Talk AEW 2021 Awards
As 2021 ends, we look back at what has been an amazing year for AEW. Thanks to Tony Khan and his team, AEW has treated fans with some of the best wrestling matches this past year and expanded their roster to include stars such as CM Punk, Brian Danielson, Adam Cole, and Ruby Soho, to name just a few. They introduced a new women’s championship belt, added a new show with Rampage, and delivered two of the best pay-per-view events of 2021. And that’s just the beginning of what might be remembered as AEW’s most important year. And with that, it’s time we handed out our yearly Talk AEW Awards! If you want to learn more about our picks, we recommend listening to episode 57 of the Talk AEW Podcast.
1. Best Vignette: Eddie Kingston’s Chilling Message to CM Punk
Runner-up: Darby Allin’s helicopter Coffin Drop
Last year’s winner: The Acclaimed’s music video for Buck Hunt
This award goes to the wrestler who had the best video montage made for him this past year. It was a tough choice since I really wanted to choose something AEW made for either Darby Allin or Malakia Black but the video package AEW made for Eddie Kingston before his match with CM Punk was far better than anything else we got this year. I love everything about it: the eerie music, the creepy sound effects, and the chilling message from The Mad King. That said, those black and white short films starring Darby Allin are well worth a special mention.
2. Best Promo: Eddie Kingston confronts CM Punk
Runner-up: CM Punk confronts MJF
Last year’s winner: Eddie Kingston confronts Jon Moxley
It was another great year for AEW promos, but nobody did it better than Eddie Kingston. But of all the great promos he delivered either backstage or in the middle of the ring, it was his promo on an episode of AEW Rampage that earned him this award. Of course, I’m referring to the night CM Punk and Eddie Kingston came face-to-face in a fiery confrontation that ended in a chaotic brawl. His raw intensity was unmatched by anyone else this year. This was a promo that felt real in a way that very few, if any, promos do these days— and to be honest; I actually believe Eddie meant every word he said that night.
3. Most Improved Wrestler – MJF
Runner-up: Eddie Kingston
Last year’s winner: Jungle Boy Jack Perry
We all knew MJF was one of the best on the mic. The man can cut a promo better than most wrestlers past or present, but there were many fans who wondered if he could be as good in the ring. We saw glimpses of it last year— most notably during his match against Jungle Boy Jack Perry at Double or Nothing, but apart from that, MJF resorted to either cheating or running away from a fight so often, it was hard to gauge just how talented he is. Thankfully, that all changed in 2021. Between his feud with members of The Inner Circle MJF, his bout with Dante Martin, and the five-star match with him and Darby Allin at Full Gear, MJF proved he could go head-to-toe with just about anyone and usually outwork them too!
4. Best Speech – CM Punk Makes His Debut
Runner-up: Cody Rhodes Retirement Speech
Last year’s winner: Cody Rhodes Pandemic Speech
Not to be confused with Best Promo, this award goes to the wrestler who delivered the best speech. Last year we awarded it to Cody Rhodes for his heartfelt monologue at the start of the first Covid-era episode of Dynamite without a live audience. This year, the award goes to CM Punk for his unforgettable return to wrestling on August 20, 2021. Rumors were circulating for weeks prior to the show that Punk would show up in The Windy City, but I don’t think anyone imagined it would go as well as it did. What more can you say about this segment that hasn’t already been said a million times? Punk’s return felt like a huge moment because that’s exactly what it was.
5. Best New AEW Talent – The American Dragon Brian Danielson
Runner-up: CM Punk
Last year’s winner: Ricky Starks
This was not an easy choice, and we could have easily given the award to CM Punk, but the fact is, Brian Danielson wrestled in some of the best matches of 2021 this year, including the two best matches of 2021.
6. Best Breakout Performer – Dante Martin
Runner-up: Daniel Garcia
Last year’s winner: Darby Allin
When Top Flight first debuted on AEW Dark back in 2020, they immediately grabbed the attention of fans who praised both brothers for their fast-paced high-flying moves in the ring. Unfortunately, Darius was sidelined all year due to an injury, but his absence was a blessing for his younger brother Dante who was given plenty of opportunities to shine on both AEW Dynamite and Rampage, including a scene-stealing main event with MJF and a six-man tag team match with him and the Sydal brothers vs. The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega.
7. Best Faction – The Pinnacle
Runner up: The Dark Order
Last year’s winner: The Inner Circle
Unlike last year, there wasn’t a faction that dominated AEW this past year, but the members of The Pinnacle did steal the spotlight on several episodes of Dynamite. Not only were they involved in the feud with the Inner Circle and participated in the historic Blood and Guts match, but MJF, Cash Wheeler, and Dax Harwood were all involved in some of the best matches of 2021. It also helps that Wardlow is a member of the faction since he’s easily one of the most dominant men on the entire roster.
8. Biggest Surprise of 2021: The Double Reveal at All Out
Runner up: Hook can wrestle!
