Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a column by a column writer in a happy place with WWE. I’m said column writer, Dr. Chad, former uber WWE fan turned jaded WWE fan turned something else entirely that has yet to be properly labeled. WWE got some big picture things right this year that they had not in several, so they wound up having a year in which I got reasonably invested. With greater investment comes greater enjoyment of storylines and consequent in-ring output, though as will soon be demonstrated, no particular in-ring performance stood out as the unequivocal best of 2020. Feel free to engage in discussion with me in the comments, sharing your top contenders and perhaps, like my #9, a sleeper pick you feel may rewatch better in years to come than its grander peers.
(Doc’s Note – The podcast link above takes you to my rebooted podcast, which will occasionally cover wrestling, but explores my other passions in life, as well)
#14 – Seth Rollins vs. Dominik Mysterio at Summerslam
The Architect had a very good year. If you wanted to argue that it was one of his better years, I would hear you out because of what he accomplished with Dominik. The over-the-top gimmick that ended the Rollins vs. Rey Mysterio feud was worth it to get to the Dominik story. Rollins did some of the finest work in his illustrious career, getting the rookie over and carrying the pleasant surprise of the year angle straight through a tremendously fun performance at the third biggest show of the year for WWE. You will soon note that I was quite fond of Summerslam overall, and that is an event that carries a lot of historical weight. This may move into the Top 10 if it passes time’s test ahead of its peers.
#13 – Randy Orton vs. Drew McIntyre at Summerslam
Another Summerslam match will momentarily get the nod ahead of this one, despite my star rating for the WWE Title bout being slightly higher. I’m predicting that this will fall into a slightly less memorable historical category than the other performance, but I so thoroughly enjoyed it that I had to put it on my list. WWE had a bounce back year in terms of main-event presentation, with McIntyre one particularly important cog in that resurgent wheel. Orton got built up throughout the year so perfectly because of the dynamic he had with Edge, and I thought that the end result particularly showed that WWE may have turned an important creative corner to get fans like me back in sync with their strategy. It was not Andre vs. Hogan level, but it still had that irresistible force meets immovable object thing going for it, both of them with tremendous momentum creating a perfect WWE Championship at Summerslam situation. They had a really nice series of matches this year, but this was the best.
#12 – Drew McIntyre vs. AJ Styles at TLC
As mentioned about a match to be ranked later, I really could use a replay or at least a few weeks to settle on an opinion of where this should be placed. Reading some other critical opinions, it seemed that a lot of folks were higher on the overall presentation than I was, though naturally my putting here at all should tell you that I, too, thought highly of it. The strength of the match was its incredibly dramatic climax, with The Miz unsuccessfully cashing in Money in the Bank, leading to the three of them in a multi-minute jockey for position atop a ladder. If Miz successfully walks back his cash-in via loophole, then the replay will not watch as meaningful as it did on the night. I’m picking nits, I suppose. This was a great match, without question, and testament to the talents of both men. McIntyre is arguably WWE’s Wrestler of the Year and Styles had a career-enhancing year in his own right.
#11 – Sami Zayn vs. AJ Styles vs. Jeff Hardy at Clash of Champions
All across the WWE landscape, NXT included, the creativity in the Ladder Match genre was on point. I’m of the opinion that it is not always easy to appreciate such gimmick bouts anymore. There have been so many of them and sometimes it feels like the creative well has run dry, but every so often one will reaffirm your faith that innovation is an ocean. It is very rare that three of them will happen in the same year; the other two for reference were the triple threat at Mania and the NXT NA Title bout in August, and then this was the best. I had my doubts, to be honest, that it could be this memorable given how many bump card punches there already were with 40+ year old Styles and Hardy, and Zayn is not a spring chicken anymore either. They blew me away. My daughter calls this her favorite Ladder Match. Considering it ended with Hardy’s large ear pierce hole handcuffed to a ladder, how can you blame her? A masterclass in innovative offense.
#10 – Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso at Hell in a Cell
What a show, Hell in a Cell was. My daughter started watching wrestling consistently over the summer and her enthusiasm made me re-engage to an added degree with WWE, to the point that watching PPVs on the night became a thing again for me, ending a two year hiatus of random next week viewing. I was genuinely pumped for Hell in a Cell this year and I thought it delivered, in part due to one of the most unique versions of the stipulation’s storied history. Heel Roman has been everything that I could have wanted from it; another big reason for my renewed enthusiasm is Reigns being able to play his natural role and enjoying the heck out of his ability to thrive because of it. The Big Dog was always a great performer bell to bell, but the character work he has put on display since August has made every match of his must see. Uso is talented and he has excelled in his opportunity at the top. Reigns, though, finally proving an elite ability to carry a show, has hit a level that we have not seen many modern WWE stars reach. Uso vs. Reigns in the Cell was a microcosm of everything clicking for The Tribal Chief; everything he has touched since returning and turning has turned to gold. History may move this up the list as we are better able to digest storytelling brilliance I think many of us are still wrapping our heads around.
