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Wrestling 2020: Sports Obsessive’s Year-End Awards

2020 has been a strange, difficult year in all walks of life and wrestling has been no exception. From companies shutting down for periods of time to empty arena shows, from the Thunderdome to Kylie Rae retiring, and from the necessary revelations of #MeToo to firings and furloughs, not to mention heartbreaking deaths, 2020 is the year pro wrestling might want to forget.

Yet at the same time, there has been plenty to celebrate in the ring in 2020. One of the few positives to come out of the pandemic is that absences, particularly in New Japan, have forced promoters to get creative with the talent they had available and created runs that some wrestlers may not have had otherwise—look at EVIL’s run this past summer.

Or how about the fact that certain promotions such as Ring of Honor and MLW treated their period of lockdown as an opportunity to reboot their product, with fabulous results in the case of ROH.

Then there’s been the surprise appearances, like Sting, FTR and the likes of Warhorse, Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston appearing on Dynamite, EC3 appearing in Impact and ROH, Mike Bennett appearing on Prime Time Live and ROH and Thunder Rosa losing the NWA Women’s championship to an AEW-contracted performer.

Whatever else 2020 was, it was never predictable.

Here at Sports Obsessive, we’re looking back over 2020 and giving our awards for, amongst other things, the best feuds, wrestlers and promotions of the year. So let’s join Samantha Sayre, Gerard Mooney, Jon Shartzer, Conrad Newton and Chris Flackett as they run down the Sports Obsessive 2020 Year-End Wrestling Awards!

Samantha Sayre

Best Male Wrestler: Jon Moxley

I think he has made the AEW belt the one to have. His feuds have strengthened it. The promos have shown his passion for wrestling, AEW and, in turn, the title.

Best Female Wrestler: Bayley

She has grown so much this year. Bayley has used submission moves and in her last match did a spinning clothesline. She has watched numerous older matches to pick up on characteristics like using Eddie Guerrero’s sadness when he lost a championship. Bayley impressed me with finding out on the Friday night before Clash of Champions about her step dad’s death then staying Sat and, even though Clash had the Covid issues, she stays and performed. Then she spent the next 12 days sleeping on her mom’s floor only to come back to get beat on by Sasha Banks.

Best Tag Team: FTR.

They have been hilarious on Twitter challenging teams then talking afterwards. You had to love their first appearance in their truck. I love their adherence to rules just when it suits them and they are bringing back some old school feel. Plus, Tully just fits with them.

Best Card: Full Gear

Every match but the Shida/Rose was pretty good. I even loved the ‘Elite Deletion‘ cinematic match. I think a lot of people didn’t. They had a type of match for everyone from ol’ school to hardcore to high flying.

Best Feud: Randy Orton vs Drew McIntyre

I have enjoyed the old Randy Orton playing games and sneaking around, punting the legends and the great storytelling of breaking McIntyre’s jaw. Having Randy lose the first two matches instead of the usual time was great going into Hell in a Cell. Orton should have kept the title longer.

Best Match: Bayley vs Sasha Banks at Hell in a Cell

It was original and creative, using weapons, the cage itself and each other. They proved you don’t have to climb the cage to have wow moments. Both of them doing each other’s finishers was a great surprise too.

A great non-PPV match was Daniel Bryan vs AJ Styles. It was on the Friday before a PPV, I think Money in the Bank. It was unbelievable.

Best Promotion: AEW

Can it be anyone else? They have created the revolution they wanted.

Jon Shartzer

Drew McIntyre gets on the mic at Raw

Best Male Wrestler: Drew McIntyre

There were several male wrestlers that had a great few months this year. But only a select few kept it going all year long. The three that immediately stand out to me are Jon Moxley, Randy Orton and my choice for Best Male Wrestler, Drew McIntyre. Drew started the year off strong by winning the Royal Rumble, defeated Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania for the WWE Championship, and is now ending the year in his second stint at champion after dropping and quickly regaining the title to Randy Orton. If Edge hadn’t gotten hurt and Orton’s resurgence as “The Legend Killer” had more time to stew, maybe this would go a different way. However, it’s hard to argue against McIntyre with how things turned out this year.

