C.H. Newell’s Favourite Wrestling Matches of 2020

I’ve never been a writer who writes about wrestling, just a pure fan of wrestling. I adore wrestling, whether it’s a huge match from one of the bigger promotions or a small match by an indie group. For years I’d say “I know wrestling’s fake!” when someone challenged my love of the sport—yes, I will be calling it a sport, so die mad, baby—because we all know the results are predetermined. I don’t say ‘fake’ anymore. The sport of professional wrestling is by no means fake. Predetermined, choreographed, ‘worked,’ however you want to phrase it, absolutely; not up for debate. But the toll the life takes, from travel and the matches themselves, is far from fake. Anybody who criticises the entertainment while refusing to look at its athleticism is simply not being honest. Do you go to Cirque du Soleil shows and call it fake? No. Do you go to a movie and call the stunts fake and disrespect the stunt crews? No. People get so caught up in the idea of the competition portion of pro wrestling being predetermined, they forget about the rest of its magic.

I’ve loved pro wrestling since I was young. I was born in 1985, so I really got deep into it around the mid-90s, leading into the late ’90s when the Monday Night Wars were raging red hot. I’d flick back and forth between Raw and Nitro, sometimes taping one or the other while I watched one all the way through then I’d have a whole other show to watch the next day. I’d get to see the occasional ECW match through tapes a friend of mine would get his hands on now and then. Same with matches from Japan and elsewhere, during the days when tape trading was still a big thing.
And now I want to use the small platform I have through Father Son Holy Gore to bring my love of wrestling to this audience—I’ll also have an upcoming Patreon-exclusive column on wrestling and the world of theatre, which you’ll hear more about very soon. If you have wrestling friends, share this list with them. Maybe they’ll agree, maybe they’ll yell at me. Or, if you’re curious, check out the matches! If you love storytelling, you’ll at least enjoy wrestling on some level. At the end of the day, even while wrestlers are kicking each other’s asses, what matters most of all is the story they’re telling in the ring, using their bodies, emotions, and yes, impressive athleticism.

What are you waiting for?
Dig in! Here are my favourite wrestling matches from various promotions during 2020. (This list isn’t ranked, except the final Top 3.)

Roman Reigns v. Jey Uso

“I Quit” Match
WWE’s Hell in a Cell
(October 25th, 2020)

Roman Reigns v. Jey Uso - I Quit Match at Hell in a CellTo start, I’m not a Roman Reigns fan. I didn’t watch WWE regularly much anymore while The Shield were a group, though I’ve seen watched some of their great matches. Even with that group Roman’s just never had much of a personality, in my opinion. He isn’t a bad wrestler, either! I don’t think that at all, unlike some of his critics. He’s just not my thing, and that’s fine.
Enter this year’s Hell in a Cell: Roman faced one of his family members, Jey Uso, in an “I Quit” Match inside a Hell in a Cell (I’ve got to specifically say it was inside the cell since Vince has foolishly turned match stipulations into entire PPVs, so not all matches at this PPV are actually inside the structure). The build to this match was solid. The match itself? Spectacular. The story Roman and Jey told here was intensely emotional and very personal. They put their bodies on the line to put off a wonderful performance. I didn’t exactly expect the ending which is one major reason this is one of my favourite 2020 matches. “I Quit” has become a somewhat boring stipulation because it always ends the same way, apart from a few unique ones—like when The Rock and Vince screwed Mankind over at the ’99 Royal Rumble—so there’s never really much anticipation other than which wrestler is going over and how hard both participants will be punished before that occurs. Without spoiling the match for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, the ending’s unique and it really furthered the story between Roman and the Usos. There was a payoff in terms of the overall Roman/Usos saga, there were also more interesting strands added to it here. That’s the mark of a damn good story.

Joey Janela v. Ricky Morton

GCW: Joey Janela’s Spring Break 4
(October 10th, 2020)

Joey Janela v. Ricky Morton - GCW Spring Break 4One reason why a guy like Ricky Morton can still pop me is because he’s not a Hogan-like legend who’s come back in a position of power to take up space from up-and-coming wrestlers on the card. Morton is out there doing whatever he can—at almost 65 years old—to add a little sizzle to the young stars he wants to help get over. We’ve seen him swing by AEW, where he got his ass kicked and delivered a wild Canadian Destroyer, and then he was booked to appear at Joey Janela’s Spring Break 4 to face none other than Janela himself.
For me this was a kind of dream match. I’ve always admired Morton, and in the past handful of years I’ve become a major Janela fan. These two are both great in the ring; not only on offence, they can both sell. Not enough wrestlers today focus on selling for their opponents, more concerned with having their work sold. Seeing two guys who aren’t afraid to put each other over, win or lose, is refreshing, and Janela’s not afraid to help any of his opponents get over, no matter their age. Janela and Morton are risk takers, too. That means there’s more than a couple wild spots you’ll be glad you witnessed with your two eyes.
Morton should be proud—Hulk could never do ANY shit like that, even in his prime.

