best for the business

Best For The Business 2021: Pro Wrestling’s Most Influential People, Promotions and Brands

Best For The Business is WrestleZone’s annual celebration of the people and promotions in the wrestling business that made the year better than the one before it.

The professional wrestling world was a crazy one in 2020, as COVID-19 turned the world upside-down and made things complicated for everyone. The past year saw the introduction of a vaccine, and more protocols and changes to help get things back to normal (as much as possible). Pro wrestling saw somewhat of a return to form in 2021, and fans were treated to some great events, surprises, debuts and more. We’re taking the time to highlight some of the names doing positive things in their roles by creating new opportunities and special moments in pro wrestling.

“Best For The Business” is Wrestlezone’s look back at some of the most influential people, promotions and brands that changed the wrestling business in a positive way in the past year.

Stay tuned for feature interviews with many of the people included in this year’s list, premiering soon on WrestleZone!

Check out the 2019 nominees at this link, and the 2020 nominees here.

all elite wrestling

All Elite Wrestling

AEW really established itself as a true free-agent destination in 2021, signing the likes of Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly, Ruby Soho and many highly-touted names. Perhaps the biggest of them all, CM Punk returned to wrestling for the first time in seven years, and his AEW debut at the United Center is arguably the biggest moment of the year. Punk has been open in interviews about why AEW caught his interest, but Punk believing in the company enough to end his hiatus from the business speaks volumes about what the company has been able to achieve in a short amount of time.

Not only has AEW excelled in signing big names talent, but the company has also done well in creating a developmental league of sorts through their various shows on TV and online. AEW Dark and Dark: Elevation have helped new talent and notable indie stars get their foot in the door, allowing them to learn the system in front of a dedicated audience. Furthermore, fans can see the progress of talent that start on Elevation and follow their respective careers up to Dynamite, with Red Velvet, Shawn Dean, Fuego Del Sol and Lee Moriarty being a few recent examples.

Consistently ranking in the top five in cable ratings and overall viewership, All Elite Wrestling has called TNT home since 2019, and was enough of a success that the network greenlit a second series, Rampage, that debuted earlier this year. AEW looks to establish a new home on “The Mothership” in TBS in 2022, but the company should enjoy even more success with a consistent timeslot nationally and without as many pre-emptions as it faced in the past.

All Elite Wrestling has not only restored some goodwill with fans, but they are also doing a lot to help local communities through charity work, and they have done a great job at honoring wrestling’s past. The Owen Hart Cup will be a major part of AEW’s schedule in 2022, just one example of how the company has built a level of trust that allows them to create more opportunities for talent past and present.


ring of honor

Ring Of Honor

In what is a bit of a bittersweet distinction, Ring Of Honor makes this year’s Best For The Business list despite the company announcing a self-imposed hiatus that will run through Spring 2022. It remains to be seen what the “reimagined” Ring Of Honor will look like or who will still be part of it, but the company should be celebrated for many of the good things they did throughout the year to try and help their roster flourish. 

ROH started the pandemic by postponing live events, but they did right by talent and paid them while they were out of work. This continued for much of 2020 and 2021 as ROH took up residency in Baltimore, and the company hosted closed-set tapings in the interest of keeping fans and talent healthy. ROH finally invited fans back for the first time in nearly 18 months, as July’s Best In The World was the first live event since Gateway To Honor in February 2020. 

The company did a great job highlighting a diverse range of wrestlers, and women’s wrestling and Pure wrestling also became a focal point, especially in the middle of the year. Final Battle served not only as the end of one chapter, but also one of ROH’s best PPV events of the year. Rhett Titus won the ROH Television title, the card featured stellar matches from Shane Taylor and Kenny King, the Briscoes and OGK, and the show closed with Jonathan Gresham (finally) winning the ROH World Championship, defeating the returning “Franchise” in Jay Lethal.

Gresham has several title defenses lined up in the new year, including matches with 2 Cold Scorpio for GCW and Chris Sabin at IMPACT Hard To Kill in January, as well as a title defense against Josh Alexander at his TERMINUS promotion’s debut event. Gresham said he aims to keep the ROH spirit alive by serving as champion and the company faces an uncertain future, but there’s hope that ROH will return in April with the fan-focused product they teased and find their place in the wrestling mix again. 


matt cardona
Photo Credit: Nick Karp

Matt Cardona 

It’s hard to argue that there was an independent wrestler that had a bigger year than Matt Cardona.

