2020 has been a cruel mistress, but wrestling has remained present (for better and worse) as a source of escape, fun, and community for all of us separated by lockdown orders and social distancing. As the year comes to a close, it’s a natural time to take stock and then look ahead into the future.
So, as you stay in the comforts of your humble abode, think of your loved ones wherever they may be, and mask up as necessary, we here at Wrestle Inn decided to take the pulse of the year. What will our panel take away most from 2020, and what are they most looking forward to in the coming year? Let’s go around the community table and see what the Word ‘Round The Inn is!
What was the best match you saw this year?
Ryan: Go Shiozaki vs.Takashi Sugiura at Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Final Chronicle show. The GHC heavyweight title bout was an operatic slugfest. Shiozaki bloodied his challenger’s chest with chops; Sugiura rocked the champs with battering ram-like forearms. Each time you thought they couldn’t make things more violent, either Shiozaki or Sugiura would ask us to hold their beer. Through 51 minutes of brutality, the two wrestlers deftly told a story of grit, of heart, of a warrior giving every ounce of himself to take down his foe. NOAH had a tremendous year, and this wonderfully savage match was the capper.
Katie: Match of the year for me has to be Bayley vs Sasha Banks for the Smackdown Women’s Championship at Hell in a Cell! When that cage came down, you knew you were in for an amazing match. The relentless beatings Sasha and Bayley bestowed on each other was down right awesome!
Caro: The tag team match between the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega/Adam Page at AEW Revolution. Perhaps I’m biased with my pick because I was there at the Wintrust Arena to watch it (and I happily wear it as a badge of pride!!), but it was truly a beautiful climax of emotional storytelling. I felt rewarded as an Elite fan for identifying the easter eggs scattered throughout this match. From Kenny’s Golden Trigger kick-out at 1, to Adam Page unleashing the One Winged Angel, I’m so happy to call it my match of the year. If you haven’t watched it yet for some reason, GET ON THAT!
ThumblySqueezed: Deonna Purrazzo vs. Jordynne Grace at IMPACT’s Slammiversary was a true classic and an arrival for Purrazzo’s star power. In leaving WWE and joining IMPACT, “The Virtuosa” bet on herself and her ability to lead a women’s division. She and Grace made that bet pay off; their contrast in strength & impact against cunning & technical wizardry was eye-catching. Their story of the arrogant insurgent taking on the incumbent champion, and winning, was compelling. Purrazzo has since backed up her triumphant moment through a tremendous (ongoing) reign, but it began with the biggest called shot of the year in a match I won’t forget anytime soon.
Trent: December gave us some brilliant matches to end the year with, but Go Shiozaki vs Takashi Sugiura topped not only the month but the whole year for me. It blows my mind that Suguira managed to put on such a fantastic 50+ minutes at 50 years of age while eating some of the fiercest chops out there, and Shiozaki capped off his phenomenal 2020 with an absolute war. I loved the story they wove into this match, as Shiozaki fought through an injured arm from his previous title defences, struggling to push through the pain and match Sugiura blow for blow.
What was your single favorite moment from the year?
Ryan: I still get tingly thinking about Eddie Kingston sauntering out to fire off trash talk on AEW Dynamite for the first time. Kingston is a wrestler, a poet, a scrapper who I have long admired and followed. When he answered the TNT Championship open challenge and promised Cody Rhodes that he would put him in the ground and smile, a whole new audience could appreciate his art. Kingston finally got the big stage he deserved. And of course, he came through in the clutch with a haymaker of a promo.
Katie: My single favorite moment was when Becky Lynch came out on RAW to announce she was relinquishing her title to Asuka and that she was going to be a mother. Becky was glowing and Asuka was ecstatic! There’s nothing better than your favorite superstar embarking on a wonderful journey to motherhood.
Caro: While EVIL’s defection to the Bullet Club was immensely shocking to LIJ fans, it was the aftermath that gripped me the most. At the end of Dominion, Hiromu Takahashi begged EVIL to give him an answer, something that explained why he did what he did. As EVIL abandoned his former friend in the ring, without an uttered word or breath, we witness Takahashi’s mental state consume him, as he screams in a haunting PPV ending. I absolutely loved everything about this moment. The camera work that captures Takahashi perfectly, the facial expressions and emotion he displays, the new EVIL theme that accompanies his breakdown so fittingly. I’ve shown many non-wrestling friends this clip. and they’re amazed by how theatrical and heartbreaking these stories can be. I thank Takahashi and EVIL for encapsulating the beauty of professional wrestling in one segment.
