Our favorite wrestling matches of 2020

Our favorite wrestling matches of 2020

Illustration for article titled Our favorite wrestling matches of 2020
Screenshot: WWE

It felt like wrestling was the only thing that didn’t stop in 2020. That’s because for the most part, it was. Whether it took bribing the Florida legislature, or recording multiple shows in a bunker in Georgia, or staging fanless shows, wrestling pressed on through the pandemic. It was definitely different, it wasn’t always safe, and perhaps no industry needs a live crowd more to pop in the way everyone’s used to.

Still, we’ve collected our favorite matches along the way this year. This isn’t a definitive “Best” list, because that’s an argument meant for a bar setting that we can’t (or shouldn’t) have right now. And these are just the matches we both saw. So if you want to yell at us about a terrific Impact match, great! You may be right! But in times of trouble (i.e., now), you go with what you know. So without further ado...

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.

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2 / 13

Io Shirai vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley, NXT In Your House

Io Shirai vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley, NXT In Your House

After defeating Ripley at WrestleMania 36, Flair earned her second NXT Championship. An ongoing feud between the two set up the triple threat with an emerging Shirai, primed for a breakout, championship-level performance. It was one of the year’s forgotten classics, having taken place in June, which feels like 2015.

Shirai, Flair, and Ripley main evented NXT Takeover: In Your House back in June for the NXT Women’s Championship. It was the first In Your House event in over 21 years — since The big Show launched Stone Cold Steve Austin through a gorgeous looking old-school steel cage — and put forth one of the better matches of the IYH legacy. After nearly 18 minutes, Shirai secured the title following one of the best matches of the year and even jumped off the IYH stage for one of the event’s most memorable spots. The battle solidified Shirai as a main event player, a run she’s been able to maintain since, and over six months later, she’s still the champion. -BF

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3 / 13

Kenny Omega and Hangman Page vs. The Young Bucks, AEW Revolution

Kenny Omega and Hangman Page vs. The Young Bucks, AEW Revolution




You’ll see this one on most Best lists of the year, and rightly so. It anchored AEW’s first PPV of the year, and was a half-hour example of how a match can be both full of giant spots and ridiculous athleticism while also telling a complex story. It also didn’t hurt that these four had been working together for years in either Japan or Ring of Honor, and could put on a great match together blindfolded, such is their chemistry.

The story going in was the always-tenuous relationship between champions Omega and Page, but over the course of the match it became clear that it was the Bucks who were the heels, trying to split Omega and Page and make Page feel small for their own gains. They increasingly got more heelish as the match wore on and the spots got more ridiculous, until they were put down by Page and Omega.

Sometimes, matches with the Young Bucks can just feel like a platform for all the moves they can do, like the way a lot of Hendrix songs merely exist to get to the solo. But this one was an example of how when they’re in the mood, they can do all of the little things that make the big things matter, something Omega has specialized in for the past five years. -SF

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4 / 13

Undertaker vs. AJ Styles, Boneyard Match, WrestleMania 36

Undertaker vs. AJ Styles, Boneyard Match, WrestleMania 36

The Undertaker’s final match of his career, and one of the most cinematic WWE experiences of all-time, provided one of the greatest moments in recent WrestleMania history. Undertaker and AJ Styles fought to the near-death in a cemetery — excuse the pun — shot straight out of an expensive action movie. The Boneyard Match offered timely cuts and symbolic moments throughout. To add to the cinematic feel, the Undertaker even fought off several additional challengers, including Druids, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson.

The match was 24 minutes long, and closed out night one of WrestleMania 36, and from a wrestling match standpoint, gave The Deadman the most appropriate send-off. He literally buried Styles alive by the end of the night, with a memorable image of Styles’ gloved right hand sticking out of the ground like an unwelcome boner. This match, along with the Firefly Fun House, proved that chaos creates creativity. -BF

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5 / 13

Sasha Banks vs. Io Shirai, Great American Bash, Night 1

Sasha Banks vs. Io Shirai, Great American Bash, Night 1

There are better Sasha Banks matches I could have put here, arguably. Her Hell In A Cell match with Bayley was simply brilliant work, tying five years of storytelling between the two as they’ve bounced between blood rivals and best friends and back again, to mainstays at the top of the guard to afterthoughts and back again as well.

