Ranking the 20 Best WWE and AEW Matches of 2020
2020 has been tough for so many reasons. We have all struggled with a lot, from the enforced isolation and lack of opportunities to the losses of so many too young. Professional wrestling was one of true bright spots of a down year.
Even though it took time for WWE and All Elite Wrestling to safely adjust, the companies gave us an unforgettable product.
Wrestlers stepped up like they never had before. Sasha Banks and Bayley carried WWE through a time with no fans. Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns became franchise players in WWE, especially once the promotion instituted the ThunderDome.
Jon Moxley revitalized his career with his greatest year of performances to date. "Hangman" Adam Page and Kenny Omega built up AEW's tag team division alongside The Young Bucks to overshadow any other in wrestling, attracting FTR as the finishing touch.
These companies got creative and brought special moments to every show. Even without crowds, the wrestling did not suffer for long. This year brought as many classics as any other, perhaps even more so than in recent years.
It is difficult to boil down such a great year to just a few matches. Even limiting the list to 20 does not do justice to just how much incredible work was done by the talent in a tough year.
This list will be missing some great matches. Ultimately, this is a subjective ranking of 2020's biggest and best bouts.
20 to 16: Roman Reigns' Dominance and the Stadium Stampede
20. Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre, WWE Survivor Series
This was a late addition to the best matches of 2020, and it worked so well because of all that The Tribal Chief and The Scottish Psychopath accomplished throughout the year. It was a clash of titans and was built on a story that saw Reigns refuse to acknowledge McIntyre.
Both men defined this battle in segments. It worked so well within the formula of The Tribal Chief's best work this year. Reigns refused to take McIntyre seriously until he had no other choice but to use any shortcut he could to succeed.
19. AEW tag team champions Kenny Omega and 'Hangman' Adam Page vs. Lucha Brothers, AEW Dynamite February 19
Kenny Omega and Adam Page carried AEW through the early part of the year as the company tried to find its footing. The AEW tag team champions worked well with everyone, but Penta El Zero M and Rey Fenix may be two of the best in this business.
This was a dramatic clash, and it was never clear who would pull out the victory. The Lucha Brothers took the best tag team in the world in 2020 to the limit, even if they could not take the win.
18. AEW world champion Jon Moxley vs. Mr. Brodie Lee, AEW Double or Nothing
Brodie Lee's recent tragic death may have influenced this ranking somewhat, but that is the nature of wrestling. Emotions sell the effect of matches. This was an unexpectedly great match wherein The Exalted One brought everything.
Lee and Moxley brutalized each other, and The Exalted One gave Mox a fight as physical and intense as anyone else in 2020.
17. Stadium Stampede: The Elite vs. The Inner Circle, AEW Double or Nothing
Explaining the Stadium Stampede is difficult given just how much happened. Feeling more like an elongated episode of Being the Elite, this match worked because it was so driven by out-of-the-box thinking.
In a year when fresh ideas were needed, the Stadium Stampede was the most unique offering AEW had in store for fans, carried by some of the best wrestlers in the world.
16. WWE universal champion Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso, WWE Clash of Champions
The Tribal Chief was a revelation in 2020, with his storytelling genius on full display throughout the second half of the year. Each match was a journey, and he had the ability to make anyone look good. That said, it was Jey Uso's work that stole the show in the end.
Uso had this one chance to make it big, and he did to the point that he is now one of SmackDown's biggest stars. Reigns and Uso worked together to make that happen.
15 to 11: Brutal Brawls and Title Clashes
15. NXT champion Finn Balor vs. Kyle O'Reilly, NXT TakeOver 31
Finn Balor and Kyle O'Reilly went into this fight swinging, and they never stopped. The NXT Championship was not often the biggest focus for the black-and-gold brand in 2020 because of injuries and a few weaker matches, but this was the reminder of how special the title can be.
The Prince needed to prove he was still great after being wasted for so long on WWE television. O'Reilly needed to escape Adam Cole's shadow. They did those things in a fight that left them both bruised and nearly broken.
14. WWE champion Randy Orton vs. Drew McIntyre, Monday Night Raw November 16
The uneven rivalry between Randy Orton and Drew McIntyre had its ups and downs, but the result was something special. The final contest on Monday Night Raw was a tour de force that saw The Scottish Psychopath refused to go down no matter what.
Built on the back of the previous contests in which The Viper could only hurt McIntyre using weapons, the battle built to the moment when just one Claymore or RKO would seal it. The Scottish Psychopath earned his win by finally catching his rival with the Claymore.
13. AEW world champion Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega, AEW Dynamite: Winter is Coming
AEW sold this contest as the biggest match in wrestling, and Moxley and Omega fought like it was. At every stage, this was a battle of titans. The two went tit for tat without having to rely on the obvious finish kick-outs to sell the story.
When push came to shove, Moxley's indomitable persona intimidated Omega, who needed Don Callis to help him steal the win and the AEW World Championship.
12. Ladder: Intercontinental champion Jeff Hardy vs. Sami Zayn vs. AJ Styles, WWE Clash of Champions
When Sami Zayn returned to WWE in August, it was not clear what anyone should expect. What followed was an evolution that created one of the most unique characters in wrestling. The Master Strategist became an opportunist with intelligence that rivaled that of the all-time greats.