ThumblySqueezed: After overcoming the ferocity and what felt like permanency of Brock Lesnar, Drew McIntyre got to live the dream. He was the conquering hero of WrestleMania. And yet, he was in a tough spot – the first man to fill that role without a single living soul there to see it. His reaction was perfect. He reached out to the camera and extended his hand to us. He spoke directly to us, letting us know we were part of his journey and part of his team. His natural charisma made this feel true, not staged or desperate, and paid off our investment in him since his face turn. As odd as it was, it was truly captivating and I loved every moment.
Trent: Few things in wrestling has made me happier than to see Tetsuya Naito stand tall in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome. He and Okada put on a classic and the multi-year story of Naito’s desire to be the Shuyaku of New Japan Pro Wrestling finally reached its climax. Even KENTA’s attack during the roll call couldn’t ruin it for me, even if I’ve never hated a man more in my life than KENTA in that moment.
What was the biggest non-COVID19 surprise of the year?
Ryan: When EVIL dick-punched his way to winning IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and Intercontinental Championship, I was floored. Tetsuya Naito’s double title run was over before it really got rolling. The real surprise, though, was a below-average in-ring performer rising up the ranks in a company so focused on bell-to-bell action. EVIL and all his accompanying shenanigans was suddenly a midcarder no more, and I felt like I didn’t recognize New Japan anymore. If you had flashbacks to Jinder Mahal vaulting into the WWE Championship picture, you weren’t the only one.
Katie: The biggest surprise for me had to be Alexa Bliss joining the Fiend. The way WWE planned and created the moments leading up to her initial alliance was magical. From the Firefly Fun House to Alexa’s Playground, I was enthralled even more than before!
Caro: For months, it was widely speculated by fans that Kenny Omega would be the one to dethrone Moxley’s title reign; what we didn’t know was how those events would unfold, and it’s safe to say that the payoff was worth waiting for. After Omega won the championship at Winter is Coming, he and Don Callis headed straight to IMPACT, a partnership that I never imagined happening to the wrestling landscape years ago. Wherever this storyline may ultimately take us, I know we’re one step closer to opening The Forbidden Door.
ThumblySqueezed: Kylie Rae leaving the business as she seemed to be on the verge of her biggest triumph. She won IMPACT’s Knockouts gauntlet match to become the #1 contender, her biggest stage since her time in AEW. It felt natural, her momentum supported by fans and earned by her performances since joining the company. And then, in a moment, she was gone. Certainly, we all wish her the best of health, happiness, and fulfillment in anything she does going forward. Something we’ve learned this year is that nothing is guaranteed and we need to maximize life while we have it. No one should question what Kylie Rae (or anyone) may need to feel right personally, mentally, or what have you. We were lucky to share in her smiles and marvel at her work, and maybe one day we’ll get to see one or both again. If not, Kylie – thanks for all the memories!
Trent: I wish this was a happier surprise, but nothing in wrestling this year shocked me more than the unfortunate passing of Hana Kimura. One of the industry’s brightest young stars driven to suicide due to cyber bullying from her appearances on the Japanese reality show Terrace House. It’s still something that I struggle with seven months later. The sky was the limit, but hopefully she’s now at peace.
What was the most important thing to happen in wrestling as a whole during 2020?
Ryan: The Speaking Out movement. In telling their stories, brave women revealed how rampant sexual abuse is within wrestling. It is as if they lifted a rock and showed us all the worms, grime, and scourge underneath. Wrestlers like David Starr and Joey Ryan will never be looked at the same way again. CHIKARA shut down. The British scene was rocked. The movement forced us to reexamine the industry and the men within who often hero-worship.
Katie: To me, the most important thing to take place in 2020 was the #SpeakingOut movement. To be able to see and support all these wrestlers who were finally having their voices heard about the ongoing abuse in different wrestling promotions was amazing to witness.
Caro: The Speaking Out movement, 100%. It’s incredibly important to hold institutions and people accountable for their actions, and the Speaking Out movement proved to do that. In an industry that has seen multiple accounts of abuse, it was moving to see many voices come forward with their stories, their honesty, and their bravery. We can all work together to make the wrestling industry better and inclusive, and I’m hoping that this energy carries forward for the foreseeable future.
ThumblySqueezed: Others have covered Speaking Out far better than I could and I thank them for it. I’ll move instead to how companies adapted to the pandemic to allow themselves to still feel “live.” WWE’s Thunderdome lets you still see fans in the building, even closer than normal, so reactions can be more clear while still being realistic. Meanwhile, AEW’s approach in having other wrestlers be the audience was an instant hit as it gave other performers new exposure (see: The Gunn Club and Suge D) and allowed ringside spots to feed into new stories. Both continued the interactivity that makes wrestling feel more vital so that they could continue safely entertaining us and employing not just performers but producers, crew members, etc.