#9 – Sasha Banks vs. Asuka at Summerslam
Some matches make lists like these because they were the types that elicited mammoth star ratings consistency across the critical universe, and then others make lists like this because they were so memorable regardless of their star rating. Banks vs. Asuka might have had more critically successful performances on Raw or Survivor Series, but their Summerslam match stands out because it was one of the rare, modern era instances of WWE hitting all the right notes on an upper mid-card storyline and the payoff match. The Banks-Bayley pairing was among the three best things of the early COVID era in WWE, and their feud with Asuka leading to the Summer Classic was excellent. With the pressure on, Asuka and Sasha took center stage at WWE’s second most prominent event and delivered a Mysterio-Angle-esque mid-card masterpiece that, like others in its historical class, will be remembered above bouts from its year that were afforded the kind of extras in time and false finish that allow for higher star ratings in the moment.
#8 – AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan on Smackdown (June 12th)
If you want to discuss this in the Top 5, I am up for it. For me, I came into it ice cold from not having followed Smackdown often during that timeframe. That said, it was a very memorable performance from both, a testament to their chemistry that they could fill that feature length (and then some) in a tournament final. It made me think of British Bulldog vs. Owen Hart from March 1997 to crown the first European Champion. I pay few higher compliments. You could almost feel the ghosts of Intercontinental Title lore in their presence; I’m sure no former IC Champ would be left off a list of those that felt that Bryan vs. Styles for the vacant gold was a microcosm of what that particular title is all about. I could definitely talk myself into moving it up, though I’m staying on-brand to hold the TV match in less overall esteem than I do its PPV counterparts. Still, it might have been the best TV match WWE has put on in a few years, especially if you take into consideration the historical stature of each combatant. A television classic undoubtedly. WWE’s TV Match of the Year hands down.
#7 – Drew McIntyre vs. Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank
One of the best things that happened to WWE during the pandemic era was them surrounding the ring with developmental wrestlers so that there was some kind of atmosphere after Mania and MITB were both in front of nobody. I bring them up only because Rollins vs. McIntyre was “some kind of atmosphere” away from jumping as many as three spots up. Rollins was in the perfect position to help launch McIntyre’s title reign beyond its Mania 36 honeymoon phase. McIntyre definitely felt like the champ for the long haul, but Rollins had a good deal of momentum from his heel turn and there should be no doubting anymore his standing alongside Roman Reigns as the most successful of their generation. Predictably, they meshed well in their work together at MITB and I can only hope that this gets revisited someday. Bottom line: I look at McIntyre vs. Rollins as strong evidence to the success of Drew’s title reign; they accomplished what they needed to, I think.
#6 – Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens at TLC?
The above question mark is not a typo. I personally have always needed a few weeks to process any last minute December entries into the Match of the Year conversation. My kneejerk reaction to the top bout from Sunday’s PPV was to slot it into the Top 5, perhaps contending for the top prize in a year when there was no runaway winner. I settled on it here to illustrate that it belongs in that discussion. The star rating I gave it was 4.5, which elevates it above everything already listed and keeps it equal with everything listed below. What Owens brought to the table that Uso could not opposite Reigns was that extra gear as a personality. KO is perhaps WWE’s most underrated character. I once said on The Doc Says that I felt Owens could be a real hit as an everyman babyface and I think this program with Reigns proved it. He was remarkable, as was Roman. Like their 2017 Royal Rumble clash, this TLC match was creatively brutal, but what may convince me upon replay and a few weeks of reflection to state its MOTY case is the strength of the personalities being the foundation and the stellar action complimenting them, which is rare over the last 5 years in WWE.
#5 – Randy Orton vs. Edge at Backlash
WWE shot itself in the foot a little bit with the odd tagline, as Edge-Orton was utterly fantastic but probably never could have been good enough to be fully appreciated when combating the social media backlash of the “Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” label. These guys had tremendous chemistry back in the day, but their character dynamics weren’t particularly fitting of WWE storytelling. Edge returning out of nowhere this year to a hero’s welcome set them up with proper face-heel alignment. As such, the in-ring chemistry was complimented greatly by a pair of outstanding runs by each persona. I’m hoping that time will leave behind the tagline controversy and just let this match stand on its own merits. It was a legit Match of the Year candidate and I hope that a decent sized audience gets to see this in person before Edge retires for good; it is possible that it moves up the list as the years go by, but legends matches in particular need that extra something from tens of thousands in the stands to boost them as they play the greatest hits.
