It was a year of returns that didn’t seem possible: a year of growth, a year of loss, and a year of change.
2021 featured a champion for the voiceless rediscovering himself. A queen with hair the color of cherry blossoms reigned. A gunslinger rode back from the sunset. The year gave us a tearful tribute, a shift in wrestling’s hierarchy, cowboy shit, and a pencil army.
What were the best moments of it all? Who claimed 2021 as their breakout year? What will we most remember about the second consecutive year to wear COVID’s dark cloak?
The Wrestle Inn crew sounds off:
- Caro @caro_taro
- Steve Howard @stevehoward1972
- Trent Breward @1UpCulture
- Ryan Dilbert @ryandilbert
- Adam @wrestlewriter84
- Corey Michaels @coreymacdazzle
- CiaranRH @CiaranRH2
- Hey_Brian @hey_brian
- Scott E Wrestling @ScottEWrestling
1. What is your five-word review of the year in wrestling?
Steve: Returning crowds enhance match quality.
Corey: What in tarnation is happening?
Trent: Goliaths stumble while Davids rise.
Caro: Got Laryngitis at All Out.
Adam: AEW becomes the top dog.
CiaranRH: Katsuyori Shibata wrestled this year.
Ryan: WWE alternatives grow and prosper.
Hey_Brian: Kick down the forbidden door.
Scott E Wrestling: The year of improbable returns.
2. Favorite match that won’t make anyone’s Match-of-the-Year lists?
Caro: Way back in February, AEW hosted a tournament for the women’s world title that included a lot of sweet talent from the US and Japan. My favorite match from that event was Ryo Mizunami vs. Yuka Sakazaki — the finals on the Japan side of the tourney. I was blown away by these two; they both demonstrated the best of joshi wrestling and exemplified the high-caliber athleticism and flexibility that it is revered for. The fact that it was widely available on YouTube makes it a free, accessible avenue for fans to try watching joshi for the first time.
Ryan: The absolute hoss fight Takashi Sugiura and Kazuyuki Fujita had for the GHC National Championship back in April. A pair of 51-year-olds tore it up in one of the most physical bouts of the year. Simple, savage, succinct. NOAH’s main event scene, both the folly of Keiji Mutoh’s reign and Katsuhiko Nakajima’s brilliance will get far more attention, but this dad clash is well worth seeking out.
Steve: I wanted to pick a match I enjoyed before crowds returned – as matches in front of a full arena naturally have an advantage in end of year lists. Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns in a Last Man Standing match at the Royal Rumble was an amazing brawl in spite of a disappointing end sequence. Owens showed so much intensity and athleticism during this battle for the Universal title. At moments I believed he would finally topple the Head of the Table, but it wasn’t to be.
Corey: John Cena’s return in the lead-up to SummerSlam 2021 was cathartic. For someone who had been booed so hard in his career, he got to feel the love of the fans, even lapsed WWE fans that have moved on to other products. And I feel his bout with the Tribal Chief Roman Reigns is one of his best. To think the Old Guard would win out now he was beloved and appreciated, just for it to be ripped from him all the same. Maybe his story with Roman isn’t over. Maybe it is. But he’s still every bit that Bad, Bad Man.
Trent: My first proper exposure to ChocoPro was wild. Mei Suruga, Baliyan Akki, Chie Koishikawa, and Hagane Shinno vs. Lulu Pencil, Emi Sakura, Minoru Fujita, and Chris Brookes. An absolutely bonkers 8-person tag that displayed the full breadth of what ChocoPro is all about. Creative comedy segments, deceptively strong wrestling, a unique atmosphere, and some top tier storytelling. There’s been better matches in 2021, even in ChocoPro, but this will stand out as one of my most memorable.
CiaranRH: Every year I say to myself I need to keep track of what matches I like, and every year I give up after a week. This match will likely make match of the year lists, but it happened approximately 5 years ago now (seriously 2021, wrap it up): Shingo Takagi vs Jeff Cobb, Wrestle Kingdom 15. The Tokyo Dome was seemingly the only venue large enough to contain the two monsters, ShinGodzilla and King Cobb putting on a blockbuster for the ages.
