Welcome to the Pro Wrestling Musing's Best Wrestlers of 2020 Top 10 list. That means only one thing...
2020 is almost over
But it hasn't all been bad. 2020 was the first full year of AEW and there have been highlights galore. From that Bucks/Page and Omega tag to Brodie Lee's squash of Cody to Moxley's near 10 month title reign to John Silver's breakout appearances on BTE.
In a down year in New Japan we have still seen a wonderful return year for Hiromu Takahashi, some early year Okada specials and a short run from Moxley culminating in him going up against Minoru Suzuki.
Elsewhere, DragonGate and NOAH are attracting disillusioned NJPW viewers and Stardom are making moves in Japan and internationally. WWE even saw some year defining runs from Drew McIntyre, Roman Reigns, Bayley and at long last, Sasha Banks.
That brings us to the whole purpose of this article. 38 ballots have been cast by PWMusings' contributors, subscribers and invited content creators from the extended wrestling creators community. Each ballot allows the voter 5 nominations.
These have been collated and cover 49 wrestlers across at least 10 promotions plus a few unattached picks to boot. Each number 1 pick is worth 5 points, with a number 5 pick being worth 1 pick. Scroll down to see the top 10 based on these votes!
Pro Wrestling Musings' Top 10 Wrestlers of 2020
Throughout 2020 Kenny Omega collected various accolades, not least being inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, becoming the first US or Canadian based wrestler in over 30 years to be inducted without a run in WWE or WCW.
Omega defended his AAA Mega Championship against Laredo Kid in AAA’s match of the year and Sammy Guevara in the first great COVID-era match, setting the tone for a difficult period in wrestling history.
It was AEW where Omega shone brightest though, firstly winning the AEW World Tag Team Championship. Omega, alongside Adam Page, went on to have one of the best tag team championship reigns ever before running through the AEW Eliminator Tournament in exhilarating fashion. A tournament which culminated in Omega winning the AEW World Championship from Jon Moxley courtesy of an all-time great heel turn.
Speaking of that turn, a reason it was so brilliant was not only the cataclysmic change to the industry it presented, but the 18-months of story that preceded it. A carefully plotted narrative that saw Omega’s character delve into a dark side of himself that we hadn’t seen for a few years, ‘The Cleaner’.
It’s not unlike ‘The Best Bout Machine’ to have great matches but in 2020 Omega showcased himself as a true all-rounder that “best in the world” needs to be. From tag team wrestling to singles competition to cinematic matches like Stadium Stampede.
Omega had more appearances (17) than anyone in Cagematch’s top 300 matches of the year except for Shingo Takagi (17) and Tomohiro Ishii (18). Including 6 appearances in the top 100, bettered only by Mayu Iwatani, Takagi (both 8) and Ishii (11). Omega was also involved in 12 matches rated higher than 4 stars by Dave Meltzer, only Ishii and Takagi had more.
By Gareth Ford-Elliott (@RHWGareth).
For the majority of 2020, Jon Moxley was the face of AEW. His success there paved the way for other talent to bet on themselves and venture out of the WWE universe. He was involved in major storylines, hard hitting matches, and never looked weak or goofy.
The best part of Mox's title defences in AEW was that he helped to build up the profiles of his opponents. I never thought that Brodie Lee, MJF, or Eddie Kingston were going to win the belt but all three came out of those matches looking stronger. For all his personal success, it's what he contributes to the pro-wrestling industry as a whole that makes him exceptional.
Moxley's reign as IWGP US Champion continues and one of my many hopes for 2021 is that he finds his way back to Japan to defend it.
By Tim Morehouse (@TimmayMan)
Go Shiozaki has been a consistent fixture in puroresu since he began training in 2003, and accomplished just about everything a Pro Wrestling NOAH superstar could accomplish. He could have easily phoned it in as the world of wrestling began to seemingly collapse thanks to COVID-19 and the Speaking Out movement, but instead, he continually proved himself to be one of the best wrestlers in the world, adapting to a lack of crowds better than many of his contemporaries throughout the wrestling world. He started off the year strong, beating Kaito Kiyomiya on January 4th in an early Match Of The Year candidate to win the GHC Heavyweight Championship for the 4th time (tying with Takashi Sugiura for most GHC Heavyweight title reigns).
