The top 25 matches of 2021
2021 was a transformative year in WWE. After many months away from the WWE Universe, the Superstars of Raw and SmackDown left the ThunderDome and hit the road, returning live action to arenas around the world. NXT entered a new era altogether, bolstered by fresh faces and big attitudes.
The one constant through it all? Incredible in-ring competition. Hardly a week went by without a big-fight feel hanging in the air. The result was an embarrassment of riches, from which WWE.com editors attempted to cull the 25 best, most memorable bouts. From super-heavyweight brawls and technical masterpieces to score-settling grudge matches, here is the cream of the crop from 2021.
25. Bobby Lashley vs. Drew McIntyre – WWE Championship Hell in a Cell Match (WWE Hell in a Cell)
Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley entered Hell in a Cell with only bad intentions in mind. The rivals wasted no time employing the harsh steel surrounding the ring, grating each other into the chain-link walls after the opening bell. From Kendo sticks to steel steps, nothing was off-limits in this brawl, and McIntyre’s back scars proved it.
After the referee was inadvertently knocked out, MVP snuck inside the structure. The challenger neutralized MVP and delivered five gruesome chair strikes to The All Mighty before setting up for a Claymore. But MVP returned to his feet in time to distract McIntyre, allowing Lashley to win via a roll-up and extend The All Mighty Era. — JEFF LABOON
24. RK-Bro vs. The Usos – Champions vs. Champions Match (Survivor Series)
There are two things I will never get tired of watching: The Usos superkicking the world and Randy Orton doing vintage Randy Orton things.
In a night where Orton broke the record for most pay-per-view matches in WWE history, The Apex Predator served up all his classic hits. The smoothest powerslam in the business? Check. Tossing people onto the announce table? Check. A wild RKO out of nowhere? Check.
And that’s just scratching the surface of this Survivor Series show-stealer as Jimmy and Jey Uso, one of the most decorated tag teams in WWE history, brought out the very best in Riddle and Orton. The two teams traded blows at breakneck speed before the WWE Universe erupted as The Viper struck to deliver a massive RKO out of nowhere to Jimmy Uso while he was in mid-flight for a splash to The Original Bro. — NATHAN BRYANT
23. Goldberg vs. Bobby Lashley – No Holds Barred Match (WWE Crown Jewel)
There’s turning back the clock, and then there’s what Goldberg did at WWE Crown Jewel 2021.
He demolished the clock… and Bobby Lashley along with it.
There’s no need to rehash how unbelievably personal it got between Goldberg and Lashley in the buildup to Crown Jewel, but what does bear mentioning is that Goldberg, a WWE Hall of Famer who reigned as Universal Champion only one year ago, was doubted heavily. That doubt only ratcheted up after he was on the wrong end of a referee’s stoppage against Lashley at SummerSlam. So, with all that pressure rising and the honor of his family on the line, how would Goldberg respond?
Oh, you know, just by having arguably the greatest match of his career and capping it off by Spearing Lashley off the ramp through two tables many, many feet below. Since then, Goldberg has been regaled with praise that “he still has it” and that he’s kicked off the final act of his career on the right foot. But who’s to say it is the final act? After all, the clock, much like all the doubt, is now long gone. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
22. Roman Reigns vs. Edge – Universal Championship Match (WWE Money in the Bank)
In search of a fairytale ending to his comeback story, Edge brought undeniable passion and determination to his one-on-one match against Universal Champion Roman Reigns. The WWE Universe watched The Rated-R Superstar endure Reigns’ punishing offense, from the Drive-By to the Guillotine, before mounting an incredible rally that was buoyed by a Spear through the ringside barricade.
Amidst the turmoil, however, the referee got knocked out. Are you kidding me?! Although Edge continued fighting with a ruthless persistence, he soon found himself dealing with the interference of not only The Usos, but also multiple intrusions from a bitter Seth “Freakin” Rollins. Edge rebounded and pinned The Head of the Table, but there was no official on hand to count to three. The extra time allowed Reigns to recover and get the victory with the Spear. — MICHAEL BURDICK
21. WALTER vs. Tommaso Ciampa – NXT UK Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Stand and Deliver – Night 1)
WALTER vs. Tommaso Ciampa is like what happens when the two baddest, most-feared bullies from opposite ends of town decide to settle the debate of who’s toughest. Neither Superstar showed any trepidation, there was no inkling of backing down, and the prevailing sentiment in the air was curiosity: Which world-beater would be the better man on that day?