Jon Moxley v. Darby Allin

AEW World Championship Match
AEW Dynamite #44
(July 30th, 2020)

Jon Moxley v. Darby Allin - AEW Dynamite #44You’ll notice as the list wears on I am a massive Jon Moxley fan. I’ve loved him since he was kicking ass and taking names in CZW. I had to stop watching WWE at times when he was being turned into a goofy cartoon character by Vince McMahon. Moxley has a great sense of humour, but some of the things he’d been scripted into as Dean Ambrose were downright embarrassing, to no fault of his own. When he left WWE and headed for new ground I was thrilled. Over the past year(+) we’ve been treated to Mox running wild across the globe, from indie shows to AEW and NJPW, holding multiple titles until he lost the AEW strap at the end of 2020.

I’m also a Darby Allin fan, having first seen him briefly in a VICE documentary. I was happy to see AEW snatched him up and that they’ve put the time into building his character appropriately with their audience. When Moxley and Darby were poised to face off in the ring it was a sure treat. None of their work disappointed. Certainly not their struggle for the championship on July 30th’s episode of Dynamite. I liked this match most of their couple meetings due to the fact this had the best storytelling. It was fun, and tragic, to see Mox acting like a disappointed big brother trying not to let little brother Darby self-destruct in pursuit of the championship. Equally fun and bad ass to see Darby put up the fight he did, as he always does when faced with a bigger opponent (a.k.a most of his opponents). These two have such chemistry. Hope we’ll keep seeing more of them together in AEW, whether in singles competition or a tag team situation.

Best Friends – Chuck Taylor & Trent
Proud & Powerful – Santana & Ortiz

Parking Lot Brawl
AEW Dynamite #50
(September 16th, 2020)

Best Friends v. Proud & Powerful - AEW Dynamite #50I love Best Friends. I love their positive, silly male friendship, which is rarely seen in wrestling and desperately needed to show dudes, especially younger ones, that it’s cool to love your best friends. And I love that they can be goofy while remaining tough. Point proven when they faced Proud and Powerful—the awesome Inner Circle members, Santana and Ortiz—in a Parking Lot Brawl FOR THE GODS on September 16th’s episode of Dynamite. So many men harp on this storyline because the story built up with Trent’s mom Sue and her van involved. To that I say:
1) Sue is helping to carpool and this is great for the environment
2) if someone messed with your mama, wouldn’t you call them out to the parking lot? Goddamn right.

The storytelling was top notch. Brutal energy made it so compelling, including a run-in by Orange Cassidy via a unique, exciting spot. Both teams put the work in with all four wrestlers taking their fair share of nasty bumps. The only bad spot was when the cameras caught Trent trying to subtly blade his arm. Other than that this match was bonkers, and seeing Sue pick the lads up at the end while flipping Proud and Powerful off was a chef’s kiss to close Dynamite.
And if you’re not down with Best Friends, we’ve got two words for ya…

Jon Moxley v. Chris Dickinson

GCW: Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport 3
(October 11th, 2020)

Jon Moxley v. Chris Dickinson - GCW's Bloodsport 3There are some wrestlers who when certain people see them they think, “I’d be able to take them in a real fight.” And some you’d be right, if you’re real tough, I guess. Then there are dudes like Jon Moxley and Chris Dickinson, who I’d wager could actually kick your ass in a shoot—and hard. That’s why an event such as Bloodsport is a godsend for those of us who enjoy a (semi-)shoot-style of wrestling mixed with traditional ‘worked‘ matches. Some matches feel a lot more worked than others, others feel like you’re watching two gladiators beat the living shit out of each other for supremacy on the battlefield. The whole thing is made all the more shoot-like by the fact there are no ropes, just a square canvas ring and four steel posts.

Moxley and Dickinson are in great shape, and they’ve both wrestled around the world. They have interesting styles that work well together. They’re both incredibly attractive men, by the way; didn’t you notice? I sure as hell did. Anyway, bottom line: these two guys went out there and sold a good match, making each other look great in the process. I’d like to think some of Mox’s recent shine will rub off on Dickinson after this bout. On top of the great match Moxley’s been on top of the wrestling world for the past year or two, especially in 2020 while holding both the AEW World Championship and the IWGP United States Championship simultaneously, so the (pandemic-limited) crowd was hot for Mox. His opponent—the Dirty Daddy himself—had quite a few fans in attendance, too. Dickinson and Moxley gave this fight a mid-’90s feel when I’d watch tapes of Pancrase matches. Great chops and punches, solid mat wrestling/submission holds, and truly brutal suplexes. If you didn’t know any better you might think this was a legitimate shoot. Such are the talents and the athleticism of these human beasts.