Soon enough, the crowds went away, and Shiozaki got a lot more creative. The first half of his nearly hour-long title defense against outsider Kazuyuki Fujita consisted entirely of an intense stare-down. Wearing the colours of Mitsuharu Misawa, the founder of NOAH, Shiozaki stared daggers at his opponent while standing proudly on the company’s emblem on the ring mat. Shiozaki wasn’t just representing Pro Wrestling NOAH. He WAS Pro Wrestling NOAH. Shiozaki won the match, and throughout the year, defeated Akitoshi Saito, Naomichi Marufuji, Katsuhiko Nakajima, and Takashi Sugiura to retain his belt, with the only “blemish” on his title reign being when he and GHC National Champion Kenou went to a time limit draw.
Other accomplishments included gaining second place in the A-Block of the N-1 Victory tournament, having a singles-match win-rate of 75%, and having an overall win-rate of 70.5% for the year. Also, for those who value Dave Meltzer’s opinions, Shiozaki’s match against Nakajima was rated 4.75 stars, and his match against Sugiura was the first 5-star NOAH match since 2004.
What was probably more impressive was his immense ability to make all of his opponents look like absolute killers. Shiozaki’s selling is unmatched. Don’t get it twisted though; his victories do not look undeserved, as his comeback segments are just as impressive as his selling. On top of all of that, the fact that his matches were so compelling despite long run-times and minimal crowd noises should be celebrated. His singles matches of 2020 averaged 32 minutes and his championship matches averaged 43 minutes. Each of those matches were excellent, proving why Shiozaki is at the top of the Pro Wrestling NOAH totem pole, and why he is one of the best wrestlers in the world.
By Ryan Gorneault (@RyanGorneault)
After a career-threatening injury, Hiromu Takahashi burst back onto the scene in a big way by defeating Will Ospreay for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom in what was a top 10 in match of the year according to Cagematch, Grappl and Dave Meltzer.
Hiromu then went on to have a stand-out performance in the New Japan Cup, narrowly losing to Kazuchika Okada in the semi-finals and having one of the best comedy matches of the year against Toru Yano. He then stepped up to IWGP double champion, EVIL, and almost beat him in what was easily EVIL’s best match of the year.
After just one defence because of a lengthy lay-off due to COVID-19, Hiromu lost the Juniors championship to Taiji Ishimori only to go and have an amazing performance in Best of the Super Juniors 27. Winning in the final against El Desperado which was also ranked in the top 10 for matches of the year on both Grappl and Cagematch.
The ever-entertaining Hiromu Takahashi had a wonderful year, reminding everyone just how good he is and was the shining light in what was a difficult year for NJPW.
By Gareth Ford-Elliott (@RHWGareth).
Drew McIntyre became one of the faces of the WWE in 2020. He started off the year with a spectacular display in the Royal Rumble match, he came in and stopped Brock Lesnar’s impressive run in the rumble match eliminating him to a massive pop. He then used that momentum eliminating Lesnar to carry him to victory last eliminating the 'Big Dog' Roman Reigns to win the match. He carried this momentum all the way to Wrestlemania but unfortunately for Drew his coronation as champion came in front of an empty performance centre as the world came to a stop due to the corona virus pandemic. He defeated Brock Lesnar on the second night of Wrestlemania in the main event to win his first WWE heavyweight championship capping off a true Cinderella story following his release from the WWE in 2014.
He then had an amazing title reign defending the title an impressive 9 times during his 257 day reign with the championship, he carried Raw during the pandemic as he became the top guy defending his championship against a number of competitors, including impressive wins on PPV against Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton. Each performance you could see McIntyre grow into the role of being a top guy.
