TeeCoZee’s Top 25 Matches Of 2021 [That He Saw]: #5-1
And then there were five. When I started this project, my one hope was that I would finish it. This is obviously a labor of love, because most people I know would ever care to read it. I just wanted to pay tribute to the good wrestling that I saw this year and I think this does it justice. So without any further fuckery, here’s my 5 favorite matches of 2021:
5) Kota Ibushi (C) vs Jay White
IWGP Heavyweight/Intercontinental Title – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night 2 – 1/5/21
I understand that this is a controversial pick. Most people do not think that this was the 5th best match of the year. Hell, some may argue that this wasn’t even the 5th best match on the card. This just goes to show how good Wrestle Kingdom 15 actually was. This may not have been as good as Ibushi’s title win the night before against Tetsuya Naito. This may not have been either man’s finest hour. But there are two things that I cannot deny:
1) This match still fucking ruled, despite the better matches that came before it
2) This match changed my life
When I woke up on January 5th, I was a card-holding WWE fan. I dabbled in AEW, but the outside wrestling world felt massive and overwhelming to me. I mean, I started watching NXT, wasn’t that enough?!? I took to Reddit that morning to see what people had to say about the epic match Keith Lee and Drew McIntyre had on Raw. But nobody was talking about it. Instead, everyone was raving about how two guys I had never heard of went 48 minutes at the Tokyo Dome. I was morbidly curious and had nothing but time on my hands, so I found a stream with relative ease.
My jaw dropped. I had never seen anything like it. The whole thing was so methodical and carefully orchestrated. They just took their time to find every way possible to inflict pain. I had heard of Strong Style before, but I didn’t know what it meant. Even though there were nearly 8,000 spectators, they weren’t allowed to speak due to Covid. So you could hear every hit, every grunt, every slap. It added to the eerie visceral experience tenfold. I started to feel bruises that didn’t exist.
One thing you never really see as a WWE fan is a match with patience. Where both guys take their time and let the story organically unravel. While a quick and chaotic match is a whole lot of fun, that was the day that I realized the style of match I preferred. In fact, 3 out of my top 5 matches are 30 minutes or longer. Some matches are just better when they’re given time to breathe. It just took me a long time to realize it.
Obviously, I had to see more. I dunked down the monthly Yen for NJPW World and consulted a list that a gracious friend made. For three months, I was given a crash course in New Japan, watching all the hits from the past decade. Needless to say, I watched a lot of good wrestling this year. And I owe it all to some marks on Reddit foaming about a match. I also owe it to John. He’s cool, too.
4) Thunder Rosa vs Dr Britt Baker, DMD
Lights Out Match – AEW Dynamite St Patrick’s Day Slam – 3/11/21
Tony Khan was taking a lot of flack from all different directions. Coming off the heels of the Revolution PPV and the disappointing ending to the exploding barbed wire match, AEW was the butt end of every joke. He was also taking heavy criticism for his treatment of the women’s division. Although the roster was stacked, there was seemingly nothing for them to do. Women were only given one match per episode of Dynamite and a lot of talent was getting lost in the shuffle. So he responded to both sides with something bold: Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa, who had been feuding for an eternity, will main event Dynamite with an unsanctioned Lights Out match. As an insurance policy, they taped it a whole week in advance. That way, they can be ready is something goes horribly wrong, but also, so people could spread the word. And the people in attendance that night did their due diligence to hype us for the match. But no words could have prepared us for what these two women did to each other.
We knew that there was some mutual hatred between these two. Britt had been dodging Rosa for months and their feud was the second hottest one in the company, behind Omega and Moxley. When imagining what a lights out match would look like, I assumed it would still be a mild affair. Some brawling around the stadium, a couple of broken tables and probably a big spot off a stage. That honestly sounded okay, it would’ve been a fun evening. And the fight started innocuous enough. But then a ladder got involved. And then a pile of chairs. By the time thumbtacks were introduced, it felt like we were watching something forbidden. This was some overdubbed tape you bought out of a dude’s trunk. But it wasn’t. It was on network fucking television. Anybody could be flipping through the channels at 9:50 PM and see two women covered in blood, writhing on the ground. They took plunder to a whole new level, in a way that a national audience has never seen with women. And you couldn’t ask for two better women for the job. They both sold everything perfectly. I’ll always remember the look of horror on Thunder Rosa’s face when Britt kicked out of the thumbtack spot. And the shot of Britt’s bloody face finding the camera and smiling has become nothing short of iconic.
