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The John Report: The 13th Annual WWE Johnny Awards – 2021 Edition!

wwe johnny awards 2021

Welcome to the 2021 WWE Johnny Awards. They are the awards where I honor the hard-working men and women of World Wrestling Entertainment based on their work over the last twelve months.

These are the very “prestigious” awards that I call the 13TH ANNUALWWE Johnny Awards!

A few notes that I post every year before the Johnny Awards begin:

– This is World Wrestling Entertainment stuff ONLY. It says it in the title, but I want you to remember that when you ask why there’s no All Elite Wrestling, New Japan, Ring of Honor, Impact or anything else in here. It’s WWE only!

– These awards are based on my own personal choice. There were no polls or write-in votes. My name is on the awards, so I get to pick the winners. I don’t expect everybody reading this to agree with everything I write below, but I will do my best to explain all my choices. The awards are based on performance. It doesn’t necessarily matter if a person wins all their matches on television and titles really aren’t that important. It’s about performance more than anything.

– Regarding NXT, WWE’s third brand is included in every award as well. The NXT brand is awesome and I’m not going to ignore it. The same goes for the NXT UK brand. Anything that is WWE is considered for these awards.

– Another thing to remember is I try to have fun when I write about wrestling. I don’t take it too seriously and I don’t take myself too seriously. If you disagree with something that’s cool. Keep it civil in the comments and don’t be shy about offering your take.

If you want to check out previous year’s editions of these awards, check out the WWE Johnny Awards archive on TJRWrestling as well. It’s nice to look back on those articles to reflect on the last decade of WWE content and what I thought about it.

I’ve used a similar intro for several years. I do that because it covers everything I need to say.

I removed the following categories this year to cut it down from 25 awards to 20 total awards: BEST INDIVIDUAL PROMO, BEST RETURN, STUPIDEST BOOKING DECISION, BEST FINISHING MOVE and COMEBACK OF THE YEAR. Let’s get to it.

THE 2021 WWE JOHNNY AWARDS

Each one will have a description of what the award is, the previous winners of the award (if the award existed in the last eight years), the winner of the award, the runners-up for the award, and then my extended thoughts on the award.

  1. BEST MALE WRESTLER

To be given to the person that best combines workrate, character, microphone work and everything else into one. This is like WWE’s Superstar of the Year award when they did the Slammy Awards. Past winners – 2020: Drew McIntyre, 2019: Daniel Bryan, 2018: Johnny Gargano, 2017: AJ Styles, 2016: AJ Styles, 2015: Seth Rollins, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010: Randy Orton, 2009: Chris Jericho

Winner: Roman Reigns (Runners-Up: Drew McIntyre, Big E, Bobby Lashley, Seth Rollins, Edge, Finn Balor)

Roman Reigns Paul Heyman

This was an easy choice just like last year was. This might have been the easiest choice for this award since AJ Styles in 2016. Reigns spent the whole year as the Universal Champion on Smackdown, he got a lot of promo time (his best year for promos too) and delivered in the ring as well with several four star plus level matches. It was the best year of his career. I’m sure he’d say that too if you asked him. It’s hard to think about WWE in 2021 without first thinking of Roman. I remember when the crowds came back in July, I wondered how they would react to him and then when they booed him a lot, I was happy because that’s what they should do to the top heel. I don’t know when Roman might lose the title, but I’ve enjoyed this run a lot.

* Drew McIntyre was the winner last year and he followed that up with a solid 2021 even though he dropped the WWE Title earlier in the year. I think maybe his feud with Lashley lasted too long and he probably faced Sheamus too many times (even though they always have good matches), but I think he had a great year again. Drew is solidified as a top guy in WWE now. That’s great to see.

* Big E made the big jump this year from being part of New Day as a tag team wrestler to the best choice as the Money in the Bank winner and then a few months later, he won the WWE Title. What hurts Big E a bit is that the WWE Title is a bit in the shadow of the Universal Title because of Reigns, but Big E being a top face on Raw is still a great thing for him. I like him a lot and he’s proving to be a very good main event performer.

