2020 is over. Thank your lucky stars, your lucky numbers, and your frosted magically-delicious Lucky Charms for that. But with the year that wouldn’t end finally over, we can delve into our picks for 2020 Match Of The Year.
The final bell has rung on the last major show of 2020, the AEW: Dynamite tribute show to Brodie Lee. (Honestly, that show was just too wonderful and painful to cover, thanks for understanding). And with the calendar flipped to 2021, we look back at the cream of the crop.
Let’s start counting down toward the 2020 Match Of The Year.
Best 2020 Cinematic Match Of The Year – John Cena Vs. The Fiend, Firefly Funhouse Match, WrestleMania 36 Night Two
We were poised for a big year in wrestling when 2020 began. Drew McIntyre won the Royal Rumble (no seriously, that just happened 12 months ago). The Undertaker was gearing up for his last ride against AJ Styles. AEW began the Moxley Era. And then the world ended.
But that didn’t mean pro wrestling had to shut the door on 2020 Match Of The Year candidates. It just had to find a new way to present them. Thus was born the cinematic match. Well, not so much born as reborn. Or repurposed. Pretaped gimmick matches aren’t anything new in wrestling. There was the Boiler Room Brawl between Mankind and the Undertaker at SummerSlam 1996. And the Boiler Room Brawl between Mankind and Big Show at Backlash 1999. And. Um. Yeah, so thus was born the cinematic match.
And there was no better example of the creative freedoms offered by the format than the Firefly Funhouse Match between John Cena and the Fiend at WrestleMania 36. Now, we’ve spoken at length (a couple times, actually) about how WWE has mercilessly mismanaged the Fiend. Arguably the most compelling character they’ve dreamed up in more than a decade. But with the Firefly Funhouse Match, Bruce and Vince seemed willing to just go with the flow. It was a 20-minute indictment about WWE’s awfully awful and bad handling of Bray Wyatt over the years. And also a horrifying “This Is Your Life,” chronicling John Cena’s weird, nonsensical, and often-infuriating hero’s journey over his 538-year career.
It was the perfect outlet for a new kind of match, and I honestly considered it for the overall pick for 2020 Match Of The Year.
Runner-Up – The Inner Circle Vs. The Elite & Matt Hardy, Stadium Stampede Match, Double Or Nothing 2021
When we retrace the steps of 2020, it’s painful to remember that the ultimate battle between the Inner Circle and the Elite was to be a WarGames-style match for the Blood & Guts edition of AEW: Dynamite. That, for obvious reasons, did not happen. What we got in its place was the Stadium Stampede.
In short, Matt Hardy and the Elite chased the Inner Circle around a football stadium for half an hour, and it was glorious. ‘Hangman’ Page and Kenny Omega beat down Jake Hager and Sammy Guevara in the arena bar before having a quiet moment of reflection on their strained relationship. Matt Hardy morphed through all his characters as Santana and Ortiz tried to drown him in the arena pool. That spot garnered some heat given the then-recent accidental drowning death of Shad Gaspard. Bad timing, yes. Bad taste? No.
There was Chris Jericho demanding a replay on a near-fall, and Sammy Guevara running from a horse ridden by the Hangman. It was ridiculous, it was entertaining. Hell, it was fun. And an easy contender for the Cinematic 2020 Match Of The Year.
Honorable Mention – Undertaker Vs. AJ Styles, Boneyard Match, WrestleMania 36 Night One
If WWE’s The Last Ride documentary series showed us anything, it’s that the Undertaker was primed to have the 2020 Match Of The Year. When the storyline started at Super Showdown 2020 in Saudi Arabia, it seemed that Styles was destined to be Undertaker’s Shawn Michaels stand-in for a match that would have torn Tampa Bay down.
Instead, gears shifted, and it was a cinematic-style match. On the way to the match, Undertaker resurrected the long-gone American Badass gimmick and set out to destroy AJ Styles. And at the match itself, we got something that really highlighted the possibilities offered by the format. The shooting style was dynamic, and it resembled more of the last act of a Canon Films action movie than a wrestling match. No, seriously, that’s a good thing. Undertaker himself said that this was genuinely his last ride (then again, he’s certainly never said that before). And if that’s the case, a 2020 Match Of The Year candidate is a pretty strong note to go out on.
