The 25 best matches of 2020
2020 was not the year any of us expected. But once WrestleMania 36 became a two-night spectacle with no fans in attendance, it quickly became clear that 2020 would be a year that pushed the boundaries of what sports-entertainment could be, whether it was a brawl in a boneyard, a race to the top of WWE Global Headquarters, or simply two grapplers absolutely slugging each other in a hellacious war. Putting together this countdown is a challenge in any year, let alone in an unprecedented one like this. Nevertheless, we forged ahead and think we nailed it. Check it out for yourselves, and let the debate begin!
25. Daniel Bryan vs. Drew Gulak (WWE Elimination Chamber)
What happens when you compete against Daniel Bryan in your first pay-per-view singles match and it just so happens to be in your hometown? Steal the show, of course.
Drew Gulak showcased what his fans already knew – that he could compete against anyone in WWE. Bryan and Gulak didn’t hold back and opened up WWE Elimination Chamber in one of the hardest-hitting technical matches all year.
On “WWE The Day Of” Daniel Bryan even admitted he had to apologize to Brie Bella over how intense their match got. Daniel Bryan would become victorious after Gulak passed out in the “Yes Lock,” but this was only the beginning. After Bryan gave Gulak a moment of respect, the two mat specialists forged a partnership on SmackDown. It also goes to show that even when you lose a match, you can still walk out a winner. —ADAM KIRSHNER
24. Five-Way Ladder Match for the vacant NXT North American Title (NXT TakeOver XXX)
The Superstars who can steal the show at NXT TakeOver find themselves at the center of the sports-entertainment world. For the 30th edition of this showcase event, Johnny Gargano and rising stars Damian Priest, Bronson Reed, Cameron Grimes and Velveteen Dream battled to break out in a thrilling 5-Way Ladder match for the North American Title.
The action came down to a tense tug-of-war at the top of the ladder between Gargano and Priest, but the 7-inch height advantage proved to be the difference as Priest used his longer limbs to knock Gargano off.
Priest left with the title and the honor of being the latest in the line of NXT TakeOver show-stealers. — JEFF LABOON
23. Toni Storm vs. Kay Lee Ray - NXT UK Women’s Title “I Quit” Match (NXT UK, Feb. 27)
No bout better exemplified the ruthless tone of Kay Lee Ray’s reign as NXT UK Women’s Champion more than her “I Quit” Match against Toni Storm.
The nemeses earned each other’s scorn through a months-long rivalry driven not only by pursuit of the title, but also deep-rooted dislike. Fittingly, KLR and Storm unleashed brutality in this contest previously unseen from either competitor.
Although Storm pulled out all the stops, slamming KLR through a table with a massive splash, The Scary Queen of Scots’ lack of remorse prevailed. The champion taped Storm’s hands behind her back and stomped on a steel chair wedged around Storm’s neck, drawing screams of agony from both Storm and Piper Niven, who urged her friend to quit out of concern for her well-being.
Storm eventually obliged and Kay Lee Ray remained unconquered, with Storm perhaps learning a lesson that led to her more recent penchant for the dastardly. — JORDAN GARRETSON
22. Big E vs. Sheamus - Falls Count Anywhere Match (SmackDown, Oct. 9)
Are we sure this is Big E?
The same Big E that bellows out the New Day anthem, shakes his hips and occasionally sports a unicorn horn?
Indeed, the very same competitor who playfully tosses pancakes into the WWE Universe was now exchanging blistering haymakers with three-time WWE Champion Sheamus in a grizzly battle that saw E break a broomstick over the back of Sheamus, the Irishman brutalize the powerhouse with a tire iron before nearly driving him through a windshield with White Noise, a Big Ending from the hood of a car through a table, broken glass galore and some gnarly battle scars for each of the two gladiators.