* Bobby Lashley had the best year of his career at age 45. It’s pretty impressive, but when you look at the guy, he doesn’t look much older than he did at age 30. The guy is a freak athlete that has gotten better with age. The pairing with MVP has been great for him. I’m happy Lashley is established as a top guy now.

* Seth Rollins spent the whole year as a heel and I enjoy his act a lot. Some people hate it. Sometimes he gets too much promo time. I don’t mind that, though. Rollins is one of the best all around wrestlers in WWE in the prime of his career. I hope there’s a WWE Title run coming for him in 2022 as well.

* Edge is a part-timer that had strong feuds with Roman Reigns and then Seth Rollins as well. He’s not around as much as everybody else, but he deserves mention for doing great work in his late 40s.

* I’m mentioning Finn Balor mainly as one of the guys that carried NXT before the NXT 2.0 brand took over. Balor had amazing matches all the time. I have liked his matches since he went back to Smackdown, but his impact in NXT is what earns him a mention.

For those that care, if I had to pick just one person as SUPERSTAR OF THE YEAR I’d go with Roman Reigns for that too.

  1. BEST FEMALE WRESTLER

To be given to the best female performer.Past winners – 2020: Sasha Banks, 2019: Becky Lynch, 2018: Becky Lynch, 2017: Asuka, 2016: Charlotte, 2015: Sasha Banks, 2014: Paige, 2013: AJ Lee, 2012: Eve, 2011: Beth Phoenix, 2010: Natalya, 2009: Mickie James

Winner: Bianca Belair (Runners-Up: Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Rhea Ripley)

It was easy to name Bianca Belair as the winner, but she also benefitted from extended absences from other top contenders aka the Four Horsewomen. Sasha Banks was off for about four months after WrestleMania, Bayley has been out of action with a knee injury since July, Becky Lynch has only been around for about four months after having a baby and Charlotte Flair just had an off year for her. Plus, Asuka has been out for a while with an arm injury. If Banks didn’t take off after WrestleMania, maybe she would have won again.

Bianca Belair was impressive in winning the Royal Rumble, she then went on to win the Smackdown Women’s Title in the main event of night one of WrestleMania against Sasha Banks. There was a lot of pressure going into that match, but Belair lived up to the hype that surrounds her. Since then, Belair has delivered good matches on a consistent basis while wrestling with the Four Horsewomen throughout the year. I have been impressed by her. She’s a legit main event star that is likable on the microphone and awe-inspiring in the ring.

I wanted to mention Rhea Ripley also because I liked seeing her get a push earlier in the year, but then it went away when she lost her feud to Charlotte Flair. They need to get back to using Ripley better. She’s an important part of WWE’s future.

 

 

  1. BEST FEUD

To be given to the best rivalry between two or more performers. Past winners – 2020: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley, 2019: Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano, 2018: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano,2017: Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman, 2016: AJ Styles vs. John Cena, 2015: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, 2014: Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority, 2013: CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman/Brock Lesnar, 2012: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, 2011: Randy Orton vs. Christian, 2010: The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan, 2009: CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy

Winner:Edge vs. Seth Rollins (Runners-Up: Bobby Lashley vs. Drew McIntyre, Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Edge, Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly, Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks, Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens)

I think Edge and Rollins easily had the best feud this year. It started with Seth costing Edge the Universal Title at Money in the Bank, so that led to the first great match at SummerSlam and they had the best match at that show with Edge winning. Rollins got the win match at MSG on Smackdown about a month later with Edge doing a stretcher job to sell it. The feud ended with a five star Hell in a Cell match at Crown Jewel with Edge getting the win in what was one of the best HIAC matches ever. I loved it. Most of the promos were good too. I didn’t like Seth’s “home invasion” at Edge’s house because it looked cheesy, but other than that it was mostly great stuff week after week.