Hey_Brian: Lee Moriarty feels like he is maybe only months away from breaking out big time in AEW (and perhaps even outside of wrestling). Recently, though, he participated in an outstanding match with Darius Lockhart on Enjoy Wrestling’s Night Moves. Lockhart feels like a man just on the precipice of making good on his promise of a revolution, and this match just radiates with personality from both guys. It is a lowkey technical masterpiece that probably won’t be seen by nearly enough people.
Scott E Wrestling: The Hana Kimura Memorial Show, MATANE, takes the cake for show of the year and it will not be topped. The overall effort put in by everyone to remember the late Hana is one of the best in wrestling history. While that event will forever be remembered, the impromptu main event between the one-off returning Kagetsu and ASUKA needs to be remembered for years to come as well. Retired for over a year, Kagetsu delivered two incredible performances back to back with this match being the best of the night. It’s a must-see.
Adam: There are several I could’ve chosen but I’ll go with the match that drew me into AEW, that being the Blood and Guts Match on the May 5th Dynamite. It was AEW’s first attempt at a War Games style match and I think they pulled it off as best as they could. Sure, there were a few minor things that I could nitpick such as the match getting interrupted by commercials, but it accomplished several things. It got people talking about AEW, it set the stage for the Chris Jericho/MJF feud that would run throughout the summer, and Sammy Guevara came out of it looking like an absolute star. I’m a sucker for a good War Games style match and AEW did it well.
3. Who was the breakout star of the year?
Corey: Xavier Woods may have cut his teeth with his New Day brethren, but this year he’s showing everyone just who the hell he is. Tears welled up when Kofi stood against AJ Styles in the Gauntlet Match leading to KofiMania, they welled up when Big E won the Money in the Bank briefcase, and they welled up when he started being put in main events against Bobby Lashley and Roman Reigns. Woods is performing with the skills and determination of a veteran but is fighting with the tenacity of a rookie with something to prove, and the King is waking people up as his (new) day has finally come.
Trent: Unagi Sayaka joined Stardom at the end of 2020 and instantly felt out of place in the upper midcard as part of the STARS/Cosmic Angels story. Fast forward to the end of 2021 and she’s become such an integral part of the promotion. Unagi’s character shines brightly while her in ring work has improved to the point where she can semi-main an arena-level show and not feel out of place. A lot of the roster has improved, but none more drastically than Unagi.
Ryan: Jeff Cobb. Talk surrounding the big man has always been about his potential, his physique, his look. In 2021, though, the Hawaiian hoss morphed into the total package, improving big-time both on the mat and on the mic. Cobb kicked off the year with a certified classic against Shingo Takagi at Wrestle Kingdom and later looked every bit like a championship contender in the G1. Now, NJPW suddenly has another legit top-of-the-card option.
Steve: It’s difficult being a professional dentist and a standout pro wrestler, but Dr Britt Baker DMD succeeded where others have failed (well Dr Isaac Yankem DMD!). The AEW champion has proven herself as one of the best wrestlers in the world and had standout performances against Hikaru Shida, Thunder Rosa, and Tay Conti. TV ratings, social media and merchandise sales help evidence that Britt is leaving 2021 as a much bigger star, than at the start of the year.
Caro: While Top Flight was last year’s breakout tag team and was poised to be fundamental to AEW’s 2021, an injured Darius Martin hindered plans for the talented duo. However, that didn’t stop Dante Martin from being continuously showcased on AEW TV, and it certainly couldn’t halt the hot momentum he’s gained as a singles star. By making the most out of an unfortunate situation, Dante Martin has been able to cement himself as one of the future pillars of AEW’s foundation, consistently a highlight of the match cards he’s been featured in. I look forward to his rising star power in 2022, and certainly his long-awaited reunion with Darius.
Adam: This might seem like cheating, especially since this person was an already established star and potential Hall of Famer, but I’m going with Christian Cage. Jumping to AEW mere weeks after his surprise Royal Rumble appearance, he just kept having great match after great match. He had two absolute bangers with Kenny Omega and beat him on the first episode of Rampage to win the Impact Wrestling World Title. Then, he went to Impact and faced the likes of Brian Myers, Ace Austin, and headlined Bound for Glory against Josh Alexander. He’s had a hell of a year for a guy who most people thought would never wrestle another match again. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in 2022.