But Banks and Shirai are arguably the two-best women wrestlers on the planet right now, and two of the best wrestlers overall. One of the most frustrating things about Banks’s stunted first run as Women’s Tag Team champion, both for fans and herself, was that she was not able to tour the company’s three shows and work with whoever she wanted. Sasha clearly has a list of performers she wants to work with and matches she wants to put on.

Her and Bayley’s second run as tag champs did see them get to work all three shows, and throughout this match with Shirai you could tell that both women had been looking forward to this. The treat for Banks is that there is no woman on the main roster like Shirai, who can match, if not exceed, Banks’s athletic nature and is an actual high-flyer. Banks get to use a whole new method for this one, and not back off her shit-talking, viscous nature in the least (the powerbomb into the plexiglass is a bump that only Io would happily take, except for Banks herself of course). Banks spent her hiatus from WWE training with various people in various countries, including Japan, so she could have a match like this with someone like Io, and it paid off in every way. -SF

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6 / 13

Firefly Funhouse Match, Wrestlemania

Firefly Funhouse Match, Wrestlemania

I’m still not sure how they sold this to Vince McMahon nine months later. My leading theory right now is that Vince was so distraught over not having Wrestlemania in a packed football stadium and making it the celebration of all he created (as it usually is) that writers and performers were able to sneak anything past him with his approval. This match openly mocked McMahon with a Vince puppet yelling, “Such good shit!” and it still was part of the biggest show of the year.

With Mania taking place in essentially a closed TV studio, there was tons of room for WWE to try anything, including cinematic matches. There was really nothing to lose.

So the brainchild of Bray Wyatt got to stretch its legs in the most cerebral, abstract way possibly. Once you got past the weirdness, it became an excellent breakdown of not just John Cena’s career (and Cena’s total buy-in to this was no small part of its charm), but the WWE method of storytelling and all the problems it created. It distilled how WWE could only see one way of building stars, to the detriment of so many who could never overcome the chosen one at the time, which was almost always Cena. It showed how Cena was just another Hogan for a good chunk of his career, even putting him in the same spots as Hogan. Just a bland, muscle-bound whitebread babyface that held back the more layered characters WWE had. The vision of what a wrestler should look like that McMahon has always had, no matter what they could actually do. And then Wyatt shows how the chase to be the ideal of the company had left Cena empty and alone. He lost the big game.

They’ll be studying this one in liberal arts classes for years. -SF

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7 / 13

Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso, Hell In A Cell

Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso, Hell In A Cell

The two cousins did battle on the same card as Banks and Bayley, engaging in the most emotionally gripping wrestling bout of 2020. To this point, the two had been feuding because of Uso’s unwillingness to bow to Reigns as the Tribal Chief and Head of the Table in their family. (As well as the WWE Universal Champion.) The match was an I Quit bout inside of a Hell in a Cell, the first of its kind. Uso stood toe-to-toe with Reigns for most of the match until Uso’s brother Jey intervened to throw in the towel on Jimmy’s behalf, marking for one of the more poignant climaxes for a match this year.

That was until Reigns asserted himself one more time …

Reigns retained his Universal Title against Kevin Owens at WWE TLC with Jey Uso’s help, who has since become his protégé. Reigns has been the titleholder since late August. -BF

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8 / 13

Shingo Takagi vs. Kazuchika Okada, G1 Climax 30

Shingo Takagi vs. Kazuchika Okada, G1 Climax 30

The G1 is basically “The Land Of Chocolate” for wrestling nerds. It’s when New Japan Pro Wrestling takes its 20 best guys and spends a month simply having them all wrestle each other in a tournament to see who headlines their big show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom. Imagine if the Royal Rumble was a month long. It can be overload, as three or four nights a week there’s three to four great matches on and it can leave you foaming at the mouth and staring off into the galaxy, permanently lost to anyone who loves you (and if you’re watching NJPW in the middle of the night, that list probably isn’t all that long).

You can pick half a dozen matches from the G1 every year to make a list like this one, but I chose this one because of my undying affection for Shingo Takagi. Not only does he look like he’s made of granite, but also eats and shits it as well (though I suppose the latter would naturally follow the other, at least I hope). The first time you see him your only reaction can be, “This guy must be a nutcase.” And he is! But the wonderful thing about Takagi is though he looks like a ruthless brawler, and he can have matches that simply involve headbutting another dude for 15 minutes, he also can have matches with high-flying athletic wrestlers as well and stick with them step-for-step. His match in the final of the Best of Super Juniors 2019 with (World-Class Asshole) Will Ospreay was one of the matches of that year. He’s simply the balls.

