Two years ago in my very first article for Voices of Wrestling, I wrote “Creating Separation: A Tiered Breakdown of the 2019 VOW MOTY Poll

After a one year hiatus, I am back again to look a little closer at the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year Poll results. My basic premise is that, while it is nice to use round numbers to create a “Top 100”, “Top 50” or even “Top 10” list, with a poll featuring a large voting pool such as this there are much better ways to look at it. Using arbitrary numbers like this makes it seem the MOTY poll results are a straight line moving diagonally upward, with each match receiving 1-2 more points than the match below it. But that’s not reality. I’m reality if graphing the total points you will see some plateaus followed by big jumps up in points. There may be some nice linear increases from time to time but not the whole list. I’m interested in seeing where those big jumps happen, when the slope of the curve sharply changes.

In order to do this, I do a very simple analysis by simply taking the higher-ranked matches total points and subtract it from the total points of the match below it – giving me the difference in points between the two. So I’ll take the number 1 matches points minus the number 2 matches points and get an answer. Then #2 minus #3, and so on and so on until the final match on the list. I then look at the differences in points between matches and look for natural breakpoints where the difference is relatively greater than it had been before. For example, maybe the list is cruising along with 1-5 points between entries, then all of a sudden there’s a 12 point difference. That’s where I draw a line and create my tiers, with the matches below that line being in a tier and the matches above it forming a tier until the next “line” is drawn.

Let’s say in the above example the #56 match in the poll has 20 points, #55 has 22 points and the #54 match has 34 points, creating that new tier with the 12 point difference. If you are just looking at the numerical placement on the list, then it’s inferred that the difference between 56 and 55 is the same as 55 and 54. When in reality the point totals show that 56 and 55 are very close in support they received, while 54 should be considered significantly better.

Sadness Village” and the lower-ranked matches are difficult to separate simply due to the low number of votes/points these matches received. So we will start off with the “Superstan” matches, a term coined this year by VOW writer Ewan C.

The “Superstan” Tier

  1. (tie) Serena Deeb vs. Riho (5/30 AEW, 14 points ) and Erica Leigh vs. Edith Surreal (3/28 Cassandro Cup, 14 points ) to 82. Tam Nakano vs. Saya Kamitania (12/29 Stardom, 14 points)

All matches here have 14 points which is the amount from a single first-place vote. The Serena Deeb/Riho and Erica Leigh/Edith Surreal matches have the distinction of only getting a single vote, but having that single vote be a first-place vote. In the VOW Slack, this has now officially been dubbed a “Superstan” match and joins the VOW poll lexicon along with “Sadness Village” and “vanity pick.”  The other four matches in this tier received 3-4 votes each, but at lower places giving them an equivalent 14 points.

The “Small But Dedicated Fanbase” Tier

  1. Lochy Hendrick vs vs. Drunk Uncle Beej (4/2 Wrestlerock, 15 points) to 57. Miyu Yamashita vs. Maki Ito (10/9 TJPW, 24 points)

In this tier all matches had greater than 15 points, meaning that all received at least two votes. The majority of matches had between 3-6 votes, but there were a few matches that got in based on the strength of a single first-place vote and one additional vote – those being Matt Taven vs. Vincent (9/12, ROH), Josh Alexander vs. Jake Something (8/20, Impact) and  Tsukasa Fujimoto vs.. Tsukushi Haruka (11/20, Ice Ribbon). And while this tier covers matches getting between 15 and 24 points, it is in a gradual progression with there never being more than a jump by 1 point as we move up the list.

The “Gaining in Popularity” Tier

  1. Nick Gage vs. Matt Cardona (7/24, GCW, 25 points) to 40. Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan (3/21, WWE, 37 points)

At first glance, it would have been easy to include the Nick Gage vs. Matt Cardona match with the previous tier. It only had 1 greater point than the 57th place match, continuing the trend of gradual 1 point increases. However, this GCW match makes itself distinct by being included on eight total ballots. Prior to this, the most had been six. So while we don’t see a bigger gap in total points, we do see that jump from six to eight in total votes received by a match, the largest number up to this point. The first jump greater than 1 point finally comes shortly after this anyway though, with the number 54 match, Toru Sugiura vs. Takayuki Ueki (04/01 –  FREEDOMS) scoring 28 points compared to the 55th match, the Intercontinental Title match at Castle Attack between Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito (2/28, NJPW, 26 points). This tier then continues with small 1-2 point increases as we move up into higher placing matches. The total votes for each match also remains similar with no matches surpassing 8 total votes (4.5% of ballots). In addition to Gage/Cardona, the matches receiving 8 votes here were Violento Jack (c) vs. Masashi Takeda (#46, 09/05 – Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS, 33 points) and

Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura vs. The 37KAMIINA (Konosuke Takeshita & Yuki Ueno) (#47, 06/06 – CyberFight Festival, 32 points)

The “True Best Matches of the Year Starts Here” Tier

  1. Chris Brookes vs. Lulu Pencil (7/22, ChocoPro/Gatoh Move, 46 points) to 29. MJF vs. Darby Allin (11/13, AEW, 64 points)

I love, love, love that this tier begins with a Chris Brookes vs. Lulu Pencil match from ChocoPro and that it does so by beating out a WWE match between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan by 9 points. 9 points! To this point, the greatest separation between matches had been only 2 points. To this point, this is the clearest distinction between tiers of matches, and I would say this is officially where the list of the best matches of the year begins. The Brookes/Lulu Pencil match got in despite having only 5 total votes due to the strength of two first-place votes. Going forward, all matches have at least nine votes, with the exception of Brookes/Lulu as mentioned and the #34 match, Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) vs. Tsukushi Haruka (11/13 – Ice Ribbon) which had seven votes for 55 points. This tier moves us from the matches being on 2-4% of ballots, to matches with wider support, appearing on 5-9% of ballots. Joining these two outstanding matches in this tier are also Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley in an Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match (#32, 3/7, AEW, 58 points), and the highest placing matches from Big Japan (#30, Takuya Nomura vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, 10/24, 64 points), DDT (#33, Konosuke Takeshita vs. Yuji Okabyashi, 12/26, 56 points), Impact (#38, Josh Alexander vs. TJP Iron Man Match, 6/3, 48 points), and Australia (#37, VeloCities vs. Aussie Open, PWA Black Label, 52 points).

The Dragon Tier

  1. Shingo Takagi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (7/25, NJPW, 74 points) to 24. Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii (9/18, NJPW, 85 points).

This tier begins with a 10 point jump from the Darby/MJF match at Full Gear to the Shingo/Tanahashi match at Wrestle Grand Slam in the Tokyo Dome, the biggest since the 9 point jump that Lulu Pencil vs. Chris Brookes earned, and made even more significant by the fact that the majority of point differentials in the prior tier were between 1-5 points.

This tier is called the Dragon Tier after Shingo Takagi himself who appears in three of the five matches here – the bookends listed above,  as well as the New Japan Cup Final against Will Ospreay (#25, 3/21, NJPW, 81 points). These matches also put themselves at a level above by nearly all having double-digit vote totals. In fact, all have 12 or greater, with the exception of the GAEAism Main Event Trios Match at number 26 with 79 points. This excellent match of Sendai Girls vs. Marvelous however, does have the honor of being the first match with 3 first-place votes. Before this, none had received more than 2.

The Best of The Best Begins Here

  1. Shun Skywalker vs. YAMATO (8/1, Dragongate, 101 points) to 18. Bryan Danielson vs. Eddie Kingston (10/29, AEW, 118 points)

While this tier does begin with a nice arbitrary distinction of being the beginning of all matches having greater than 100 points, it is the 16 point difference between the Skywalker/YAMATO match at Speed Star Final and the #24 G1 clash between Shingo and Ishii that puts it over the top. The 16 point differential is the greatest since the 10 that started the last tier, and the largest to this point. The total number of votes really starts to increase here as well as the matches all have >14 votes, with the Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki match (10/15, AEW, 115 points, #20) leading the charge with 28 votes, meaning it was present on nearly 16% of all ballots. Before this many of the matches did have 14 or more votes, but there would be an occasional 12 or 9 or 7. Now, they all have more than 14 votes, and in fact, the top four of the six matches in this tier have greater than 20 total votes each. Of note, this tier features the highest-ranking Dragongate match on the list with Shun Skywalker vs. YAMATO (#23)  the two Bryan Danielson AEW TV/YouTube matches already mentioned (against Suzuki and Kingston), as well as two Stardom matches (Giulia vs. Tam Nakano, #19, 118 points and Syuri vs Momo Watanabe, #22, 103 points).

