Full Wrestling Observer Award Results: AEW Rampages The Competition

2021 was a big year for professional wrestling coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies returned in front of audiences, the independents blossomed while alternatives such as AEW witnessed significant growth. WWE, the leader, certainly had its flaws, but an historic WrestleMania Main Event between Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks, as well as the return of The Man, acknowledgement of the Tribal Chief and Era of the Almighty was enough to keep audiences invested. Readers of the popular wrestling source the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, run by wrestling historian Dave Meltzer, annually vote to determine the best and worst of pro wrestling from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve. Without further ado, Bodyslam will break down some of the major awards as well as revealing the recipients for all of the awards. The award recipients are as followed:

Wrestler of the Year: Kenny Omega

Kenny Omega ran away with Wrestler of the Year, garnering a staggering 629 first-place votes. Omega is winning the award for the second time, following a banner year where he simultaneously held a World Championship in three different major promotions. From an in-ring standpoint, the Cleaner had stellar one-on-one matches with a wide variety of opponents, ranging from Rey Fenix to Rich Swann to Sami Callihan. He also gave wrestlers such as Jungle Boy, Moose and Alan Angels their most memorable one-on-one matches to date. Omega had a great year on AEW pay-per-views, being featured in the match of the night in his Double or Nothing triple threat against Orange Cassidy and PAC, the United States’ first exploding barbed wire death match against Jon Moxley at Revolution and the culmination of one of the best long-term stories in modern wrestling with ‘Hangman’ Adam Page at Full Gear. He also main evented the first episode of Rampage against Christian Cage and had one of the best television matches in pro wrestling history in his time limit draw against Bryan Danielson. What made his fast-paced, no-wasted-motion, stiff striking style even more impressive was how he did it battling through numerous injuries, including vertigo, an injured shoulder and injured back.

Other candidates, in order of most first-place votes received: Utami Hayashishita, Bryan Danielson, Roman Reigns, Shingo Takagi, CM Punk, Syuri, Adam Page, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Jon Moxley.

Most Outstanding Wrestler: Shingo Takagi

As opposed to Wrestler of the Year which factors in overall impact on the industry, Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Year focuses on just the in-ring aspect. It was in this award that Shingo Takagi narrowly edged out Bryan Danielson, according to the WON faithful. Takagi had standout matches with Jeff Cobb and Hiroshi Tanahashi at the beginning of the year, but it was his matches leading up to his first World Championship that left jaws on the floor. Takagi defeated Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, KENTA and EVIL to earn a championship opportunity before losing twice to Will Ospreay. When Ospreay was forced to surrender the championship, it was a stunning performance against Kazuchika Okada that brought home the gold. From the first match with Okada through the end of the year, Shingo’s 17 singles matches averaged 5 stars on the Meltzer scale. Multiple matches broke five stars, including a six-star match with Will Ospreay. Overall on the 2021 calendar, the Observer gave Shingo twelve matches that were at least 4.75 stars, an excellent mark of consistency reflected within the awards result.

Other candidates, in order of most first-place votes received: Bryan Danielson, Kenny Omega, Syuri, Will Ospreay, Tam Nakano, Utami Hayashishita, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Rey Fenix, Tomohiro Ishii.

Tag Team of the Year: The Young Bucks

If it weren’t for a team such as the Young Bucks, it’s hard to foresee a healthy tag team scene in the modern wrestling climate. While a team such as FTR may be the best traditional, pure tag team on the planet, it’s The Jackson Brothers that have kept this generation (me) invested in tag team wrestling in a time where some of the industry’s leaders don’t have the best reputation for putting stock into it. 2021 was no different, as the Bucks and their awe-inspiring style had scintillating matches throughout 2021, including arguably the best cage match in pro wrestling history at All Out against Penta El Zero M and Rey Fenix. They held the AEW World Tag Team Championships until September 5th, dominating the championship scene for the better part of the year. This included excellent title defenses against Santana and Ortiz, Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley, Death Triangle and Jurassic Express. They also forced SCU to split up, seemingly retiring Fallen Angel Chris Daniels from AEW competition.

Other candidates, in order of most first-place votes received: The Lucha Brothers, FTR, Jurassic Express, Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr., Syuri and Giulia, The Briscoes, The Usos, RK-Bro, Aussie Open.

Match of the Year: The Lucha Brothers vs The Young Bucks

As mentioned before, the Lucha Bros and Young Bucks put on arguably the greatest cage match in the history of pro wrestling. It tells an emotional story in a beautifully violent manner, giving both teams another dimension in their characters and styles that’s vital to their evolution and growth as performers. It was only the second steel cage match in AEW history, as AEW has provided a sanctity in a stipulation that has been prostituted in recent memory elsewhere. What once signaled a grueling end to a blood feud has done so again in AEW. But it’s the creativity of the four within the cage, finding new ways to reinvent the wheel that left Chicago speechless, in perhaps the best top-to-bottom show of the year.