We’ve come a long way from pillow fights and gravy bowl matches. Women in wrestling are more and more being taken seriously and held up to the standards of their male counterparts. But we have so much further to go and sadly, AEW perpetuates this problem. Despite what we all hoped, this match did not change the booking. Dynamite still only has one women’s match per week and we are still unhappy about it. But what this match DID do was raise the bar. Since then, our weekly match has consistently been a banger. Although it’s been horribly spaced out, there hasn’t been one bad match in the TBS title tournament. But what this match did the most was create a star in Britt Baker. Afterwards, she got her rocket ship to the moon and has spent most of the year as champion. She’s also one of the most over performers on the roster, male or female. And all she had to do was get powerbombed into a bed of thumbtacks! Oof.
3) Hangman Adam Page (C) vs Bryan Danielson
AEW World Heavyweight Title – AEW Dynamite Winter Is Coming – 12/15/21
From the second that he showed his smiling face in Chicago, Bryan Danielson has been working his ass off. Week in and week out, he had been putting on 5 star matches when nobody asked him to and putting over guys that never thought they deserved it. So we could all understand his dismay when Hangman Adam Page, a man that had wrestled zero times since Bryan came into the company, swooped in and won the AEW Championship at Full Gear. He had every reason to feel slighted. But the problem was, Adam Page is the most over babyface in the company. So Bryan had to take the heel route. Nobody wanted to actually boo the American Dragon, but he embraced his heeldom so much that it never once felt forced. He spent a whole month systematically crippling The Dark Order and “stomping their fucking heads in”. What we once thought would be an amicable bout between the face champion and the face #1 contender turned into a bitter blood feud. On paper, it wasn’t necessary because those two guys can go the distance regardless. But instead, they pulled every punch possible to make the match seem even more massive.
And the match they had was nothing short of massive.
After a whole hour, neither wrestler was willing to lay down or give up. It’s common knowledge at this point that it ended in a 60 minute tie. And when you think about it, that fact alone is ridiculous. Tony Khan had the grapefruits to put a 60 minute match with no ending on network TV. And hardly anybody was upset about it, because the match was that damn good. They were given a generous amount of time to let the match, the story and their bodies breathe. It was a perfect battle of good and evil: the hero that refuses to give up while the chauvinistic villain dishes as much punishment as possible to no avail. Bryan’s heel character shone brightly here as he pulled out all stops to be an asshole. During breaks in the action, he would do jumping jacks and flip off the fans. He was constantly flexing his muscles. He was not the Daniel Bryan we knew, but rather Bryan Danielson, the American Dragon, the guy that’s going to kick your fucking head in and be allowed to say it on TV. You would think that a 60 minute match would be a drag, but these guys mastered the art of pacing and we were all invested for the whole duration. I didn’t even fast forward through the picture-in-picture breaks, a feat that has never been done before.
In the end, the story remains incomplete. Hangman retained the title on a technicality, even though he would’ve won cleanly if given an extra 30 seconds or if his body just wasn’t so damn broken. His title reign still has an asterik for the fact that he has never actually retained it after being champ for 2 months. Bryan Danielson’s legacy in AEW is also sordid. He may be undefeated, but his two biggest matches have ended in a time limit draw. Suddenly, both men have a whole lot to lose. And on January 5th, one of them has to lose it all. Now that’s good storytelling!
2) The Young Bucks (C) vs The Lucha Bros
Cage Match – AEW Tag Team Titles – AEW All Out – 9/5/21
I’ve spent the whole month dreading this one. For most of these matches, I have had something profound to say that makes the match worthy. It’s not this case with this one. A lot of people write about wrestling because it’s an easy mark. There’s always something you can poke fun at because wrestling is an imperfect artform. But the most impossible task is to write about something that’s perfect. That’s what the Lucha Bros and Young Bucks pulled off. There’s nothing I can say about the match that will do it any justice. But of course, I have to try.
This match is a drug. It makes you feel warm and gives you emotions that nothing else has made you feel before. And when it’s over, you want nothing more but to watch it again. You’ll cringe every time when Penta takes the thumbtack shoe to the face. You’ll still mark out when the dual Cero-Miedo drivers are performed on the apron. The sensations will still feel new to you. And you will keep pressing your luck, watching it over and over again to see if the feeling ever diminishes. It won’t. It’s not designed to do that. Your hair will become greasy and your eyes will strain. They’ll strain until it becomes a comfortable hum behind your corneas. Embrace the hum. The hard part is over.