Last year’s winner: The debut of the icon Sting at Winter is Coming
We could have given this award to the debut of CM Punk on AEW Rampage, but that wasn’t really a surprise since everybody knew Punk was going to show up that night; it was just a question of when and how. However, what fans didn’t expect was to have two high-profile wrestlers like Adam Cole and Brian Danielson, make their AEW debut at the end of All Out. What I especially love about this double reveal is how they played with the expectations of fans by at first teasing the possibility that Adam Cole would turn on The Elite. Of course, AEW is saving that story for a later date.
9. Best AEW Dynamite Episode: AEW Grand Slam (September 22, 2021)
Runner up: New Year’s Bash (January 6, 20201)
Last year’s winner: AEW Dynamite Atlanta, GA (February 19, 2020)
The special episode of AEW Dynamite at Arthur Ashe Stadium is easily the best installment of AEW’s weekly show to date. It was the first time AEW hosted a live show in New York, and on that day, wrestling fans around the world got to see one of their dream matches play out. Of course, I’m referring to the opening match at AEW’s Grand Slam event, which featured Bryan Danielson making his in-ring debut and wrestling Kenny Omega in what would turn out to be a 30-minute draw in front of 20,177 fans— the biggest crowd in the history of AEW Dynamite. And what an amazing thirty minutes it was! But it wasn’t just the opening match that was great but the entire show, which also featured a fun tag team match between Darby Allin and Sting against Dax Hardwood and Cash Wheeler— and the main event, which saw Britt Baker defend her women’s title.
10. Best AEW Rampage Episode: The First Dance (August 20, 2021)
Runner-up: AEW Rampage Halloween Special (October 29, 2021)
Seven years after leaving WWE, Punk made his highly anticipated return to professional wrestling on the second episode of Rampage. With the raucous Chicago crowd chanting his name, he didn’t make them wait long, as he came out to open the show with Living Colour’s “The Cult of Personality” blasting throughout the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, a song that has become synonymous with Punk. The response was electric, and Punk then cut an enthusiastic promo in the ring. Of course, CM Punk didn’t use up the entirety of the episode, but he was front and center for twenty-two glorious minutes, and that is enough to name this the best episode of Rampage in 2021.
11. Best Televised Match: Brian Danielson vs. Kenny Omega | Grand Slam
Runner-up: Hangman Page vs. Bryan Danielson | Winter is Coming
Last year’s winner: Parking lot brawl featuring Best Friends and Proud & Powerful
On August 20th, 2021, wrestling fans around the world got to see one of their dream matches play out at Arthur Ashe stadium in New York City. Of course, I’m referring to the opening match at AEW’s Grand Slam event, which featured Bryan Danielson making his AEW debut and wrestling Kenny Omega in what would turn out to be a 30-minute draw, in front of 20,177 fans— the biggest crowd in the history of AEW Dynamite. And what an amazing thirty minutes it was!
Danielson vs. Omega is easily the best AEW match of 2021 and arguably the best match in the history of the company so far. We knew it would be great given the immense wrestling talent between the two men, but somehow, this match exceeded the expectations of fans everywhere. Here’s a match that will be discussed, debated, studied, and talked about for generations to come, thanks to their incredible in-ring talent and the story about two of the best wrestlers of their respective generations trying to prove their claim to the best in the world. It was a simple story, but nevertheless, it didn’t stop the match from having a big fight feel. The pacing, in-ring work, and atmosphere were pretty much perfect. And yes, not having a winner didn’t detract from this at all; instead, it left fans thirsty for the eventual rematch.
12. Best PPV Match: Lucha Brothers vs. Young Bucks | All Out
Runner-up: CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston | Full Gear
Last year’s winner: Omega and Adam Page vs. Young Bucks | Revolution
The Lucha Bros defeated The Young Bucks inside a steel cage to win the AEW Tag Team Championship in easily the best tag team bout of the year. The action was fast and furious, and what made it even more impressive was how all four men kept the crowd invested in every single second of the match with some truly innovative offense. For the most part, the Bucks dominated the action, using a wide variety of moves to keep Penta and Fenix from getting the upper hand but eventually, Fenix would mount a courageous comeback and jump off the top of the cage onto the Young Bucks before he and his brother hit their tag finisher for the win.
As expected, this match featured highly flying action, including a pair of stereo package piledrivers on the ring apron, a diving stomp into a Fear Factor piledriver, and the aforementioned crossbody dive off the top of the cage. But amidst all the blood and carnage, this match also had a ton of heart. And there was a story being told. This was, after all, the long-anticipated rematch from All Out 2019, and it also marked the first time the Lucha Bros. won the titles. Everything from their extravagant entrance to watching them celebrate with family and friends post-match made the Lucha Bros. even more likable, especially since the Bucks attempted to dishonor their opponents by ripping off their masks. The image of crimson-masked Penta protecting his young brother is something few wrestling fans will soon forget.