In a G1-like tournament it’s hard to have a story for every match, and Okada and Shingo didn’t have much of a history. But thanks to Okada’s best-in-the-world skills, they told a great story about Okada, the undisputed king of NJPW even when he’s not wearing a title, not being able to find a way through Shingo’s combination of speed and power, and just having to outlast him. The pacing is terrific, the action gripping, and is pretty much everything fans love about NJPW’s cut-and-dried storytelling and action.

#ShingoForever -SF

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9 / 13

Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, Hell In A Cell

Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, Hell In A Cell

Banks and Bayley reignited their yearslong feud after breaking up once again this year, in what appeared to unfold too quickly at first. However, their 2020 set of matches are among the best they’ve ever had, upholding the absurdy high-standard the two have set.

They may never top NXT Takeover at Barclays Center, and that’s okay, because that’s arguably the greatest match between women in the history of the company. But their Hell in a Cell encounter comes damn close. It was beautifully violent. Both competitors took serious bumps throughout, like Bayley eating a powerbomb onto the cell from the apron, and taking a sunset flip powerbomb, banging her head against an elevated steel chair. The match ended Bayley’s 380-day record long Smackdown Women’s title run. Banks is currently in her longest reign a Smackdown World Champion, and is also on arguably her best run of matches throughout her esteemed career. -BF

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10 / 13

Parking Lot Brawl, AEW Dynamite

Parking Lot Brawl, AEW Dynamite

The main thing that AEW promised is that it wouldn’t be WWE. It wouldn’t get into the stale, repetitive storytelling, it wouldn’t take itself too seriously, and it would do things and showcase styles that WWE had given short-shrift. This was pretty much the perfect symbol of that. Chuck Taylor and Trent vs. Ortiz and Santana was hilarious, brutal, creative, and cathartic all in one match that took place in the parking lot. It capped off maybe the best episode of Dynamite the company has put forth since its inception, and made starts out of the four competitors who had only been in the midcard before. It also highlighted AEW’s ridiculous tag team division, another area that WWE can’t be bothered to generate for themselves either. AEW has reached these heights more than on this occasion, but this might have been its gold standard in the things it professes to be. -SF

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11 / 13

Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov, NXT UK

Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov, NXT UK

These dudes beat the shit out of each other. For anyone who suggests that wrestling is fake — not choreographed, not a live-action movie, not a sport, not a performance, but fake — you need to watch this match.

Walter defended his NXT UK Championship in the stiffest professional wrestling encounter you could possibly witness. Dragunov showcased why Triple H has reportedly been so high on him. The violent chops, the unforgiving powerbombs, the athletic resiliency, the story-telling, the excellence; it was a 5/5 classic. Both have scarcely wrestled since, probably for the better, especially if they’d like long careers. It grew the legend of Walter, and made Dragunov. It’ll be exciting to see where they go from here.

(Note: The match was so good that a tag-team battle between Walter and Alexander Wolfe against Dragunov and Pete Dunne was nearly forgotten. It was worthy of this list, as well.) -BF

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12 / 13

Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mentions

Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens, Tables, Ladders, and Chairs

As Bryan mentioned, since his return in August, Roman has been killing it, and he has such amazing chemistry with KO that this was always going to be a banger. It surpassed every expectation, with Roman’s unquenchable thirst to be worshipped and Owens’s inability to be put down making for a violent, rich fest of No-DQ wrestling.

Kota Ibushi vs. Taichi, G1 Climax

The G1 has so many matches that it allows the company to try some different things to change it up. In this one, Ibushi and Taichi literally kicked each other in the hamstrings for 21 minutes. That’s it. Just traded kicks until Ibushi could barely stand and Taichi couldn’t at all. The most unique match of 2020.

Stadium Stampede Match, AEW Double Or Nothing

You know a match is too entertaining for its own good when even the announcers break character and have to leave to go laugh for a couple minutes.

Pagano vs Chessman, AAA TripleMania XXVIII

AAA in Mexico offered us one of the wildest hair vs hair matches of the year, which is absolutely worth your time, and nearly cracked this list.

Cody vs Eddie Kingston, AEW Dynamite

Wanna see someone get powerbombed onto a pile of thumbtacks? Then TNT Champion Cody defended his title against Eddie Kingston, who had an outstanding year. On Dynamite, we were provided one of the best matches to air on TNT this year by two of the companies’ most talented performers.

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13 / 13

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.