By Steph Franchomme, John Dinsdale, Humza Hussain, James Truepenny, Tom Mimnagh, Danny Cause, Anthony Davies, Sêan Reid, Chris White & David Bedwell.

This is part two of our Top Wrestlers of 2021 list (for part one, click here.) More than ever, we are pleased to say that this list represents SteelChair fully. We let you find out who are our 25 best wrestlers of the year.

Editor’s note: This list is based on the wrestler’s accomplishments between September 2020 and September 2021. Men and women are treated equally as wrestlers (Click on a pic to enlarge it).

25. Charlotte Flair (WWE) – (2020 – 43, 2019 – 28, 2018 – 27, 2017 – 30, 2016 – 13, 2015 – 12) – Spotlight by Anthony Davies

“Returning from injury at TLC 2020, Charlotte teamed with Asuka to win the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships from Shayna Bazler and Nia Jax to become a Triple Crown champion. Dropped the titles back to Bazler and Jax at Royal Rumble. Scheduled to face Asuka at WrestleMania but missed out due to contracting Covid. Entered a storyline along with Rhea Ripley and Asuka, turning heel. Won the RAW Women’s Championship at Money in the Bank but lost it the next night after Nikki ASH cashed in her Money in the Bank contract. Charlotte regained the RAW Women’s Championship at SummerSlam.”

24. Christian Cage (AEW/IMPACT) 

At Revolution, Cage made a surprise arrival to AEW. He would then wrestle his first match in 7 years against Kazarian at Dynamite. He became Kenny Omega’s #1 contender for the AEW World title but, at Rampage premiere episode, he would defeat him for the IMPACT World Championship, a title he would lose at Bound For Glory.

23. MJF (AEW) – (2020 – 13, 2019 – 71, 2018 – 88)

MJF may have pushed the envelope too far this year, but in AEW’s fast-moving world he is an ace of the quick study. Founded The Pinnacle after being kicked out of The Inner Circle. The trails of Jericho became must-see TV. Lost that feud but built momentum over the year. 

22. Kota Ibushi (NJPW) – (2020 – 10, 2019 – 6, 2018 – 14, 2017 – 49, 2016 – 27, 2015 – 26)

How do you stay at the top of wrestling, despite having an absolutely catastrophic year? High-level performances; Naito and White at Wrestle Kingdom and El Desperado the anniversary show. Then some bad booking, illness, and an injury ended his 2021 in a heap. Next year will be better, it couldn’t be much worse.

21. Tetsuya Naito (NJPW) – (2020 – 7, 2019 – 24, 2018 – 32, 2017 – 6, 2016 – 16, 2015 – 46) 

Double Champion through most of 2020, he dropped the titles to Kota Ibushi. Tagging up with SANADA they went after IWGP tag Gold and won. Things looked good for the G1 but he had to pull out when the knees played up again. A lock for the main title one day in the future.

20. Darby Allin (AEW) – (2020 – 62, 2019 – 74) 

Considered as one of AEW’s “four pillars,” Darby Allin’s star continues to shine. Allin proudly defended his TNT Championship throughout late 2020 and into 2021, taking on names such as Matt Hardy, Jungle Boy, and John Silver. While a friendship with the Icon Sting has become beneficial for both. Allin was also chosen as CM Punk’s first opponent on his return in September 2021.

19. Eddie Kingston (AEW) 

Since arriving in AEW, New York’s Eddie Kingston has become a beloved fan favourite. Due to his no-nonsense approach, in and out of the ring, Kingston has continued to stand up for himself. Alongside Jon Moxley, 2021 saw the pair feud with The Young Bucks before Kingston returned to singles action.

18. Thunder Rosa (AEW/NWA) – (2020 – 58)

Thunder Rosa rose from her role as NWA Women’s Champion to a mainstay of AEW. Although she lost the title to Serena Deeb in October 2020, she would find success in programmes with Hikaru Shida, Serena Deeb, and most memorably Dr. Britt Baker, DMD, in a “lights out hardcore match”.

