In case you missed it I launched the Wrestling Headlines End of Year Awards voting earlier this week. There are plenty of categories for your consideration but to get the debate flowing I thought I’d put my picks for the five biggest awards on the record.
I will preface this by saying that this is my opinion and even though I would like to think my picks are pretty reasonable, I don’t expect you or the popular vote to agree with everything I say (in fact I already know I’m way off base in at least one category).
Also I mostly just watched AEW and New Japan in 2020 with smatterings of WWE mixed in. There is tonnes of incredible wrestling out there but I only have so much time every week so NJPW and AEW is what I’ve chosen to focus on, hence they will dominate my choices..
Wrestler of the Year
The biggest award first, and if you have ever read my writing did you expect me to pick anyone else? 2020 has been a career year for Moxley as he cemented himself at the top of the wrestling world with one of the best face championship runs of the entire decade.
While there were so many highs, for me, the run to the championship where he took on the entire Inner Circle, Chris Jericho and Minoru Suzuki with just one eye remains the pinnacle. Mox’s AEW championship run started slowly with quarantine and a good but not great match with Jake Hager but picked up steam and finished in barnstorming fashion with killer programs opposite MJF, Eddie Kingston and Kenny Omega.
The true magic of Moxley’s run though was how he carried himself as challenger and then champion. Every time he hit the ring or picked up a microphone you knew something badass was about to go down. Many wrestlers try to paint the image of being a fighting champion but very few embody the kind of dangerous, controlled aggression and heart that Moxley managed in 2020.
I would be remiss not to mention Kenny Omega in this conversation, he started the year strong with a fantastic Iron Man match with PAC and has come on like a tsunami of excellence in the final quarter of the year, including an undisputed banger of a match with Laredo Kid at Triplemania.
In the WWE I get similar vibes with Drew McIntyre as I do with Moxley, he has kept things together admirably for the WWE during the pandemic with consistent show anchoring performances. On the women’s side of the ledger Sasha Banks and Bayley’s frenemy dynamic kept things very interesting and their Hell In A Cell match marks an undisputed high point for the WWE this year.
Finally across the ocean it was the hard hitting consistency of Shingo Takagi against all forms of opponents and the spectacular return of Hiromu Takahashi that impressed me most in New Japan.
Tag Team of the Year
‘Hangman’ Adam Page & Kenny Omega
Pairing two singles wrestlers together is a trope that has too often devalued tag team divisions, for every Yokozuna and Owen Hart or JeriShow there are countless ShowMizs or MVP & Mark Henrys. I think it is safe to say that the union of Hangman Page and Kenny Omega in 2020 falls into the first category of partnerships with how they bolstered and elevated the AEW tag team division for the majority of the year.
Of course it helped that this was hardly Omega and Hangman’s first time teaming together and the pair brought all their respective history and baggage to their often rocky alliance, injecting every match with a narrative thread that would volley their fan’s hearts all over the place nearly all year.
The highlight of the year for them would be their run from January, where they won the titles against S.C.U. on the Jericho Cruise, had a forgotten banger against The Lucha Bros and then at the end of February at the Revolution PPV had one of the greatest tag team matches of all time opposite The Young Bucks. Even after that though they spent time elevating midcard tag team opponents before a divisive but still great feud with F.T.R.
Of course you can’t have this debate without mentioning The Young Bucks, who in 2020 only continued to cement their reputation as the greatest tag team of this generation if not ever. They excelled in the most high profile matches and also brought a number of new names into the spotlight towards the end of the year in Top Flight and The Acclaim. I also loved the work of Jurrasic Express even if it came more in fits and starts.
Away from AEW, tag team wrestling has had as much more mixed year. In New Japan the Dangerous Tekkers combination of Zack Sabre Jr. and TAICHI were incredibly consistent and entertaining in the ring and out even if they weren’t spectacular. While in the WWE Bayley & Sasha Banks took a similar road to Hangman and Omega in using their team to demonstrate their excellence but also further their singles feud.
Match of the Year
Tetsuya Naito v Kazuchika Okada, Wrestle Kingdom 14, Night 2
If I was to distill what I would want to see in my ideal wrestling match, it would look something like Tetsuya Naito v Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 14. This match has everything I love in wrestling, long term character arcs and stories coming to a head, hard hitting, explosive, suspenseful action and to top it off an incredible main event presentation in front of a molten hot crowd.
The chemistry for these two wrestlers is so good and while this match was a showcase for Naito and his incredible six year journey from main event reject to double champion, Okada was the perfect final hurdle for Naito to overcome. Despite this match seemingly being a foregone conclusion, Okada’s supreme confidence and work on Naito’s already injured knee injected enough doubt into the match, that when Naito mounted the turnbuckle for his previously failed Stardust Press, the crowd had its collective heart in its mouth.
