Allow me to say something that we’re all aware of, yet needs to be said in order to understand the following list. This year, 2020, was quite easily the most frustrating – yet, unique year in all of professional sports – thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic basically ravaging every aspect of our lives – aspects that we once took for granted. But, despite all of the liberties, creature comforts – hell, all of the LIVES – that we lost in 2020, pro wrestling was still there for us…even if, for most of the year, we couldn’t be there for it. So after taking some time to reflect, I decided to write a list of my favorite matches this year so I could share some positivity – some events, some matches, that brought me joy in a nearly joyless year – with all of you.
To make the list, the matches had to hit at least some of the following criteria. I didn’t do this just willy-nilly. (A great deal of thought was actually put into this – puzzling, I know, but so is my desire to want to do this for a living when I finish my bachelor’s degree.)
- Historical significance
- In-ring action
- Use of storytelling devices.
- (Only 1 match per show.)
AEW World Championship
Jon Moxley © VS MJF
AEW: All-Out (September 5, 2020)
We start off this list with a match that was filled with both excellent character work and downright brutal physicality (even when the angle is MJF forcing Moxley to have a wrestling match, without using his ace in the hole, “The Paradigm Shift,” it still only took the match about four minutes to get brutal, with Mox pulling the digits extending from MJF’s knuckles apart, and MJF screaming like a tattling instigator who finally pulled some shit on the wrong kid – “REF!! REFFFFF!!!! REFFFFFFFFF!!!!” – it was hysterical and it incited phantom pain in the viewer at the same time – one of Moxley’s rare attributes…and MJF’s ability to make you hate him SO MUCH after being in the business for only FIVE years? That means MJF is probably a freaking prick in real life and we’re barely seeing a character. So, to summarize we’ve got the FUTURE of professional wrestling, who has proven BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT that he BELONGS in that main event against the hottest, best, most popular wrestler on the planet, in Jon Moxley in one of AEW’s biggest main-events to date.
As MJF, fresh off two of the biggest wins of his career against Cody Rhodes and Jungle Boy. Challenged the AEW World Champion Jon Moxley, who himself was on a huge collection of victories as well in 2020. In fact, both were undefeated in singles action heading into this match. This match had an extra wrinkle of intrigue as a result of Moxleys finisher being banned, which added to the stakes of the contest. This played on both men’s strengths as performers setting the stage for a match that for my money is the best in Jon Moxley’s intense and memorable reign. It had everything. MJF, the most sniveling, tattle-tale, little bitch on the planet – BLED FROM HIS FOREHEAD as though he was deeply grazed by some kind of bullet – it gave us that, which we’ve been wanting to see since he debuted in 2015 (and he’s already in the main event of AEW’s All Out). It gave us Moxley popping his shoulder back into the socket with the bottom turnbuckle – a display of toughness we never want to discourage.
The finish was a bit of a professional wrestling trope, but it was delivered uniquely and was chock full of storyline-pertinent activity. MJF, the heel, attempts to cheat, but fumbles the opportunity – Moxley witnesses this blatant attempt to skirt the rules and win by diamond ring haymaker, so with the ref’s back turned, he nails MJF with his illegal Paradigm Shift for the three count. There was non-stop action in this match that delivered in just about every way for All Out’s World Championship main event – proving MJF’s worth, potential, and belonging in that main event spot.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Hiromu Takahashi © VS Taiji Ishimori.
NJPW: Summer Struggle (August 29, 2020)
Next up on this list is a captivating clash between two of the best wrestlers in the world. As Hiromu Takahashi put his Junior Heavyweight Championship against one of his biggest rivals Taiji Ishimori – perhaps, the man with the most crisp execution of aerial and junior heavyweight style maneuvers in the entire promotion – which is saying quite a lot!
This was the first big Junior Division match since the pandemic changed the world. As a result of NJPW halting operations entirely from March to June, these two men knew they had a lot to prove to not just NJPW fans, but the entire professional wrestling fan-base at large. To make matters even more interesting, Hiromu Takahashi suffered a neck injury in 2018 that his stablemate, good friend, and Double IWGP Champion (Intercontinental AND World Heavyweight Champion) – until last night, that is, when Kota Ibushi finally defeated him and captured his first IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (and the Intercontinental Championship) at Night One of Wrestle Kingdom 15 – Tetsuya Naito believed would end his career.