The former Intercontinental Champion was already off to a solid start in his solo run, but when (not if) the powerhouse claims singles gold, the WWE Universe will recall this barbaric encounter with the dangerous Sheamus as the moment that Big E proved he could flourish as a fun-loving member of The New Day or a deadly serious singles competitor. — JON CHIK
21. Riddle vs. Timothy Thatcher - NXT Fight Pit (WWE NXT, May 27)
Once bros and NXT Tag Team Champions, Riddle and Timothy Thatcher could only settle their bad blood in this gritty battleground. With the ropes removed and the ring completely encircled by a steel cage, there was no escape for either of these experienced grapplers.
Riddle seemingly had the upper hand in the NXT Fight Pit, using his devastating strikes to literally shatter Thatcher’s teeth. But for as experienced and focused as Riddle was, Thatcher was every bit as relentless. Just when Riddle thought he had broken a rear-naked choke, Thatcher sunk his hooks in even deeper, putting The Original Bro to sleep and picking up a major victory early in his NXT career. — BOBBY MELOK
20. Universal Champion Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso (WWE Clash of Champions)
Has there been a more personal beef in recent memory than the one between Universal Champion Roman Reigns and his cousin Jey Uso? Not for my money, and this highly emotional clash was as compelling as any this past year in WWE.
Reigns stunned the world with his return at SummerSlam, and the shocks kept coming as he revealed new levels of swagger and arrogance that were uncharted for the already self-assured Big Dog. With it came Reigns’ assertion as ruler of the vaunted Anoa’i bloodline and his according subordination of Jey.
But Jey had other ideas, nearly landing one of the greatest upsets in sports-entertainment history with several near-falls, The Big Dog’s hell-bent obsession with Jey recognizing his place as The Head of the Table winning out. Reigns not only made his cousin acknowledge his dominance and held onto the Universal Title, but also laid the foundation for ensuring Jey’s loyalty as a willing soldier. — JORDAN GARRETSON
19. Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins (WrestleMania 36)
Kevin Owens wanted a WrestleMania moment, and at WrestleMania 36, he got just that against Seth Rollins.
Before getting into the magic of this match, we must talk about the build to Owens vs. Rollins. From the beatdowns to the shocking reveals, including the advent of Mr. Monday Night Messiah, Owens and Rollins drew up such a seismic level of tension that bypassed its WrestleMania-worthy bill, going from a star-studded showdown to a fight that needed to happen. In Owens was the grit and frustration shared by everyone trying to reach some kind of solace, while Rollins bore the burden of this proverbial angst. In the end, these two hit a homerun.
Culminating inside the very place both Superstars consider “home turf,” the WWE Performance Center, their animosity came full circle in an unforgettable battle. In the end, KO rose like a phoenix and soared off the WrestleMania sign to make good on his promise of delivering a moment. However, it didn’t just feel like a moment for Owens alone; the WWE Universe got one as well. — RALPH BRISTOUT
18. NXT Championship Fatal 4-Way Iron Man Match (NXT Super Tuesday)
If you need a refresher on why you can’t miss NXT each week on USA Network, look no further than this absolute clinic by Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Finn Bálor and Adam Cole as they jousted for the vacant NXT Championship in an hourlong match that’s so wildly entertaining, we don’t even mind that it ended in a 2-2 draw.
Boasting four of the biggest stars in the black-and-gold brand’s history and a plethora of genuine jump-off-your-couch twists (I’m still hoarse from that last-second Last Shot), this is the match should be on your shortlist of NXT matches to revisit as 2020 draws to a close. If you haven’t watched it yet, drop what you’re doing, and check it out immediately … and be sure to stick around for the sequel. — JAMES WORTMAN
17. WWE Champion Drew McIntyre vs. Seth Rollins (WWE Money in the Bank)
Having conquered the animalistic brutality of Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania and the unmatched power of Big Show immediately afterward, Drew McIntyre faced an altogether different challenge in the second month of his WWE Championship reign as he locked up with the calculating Seth Rollins at WWE Money in the Bank.