Lashley/McIntyre may have been a bit too long, but it elevated Lashley as a credible WWE Champion. Reigns facing Bryan and Edge at WrestleMania as well as the months that followed worked really well. I thought Cole vs. O’Reilly was awesome in NXT with several great matches…and now they’re both in AEW. Weird. Belair vs. Banks was the best women’s feud although it didn’t have a proper ending due to Banks missing SummerSlam and Becky Lynch taking over from there. I also liked Reigns vs. Owens, which carried over from late 2020 into early 2021 as well.

 

  1. BEST MATCH

To be given to the best match. Past winners – 2020: Walter vs. Ilya Dragunov @ NXT UK October 29, 2019: Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole @ NXT Takeover New York 04/06/19, 2018:Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa @ NXT Takeover New Orleans 04/07/18, 2017: John Cena vs. AJ Styles @ Royal Rumble, 2016: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn @ NXT Takeover Dallas, 2015: Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena @ Royal Rumble, 2014: The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield @ Elimination Chamber, 2013: Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk @ SummerSlam, 2012: The Undertaker vs. Triple H (Shawn Michaels as ref) @ WrestleMania 28, 2011: CM Punk vs. John Cena @ Money in the Bank, 2010: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 26, 2009: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 25

Winner: Ilya Dragunov vs. WALTER @ NXT Takeover 36 (Runner-Up: Edge vs. Seth Rollins @ Crown Jewel in a Hell in a Cell Match)

I rated two WWE matches at five stars (out of five) this year, so they are the only two I’m mentioning. If I were to list all of the matches that were close to that, it would include several others that I like. I’d rather just simplify it. I’m going with Dragunov/WALTER for the second year in a row. This match was different from their 2020 classic because it was shorter, but also they had the benefit of performing in front of a hot crowd at the WWE Performance Center, which is better than an empty building like their 2020 match.

I loved the Edge/Rollins match as well. It was a long Hell in a Cell that was done in a way that was a fitting end to their rivalry. Three great matches and the last one was the best. This was really close for me and a tough call, but I liked Dragunov vs. WALTER just a bit more.

  1. BEST PAY-PER-VIEW

To be given to the best pay-per-view.Past winners – 2020: Royal Rumble, 2019: WrestleMania 35, 2018: Evolution, 2017: Royal Rumble, 2016: Money in the Bank, 2015: WrestleMania 31, 2014: WrestleMania 30, 2013: SummerSlam 2012: Extreme Rules, 2011: Money in the Bank, 2010: WrestleMania 26, 2009: SummerSlam

Winner: Money in the Bank (Runners-Up: WrestleMania 37, Crown Jewel)

I already did a column about this in late November, so if you read that there then you know my thoughts. Here are the top five.

Money in the Bank – 8.75

WrestleMania 37 – 8.25

Crown Jewel – 8

Royal Rumble – 8

WrestleMania Backlash – 7.75

The first three listed on there had fans at the shows while the other two did not, so that plays a factor for sure. A great show is always going to benefit from having a hot crowd. I liked Money in the Bank a lot in terms delivering quality matches, having some big moments and then the spectacular surprise return for John Cena.

  1. BEST NXT TAKEOVER SPECIAL

To be given to the best NXT Takeover special. Past winners – 2020: NXT Takeover Portland, 2019: NXT Takeover New York, 2018: NXT Takeover New Orleans, 2017: NXT Takeover Chicago, 2016: NXT Takeover Dallas, 2015: NXT Takeover Brooklyn

Winner: NXT Takeover Stand & Deliver – April 7 & 8 (Runners-Up: NXT Takeover Vengeance Day – February 14)

It was another great year for Takeover shows. Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to have this award next year since WWE has taken away the Takeover name although I may just call it the best NXT PPV special. Stand & Deliver was a two night even during WrestleMania week and it was amazing with so many great matches. That’s the winner to me.

NXT Takeover Stand & Deliver (April 7 & 8) – 9

NXT Takeover Vengeance Day (February 14) – 9

NXT Takeover 36 (August 22) – 8.25

NXT Takeover In Your House (June 13) – 8.25

NXT WarGames (December 5) – 7.75

The last one wasn’t a Takeover in terms of name, but it was the same idea.