17. Adam Cole (WWE/NXT) – (2020 – 4, 2019 – 4, 2018 – 25, 2017 – 32, 2016 – 21, 2015 – 36)

From becoming the longest reigning NXT Champion to the dissolution of the Undisputed Era, the last twelve months have been crazy for Adam Cole, Bay-Bay! This culminated in a feud with Kyle O’Reilly, who had the last laugh in a 2-out-of-3 falls match which would mark the end of Cole’s time in NXT.

16. Miro (AEW) 

Made his All Elite Wrestling debut as Kip Sabian’s best man in his wedding to Penelope Ford. Officiated their wedding at Beach Break, only for Orange Cassidy and Chuck Taylor to spoil the ceremony. Won against Best Friends at Revolution but lost the rematch in an Arcade Anarchy match. Changed persona to become The Redeemer and in a dominant display won the AEW TNT Championship from Darby Allin. As Champion, claimed to be God’s Favourite Champion. With numerous dominant defences against Lance Archer and Eddie Kingston, he lost the championship to Sammy Guevara in a September episode of Dynamite.

15. Hikaru Shida (AEW) – (2020 – 46)

Highlight: Her feud with Britt Baker earlier this year

It goes without saying, but Hikaru Shida is an incredible talent. She became the longest-reigning champion in AEW, retaining the Women’s World Championship for 372 days. Although she lost the title at Double or Nothing earlier this year to Britt Baker, her legacy in AEW will never be forgotten.

14. Toru Sugiura (FREEDOMS) 

Highlight: Putting on the most uncomfortable deathmatch of the year with Takayuki Ueki.

2020-2021 was the period where Toru Sugiura cemented himself as one of the top dogs of Japanese Deathmatch. The King of FREEDOMS champion went on a rampage across the evaluation period, taking down some of deathmatch’s best and brightest in staggering feats of deathmatch art. During his reign, he took out Takashi Sasaki, Masashi Takeda, Toshiyuki Sakuda, and Takayuki Ueki before being dethroned by Violento Jack in one of the best deathmatches this year. Even without the title, he has managed to maintain a high profile and continued putting on high-quality deathmatches and tag matches until the end of the period.

13. Sasha Banks (WWE) – (2020 – 20, 2017 – 65, 2016 – 15, 2015 – 1)

October 2020 marked a historic night in the career of Sasha Banks. Not only did she capture her first SmackDown Women’s Championship, and not only did she win a Hell in a Cell match for the first time, but she also finally vanquished her long-time rival Bayley in the process. She’s the Blueprint, The Boss, and she’s all about making history. This year, she and Bianca Belair were the first Afro-Americans to headline WrestleMania. A historic and emotional moment in time for all involved.

12. Edge (WWE) – (2020 – 30)

Edge missed the end of 2020 due to injury. However, his 2021 has been nothing short of extraordinary. Delivering classic promos, matches, and even an iconic Brood entrance at SummerSlam – all the while putting over WWE’s two premiere stars, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, as an older legend should.

11. Big E (WWE) 

Separated from The New Day in the draft, Big E thrived – winning the Intercontinental title before feuding with Apollo Crews and Sami Zayn. Although he lost the title at WrestleMania to Crews, he rebounded, winning the Money in the Bank, ready for his cash-in and capture the WWE Championship the exact day he decided to. 

10. Daniel Bryan / Bryan Danielson (WWE) – (2020 – 27, 2019 – 12, 2018 – 50, 2015 – 39)

Bryan returned to WWE at the end of 2020 and slowly built his way to a long program with Roman Reigns. The early portion of 2021 then saw Bryan kick into a higher gear with two classic Championship matches against Reigns, one being a singles match at Fastlane, the other a Triple Threat at WrestleMania with Edge. Like a pro, Bryan selflessly elevated talents like Cesaro and Jey Uso during his main event storyline before putting Reigns on an even higher pedestal by losing to WWE’s top star in an epic main event on SmackDown in his final WWE match. 