Refusing to succumb to even the cruelest machinations in The Monday Night Messiah’s arsenal – including the dreaded Falcon Arrow and incapacitating Stomp – The Scottish Warrior prevailed by way of a well-timed Claymore that ended the would-be savior’s WWE Title crusade. We know we liked McIntyre already, but it was his incredible, well-fought victory over a game Architect that cemented the Scotsman as the hero we all needed in 2020. — JAMES WORTMAN
16. Candice LeRae vs. Io Shirai - NXT Women’s Championship Match (NXT Halloween Havoc)
If there is anything the NXT Universe has learned this year, it’s that the Garganos have a very tumultuous relationship with wheels. Therefore, when it was announced that Johnny & Candice would challenge for the NXT and NXT Women’s Title, respectively, in a “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” clause, you can imagine the uproar that ensued… from the Garganos.
Johnny Gargano’s defeat of both of his enemies – the wheel and Damian Priest – for the NXT Title earlier in the night proved fruitful for Candice LeRae, especially since she was given a “Tables, Ladders and Scares Match” – a Halloween-themed street fight that the pint-sized powder keg has a history of thriving in.
For Io Shirai, it was an opportunity to silence the doubters who assumed The Genius of the Sky was “resting on her laurels,” and quite frankly, forgetting exactly who she is. From LeRae receiving a suplex through a chair, to both Superstars going through two tables, to the climactic move of LeRae being pushed from the top of a ladder into another ladder, both women cemented what the world already knew: The NXT Women’s Division is the best division, male or female, on the planet. — DEBORAH WECKSELL
15. Men’s and Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Matches (WWE Money in the Bank)
The rooftop at WWE Headquarters is normally reserved for summertime employee barbecues, as you simply cannot beat the view. However, in 2020, this was the final destination for WWE Money in the Bank.
It was a race to the finish as WWE Superstars competed in the hallowed grounds of WWE HQ. The WWE Universe finally got an inside look at the lobby, gym, cafeteria, the Money in the Bank conference room (yes, that is a real thing) and, of course, Mr. McMahon’s office.
The match culminated on top of WWE Headquarters, which became a battleground for the first time since 1995. Asuka was unaware she would capture the Raw Women’s Championship in her briefcase, and Otis had his biggest victory to date. Thankfully, no employee workstations were destroyed in one of the most unique matches in WWE history. — ADAM KIRSHNER
14. Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Brock Lesnar’s complete domination in the first half of the Royal Rumble may have been a tad predictable, but that didn’t make it any less entertaining.
For 26-plus minutes, The Beast Incarnate lived up to his moniker, ruthlessly devouring anyone who dared step between the ropes, notching 13 eliminations.
That was until Drew McIntyre blasted Lesnar with a cathartic Claymore that sent the WWE Champion flailing over the top rope to the ringside floor, bringing the WWE Universe to a state of euphoria.
Also, “3… 2… 1…… You think you know me?... ON THIS DAY… I SEE CLEARLY!!!!” Don’t lie. Whether you were inside Minute Maid Park or watching in your living room, you jumped out of your chair and nearly lost your mind, likely not even catching your breath before Edge nearly Speared Dolph Ziggler out of his boots in his first in-ring action in nine long years.
While The Rated-R Superstar made it to the final three before being eliminated by Roman Reigns following a heart-stopping battle for position on the ring apron, the victory belonged to the man once known as “The Chosen One,” who eliminated Reigns with a Claymore, solidified himself as a main-event player and went on to outslug Lesnar at WrestleMania, earning the WWE Championship in a moment prophesized by Mr. McMahon nearly a decade prior. — JON CHIK
13. Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens – TLC Match (WWE TLC)
“This is not what the champ was expecting.” — Michael Cole
Over the course of 2020, Roman Reigns has battled it out against a Fiend, a Monster, and even his own family. But no battle applied pressure to The Big Dog and his position of power quite like the one he faced at WWE TLC, going up against the bulletproof will of Kevin Owens.
