It was the best of times and the worst of times for pro wrestling in 2021.
The industry has experienced tremendous growth and loss; fortunes for various performers became brighter and dimmer; fans were treated to some fantastic and also some not-so-great moments. Nonetheless, this was a memorable year for many reasons.
We should all commend the hard working industry professionals—from the performers who leave it all in the squared circle; to the promoters that book the shows; to the crews that are often the unsung heroes of pro wrestling shows.
The 2021 American Wrestling Awards is just an armchair way of expressing thanks, as well as giving credit where credit is due to the finest performers of the year.
A couple of weeks ago, I announced my nominees. I also invited you to share your thoughts on who were your top performing talents in the United States. Now, I'm going to announce the winners.
The winner, which will be in bold, was picked at my sole discretion with a brief explanation as to why I picked them. I will note the Community Choice based upon some of your responses in the Nominees post. I will also note who I felt was the runner up in each category.
Without further ado... the 2021 American Wrestling Award Winners.
Best Men's Babyface—Hangman Adam Page, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice: Hangman Adam Page, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: Jon Moxley, All Elite Wrestling
This was literally a no-contest. I don't even really have to offer an explanation. Hangman Page is one of the best babyfaces of the past 10 years, probably only exceeded by Jon Moxley's 2019-2021 run and Bryan Danielson's run in 2013-14.
Best Men's Heel—Kenny Omega, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice, Roman Reigns, WWE
Runner Up: Roman Reigns, WWE
Final boss Roman Reigns might be the best main character WWE has produced in years; however, Kenny Omega has done more for the industry at large than Reigns has. Omega served as the villainous champion for three separate promotions in 2021, delivered some of the best highest profile matches, and did it all on two bad shoulders.
Best Women's Babyface—Thunder Rosa, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice, Bianca Belair, WWE
Runner Up: Bianca Belair, WWE
Bianca Belair had a hell of a year, including main eventing Night 1 of Wrestlemania. However, Thunder Rosa just absolutely killed it this year as a performer.
Best Women's Heel—Britt Baker, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice, Britt Baker, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: Deonna Purazzo, Impact Wrestling
Britt Baker is literally following the same playbook as The Rock, though she never got go-away heat from the crowd. She is the most meaningful villain in women's wrestling at the moment... only just a hair ahead of Purazzo, who is challenging Serena Deeb, Hikaru Shida, Io Shirai, and Faby Apache for being the best women's worker in North America.
Best Men's Single Champion—Kenny Omega, AEW World Champion, AAA Megacampion, Impact Wrestling World Champion
Community Choice, Roman Reigns, WWE Universal Champion
Runner Up: Miro, AEW TNT Champion
Nearly every title reign in men's pro wrestling was fairly predictable, but Omega being champion for three different televised promotions and turning in Grade-A matches in every single defense stands out to me more.
Best Women's Single Champion—Deonna Purazzo, Impact Wrestling Knockouts Champion, AAA Reina de Reinas Champion
Community Choice: Britt Baker, AEW Women's World Champion
Runner Up: Britt Baker, AEW Women's World Champion
Britt Baker has a been a solid champion, but she has not quite kicked it in to high gear like Deonna Purazzo did. It also helps that Purazzo, as I said previously, is one of the 5 best women's workers in North America at the moment.
Best Babyface Tag Team—The Lucha Brothers, All Elite Wrestling & AAA
Community Choice: The Lucha Brothers, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: RKBro (Matt Riddle & Randy Orton), WWE
The Lucha Brothers are in a class by themselves. I don't need to explain why. However, RKBro has made the most of their shelf life as a comedy tag team act.
Best Heel Tag Team—FTR, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice: The Young Bucks, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: The Young Bucks, All Elite Wrestling
FTR is your old-school Carolinas rasslin' heel tag team that's one part Midnight Express and one part Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson. Dax Harwood is a great talker. The Young Bucks have put on fantastic matches, but their obnoxious asshole shtick can be a bit overkill at times.
Best Babyface Stable—Dark Order, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice: Dark Order, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: The Inner Circle, All Elite Wrestling
The Inner Circle is a tight-knit group of badasses. A great act. However, the character work by the Dark Order help contribute to what I am going to consider as the feud of the year in just a moment.
Best Heel Stable—The Bloodline, WWE
Community Choice: The Bloodline, WWE
Runner Up: The Elite, All Elite Wrestling
Even though The Bloodline will occasionally be let down bad by writing, they are still the most intriguing collection of villains in pro wrestling at the moment.
Best Supercard—AEW Full Gear, 2021
Community Choice: AEW All Out 2021
Runner Up: AEW All Out 2021
All Out is going to be remembered for the exciting debuts and a very, very good card. However, the card and the performances were actually better for Full Gear, and aside from the redundancy between the Falls Count Anywhere match between the Jurassic Express & The Superkliq and The Inner Circle & Dan Lambert's Crew, I felt that Full Gear, top to bottom, was the much more satisfying show.