2020 TV Match Of The Year – Best Friends Vs. Santana & Ortiz, Parking Lot Fight, AEW: Dynamite September 16, 2020
No pun intended, I wrestled with this match a lot. All the way up to writing this piece, this was going to be the 2020 Match Of The Year. The reasons why are nit-picky. Given this was supposed to be a parking lot fight, the actual space used was about the size of my garage. Also, they were fighting over a minivan. Seriously, that’s how close this came to taking the top prize.
It was easily AEW’s feud of the year for 2020. And, honestly, that feud isn’t even over yet. Best Friends have taken to feuding with Miro and Kip Sabian while Santana & Ortiz are caught up in the drama of the Inner Circle. But even Best Friends win in this brutal match isn’t enough for me to believe the door is closed on this feud.
And brutal it was. Powerbombs through windshields. Backdrops onto concrete and trash cans. Orange Cassidy popping out of a trunk for a chain-wrapped Orange Punch. And a Canadian Destroyer through a board in the bed of a truck. This is the kind of stuff to make Mick Foley cringe. It was definitely a 5-star classic. It just wasn’t the 5-star classic of 2020.
Runner-Up – Daniel Bryan Vs. AJ Styles, Intercontinental Tournament Final, WWE SmackDown June 12, 2020
Then there’s the polar opposite. When it comes to a masterpiece of pro wrestling ballet, AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan put together a strong contender for 2020 Match Of The Year. And we didn’t know it at the time, but it looks like it could be Daniel Bryan’s last bite at the apple.
In the wake of the pandemic, Bryan has lessened his working schedule. A lot. The guy’s got a young family, and it’s miraculous that he was ever able to return to the ring at all. Maybe DB knew something we didn’t, because he and AJ Styles managed to put on a 5-star thing of beauty. Genuinely strong matches are hard to come by on Raw and Smackdown. And even this pairing is emblematic of a bigger problem with WWE. One Bruce Pritchard gave weight to this week when he said fans don’t like new things. AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan was played.
It was done to death. I’m trying to think of a 2018 WWE match that wasn’t Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles. But these are two artisans. And they took the same thing we’ve seen a billion times and turned it into something beautiful and unique. A job well done indeed. Two days later, WWE presented Backlash 2020 with the promise of Edge vs. Randy Orton being “THE GREATEST WRESTLING MATCH EVER.” These guys saw that ad, handed Vince McMahon their respective beers, and put their working boots on. Tremendous.
2020 Women’s Match Of The Year – Bayley Vs. Sasha Banks, SmackDown Women’s Championship, Hell In A Cell 2020
As with the Parking Lot Fight before it, this came very very close to being 2020 Match Of The Year. I actually have notebook paper mapping out my list. And Sasha Vs. Bayley from Hell In A Cell 2020 is all over it. Marked out, reranked, placed at number one, placed at number two. All over the map.
This feud should still be going on right now. It was easily the most personal and well-booked feud WWE put on in all of 2020. Maybe the best they’ve put together in years. It deserved a WrestleMania blow-off match. But I have to understand WWE’s position. Who knows when we’ll have a “normal” WrestleMania again? The match won’t simmer forever.
After months of teasing a breakup between Bayley and the Boss, WWE finally pulled the trigger, and this was the perfect match to end all of that build-up. Even despite a weird, almost-botchy spot where Bayley overestimated the strength-to-weight ratio of a kendo stick propped between a ring and a mesh fence? This match was emotional, it was dangerous, and it was violent. I even commented in my review of the show that Sasha Banks takes chances that would make the greatest daredevils in wrestling history blush.
Runner-Up – Charlotte Flair Vs. Io Shirai Vs. Rhea Ripley, NXT Women’s Championship, NXT TakeOver: In Your House
Okay. This match was problematic just from the champion entering the match at NXT TakeOver: In Your House. Charlotte Flair won the Royal Rumble match. Then she shut down all the heat Rhea Ripley had built for herself at WresteMania 36. And then she shut down all the heat any woman anywhere on the NXT roster built up.
