/21

This is the first of many matches on this list from Full Gear. When the fan’s main gripe about a show was that it was too good and there was no room to breathe, you know it was an all-timer. And this match snuck in with absolutely no hype and no expectations compared to the rest of the card. If there’s anything you know about me, or will soon know about me, is that I love a chaotic No Holds Barred match. The more traveling, the better. Get creative with weapons and you have my undivided attention. And this match was an all out riot of plunder.

I was forced to watch this on the subway, commuting home from work. Anybody that caught a glimpse of my reactions knew I was sick in the head. And a few people even peeked to see what the hell I was watching and their suspicions were confirmed. They got far away from me. I squirmed in my seat in glee as the Young Bucks filled Jungle Boy’s mouth with thumbtacks, kissed Adam Cole’s bloody face and then…the feed froze. My train slowed down between stations. I spent a good minute just staring at Jungle Boy’s terrified face, mouth full of metal, ready to take what was coming to him. And then, as we rolled into 5th Avenue-59th Street, BOOM, double superkick to the face. It was a moment well worth the wait. Somehow, the match went on from there, with ladders, stage dives and custom-made thumbtack knee pads. It was just a goddamn delight. I’m smiling just thinking about it. I won’t give away the ending, but it will always be known as the moment when Jungle Boy became Jungle Man.

Even though they still call him Jungle Boy. You get the idea.

20) Lucha Brothers vs Laredo Kid & El Hijo Del Vikingo
AAA Tag Team Titles – AAA Heroes Immortales XIV – 10/9/21

I realize that the American in me is showing, but watching AAA wrestling is downright bizarre. They use a massive 6-sided ring. There’s consistently an asshole with a vuvuzela doing his worst Bill Alfonso impression. The lighting in the background is ever-moving. There’s bright video ads for canned tuna. The referees are definitely being paid off. The whole thing is a goddamn circus.

I realize that my privilege is showing, but watching wrestling at an airport is downright bizarre. The internet is just good enough for it to work. There’s consistently an asshole next to me looking at what I’m watching, silently criticizing me. Outside of my phone screen, the environment is ever-moving. There’s loud announcements and alarms going off on the PA, briefly distracting me. People get weirded out by the faces I make. The whole thing is a goddamn circus.

But there I was, face glued to my small phone screen, watching a circus in the middle of a circus. And it was wonderful.

This match refuses to relent. We’ve all seen what the Lucha Bros are capable of in an American baby ring, but in this massive ring, they have space to fly. They barely give themselves time to breathe. It is literally 18 minutes of high-spot after high-spot. They do moves that I’ve never seen before and can’t even identify due to the fact that I took French in college. I was able to look past the buffering, constant squeaking, maskless gawkers and slow 2 counts and was infinitely sports entertained. And with the magic of the internet, you can do the same!

19) Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan vs Edge
WWE Universal Championship – WWE Wrestlemania 37 Night 2 – 4/11/21

We love it when a wrestler calls his shots, especially when they’re ludicrous. But when Roman Reigns said that he was going into the main event at Wrestlemania and was going to “Smash ’em, stack ’em and pin ’em”, it seemed just a little far-fetched. After all, in a triple threat match, you only need to pin one guy. What would be the point of pinning two guys at once? Because he’s the goddamned Tribal Chief, that’s why. But surely there’s no way he’s actually going to do that, right? Right?

I typically don’t care for triple threat matches and I especially don’t care for them when they main event the biggest show of the year. But this one kind of made sense. Even though it already seemed doubtful that Roman Reigns would ever lose a match again, his reign (ugh) of terror consisted mostly of Jey Uso and Kevin Owens. In order to fully go over as a top heel, he had to completely decimate a hall of famer. So why not two at the same time? He faced off against Edge and Daniel Bryan, two guys that at one point thought they would never be able to wrestle again, let alone headline a Wrestlemania. But they both deserved the spot. Edge for obvious reasons, as he won the Royal Rumble. But this was also seemingly Daniel Bryan’s last hurrah before he rode off into the sunset of retirement (holy crap, we were wrong).

The whole match is a car crash. The match started in the third act and it stayed in the third act the entire time. There was no phoning it in, all 3 men clearly wanted to win by any means necessary. The whole thing could’ve ended at any moment, but they kept going and going and going, exchanging finishers and wince-inducing hits for near falls. How they were able to maintain this for over 20 minutes was nothing short of a miracle. It’s also a testament that Edge can still keep up, Daniel Bryan is still one of the best of all time and Roman Reigns is the best heel the WWE has seen in ages. In the end, Daniel Bryan got to lead a “Yes!” chant one last time, Edge got to go berserk with a steel chair and Roman somehow was right about his prophecy. The match did everything it needed to, no matter how impossible it seemed. And for a night 2 of Wrestlemania that was a downright garbage, career-ruining eyeroll-fest, this saved the legacy of the whole show.

18) Kenny Omega (C) vs Orange Cassidy vs Pac
AEW Championship – AEW Double Or Nothing – 5/30/21

You can copy and paste my previous sentiments about triple threat matches and it will not be invalid. And frankly, when this match was announced, I was disappointed. AEW Pay-Per-Views only come 4 times a year, so you would think they would stack the best opponents possible against Kenny Omega. But instead, we got him going in a triple threat against a gimmick wrestler and a guy that’s seemingly getting hurt all the time. They could’ve ran it back again with Moxley. Or run it back again with Rey Fenix. They could’ve closed out the Adam Page storyline. Hell, they could’ve thrown Christian Cage in and I would’ve been more excited (they eventually did this, anyway).