CiaranRH: I wanted to pick Jeff Cobb, dammit Ryan! Both of us picking Cobb is a testament to the impeccable year he has had. In all sincerity, I’d like to give everybody’s pipe-wielding maniac DOUKI some deserved love, he’s been silently putting on big performances throughout the year that has been overshadowed by New Japan’s misfortunes. Perhaps 2021 wasn’t a breakout year for DOUKI, but it certainly sets the table for a breakout 2022.
Scott E Wrestling: Maki Itoh. Her overall development from January to Wrestle Princess II is some of the most impressive you will see in a single year. Her ability to storytell in each and every match will make you cheer for her in every scenario. Itoh’s star power that grew through AEW carried over to TJPW and she really deserves all the credit in the world.
Hey_Brian: Miro left WWE and despite his successes, behind him was a ton of unrealized potential. It might seem odd to say that a guy who had multiple title runs and got to have sex in a military tank before WrestleMania was not treated properly or was underutilized, but this summer proved it. Miro had everything you could have wanted in a main eventer: physical presence, entertaining ring work, and fantastic and diverse promo ability. His run as the TNT champ showed that he could be counted on as a weekly TV star.
4. What did you like least about wrestling in 2021?
Hey_Brian: Every year that goes by where male wrestlers get away with casual misogyny under the guise of being in character is a mistake. The rap by Max Caster leading to his suspension by AEW was one thing, but soon after Chris Jericho was on TV week after week making gendered insults as a face, not even leaving the plausible deniability that he would get his comeuppance later on. The crowd getting behind something like that isn’t a good excuse to let it fly.
Trent: The apparent curse of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s main event scene. The debacle of the IWGP World Heavyweight Title being introduced and essentially killing any momentum Kota Ibushi had after getting his crowning moment, and then suffering an injury in the G1 Climax final after he had survived a full tournament. After Kota came Will, who then had to vacate the title due to injury. Shingo Takagi has been a great champion and a WOTY candidate, but it feels like he’s had to fight against the tide of a company that has lost favour with many fans amidst questionable booking, injury misfortune, and some key names being unavailable on their primary shows.
Ryan: WWE’s new massive cut strategy. It’s hard to get behind a company that lets 80-plus wrestlers go during a super profitable year. Some of the roster moves were simply a case of WWE trimming the fat while others were baffling. Releasing Hit Row right after you call them up, getting rid of Keith Lee for some reason, and booting Bronson Reed before giving him a shot on the main roster? Vince, what are you doing? How is a fan supposed to invest in anyone on this roster knowing that anyone not named Orton or Reigns could be shown the door at any moment?
Steve: The Ross and Rachel style ‘on a break’ announcement from Ring of Honor was a sad moment. I’m hoping it is just a break but a lot of the comments being made suggest it may be more permanent. The last two decades have seen Ring of Honor at the forefront of a new style of wrestling. CM Punk, Tyler Black, Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuinness, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Kevin Steen, El Generico – the list goes on of performers who have become bigger stars working whilst working for the promotion.
Corey: In the aftermath of Hana Kimura and Daffney Ungar’s passing, it’s disheartening to see two things: people still, unnecessarily being toxic to those who don’t deserve it, incessantly, until they leave social media (and then celebrating it), and the constant invoking of their names from the lips of those who are doing wrong, just seeking an out so not to face consequences of their actions. While this started with Hana last year, seeing it persist after Daffney this year is sickening.
Adam: Becky Lynch squashing Bianca Belair at SummerSlam. Bianca and Sasha had an absolute classic match at WrestleMania this year and then to have all that pretty much erased by her getting beaten by a returning Becky Lynch after a bait-and-switch deal by WWE where they advertised a Sasha/Bianca match left everyone with way more questions than answers.
Scott E Wrestling: WWE’s continuous insincerity towards those who they let go. Having Liv Morgan make the comment that Becky Lynch’s contract was the reason her friends were let go is not fair to all involved and gross on WWE’s behalf. I wish they’d be better but after 80-plus releases, it isn’t happening anytime soon.