Your personal relationships will start to suffer. You’ll be late for work, not show up to work, over and over until your boss assumes that you’re dead. Your significant other will leave you. Your parents will stop trying. You’ll reject all of your friend’s invitations unless the invitation is for, and you’ll quote, “a superkick party”. You don’t need to worry about your power being shut off. You’ll be long gone before that happens. You won’t know if it’s dehydration or starvation that does you in. You just know that it’s the end. You haven’t consumed anything in a week because you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Things start to fade as Rey Fenix jumps off the top of the cage for the 1,012th time and you lose control of your body. As you collapse to the floor, alone in your smelly TV room, you’ll utter two last words:
1) Kenny Omega vs Bryan Danielson
Singles Match – AEW Dynamite Grand Slam – 9/22/21
I had a panic attack. A bad one. A really bad one. A crippling one. I truly didn’t think I would be able to leave the house. Just the thought of putting my shoes on felt overwhelming and took damn near 10 minutes to accomplish. My head was spinning and I was uneasy on my feet. Rachel asked me if I was okay to go. I didn’t respond. Mainly because I knew the answer was no. Also, because I was afraid to talk, period. There was something horribly wrong with me and the scariest part about it was that it was all in my head. On my way to the train, I couldn’t look up. The light from the sun was blinding and I was already disoriented enough. As soon as we transferred to a 7, my silent pep talks and mantras started to work and I could physically feel everything start to melt. As we rolled into Junction Blvd, I cracked a half smile. We were close, in many ways.
The line seemingly had no end. But we arrived at the right time because soon after, it started snaking back down the boardwalk. We stood there for an hour and I felt a strange calm wash over me. I was just looking around, observing people’s signs and T-Shirt choices. I started forming complete sentences again. I started to laugh a little. I was me again, because I was among my people. And when the line finally moved, we were crammed into cattle formation, trying to get into one little entrance. I spotted Kip Sabian with a bag over his head. A mere 10 feet away, Adam Cole and the Lucha Bros were doing meet & greets. And thousands of us were crammed together, trying to get somewhere, anywhere. The whole scene was chaos, but it was the special kind of chaos that excited me.
When we got to our seats, my excitement started to slowly rise. But I knew I needed to ration my energy. I had already been through a lot and I needed to have a little bit of life in me for the main event. Before we knew it, the place was packed. Over 20,000 deep, to be somewhat exact. The largest crowd for a non-WWE American wrestling show since 1999. I realize that’s a stretch, but it still felt special. We were, after all, a part of history. 2 minutes before Dynamite was due to start, we were told that the main evet would be opening the show. The place went unhinged. It was a roar that I had never heard before. We were seconds away from getting our dream match.
When “Ride Of The Valkyries” started blasting, we somehow got louder. I didn’t even think it was possible, but we did it anyway. We expended energy that was saved for life and death situations. Much akin to, you know, a panic attack. Suddenly, everything made sense and lined up. All of the things that I’ve done and been through has led me to this moment. All of the good, the bad and everything in between. If the Dodgers didn’t get upset in the 2019 NLDS, I never would’ve signed up for WWE Network. If it wasn’t for Mick Foley flying off the cell, Rachel never would’ve gotten invested and my guilty pleasure would’ve only lasted a few weeks. If it wasn’t for reconnecting with my old friend, Mike, I never would’ve given NXT or AEW a shot. If it wasn’t for Ibushi vs White and John’s list, I never would’ve learned how good wrestling could be (and I also wouldn’t have given a shit about Kenny Omega). My wrestling fandom was cultivated by various moments and people. In that moment, I couldn’t help but feel infinitely grateful for them.
The two men stood in the ring and ears started ringing. My tinnitus is worse to this day. They stood there, looked at each other and soaked in the moment. We did as well, albeit with more emotion. Tears streamed down my face and I made animalistic growls that I never knew I had in me. I let it all out. Through all the pain and frustration that I had been through all summer, this was my reward. This was a special moment and I deserved to be there. I had earned it. Screaming my lungs out, joining a crowd of people collectively experiencing a moment that will give them goosebumps for decades. We all wanted his so bad. And there it was, right in front of us, ready for us to see. They were ready.
And then they locked arms.
The next week in wrestling is going to be insane. Between GCW holding a Royal Rumble and Wrestle Kingdom 16, I’m going to be seeing a lot of stuff that I could be writing about at the same time next year. And that’s just a wonderful feeling. On top of that, Covid be damned, I will be at the Prudential Center on Wednesday to see 3 title matches, including the rematch of Hangman Page and Bryan Danielson. I am happy and I am privleged.
And most of all, I fucking love wrestling.