WALTER was, as it turned out, but an easy victory it was not. The Blackheart fired away with Pit Bull–like tenacity, at one point clobbering WALTER with 22 consecutive clotheslines. The strikes failed to floor the big man, who countered with an unearthly chop, but an undeterred Ciampa scrambled to his feet and dropped WALTER with another clothesline, proving the adage that the 23rd time’s the charm. The punishment continued from there, and just when the chants of “This is awesome” reached a deafening volume, WALTER snapped off a head-and-arm suplex and a thunderous chop to pin the two-time NXT Champion. — JOHN CLAPP
20. Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro – Universal Championship Match (WrestleMania Backlash)
The main story was the long and arduous road Cesaro had on his way to earning his first one-on-one opportunity at a major championship. Both Superstars had momentum coming out of WrestleMania, with The Swiss Cyborg silencing Seth “Freakin” Rollins and The Big Dog crushing two legends.
The Swiss Superman started the match with fire, but The Head of the Table took advantage by focusing on Cesaro’s arm, severely limiting two of his favorite weapons, the Cesaro Swing and the Neutralizer. The Tribal Chief finished Cesaro with the devastating Guillotine, fading Cesaro’s hopes and dreams of becoming Universal Champion and notching another win in Reigns’ legendary reign. — GREG MILLER
19. Raquel Gonzalez, Io Shirai, Kay Lee Ray & Cora Jade vs. Team Toxic – WarGames Match (NXT WarGames)
Don’t call it “recency bias.” This demolition derby of a match would have been just as epic last January as it was here in December.
The WWE Universe bore witness to an octet of Superstars attempting to tear each other to shreds, but this bout has the potential to age as gracefully as any other on our top-25 list since it could be the launching pad of many future main-eventers.
The 20-year-old Cora Jade stole the show, turning in an unforgettable, star-making performance. In the 31-plus minutes of chaos, Jade launched herself off the top of the steel to smash Jacy Jayne through a table, suffered an arm injury on the landing before seemingly having the limb popped back into place by teammate Io Shirai, fended off all four opponents while wielding a Kendo stick with one arm and scored the pinfall after Raquel Gonzalez planted Jayne with a thunderous powerbomb. — JON CHIK
18. Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus – No Holds Barred Match (WWE Fastlane)
If you’re a fan of all-out slugfests — the type of brawl that causes the more empathetic among us to wince in pain with every boot to the jaw — then Drew McIntyre and Sheamus’ No Holds Barred Match is your cup of tea.
McIntyre painted his face for the occasion in the style of William Wallace from “Braveheart,” a fitting choice since this less resembled a match than total warfare. With hopes of salvaging their decades-long friendship a long-lost cause, The Scottish Warrior and The Celtic Warrior tuned each other up with steel stairs, tables and anything else that wasn’t bolted down inside the ThunderDome. McIntyre tried gouging out Sheamus’ eye with the pointy end of a Kendo stick and threw the Irishman through LED boards. Sheamus drove the Scotsman through a table with White Noise. It was carnage every step of the way.
McIntyre’s hand wound up raised in victory, but after such a barbaric affair, one had to wonder if anyone other than the WWE Universe could truly be called “winner.” — JOHN CLAPP
17. Seth “Freakin” Rollins vs. Cesaro (WrestleMania – Night 1)
On what was already an emotional night for the WWE Universe, Seth “Freakin” Rollins and Cesaro cranked the feels up to 11 at WrestleMania 37. Two seasoned vets, bound together by a history untethered to the confines of the squared circle, delivering a nearly nonstop clinic on the Grandest Stage of Them All? It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Both Cesaro and Rollins reached deep into their seemingly endless bags of tricks to push the pace at The Show of Shows, rising to meet the moment like few others can. A Corkscrew Frog Splash and a U.F.O. later, you’ve got yourself a WrestleMania classic, and a bona fide match of the year contender. — JORDAN BATES
16. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – Last Man Standing Match (SmackDown, July 2)
When it comes to Match of the Year contenders, give me a highly personal, knockdown, drag-out brawl with no rules! Give me Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn in a Last Man Standing Match! Like other battles listed in this countdown, the brutal showdown was intensified by the fact that the Superstars involved were best friends-turned-bitter enemies and knew each other so well.
