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We all know 2020 was a strange year for pro wrestling; so when it came time to come up with a list of my ten best matches of 2020, I knew it was going to be different. The absence of crowds (or at least crowds that could authentically cheer) was going to have an impact on what this list was going to look like. Wrestling is so much better in front of lively crowds, and crowds often give matches that extra energy to go from being an entertaining event, to something truly special. Oftentimes throughout the year I found myself watching great matches, but at the end being slightly disappointed because I knew that the match could be even better if it was in front of a live audience.
I don’t think it should come as a surprise that this list is going to heavily feature matches that took place over the first three months of the year, before everything went to hell. There were plenty of very good matches during the empty-arena era, and some of them do manage to get on to this list, but it was very hard for them to compete with matches that had hot crowds. One thing I noticed by weighing the list heavily towards only a small stretch of the year; I found myself picking a more diverse list than usual. The 10 matches come from 7 different promotions, and feature a variety of different styles and settings.
As I post every year; these are just my personal favorite matches from 2020, and while I have watched a lot of wrestling this year, I have not seen every match in the world, so there are going to be some blind spots for me on this list, especially since there are a few shows in 2020 that have not even taken place yet, such as TLC and Final Battle. Also like every year, this is an extremely competitive list, if your favorite match of 2020 is not on the list, that does not mean I hated it, I actually probably really liked it; but it is very hard to crack my top ten so people should refrain from being too venomous in the comment section if I did not include their favorite match.
10. Men’s Royal Rumble Match at WWE Royal Rumble 2020
Starting things off with a really outside-the-box pick, the Men’s Royal Rumble match this year was a fantastic booking accomplishment. The story of Brock Lesnar dominating the match during the first half of the match, and then ultimately being eliminated by Drew McIntyre to later set up their match at WrestleMania, was simply booking perfection, and really helped McIntyre come across like a major star. Other elements of the match, such as Edge’s return and subsequent feud with Randy Orton, were also handled masterfully. WWE has not had a great 2020 from a booking standpoint, but the Royal Rumble match was an extremely well-executed match that was very enjoyable from start to finish.
9. Villano III Jr. vs Aereo at AAA Lucha Fighter
This match was unique in that it combined all of the elements of AAA into one match. It was two out of three falls, it featured a ton of high-flying, as well as the typical hardcore spots and some great technical wrestling as well. A cool thing about the match is that it was the culmination of a feud that had been lasting for years, something that is mainly seen in wrestling involving main event wrestlers, but Aereo and Villano III Jr. are not main event wrestlers, they are mid-card young guys on the rise. While neither Aereo or Villano III Jr. have been able to do much this year after this match, it was a tremendous showcase for young talent in front of a really hot crowd.
8. Kento Miyahara vs Jake Lee at AJPW New Years Wars 2020 Night 2
AJPW did not have a great 2020; struggling to elevate new talent as older names began to grow more stale in the main event spots. Despite that, Kento Miyahara remained a fantastic stalwart for the promotion. Miyahara does not do anything particularly spectacular, he doesn’t do a lot of cool moves, he doesn’t do a lot of dives or high spots. What he does well is he is an excellent seller, his facial expressions are top notch, and he has a knack for putting together strong matches with thrilling finishes. In his match from New Years Wars, which took place in front of an audience of fans from around the world who were in town for Wrestle Kingdom the following night, he had a tremendous back and forth Triple Crown title defense against Jake Lee that contained a ton of convincing near-falls. It was the quintessential Miyahara title defense, something the company has been leaning on for some time. In this match, Lee looked like he was ready to win the world title and take on that responsibility, but his crowning as an official top guy in the company still awaits.
7. WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov at NXT UK 10/29
The empty-arena era is not good for professional wrestling; that is obvious. However, some enterprising performers have been able to make the best of a bad situation, as WALTER and Ilja Dragunov did on an episode of NXT UK. By focusing on a match built on brutal-sounding strikes, the performers used the empty-arena setting to their advantage, as each vicious strike exploded out of the speakers of the fans watching at home. A simple match that featured the larger heel dominating a smaller babyface, who never gave up and continued to fight back, was effective and a textbook example of how wrestlers can still have great matches despite not working in front of a live audience.
6. Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night 2
This match might have gotten lost in the shuffle, since it took place so long ago and so much has happened this year with both Okada and Naito, that it might not end up as a classic, but it was an incredible match. At the time, this match was seen as a great conclusion to a long-running storyline, where Naito spent years trying to beat Okada in the main event of a Tokyo Dome show, and after a half-decade of waiting, he finally accomplished that in a thrilling main event that credibly closed out a monster two days of wrestling at the Tokyo Dome.