Best Female Wrestler: Bayley

The former SmackDown women’s champion used the lack of a crowd to her advantage and was able to shine and really improve her promo work and develop as a great heel. On top of capturing the top title on the blue brand, she also had a run with Sasha Banks as WWE Women’s Tag Team champions. The Role Model feels like the obvious answer here, in my opinion.

Best Tag Team: Street Profits

What a year these two had. To think that we’re still early in their careers is exciting. These guys are stars and you can tell that they are having so much fun. Montez Ford has “franchise player” written all over him and Angelo Dawkins is certainly no slouch, himself. They have continuously gotten better and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for 2021. They get my vote for best tag team of not only 2020, but of the foreseeable future.

Best Card: WWE TLC

WWE’s last pay-per-view of the year was also the strongest of any company for the entirety of 2020. I had to really think about this one to make sure that I wasn’t approaching it with a recency bias. However, I struggle to think of a card that delivered as this one did from top to bottom. AJ Styles and Drew McIntyre set the table with a TLC match for the WWE Championship that I thought would be hard to be top. But then Roman Reign and Kevin Owens completely stole the show with their own TLC match for the Universal Championship that could be a match of the year contender. Throw in the events between Randy Orton and The Fiend and you have one hell of a show. Everything else in between was also top-notch. I have to give WWE props for this one.

Best Feud: Sasha Banks and Bayley

If it was able to cook a little longer, I would have picked Edge vs Randy Orton here. However, due to Edge’s injury, their angle was cut short. Therefore, I’m going with Sasha and Bayley. They told a great story with the jealousy angle and the swerve of Bayley turning on Banks before the latter was able to do the same to her was a great touch. Their Hell in a Cell match was fantastic. These two were able to work some pure gold this year and that’s why they ended up with my vote.

Best Match: The Young Bucks vs Kenny Omega at AEW Revolution

Not only was this match fun to watch from a pure wrestling standpoint, but it had the best storytelling of any contest over the entire year. Kenny and Hangman had been having their issues leading up the match, with the Bucks trying to play peacekeepers the entire time. The match was spotty, but that was to be expected with these performers. The tease of Page potentially laying out Omega with his Buckshot lariat was A+ storytelling. I don’t know a single person that didn’t enjoy this classic match.

Best Promotion: NXT

Fair warning, this needs to come with a homer alert. I am, admittedly, a giant NXT mark. I believe that they consistently provide the best pro wrestling in the business. Although the “ratings” will say otherwise, and the lack of a bigger crowd certainly did hurt, I think my belief still holds true for this year. Even without a crowd, NXT put on great matches all year long, including some great TakeOvers and TV specials, such as Great American Bash and Halloween Havoc. I’m sure plenty of people will disagree, and that’s fine, but give me NXT over the others every single time.

Gerard Mooney

Bray Wyatt socks John Cena on the jaw during their Firefly Funhouse match

Male Wrestler of the Year: Kenny Omega

I found this one quite easy, to be honest. There were plenty of other guys who had a great year, such as Drew McIntyre, Orange Cassidy and Cody Rhodes, but for me they all pale in comparison to Kenny Omega. Omega, of course, spent much of this year as one half of the AEW World Tag Team Champions alongside Hangman Adam Page, but during each title defence you could see the cracks in their relationship get bigger and bigger up until their demise in the superb match against FTR at All Out in September. Their split following the title loss led to the moment Kenny fanboys like myself had been waiting for… a Kenny Omega heel turn. Excellent promos and even better performances in the ring, capped off by his victory over Jon Moxley to win him the AEW World Championship, Omega in my opinion is a shoo-in for Male Wrestler of the Year

Best female wrestler of the year: Asuka

I’m a major Asuka fan, purely because of how absolutely crazy she is on screen. She’s one of those wrestlers that is instantly likeable whenever you watch her, but she’s more than capable of impressing in the ring. In my opinion, there may not be any female competitor as good in the ring as Asuka. She is truly the complete package, capable of putting on top tier matches, telling compelling stories in the process. This year, she also became the first-ever woman to be a Grand Slam Champion, Money in the Bank Winner and Royal Rumble Winner in WWE, and just the 3rd wrestler in history to achieve this feat after Randy Orton and Seth Rollins. She is one of WWE’s best talents, and she is more than deserving of this year’s Female Wrestler of the Year.