The result was inevitable: pure anarchy at every turn. During the nonstop chaos, Zayn pushed Owens off the top turnbuckle, causing him to burst through a table at ringside, while KO hit a trio of earth-shattering powerbombs in a row – first through the SmackDown announce table, then through another table, and finally onto the unforgiving ring apron for the win. With the hard-fought victory, Owens qualified for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match and left us to pick up the pieces. — MICHAEL BURDICK
15. Big E vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Ricochet vs. King Nakamura vs. Riddle vs. Kevin Owens vs. Seth “Freakin” Rollins vs. John Morrison – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WWE Money in the Bank)
Even by Money in the Bank Ladder Match standards, this climb for the contract was as wide open as any in WWE history.
As always, the bout produced countless gifs, memes and viral moments, including Ricochet falling of the ladder and onto the top rope before spring-boarding onto his opponents outside the ring, Riddle dishing out a trio of RKOs, and Seth “Freakin” Rollins powerbombing Kevin Owens over the top rope and through a ladder at ringside. But nothing tops the match’s conclusion, which saw Big E vault into world championship contention by dropping Rollins with a Big Ending off the ladder and retrieving the briefcase.
And just two months later, Big E silenced whatever doubters remained by becoming WWE Champion with a legendary cash-in on the dominant Bobby Lashley, which only adds to this bout’s mystique. — JON CHIK
14. Rhea Ripley vs. Raquel Gonzalez – Last Woman Standing Match (NXT New Year’s Evil)
What you can’t escape in this deeply personal Last Woman Standing Match between Raquel Gonzalez and Rhea Ripley is the symbolism. For Ripley, it would serve as a warning to the Raw women’s locker room that a “Nightmare” was coming. For Gonzalez, it was a message to WWE NXT that she was here, and she was now.
Never before in WWE had two alpha females collided in such a nasty, physical matchup that left the WWE Universe wanting more. The hoss-fight bar has been set by these two women, and they’ve set it at a height that perhaps only they themselves can reach together. For this reason, this table-smashing, glass-shattering, stage-destroying brawl belongs on this list. — JORDAN BATES
13. Finn Bálor vs. Pete Dunne – NXT Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day)
Finn Bálor knew that as NXT Champion, he had a giant target on his back. But The Prince liked it that way, as he thrived when the pressure was on, and there was no better example of that than his thrilling victory over Pete Dunne at NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day.
The BruiserWeight employed his trademark strategy in the early moments of the bout, looking to mangle the fingers of the champion and weaken him from the start. Dunne continued to press on, targeting Bálor’s leg, but The Prince fought through the pain.
Dunne connected with the Bitter End, but Bálor kicked out. The tides turned when the champion removed Dunne’s mouthpiece and rocked him with a dropkick. That allowed Bálor to connect with the Coup de Grace, then finish Dunne with the 1916 DDT to retain his title. — BOBBY MELOK
12. Edge vs. Seth “Freakin” Rollins (SummerSlam)
A single stomp.
A single stomp and Edge’s career could be over for good. Both men were keenly aware of that fact heading into SummerSlam. And while Edge needed to do everything in his power to avoid the devastating maneuver, the sadistic Rollins vowed to achieve his twisted goal of permanently putting Edge on the shelf.
The Rated R-Superstar agreeing to go to war with his nemesis seven years after Rollins first tried to break his neck is worthy of admiration. Heck, that Edge is competing at all in 2021 after missing nine years with a neck injury is a miracle.
And at The Biggest Event of the Summer, Edge went to that dark place, repeatedly smashing Rollins face-first into the canvas and forcing a tapout to set the stage for one of the most epic trilogies in WWE history. — JON CHIK
11. Rey Mysterio vs. Finn Bálor vs. Seth “Freakin” Rollins vs. Kevin Owens – Fatal 4-Way Ladder Match (Raw, Oct. 25)
Kevin Owens said it best in one tweet the morning after this match: “The day I stop giving it my absolute all in that ring is the day I walk away. Not a second sooner. P.S. Rey Mysterio is the best.”