  1. BEST TALKER

To be given to the best person at delivering promos.Past winners – 2020: Kevin Owens, 2019: Daniel Bryan, 2018: The Miz, 2017: The Miz, 2016: Chris Jericho, 2015: Paul Heyman, 2014: Paul Heyman, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: CM Punk, 2011: CM Punk, 2010 winner: CM Punk, 2009 winner: Chris Jericho

Winner: Sami Zayn (Runners-up: Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Paul Heyman, Roman Reigns, MVP)

If you would have told me five years ago that Sami Zayn would win this I wouldn’t believe you, but the guy is so amazing on the microphone. I enjoy his promos so much.

Everybody else is a great talker with some of them winning the award in the past. I didn’t think Roman Reigns would be mentioned as a contender here either, but he has thrived as a heel. MVP deserves a lot of recognition for doing most of the talking for Bobby Lashley.

  1. WORST FEUD

To be given to the worst rivalry between two or more performers. Formerly known as the Katie Vick award. RIP Katie. Past winners – 2020: The Miz vs. Otis, 2019: Shane McMahon vs. The Miz, 2018: Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn, 2017: Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt, 2016: Darren Young vs. Titus O’Neil, 2015: Dolph Ziggler/Lana vs. Rusev/Summer Rae, 2014: Brie Bella vs. Nikki Bella, 2013: Big Show vs. Triple H/Randy Orton, 2012: Kane vs. Zack Ryder/John Cena, 2011: Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler & Jim Ross, 2010 winner: Kane vs. Edge, 2009 winner: Triple H vs. Randy Orton

Winner: Randy Orton vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt & Alexa Bliss (Runners-Up: Eva Marie vs. Doudrop, Shane McMahon vs. Braun Strowman)

Do you know why Randy Orton is having so much fun working with Riddle these days? It’s because he remembers losing to Alexa Bliss at Fastlane and then the awful end to his feud with Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania. I try not to remember how bad those storylines, but they really were awful. Poor Bray ended up getting fired a few months later, which I didn’t agree with at all.

The other two were really bad with Eva Marie being paired with Doudrop for a few months, then Doudrop got sick of it and turned on her. That led to some bad wrestling. Shane McMahon and Braun Strowman had terrible promos together. It was just a dumb feud. The match at WrestleMania was actually decent, but I think the build sucked.

  1. WORST PAY-PER-VIEW

To be given to the worst PPV. They wanted us to pay money for this?Past winners – 2020: Super Showdown, 2019: Super Showdown, 2018: Crown Jewel, 2017: Battleground,2016: Fastlane, 2015: Royal Rumble, 2014: Tables, Ladders & Chairs (And Stairs), 2013: Battleground, 2012: Hell in a Cell, 2011: Over The Limit

Winner: Fastlane (Runners-Up: Hell in a Cell)

It was a really good year for PPVs since my lowest score is 6.5, then it’s onto the 7’s and when you’re talking about a 7 out of 10, that’s not too bad. I think WWE did a much better job in terms of PPVs because they have less matches on the cards and then the matches that do make the show end up getting a lot of time.

Fastlane – (March 21)

Hell in a Cell – (June 20)

Extreme Rules – (September 26)

  1. BEST TAG TEAM

To be given to the two men that function best as a tag team. Past winners – 2020: The Street Profits, 2019: The Undisputed Era, 2018: The Bar (Sheamus & Cesaro), 2017: The Usos, 2016:The New Day, 2015: The New Day, 2014: The Usos, 2013: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns, 2012:Team Hell No (Kane & Daniel Bryan), 2011:Air Boom (Evan Bourne & Kofi Kingston), 2010: The Hart Dynasty, 2009: Chris Jericho and The Big Show

Winners: The Usos (Runners-Up: RK-Bro, The Street Profits, The New Day, MSK, Rey & Dominik Mysterio)

wwe roman reigns usos

The Usos are “The Ones” again after four years out of the top spot. When Jimmy came back in May to reunite with his brother Jey after Jimmy missed a year due to a knee injury, it was only a matter of time until they would win tag team gold again. I must say, though, that it was very disappointing that Jimmy committed another DUI this year and I hope he never does that again. He has to be smarter than that. Anyway, The Usos provide consistently good matches on a regular basis and are featured heavily right beside their cousin Roman Reigns.