Best Tag Team: Best Friends

It has been quite the year for tag-team wrestling, particularly in AEW, who currently possess the best tag division in all of pro wrestling. Special mentions must go to the Young Bucks, FTR and the Dark Order pairing of Evil Uno and Stu Grayson, who have all been very impressive this year. However, my pick goes to Best Friends, the team of Trent Beretta and Chuck Taylor. They didn’t quite manage to win those tag titles this year, despite coming close in matches against Page and Omega and FTR, but they made the biggest impact during their feud with Santana and Ortiz of the Inner Circle, which ran alongside the feud between Orange Cassidy and Chris Jericho. It began after Santana and Ortiz insulted Trent’s mom, Sue, and it ended after a fantastic ‘Parking Lot Brawl’, in which Best Friends emerged victorious. That feud, along with Sue getting over with absolutely everybody, solidified them as my pick for Tag Team of the Year. Bonus points for having the most iconic hug in wrestling.

Best card: AEW Full Gear 2020

There haven’t been many top tier cards this year, especially in the first half of the year as all promotions were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but AEW’s Full Gear card in November is about as close as it got to the perfect card in 2020. The opening match between Kenny Omega and Hangman Adam Page in the World Title Tournament Final to open the card was brilliant, followed by an all-action match with a bit of comedy sprinkled in between Orange Cassidy and John Silver of the Dark Order. The card also had Darby Allin defeating Cody Rhodes to win the TNT Championship for the first time, Hikaru Shida defeating Nyla Rose to retain her Women’s Championship, the Young Bucks winning their first AEW Tag Team titles in a superb match with FTR, Matt Hardy murdering (?) Sammy Guevara in the Elite Deletion match at the Hardy Compound, MJF defeating Chris Jericho in one of my favourite finishes of the year, and all capped off by the brilliant “I Quit” match between Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship. For me, it was the best card of the year. I think I’d have to give it a 9 out of 10 though, minus 1 point for not having the Lucha Bros on the card. Apart from that, excellent.

Best feud: Hangman and Omega vs FTR – AEW

This was perhaps my toughest choice of all. There have been some excellent feuds throughout wrestling this year, with Bray Wyatt vs John Cena, Orange Cassidy vs Chris Jericho and Eddie Kingston vs Jon Moxley immediately coming to mind as some of my favourites. For me, though, I can’t look past the final feud of Hangman Adam Page and Kenny Omega’s tag title reign against FTR. The relationship between Kenny and Hangman had looked increasingly strained following the arrival of FTR to AEW. Formerly known as “The Revival” in WWE, Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler added another dimension to an already excellent tag division in the company, and it was their mind games that cost Hangman and Omega the titles, and ultimately their friendship. FTR manipulated Page, were always seen drinking with him, making him think they were just good friends, and it all came to a head when Page cost the Young Bucks the win in a number one contenders match against FTR for the tag titles, after which Page was kicked out of the Elite, leaving his friendship with Kenny on the brink. They managed to get back on the same page for the title defense at All Out, but they just couldn’t make it as FTR emerged victorious, leaving Kenny and Hangman’s relationship in tatters. It was a compelling story from start to finish, making you feel sorry for Hangman and ultimately paving the way for Kenny’s singles run and heel turn. For FTR, it legitimised them in AEW and showed exactly what they were capable of in the ring and on the microphone, and they are damn good at both. Action, drama and a ruined friendship; what else could you want from your feud of the year?