PCO v. Dragon Lee

ROH World Title Match
ROH’s Bound by Honor
(February 28th, 2020)

PCO v. Dragon Lee - ROH Bound by Honor 2020I am consistently in awe of PCO because he’s wrestling at 53 years old and doing things that some wrestlers in their twenties don’t even attempt, from taking bumps on the concrete to doing suicide dives and moonsaults to the outside of the ring. He continues to battle his way through Ring of Honor, where from December 2019 to February 2020 he held the ROH World Title belt. During the promotion’s Bound by Honor show on February 28th, 2020, PCO faced Dragon Lee, another fantastic performer in his own right.

This one didn’t need any bells and whistles. Not a match I’d call great, even. It was entertaining, and it was a shit-kicker of a bout between two rough bastards. There’s the expected PCO diving to the floor and Dragon doing a rana over the top rope to the floor, and it’s just as exciting even if it’s become expected for those familiar with these two. We get a lot more. Like PCO delivering a package piledriver on the concrete, or Dragon laying in a series of hard kicks on his opponent before nearly scoring a pinfall. These guys threw their weight around and though many might not have expected this to be anything special, this was a solid, entertaining match that saw PCO retain his title (at least for one more night).

Finn Bálor v. Kyle O’Reilly

NXT Title Match
WWE’s NXT Takeover 31
(October 4th, 2020)

Finn Balor v. Kyle O'Reilly - NXT Takeover 31While Finn Bálor has been making a big name for himself nobody should be sleeping on Kyle O’Reilly, who’s actually involved in two of the matches on this list. This pair put on a dramatic, brutal show in their October 4th clash for the NXT Title. Similar to the Walter v. Dragunov match (later on this list), Bálor v. O’Reilly is a traditional slobberknocker, as good ole Jim Ross would say. These guys were swinging for the fences and stretching each other from one side of the mat to the other, pulling no punches. Bálor is a super physical competitor and I think O’Reilly matched him perfectly in this fight. Nothing else to say but watch this one and sit in awe of two opponents delivering on that age old cliche of leaving everything in the ring.

Bayley v. Sasha Banks

Hell in a Cell Match
WWE’s Hell in a Cell
(October 25th, 2020)

Bayley v. Sasha Banks - Hell in a CellI cannot get enough of Bayley, in the ring or on the mic. Her wrestling style’s great. Heel or babyface she is too damn full of charisma not to love. Personally when she’s playing heel she remains extremely cute to me, making her mean, nasty side all the better. Of course you might not find a better heel these days, of any gender, than Sasha Banks. She’s just got IT, and knows how to get good, proper heat. When she collided with Bayley, after the duo rolling together so long like the two coolest girls in high school you always hated, it made for an interesting feud. This Hell in a Cell Match is probably one of the better feud payoffs of 2020, considering not every step of the way on this journey was a good one. This match made up for the bits and pieces of the feud that were less than desirable, giving the audience plenty to enjoy for its entire 26 minutes and 50 seconds. Brutal and intense. These women told a tremendous story of friendship, betrayal, and jealousy through pure emotion and violence.

The Undisputed Era v. Team McAfee

WarGames Match
WWE’s NXT TakeOver: WarGames
(December 6th, 2020)

Undisputed Era v. Team McAfee at NXT Takeover WarGames 2020Apart from good spots and solid wrestling, The Undisputed Era v. Team McAfee at NXT Takeover: WarGames offered great storytelling from start to finish. This gave the angle between Pat McAfee and Adam Cole a big payoff inside the familiar double cage-double ring setup dreamed up once upon a time by Dusty Rhode (inspired by a viewing of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and likely several grams of weed), first used during the NWA days and later continued in WCW. Not only does Cole look great here, the match and angle give McAfee time to shine, including a spot where Pat hits a senton bomb off the cage onto everybody in the ring below. A mix of brawling and wrestling that helped show off Cole properly, and depicted McAfee as the nefarious outsider getting his just desserts for messing around in the wrestling world.

My favourite moment is the spot with Cole entering the cage using a fire extinguisher to allow him entrance with a steel chair in hand. Real good stuff; Cole looked clever AND bad ass. McAfee’s senton off the top of the cage was unexpected, which the commentary team helped sell pretty well. I think McAfee played his part solid in this entire angle, particularly in this match. Again, this let Cole shine big for anyone who might not be aware he’s a star. Can’t forget Pete Dunne, whose contribution to this match is another reason it’s on this list. Another ass-kickin’ son of a bitch.
All around the WarGames event was killer. This WarGames match was icing on an already sweet, tasty cake.

And now:
The Top 3!