What doesn’t kill Owens, makes him stronger. For all the chaos Reigns threw in KO’s way in the weeks leading up to this Universal Title clash, the unrelenting brawler lobbed it back threefold with a by-all-means, Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” kind of energy, pushing the champion to his absolute limit.
Jey Uso got it too, finding his attempts to turn this brawl into a Handicap Match met with his left foot getting clipped by a steel chair-swinging Owens, who would eventually bury the former tag team champion underneath a pile of rubble. While The Big Dog also enacted his own dominance, throwing everything he had — both, literally and figuratively — at his challenger, KO refused to stay down. After all, it was get the Universal Title or “die trying” for the former Universal Champion.
Although Reigns reaffirmed his status as The Head of the Table by picking up the victory, both Superstars won on this night. For Reigns, he survived what was arguably his toughest test yet, while Owens pushed the champion to his most vulnerable state this year. — RALPH BRISTOUT
12. Triple Threat NXT Women’s Title Match (NXT TakeOver: In Your House)
If you’re searching for an adrenaline rush, look no further. Combining Charlotte Flair’s incredible athleticism with Rhea Ripley’s brute force and Io Shirai’s daredevil antics, this NXT Women’s Title Triple Threat had all the makings of an instant-classic, and even by those lofty standards, it exceeded expectations.
As is often the case with Triple Threat Matches, the action was nonstop. What set this thriller apart, however, was the sheer volume of jaw-dropping moments that transpired bell to bell, from Shirai diving off the roof of the In Your House entrance set, to Ripley flattening Flair with a top-rope Riptide. Yet the most important of all was the final blow struck by Shirai, who claimed victory by moonsaulting Ripley while Flair had Rhea trapped in the Figure-Eight Leglock. As grueling as the match was for the competitors to endure, it was nothing short of mesmerizing for NXT fan to watch. — JOHN CLAPP
11. Keith Lee vs. Adam Cole - Winner Take All Match (NXT Great American Bash)
It was, quite possibly, the highest-stakes battle in NXT history, and it lived up to the hype.
NXT North American Champion Keith Lee had to defeat two of NXT’s biggest Superstars, Johnny Gargano and Finn Bálor, to earn the right to face NXT Champion Adam Cole in a Winner Take All showdown for both titles.
Lee threw everything he had at The Undisputed ERA’s leader, but it didn’t seem like it would be enough, as Cole literally prevented a three-count by a fingertip. However, as Cole mounted his own offense, Lee showed exactly why he is unstoppable, connecting with the Spirit Bomb and the Big Bang Catastrophe to become the first Superstar to hold both of NXT’s top titles. — BOBBY MELOK
10. NXT Champion Finn Bálor vs. Kyle O’Reilly (NXT TakeOver 31)
“A wrestler’s wrestling match.” “An indie darling dream match.” This is what many fervent WWE Universe members were dubbing Finn Bálor vs. Kyle O’Reilly at NXT TakeOver 31 upon its immediate announcement.
This match was huge for both athletes. It was Bálor’s first title defense after winning the NXT Championship for the second time. For O’Reilly, it was a make-or-break moment to step out from the “goofy guy from Undisputed ERA who can shred a sick air guitar solo,” to “Kyle O’Reilly, veteran singles competitor,” a move the NXT Universe had been clamoring about for years.
The near 30-minute masterpiece amazed fans. Both men gave their all and put their bodies on the line. Bálor exited the match with a hairline fractured jaw and O’Reilly left with broken teeth and a notable, painful shot to the liver. Amid the injuries and adrenaline, both men proved what they set out to do. Bálor was a legitimate champion who should be watched, and O’Reilly a deadly opponent deserving of the main event spotlight. — DEBORAH WECKSELL
9. Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair - NXT Women’s Championship Match (WrestleMania 36)
If Rhea Ripley felt any intimidation heading into her first WrestleMania as the defending NXT Women’s Champion against Charlotte Flair, the very Superstar that Ripley’s drawn comparisons to her entire career, she didn’t show it. In the leadup to their battle, The Queen threatened to “drown WWE’s fastest-rising Superstar” in “deep waters,” but after being hit by Ripley’s Riptide within the opening minutes of the match, it was Charlotte who was gasping for air and looking for a life preserver.