This supersized Ladder Match was an absolute spectacle, with four of the absolute greatest of all time giving it their all in what felt like a modernized take on TLC IV from Raw in 2002. Each competitor showed exactly who he is in this battle. Rey Mysterio demonstrated his heart, Kevin Owens his resiliency and Finn Bálor his fearlessness. And of course, the cunning of that dastardly Seth “Freakin” Rollins, who found a way to win and may still be cackling about it today! — ALEX OBERT
10. Bad Bunny & Damian Priest vs. The Miz & John Morrison (WrestleMania – Night 1)
Es un rey, campeón, Bad Bunny. Spotify's most-streamed artist in the world two years running brought his talents to the WWE ring on Night 1 of WrestleMania 37, and he was unforgettable. Most of the WWE Universe might have expected his tag team partner, Damian Priest, to do the heavy lifting in their match against The Miz & John Morrison, but Bunny was quick to silence any doubters by fully mixing it up with his opponents and living out a childhood dream.
His offense was damn near flawless, from his flying crossbody off the top rope to his still awe-inspiring “Bunny Destroyer,” to the decisive double-team maneuver that sealed the victory. Bad Bunny put in the work to become a WWE Superstar, and it paid off massively as he and Priest were able to provide us with a WrestleMania moment that will live forever. — STEVE BARILE
9. Big E vs. Bobby Lashley vs. Roman Reigns – Triple Threat Match (Raw, Sept. 20)
To paraphrase Big E, all I want is to see big meaty men slapping meat, and boy, did this match deliver a healthy portion of just that as these three massive men — the newly crowned WWE Champion Big E, Universal Champion Roman Reigns and The All Mighty himself, Bobby Lashley — collided in a monster main event normally reserved for pay-per-views.
It’s a miracle PNC Arena didn’t come crumbling down with the way these mammoths were tossing one another around. From a combined body slam and suplex off the turnbuckle, to Lashley hoisting Reigns and parading around the ring before nearly driving him through the mat, to Big E’s double splash on both competitors before being planted through the announce table by Lashley, it was mass destruction.
But in the end, after multiple colossal near-falls and chants of “This is awesome,” only one man stood tall among the wreckage: The Head of the Table. — NATHAN BRYANT
8. Team Black & Gold vs. Team 2.0 – WarGames Match (NXT WarGames)
It was a battle for the very soul of NXT, as the new blood clashed with their black-and-gold forefathers inside the unforgiving double cage of WarGames. The brash Team 2.0, led by powerhouse Bron Breakker, seemed to thrive in the chaotic battleground, despite their inexperience.
Kendo sticks, trash cans, tables and crowbars were introduced into the fray, and the veteran Team Black & Gold gained the upper hand, in part because Dexter Lumis kept Trick Williams from meddling outside the ring.
Youthful hunger proved to be the difference maker, as Grayson Waller went viral after leaping from the top of the cage to drive LA Knight through a table, and Breakker crushed NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa through a table and pinned him after a devasting Powerslam to ring in a new era of NXT. — BOBBY MELOK
7. Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair – Raw Women’s Championship Match (WWE Money in the Bank)
The WWE Universe ate this one up, almost becoming an unofficial third participant, drawing the ire of The Opportunity at times. It was easy to see why, with multiple back-and-forth counters and reversals galore. The Nightmare lived up to her moniker, using her unbelievable power to muscle Charlotte into a brutal suplex. Charlotte got her licks in too, executing a bone-crushing Natural Selection from the top-rope.
It was Charlotte’s conniving ways that spelled the end of The Nightmare. After trapping Ripley's leg in the steel steps and delivering a scorching kick, Flair slapped on the Figure-Eight leglock. Dealing with the pain no longer, The Nightmare had to submit, leaving Charlotte with her 11th Women's Title. — GREG MILLER
6. Roman Reigns vs. John Cena – Universal Championship Match (SummerSlam)
John Cena’s much-anticipated comeback at SummerSlam had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster: A great hero returning to the place he once protected to face down the mighty villain who had grasped power in his absence.
Had Cena been victorious, not only would he have wrestled control from Universal Champion Roman Reigns and his devious Bloodline, but he would’ve made history as the most decorated champion in sports-entertainment history.
Unfortunately for Cena, WWE sagas don’t always have happy endings. Reigns played spoiler that night, dispatching the returning hero with two Superman Punches and a Spear in a showdown that more than lived up to the hype.