3) “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt v. John Cena

Firefly Funhouse Match
Wrestlemania 36
(April 5th, 2020)

John Cena v. Bray Wyatt - Wrestlemania 36Sure, we’ll never see it again because Vince McMahon hated it and he’s the only person who matters in the end when it comes to the main audience WWE has sought to entertain over the past 35 years. For those of us who enjoy cinematic matches, we were delivered a weird, surreal treat in Wrestlemania 36‘s Firefly Funhouse Match. In an unprecedented year for the world, and pro wrestling, Bray Wyatt v. John Cena’s odd encounter at the Showcase of the Immortals gave us something we’ve never seen, and, as mentioned, will more than likely never, ever see again.

If you’re going to do a cinematic match you might as well lean into it—the Boneyard Match between AJ Styles and Undertaker at this same Wrestlemania also nearly made this list—and that’s part of what appeals to me in the Firefly Funhouse Match. Leaning into the terrifying surrealism of Wyatt’s Fiend alter-ego is wild enough, but then using that to dive into a personal feud between Bray and Cena transforms into masterful psychological horror. There’s introspection here with Cena’s character that interested me. WWE smartly plays off Cena criticism over the years through Bray/The Fiend, putting John through the emotional ringer. I’ve been a huge fan of Bray since he started in WWE, twice as much once The Fiend came alive. I’m also a Cena fan, believe it or not, in spite of his vast sea of detractors. This match was unique, barely even an actual wrestling match, and horrific. What a weird and wonderful thing! Bless WWE for giving it to us, even if it was ultimately probably a mistake in Vince’s brain.

2) Jon Moxley v. Minoru Suzuki

IWGP United States Championship Match
NJPW: The New Beginning in Osaka
(February 9th, 2020)

Jon Moxley v. Minoru Suzuki - NJPW The New Beginning in OsakaThis match consists of two shit kickers from opposite sides of the globe getting a chance to mangle each other for 17 minutes and 16 seconds in a match for the IWGP United States Championship. I’m a huge Jon Moxley fan, as mentioned previously. I’m also a big Minoru Suzuki fan, whom I became aware of due to coming upon a tape of Pancrase matches back in the ’90s. Put Suzuki and Moxley together in a match—after previously having Suzuki run in on Moxley following the latter’s defence of his IWGP US strap against Juice Robinson at Wrestle Kingdom 14 on January 5th, 2020—and I was sold long before any official bell had rung. The actual match didn’t disappoint for a single second once it finally got going on February 9th at Osaka-jō Hall.

Minoru and Mox spend as much time in the ring as they do outside, beating each other ruthlessly. I mean, the match starts on the ramp when Jon doesn’t even come to the ring, challenging Suzuki to meet him up there. Suzuki agrees and brings two chairs for a duel! These guys go on to deliver seriously stiff blows. I have a feeling Suzuki wasn’t going to put Jon over without a slight strong style beating. Railing, chairs, tables; all weaponry in a maniacal battle between two crazy men. The end is a stern face-off before Mox delivers his Paradigm Shift for the 1, 2, 3. Massive effort on the part of both Moxley and Suzuki who tell a stellar tale of an American hard man versus his older Japanese equivalent struggling to prove—mainly to each other—they’re tough as goddamned nails.
We know, guys. We’ve ALWAYS known.

1) Walter v. Ilja Dragunov

NXT UK Title Match
(October 29th, 2020)

Walter vs. Dragunov - NXT UKYou ever see something that made you literally drop your jaw and say aloud, “Oh shit”?
This happened to me, consistently, during Walter and Ilja Dragunov’s match for the NXT Title. I watched it by myself and still couldn’t help talking out loud, mostly in four letter words punctuated with a bit of laughter in disbelief. It’s a match I couldn’t believe I was watching. Walter and Dragunov worked such a stiff match that I was wondering if Ilja would get legitimately knocked out at some point. This was an endurance test with the larger Walter putting on a beast-like clinic of chops and straight up manhandling, as Dragunov gave his own clinic in how to sell, plus how to tell the story of a slightly smaller wrestler facing a bigger man and refusing to give up. The pair likewise showed all young talent how to tell a great story in the ring between two people. After it’s all over you genuinely believe Dragunov might need a trip to the hospital, just to be sure he isn’t concussed from Walter’s chops alone, not to mention the boot in the face that sends Ilja flying backwards into the steel steps, among other viciousness.

This is my favourite match of the year because of how real it felt, how strong the story was all the way through, and it has a special place in my heart because this could’ve been a belter in a packed house yet these two wrestlers put their bodies into it like it WAS packed and gave so much energy that it didn’t matter who was present. All that mattered was these two men were in the ring, tooth-to-tooth. Nothing else besides that should ever matter, if we’re looking at pure wrestling and not Vince’s sports entertainment. Walter and Dragunov delivered a perfect match that could’ve been done in a warehouse with a makeshift ring and no audience whatsoever, no commentary, and it still would’ve been an absolute barn-burning classic.

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