The 7 Best WWE Matches of 2021 So Far (VIDEO)
After an unprecedented 2020 that shook up the format of wrestling drastically, WWE returned to something closer to what we’re used to in 2021. Legends have continued to dominate while new stars have risen to their greatest heights yet. Wrestlers like Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley, Edge, Rhea Ripley, and Sasha Banks made the most of a year without an audience and used their momentum to create some really special moments.
While the year isn’t over yet, we’ve already seen some exceptional matches in 2021 full of storytelling, heart, and, of course, a whole lot of pain. Pay-per-view mainstays like the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania have not disappointed, while the smaller events have had their moments too. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but there have been undeniable bright spots in the first half of the year.
Below, we’ve gathered the most exciting and impactful matches of 2021 so far that had us cheering at our screens.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
The Royal Rumble has always been one of the centerpieces of WWE’s pay-per-view lineup. How can you not be excited to watch 30 men duke it out over an hour until only one is left with a guaranteed title match at WrestleMania? Of course, sometimes it can disappoint with a cheap win or a heartbreaking elimination, but this year’s Rumble (on January 31) definitely exceeded expectations despite being the first without a live audience.
It started with long-feuding legends Randy Orton and Edge in the first two spots, had some crazy one-on-ones, and even included the surprise return of fan-favorite Christian after he retired seven years ago. Even the finish stuck the landing as Edge won a year after his return and for the second time in his career. He also achieved the milestone of being only the third wrestler ever to win as the number one entrant, an impressive feat for anyone and another notch in his decades-spanning career. Overall, this was an excellent Royal Rumble match that gave fans everything they wanted.
Kevin Owens Vs. Roman Reigns in a Last Man Standing Match (Royal Rumble)
The Men’s Royal Rumble match may have been a highlight of the event on January 31, but this matchup was the best singles fight of the night. Everything is allowed in a last man standing match, and both stars took full advantage of that to go all out and inflict some crazy pain on each other throughout the Tropicana Fields stadium in Florida. They used steel stairs, tables, ladders, golf carts, and even forklifts in set pieces that had us genuinely worried for their safety. Despite a last-minute botch where Roman Reigns couldn’t get out of his handcuffs, both stars played it off without a hitch and gave us a violently entertaining fight that paid off years of resentment between them.
WWE Champion Drew McIntyre Vs. Jeff Hardy Vs. Sheamus Vs. Randy Orton Vs. AJ Styles Vs. Kofi Kingston (Elimination Chamber)
Elimination Chamber may not be as big an event as the Royal Rumble, but you can always be sure it’ll have some insane moments. Six men locked in a giant steel cage until only one is left can only be a good time. This time around, on February 21, though, the stakes were even higher as Drew McIntyre defended the WWE Championship against five WWE veterans in Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, and AJ Styles. All these men have a complicated history with each other (to put it lightly), and we got some fantastic storytelling out of it. Kingston finally got some much-needed revenge on Orton by eliminating him, Styles played the classic villain when his bodyguard interfered to get him in early, and Hardy did some death-defying stunts as usual.
The ending was incredibly bittersweet, too. Against all odds, McIntyre made it through and defended his championship only to receive a brutal beatdown at the hands of Bobby Lashley and lose his title to The Miz after he cashed in his Money In The Bank briefcase. McIntyre did his best, but even he couldn’t persevere against a challenge that unfair.
Smackdown Women’s Champion Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair (Wrestlemania 37)
The first-ever solo women’s match to main event a Wrestlemania was also probably the best match of the whole event. WrestleMania 37 (spread over two nights for the second year in a row, on April 10 and 11) marked the return of a live audience for the first time in over a year at wrestling’s biggest show, a fitting stage for this emotional matchup.
In the main event for night one, Banks defended the Smackdown Women’s Championship with her trademark cockiness against the rookie Belair in a classic underdog fight with no twists or gimmicks; just pure high-stakes wrestling. Both women gave it their all with several moments that had us on the edge of our seats, and the finish where Belair used her signature ponytail to whip Banks and secured the win was a fitting end to an incredible main event. This match made a star out of Bianca Belair in front of a cheering audience and felt like the classic “Wrestlemania-moment” we sorely missed last year.
Universal Champion Roman Reigns Vs. Daniel Bryan (Smackdown)
There are few wrestlers who’ve had as big of an impact on the WWE over the last decade as these two. Roman Reigns has been the leading man of the WWE since he began and dominated almost every matchup he’s been in. Daniel Bryan in turn was always the underdog, facing setback after setback until his iconic WrestleMania win in 2014. Their feud began earlier this year at Elimination Chamber and continued into Fastlane and WrestleMania.
This Smackdown match on April 30 was the culmination of their rivalry with an added stipulation: If Bryan lost, his Smackdown career was over. Both men gave it their all in an exhausting match that lasted almost an hour and pushed each superstar to the limit. The match felt like an epic worthy of WrestleMania despite being part of a normal weekly episode. Tragically, it also marked the end of Bryan’s time on Smackdown when he passed out in a submission move. This was definitely a clash of titans and one of the best matches of the year.
Raw Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley vs Charlotte Flair vs Asuka (WrestleMania Backlash)
Triple threat matches are always hard to pull off. After all, having three stars keep up the tempo and all get a chance to shine is no easy feat, but this match pulled it off and then some. To say Ripley was an underdog going into this match at Backlash would be an extreme understatement. The Empress Charlotte Flair is challenging for the most world-title reigns of any wrestler, while Asuka has had multiple reigns, a Royal Rumble win, and a previous undefeated streak of two years under her belt.
Yet despite all that, Ripley managed to pin Asuka and keep her championship after an intense three-way battle at Backlash on May 16, just over a month after WrestleMania. This was a gripping match that gave each woman the spotlight and continued to establish Ripley as a powerful contender in the women’s arena going forward.
WWE Champion Bobby Lashley Vs. Drew McIntyre in a Hell in a Cell Match (Hell in a Cell)
This fight was a long-time coming. Not only did Lashley cause McIntyre to lose his championship at Elimination Chamber, but these two have been fighting on-and-off the whole year. The appeal of Hell in a Cell is having two stars trapped in a giant cage where absolutely anything is allowed to win — and this match (on June 20) went the distance.
This was an incredibly physical and suspenseful fight full of set pieces, and both men really used the cage to its full extent. We had tables, kendo sticks, interference from MVP, and more. There were so many showstopping moments where the match could’ve ended. Instead, it just kept going and getting even more intense every time. Eventually, Lashley finally managed to roll-up McIntyre and denied his last opportunity to challenge Lashley for the championship. It was a brutal end to a wildly entertaining fight.