That record 17th world title reign still eludes Cena, but rest assured, like any star of the silver screen, Big Match John knows the real money is in the sequel. — RYAN MURPHY
5. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair – Champion vs. Champion Match (Survivor Series)
Although it is a term that is often overused in the squared circled, the Champion vs. Champion showdown between Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch and SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair proved to be an absolute war. Two former best friends who came up in WWE together, bound by the blood, sweat and tears, now despised each other with every fiber of their being.
This was reflected bell-to-bell as both competitors exuded a level of rage that was felt by everybody watching. With each passing moment, the intensity only grew more ruthless inside and outside the ring, until The Man finally used the ropes to help secure a victory over her rival. All that was left was the mutual destruction of their body and mind. Nevertheless, the emotion that poured from both the Superstars and the WWE Universe alike made this contest stand out as one of the top matches of the year. — MICHAEL BURDICK
4. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov – NXT UK Championship Match (NXT TakeOver 36)
Anticipation is a double-edge sword. It stirs excitement, sure, but left unabated, anticipation can let expectations run unattainably high, which inevitably leads to a feeling of being let down.
Despite the immense anticipation surrounding TakeOver 36’s NXT UK Title Match, there was no disappointment to be found when WALTER and Ilja Dragunov finally collided in a rematch that was 10 months in the making. If anything, WALTER vs. Dragunov II eclipsed the brutality and emotion of their first legendary encounter. With his historic championship reign in jeopardy, WALTER smothered, chopped and throttled his challenger, but it still wasn’t enough to stop the all-heart Russian from forcing The Ring General to tap out — a feat once thought unimaginable.
By the time The Czar was announced as the new champion, the question wasn’t whether the match had lived up to its hype, but rather if we’ll ever be so lucky to see a third round between these two gladiators. — JOHN CLAPP
3. Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan – Universal Championship Triple Threat Match (WrestleMania – Night 2)
Simply put, Night 2 of WrestleMania 37 was when Roman Reigns became a legend.
With three inspiring comeback stories throughout different periods in WWE history coalescing at once, the WWE Universe was emotionally invested in this one. From steel chair assaults to bone-crushing submissions to hard-hitting Spears, this main event had it all. And on this night, The Head of the Table showed that a Royal Rumble victory and a 10-year path to former glory doesn't guarantee a happy ending for one Rated-R Superstar.
The visual of the Universal Champion pinning both challengers at the same time is an astonishingly powerful image that will define WrestleMania for years to come... as much as a shocking pinfall at WrestleMania from a different, and decidedly beastly, Paul Heyman Guy. — ALEX OBERT
2. Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair – SmackDown Women’s Championship Match (WrestleMania – Night 1)
Stop for a second and picture yourself accomplishing your biggest dream. Now, add an incredible amount of both professional and cultural history that will be achieved in step with accomplishing what you’ve strived your whole career for. That’s what Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair did when they main-evented Night 1 of WrestleMania 37.
Banks and Belair created an indelible WrestleMania moment before they even locked up. The image of each Superstar taking in the roar of the WWE Universe as the bell rang and they officially became the first black women to ever main-event WrestleMania would’ve been more than enough to earn a place in every WrestleMania highlight reel for the rest of time, regardless of what the match ended up looking like.
But then they absolutely tore the house down.
Since that night, the match has won awards and inspired millions to chase their own dreams, whatever they may be. Sasha vs. Bianca may have been a dream match, but the match itself was not a dream. It was real, and it’s proof that your dreams can be, too. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
1. Edge vs. Seth “Freakin” Rollins – Hell in a Cell Match (WWE Crown Jewel)
The monthslong rivalry between Edge and Seth “Freakin” Rollins could only culminate one way, and that was inside Hell in a Cell. After their first two stellar matchups at SummerSlam and Madison Square Garden, the stage was set for The Rated-R Superstar and The Visionary to finally settle the score at WWE Crown Jewel, and they did in the absolute best way possible.
As soon as Edge sent Rollins flying off the top rope, bouncing him off the cell wall and through a table, you knew this match was going to hit different. The intensity only grew from there, as they used everything from steel chairs and stairs to chains and ladders to inflict their damage. When Edge so fittingly hit that final Stomp to put Rollins away, the WWE Universe just collectively knew that was it. That was THE match of 2021. — STEVE BARILE