Caro: The entitlement and obsession fans have with promotions, tribalism, access to wrestler’s private lives, and in some cases, impersonating them for their own gain. You are not a better fan for liking AEW over WWE. You are not owed Jon Moxley’s pictures of his child, nor are you in the right for hacking into a private Instagram account to obtain them. No, Bray Wyatt is not actually selling you a PS5, and Seth Rollins did not scam you out of hundreds of dollars. Kenny Omega has over 500 thousand twitter followers, and you get angry that he doesn’t respond back to you or like your tweets? How about the death threats Bryan Danielson received simply for switching to a promotion that allows him to express himself through his own style of wrestling? Don’t like Adam Cole’s shenanigans with the Elite? Okay, but please don’t pretend he was always serious with the Undisputed Era. P.S: NOT EVERYONE NEEDS TO GO TO AEW IMMEDIATELY WHEN THEIR CONTRACT EXPIRES.
5. What did you like most?
Scott E Wrestling: The growth of Utami Hayashishita into a top star in all of wrestling. This really goes hand-in-hand with what Trent said but with Stardom becoming so popular, the greatness of Hayashishita never failed to… well, become greater. She has become the star of not only Stardom but Joshi and heading into 2022, it remains to be seen as to how much greater her star can grow. Hayashishita is limitless.
Adam: The return of live crowds to events. While the pandemic is still ongoing, live crowds were able to come back over the summer and definitely helped bring back a much-needed element to wrestling. Those first WWE pay-per-views back with crowds like Money in the Bank and SummerSlam felt so special, and you could tell the wrestlers were more motivated to show their stuff in front of actual real live humans instead of floating heads on a video wall (no offense ThunderDome; you were pretty cool).
CiaranRH: The return of Katsuyori Shibata was perhaps the biggest emotional reaction I have had to anything in my entire life (I should say I do not have children nor am I married). I could not stop sobbing, my breathing was out of control, I was somewhat concerned I was having a panic attack (I’ve never had one, thankfully).
Ryan: Even with the G1 suffering a down year, 2021 was a wrestling tournament fan’s dream. NOAH’s N-1, DDT’s D-Oh Grand Prix, the Stardom 5 Star Grand Prix, and TJPW’s Tokyo Princess Cup all rocked. A treasure trove of great matches came from these events, from Nakajima vs. Kenou to Syuri’s two classics on the final night of the Grand Prix.
Trent: Biased answer, but seeing Stardom become one of the hottest promotions in all of wrestling. Having watched it for years, it’s so exciting to see these talented women getting to perform on bigger platforms and get the attention and respect they deserve. It’s been a blockbuster year and exceeded all expectations.
Corey: The comebacks of those who were once thought done with the industry. Katsuyori Shibata, Christian Cage, and CM Punk returned, while Edge and Sting proved they can still put on a show.
Hey_Brian: Hangman Adam Page returning from paternity leave to win first a shot at Kenny Omega and eventually grabbing the championship himself was about as happy for a wrestler as I have ever been. Hangman sitting atop the shoulders of his friends in the Dark Order to close the show was magnificent.
Caro: With the return of live crowds came the resurgence of the video game sign war. There were some super creative and hilarious ideas that made me laugh hard, which is another example that shows how well gaming and wrestling mix, and I’m totally NOT being biased about my All Out sign making Botchamania…….
Steve: The growth of Game Changer Wrestling really caught me by surprise. My uninformed perception at the start of the year was of a hardcore/weapons-style promotion that I wouldn’t enjoy. Matt Cardona and Jon Moxley being part of it encouraged me to watch and I soon realised GCW was more akin to the passion and variety presented by ECW. With so many WWE releases during the year, it’s encouraging to know there are so many viable options for those ‘future endeavoured’.
6. Best promo/talking segment?
Ryan: Eddie Kingston and CM Punk’s chest-puffing exchange before Full Gear was grab-you-by-the-throat stuff. No surprise when you put two elite talkers on the same stage. The fusing of reality and scripted animosity, Kingston’s bleeding heart leaking everywhere, the headbutt—my god.
Steve: Sami Zayn’s promo from March, in response to the announce team calling his match with Baron Corbin the least anticipated match in Smackdown history. The promo was part of his conspiracy theory and tirade against the biased WWE management. Swearing was bleeped out, Sami’s maniacal eyes and jumping up and down with anger helped convey strong emotion.