RK-Bro has worked very well. I feel like the split is coming in 2022, but I have enjoyed what they did in 2021 as a team that reluctantly got together and then they had a lot of success as a duo. They always have good matches too, which is important for any team as well.

I like The Street Profits a lot as a likable babyface team that has improved a lot in the ring. Their promos are fine too, but it’s mostly their in-ring performance that stands out to me. The New Day are well established and great at what they do. I like MSK on NXT. They’re a natural, fun babyface team with some cool moves. Rey & Dominik Mysterio winning the titles was one of my favorite moments of the year.

  1. THE “NEXT BIG THING” AWARD

To be given to the wrestler that is most likely to be the “next big thing” in the new year.Past winners – 2020: Bianca Belair, 2019: Keith Lee, 2018: Velveteen Dream, 2017: Rusev, 2016: Shinsuke Nakamura, 2015: Sami Zayn, 2014: Bray Wyatt, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Dolph Ziggler, 2011: Cody Rhodes, 2010: Alberto Del Rio, 2009: John Morrison

The new rule that began in 2019 is that it must be somebody that hasn’t won a title in WWE yet whether on NXT, Raw or Smackdown.

Winner: Bron Breakker (Runners-Up: Liv Morgan, Grayson Waller, Tony D’Angelo)

This award is meant for a guy like Bron Breakker, who has really impressed a lot of people in NXT 2.0 over the past four months. I’d put Carmelo Hayes right there too, but he’s the NXT North American Champion, so based on the rules, I can’t put him. I’m just saying I think Breakker and Hayes are two guys that are hopefully main event players for the rest of this decade.

Liv Morgan is on the brink of breaking through as a top female in WWE and I’m glad to see it. She has worked hard. The fans like her a lot. I like Grayson Waller a lot in NXT right now. He’s an arrogant heel that’s easy to hate. Tony D’Angelo has a lot of potential too.

  1. BEST HEEL

To be given to the performer that is the best at drawing the ire of the audience. Past winners 2020: Randy Orton, 2019: Daniel Bryan, 2018: Tommaso Ciampa, 2017: The Miz, 2016: AJ Styles, 2015: Seth Rollins, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Paul Heyman, 2012: Daniel Bryan, 2011:Christian. Award began in 2011.

Winner: Roman Reigns (Runners-Up: Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, The Usos)

Easy choice here. Reigns by a lot, really. Rollins is great too, but Reigns wins this award and it’s not even a doubt in my mind.

 

  1. BEST BABYFACE

To be given to the performer that is the best at receiving the adulation of the audience.Past winners – 2020: Drew McIntyre, 2019: Kofi Kingston, 2018: Becky Lynch, 2017: AJ Styles, 2016: Dean Ambrose, 2015: John Cena, 2014: Dolph Ziggler, 2013: Daniel Bryan, 2012: John Cena, 2011:Randy Orton. Award began in 2011.

Winner: Big E (Runners-Up: Drew McIntyre, Bianca Belair, Riddle)

It was a tough choice between Big E and Drew McIntyre while Bianca Belair is certainly very likable as well. Riddle is a natural babyface that is easy to like and be a breakout singles guy in a year or two.