Very few wrestling matches get me up out of my seat and cheering at the TV but this one had me fist pumping the air as Naito was able to finally win on the biggest of stage in New Japan. Pro Wrestling at its absolute finest.
If I was doing a separate category in this column for tag match of the year (as we have in the actual awards) then the unadulterated adrenaline rush that was ‘Hangman’ Page & Kenny Omega v The Young Bucks at AEW Revolution would be a shoe in. Likewise the Stadium Stampede from Double or Nothing was head and shoulders above the other cinematic matches presented this year, going out on a limb but managing to hit the perfect tone for a world living in shock.
In January the Men’s Royal Rumble tried something unique and while I still have my own reservations about Brock Lesnar due to his recent history in the WWE, there is no doubt that as a standalone entity the match was a fantastic Royal Rumble and star making vehicle for Drew McIntyre. Finally TAICHI v Kota Ibushi from Night 17 of the G1 is a must watch simply for its perfect execution of a singular creative vision.
Feud of the Year
‘Hangman’ Adam Page, Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks
As a long term fan of The Elite it will come as little surprise that the nearly year long drama that has engulfed the partnership between Hangman Page, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks was my favorite feud of 2020.
This story is a true triumph of three-dimensional characterisation. All four men have fully rounded characters and were able to show moments of strength and weakness, and gave us reasons to cheer for and cheer against them throughout the year. Not everyone can pull off this kind of complex character dynamics but because of their attention to detail and long term continuity, these four men managed to not just pull it off but use it to volley our heart left and right with each new chapter of their story.
The other key to them walking that tightrope of morally grey character was that when the time came to throw hands in the ring, they delivered at an incredibly high level, pulling off one of the best tag team matches of all time at Revolution and having one of AEW’s best singles matches ever when Kenny and Hangman wrestled at Full Gear.
It was this kind of layered storytelling with real narrative flow and consequences that first got me to follow The Elite, with them at the helm of AEW I hope there is plenty more of it to come going forward.
It is impossible for me not to mention Jon Moxley in feud of the year as he managed to have not one but six standout feuds this year opposite Chris Jericho, Eddie Kingston, Darby Allin, M.J.F., Kenny Omega and Minoru Suzuki. If I had to pick just one it would be how he fought through the Inner Circle to get to Chris Jericho and the AEW Championship but all six programs saw new developments to his character and intense audience interest. Also in AEW, it feels like way over a year ago but Cody and M.J.F.’s feud was also in 2020, with the incredible emotional pinnacle of the lashing segment and Steel Cage match opposite Wardlow slightly let down by the actual match.
In the WWE Moxley’s former Shield brother Roman Reigns unleashed some incredible character work against his real-life cousin Jey Uso, who also got a chance to shine in his own right, while Sasha and Bayley spent most of the year teasing us all with, will they or won’t they finally turn on one another, to spectacular result when the match finally hit.
Lastly, while New Japan was light on exceptional feuds this year, Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki deserve special mention for how they tore up the early empty arena shows with their hastily assembled but incredibly compelling blood feud.
Promotion of the Year
All Elite Wrestling
After reading the rest of my column you won’t get any prizes for guessing that AEW is my promotion of the year. I’m not going to come here and claim it is a perfect promotion, but for me it offers so much of what I have want from a wrestling show: explosive action, dynamic characters, trust in the wrestlers to use their own creativity and a dedication to long term storytelling and continuity.
As with all promotions this year they had their fair share of hurdles to overcome and while I do wonder how the empty arena era has affected them I don’t think it is controversial to say that they adapted quicker and got things back on the rails better than any other promotion out there.
Watching Dynamite on Thursday nights (I live in Australia) has been something I’ve looked forward to every week this year and rarely have I ever felt let down by it.
While AEW has been the highlight for me in 2020 I have still really enjoyed New Japan. They haven’t been anywhere near as consistent with their booking in 2020 but at their best they are still the absolute pinnacle of in-ring action. Block A of the G1 was particularly epic this year.
The main roster of WWE was as inconsistent as ever on a week-to-week basis, but I would be remiss not to say that they put on a number of very enjoyable PPVs, specifically the book ends of the year, Royal Rumble and TLC. One aspect of the WWE that has made me very happy is their newfound dedication to the current generation of wrestlers. Whether or not that attitude survives is yet to be seen but it has nonetheless been heartening to see.
That wraps it up for me this week. Who have you got in your end of year awards? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @Sir_Samuel.
If you haven’t voted in the End of Year Awards yet you can do so through this link here.
Thanks for your support this year, I really appreciate everyone who gives my columns a read and comment, angry or otherwise. I hope you’ve all had a very Merry Christmas and wish you a Happy New Year.
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