Then, when Takahashi announced he would be returning to the ring, he worried Naito that he would not be able to return to his phenomenal, jaw-dropping style of artful professional wrestling – Takahashi quelled these worries. Especially, with the match he put together against his biggest rival, Taiji ishimori. Not only did Hiromu deliver, despite losing the championship to a tenacious and relentless Ishimori, he told such a beautiful story in the ring that if that match did not win Match of the Night, it was likely a goddamn travesty.
It was a perfect mix of physicality and risk-taking to help guide the stories along – that which has been seen throughout the years in NJPW, as these two men have great chemistry and this match was no different. I can’t wait for this long-standing rivalry to continue stealing shows in the coming years – especially, tonight – even, perhaps, right now, at Night Two of Wrestle Kingdom 15. Ishimori took the title, enhancing Bullet Club’s then-strangle hold on NJPW – owning most of the gold in the company – but Takahashi really won this hot-as-fuck afternoon in a Japanese baseball stadium converted to professional wrestling forum, by proving that he was back and back for good – at the very same level we came to expect from him before his gruesome injury. Just as Tetsuya Naito says about his friend and stablemate, “he never gave up, and it inspires me,” it inspires us, as well.
Quite a bit, actually.
NXT Women’s Championship
Rhea Ripley © VS Charlotte Flair
WrestleMania Night 2 (April 5, 2020)
Eighth on this list, was, quite honestly, one of the most highly anticipated matches of the entire year, and frankly, these two women delivered an original, incredibly interesting match that turned out to be one of the most unique matches of the entire year. Since this fight was the first major match in the “no fans” era of wrestling, it had a lot of pressure on it to succeed while being in a vastly different environment than to which either woman was remotely accustomed.
Yes, it was a regular match in a wrestling ring, but without fans to guide the match’s direction and gauge the performer’s…well, performance…it was unlike any match in the history of professional wrestling – So these young women had all of that on their shoulders – OH, not to mention the fact that it was to take place at WRESTLEMANIA, perennially the biggest show of the year in professional wrestling – FOR a MAJOR championship – a little factor that increases the stakes even higher both professionally and personally for ANY match, let alone a match of such simultaneous high expectations AND complete uncertainty.
Regardless, these two women showed nerves of steel and STILL put on a classic match worthy of the WrestleMania mantle – regardless of whether there were fans in the building or not.
Using the classic rookie VS veteran template and putting fresh twists on it, throughout, proved a winning formula. If you ask me? This is one of the finest examples of how a match without fans could and should work for the foreseeable future – just great stuff all-around!
WWE NXT Championship
Finn Balor © VS Kyle O’Reilly
NXT Takeover 31 (October 4, 2020)
Seventh on this list, is a contest that was the epitome of tight, nonstop, spectacular submission wrestling. This was the first time ever these two athletes met one on one in a wrestling ring, which, when I heard this, I was VERY taken aback, because of how many similar roads these two traveled over the years. Whether known as Finn Balor or Prince Devitt (i.e. why Finn calls himself, “The Prince,” now – Prince Devitt was known for his jaw-dropping in-ring mastery and the complete and utter brutality with which he led The Bullet Club, possibly the longest running, still-thriving stable in the history of professional wrestling that he created, with other founding members, “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga, and Bad Luck Fale), Kyle O’Reilly was constantly affiliated with the same promotions as The Prince – constantly looking up a few spots on the card whenever he wanted to find him. Kyle’s in-ring prowess was NOTHING of a secret from Balor, though.
Everyone knew that O’Reilly was the real deal – the boys in the back, anyway – you know, everyone except most of the fans (the ones that didn’t study the sport, anyway). This story was truly a coming of age tale for Kyle O’Reilly. No longer did he have to scan upward on the white board or on the document posted on a bulletin board to find Finn from his own position. Finally, O’Reilly shared the top spot on a major pay per view with THE Finn “Prince” Balor – looked at by the boys as most likely the best – if not, ONE OF the best – all-around performers in the business.
From bell to bell it was excellently crafted and both men – in particular, Kyle O’Reilly – came out looking like massive stars – prototypes of pro-wrestling’s future competitors – by the match’s conclusion! Thanks to the emotions of both the virtual crowd and the never-say-die combatants in the ring which roared throughout WWEs Capital Wrestling Center, this really felt like something I will remember for a long time – and I cannot wait for their rematch on January 6th.
Let’s hope that this match matches the intensity and emotion that the first installment provided, WITHOUT any major injury.
If it does?
If it comes anywhere close?