Trent: The Stardom 5 Star Grand Prix press conference had some decent promos, but nothing will match Saya Kamitani as she excitedly ran down the list of Blue Block competitors she couldn’t wait to face. “Hayashishita Utami, Syuri, Iroha Takumi”, the crowd gasped to Saya’s bemusement, not realising she accidentally had spoiled the big surprise that Marvelous’ Ace Takumi was competing in the 5 Star. The moment of confusion followed by everyone laughing as she apologised was hilarious, topped off only by Rossy Ogawa getting a little jab in when it was time to actually announce the surprise entrant. Technically great? No. But unforgettable in all the best ways.
Corey: Basically, any time Malakai Black speaks in his vignettes and promos. Like Raven, Jake Roberts, and Bray Wyatt, he seems like he’s drawing from this place deep inside himself yet delivers it as though he’s reading literature.
Caro: MJF and CM Punk delivered the promo of a generation. The irony of being worried that my parents would judge me for watching AEW while at their place for Thanksgiving weekend, because this segment made my father, who has not seen wrestling in about 2 decades, stop what he was doing and look at the television screen in disbelief. Normally I eye roll at WWE references, but the ones in this promo were crucial to the lore and storytelling between these two that I couldn’t get mad at it. Overall, absolutely compelling promo. MJF and Punk have been great on the microphone in the weeks following, but nothing has yet to live up to this moment.
Adam: Anytime Jay Briscoe speaks. When he’s on screen talking, you pay attention. He’s a man who means what he says and says what he means. If he says he’s coming to “whoop that ass” then you best believe that he’s gonna do it.
CiaranRH: Spicy take, I’m really not a fan of talking segments, it’s the thing that puts me off of watching American wrestling most. Having said that, Jay White’s backstage promo after his devastating loss at Wrestle Kingdom 15 will be looked back on as one of the greatest promos in history, the ultimate blurring of fiction and reality.
Hey_Brian: Hangman’s return promo stands out for me, but especially, “Cowboy shit was having the balls in the middle of the hottest run of my career to turn around and go back home for the birth of a beautiful baby boy, that’s cowboy shit.” Iconic, emotional, and just plain good.
Scott E Wrestling: CM Punk’s return to wrestling. All the words that poured out of his month were so real and there wasn’t a moment that didn’t feel special. It was surreal to think that Punk was back at all but his ability to remind the world as to why he was missed for seven years will never be forgotten. It’s a wrestling segment that will live on forever.
7. What will you remember most about this year in wrestling?
Steve: All Out. The best event in AEW’s brief history and the eventful ending with both Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole debuting. CM Punk’s first match in over seven years, a tag team title change in an amazing match and not one bad match. This event more than anything else, helped demonstrate WWE has real competition.
Trent: The return of CM Punk. In a year with a lot of returns and surprises, nothing will quite match hearing ‘Cult of Personality’ signal the arrival of the Voice of the Voiceless. After everything that happened, he can finally enjoy wrestling again.
Adam: WWE’s massive talent cuts flooding the market with big name stars and free agents that were released due to “budget cuts”.
Hey_Brian: Kenny Omega wrestled in so many different rings, on different TV channels, and against so many different opponents. He put everything he could into his runs as the AEW, AAA, and Impact champ until his body actually gave out. His year was nothing but bangers, a year for the ages.
Ryan: Stardom’s ever-growing momentum. Giulia and Tam Nakano’s rivalry, the Utami vs. Syuri classic, and the top-notch 5 Star Grand Prix had more and more folks talking about and throwing flowers at the company. Stardom was so consistently good, so rich with talent, that it forced itself into the best promotion conversation, COVID restrictions be damned.
Corey: In spite of WWE’s monopoly, AEW’s rise, and NJPW’s consistency, I feel this has been GCW’s year. It is here, in your face, and will not apologize for it. As it should be.
Scott E Wrestling: The returns and moments it provided us. CM Punk, Hazuki, Christian Cage, John Cena, Kagetsu, Becky Lynch, Katsuyori Shibata, Bryan Danielson (yes this counts), “The Rainmaker” (this too), and Arisa Hoshiki. They all returned in some form and never failed to put a smile on all of our faces. Wrestling can be a wonderful thing and these never-ending returns will be what I remember the most.
