Of all the years I’ve known about pro wrestling, few years have been as huge and impactful as 2021.
To set the stage, let’s look back at the end of 2020. It was a year of uncertainty, of empty warehouses or small crowds. EVIL had broken from Los Ingobernables de Japon to join Bullet Club, WWE unveiled the Thunderdome, The Undertaker retired for possibly the last time, Brodie Lee passed away – uniting the wrestling world – Sting debuted in AEW, Kenny Omega became AEW Champion, and as the Forbidden Door inched further open, we saw a faint light of what may come.
We weren’t ready for a year that would make up for the previous one.
In the 2021 Royal Rumble, a year removed from Edge’s return to WWE, Carlito and most notably, Christian made their returns. What was to come? Would Christian finally sign and get all these matches with modern WWE superstars? No! Okay, bye.
Nah, I’m just kidding. Christian wasn’t being offered to stay, so Christian Cage was to make his return to full-time wrestling, this time at AEW, debuting at Revolution, ready to work his way up to big title matches. Not only that, but WWE-lifers such as Paul Wight and Mark Henry made the jump as well. The boat was very much being rocked, but the waves hadn’t become so fierce yet.
But it was Edge and Bianca Belair who won the Royal Rumble and were in some of the greatest matches of both nights of WrestleMania 37 because of it. Bianca in particular leaves a lump in my throat, as she and Sasha Banks stood across the ring from each other with tears in their eyes because they made it. They made it to a WrestleMania main event, a monumental moment of inclusivity; though it was the bare minimum, it was still memorable and emotional.
Meanwhile, in Japan, there were shifts of their own happening. Jay White would become a bigger star, showing a different side of himself following a huge loss, and Shingo Takagi was on a path to success well-deserved. Yet, someone had their sites set on the west.
With AEW already in variations of working relationships with AAA, Impact, and NWA, NJPW was next in line, for KENTA made his presence known in his feud with Jon Moxley.
However, not all was meant to be bright in the industry – for though the light shone brightly upon the industry, the darkness lurched from the corner. So we have been given, so shall it be taken away.
WWE would make their signature unpopular decisions following WrestleMania 37, their first show with crowds since March of 2020, that would be repeated more than once through the year – releasing immensely talented individuals, people that unfortunately never saw much success due to narrow visions.
The most common denominator for some released was that they were from NXT, once a developmental brand, now undergoing a cosmetic surgery that many (including myself) watch with disappointment in our eyes as it transforms into something we’re unsure of, yet there’s the grim expectations that come with corporate enforcement.
To make matters worse, the industry lost some great names, the likes of which shall be dearly missed. Paul Orndorff, Bobby Eaton, Butch Reed, and most recently, Daffney Unger.
For many though, opportunity knocked, as WWE’s decisions were turned into monumental successes for a plethora of talented people with so many places to choose from. Perhaps the most glaringly positive example of this has been the former Aleister Black, newly rechristened as Malakai Black.
Further into the year, the world would feel relief as restrictions were easing up with the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine, meaning bigger crowds and bigger moments.
For Japan, this meant many stars from NOAH and NJPW appearing in western promotions, and for the return of STARDOM’s Hazuki, a big deal following Bushiroad taking control of the joshi promotion, as well as NJPW.
Yet, there was a return just as big to come, in the form of a man who fell out of love and passion for the wrestling business, who has gotten healthier since leaving WWE. We all know him, we’ve seen the videos and read the features as to why he’s a big deal so I won’t waste any more time – CM Punk is back.
That is not where this ends – no, not by a long shot. This new period of wrestling is just getting started.
On September 5, 2021, All Out was held in Chicago. All Elite Wrestling put a man that was often discarded and was forced to retire in 2014 in the main event of this stacked event in Christian Cage. Satoshi Kojima would face off against Jon Moxley, only to lose as Moxley was soon to face off against a past enemy in Minoru Suzuki. A man who had his love for wrestling snatched from him came back to it, flinging away any ring rust in the process. And that’s scratching the surface.
Ruby Soho, a woman unjustifiably laid off from a company and separated from dear friends exited the tunnel to her namesake song by the band Rancid – and two men who turned down their offers to stay in WWE to make the choice they felt right for them. Those men: Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson in the same fucking segment.
It just goes to show that no matter what, the pedal is being firmly pressed to the floor as the industry shifts into full gear, one that will become infested with big names. Those who are already big names are setting the universe of pro wrestling ablaze, even in the midst of Becky Lynch, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and potentially The Rock coming back to WWE. People who have a genuine love and passion that leaves lumps in our throats, our lungs shrivelled, the hairs on our arms standing on end, and tears in our eyes. Professional wrestling is an art form that many don’t understand but it connects us in this beautiful, oftentimes silly thing of ours. 2021 is reminding us of that.
If you’re reading this and you’re feeling all of these powerful emotions, rejoice in it. The wrestling world is turning into something we would never have thought possible a year or two ago. Now, look at it. Look at this thing you love, that is blossoming. It’s thanks to us, and thanks to the people that kill themselves backstage and in the ring to remind us just what is possible with this amazing display of fiction that gets us to suspend our disbelief, falling in love with it over and over.
What was once uncertain times in the worst way has now become uncertain times in the best way, as the needle, in spite of opposition, will not only be moved, but broken – only to be replaced and broken, over and over and over again.
It’s so much that it takes your breath away sometimes. In a whirlwind of emotions and surprises and turns, we all get to experience this together. This year has been filled with change as we are about to enter an era of wrestling that is about to become bigger than anything we can imagine, should the industry keep taking these massive leaps, so that the world can see what lies beyond the Titan Tower.
Strap in folks, this ride is going to get wild from here on out.