We are all in for another match of the year contender six days into the year (though, I’m sure Wrestle Kingdom had one or two offerings in that category and that was only four and five days in, so…January is apparently a huge month for MotY candidates)!
Seth Rollins VS Dominik Mysterio.
SummerSlam (August 23, 2020)
Next on this list, was a chaotically captivating clash between two unlikely, unevenly matched rivals in WWE, as Dominik Mysterio, a combatant BRAND NEW to the industry who is quite literally learning as he goes in this main event level feud, battled multiple time World Champion, and a WWE main event mainstay, Seth Rollins. This match was based on Dominik trying to avenge his father’s several losses to Rollins – including a major defeat in an “Eye for an Eye” match, which resulted in the cruiserweight, three-time World Champion legend, Rey Mysterio’s eye being either lost or severely damaged, due to Rollins and Murphy pushing his eye into the corner of the metal ring stairs.
At this point, this angle had become so hot that WWE considered the wildly inexperienced Dominik to be one of the company’s top faces!
This was simple but it did exactly what it needed to do. I loved how the weapons were woven into the story instead of taking away from it like they sometimes do – brutal, hand to hand combat still ruled the day. Everything in here just clicked and both competitors combined to steal the show at WWE’s second biggest event of the year! Dominik’s minimal amount of training clearly sunk in during the crash course(s) he must have received over his tenure with the company (he’s currently no longer on television), as not only did he not embarrass himself, he looked as though he belonged with one of WWE’s top talents – who, granted, had a great deal to do with why the match turned out so successful – but that’s sort of expected of him.
The big story is that not only did Dominik NOT fuck everything up, he actually looked…well, really good.
Now, the continuation of the rivalry itself left a rough taste in my mouth since I agree with the general consensus that it went too long. But, at-least I have this masterpiece to look back on and enjoy. Dominik Mysterio will certainly be someone to watch in the coming years if this match is any indication – and you can BET that WWE is counting on that!
Dominik recently told the wrestling rumor mills/news machine that he is looking to move to Florida on a short-term basis in order to enhance his professional wrestling training, “having the Performance Center in Orlando, Tyson Kidd in Tampa,” and NXT based out of the Capital Wrestling Center. Dominik could be a major player in the WWE for years to come. I learned about this during a continuous, seemingly never-ending cavalcade of wrestling news from @BodyslamNet. (Cheap plug! *Mick Foley Style Thumbs Up*)
ROH Pure Championship (Pure Rules)
Jonathan Gresham © VS Flip Gordon
ROH: Final Battle (December 18, 2020)
Fifth on this list was an incredibly unique and hard-hitting matchup – as two of ROHs best lifted a new, iconic championship to heights which it has never enjoyed before! I loved how both men used the unique pure rules to help craft the story they were telling – to those that know me, it is no secret that I am absolutely infatuated with Pure Rules and the Pure Division. I think it’s something fresh and unique that the professional wrestling world needed.
Will it turn ROH into a company that competes with AEW and WWE? No, but it performs what ROH is known for (for MOST periods of its existence) – the Pure Division makes ROH different – it makes them stand out just a little bit more than before. ROH is known to do these little things that create waves in the business, while delivering practically beautiful poetry to professional wrestling purists. Jonathan Gresham, despite his five foot nothing stature, is going to be a big deal in this business, and is the perfect representative of this groundbreaking championship.
During its nearly twenty-five minute run time, not once did this match lose steam – which is particularly impressive considering Gresham was pulling double-fucking-duty that evening, and had put in an insane amount of effort during his (successful) ROH Tag Team Championship Title defense alongside Jay Lethal earlier in the evening.
This was truly a great way to end this tough year: on a much needed high-note. The Pure Division and Championship is truly something that you should seek out if you have not seen it yet, as I’m pretty confident in saying that it is the least known out of all the matches I’ve discussed, so far. It’s easy to see that both Gresham and Gordon are men who seem poised to rise even further in 2021 and beyond.
This match was downright incredible.
Cody Rhodes VS MJF
AEW Revolution (February 29, 2020)
Heading into the top 4 now, we have an incredibly emotionally charged and highly anticipated contest as two former friends went head to head. The lead up to this match was masterful. Simply, masterful. MJF played the heel that would refuse to fight Cody at Revolution if he remotely touched one hair on his head prior to the bell ringing to start the match WEEKS away from the setting of those ground rules. MJF also had other conditions: Cody couldn’t touch him, as explained, but Cody also had to do a couple of other daunting tasks. He had to defeat Wardlow in a Steel Cage match, for one, and finally, he had to kneel in the middle of the ring and take ten belt lashes from his former friend, who screwed him out of ANY future World Championship opportunities.