Best match: Bray Wyatt vs John Cena – Firefly Funhouse Match (Wrestlemania 36)

This may be bending the rules slightly by choosing a cinematic match as my Match of the Year, but I had no choice because it was absolutely phenomenal, and is the perfect use of Bray Wyatt’s unique storytelling ability. Only took seven years right? To be honest, after all this time, I still can’t describe the match to anybody; it’s just something you have to watch for yourself. The match took us through moments of both men’s careers, and we even got to see John Cena in full Hollywood Hogan NWO gear, before he was kayfabe murdered/sent into the abyss by Wyatt. In reality, I have no idea what happened to Cena at the end, but I loved how utterly insane it was, so it has to be my Match of the Year.

Best promotion: AEW

In a year like no other, AEW has stepped up to the plate like no other promotion. The early shows during the first few months of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic were difficult for everyone, but AEW worked through it brilliantly. They managed to keep all their shows on track, while making sure all talent at the shows was safe in regards to testing, all while not having to release any members of the active roster or any other staff, even adding to their roster with the signings of Brian Cage, Ricky Starks, Eddie Kingston, Brodie Lee, FTR, Matt Hardy, a short period with Matt Cardona and most recently, Sting, among others. They’ve consistently provided excellent feuds throughout the card, and have given us plenty of shocks along the way. They still have a lot to work on into 2021, in particular with the women’s division, but their cross-promotion work which has just begun with Impact Wrestling will be very interesting heading into the new year. All in all, it has been a brilliant year for AEW, and they’ll hope to build on that even further next year.

Conrad Newton

Go Shiozaki vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima title card

Best Male Wrestler: Go Shiozaki – Pro Wrestling NOAH

From an in ring standpoint, Shiozaki has had the best run of any wrestler since Kazuchika Okada’s acclaimed run in 2016-17. My first NOAH show featured Shiozaki prying the GHC Heavyweight Championship away from young ace Kaito Kiyomiya in a contest that would easily be match of the year in any other year. An outstanding run of form saw him put on 2 match of the year title defences within days—Naomichi Marufuji and Kenoh in August, before going close to an hour against friend-turned-foe Katsuhiko Nakajima and long-time adversary Takashi Sugiura (the latter being the first NOAH match to be rated 5 stars by Dave Meltzer since Jun Akiyama vs Kenta Kobashi in July 2004).

Even the more controversial, unorthodox matches he’s been a part of (here’s looking at you, Kazuyuki Fujita, with your half an hour stare down and hand sanitizer consumption) I can still greatly appreciate for being bold and ambitious during a time when many of his contemporaries failed to adapt to the obstacles that COVID-19 presented. His hard work looks to have paid off as we look towards 2021, as NOAH returns to the Nippon Budokan for the first time since 2013; the retirement card of Shiozaki’s mentor Kenta Kobashi. 

The best wrestler of the empty arena period, and the single best wrestler of the year as a whole. 

Best Female Wrestler: Arisa Nakajima – SEAdLINNNG

Women’s wrestling has held down the fort in a lot of promotions this year. Asuka was a constant highlight of PC-era RAW; IMPACT’s Knockouts are head and shoulders above near all other women’s divisions, and women’s promotions across Japan have provided countless match of the year contenders. 

Nakajima delivered in every big match she was in this year; be it as Beyond the SEA Champion against the likes of ASUKA and Yoshiko or teaming with partner Tsukasa Fujimoto as Best Friends and winning the Beyond the SEA tag titles. There was never a dull moment in any of the matches she was in, a feat made even more remarkable considering the fact that she (alongside many of her SEAdLINNNG peers) often worked double duty to provide a longer show. 

Best Tag Team: Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima and Tsukasa Fujimoto) – SEAdLINNNG

2020 has produced a plethora of excellent tag team wrestling across a range of promotions, which naturally made it difficult for me to decide upon a definitive ‘best’ team. The choice was made even more difficult for me in October, as my two frontrunners (NOAH’s AXIZ and 2AW’s Neba-Land NEO) split.

Despite this, I managed to find a more than worthy duo to give this award to. Despite stiff competition from the likes of The North in IMPACT and The Young Bucks in AEW, the consistency of SEAdLINNNG’s Best Friends was hard to ignore. Their contest against Yoshiko and Hiroyo Matsumoto at the group’s 5th Anniversary show was a bonafide Match of the Year contender, as was their title win at Yokohama Flash 2020 and their loss at Shin-Kiba NIGHT on November 27th. The latter is my favourite tag match of the year, which more than earns Best Friends my top spot.