  1. BIGGEST NEWS STORY

The stories of the year that we’ll always remember when looking back at the year that was. Past winners – 2020: COVID-19 leads to massive changes to the wrestling business, 2019: Roman Reigns returns from leukemia battle in February, 2018: Roman Reigns announcing he has leukemia,2017: Kurt Angle returning to WWE after 11 years away, 2016: WWE signs four top New Japan stars,2015: Injuries decimate the roster, 2014: CM Punk leaving WWE, 2013: The WWE Network Still Isn’t Here, 2012: Jerry Lawler’s heart attack, 2011: The death of Randy Savage, 2010: The departure of several big names (Shawn Michaels), 2009: Shane McMahon leaves WWE

Winner: WWE releases 80 wrestlers this year (Runner-Up: WWE returns to performing in front of the fans, WWE Network moves to Peacock in the US)

There were a lot of WWE superstars released last year and then they did it again this year with around 80 names cut loose. The biggest names are former WWE/Universal Champions like Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman and Jeff Hardy while guys who were fairly new on the main roster after NXT success like Keith Lee and Karrion Kross were cut as well. Others like Daniel Bryan and Adam Cole left when for AEW when they were free agents, but that doesn’t count in terms of releases because it was their choice to leave when they were free. Anyway, a lot of the WWE releases were told they were cut for “budget cuts” even though WWE is as profitable as ever due to getting over $200 million each for Raw and Smackdown along with a huge payment from Peacock for WWE Network. All of the cuts made sense from WWE’s perspective because they still have over 200 wrestlers under contract, but it did piss off a lot of fans that are mad at the company for cutting so many talented wrestlers. Personally, I was surprised by the likes of Wyatt and Strowman being cut, but it wouldn’t shock me if we see either guy back in WWE again.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the news for the past two years with good reason. In July, WWE returned to performing in front of the fans after 15 months of being forced to do other things like the Thunderdome that was used for the first six months of 2021. Even though COVID-19 cases still exist, a lot of America and much of the world is vaccinated with boosters taking place as well, so it looks like WWE will remain as a show performing in front of fans moving forward. I really don’t think we’ll see a Thunderdome thing again.

Another big story was WWE Network moving to Peacock back in March for United States users only. Since America has the biggest WWE audience, it was a big deal for fans. Some people hate it. Others probably like it.

 

  1. BEST TURN

To be given to the best babyface or heel turn that benefitted the performer the most.Past winners – 2020: Roman Reigns, 2019: Finn Balor, 2018: Daniel Bryan, 2017: Sami Zayn, 2016: AJ Styles, 2015: The New Day, 2014: Seth Rollins, 2013: Randy Orton, 2012: Big Show, 2011: Mark Henry, 2010: Kane, 2009: CM Punk

Winner: Kevin Owens (Runners-Up: Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar)

Kevin Owens turned heel recently and I thought it was the best of the year because of how it was done. Owens was basically sick of a lot of things going on with him as a face, so he stopped being the nice guy that people liked and went back to being the dirtbag heel that is the role that he has thrived as in the past. I liked the turn a lot.

Randy Orton didn’t do anything significant to go from heel to face earlier in the year. Basically, Orton started hanging out with Riddle as a reluctant partner and that has led to Orton becoming popular again.

Brock Lesnar’s turn is simply because he’s a face now going after a heel champion like Roman Reigns. For most of Lesnar’s run in WWE from 2012 to 2020, he was a heel. Now he’s a likable farmer that wears overalls. The fans like him a lot.

 

  1. MOST IMPROVED PERFORMER

To be given to the performer that has shown the most improvement in the last year.Past winners – 2020: Sonya Deville, 2019: Rhea Ripley, 2018: Velveteen Dream,2017: Braun Strowman, 2016: The Miz, 2015: Bayley, 2014: Damien Mizdow, 2013: Roman Reigns, 2012: Ryback, 2011: Zack Ryder, 2010: Cody Rhodes, 2009: Kofi Kingston

Winner: Liv Morgan (Runners-Up: Raquel Gonzalez)

liv morgan becky lynch wwe raw stretch

This one is always tough to pick. Sometimes it’s due to opportunity and sometimes it’s due to a person simply improving a lot. I think Liv Morgan has always been pretty good, but this is the first year where WWE has decided to push her more as a singles wrestler. Liv is proving that she belongs in the title hunt.

