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 Wrestler of the Year.
2021 Men’s Wrestler of the Year: Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson
2021 was a tale of two cities for Daniel Bryan. The first half of the calendar saw Bryan as WWE’s best in-ring performer. Victory in the Elimination Chamber and a controversial loss to Roman Reigns earned him an unexpected trip to the main event of WrestleMania. While some felt Bryan was shoehorned into the match, his entry unquestionably made it even better.
An underrated match on SmackDown with Jey Uso unknowingly became the penultimate chapter of Bryan’s WWE tenure. Bryan put his career on the line against Roman Reigns for a shot at the Universal Title. Reigns choked out Bryan in a well-wrestled bout that exhibited a quality rarely seen on WWE television.
While Daniel Bryan is I.P. owned by Vince McMahon, Bryan Danielson is an entirely different story. Despite Bryan’s contract expiring at the end of April, many believed he would resign with WWE and end up on Raw or even NXT. However, Bryan didn’t resign with WWE and took his talents to the Jacksonville-based All Elite Wrestling.
“The American Dragon.” debuted as the biggest of many surprises to close out AEW’s most successful pay-per-view event, All Out.
The first four months saw a slew of matches that received numerous match-of-the-year nominations. 30-minute draw with Kenny Omega, history-making bout against Minoru Suzuki, technical brawls against Eddie Kingston and Miro, and a 1-hour draw against “Hangman” Adam Page served as a stark reminder of the Bryan Danielson who ruled ROH and the indie scene almost two decades ago.
In a wrestling landscape where quick character turns are frowned upon, Bryan Danielson made it work in spades. Danielson entered AEW on September 5th as a babyface and turned heel on November 17th in direct pursuit of the AEW World Championship. Great in-ring matches and exceptional character performances make Danielson the best overall professional wrestler in 2021.
Honorable Mentions: Roman Reigns, Kenny Omega, Shingo Takagi, Josh Alexander, Bobby Lashley, Zack Sabre Jr. Jonathan Gresham, Adam Page, Edge, Seth Rollins.