9. Drew McIntyre (WWE) – (2020 – 11, 2018 – 37, 2017 – 36, 2016 – 30, 2015 – 42)

The last twelve months may not have been the smoothest of sailing for the Scottish Warrior, but Drew McIntyre has always been relentless in proving that he belongs to be the face of WWE. McIntyre captured his second WWE Championship by defeating Randy Orton on an episode of RAW in November. This year, McIntyre has defeated Goldberg and went the distance in an Elimination Chamber match. McIntyre would then go on to feud with Bobby Lashley in the opening match of WrestleMania weekend – the first match in front of a live crowd in over a year. McIntyre would come up short again at Hell In A Cell as well as being unsuccessful in the Money in the Bank ladder match. It may be a long road back to the top, but with the heart of a warrior, we’re sure that McIntyre will make sure that next year is even bigger.

8. Deonna Purrazzo (IMPACT) – (2020 – 57)

Being released by WWE is probably what has happened best to Deonna Purrazzo. At Impact Wrestling, as she says herself, she has become a 2-time Knockouts Champion, the first-ever IMPACT Iron Woman, the Queen, the World-Class technician. In May 2021, The Virtuosa won a Champion vs. Champion match, winning the AAA Reina de Reinas title while defending the Impact Knockouts Championship. She invaded NWA PPVs and challenged Mickie James. She defeated the young seeds of the division, like Legends such as ODB or Jazz. Purrazzo has cemented herself as the most dominant champion in IMPACT in years, something she is arrogantly proud of.

7. Jon Moxley (AEW) – (2020 – 6, 2019 – 8, 2017 – 67, 2016 – 14, 2015 – 7)

Defended his All Elite World Championship against Lance Archer and Eddie Kingston, defeating Kingston in an I Quit match. Lost the championship to Kenny Omega at Winter is Coming. After a short break, Moxley challenged Omega in a rematch at Revolution for the AEW Championship in an exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. After coming to his rescue, Eddie Kingston and Moxley became a tag team together in their efforts to take down the Elite. Challenged The Young Bucks for the AEW Tag Team Championships in a losing effort at Double or Nothing. At All Out, Jon Moxley defeated Satoshi Kojima.

6. Bobby Lashley (WWE) 

He may be 45 and one of the oldest men to wear a WWE Championship, Bobby Lashley is at his best now. The All-Mighty had won the United States Championship and the WWE Championship. The leader of The Hurt Business can count on his friend MVP to support him but he has really proved himself as a “true” and defending Champion. On the September 13 episode of RAW after successfully defending the title against Randy Orton, Lashley lost the WWE Championship to Big E who cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, ending his reign at 196 days. That doesn’t mean the All-Mighty is done with success.

5. Shingo Takagi (NJPW) – (2020 – 68, 2019 – 51)

Having firmly left the light heavyweight division, Shingo Takagi has established himself as a main event star in NJPW. Having battled with Minoru Suzuki and Jeff Cobb over the NEVER Openweight Championship in late 2020 and early 2021, including a memorable bout with the latter at January’s Wrestle Kingdom 15, Takagi turned his attention to the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship.

His rivalry with Will Ospreay delivered instant classics, albeit unsuccessful for the Los Ingobernables de Japon member. Nevertheless, with the title made vacant in June 2021, Takagi would capture his first IWGP Championship after a gruelling 36-minute contest against Kazuchika Okada at Dominion.

In the months that followed, Shingo would proudly represent LIJ in multi-man matches whilst defending his title against Hiroshi Tanahashi and EVIL. In a difficult period for NJPW, The Dragon has repeatedly made shows essential viewing. His intense, charismatic, and impressive athleticism continues to be a delight to watch.

3 tie. Bianca Belair (WWE) & Dr. Britt Baker, DMD (AEW) – (2020 – 36)

Of all the things levelled at NXT this year, its ability to scout, train and produce talent in its previous iteration, and joint number three, Bianca Belair, is a totally homegrown talent. The kind they want to produce with NXT 2.0. As Blueprints go they can not go far wrong. How they have treated their prodigy on the other hand may come into question. Moving up from NXT in October of 2020, she started off with her husband Montez Ford of the Street Profits, but soon got drafted to SmackDown from RAW and was given The Push. Making a run at the Royal Rumble, a path echoed by one Ric Flair some 28 years before, she entered at number 3 and went for 53 minutes. Again just like Flair, she also had a full-on all-around approach whilst trying to break a glass ceiling of established WWE Royalty. That wound her up for a run at Sasha Banks and the RAW Women’s Championship. An important milestone for the company as two African American wrestlers took the main event of WrestleMania for the first time, when the company had lagged behind on representation compared to the rest of the industry, it was a watershed moment. She kept her performances up at a championship level until a returning Becky Lynch ended the party in an abrupt and unpopular fashion. As WWE loyalists across Twitter yelled, “Let it play out!”, but it was a remarkably dark ending to a hopeful and outstanding year.