And then Io Shirai captured the title, and Rhea Ripley toiled for another two or three months afterward. But as a match? This was incredible stuff, with the Genius of the Sky really leaning in to her new killer edge persona, Ripley being an absolute monster and – even though we saw way too much of the Omni-Flair in the middle of 2020 – Charlotte Flair showed again why she’s the best women’s wrestler in all of professional wrestling. Just a top-notch performance from everybody here, bell-to-bell.
2020 Match Of The Year – ‘Hangman’ Adam Page & Kenny Omega Vs. The Young Bucks, AEW Tag Team Championship, AEW: Revolution
Fun fact. This is the only one of our 2020 Match Of The Year candidates that took place in front of a crowd. And thank whatever deity floats your boat for that.
This match from AEW: Revolution was everything. The culmination of months’ worth of tensions between the Elite, with the Hangman at odds with the Bucks, and Kenny Omega stuck in the middle of it.
The match that teed up 10 months of storylines. Granted, they weren’t exactly the stories AEW planned to tell at the beginning. But it was the cameo in a Marvel or Star Wars project that launched a thousand spinoffs. It was the perfect meld between that old-school tag team mentality (the shine, the hot tag, the tease, the reversals) and the daredevil maneuvers that make Jim Cornette scream himself into a coma. It was everything a wrestling match is supposed to be.
The crowd was on Hangman’s side at the start, viciously booing the Young Bucks. Before they settled in and just enjoyed the sheer spectacle. Near fall after near fall, but every one of them tastefully done. They weren’t near-falls for the sake of getting a reaction. But rather near falls that made sense within the story of the match. Then there was the ending. With Hangman leaving Omega alone in the ring, teasing a Buckshot Lariat to make Omega vs. Page the big feud. And Page thinking better of it and walking off with his partner.
From here, everyone went on a slow meltdown for the rest of the year. Page and Omega dropped the titles to FTR at All Out, starting Omega’s self-centered rise to AEW World Champion. The Young Bucks spiraled out of control, fixating on the titles and taking their aggressions out on everybody before finally claiming the titles at Full Gear. And ‘Hangman’ Page, lost without his buddies, on the verge of joining Dark Order. All from one perfect match. The story going in, the action in the match itself, and the match’s mark on all storytelling make this the 2020 Match Of The Year.
Runner-Up – The Parking Lot Fight
Seriously. It was THAT good. Like I said, I had to resort to nit-picks to make my ultimate selection. That’s how good these two matches were.
But more than anything, it cements why Best Friends were our 2020 Tag Team of the Year. They started out as a novelty act. That team that hugs a lot (GOT to give the people what they want!). Orange Cassidy wandered along as their lazy, wacky buddy. And then Orange Cassidy started to catch fire. Chucky and Trent were on the verge of just becoming Cassidy’s buddies.
The Parking Lot Fight shone a light on the fact that these guys are real. And it shone a light on the fact that AEW needs to be doing way more with Santana & Ortiz. But that’s a subject for another sermon.
For the TLDR folks, here are my overall rankings for 2020 Match Of The Year, including some not mentioned in the above recap:
- ‘Hangman’ Page & Kenny Omega Vs. Young Bucks, AEW: Revolution
- Best Friends Vs. Santana & Ortiz, Parking Lot Fight, AEW: Dynamite
- Sasha Banks Vs. Bayley, WWE Hell In A Cell
- Daniel Bryan Vs. AJ Styles, WWE SmackDown
- Roman Reigns Vs. Kevin Owens, WWE TLC
- FTR vs. Young Bucks, AEW: Full Gear
- ‘Hangman’ Page & Kenny Omega Vs. FTR, AEW: All Out
- Charlotte Flair Vs. Rhea Ripley Vs. Io Shirai, NXT TakeOver: In Your House
- Undisputed Era Vs. Team McAfee, NXT TakeOver: WarGames
- Finn Balor Vs. Kyle O’Reilly, NXT TakeOver 31
See? Not everything in 2020 was bad.
Feature image courtesy of All Elite Wresting.