It’s time for Ringside Logic to bestow our “Best of the Year” honors. 2021 will go down as an unforgettable year in professional wrestling for both good and bad reasons. Let’s focus on the good aspects of the industry, which consisted of action-packed matches, wild angles, and paradigm-shifting events in and out of the ring. Here is our pick for the 2021 Men’s Match of the Year.
2021 Men’s Match of the Year: WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov – NXT TakeOver 36
This year’s pick in the men’s category contained a plethora of outstanding matches. Bryan Danielson’s one-hour draw with Hangman Page was super close to getting the nod. Razor-thin, in fact. However, there can only be one MOTY to rule them all.
The best wrestling matches are those that resemble a fight more than a dance, and no bout did that more than the WALTER/Ilja Dragunov rematch at TakeOver 36. Their first bout garnered several MOTY honors in 2020, so in a way, it’s only fitting this match did the same.
This match was a brutal battle where WALTER’s 871-day dominion over the NXT UK Championship came to an end. The much smaller Dragunov gave as good as he got and pulled out all the stops. Dragunov’s win was a genuine surprise because he came out of nowhere with a stunning performance in the first match with WALTER.
Many matches where the wrestlers deliver a lot of stiff shots go to that well too many times. WALTER/Dragunov presented the perfect mix of strikes, wrestling maneuvers, and drama.
The moment that sealed the deal for my selection was the finish. WALTER let out a faint cry as Dragunov snatched him up in the mother of all rear-naked chokes. WALTER fell to the canvas; Dragunov got his hooks in and squeezed the choke with everything he had, forcing the “Ring General” to tap out.
Smart money said a name with star power would eventually lead to WALTER’s downfall as he defeated high-caliber opposition such as Dunn, Bate, KUSHIDA, and Ciampa. Dragunov not only winning but submitting WALTER produced a level of shock akin to Brock Lesnar ending the Undertaker’s streak.
While NXT is a smaller stage than WrestleMania, the surprising nature of Dragunov’s win can’t be understated. Fans wanted Dragunov to beat WALTER even though most felt he had no chance. When the bell rang, instead of stunned silence, Dragunov was met with thunderous applause, putting the exclamation mark on a well-wrestled, well-told story.
Honorable Mentions: Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White – 1/5/21, The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Bros. – 9/5/21, Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson – 9/22/21, Edge vs. Seth Rollins – 10/21/21, Adam Page vs. Bryan Danielson – 12/15/21.