Very few industries have escaped the devastating effects of 2020 and its global pandemic. Depending on your stance, WWE admirably (or foolishly) managed to find a way to provide their weird and wonderful brand of sports entertainment throughout.
From packed baseball stadiums at the turn of the year, through a WrestleMania at the empty WWE Performance Center and finally into the visual feast that is the ThunderDome, the company has adapted as much as possible in tumultuous conditions.
Few could deny the void empty arenas have provided. Wrestling just isn’t the same without the roars of delight or the gasps of astonishment — that collective feeling of belonging while watching something that just shouldn’t be physically possible.
With no crowd energy to play from cinematic matches, fighting pits and an emphasised focus on telling stories in the ring have all come to the forefront.
Here, we celebrate 10 of the matches WWE has served up in 2020.
10) Pete Dunne vs Kyle O’Reilly – WarGames Advantage Ladder Match – NXT
What should have been a throwaway/warm up/qualifying bout for the men’s WarGames match, threatened to steal some of the spotlight a week ahead of the Takeover event.
Both Dunne and O’Reilly had missed large swathes of the year due to the global pandemic but seemed intent on making up for any lost time. The usual fast and furious action that has become synonymous with ladder matches collided with bruising beat downs.
With nasty looking falls onto ladders and spills to the outside of the ring, Dunne claimed the WarGames advantage for his team as a masked figure took out the Undisputed Era’s O’Reilly at the death.
9) Tyler Bate vs Jordan Devlin – NXT UK Takeover Blackpool II
It’s always a difficult task to create lightning in a bottle twice. The first NXT UK Takeover at Blackpool was so well received and one of the loudest nights in British Wrestling for a generation, the UK Superstars had their work cut out for them before the first bell had even rung.
And what better way to get the crowd out of their seats, than put two of the brand’s crown jewels against each other? England vs Ireland. Bate vs Devlin.
Although the former picked up the big W with an impressive twisted corkscrew splash from the top rope, both men were afforded a standing ovation by everyone inside the Empress Ballroom including wrestling royalty Triple H, Johnny Saint and William Regal.
8) Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre – Survivor Series PPV
After winning the Royal Rumble in January, 2020 has without doubt been the year of Drew McIntyre. That is until Roman Reigns returned to action after an extended leave of absence.
Both men collided spectacularly at Survivor Series in a champion vs champion match.
Trading signature moves throughout, McIntyre looked the most likely for victory until Jey Uso caused enough of a distraction to gift his cousin Reigns the win. It’s doubtful this will be the last time the pair meet, with the future of the company resting on both men’s shoulders.
7) AJ Styles vs Daniel Bryan – SmackDown
A strange trend has seen WWE give their PPVs an extra tag line this year. The most infamous of these was the very bold ‘Greatest Wrestling Match Ever’ claim. Although that particular strap line was about Randy Orton vs Edge, it would have been closer to the truth to give that moniker to Bryan vs AJ Styles.
Both will inevitably find themselves in the Hall Of Fame one day and their in ring prowess has never been more evident. Afforded well over 30 minutes and free from the tight timings of a PPV, the match signalled an upturn in quality for the blue brand that has yet to decline.
6) Undertaker vs AJ Styles – Boneyard Match – WrestleMania 36 PPV
As the realisation that the show of shows would no longer take place in front of a packed Raymond James Stadium, questions began to swirl on how exactly WWE could pull off the banner event of the year.
A pre-taped show over two nights made for a unique experience as the WWE Universe found themselves cut adrift from their annual pilgrimage. Intent on making the best of a bad situation, WWE crafted two cards with both headlined by matches no one had heard of before. The first featured The Undertaker in what proved to be his final match of a storied career against AJ Styles.
Set in and around an old farmhouse, the ‘match’ was more akin to a horror b-movie than a wrestling showcase. It didn’t make it any less interesting, however. For the majority of the WWE Universe, it was to mark their first in roads into cinematic matches. Pyrotechnics, diggers, and an unbelievable entrance to Metallica served as the perfect way to say goodbye to the company’s last great gimmick wrestler, while breathing life into the industry one last time.
5) Roman Reigns vs Jey Uso – WWE Universal Championship match – Clash of Champions PPV
When Roman Reigns returned with a new heel attitude, few could have predicted just how well received the persona would be.
No longer just an ex-member of The Shield or perennial good guy, Roman had become something more. A tribal chief stood at the head of the table, intent on making all those he faced acknowledge that fact. No mercy was shown, even to his real-life family.
Jey Uso experienced the full force of Roman’s wrath in a brutal and uncomfortable match at Clash of Champions. In ring story telling at its finest with nothing but amplified mics to assist a bruising encounter.
4) Women’s WarGames Match – NXT WarGames PPV
Many have argued NXT has not been the same since its move from the Network to USA. No one, however, can argue with the talent in the women’s NXT roster. This was never more evident than the absolute spectacle eight of that division laid on inside the WarGames structure.
Everyone involved had their moment to shine. Everyone put their bodies on the line. Rivalries ended and others reignited. Flying trash-cans, broken arms and a champion humbled. 2021 could well be the year NXT women rule the world.
3) Finn Balor vs Kyle O’Reilly – NXT Championship Match – NXT TakeOver 30 PPV
If you had told the WWE Universe at the turn of the year that by the end of 2020, not only Finn Balor would be NXT Champion, but Kyle O’Reilly would be the number one contender few would have believed you.
Not due to lack of talent, but due to their positioning on the card. At NXT 30 O’Reilly stepped out of the tag division and Adam Cole’s shadow to properly introduce his skill set to those that may not have followed his career previously.
Balor may have ended with his hand held high in victory, but the other was firmly glued to his jaw that had been fractured in two places during the closing stages. Such was the veracity between both men. A rematch is tantalisingly scheduled for NXT’s first show in January.
2) Men’s Royal Rumble Match – Royal Rumble PPV
The Royal Rumble officially kicks off Wrestlemania season but it also acts as an indicator for who is going to receive a push in the following year. Worryingly the match began with Brock Lesnar systematically removing all challengers one after the other.
As the crowd began to grow restless, a combination of Ricochet low-blowing The Beast incarnate and Drew McIntyre delivering the final blow resulted in Lesnar’s elimination and one of the biggest WWE Universe pops of 2020.
The return of Hall Of Famer Edge further ramped up the noise levels, before McIntyre cemented his name in the WrestleMania main event by winning the match. It was to mark the beginning of an extraordinary year for the big Scotsman.
1) Walter vs Dragunov – NXT UK Championship Match – NXT UK
Where do we start? If you like your wrestling ‘old skool’ and just want to see two men beat the shit out of each other, this is the match for you.
After NXT UK found itself on the shelf for much of the year due to lockdown restrictions, Dragunov was intent on unleashing months of frustration on the champ. Chops, stiff punches, knees to the face aplenty. No flips or gimmicks needed, both men were covered in welts and left barely able to stand by the final bell.
The physicality of the match was all the more evident in the eerily empty BT Arena. Stomps to the neck, slick sequences and Dragunov repeatedly screaming ‘Mich schlägst du nicht’ pushed this match into one of the best of NXT UK history and our best of the year.
- DIY vs Moustache Mountain – Worlds Collide
- BroserWeights vs Undisputed Era – NXT Takeover Portland
- Daniel Bryan vs Gulak – Elimination Chamber PPV
- Sami Zayn vs Jeff Hardy vs AJ Styles – Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match Clash Of Champions PPV