The “Feuds of the Year” Tier

  1. Syuri vs. Utami Hayashishita (12/29, Stardom, 143 points) to 14. Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair (4/10, WWE, 180 points)

The tier starts off with a 25 point jump—by far our biggest to this point, with the previous being the 16 that separated the last two tiers. As we go forward with this list and get into the higher-ranked matches, this point separation is only going to increase as the total points gets bigger and bigger. So the differences will start to become relative at this point. For example, there is another large jump of 20 points between Syuri and Utami Hayashishita’s December match and the Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Kenou match from NOAH’s N1 final on 10/3. However, a new tier is not created here as honestly, I didn’t want to create a tier with just one match if I didn’t have to. Plus including the Syuri vs. Hayashishita match from 12/29 allows me to group it with another great series of matches – the Nakajima vs. Kenou (or Kenoh) matches, which amazingly place right next to each other at #16 and #15. The presence of these matches gives me the “Feuds of the Year” title for this tier, as we will be seeing another Syuri/Hayashishita match later on in this countdown. Sasha and Bianca doesn’t really fit into that, but it was only 2 points above the Nakajima/Kenou double title match, so close that I couldn’t separate them.

Looking more closely at the two Nakajima/Kenou matches. The N1 final placed 16th with 163 points, while the hour-long draw placed 15th with 178 points. And while the 10/3 N1 Final had more overall votes with 31 compared to 24 for the 11/28 match, the hour draw on 11/28 pulled ahead with five first-place votes to the other match’s one first-place vote. The emphasis the poll places on first-place votes means the N1 final got 14 points from its sole vote, while the Title vs. Title match got 70 points. These five first-place votes also make it the match to this point with the most votes at the number 1 position, with the prior leader being the GAEAism main event (#26) which had three.

The “Flirting With Greatness” Tier

13. CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston (11/13, AEW, 199 points, 38 total votes)

12. Shingo Takagi vs. Jeff Cobb (1/5/21, NJPW, 206 points, 39 total votes)

11. Kenny Omega vs. Adam Page (11/13, AEW, 208 points, 34 total votes)

As we almost get into the top 10, we have these three matches that don’t quite get into that rarified air, but are all obviously incredible accomplishments in their own right. Only 19 points separate Punk and Kingston’s brutal sprint at Full Gear from the Belair/Banks WrestleMania match, which is not a new record in separation between matches. However, these three matches being only 9 points apart and including the two top matches from AEW’s Full Gear PPV (as well as the great Shingo/Cobb NEVER title match in the Tokyo Dome) made it work to group them together. The total votes for these three make a distinction from the prior tier, however; with all three having 34 or more votes, while the previous tier had between 24-32 votes for each match. The vote total for these three matches put them on 19-22% of ballots, meaning they were featured on one of every five ballots submitted.

The Top 10 Begins

10. Shingo Takagi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (1/30, NJPW,  246 points, 40 total votes)

9. Thunder Rosa vs. Dr. Britt Baker DMD (3/17, AEW, 266 point, 55 total votes)

8. Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay (1/4/21, NJPW, 303 points, 49 total votes)

7. Jay White vs. Kota Ibushi (1/5/21, NJPW, 316 points, 46 total votes, 8 first-place votes)

When I do these columns to break down the list into tiers, it’s because I want to go beyond the basic top 10, top 5, etc. I want get out of the routine use of round numbers, but maybe just focusing on the top 10 leaves out matches 11 and 12 which are so close to #10 in voting that they may as well be part of the top 10. But I cannot go against the numbers, and despite my desires, the truth is that starting with the Shingo vs. Tanahashi NEVER title classic we have entered a new level of greatness right at number 10. A whopping 38 points is the difference between Shingo/Tanahashi and the number 11 match (Omega/Hangman at Full Gear) demolishing the 25 points that had been the previous record. Total votes in this tier also break the 40 vote threshold for the first time, putting each of these matches on 22-30% of ballots each. The other milestone reached by this tier is the eight first-place votes for the Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White match at WrestleKingdom, which is now the most received by a single match. And it is those eight first-place votes that get it to the top place in this tier, ahead of the Okada/Ospreay and Thunder Rosa/Britt Baker matches that had slightly more overall votes.