After a short run with AEW in 2020, Matt Cardona started 2021 in a huge way by making a surprise debut for IMPACT Wrestling at the promotion’s Hard To Kill pay-per-view in January. Cardona spent most of the year feuding with his former tag team partner, Brian Myers, before the blow-off to the feud saw Cardona team with fiancee Chelsea Green against Myers and Tenille Dashwood. Cardona has continued to be a staple on IMPACT TV, feuding with W. Morrissey and World Champion Moose, and he’ll face both in a triple threat match at Hard To Kill in 2022. 

Perhaps Cardona’s biggest accomplishment in 2021 was the way he was able to reinvent himself on the independent scene, especially with his arrival in GCW. While it started as an apparent rib that played out on social media, Cardona parlayed the situation into a high-profile death match showdown with Nick Gage. Cardona not only won the GCW title (and was infamously showered with trash in the ring) but he continued to be a fixture in the company and ended up mixing it up with Jon Moxley, Alex Shelley and Effy. 

In addition to those appearances, Cardona has also continued to grow the Major Wrestling Figure brand, hosting several FWF wrestling shows and live events, and just got involved in the title picture with the NWA.


gcw logo game changer wrestling 2021 brett lauderdale

Game Changer Wrestling

GCW continues to thrive and prove they aren’t your average wrestling promotion. 

GCW, who made our 2019 list, grew even more in 2021 in spite of the pandemic and put in the hard work to position itself as a national independent promotion. The pandemic caused roadblocks for a number of people and promotions on the independent circuit, but GCW rebounded from a year of uncertainty in 2020 with events in some of its regular touring cities in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and debuted in new markets like Detroit, Dallas and Laramie, Wyoming.

In addition to GCW reaching new heights and becoming what is arguably the most popular indie promotion right now, the company also expanded in ways to help the scene prosper outside of that specific brand. In March, GCW re-launched the JCW (Jersey Championship Wrestling) brand that it was born from six years earlier, and just announced the creation of a West Coast sister promotion called LA Fights in October. 

The promotion totaled 75 events under all three brands in 2021, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Earlier this year, former ROH World Champion PCO said he expected to work 40 events for GCW in 2022, and the company continues to attract the attention of some notable names in wrestling, including Cardona, Eddie Kingston and Kevin Nash, the latter of which will be at the company’s “Most Notorious” event in Detroit in January. GCW just announced another big debut in Atlanta, and continues to build towards what could be its biggest show ever at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, a venue revered by wrestling fans. 


thunder rosa
Photo Credit: All Elite Wrestling

Thunder Rosa (Mission Pro Wrestling)

Thunder Rosa gets plenty of praise for what she did in the ring in 2021, but she also deserves plenty of credit for what she’s doing behind the scenes too. 

Thunder Rosa first appeared on AEW programming in August 2020, but she was still a member of the NWA roster. Rosa continued to appear for AEW, NWA and a number of independent promotions throughout the year, but she took things to a new level in her feud against Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D. The two squared off in a St. Patrick’s Day Dynamite “Lights Out” that was not only highly praised by fans and critics as one of the best matches of the year. Rosa signed with AEW in July 2021 and continues to turn in great performances, including matches against Penelope Ford and Jamie Hayter. 

Thunder Rosa also made her IMPACT Wrestling debut this year, serving as the mystery opponent for then-IMPACT Knockouts Champion Deonna Purrazzo at Slammiversary. While she was unsuccessful in her bid to win the title, Rosa turned into another highlight performance that won people over. Other personal highlights for the year include her Warrior Wrestling Women’s Title win and independent matches against Allie Katch and Mercedes Martinez. 

In addition to Thunder Rosa’s in-ring accolades, she’s doing something great with her own Mission Pro Wrestling promotion. The company hosted 12 events in 2021, including Silver Bells in December. Mission Pro is an all-women’s promotion, and that includes ownership, and the production and on-air team, in addition to the in-ring performers. Jennacide, Madi Wrenkowski, La Rosa Negra and Red Velvet are some of the names that have worked for MPW, and Thunder Rosa’s goal is to not only give back to the community in the San Antonio area, but also build a team and create new opportunities for women’s wrestlers that haven’t been there in the past.


bianca belair
Photo Credit: WWE

Bianca Belair (WWE) 

Bianca Belair had her bEST year yet. 