His title run came to an end at the hands of Randy Orton in a Hell in a Cell match in October but he regained the title from Orton, just 3 weeks later on an episode of Raw. He then headed towards a titanic champion vs champion match against the 'Tribal Chief', Roman Reigns at Survivor Series. This is where McIntyre suffered only his second singles match loss of the year but put on an amazing performance in one of the best matches of the year.
Drew was a true highlight this year in the world of wrestling, carrying the WWE during the pandemic and delivering impressive performances every time he stepped into the ring. An impressive 34 wins this year means McIntyre won more matches than anyone else in the WWE this year. He truly cemented his place at the top of the card and will continue to be a top guy in the WWE for many years to come.
Guest Contributor - Jonny Horrocks (@Jonny_Bravo8)
It’s almost inconceivable that we will be going into 2021 without Mayu Iwatani holding the World of Stardom Championship. She had become so synonymous with the Red Belt in her recent 377 day reign that it felt impossible that anyone else would look right wearing it, and it says a huge amount about Mayu’s conqueror Utami Hayashishita that Stardom believe she is the one to take Mayu’s legacy forward.
That is not to say however that this is the last we will see of Mayu with the Red Belt. 2020 saw her defend the title against Momo Watanabe and Jungle Kyona, before a bruising and scintillating victory over Syuri in October. The one major blot on Mayu’s record as champ was a loss to Takumi Iroha in February which should be on a fair few Match Of The Year lists, and even then Mayu avenged this defeat by overcoming Takumi in another barnburner in October.
In amongst this already impressive list of achievements, Mayu was the most impressive in-ring performer in Stardom’s 5 Star Grand Prix, finishing second in her block, and also found time to build a superb tag team with rising talent Starlight Kid. And now that she’s lost the Red Belt? She’s involved in a fascinating inter-faction war with Tam Nakano and her Cosmic Angels, and ended the year by teeing up a future match with Seadlinnng’s Yoshiko, which will be both compelling and controversial.
Not a bad 2020 for the Ace of Stardom!
By Dan (@DanSpursQuins)
In a year where there have been a lot of justified questions about the booking of the main titles in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Shingo Takagi has been pivotal in making the NEVER Openweight Title feel significantly more prestigious. He started the year by wresting that title from Hirooki Goto in a tremendous match and that set the tone for his two reigns with the belt in 2020.
His first defence was a titanic encounter with Tomohiro Ishii, and this was followed with two very different types of opponent in SHO and El Desperado, both of which felt like they really highlighted the point of the NEVER title. This first reign came to an end at the hands of the always terrifying Minoru Suzuki, but in defeat Shingo put on a stellar performance in what was one of NJPW’s best matches of the year. Then at Power Struggle, in yet another bruising affair, Shingo took the title back from Suzuki meaning he will take that belt into 2021.
In addition to his exploits with the NEVER singles belt, Shingo was also part of the LIJ team that won the Six Man Tag Title at WrestleKingdom, and which only lost the belts when EVIL turned on his faction. And whilst Shingo never looked like a possible winner of the G1 Climax, his matches were consistent highlights of the tournament. It might be unlikely due to his Dragon Gate heritage, but I would love to see Shingo win the tournament in 2021.
By Dan (@DanSpursQuins)
So fresh it was for all to see as in 2020 as Sasha Banks finally achieved what we all knew she could. She started the year off fairly slowly as the right hand woman for best friend and fellow Golden Role Model but as of the time of writing she is the current Smackdown women's champion with her first ever successful main roster PPV defence coming against Carmella at TLC; she also held the RAW women's championship for a period and the tag titles as part of the Golden Role Models and defeated Asuka in a champion v champion match at Survivor series.
Her year was about more than simple accolades though as her year long arc with Bayley finally came to fruition after she was betrayed and beaten down by her former bestie only to find the strength and resolve to go through a brutal Hell in a Cell match and come out victorious holding the Smackdown Women's title. Their time together however was a delight, filled with constant references and homages to their history together which left fans desperate to see the pay off as soon as possible whilst also never wanting it to end. She was an ever present on our screens putting on fantastic matches with the likes of Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross/ Teagan Nox & Shotzi Blackheart/Shayna Bazsler & Nia Jax, Kairi Sane and Io Shirai (more on that here)
Banks truly stepped into the mainstream with appearances on the Mandolorian and into the main event with a career best year that ended with her as a true babyface champion and bona fide ratings draw. To quote Michael Cole "it's BOSS TIME!"