But as soon as the match started, I instantly regretted ever thinking it would be bad.

There’s a reason that Pac gets hurt all the time. It’s because he’s a massive specimen that takes every risk possible. The leaps he’ll make and the bends he’ll do will make your brain melt. And Orange Cassidy might be a comedy act (and a good one, at that), but he’s also terrifyingly athletic and his apathy is always a ruse. And of course, Kenny Omega is the self-proclaimed Best Bout Machine and he can adapt to literally any style of wrestling. How I wasn’t able to see this from the get-go, I’ll never understand. This wasn’t so much a triple threat match as it was two singles matches occurring simultaneously. Both challengers took their turns trying their best to beat the champ. And the ending is just wonderfully choreographed. With the transparency of the industry these days, it’s sometimes hard to be surprised. It was telegraphed from a mile away that Omega would be champ for the long-haul, but for a brief sliver of time, we were all open-mouthed marks. At one point, Orange Cassidy was so close to winning that I leapt out of my seat. He hit the Orange Punch on Pac, the crowd reached a fever pitch and the smarmy Don Callis broke up the count. Enraged, the crowd chanted, “Fuck you, Don”. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. When a match makes everyone suspend their disbelief, you know that it’s something truly special. And by god, we were all briefly fooled.

17) Sasha Banks (C) vs Bianca Belair
Smackdown Women’s Championship – WWE Wrestlemania 37 Night 1 – 4/10/21

Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, the moment is way bigger than the match. In fact, that’s kind of what Wrestlemania is all about. Much like a Super Bowl, the great ones aren’t remembered for a full match, but rather a moment in that match that made you feel a certain way. Hogan giving Andre a Bodyslam. Shawn Michaels jumping off a ladder. Blood dripping down Steve Austin’s agonizing face. Kofimania. Seth Rollins cashing in. Austin shaking hands with Satan Himself. 21-0. The Iron Sheik winning the gimmick battle royal. Wrestlemania is a collection of moments that define sports entertainment.

So this isn’t about a match. It’s about a moment. Two women, standing in the ring, soaking in the cheers of the first live audience in over a year. It was something that Sasha Banks could barely fathom. She had made the main roster just before the pandemic started. Her rise to fame was done in an empty performance center and a Thunderdome with piped-in fake crowds. We all had an inkling that she was over, but standing in the ring, she realized that she had won over the hearts and minds of the whole WWE Universe. The crowd lost their minds before the bell even rung. Faces and heels, heroes and villains didn’t matter. What mattered was that those two women spent the Covid year working their asses off and they deserved all the adoration in the world. They stood there, stared at each other, soaked it all in and Bianca did what any human in that situation would do: she cried. And then we cried. And then Sasha laughed. It was a whole scene. They both gained their composure and had an absolute banger of a match. One that somehow exceeded our lofty expectations. But at the end of the day, it was that moment and the ones leading up to it that made it so special. It was the payoff for sitting through a year of the Thunderdome. It cemented both of them as two of the best female wrestlers in the world. It will be in Wrestlemania highlight reels well after we’re all dead. The moment is immortal.

16) Eddie Kingston vs CM Punk
Singles Match – AEW Full Gear – 11/13/21

Heat is a beautiful thing. It keeps us from freezing to death. It cooks our food. It saves our marriage. It also makes a storyline between two top faces seem believable. Nobody thought anything of it when Eddie Kingston lost to Bryan Danielson in the AEW Title Eliminator Tournament. It was a well-fought match that would be on this list if it were a Top 35. We also didn’t think much of it when a disappointed and angry Eddie Kingston spoke over CM Punk’s backstage promo. We all thought, “Oh, that’s peculiar. Maybe they’ll fight at Full Gear or something. Whatever”. And then two weeks later, the situation went nuclear:

Suddenly, a low-stakes dream match turned into something brutally personal. In 10 minutes time, we were convinced that these guys absolutely despised each other. Kingston’s chauvinistic insecurities and Punk’s humble ego meshed together to create one of the most heated feuds I’ve ever seen. They dug so deep into each other that it’s still debatable if they can co-exist in real life. Despite the absolutely stacked card, I woke up the morning of Full Gear counting down the minutes until I got to see these men rip each other apart.

And they didn’t disappoint. This wasn’t so much a match as it was an all-out brawl. Eddie went for a knockout punch before the bell even rang. Punk shook it off, flipped him the bird and they were off to the races. There was nothing fancy or technical, just hard hits. It could’ve easily had been a shoot and we wouldn’t know the difference. These guys didn’t care about winning, they just wanted to hurt each other. Kingston got to lick Punk’s blood. Punk got his first chorus of boos since returning to wrestling. Kingston turned a jerk-off motion into an iconic taunt. In a card full of wrestling matches, this was a fight. And it was one that left us all satisfied.

Now that the list is underway, I can guarantee that the holiday episodes of Dynamite and Rampage are gonna rock the socks off my ass. I can guarantee that Atticus Cogar vs Jordan Oliver is going to be the best barbed wire match of all time. These are sure to happen, because that’s simply how the universe works. So will my list change? Will I falter under the pressure from internet marks and start watching Stardom? Is Will Ospreay actually being omitted from the list? That’s for us all to find out!

– TeeCoZee