You see, MJF was once Cody’s protege, and despite the entire world seeing him for the snake that he is/was, Cody had a soft spot for the scoundrel. After a brutal match that saw Cody, with potentially cracked/broken ribs, locked in AEW World Champion Chris Jericho’s Liontamer submission maneuver – MJF threw in the towel, effectively submitting FOR Cody.
Prior to this match, Cody promised Jericho, the fans, and the media that he would never again challenge for the AEW World Championship if he lost this match (and incredibly well-told, intense feud) to Chris Jericho. After several “tearful” explanations of his actions, which appeared to “tear him up inside,” MJF FINALLY revealed his true colors to Cody by delivering a swift kick to the nuts, which set up the above described series of events that led to this emotionally supercharged match up at AEW’s inaugural Revolution Pay Per View.
This match was truly something special, as it was old school storytelling with a new age application – which, when combined together, made a beautiful big fight feel the likes of which wrestling rarely sees anymore – especially, without a championship belt on the line! This match provided nonstop action and drama – outside interference from Wardlow, Cody accidentally dropping Arn Anderson, MJF surviving two Cross Rhodes, only to escape the third attempt at Cody’s finisher! He followed up his Houdini act with a stiff diamond ring loaded shot to the grill that allowed MJF to get the pin and the win garnered MJF classic heel heat AND an obvious conclusion: that MJF was clearly the new #1 Contender to Jon Moxley’s AEW World Championship.
Something that is often overlooked in the aftermath of this contest is that it led seamlessly into both men’s next rivalries: Cody’s with Lance Archer and MJF’s with Jon Moxley, respectively, and I very much appreciate when stories blend together like that. After a year like this I think it is easy to see that MJF, just a FIVE YEAR VETERAN of this “sport,” is one of pro wrestling’s brightest young athletes. Personally, I can’t wait to see what he does next in the future.
WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship (Hell in a Cell Match)
Bayley © VS Sasha Banks
WWE Hell In A Cell (October 29, 2020)
The third best match of the year, in my opinion, was a brutal and wildly inventive bout that used a classic WWE match-type to weave an excellent tale of bitter enemies fighting for championships, but perhaps even moreso: personal pride. Most wrestling fans have clamored for this rivalry to be revisited for a long time – just waiting for the flamboyant, selfish, primadonna Sasha Banks to finally turn on Bayley, week after week after week – to no avail.
Sasha showed signs of annoyance and frustration with her best friend, but she remained just that – a best friend to the hugely nerdy professional wrestler with whom her history will forever be tied, thanks to their Women’s Evolution breakthrough match at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn – which is considered by most to be one of the greatest matches in NXT TakeOver history, as well as THE match that put the Four Horsewomen of NXT, and the Women’s Pro Wrestling Evolution, firmly ON the map.
The movement forged the path for women’s wrestling to be taken seriously by not only the fans, but Vince McMahon and the WWE brass. The match was such a triumph that Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, the other two members of NXT’s “Four Horsewomen,” came to the ring to celebrate what Bayley and Sasha had just done – stole the show in one of the two NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn main events that evening.
Cut back to October 2020, Bayley took advantage of her best friendship with her history making cohort, Sasha Banks. She knew it was a matter of time before Sasha turned on her, allowing her jealousy of Bayley’s title reign (the longest in SmackDown Women’s Championship history) to take over…so Bayley did the logical, survivalist thing to do. She turned on Sasha first. She hit her finisher on Banks and then placed her neck inside the fold of a metal folding chair – then, jumped from the top rope and dropped a knee on the chair pressed against Banks’ neck in an attempt to potentially end her former best friend’s career.
The feud culminated in a match at Hell in a Cell IN Hell in a Cell – and this did not disappoint, as it became a great addition to the catalogue of classics that both of these women have had over the years. You can feel the intensity radiating off the screen and that is greatly appreciated when trying to tell a story of betrayal as layered as this one was, everything mixed together wonderfully adding just that little bit of metaphorical weight to every vicious strike or weapon-infused grapple, making this a very cathartic experience for all WWE fans to watch unfold, both in context of the story and outside of it.
Sasha walked away from this hellacious bout the new WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion, ending Bayley’s 380-day reign as WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion (an all-time record) and the winner of an incredibly storied, downright historic feud that was two years in the making.