The “Hard Hitting Classics” Tier

6. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (8/22, WWE, 406 points, 63 total votes, 5 first-place votes)

5. Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri (6/12, Stardom, 409 points, 58 total votes, 10 first-place votes)

Now we get into the extremely great matches tier. 90 points separated White/Ibushi from the #6 WALTER/Ilja match. 90! So, when looking back at 2021, please don’t use a top five matches of the year, use at least a top six because neither of these matches should be left off the list. We break the 400 point mark for the first time, 50 total votes for the first time (>30% of ballots), and the first place support for the Stardom match between Syuri and Hayashishita breaks into the double digits with 10 votes at number 1 – propelling this match into becoming the first Joshi match in history to break the top 10 in history of the VOW MOTY poll (which goes back to 2012).

And while we are here let’s go back to WALTER/Ilja and look at how great these two have been together over the last 5 years. They first appeared on the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year Poll facing each other in wXw on 3/12/17 and reached #7 in the poll that year. To show how impressive a feat that was – the six matches ahead of them included three Omega/Okada matches, the Omega/Naito G1 final, the Pete Dunne/Tyler Bate NXT UK breakout match in Chicago, and the all-time great Okada/Shibata IWGP title match. WALTER would continue his great work in the next few years with matches against Jordan Devlin (#8, 8/18/18), Will Ospeary (#11, 10/13/18), and Tyler Bate (#11, 8/31/19).  In 2020, Ilja would rekindle his battle with WALTER, this time in an empty arena NXT UK title match that reached #4 on the 2020 MOTY Poll.

And here they are again in 2021 at #6, their 3rd match to land in the top seven of the poll over the last five years—simply incredible.

The Honorable Mention

  1. Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi (5/4, NJPW, 554 points, 66 total votes, 16 first-place votes)

It feels strange to call this match an “honorable mention” but that’s the best way I can describe it. As you will see shortly, the top three matches were in a class of their own in 2021 and not even the brilliant athleticism and intensity of Ospreay and Shingo could get close to breaking into that. It stands alone at #4 however, gaining 145 points more than the 5th place match, and six more first-place votes. The total votes for this match was only three and eight more than the matches in the previous tier, but the difference in points from first-place votes (224 vs. 140 vs. 70), as well as second-place votes (99 points for Ospreay/Shingo, 63 points earned by both Syuri/Utami and WALTER/Ilja), catapulted it ahead. And since we talked about WALTER/Ilja earlier, I would be remiss not to mention that this pairing of Shingo and Ospreay had the #1 MOTY in 2019 with their Best of the Super Junior Finals. A match that holds the distinction of gaining the greatest percentage of total points of any match, EVER, in the 10-year history of this Voices of Wrestling Poll with 53.73% of all possible points going to that match. Thanks to Fred Morlan for this excellent stat, as seen in his article breaking down the VOW MOTY list.

The Undeniably ELITE Top 3

3. Hangman Page vs. Bryan Danielson (12/15, AEW, 826 points, 105 total votes, 19 first-place votes)

2. Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (9/22, AEW, 913 points, 122 total votes, 14 first-place votes)

1. The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Brothers (9/5, AEW, 999 points, 107 total votes, 39 first-place votes)

And here we are.

The best of the best. The cream of the crop. These right here are the three best matches of the year, as voted on by the 176 different members of the wrestling media in the 2021 VOW poll. While some years the number 1 match clearly distinguishes itself from the other matches, these top three remained relatively close, given the high number of points each got.

We start off with the staggering 272 points that separate the Ospreay vs. Shingo Dontaku match from the Hangman Page/Bryan Danielson hour-long draw on Dynamite. This is the largest point differential between two matches in the entire poll and it’s not even close. The second most are the 145 between Ospreay/Shingo and Syuri/Utami. The 272 point differential to enter this top tier nearly doubles that amount. The total number of votes also jumps greatly, as each of these matches received over 100 votes. No other matches on the list received more than 70. First place voting isn’t too significantly different compared to the prior tiers for our #2 (Dragon/Omega)  and #3 (Dragon/Page) matches, which received 14 and 19 first-place votes respectively. These are comparable to the 16 first-place votes for Shingo/Ospreay and the 10 for Utami/Syuri. The cage match at All Out between the Bucks and the Lucha Bros, however, earned that spot on the backs of an incredibly high 39 first-place votes. No other match on the list received more than 20 first-place votes, and our winner this year almost had 40. They ended up with 546 points from first place votes alone. If we only counted the first-place votes for the Bucks/Lucha Bros match and none of the 2nd-10th votes they received, they still would end up ranked #4 for the year, barely behind the Ospreay/Shingo match. Omega/Danielson received 196 from first place, while Hangman/Danielson received 266. In the second place votes, Omega/Danielson made up some ground, winning that vote with 297 points to Bucks/Lucha Bros getting 126 and Page/Dragon getting 135.