Other candidates, in order of most first-place votes received: Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay, Dontaku, Syuri vs Utami Hayashishita, Tokyo Dream Cinderella, Adam Page vs Bryan Danielson, 12/15 Dynamite, Kenny Omega vs Bryan Danielson, 9/22 Dynamite, Jay White vs Kota Ibushi, WrestleKingdom, Ilja Dragunov vs WALTER, NXT Takeover, Adam Page vs Kenny Omega, Full Gear, Bryan Danielson vs Minoru Suzuki, 10/15, Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay, New Japan Cup.

Best Box Office Draw: CM Punk

When 7x World Champion returned to pro wrestling after a seven year absence, nobody quite knew what to expect, other than that it was a massive deal. CM Punk’s return match against Darby Allin drew over 200,000 traditional pay-per-view buys in a climate that doesn’t favor pay-per-view. This was followed up by a stellar buyrate for Full Gear, which featured Punk head-to-head with Eddie Kingston. AEW broke 1,000,000 multiple times with CM Punk on the card, as well.

Other candidates, in order of most first-place votes received: John Cena, Kenny Omega, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar.

Women’s Wrestling MVP: Utami Hayashishita

In a major year for women’s wrestling that saw the emergence of Bianca Belair, the return of the Man, Sasha Banks continuing integrate herself into Star Wars lore and the mainstream culture, as well Dr. Britt Baker have the run of her life, Deonna Purrazzo steal the headlines and Serena Deeb prove that she is, in fact, the closest to a female iteration of Bret Hart, it’s Hayashishita who has the highest stock into 2022. Still only 23 years of age, Hayashishita had perhaps the greatest women’s wrestling match ever with Syuri. With a background in judo, Hayashishita has blended the techniker and powerhouse styles perfectly in a way that women’s wrestling hasn’t truly seen yet. She’s exceptionally charismatic with a magnetic personality, yet has an incredible grasp on the art of storytelling. She’s stoic and soft-spoken, yet when you get to the third act and it’s time to go home, you can sense the desperation and the emotion, which only emphasizes everything about Hayashishita and what she’s trying to portray as a character. The sky is the limit.

Other candidates, in order of cumulative total: Britt Baker, Syuri, Bianca Belair, Charlotte Flair, Deonna Purrazzo, Becky Lynch, Miyu Yamashita, Tam Nakano, Serena Deeb.

Best Gimmick: Roman Reigns, Tribal Chief

The Tribal Chief has been acknowledged by the WON readers, as they voted Roman Reigns’ as 2021’s Best Gimmick. The Head of the Table is doing his best character work to-date, and it was his feuds with Daniel Bryan, Edge, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Cesaro and Brock Lesnar who garnered him and his ‘wiseman’ Paul Heyman (recipient of Best Non-Wrestler) love in this voting cycle. The Tribal Chief set out to prove that he is the Big Dog of one of the greatest wrestling families to ever grace the squared circle and with his manipulated cousins in toe, he held the Universal Championship for the entirety of 2021.

Other candidates, in order of cumulative total: Orange Cassidy, ‘Hangman’ Adam Page, Malakai Black, Danhausen, Starlight Kid, Matt Cardona, Miro, Hook, Kenny Omega.


Best on Interviews: Maxwell Jacob Friedman.

Promotion of the Year: All Elite Wrestling.

Best Weekly Television Show: AEW Dynamite.

United States/Canada MVP: Kenny Omega.

Japanese MVP: Shingo Takagi.

Mexico MVP: El Hijo Del Vikingo.

Europe MVP: Will Ospreay.

Non-Heavyweight MVP: Darby Allin.

Feud of the Year: Adam Page vs Kenny Omega.

Most Improved: Taynara Conti.

Most Charismatic: CM Punk.

Best Technical Wrestler: Bryan Danielson.

Best Brawler: Jon Moxley.

Best Flying Wrestler: Rey Fenix.

Most Overrated: EVIL.

Most Underrated: Ricochet.

Rookie of the Year: Jade Cargill.

Best Non-Wrestler: Paul Heyman.

Best Television Announcer: Excalibur.

Worst Television Announcer: Corey Graves.

Best Major Wrestling Show: AEW All Out.

Worst Major Wrestling Show: WWE Survivor Series.

Best Wrestling Maneuver: Adam Page’s Buckshot Lariat.

Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic: Mass budgets cuts while touting record profits.

Worst Television Show: Monday Night RAW.

Worst Match of the Year: The Miz vs Damian Priest, Backlash.

Worst Feud of the Year: Alexa Bliss and the Fiend vs Randy Orton.

Worst Promotion of the Year: WWE.

Best Booker: Tony Khan.

Promoter of the Year: Tony Khan.

Worst Gimmick: Alexa Bliss.

Best Pro Wrestling Book: Mox.

Best Pro Wrestling Documentary: Brian Pillman, Dark Side of the Ring.

You can see the Wrestling Observer’s announcement here.

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