Ripley gave Flair way more of a fight than The Queen, or perhaps anyone in the WWE Universe, bargained for. The effort wasn’t enough to keep the title — Ripley tapped out to the Figure-Eight after suffering Charlotte’s methodical, well-schooled attack — but Rhea delivered the type of tenacious performance that turns fast-rising Superstars into legends-in-the-making. As for the match, it just stole the show at the only WrestleMania Too Big for Just One Night. No biggie. — JOHN CLAPP
8. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov - NXT United Kingdom Championship (NXT UK, Oct. 29)
After months of waiting, Ilja Dragunov finally got his chance to challenge WALTER for the NXT United Kingdom Championship. The end result was one of the most brutal matches in WWE history.
Perhaps knowing what he was up against, The Ring General sought to chop his challenger into oblivion, the sickening slaps echoing through the BT Sports studio in London. But for every strike WALTER landed, The Mad Russian responded in kind, pummeling the champion in a manner that the WWE Universe had never seen.
In the year-plus since winning the title, The Ring General had never looked so vulnerable. But at the climax of a battle that left both Superstars covered in bruises and welts, WALTER overpowered his challenger and locked in a sleeper, putting Dragunov out to retain his title. It was an absolute war, the type of battle that changes the Superstars who took part in it. But even after facing the prospect of defeat, The Ring General walked out with his title. One has to wonder, if WALTER can survive this brutality, is there anyone who can stop him? — BOBBY MELOK
7. WWE Champion Drew McIntyre vs. Randy Orton - Ambulance Match (WWE Clash of Champions)
After a summer of hunting down legends to add to his already incredible record, Randy Orton finally saw his past come back to haunt him at the most inopportune time. In search of his 15th World Title and looking to cement his legacy as the greatest wrestler ever, The Viper sought to send Drew McIntyre out of the WWE ThunderDome in an ambulance.
However, McIntyre was not alone in wanting to silence The Legend Killer. Big Show re-emerged to slam Orton through the announce table, Christian helped turn the bout back in McIntyre’s favor with a surprise attack, and Shawn Michaels sent Orton crashing to the WWE ThunderDome floor after Sweet Chin Music on top of the ambulance. After giving The Viper a taste of his own medicine with a kick to the skull, McIntyre loaded Orton into the ambulance, where The Viper’s former mentor, Ric Flair, was waiting to cart him off. — BOBBY MELOK
6. Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles - Intercontinental Championship Match (SmackDown, June 12)
AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. You put these two in the ring together, and you're going to get magic. That is exactly what we got in the finals of the tournament to crown a brand-new Intercontinental Champion on SmackDown this past June.
Coming over in a recent trade to the blue brand, Styles was looking to reclaim the house that he built with as big of a splash he possibly could. In the other corner, Bryan aimed to regain the championship he holds in such high honor just two months after failing to do so against Sami Zayn at WrestleMania 36. The result was two of WWE's absolute best putting it all on the line in a near-40-minute instant classic that saw Styles add to his phenomenal resumé by capturing Intercontinental Championship gold for the very first time in his career. — STEVEN BARILE
5. Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match (WWE Clash of Champions)
This match has everything. Swanton Bombs. Helluva Kicks. Jeff Hardy's ear handcuffed to a ladder...
In a year where it was increasingly difficult for anything to actually capture your attention, Sami Zayn, Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles’ Triple Threat Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title at WWE Clash of Champions 2020 did just that. From bell-to-bell, this match is absolutely nonstop carnage. It places you perfectly in that spot between "entertained" and "concerned" where your body and mind don’t know what to do other than pace around the living room in disbelief.