Caro: The moment the static hit the screens at the United Center and CM Punk walked out to Cult of Personality, while I cried in my apartment watching it all happen. The double take my boyfriend and I did a week later while watching Dynamite, where CM Punk told the audience to be patient with their Yes chants, just a little longer. The screams of joy that vibrated my vocal cords the next week when I witnessed the debuts of Ruby Soho, Adam Cole, and Bryan Danielson, and the magical night of wrestling I had at the Now Arena in what I consider to be the best wrestling event I have ever attended. The fact that everything I talked about happened in a two-week span is mindblowing, and we will never see something like this happen again in our lifetime.
CiaranRH: Call me a broken record, I don’t care, I’m going to be listening to the same record forever; Katsuyori Shibata’s return.
9. What wrestling-related purchase made you the happiest in 2021?
Ryan: I started off the year devouring J-Crowned: An Illustrated Guide to the Champions of Japanese Wrestling by Matt Charlton. It’s a handsomely illustrated volume with top-notch profiles of many a great GHC, Triple Crown and IWGP champ that will educate even the most hardcore puro fan. This book instantly became one of my favorite residents of my pro wrestling library.
Trent: It was a bittersweet purchase but buying the live stream for the Hana Kimura memorial show: Hana Matane. There were a lot of tears but seeing everybody come together to celebrate her life and remember her definitely helped with the healing process. Kyoko especially deserved to see how much everyone loved her daughter.
Adam: Signing up for Impact Plus. I was debating on adding another streaming service to my mix and I’ve been wanting to go back and catch up on the old TNA and Impact PPVs and specials I may have missed. The monthly specials were also a good enticement. For the price, you can’t beat a one-year subscription and there’s enough content (both Impact/TNA and some independent stuff as well) to keep me entertained for months. The only downside is that pay-per-views (Hard to Kill, Rebellion, Slammiversary, and Bound for Glory) aren’t included on there live and they’re added 30-45 days later to the archives.
Steve: Normally this would involve an amazing live show, but 2021 was different. I’ve bought a number of wrestling related books this year and I’m particularly enjoying revisiting Simon Garfield’s book The Wrestling. I bought this when it was first published 25 years ago and bought another copy (which includes additional content) this year. It is such a fascinating look at British wrestling history and comes highly recommended.
CiaranRH: I contributed a column on Chris Dickinson to the fantastic Monthly Puroresu magazine, accomplishing a personal dream to have my work published in a physical publication! Otherwise, does having Nandos with the LA Dojo boys and Speedball Mike Bailey count?
Corey Michaels: Getting to meet Britt Baker at a local Con was a treat. Super nice and friendly, and she had one of the longest lines there. Thankfully, she didn’t try to book me a dentist appointment!
Hey_Brian: While not technically my own purchase, but a purchase for me as a gift, my Nick Gage Cameo video was worth every penny and then some. Between hearing Nick Gage congratulate me on educating the children of America and seeing Hangman win the big gold belt, it was a big year to be a teacher who is a wrestling fan.
Scott E Wrestling: Following with what Trent said. Purchasing and witnessing the Hana Kimura Memorial Show live will be a wrestling experience I will never forget. I felt honored to share in what was a special night for her and all those who loved her.
Caro: Crazy Like a Fox: The Definitive Chronicle of Brian Pillman is my favorite wrestling book in a while. I bought it to do research on his career after watching his Dark Side of the Ring episode, and he quickly climbed my favorite wrestlers of all-time list. If you’re a fan of his work or want to learn more about the framework behind the Loose Cannon, I 200% recommend that you pick this book up!
9. Which wrestler are you most rooting for to have a big 2022?
Trent: I’ll preface this by saying ‘big’ 2022 here means just getting back in the ring. Jungle Kyona has been out for over a year due to injuries, and just as she was starting to prepare to return as a freelancer she found herself going back under the knife for surgery due to complications. Jungle hasn’t been able to catch a break, and I hope 2022 can be different for her.
Adam: Shane Taylor. He’s been one of the shining stars of ROH over the past year or so and the Shane Taylor Promotions faction is really coming into its own. He can talk, he can wrestle, and he comes to the ring looking like the baddest dude on the planet. I can’t wait to see where he and his faction wind up at. Wherever they go, they are going to absolutely be stars.