I thought Raquel Gonzalez jumped up to that next level this year in NXT as a Women’s Champion that got better in terms of promos, her acting skills and matches improved as well. I still think she’ll get better on Raw or Smackdown in 2022 as well.

  1. BEST WEEKLY WWE TV SHOW

To be given to the best weekly WWE television (or internet) show. Past winners – 2020: Smackdown, 2019: NXT, 2018: NXT, 2017: Smackdown, 2016: Smackdown, 2015: NXT, 2014: NXT, 2013: NXT.

Winner: Smackdown (Runner-Up: NXT)

Brock Lesnar giving Adam Pearce an F5 on WWE Smackdown

I’m going to the show led by the Tribal Chief – it’s Smackdown. This was tough to pick because if you look at my ratings for the year, NXT is actually slightly higher than Smackdown. However, NXT changed its format to NXT 2.0 in September, so if you look at the ratings since then, Smackdown is higher. I also think Smackdown has done a great job of having the bigger moments at the major shows like John Cena, Becky Lynch, Brock Lesnar and so on.

As for Raw, there are good things, but it’s tough for Raw to win this award because they are hurt by being three hours. There’s more filler and bad stuff on Raw even thought there are good matches too.

  1. BEST ANNOUNCER

To be given to the best announcer in WWE. It could be a play by play or analyst. Past winners – 2020: Corey Graves, 2019: Nigel McGuinness, 2018: Mauro Ranallo, 2017: Corey Graves, 2016: Corey Graves, 2015: Corey Graves, 2014: John Bradshaw Layfield, 2013: John Bradshaw Layfield, 2012: John Bradshaw Layfield, 2011: Booker T, 2010: Matt Striker, 2009: Jim Ross.

Winner: Pat McAfee (Runner-Up: Wade Barrett)

I really like the enthusiasm that Pat McAfee shows for the WWE product on Smackdown. Hiring him was a great idea because he’s a successful host of a sports show and part of the reason is because of his energy. That high-energy style is perfect for WWE. From the way he dances for a Shinsuke Nakamura to sucking up to Roman Reigns or marking out for a return of a John Cena or Brock Lesnar, McAfee is a joy to watch. I like him a lot.

Wade Barrett is my favorite analyst in the traditional sense. Barrett is more of a heel announcer in NXT, but what I like is that he’s able to get into a storyline no matter how ridiculous it is. When it comes to great matches like Dragunov/WALTER, Barrett shines in that situation as well.

  1. BEST WWE NETWORK SHOW

To be given to the best show on WWE Network that is not just a live wrestling show. It has to be something different. Past winners – 2020: The Last Ride Documentary, 2019: Broken Skull Sessions with Steve Austin, 2018: WWE Chronicle, 2017: WWE 24, 2016: Edge & Christian Show, 2015: Breaking Ground.

Winner: Broken Skull Sessions with Steve Austin (Runner-Up: Ruthless Aggression documentary)

It feels like WWE has cut back on original content on WWE Network this year, but what’s good is that Steve Austin’s “Broken Skull Sessions” continued with new episodes nearly every month this year. Austin is a great interviewer because in some cases he was in WWE at the same time as his guest like Mick Foley and in other cases, he can relate to what a guy like Seth Rollins is talking about because Austin went through it all in his career.

 

  1. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT

To be given to the most memorable moment of the year.Past winners – 2020: Edge returns at 2020 Royal Rumble, 2019: Kofi Kingston wins WWE Title at WrestleMania 35, 2018: Daniel Bryan announces his return to the ring after three years away, 2017: Hardy Boyz return to WWE at WrestleMania, 2016: AJ Styles debuts at Royal Rumble, 2015: Seth Rollins becomes WWE Champion at WrestleMania 31, 2014: The Undertaker’s undefeated streak ends at WrestleMania 30 when he loses to Brock Lesnar, 2013: Daniel Bryan wins WWE Title leading to heel Triple H/Orton, 2012: Brock Lesnar’s Return April 2 on Raw, 2011: CM Punk’s Promo June 27 on Raw, 2010 winner: Bret & Shawn embrace in the ring, 2009 winner: The Undertaker/Michaels match