AEW World Tag Team Championships
FTR © VS The Young Bucks
AEW Full Gear (November 7, 2020)
My second favorite match of 2020 was a brilliantly executed clash of styles between the two top tag teams in wrestling, today! This match has been in the works for years, really, though the build on AEW Dynamite! left us wanting a touch. It seems like it could have been constructed a little better storytelling wise – something that FTR has been relatively vocal about – but when you think about it, the match didn’t need much “build” at all.
Ever since FTR was known as “The Revival” they have had a Twitter war with The Young Bucks regarding who is really the best tag team in the world. In fact, “FTR” is an acronym created by The Bucks – it means, simply, “Fuck The Revival.” When they finally found themselves free from the shackles of WWE, the tag team formerly known as The Revival started going by The Revolt – until receiving a cease and desist from an indy tag team that’s been going by that name for years. So, somehow, Cash and Dax leaned into the “FTR” acronym, relisting the words to mean, “Fear The Revolt.” Regardless, despite kayfabe and other tag teams having to have a fighting chance, those who really *know* sports entertainment know that The Bucks and FTR are, without a doubt, the two best tag teams in the world – for SO MANY DIFFERENT reasons!
This match really felt like a love-letter to tag-team wrestling, thanks to the smorgasbord of creative spots sprinkled throughout from both the past and present. Tag-team wrestling can be very difficult to get right as proven in recent years but at the same time, when that can be achieved there is almost nothing better! This match proved exactly that, and it gave me some incredible emotions throughout as the crowd continued to roar and filled Daily’s Place with an electricity it had not felt all year for a dream-match most of us never thought would ever be possible!
I’d love to see a rematch in 2021 – hopefully, with a larger crowd on-hand.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada VS Kota Ibushi.
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14 (Night 1; January 4, 2020)
Coincidentally, we end this fantastic road down memory lane with where the year began.
This bout started off slow – but it was in a way that’s fitting of what they were trying to do as performers – setting early pieces and clues for the moments to come later in this big fight. This is Okada’s basic big match formula, it seems.
For just under forty minutes, these two ripped into each-other with vicious
hard-hitting strikes and death-defying risks the likes of which only NJPW can provide. Big moves and big counters characterized the second half of the match, which seems to be the Okada way for big matches. The first ten or fifteen minutes are a feeling out process, then the last fifteen to twenty minutes are all-out wars.
I loved every minute of it then and it still holds up expertly knowing what we know now. The perfect combination of crowd noise (Ibushi even started getting booed when his beating of Okada became a bit too vicious), captivating strikes – and all of it mixed seamlessly into an epic clash that will be remembered for years to come – and something that is quite comfortably the best match of their series AND the match of the year, overall.
The aftermath of the match also built Night Two of Wrestle Kingdom, as Naito entered the ring for an intense staredown with Okada, who he would defeat one night later in a “Double Gold Rush” match – practically unifying the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships, as whoever held the IWGP Heavyweight title throughout 2020 (Naito and EVIL) also held the Intercontinental Championship (which has a history almost as storied and revered as its bigger brother, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship – mostly thanks to Shinsuke Nakamura).
Interestingly enough, Kota Ibushi, one year later (two nights ago and last night/this morning – 1/4/2021 and 1/5/2021), won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and Intercontinental Championship from Tetsuya Naito on Night One of Wrestle Kingdom 15, then successfully defended it against Jay White on Night Two of WK 15 – both wins ultimately cemented Kota’s place in NJPW history as, “a god.”
Thank you for reading this article. I greatly appreciate your support and I hope you all have a nice year ahead! We may have had some tough times, recently, but we can get through it together.
Hope you enjoy whatever wrestling you choose to watch this week…and this year! It’s gotta be a better one! Maybe, by June or July, we’ll be able to start filtering back into live events in our local areas (or if you’re into driving thousands of miles for a show, hopefully, you can do your thing)…we’ve GOT to reach that point SOMETIME, right?!
Again, we will.
And again, I promise.
Cheers, folks…follow us (Brendan Bradley, the decider of this match order and the writer of all concepts and commentary directly relative to the matches themselves, and his ghostwriter/ great editor , Erik Boyer) @coolguysince2001 and @WriterikBoyer – AFTER you follow @BodyslamNET to receive all of your wrestling news (including big time exclusives from Cassidy Haynes, who you should follow @Casshooole).