Best Card: NXT Takeover: Portland

One of the last ‘normal’ shows before COVID-19 crashed upon the world. The last NXT show of the #DIY era. 

For me, a good card has to have great action, with emotionally investable storytelling and angles throughout. And while other shows, like New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom and DDT’s Peter Pan had in ring action that was just as good (if not better) than Portland, they can be considered as ‘top heavy’ shows—shows that have excellent main events, but undercards that leave a lot left to be desired. This was absolutely not the case at Portland, with every match being good at worst and MOTYC at best.

An outstanding last hurrah from a brand that has lost significant steam in the last 6 months. 

Best Feud: Dangerous Tekkers vs Golden Ace – NJPW

It’s been a weird year in New Japan, to say the least. The crowd silence and talent absences caused by the coronavirus pandemic forced them to improvise a great amount of their stories until some sense of normality was achievable. 

One of the brightest lights in a largely disappointing period was easily the summer feud between Golden Ace and Dangerous Tekkers. Sabre and Taichi were wonderful in their role as arrogant heel champions, while Hiroshi Tanahashi consistently put on stellar, emotional performances as one half of Golden Ace. Tanahashi was no longer a deity. He could no longer be the man that Kota Ibushi saw him as; and Dangerous Tekkers took full advantage. They tried to exploit Ibushi’s doubts and clear inner turmoil in the preview tag matches, which provided easy pickings when the title matches arrived. 

While it takes 4 to create a compelling tag team story, this feud is driven by Tanahashi, a master of his craft who understands his audience. The demolition of his legs was excruciatingly difficult to watch, his self-doubt created a feeling deep in my bones—a sincere need to see him succeed, to return to the Tanahashi of old.

Wonderful stuff.

Best Match: Go Shiozaki vs Katsuhiko Nakajima – NOAH The Chronicle Vol. 4

Two former friends. One, the face of a company: the man determined to right the wrongs of his past and lead his promotion into a new golden age. A broken down champion, showing visible damage from prior battles against the most elite competition.

The other, a man consumed by evil. Willing to burn all his bridges in order to get ahead. Remorseless. Arrogant.

Go Shiozaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima had history going back a generation—their mentors Kenta Kobashi and Kensuke Sasaki had battled many a time, and now it was time for their proteges to do the same, with the wrestling world intensely watching.

The hype surrounding this contest was extremely high, and many people (myself included) felt that Shiozaki and Nakajima would fail to meet expectations. Not only did they meet them, they blew them completely away; putting on a 42-minute epic for the Global Honoured Crown. It has all the hallmarks of a classic championship encounter. A clear face/heel divide, a compelling story, intense action and an outcome that made both look incredibly strong. 

For many, Nakajima’s crowning moment was a near certainty – Shiozaki was damaged goods and Nakajima had torn through the N1 Victory field. Yet the self-proclaimed face of NOAH escaped with his championship, hitting successive lariats for somewhat of an upset victory. It’s everything you could ever want out of a title match; and no better way to keep the interest of the new fans who watched the show but had no plans to stick around. A modern classic, which we will surely be speaking about for years to come.

Best Promotion: Pro Wrestling NOAH

Not even an explosive junior heavyweight division can stop Pro Wrestling NOAH being declared the best promotion of 2020. While some booking may not make sense at times, its match quality is unparalleled. You’d be hard-pressed to find a group that have been as consistently excellent. While companies like New Japan have opted to move towards overbooked drama and catering more to the western audiences, NOAH have put time into creating emotional investment from their audience. The decline and split of AXIZ (Go Shiozaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima) was the best story of the year, and the match that followed was a gruelling war that (deservedly) made substantial noise across the entire wrestling world.

A return to the Nippon Budokan in February serves as the prize for an outstanding year.