Belair was drafted to SmackDown in 2020, but she truly hit her stride and started the year off right by winning the 2021 Women’s Royal Rumble. Her win solidified her as not only the first African-American woman to win the match, but just the second overall African-American Superstar to win a Rumble in the event’s 30-plus year history. Belair was part of several firsts this year, including when she won the SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania in a fantastic main event match at WrestleMania 37 and served as champion for 133 days. 

Belair’s only reign (so far) ended in controversial fashion to Becky Lynch at SummerSlam, but she ended the year with some stellar matches against Lynch and Sasha Banks at Extreme Rules and Crown Jewel. Belair also shined at this year’s Survivor Series event, winning the Women’s Elimination Match and setting a record by becoming the first person to overcome a four-on-one deficit to win the match. 

Outside of the ring, Belair has gained fans for her likable personality and dedication to creating her own ring gear. “The EST of WWE” also ranked #1 in this year’s Pro Wrestling Illustrated Women’s 150, and she won the ESPY for Best WWE Moment in 2021 for making history with Sasha Banks as the first Black women to main event WrestleMania.

Belair’s achievements didn’t stop there, as she also had the distinction of receiving a key to the city in her hometown of Knoxville, and she was also the fifth-most tweeted about female athlete all year. Belair said she hopes to keep momentum going in 2022 and win her title back for a full circle moment, and there’s no reason to think she can’t make it back to the peak once again.


chris van vliet

Chris Van Vliet

Chris Van Vliet has done a tremendous job at building his own brand and is now one of, if not the premier pro wrestling interviewer in the game today. Van Vliet hails from Toronto and has worked as an entertainment reporter in Miami and Cleveland, and he now calls Los Angeles home. He’s a 4-Time Emmy Award Winner, one of which came in 2012 for his feature interview with Gregory Iron, the pro-wrestler from Cleveland that has cerebral palsy. Van Vliet also Briefly worked for All Elite Wrestling as a backstage interviewer in 2019, but he’s now known in wrestling circles for his YouTube channel and podcast.

Calling him just a wrestling interviewer is even a bit of a sleight, as he’s done a lot outside of the “one true sport” as well. Van Vliet has interviewed actors, athletes, comedians and businessmen, with a resume that touts names like Renee Paquette, Big Cass (W. Morrissey), Nick Gage, Mojo Rawley, Maven, Tyler Breeze, (Super Bowl Champion) Chris Long, (4-Time Mr. Olympia) Jay Cutler and (ring announcer) Bruce Buffer, to name a few.

Overall, Van Vliet did 136 episodes of his podcast, Insight with Chris Van Vliet in 2021, an impressive amount of content when you take into account the research and prep involved in these interviews that often run over the 60-minute mark. It’s clear that Van Vliet has become one of the go-to people for interviews for talent and fans alike, as he touts 303,000 subscribers on YouTube and often gets sought-after talent’s first (and in some cases, only) interview. He’s become the interviewer that other people want to interview and an inspiration to others wanting to get into the field, and looks to go even further in 2022.




WrestleCade is one of the premier pro wrestling live events that emphasizes the ‘fan’ part of fanfest.

WrestleCade was founded by Tracy Myers, a wrestling promoter, marketing specialist and car dealership owner, some of the many other titles he holds. Starting in 2012, the event has grown each year, performing multiple wrestling and stage shows for sellout crowds in Winston-Salem, North Carolina each November. The event is now known as WrestleCade Weekend, with three days of events for fans including its “Supershow” live event on Saturday night that offers rare matchups for attendees, including this year’s card that saw a triple threat between Thunder Rosa, Deonna Purrazzo and Mercedes Martinez, as well as a singles bout between Malakai Black and Buddy Matthews.

After taking a year off due to the pandemic, WrestleCade just hosted its 9th annual weekend slate, including the 6th Annual Showcase of Champions that highlights young-and-upcoming talent along with stars on the rise. Other stage shows include reunion panels, live podcast recordings, and an impressive meet-and-greet lineup. Queens Of Combat and Title Match Wrestling’s Ladies Night Out have been part of the weekend with their own respective live cards in years past, and the weekend also includes an AML Wrestling event and a Sunday worship service. The event continues to grow, setting attendance records each year while raising money for charity, and looks to go even bigger in 2022 with the tenth annual WrestleCade event.