You take a badass shooter, you put her in the ring with a hard case who never backs down and always has a plan, and you watch someone become a star. It worked in 1993 for Shinobi Kanduri and Akira Hokuto. It worked for Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch, and it worked for Thunder Rosa and Britt Baker. Baker’s early days in AEW of being a well-meaning but underperforming baby face were buried when her iconic bleeding face was broadcast across the world and her run to the title was guaranteed. Saving Rosa, the winner of that bloodbath, was a rare touch of booking genius enabling a match to be ready when it is needed. Hikaru Shida played her role as the stoic babyface champion who needed to be overcome and Baker then sprinkled her stardust everywhere. Jamie Hayter debuted as her muscle and became an instant hit, as well as Rebel, a semi-retired wrestler, who became a huge heat getting supernova when she was only hired on to AEW for her makeup and hairdressing skills. Britt Baker has been quite simply outstanding.

2. Roman Reigns (WWE) 

Although he had been absent during much of 2020, when Roman Reigns returned at SummerSlam 2020, it was the beginning of arguably the greatest run of his career. The evolution of the “Big Dog” to the “Tribal Chief” has been a thing of beauty as Reigns finally took his place atop the WWE mountain, finally comfortable and the megastar he always threatened to become. Dominating all in his path, Reigns would engage in a dramatic feud with then foe, now ally Jey Uso in autumn 2020, before moving onto huge programmes with Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan, Edge, and Cesaro. With Paul Heyman and The Usos at his side, Reigns entered into the biggest programme available with a returning John Cena leading to an epic SummerSlam main event in 2021.

While Reigns has been stellar in the ring for years, his character work is what has set him apart since his return. The swagger, the change of ring attire and music, the complete attitude adjustment within his on-screen persona has been sweeping and incredibly effective. In a time when WWE’s product is not always lauded for its originality or dynamism, Reigns has been a bright spot at the top of the card. 

Wrestler of The Year: Kenny Omega (AEW)
(2020 – 26, 2019 – 5, 2018 – 2, 2017 – 1, 2016 – 4)

Highlight: Holding three world titles hostage at once

Kenny Omega did it all across our evaluation period. The Belt Collector dominated the Heavyweight divisions of AEW, AAA, and Impact taking all of their top titles hostage. Whether you loved him or hated him, you couldn’t deny he had the wrestling world in the palm of his hand and had his mettle tested across multiple countries in a multitude of ways. With the Elite by his side, this villainous edge to Omega shone as he spent weeks upon weeks building opponents up to knock them back down where they stood. He saw off most foes in pretty much any type of match, even taking the fight to Jon Moxley in a no-rope exploding barbed wire deathmatch and pushing Sami Callihan beyond the limit in a no DQ war.

Omega will top a lot of lists and it’s hard to deny him considering his wars with Rich Swann, Sami Callihan, and Moose for the Impact World Title, the battles with Andrade El Idolo, and Laredo Kid in AAA, and the countless battles with AEW’s top heavyweights. He came, saw, and conquered, spending another year putting on some of the best bouts and showing off his multiple wrestling styles. He may have started the period on a title loss but has since gained and lost multiple singles titles, all while having the “Invisible Hand” Don Callis by his side. No one has managed to achieve what Omega has in this period, thus making him the SteelChair Best Wrestler of 2021.    

All pics courtesy of WWE, Impact Wrestling, AEW, NJPW, NWA, ROH, FREEDOMS, Gatoh Move, TJPW, FMW-E, NOAH, DDT, Stardom, and MLW – Feature image courtesy of David Garlick

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