5. Go Shiozaki vs Takashi Sugiura at NOAH The Best Final Chronicle 2020
The most recent entry on this list; this match was similar to the WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov match in that it prioritized heavy chops and strikes that echoed throughout the silent arena, but was somehow even better. The match went over 50 minutes, which sounds like a bad idea, but not when a match has this kind of raw, physical violence. Shiozaki, who has held the GHC Heavyweight Championship for the entire year, helped carry NOAH through a very difficult 2020 with consistently excellent performances in the main event. Sugiura has also been great, and at 50 years old he somehow managed to go 51 minutes, wrestling at a quick pace and taking an incredible beating, which was a truly remarkable achievement. This match isn’t for everyone due to its length, but it was a complete war between two great performers. This was very similar to a classic AJPW match from the 90s, the only difference being there was not a hot crowd to supplement the incredible action.
4. Kazuchika Okada vs Shingo Takagi at NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 13
This was the best match of the quiet arena era, as while this match did take place in front of fans who could clap and stomp their feet; it would have been even better if the crowd were permitted to cheer and yell. Okada spent most of 2020 attempting to get his sleeper hold, the Money Clip, over with the fans. Most of the time it did not work; but through his excellent performance with Takagi, he somehow made it happen. The ending of this match, with Takagi halting the ref from ringing the bell by pulling him down when he attempted to stop the match, followed by Okada locking in the hold deeper, which led to Takagi, the uncompromising warrior, to make his eyes wide with fear and panic, before finally being put to sleep, was a masterpiece. Okada, a true genius when it comes to pro wrestling, managed to get his lame sleeper hold over, although he owes a big debt of gratitude to Takagi for selling it the way he did.
3. Will Opsreay vs Hiromu Takahashi at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night 1
Wrestle Kingdom was so long ago that I had somewhat forgotten about this match since I first saw it. The only thing I could immediately recall from Wrestle Kingdom 14 were the two main event matches. However, when looking back at my notes from earlier this year, it was clear this was one of the best matches of 2020. As you would expect from these two; this was a match full of insane risks and intricate spots, worked at a furious pace that made it seem like no move was too ambitious from taking place at any moment. The excellent story, of Hiromu Takahashi returning from his broken neck and battling Ospreay, who had basically outgrown the NJPW Junior Heavyweight division, was also a huge part of what made this match so good.
2. Kenny Omega and Hangman Page vs The Young Bucks at AEW Revolution
What some fans consider the greatest tag team match in the history of wrestling; the clash between The Young Bucks and the makeshift team of Kenny Omega and Hangman Adam Page is the peak of what AEW’s style of wrestling can deliver. Yes, this is a very spot-heavy match with a ton of dives and high-impact moves; but it’s also a match that tells an effective and easy to digest story. The Young Bucks are frustrated by their lack of tag team success in a division they were expected to dominate, and the thrown-together team of Omega and Page actually beat them to the titles. Page for his part, is frustrated by his position in the company and does not feel like him and Omega are a real team, which further incenses The Young Bucks.
What ensues is a match that combines incredible action with smart, simple storytelling. The Young Bucks are extremely aggressive with Page, which eventually leads to Page firing up and basically single-handedly beating The Young Bucks. The key spot in the match was when Omega, with his back injured, could not hit the One-Winged Angel, so Page hit the move instead. By the end of this match, Page went from having doubts about himself, to being a star on equal ground with the other three performers. It is that kind of combination of action and storytelling that makes professional wrestling unique, and why we as fans love it so much.
Kota Ibushi vs Kazuchika Okada at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night 1
At the time, I remember watching this match live and saying it was easily one of the best matches I had ever seen, and that it was better than any match I had seen in 2019, which made it a clear favorite for being the best match of 2020. Despite a whirlwind of stuff happening between January 4 and the end of the year, upon rewatching the match while researching this column, it was still apparent that this was indeed, the best match of 2020.
Most fans familiar with their work would agree that Ibushi and Okada are two of the very best performers in the world, and they put that on full display in this match. The selling is truly excellent, only usurped by the incredible pacing that both men are known for. There are crazy, high-impact moves in this match, but they are delicately spread out throughout the match, interwoven seamlessly with the great selling from both wrestlers. There was great storytelling in the form of Ibushi, an outsider who take a very non traditional route to find himself challenging the great Kazuhcika Okada in the main event of what would end up being the most highly-attended wrestling show of the year, and his attempt to finally win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. The match was the complete package and in the end, the obvious choice to top my MOTY list.
Must Watch Matches
El Desperado vs Hiromu Takahashi: **** – NJPW Best of Super Junior XXVII and World Tag League 2020 Final
Takashi Sugiura vs Go Shiozaki: ****3/4 – NOAH The Best Final Chronicle 2020
In this edition of the GWP, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) hold the first ever WWE undercard draft. Jesse and Jason look at 19 different WWE wrestlers who are not currently being pushed, and take turns drafting them to their respective brands. The guys go through current WWE wrestlers such as Ricochet, Cesaro, Robert Roode, Chad Gable, Jinder Mahal, Drew Gulak and more and talk about their potential to succeed outside WWE, and what has gone wrong for them on the main roster.
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