Winner: John Cena returns at Money in the Bank to confront Roman Reigns (Bianca Belair & Sasha Banks Headline WrestleMania Night 1, Big E wins WWE Title on Raw, Brock Lesnar returns at SummerSlam)

I thought John Cena’s return at Money in the Bank leading to the SummerSlam match with Roman Reigns was a great moment. Cena hadn’t had a match since January 2019 (if you don’t count the WrestleMania “match” with Bray Wyatt in 2020), so it was a big deal to see him back in WWE. Cena also worked live events before the SummerSlam match and he did a great job in that match with Reigns.

It was such a cool moment to see Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair in the main event of the first night of WrestleMania 37 this year. Before the match began, the fans gave them a big ovation and you could tell that both women were emotional being in there as two black women in he event of WrestleMania. I loved seeing that. I’m so happy they got to live that moment in front of a pretty good crowd in Tampa that night.

Big E’s WWE Title win on Raw was a fun moment where Big E said he was going to cash in that night and that’s exactly what he did.

Brock Lesnar’s return at SummerSlam was similar to Cena at Money in the Bank. I just thought that Cena moment meant a lot more.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS ON WWE IN 2021

Since I always like to rate the shows out of 10, how about a rating for the year? Here’s how I rated the years since 2009.

2009: 5.5

2010: 5

2011: 7

2012: 7

2013: 6.5

2014: 5.5

2015: 5.5

2016: 6.5

2017: 6

2018: 6

2019: 6.25

2020: 5.75

2021: 6.75

I’m going with a 6.75 out of 10.

It was a unique year because we spent the first six months of watching WWE in the Thunderdome exclusively for Raw/Smackdown except for WrestleMania 37, which had fans. Then in July at Money in the Bank, the fans were back, so things felt normal again. I liked the second half of the year a lot because of crowds being back.

When I wrote a ranking of WWE PPVs in 2021, I mentioned that my average WWE PPV rating was a 7.5 out of 10. That’s a really strong year. However, I can’t say the same about the TV shows, which have an average closer to around 6.5 out of 10.

One of my main issues with WWE TV shows is that they don’t do enough big angles or try to create big moments that make their shows more interesting to watch on a weekly basis. Raw had some major title changes like Big E and Bobby Lashley winning their titles on Raw (instead of PPVs), but on average, Raw is lacking in terms of big moments. You can’t tell a longtime WWE fan that the current state of Raw is as exciting as the best years of the show because it’s a false statement. They need to make Raw more exciting moving forward.

With all of that said, I don’t think the WWE product is that bad at all. There are so many talented wrestlers putting on three and four-star level matches every week all the time. People that say the product sucks are being too harsh, in my opinion. Maybe they have higher expectations or they are hard to please. I don’t know. To each their own. It’s a personal opinion, so it’s up to you.

When I think of 2021 WWE I’ll think of the fans being back at shows in the second half of the year and how that really helped the product. I’ll also remember it for the year that Roman Reigns dominated as a heel WWE Universal Champion. Then there are the negative thoughts about WWE firing over 80 wrestlers, plus numerous other staff and wondering if that was really necessary. Then again, it’s not my money, so who am I to say? It’s up to the company to make those decisions. Anyway, I’ll leave it that that for now.

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I keep this part in every year: This is my favorite column to write every year. If you’re one of those people that reads a lot of my work without writing this is one of those times where I’m asking for your thoughts because I want to know what you thought. Don’t be shy. I reply to nearly every email. You can also contact me on Twitter or Facebook – the links to those are at the bottom of the post.

Thank you to my good friend Steve Melo for the banner at the top of this post. He also does the banners for every one of my columns including the always fun “preferred” Raw Deal banners, Smackdown banners, PPV banners and more.

I wish you all a safe and happy New Year in 2022. I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading.

As I said, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My contact info is below. Thanks so much for reading!

John Canton – mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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