So there you have it.

The VOW match of the year list, broken down into tiers, each one with a “clever” little title. My main takeaway from this analysis is that the point of the list where we truly start getting into the great matches of 2021 is with the Chris Brookes vs. Lulu Pencil match from Choco Pro at #39. Before that match, the point totals are low enough that the difference between placing #80 and #65 could be a single vote. Once we get into the top 39 the effect of a single vote starts to become a little bit less and we get more solid footing for the matches. This truly becomes established with the #23 match (Shun Skywalker vs. YAMATO) as the 16 point difference between it and Shingo/Ishii at #24 means it is the first match that would not have its place significantly changed by a single first-place vote (which is 14 points).

The big differences then come into play at #10, #6, and the top three.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year Poll 2021. I hope it gave you some new perspective, or at least was a fun little way to nerd out over the matches in the poll. And one last time for posterity’s sake—another shout to Chris Brookes vs. Lulu Pencil. You did it! Great work.

Below are the complete listing of the tiers from this article.

The “Superstan” Tier

86. (tie) Serena Deeb vs. Riho (5/30 AEW, 14 points ) and Erica Leigh vs. Edith Surreal (3/28 Cassandro Cup, 14 points ) to 82. Tam Nakano vs. Saya Kamitania (12/29 Stardom, 14 points)

The “Small But Dedicated Fanbase” Tier

81. Lochy Hendrick vs vs. Drunk Uncle Beej (4/2 Wrestlerock, 15 points) to

57. Miyu Yamashita vs. Maki Ito (10/9 TJPW, 24 points)

The “Gaining in Popularity” Tier

56. Nick Gage vs. Matt Cardona (7/24, GCW, 25 points) to

40. Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan (3/21, WWE, 37 points)

“The True Best Matches of the Year Starts Here” Tier

39. Chris Brookes vs. Lulu Pencil (7/22, ChocoPro/Gatoh Move, 46 points) to

29. MJF vs. Darby Allin (11/13, AEW, 64 points)

The Dragon Tier

28. Shingo Takagi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (7/25, NJPW, 74 points) to

24. Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii (9/18, NJPW, 85 points).

The Best of The Best Begins Here

23. Shun Skywalker vs. YAMATO (8/1, Dragongate, 101 points) to

18. Bryan Danielson vs. Eddie Kingston (10/29, AEW, 118 points)

The “Feuds of the Year” Tier

17. Syuri vs. Utami Hayashishita (12/29, Stardom, 143 points) to

14. Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair (4/10, WWE, 180 points)

The “Flirting With Greatness” Tier

13. CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston (11/13, AEW, 199 points, 38 total votes)

12. Shingo Takagi vs. Jeff Cobb (1/5/21, NJPW, 206 points, 39 total votes)

11. Kenny Omega vs. Adam Page (11/13, AEW, 208 points, 34 total votes)

The Top 10 Begins

10. Shingo Takagi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (1/30, NJPW,  246 points, 40 total votes)

9. Thunder Rosa vs. Dr. Britt Baker DMD (3/17, AEW, 266 point, 55 total votes)

8. Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay (1/4/21, NJPW, 303 points, 49 total votes)

7. Jay White vs. Kota Ibushi (1/5/21, NJPW, 316 points, 46 total votes, 8 first-place votes)

The “Hard Hitting Classics” Tier

6. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (8/22, WWE, 406 points, 63 total votes, 5 first-place votes)

5. Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri (6/12, Stardom, 409 points, 58 total votes, 10 first-place votes)

The Honorable Mention

4. Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi (5/4, NJPW, 554 points, 66 total votes, 16 first-place votes)

The Undeniably ELITE Top 3

3. Hangman Page vs. Bryan Danielson (12/15, AEW, 826 points, 105 total votes, 19 first-place votes)

2. Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson (9/22, AEW, 913 points, 122 total votes, 14 first-place votes)

1. The Young Bucks vs. The Lucha Brothers (9/5, AEW, 999 points, 107 total votes, 39 first-place votes)