In Its Variety, 2021 Was Jon Moxley’s Best In-Ring Year Yet

Jon Moxley has been on top of the pro wrestling world for the last three years. After putting AEW on his back as world champion through the bulk of 2020 and carrying the new promotion through the Daily’s Place era, the Purveyor of Violence got to focus on himself in 2021. Mox spent this year going through a murderer’s row of opponents in dream matches that would not have been possible just a few years ago. 2020 may have been the year of Jon Moxley, but 2021 has been Jon Moxley’s year.

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2020, I imagine, will go down as the most important year in Mox’s career. Through multiple Wrestler of the Year awards and a title establishing run with the AEW World Championship, he was the right champion to take AEW through the first year of the pandemic. Moxley imbued an importance into that belt in a manner that felt like how Bret Hart would regard the Winged Eagle. Every promo he gave made that title feel like the most important thing in the world to Moxley and as he tore his way through the AEW roster, he felt untouchable. There was little for me to root for during 2020, but at least every Wednesday I knew that I could watch Mox fight the good fight. 2021, though, has proven to be Moxley’s best in-ring year.

Mox started 2021 focusing on some unfinished business. After getting screwed out of the AEW World Championship by Kenny Omega, all that was on Mox’s mind was gold. Besides, wanting his AEW World Title back, a match with KENTA over the IWGP U.S. title loomed over the horizon for him. These two pursuits crossed paths with KENTA attacking Mox on the February 3 edition of Dynamite, officially opening the “forbidden door.”

The Forbidden Door

It is kind of crazy to think back to earlier this year and how much this moment changed the landscape of American professional wrestling. The forbidden door was THE talking point of the first half of the year. While the reality of the pandemic has prevented a lot of the big-time AEW/NJPW dream matches from happening, none of it would have happened without Jon Moxley. The Death Rider is the crucial link between these two companies, fostering a pro wrestling landscape where Minoru Suzuki can wrestle in the main event of AEW’s biggest show ever.

The falls count anywhere tag match that followed, pitting Moxley and begrudging partner Lance Archer against Omega and KENTA on February 10 is a blast. 20 minutes of anarchy between four men with history with each other and with NJPW. I want to give a special shout out to the part of the match that took place in the Daily’s Place kitchen—Archer and Moxley using potatoes as weapons will never not be funny. The match that Mox had against KENTA on NJPW Strong, while not a classic, was one of the most interesting things to happen on Strong.

Making a Dud Work

There is an obvious dark mark on Moxley’s 2021. The exploding barbed wire deathmatch rematch between Omega and Mox at Revolution was the biggest dud in AEW’s short history. The match itself is well-worked. The spot of Moxley using the exploding ropes to break out of the One-Winged Angel is one of my favorite spots of the whole year. The post-match is… yeah. There has been enough said about the wet fart of an explosion that served as the climax of the show, but rewatching it nine months later, it’s hard to still not cringe in embarrassment for Moxley and Eddie Kingston.

kenny omega jon moxley aew

It’s hard not feel for Moxley when it comes to the exploding barbed wire death match. Working this type of match was a dream come true for Mox, and despite all the work he put in bell to bell, that match’s legacy will always be tainted. I hope that AEW returns to the stipulation one day and gives Mox another chance at it. As he said in his book, Mox, “I learned one valuable lesson from this experience: Exploding barbwire death matches rule.”

The one bright spot of the whole Revolution debacle was the reunion of Moxley and long-time friend Eddie Kingston. The pair are unreal together, having the most realistic chemistry of any pair in pro wrestling. Whenever I watch Moxley and Eddie cut a promo together, it never feels like I’m watching characters in a show, just two real friends shooting the shit together.

The Forbidden Door Opens Again

As the year went on, Mox and Eddie would challenge The Young Bucks for the AEW World Tag Team Championships at Double or Nothing in my favorite Moxley match of the year. The Young Bucks are such good heels and their specific type of heel work paired perfectly with the take no shit attitudes of Moxley and Eddie. The feud between the two teams was the highlight of AEW every week, including the hilarious sneaker-jacking of The Bucks’ DIOR Air Jordans.

I had the privilege of being at Double or Nothing live. Nothing this year has matched watching Mox and Eddie run through the crowd for me in pro wrestling. I can still close my eyes and return to that singular moment, the surging of the crowd as two wild animals run through the aisles. It felt like the return of pro wrestling after a 15-month dormancy and for the first time sitting in the hot Florida heat, it felt like everything in the world was normal again for a few seconds.

jon moxley yuji nagata

Upholding his status as the forbidden door between NJPW and AEW, the Death Rider continued to defend his IWGP U.S. Title on Dynamite, including a match against Yugi Nagata. The Nagata match kicked off Mox’s feud against the dad contingent of NJPW wrestlers. The matches with Nagata and Satoshi Kojima were both fun brawls and it was easy to tell how much fun Mox is having mixing it up with these legends. Oh yeah, Minoru Suzuki also showed up after Mox’s match with Kojima and beat the shit out of him. Pro wrestling in 2021 was insane.

However the forbidden door worked, it brought New Japan’s legends in front of a major American audience and was a highlight of the year for me. It was an awesome moment for the fans and an awesome moment for Mox himself, who would get to wrestle Suzuki in front of his hometown of Cincinnati the following week and team with Eddie against a reformed Suzuki-gun team of Suzuki and Lance Archer. Moxley and Suzuki have a mesmerizing chemistry with each other, both men embracing the violent and sadistic side of pro wrestling.

The Rest of the Road

While dealing with Suzuki-gun, Mox turned to another violent corner of pro wrestling, GCW. After killing Matt Cardona to win the GCW World Championship, a slow building feud between Mox and Nick Gage came to a head. The World Title deathmatch between the two is an example of everything that makes deathmatch wrestling great. Mox and Gage are both experts in telling a story within the confines of hardcore matches and the bubbling animosity between the two is palpable through every moment of the match. Having Mick Foley present the title before the match added additional gravitas to the match, as well as providing the awesome visual of Gage, Foley, and Moxley all standing side-by-side. Besides an excellent squash match against Wheeler YUTA (which might be in my top three matches of the year), that was end of Jon Moxley’s 2021 as an in-ring competitor.

News broke in early November that Mox had decided to voluntarily go to rehab for alcohol abuse. This was the moment that I knew Jon Moxley was the best wrestler in the world. For far too long, wrestlers and others in the business have put themselves and their needs second to the business. It takes a rare type of bravery to step away from everything to get the help that you need. To be able to step away from your work, even when you’re at your peak, to seek help—that’s real strength.

I was going through a dark moment right around the time that of the announcement. I didn’t know what to do with myself or how I was going to go on—I felt absolutely alone. Mox showed me that I wasn’t, that it’s okay to look for help. If Jon Moxley, the toughest motherfucker in all of professional wrestling could ask for help, then so can I, and so can everyone else. I can’t wait for Moxley to come back to the ring, but I’ll wait as long as needed.