On paper, what you have is a living legend in Jeff Hardy, a modern-day GOAT in AJ Styles and a criminally underrated (he'd certainly say) Sami Zayn giving it everything they've got for one of the most prestigious titles in the history sports-entertainment. In reality, the sum was even greater than its already remarkable parts. — JORDAN BATES
4. Drew McIntyre vs. Roman Reigns (Survivor Series)
Although WWE Champion Drew McIntyre proved to be more than just a solid “No. 2” in a breathtaking battle with Universal Champion Roman Reigns, The Head of the Table stood tall in their incredible Champion vs. Champion matchup at Survivor Series.
Among McIntyre’s unbelievable assault during the match, he countered the Universal Champion’s Spear attempt into a never-before-seen counter Kimura. Reigns eventually broke free, but not before suffering potentially serious damage to his arm. That wasn’t enough to keep Reigns from slamming McIntyre through the announce table with two Samoan drops before further decimating him with a colossal Spear through the barricade.
Then, the WWE Champion countered another Spear attempt with a Claymore, but The Big Dog knocked out the referee in the process, paving the way for Reigns to hit a low blow before McIntyre was struck by a superkick from The Big Dog’s cousin Jey Uso, which spelled the end for the resilient WWE Champion. — MIKE BURDICK
3. Edge vs. Randy Orton – The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever (WWE Backlash)
Randy Orton’s highly personal showdown against Edge at WWE Backlash was definitely one of the best of the year at WWE Backlash.
In addition to a brutal early steel stairs assault at ringside, The Rated-R Superstar and The Apex Predator incorporated a barrage of classic maneuvers from Edge using the Three Amigos and the Edgecution DDT to Orton’s devastating execution of the Olympic Slam. They also borrowed from other greats, as Edge hit Christian’s Unprettier, Orton utilized Triple H’s devastating Pedigree and Edge even hit The Rock’s Rock Bottom.
No matter what they threw at each other, however, neither Superstar would give in, with Edge denying Orton victory despite enduring two RKOs and Orton refusing to lay down after his opponent’s Spear. Nevertheless, Orton escaped an attempt to lock in Edge’s “Anti-Venom” arm triangle with a controversial low blow that set up the kick to the skull for the victory. — MIKE BURDICK
2. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley - SmackDown Women’s Championship Hell in a Cell Match (WWE Hell in a Cell)
The third time inside Hell in a Cell was the charm for Sasha Banks at the match’s signature event, when she overcame ex-best friend Bayley in the dreaded structure to win the SmackDown Women's Championship for the first time.
The explosive contest incorporated one incredible moment after another, including Banks hitting a sunset flip powerbomb into the cell and Bayley hitting her own sunset flip to propel Banks back-first into a chair. The bout also featured spray paint, Kendo sticks, tables, ladders, the steel steps and the unforgiving Cell itself.
Banks ended the longest SmackDown Women's Title reign in history at 380 days by locking up Bayley for a chair-assisted Bank Statement until Bayley was forced to tap out. – MIKE BURDICK
1. The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles - Boneyard Match (WrestleMania 36)
AJ Styles wanted The Deadman, and he got more than he bargained for on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
After weeks of mocking The Undertaker, Styles arrived in the Boneyard in a hearse and casket, needling his rival one last time before their harrowing showdown. A roaring motorcycle signaled The Phenom’s arrival, as he brought the fight to Styles right away, looking like The Deadman of old.
But Styles would soon turn the tables on Undertaker, distracting The Deadman with a cadre of druids. In this battle of generations, it looked like the younger Styles would finally bury The Deadman for good, but The Undertaker rose to the challenge once more.
Like the grizzled gunslinger ready for one last shootout, The Undertaker fought back, fueled by the weeks of mockery Styles targeted at he and his family. The Deadman reminded Styles of that, then booted him into an open grave before burying him alive, claiming victory in what turned out to be his final match in WWE. It was a fitting end to three decades of destruction, as The Undertaker rode off into the night, bringing his career to an end on the stage that made him famous: WrestleMania. – BOBBY MELOK