Trent: “You’ll have to find out this Tuesday night.” The line that turned a championship victory from a cool moment to a groundbreaking one. We might not know the full breadth of this AEW/IMPACT story yet, but Kenny Omega and Don Callis created a moment that will go down in wrestling history. Wrestling needs to worry less about company boundaries, and that sentence might help to break down those walls. Also the right answer is obviously the Speaking Out movement, but I wanted to throw something else out there.
Late in the year the wrestling community lost Jon Huber, aka Mr. Brodie Lee. What is your favorite memory from his career?
Ryan: Back when he was Luke Harper in WWE, Brodie produced a thrill ride of a ladder match at TLC 2014 against Dolph Ziggler. His wild, brutish style was a perfect fit for the chaos of this kind of bout. It was a slugfest that left both men bloodied. Brodie stepped up big-time here, looking every bit like he deserved increased solo spotlight. This remains one of my favorite ladder matches, the images of Brodie and Ziggler’s flesh smashing into metal still fresh six years later.
Katie: I was privileged enough to be able to see him wrestle as Luke Harper live at a RAW in Baltimore years ago. But my favorite memory was The Shield vs The Wyatt Family at the Elimination Chamber PPV in 2014. The two hottest factions in wrestling tearing it up and beating the living hell out of each other is something I will never forget! Definitely match of the year (or rather, of 2014)!
Caro: I’ll always be fond of his time as Wyatt Family’s Luke Harper, as his feud with the Shield was awesome to see unfold. I have to echo Katie in saying that 2014’s Elimination Chamber match was a dream for me. Two of my favorite factions in the WWE feuding? YES. I was able to see Jon Huber’s potential and talent shine even more with this match.
ThumblySqueezed: Maybe it’s recency bias, but what’s stuck with me is one small moment from Being The Elite right after Brodie Lee won the TNT title. After he strode in, triumphant, the newly unleashed Silver & Reynolds showed up with a bounty of Chili’s. As everyone cheers, you watch Brodie stride off camera and can hear him let loose with one word: “FINALLY!” Even if scripted, that always felt to me like the big-hearted guy underneath. Finally, he was being given the spotlight to show off his work and his talk. Finally, he was allowed to play more than a silent sidekick and even employ comedy chops. Finally, he was in a meaningful role of further establishing this title in a place where he could steer the direction in which he went. I’m just happy he finally got to feel all of that while there was still time to for him (and us) to enjoy it.
Trent: He was always the member of the Wyatt Family I most wanted to see break out and do something. Seeing him as a feature of Smackdown’s main event scene as an important part of the Randy Orton/Bray Wyatt story reignited my waning interest in WWE. Obviously things didn’t quite work out and they didn’t capitalize on his momentum (WrestleMania should have been a triple threat match between the three) but seeing Harper getting his time to shine at the top of the card was refreshing and exciting. The man’s character work as Harper was underrated, he easily could have been a generic wild henchman but there was always something a bit more unnerving about his portrayal.
What are you most anticipating in 2021?
Ryan: I can’t wait until wrestling crowds are back in full force. The art just isn’t the same without that element. There is an energy missing to the action. It’s a void that won’t be filled until it’s safe to run shows at capacity again. Then we can hear the oohs and ahs, the chants, the visceral noise from the audience that elevate the stories in the ring. Give me full, buzzing arenas again. Give me a return to normalcy.
Katie: I hope to see a lot more amazing women wrestlers overcoming the odds and getting to finally shine! We wouldn’t have wrestling without them and they are what brings my kids and I the most joy and excitement. Yay for women’s wrestling!
Caro: I miss watching wrestling live. I don’t know if things will improve enough that my postponed Dynamite ticket will still be valid by April, but I’m crossing my fingers that it will be safe to go to another event again. Also, I’m anticipating the number of belts Kenny Omega will collect as the Collector 🙂
ThumblySqueezed: As others have alluded to above, the major development of AEW working alongside IMPACT and (potentially) other companies seems like it will be a huge shakeup to the industry. How wide, and how deep, will it go? Back in the days of territories, champions travelled to boost business in various places and talent could interchange to keep things fresh. Those symbiotic relationships have been dead for a long time; bringing them back opens up possibilities for dream matches, cards, and partnered events that could literally be the biggest we’ve ever seen. I’ve got my popcorn ready.
Trent: Stardom had to essentially reshuffle their deck this year and rebuild, but now the groundwork has been laid and it should really start to pay off in 2021. The influx of talent that now forms the Cosmic Angels and Donna Del Mondo are all now properly ingrained into the company, while a lot of their younger talent all made substantial steps forward. They’ve already pulled the trigger on Utami Hayashishita, but 2021 should be a bloodbath as a lot of their other up and coming stars cement themselves as standouts in the company, and I can’t wait to see who is shining brightest by the end of next year.
Wrestle Inn wishes all of you out there a happy, safe, and healthy 2021!