WWE & AEW’s Best of 2021: Honorable Mentions for The Biggest Pro Wrestling Stories of The Year

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2021 proved to be another momentous year for professional wrestling. Once the COVID-19 pandemic began slowing down, companies were able to welcome fans back inside arenas and start touring around the country again. WWE posted record profits, released more than 80 wrestlers and gave its biggest star of the era his banner year. Meanwhile, AEW saw another year of massive growth by signing more stars, putting on its best pay-per-views to date and breaking down the barriers between other promotions. This week we’ll be counting down the five biggest stories of the pro wrestling world from this past year, but before we can get to all of that it’s time to list the honorable mentions!

Check out the list below, and let us know if there’s any we missed down in the comments! And stay tuned for the countdown of the top five stories as we’ll be releasing a new installment every day this week!

Fall and Pray wwe-karrion-kross-new-look-helmet-1280255.jpg(Photo: WWE)

Poor Karrion Kross. By the time 2021 started, he was already back from the shoulder injury that abruptly ended his first NXT Championship reign. He won the title back in short order from Finn Balor at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, but in the months that followed something consistently felt… off. His presentation felt custom-made for WWE’s main roster and his matches — multiple Saito suplexes, rarely selling an opponent’s offense and a Kross Jacket submission finish — severely clashed with the rest of the NXT roster pre-reboot. And once Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano started calling out Kross on his shortcomings on TV the big man could never recover.

Then things just got weird. He showed up on Main Event with the NXT Championship and effectively nothing else from his NXT presentation. Then he lost in less than three minutes to Jeff Hardy in his Raw debut. And not long after dropping the NXT title to Samoa Joe, he started showing up on the Red Brand with ring gear that could charitably be described as “Gladiator gimp.”

And after all of that, he and Scarlett both wound up getting cut on Nov. 4. There’s no doubt his mishandling will be studied for years to come.

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2021 Was Rated R wwe-edge-roman-reigns-tapping-1276124.jpg(Photo: WWE)

Edge probably won’t wind up winning too many Wrestler of the Year awards (including ours), but he quietly had an outstanding 2021. He won the Men’s Royal Rumble from the No. 1 spot, main evented WrestleMania 37, had an excellent follow-up with Roman Reigns then sunk his teeth into a trilogy with Seth Rollins, putting on a Match of the Year contender with “The Visionary” at (of all places) Crown Jewel. All the while, he showed off his acting chops by consistently taking his character to darker, more deranged places as his feuds went on. He even managed to produce chilling monologues from inside the ThunderDome!

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The Ring General’s Reign wwe-walter-nxt-uk-champion.jpg(Photo: WWE)

Walter’s historic reign as NXT United Kingdom Champion was finally brought to an end earlier this year, making it the longest championship reign in WWE in decades at 870 days. Every defense was a must-see moment, proving that one of WWE’s best bell-to-bell wrestlers is someone who currently doesn’t wrestle in the United States full-time. Whether or not he’s changed his mind about that remains to be seen.

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Ashes wwe-bray-wyatt-alexa-bliss-joker-harley-quinn-1243606.jpg(Photo: WWE)

It’s not just that Bray Wyatt was suddenly released over the summer — Lord knows we will get to that later — it’s that his final storyline in the WWE was easily the most incomprehensible. Wyatt closed out 2020 by being set on fire by Randy Orton, leaving the demented Alexa Bliss to serve as his mouthpiece for weeks on end. Eventually, Wyatt was revived, and by the time he arrived at WrestleMania 37 for his long-awaited grudge match with Orton the “burned” aspect of The Fiend had been completely wiped away. But then we got that finish, which was apparently the result of WWE’s writers having no endgame in mind for the storyline between Wyatt, Orton and Bliss. Suddenly Wyatt was off TV again and Bliss began running around with remnants of his shtick and an ugly doll named Lily (complete with CGI winking!). Bliss was then written off TV when Charlotte Flair ripped Lily to pieces while she tried (and failed) to get an Alka Seltzer to make her appear like she was foaming at the mouth at Extreme Rules.

If all that sounded like the rambling of a madman, imagine watching it unfold week after week.

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Wrestling Shows Are Good Now heels-cm-punk-ricky-rabies-1281004.jpg(Photo: Starz)

While the quality of WWE‘s weekly TV product often fluctuated, one thing that remained consistently great in 2021 was wrestling-related TV shows. Dark Side of The Ring delivered another excellent season, Young Rock did an outstanding job taking viewers back to early 80s wrestling and Heels wound up being a lot of fun while showing plenty of promise for a second season.

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Flair’s Fall wwe-raw-ric-flair-coronavirus-1226841.jpg(Photo: WWE)

The second half of Dark Side of The Ring Season 3 kicked off with a retelling of the “Plane Ride From Hell.” But while the infamous international flight has often been viewed as a hilarious disaster in shoot interviews, the episode showed the real damage it caused when one of its flight attendants recapped being allegedly sexually assaulted by “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. The backlash caused fans to reexamine their views on Flair and his notorious tales of “Stylin’ and Profilin’,” all the while he denied any wrongdoing.

On top of all of that, Flair requested his release from the WWE just one month before the episode aired and WWE’s response (removing Flair from the opening signature on all WWE shows) has prompted him to claim on his podcast that he’ll never go back to the company and that they’re trying to “erase his legacy.”

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Ring of Honor Shutters, For Now ring-of-honor-logo.jpg(Photo: ROH)

The Baltimore-based promotion announced back in late October that it would be going on a months-long hiatus following the Final Battle pay-per-view. News broke almost immediately afterward that every wrestler was effectively being released from their contracts, and that any deals that lasted past Dec. 31 would only be recognized until March.

The announcement was a letdown for many reasons. ROH was once viewed as the destination for premiere in-ring talent and many of its alumni now shape the world of professional wrestling as we know it. It’s also a shame that, not long ago, it was viewed as the No. 2 promotion in the company behind WWE. But the departure of The Elite, the launch of AEW and some of the company’s creative decisions caused it to fall further and further down the pecking order.

The greatest shame of all is that, more than any other US-based promotion, ROH took the most precautions when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic and made sure it took care of all of its wrestlers during that time. Yet right now, when the depth of pro wrestling talent currently on the free-agent market is seemingly at an all-time high, ROH is temporarily closing its doors.

Hopefully, it will find a way to keep going.

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The Death Match King matt-cardona-gcw-homecoming-1277043.jpg(Photo: Twitter/@TheMattCardona){replyCount}comments

What a year it’s been for Matt Cardona. After being released by the WWE in April 2020 and having a brief stint in AEW, the man formerly known as Zack Ryder made the jump to Impact Wrestling at the start of the year while also expanding his podcasting empire. But he kicked things into a new gear over the summer by arriving in Game Changer Wrestling and embracing his role as the most hated man in the company. By channeling his WWE roots, Cardona immediately clashed with GCW’s outspoken fanbase and made him the perfect foil for most of GCW’s roster.

The scene of Cardona getting pelted with garbage after winning the GCW World Championship in July is almost worthy of its own spot on the list, but he managed to cram so many moments into just a single year — dressing up as Vince McMahon as ECW Champion, making a GCW Universal Championship spinner belt, crowning himself the Deathmatch King, dropping the title to Jon Moxley, Chelsea Green’s arrival, the PBR commercial and losing the Internet Championship to Effy just to name a few. And now that he’s arrived in the NWA while maintaining his GCW persona, it looks like 2022 could be another fun year.

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