Steve: Ricky Knight Jr. There is some hometown bias in this selection, but Ricky has been a standout performer in RevPro and I expect some big opportunities to come his way in 2022. His high-flying ring style would make him a perfect fit for New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight division or Impact’s X division.
CiaranRH: Alex Coughlin. The LA Dojo young lion has officially left the pride and is ready to develop his own character. His challenge series matches have been my personal highlight of New Japan USA, culminating in a landmark victory over JR Kratos. Alex is already a polished and crisp wrestler, it’s exciting to think about what he will be capable of once the young lion handcuffs are removed, it’s scary how much potential he has.
Corey Michaels: Adam Cole. It’s clear he’s set for big things while he’s hanging out with his best buds. Cole was undisputedly a huge star in NXT and had it not been for the bigwigs running the main roster of WWE having the opposite of good ideas, he could have been one of their biggest stars. Instead, it’s clear he’s going to be one of the best talents to sign with AEW as he proves just why WWE wanted to keep him so badly.
Ryan: Yuki Arai. The Tokyo Joshi Pro rookie has been super impressive considering how little experience she has. Seeing the bubbly pop singer turned grappler start to figure out the ins and outs of wrestling has been a blast. It’s wild to think what Arai will evolve into in 2022 and beyond once she adds more matches to her resume.
Hey_Brian: I think Thunder Rosa is going to be a phenomenon. While she has already done big things, including one of my favorite matches of the year when she had a Lights Out match with Britt Baker, she is ready to be not just a big star in AEW but to carry that star power beyond wrestling.
Scott E Wrestling: Keith Lee. To follow up from what I said in a previous question, I think his lost year of 2021 will be completely forgotten when he shows how amazing he is as a wrestler when his 90 days are up. Whether he goes to AEW or elsewhere, it will once again be time to Bask in the Glory of the limitless one and he can be in the WOTY conversation when it’s all said and done.
Caro: Wardlow. Next year is the year he will FINALLY separate himself from MJF and become the breakout singles star he deserves to be. He will FINALLY stick it to him and get his revenge for essentially being his fall guy for so long. Now to just wait…….
10. What’s something you are excited about for 2022?
Steve: How the WWE is going to bounce back…
Trent: Wrestling starting to return to normal on a global scale. Particularly Japanese crowds being able to vocalise again, wrestlers being able to travel to and from their countries more easily and companies being able to tour internationally.
Adam: Seeing if ROH will rise from the ashes and become a viable place for wrestlers to find work. They’re scheduled to be on hiatus until the spring of 2022 as that’s when they have the Supercard of Honor show scheduled on WrestleMania weekend but if that event actually happens is anyone’s guess. I hope it does and that ROH comes back refocused and better than ever.
CiaranRH: Shibat… okay, sorry. Hopefully the return of Japanese crowds being able to go crazy again, as Trent said. It’s been so long now, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to watch live Japanese wrestling with a raucous audience.
Ryan: The future of the best wrestlers WWE let go this year. AEW can’t sign everyone, so Impact, NWA, and other promotions are going to be able to get their hands on some prime talent. I’m psyched to see where Shane Strickland ends up. The idea of The Mighty Don’t Knee reforming is enough to get you all tingly. A pissed-off Zayda Ramier (aka AQA) looking to prove WWE made a mistake is going to be something else.
Hey_Brian: Even after the huge year GCW just had, they put together yet another step up with an upcoming show at the Hammerstein Ballroom. I am excited not just for the show, but to see what this means for GCW going forward.
Scott E Wrestling: Seeing where Keith Lee ends up and what he’s able to do now that he isn’t being held back by health problems or the difficulties or working with WWE. It should be a special year for him, and I think he can remind everyone why he’s special. NJPW’s expanding relationship with other promotions is a close second.
Caro: Going to more live events! My 2022 goal is to attend all 4 AEW PPVs in the same year!
Corey: Honestly, it feels as though the trajectory of the industry was headed for a reset ever since Fergal Devitt formed the Bullet Club, leading to the inception of so many incredible things. 2020 and 2021 have made so many things unheard of happen. I’m just ready to see what impossibility will be made possible.