Forbidden Door Award—Minoru Suzuki, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Community Choice: Minoru Suzuki, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Runner Up: Kenny Omega, All Elite Wrestling
Kenny Omega may have played a significant role in three promotions in two countries, but Minoru Suzuki's work in All Elite Wrestling and Impact Wrestling was just something to behold. The strong style-lite match between Suzuki and Danielson was just simply enthralling to watch.
Feud of the Year—Kenny Omega vs Hangman Adam Page, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice: Kenny Omega vs Hangman Adam Page, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: None
There was not a single feud in 2021 that was on the level of Omega and Page and I am not going to even pretend otherwise.
United States Men's Match of the Year, Non Tag-Team—Bryan Danielson vs Hangman Adam Page, AEW Winter is Coming 2021
Community Choice: Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega, AEW Grand Slam 2021
Runner Up: Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega, AEW Grand Slam 2021
The two best matches of Bryan Danielson's post-Ring of Honor career took place within a span of three months and they both ended up being draws. What's even more remarkable about the fact that Danielson and Page went an hour on cable television is that this single match did more for Adam Page than his victory over Kenny Omega. Moreover, this match was never supposed to have happen—Moxley, not Danielson, was supposed to be Page's first program. Nevertheless, two guys that were in a Plan B feud went out and put on a 60 minute classic of artistry and storytelling.
United States Women's Match of the Year—Thunder Rosa vs Britt Baker, AEW St. Patrick's Day Slam 2021
Community Choice: Thunder Rosa vs Britt Baker, AEW St. Patrick's Day Slam 2021
Runner Up: Serena Deeb vs Hikaru Shida I, AEW Dynamite
There was not a single women's match that was put on television—cable or pay per view—that reached this caliber of intrigue, violence, and storytelling. The only women's match I've seen in the past decade that comes close to this is when Sexy Star and Mariposa (Cheerleader Melissa) faced off in an No Mas (I Quit) match in Lucha Underground.
United States Tag Team Match of the Year—The Lucha Bros vs The Young Bucks, AEW All Out 2021
Community Choice: The Lucha Bros vs The Young Bucks, AEW All Out 2021
Runner Up: The Young Bucks vs Eddie Kingston & Jon Moxley, AEW Double or Nothing 2021
That was the greatest tag team cage match of all time. The end. Say what you want about the acrobatics of The Lucha Brothers or the antics of The Young Bucks: they are some of the best goddamn storytellers around. That was magnificent.
United States Men's Wrestler of the Year—Bryan Danielson, WWE/All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice—Bryan Danielson, WWE/All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: Kenny Omega, All Elite Wrestling/Impact Wrestling/AAA
This was actually very close, but the hour long classic with Page put Bryan Danielson over the top. I have never seen a performer go on a run of high quality matches like this in a top tier wrestling promotion.
United States Women's Wrestler of the Year—Thunder Rosa, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice—Britt Baker, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: Britt Baker, All Elite Wrestling
Baker may have been a made woman this year, but Thunder Rosa has been killing it in AEW, on the indies, even had a solid match with Purazzo in Impact Wrestling. She is the quintessential ring general and a representative of everything that is great about women's pro wrestling.
Best Commentary Team—Excalibur and Tazz, AEW Dark/AEW Rampage
Community Choice—Excalibur, Tony Schiavone, and Jim Ross, AEW Dynamite
Runner Up: Excalibur, Tony Schiavone, and Jim Ross, AEW Dynamite
Excalibur and Tazz have an undeniable chemistry. It may not be Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler or Michael Cole and Tazz, but Excalibur & Tazz's commentary is often smart, focused, and funny.
Best Weekly Television Show—AEW Dynamite
Community Choice—AEW Dynamite
Runner Up: WWE Friday Night Smackdown
AEW is not the greatest at pacing their shows and Tony Khan really, really needs to hire a showrunner with TV experience to help with that. However, that shortcoming aside, Dynamite is often a very enjoyable two hours and honestly, I could probably think of maybe 2-3 episodes this year that were just absolute duds. Each episode feels really, really meaningful and there's always something slightly different about each broadcast. Smackdown is good, but a bit too formulaic.
Booker of the Year—Tony Khan, All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice—Tony Khan, All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: Scott D'Amore, Impact Wrestling
Tony Khan really impressed me this year. He repeatedly had to fall back to plans B and C and had to answer for embarrassing things such as the end of Revolution; however, he pulled off acquiring three Hall of Fame performers in Christian Cage, CM Punk, and Danielson, and continued to commit to the "wrestling is art" approach for AEW.
Promotion of the Year—All Elite Wrestling
Community Choice—All Elite Wrestling
Runner Up: Impact Wrestling
The quality was consistent. Night in and night out. Big shows and themed episodes, AEW did not disappoint. Is AEW perfect? God no, but no promotion is.
I did not list these originally, but I did want to commend:
United States Men's Rising Star—Bron Breakker, WWE
United States Women's Rising Star—Jade Cargill, All Elite Wrestling
United States Men's Iron Worker of the Year—John Wayne Murdoch (135 matches through December 2021)
United States Women's Iron Worker of the Year—Masha Slamovich (91 matches through December 2021)
United States Tag Team Iron Workers of the Year—The Usos (over 50 tag team matches in 2021)