#4 – The Royal Rumble Match
A great Rumble match will almost always make my Top 5 for the year. I would venture to say that the 2020 Rumble was among the 5 best in its gimmick’s history. Brock Lesnar’s story controversially holds the key to fan opinion of the overall presentation. I’ll tell you that I view it as the lone example in an excruciatingly long run of booking dominance in which WWE used The Beast’s considerable credibility to “make” another star; everyone else was rendered a mere peon by Lesnar’s booking from 2014 on, but Drew McIntyre was given the chance to rise up at Brock’s expense…and it was gloriously blanking cathartic. Then, Edge (my 2nd all-time favorite wrestler) came back in one of the biggest surprises of the century to date. This Rumble brought a lot to the table, frankly, its aforementioned foundational elements complimented by most everything else you would enjoy from the match type. It and Edge vs. Orton were of comparable length, so rewatchability between them came down to this very important distinction: the ’20 Rumble was the only match ranked here that had a normal crowd. Typically, a crowd can be the difference between great and all-time great, on rare occasions pedestrian and preeminent. This year, a legitimate audience vaults matches pre-COVID into an entirely different universe than their peers with no crowd. Each of the Top 3 were good enough to overcome that big-time missing element.
#3 – AJ Styles vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania
I love this match. Presuming Taker stays retired, it’s the most historic match of the year in any promotion. It felt like a fitting end on the night, and it still feels that way when you watch it back. I think that’s all any of us ever want for wrestlers on their way out – that it feel like the proper send-off. Taker’s was a long time coming, but he stumbled into perhaps the only situation that would allow for him to hit a walk-off home-run to close the final chapter on his storied career. It was the best cinematic match ever, to date, with the score, the production value, the acting from the wrestlers, etc. truly giving us a fully-fleshed out idea as to what a cinematic wrestling match can be when done to its peak level. So, no, it does not have a crowd and the entire thing from the inception of the feud a month prior to the very nature of how the match was produced all felt completely thrown together at the last minute, but those will not be the lasting dynamics that shape perception of the Boneyard Match. History. Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” Styles main-eventing the biggest show of the year. Rest in Peace, Taker’s career. That’s what we’ll remember.
#2 – Drew McIntyre vs. Roman Reigns at Survivor Series
It has been mighty rare in the modern era of WWE that a star in his prime like Reigns got on a streak so hot and faced another streaking star in his prime like McIntyre. My biggest disappointment in WWE the past several years has been their over-dependence on aging icons to fill the most important spots on the grandest stages at the expense of the guys who should be building their legacies without handicap. So, this match connected with me – as this year in general has connected with me – on a deeper level. The action from bell to bell reflected the spirit of the truly rare opportunity presented to them. It felt like a huge match and they delivered a performance worthy of such a huge match. I want them to become generational rivals after their chemistry here suggested that they could really be onto something with this feud, perhaps even at a WrestleMania main-event level as soon as next year. This was the match of McIntyre’s career to date and he feels like the natural babyface that WWE has been trying to get right for years, so it is ironic that Reigns was his opponent; how awesome is that Reigns got to have a huge match like this with the character dynamic playing to his strengths?
#1 – Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at Hell in a Cell
Generational rivals are the life blood of continued wrestling fandom, at least for diehard, consistently invested enthusiasm. Banks and Bayley are rare generational rivals in modern WWE. The women’s division produces such rivals more often than the men’s, where a lot more Trish vs. Charlotte type bouts dominate creative attention. I think the women’s division has been fortunate to get a more traditional booking focus, with stars like Flair excelling, then Becky Lynch taking it to another level, followed by Bayley and Sasha being the MVPs of the COVID era in WWE this year. When they finally split, it proved worth the wait, their characters aligned well to allow them a new peak to reach rather than try to recreate the magic from Takeover Brooklyn 1 in 2015. Their Hell in a Cell was brutal and creative, optimizing their innate in-ring chemistry. Reflecting back at near turns in recent years, I think it worked out for the best because this year it turned out to be main-event worthy whereas prior to it would have felt forced and decidedly mid-card. Bayley’s antagonistic persona brought her WWE main roster run to a crescendo it was beginning to feel like she could not hit like she had in NXT as a hero. Banks is still so easy to root for, so it flat out worked to play it out the way they did. You should have seen my daughter’s face the night Bayley turned on Sasha and her level of excitement when Sasha beat her for the title at HIAC is something I’ve got marked in my memory as something to share years later should her fandom maintain and grow.