Chris Flackett

Thunder Rosa mocks her opponent

Best Male Wrestler: Hangman Page

Simply put, he’s been one of the most consistent and compelling wrestlers in the game this year and he’s only going to get better. He shone as part of his AEW tag title-holding partnership with Kenny Omega and his conflicted attitude towards The Elite gave him an edge that Kenny has only just rediscovered for himself with his heel turn. He was an integral part of the match between Kenny and himself and The Young Bucks at Revolution and proved himself more than capable of hanging with the big names. A star just waiting for his chance on top of the wrestling biz, I can only hope he’ll be the one to eventually dethrone Omega.

Best Female Wrestler: Thunder Rosa

Thunder Rosa is arguably one of the top ten wrestlers in the world, regardless of gender; she’s that good. Effortlessly charismatic, her ‘La Mera Mera Destruction Tour’ took in AEW, Prime Time Live and her own promotion, Mission Pro Wrestling, which got off to a sterling start in the late part of this year. Her MMA background gives her a genuine legitimacy in the ring, and three of the best wrestling matches of the year, for me, saw Rosa take on Allysin Kay, Priscilla Kelly and Serena Deeb in extremely hard-hitting, MMA-style encounters that, along with ROH’s Pure Tournament, showed how the old-school of tough, brutal, technical wrestling can be made modern and revitalised in the American wrestling mainstream.

Best Tag Team: Kenny Omega & Hangman Page

Whilst the slow-burning tale of the dissolution of The Elite was certainly exciting, it did distract from a crucial factor in that team’s success: Page and Omega were an absolutely fantastic team. Unlike a lot of teams now where it feels like two disparate wrestlers have just been thrown together into a unit, Page and Omega, despite their odd-couple relationship, came across by the end as a real, bone fide tag team. They gelled excellently and had numerous exciting bouts during their reign. Omega brought the heart and Page brought the edge, and together they brought decimation to their opponents. Unfairly overshadowed by the likes of FTR and The Best Friends, Page and Omega were easily the best tag team of the year.

Best Card: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom – Night One

The first night of Wrestle Kingdom’s two-night extravaganza, it saw Kazuchika Okada take on Kota Ibushi in a dramatic, heart-stopping, jaw-dropping main event that had me constantly on the edge of my seat, the winner never certain until the final three-count. Jon Moxley and Lance Archer beat themselves silly in a brutal Texas Death Match, Takahashi and Ospreay treated the arena like a flight path and FinJuice take the IWGP Tag Titles from the GoD in a great feel-good moment. Before the pandemic began to derail things, NJPW started the year in stellar fashion.

Best Feud: The Elite vs. The Elite

Seeing the Elite slowly tear itself apart over the course of the year was a long-term thrill, the kind you don’t often see in American wrestling storytelling anymore. It gave us one of the matches of the year when Omega & Page took on The Young Bucks. It gave Page his edge back and kept us guessing for months whether Page was going to turn heel or not. Ultimately, Page’s intervention in The Bucks opportunity for a title shot saw him come out a tragic figure, full of regrets for his actions, while it was Kenny who emerged as the bad guy, surprising us once again by joining up with Don Callis and Impact. Now this is the way to book a good story!

I could have done without the Bucks superkicking people in a temper, but you can’t have everything.

Best Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14

This was the match that dashed Ibushi’s Heavyweight championship goals for another year, but at least it did it in great style. This was a daring match full of risk-taking and competitive aggression, with Kota raising the brutality stakes as he became ever more desperate to grab the title. ‘The Rainmaker’, meanwhile, put on an electric performance, becoming the perfect foil for Ibushi’s relentless attack. A stunning match.

Best Promotion: AEW

If I’m being honest, I don’t like everything AEW does. I sometimes find their booking a little on the inconsistent side. However, no other promotion was as consistently entertaining as AEW was this year. I still think they have a lot of work to do before they knock the WWE off their perch, but the building blocks are there for something genuinely special. If they can build on what they already have and learn from their mistakes, then their future will be exceptionally bright indeed.

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So there you have it! These were our highlights of wrestling’s 2020, but what were yours? Let us know in the comments—we’d love to hear from you!

Written by Sports Obsessive

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