In the end, the Bucks pulled out every trick they could, resorting to the underhanded tactics, but it simply wasn’t enough to squash the spirit, heart, and determination of their opponents. Honestly, the Steel Cage Match from All Out was so full of emotion; it’s a match you can’t in any way effectively recap. Words just wouldn’t do it justice. It needs to be seen, to be believed.
13. Wrestler Who Took the Most Punishment: Darby Allin
Runner-up: Brandon Cutler
Last year’s winner: Sammy Guevara
There is no wrestler that took more punishment inside and outside of the ring this year than Darby Allin. From his TNT Championship run battling giants like Brian Cage and Miro to his more recent matches against Ethan Page and MJF, Darby was put through the wringer, sacrificing his body in more ways than one.
14. Most Promising Future: MJF
Runner-up: Daniel Garcia
Last year’s winner: Sammy Guevara
This award goes to MJF for one simple reason: There is no other wrestler in AEW that can make the claim that there will be a betting war in 2024 between various wrestling companies who will all want to sign him to a multi-year contract. MJF has so much leverage right now; he’s able to make bold statements like this on social media while also standing in the middle of the ring during an episode of Dynamite. And while we would all like to think that he will stay with AEW when his contract expires, chances are he’ll follow the money and head over to WWE. Only time will tell.
15. Best Pay-Per-View: AEW All Out
Runner-up: Full Gear
Last year’s winner: AEW Revolution
There’s no denying the level of excitement that AEW All Out brought to the wrestling community by debuting three superstars, all in one night. But apart from Ruby Soho, Adam Cole, and Brian Danielson making their way to AEW, there were plenty of great matches at the pay-per-view to keep us entertained, including Miro defending the AEW TNT Championship against Eddie Kingston; the steel cage match where the Young Bucks defended the AEW World Tag Team Championship against the Lucha Brothers, and the retirement match between Chris Jericho and MJF. It was also the night CM Punk returned to the ring to wrestle for the first time in seven years against Darby Allin, and it featured a solid main event in which Kenny Omega defended the World title against Christian Cage.
16. Best Storyline: The Pinnacle vs. The Inner Circle
Runner-up: Is Cody Rhodes going heel?
Last year’s winner: The MJF/Cody Rhodes feud
While the feud between The Inner Circle and The Pinnacle did overstay its welcome, there were plenty of highlights to justify naming it the best storyline of 2021. Some of the highlights include MJF stabbing Chris Jericho in the back, the formation of The Pinnacle, the backstage brawl that led Jericho to flush MJF’s head in a toilet, and the unforgiving and historic Blood and Guts match on Dynamite. The feud also included Jericho having to wrestle all members of The Pinnacle in order to get a shot at MJF; the Stadium Stampede at Double or Nothing, which ended with Sammy Guevara hitting a 630 splash in front of a sold-out crowd; and last but not least, the match between MJF and Jericho at All Out in which Jericho put his career on the line.
17. Best Tag Team of 2021: The Lecha Bros.
Last year’s winner: The Young Bucks
There’s just no denying that the Lucha Bros. were the best tag team in AEW this past year. Not only did they hold two championship titles, but they ended the year as the AEW tag team champions after defending the belts inside a steel cage in what is easily the best tag team bout of the year.
18. Best Women Wrestler: Dr. Britt Baker
Runner-up: Thunder Rosa
Last year’s winner: Dr. Britt Baker
When it comes to the women’s division, nobody has shined brighter than Dr. Britt Baker this year. As the good doctor would say, she became the face of the women’s division after her unforgettable Lights-Out match against Thunder Rosa and has been on a tear ever since! Not only is Britt Baker the best on the mic cutting promos but she also ends the year as the women’s champ. Honestly, handing out this award was a no-brainer— even Tony Khan called Brit Baker the “performer of the year.”
19. Best Male Wrestler: Kenny Omega
Runner-up: Brian Danielson
Last year’s winner: Kenny Omega
There are plenty of reasons why Kenny Omega takes home this award. For starters, he participated in some of the best matches of 2021, including the best match, which pitted him against Brian Danielson during a special episode Dynamite filmed live at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City. The man also held four championship titles all at once and helped Tony Khan do the unthinkable by opening the forbidden door. With the AEW Championship, AAA Championship, and IMPACT Wrestling World Championship in his possession, Kenny Omega became the most accomplished wrestler in 2021.
20. Best AEW Moment 2021: CM Punk’s Debut
Runner-up: Adam Page Winning the Championship
Last year’s winner: The Dinner Debonair
Seven years after leaving WWE, CM Punk made his highly anticipated return to professional wrestling on the second episode of Rampage, and what a moment it was! There was no other moment this year talked about, written about, and rewatched repeatedly than Punk’s return to professional wrestling at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Even months later, rewatching his epic return will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment and one we will never forget.