By Nathan Byrne (@NbMagpie)
One the surface it seems like Tetsuya Naito is undeserving of a spot on this list, the general outlook from Western fans on NJPW this year is at best underwhelming and at worst horrendous. But under all of this Naito has quietly had a very good year.
As much as it seems like it happened 17 years ago, he opened this year with a huge win over Kazuchika Okada, cementing himself in history as the first man to ever hold the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles at the same time. That alone is nearly enough to push him onto this list, the fact it was in an incredible match and is still my Match of the Year is just another feather in his cap. He moved from that straight into defending both titles against KENTA and avenging a beatdown suffered at the end of Wrestle Kingdom. Despite this being with an older, broken down KENTA it was still a great match, and one of the last highs of pre-shutdown NJPW.
After New Japan took a few months off, it returned with the New Japan Cup, and this was where it started to go downhill for Naito. EVIL won the New Japan Cup and turned on him, leaving Los Ingobernables de Japon for Bullet Club and cementing himself as top heel, if only for the summer. And yeah, the EVIL matches weren’t especially good, focusing more on EVIL’s reinvention as a man who relies on interference from Dick Togo to win, at the cost of match quality. Given that this was the main story of NJPW’s summer it does leave a bad taste in the mouth looking at Naito’s year, but he was soon back on top form.
In the opening night of the B Block of the G1, he faced Hiroshi Tanahashi in another great match, rated the 2nd best match of the whole G1 by GRAPPL users, the only match of the whole B Block to make it into their Top 10. He went on to have a good G1, with good to great matches against SANADA, Hirooki Goto, and Zack Sabre Jr. Following the G1 he went on to have his best match of the series with EVIL, and then into some underrated tags building to Wrestle Kingdom.
So that’s Naito. He hasn’t had the best year, but there was still a lot of good stuff that I think people missed, and if you actually look back at what happened it was a very strong year.
By Chester SA (@WhyIsChester)
Ding dong, Hello? Welcome to the PwMusings top 10 wrestlers of the year and at number 10 is someone who we should all aspire to be after the 2020 she has had. That's right it's everyone's favourite role model-Bayley! So 2020 has come to a close and it's time for our Bayley celebration, a Bayleybration if you will.
Now going into this year I was not a big fan of the now reformed hugger but 365 days later and she is without a doubt one of top 5 female wrestlers in WWE, if not the entire world and a personal favourite of mine to boot. Always a solid in ring performer, Bayley's greatest achievement this year was how well she grew into her new heel character and really embraced her role as the antagonistic face of the Smackdown (and WWE as a whole) women's division. Wrestling a whopping 52 matches this year she was relied upon to carry the division at times and even managed to pull entertaining matches out of Nikki Cross, Tamina and Lacey Evans on PPV, including a historic defense against Naomi in Saudi Arabia.
The real story of Bayley's 2020 was her friendship and eventual betrayal of fellow horsewoman Sasha Banks. The 2 began sowing the seeds of their dissolution back at Wrestlemania where Banks took the fall for her friend in a 5 way elimination match to help Bayley retain. The eventual implosion would not come until October when Bayley savagely attacked Banks and then mocked her in the style of her hero Eddie Guerrero (just one of the many references littered throughout their 2020 together) only to lose her title in a match of the year contender at HIAC. Prior to that though the Golden Role Models managed to hold the Raw/SD/Tag titles, putting on great matches throughout the year on all 3 shows including 9 consecutive PPV appearances only broken at TLC in December and who's to say she did not deserve the break after such a monumental year.
By Nathan Byrne (@NbMagpie)
Top 25 voted Wrestlers
PWMusings' 2020 Best of...
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