This ladder match was a brutal and athletic battle wherein all three men made their marks, but the result created a lasting memory, as Zayn tied down Styles and Hardy to regain the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
11. Parking Lot Brawl: Best Friends vs. Proud and Powerful, AEW Dynamite September 16
It took a long time to get to this Parking Lot Brawl. At one point, Trent and Chuck Taylor had a different team they wanted to fight out in the back lot. However, it was all worth it to see their brutal war with Santana and Ortiz.
This match blew away most everyone. In a year when AEW was mostly carried by a few select stars, The Best Friends and PNP showed why they are not to be forgotten, adding an unforgettable final moment in this war.
10 to 6: Underrated Gems and Mr. Brodie Lee's Last Match
10. NXT women's champion Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley vs. Io Shirai, NXT TakeOver: In Your House
When Charlotte Flair won the NXT Women's Championship at WrestleMania, it felt like a misstep that NXT could not recover from. Instead, the black-and-gold brand adapted and put together one of the best women's matches in recent memory.
The Nightmare, The Genius of the Sky and The Queen never slowed down in this fight for glory that easily stole the show at NXT TakeOver: In Your House.
9. WWE champion Drew McIntyre vs. Seth Rollins, WWE Money in the Bank
When McIntyre first captured the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, he was heralded as the future. However, that was not clear until he went to war with one of the best in the business. Rollins helped to make the new WWE champion, even more so than deposed champion Brock Lesnar.
This intense pure wrestling match was built on physicality. Every shot could be heard in the empty arena, allowing Rollins to talk-trash until McIntyre finally shut him up.
8. Intercontinental Championship: AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, WWE SmackDown June 12
It would be easy to forget this gem late in the year, but AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan did it again. Two of the greatest wrestlers of all time, The Phenomenal One and The Planet's Champion had their best match together with a simple premise.
Both wanted to prove that they had the right to be the WWE intercontinental champion. Styles outlasted Bryan in a match that never felt as long as it was.
7. NXT UK champion Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov, NXT UK October 29
If not for all the well-deserved praise, a match like this could have easily gone under the radar. It was not the first great match between Walter and Ilja Dragunov, and it will not be the last. However, it was their first time fighting in a WWE ring.
NXT UK has had a tough year, from shutting down because of COVID-19 to struggling to deal with the loss of top stars like Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm and Pete Dunne. The Ring General showed what makes him still a top star in the industry, working one of the most physical matches you will ever see.
6. Dog Collar: TNT Champion Mr. Brodie Lee vs. Cody Rhodes, AEW Dynamite: Chris Jericho's 30th Anniversary Celebration
The last match Lee would ever wrestle may have been the greatest of his career. While no one expected Cody to get squashed like he was in the first battle with Lee, the second will live on forever, establishing the TNT Championship through sheer bloody brutality.
The dog collar that connected these two made sure that every moment was heard and felt. It was brutality unleashed, and Cody barely escaped with the victory. To one of the best gone too soon, matches like this should always be remembered.
5. Boneyard: Undertaker vs. AJ Styles, WWE WrestleMania 36
It took WWE a long time to figure out how to make the cinematic match work. This safer but more production-intensive style allows wrestlers to do things that they could not do in a wrestling ring. It was always best suited for a wrestler like The Undertaker.
The Deadman has defined his legacy by working as a larger-than-life persona. He did not hesitate to take on the most ridiculous stories. His character had the ability to bring down lightning and survive being burned and buried alive.
The Boneyard match was the perfect ending to The Deadman's active career, as he worked at WrestleMania one more time and looked as dominant as he always has. He and AJ Styles crafted the perfect send-off that saw Taker as equal parts The American Badass and The Deadman.
The Phenomenal One's arrogant air was so perfectly suited for Taker to counter. Styles trash-talked Taker and his wife Michelle McCool. He embarrassed one of the proudest men in wrestling, and he suffered for it in one of the best cinematic matches fans will ever see.
While this contest gets ridiculous in moments, and the camera cuts can be too much, the heart of this match made it special for so many. This was Taker's farewell, and he did not disappoint.
4. AEW Tag Team Champions Young Bucks vs. FTR, AEW Full Gear
It was the dream match of all dream matches. For years, The Young Bucks and FTR have both claimed to be the best tag team in the world. When AEW brought in Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood, this was the match everyone needed to see.
Those high stakes are hard to live up to. The Bucks and FTR did just that by treating their match similar to a contest earlier in the year in WWE, Edge vs. Randy Orton in the Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.
With less unnecessary production, these teams outshone that contest by remembering the legends that preceded them. The callbacks to Demolition, The Road Warriors, The Hardy Boyz and so many more framed this contest as a battle between teams that knew what hallowed ground they walked on.
Around these finishers was a simple story. FTR and The Bucks both had one fundamental flaw: arrogance. It was always going to end following a mistake. When Wheeler went for a 450 splash, betraying his own "no flips" motto, and missed, it was the perfect conclusion to this contest.
Matt and Nick Jackson sold well for FTR while doing many of the unbelievable things that only they can. Wheeler and Harwood got back to the employing the technical fundamentals they had lost late on during their run in WWE. It was a tag team spectacle from two of the all-time greats teams that are still writing their legacies.
3. Firefly Fun House: Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena, WWE WrestleMania 36
It does not feel right to have a cinematic match that was more segment than wrestling toward the top of this list, but the ingenuity behind the Firefly Fun House match should not be forgotten, even in the wake of the Boneyard match on the same show.
When Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena set the stage for a new match in their memorable rivalry, there was not much to get excited about. Cena had disappeared from WWE to work as a movie star. He had found his way in Hollywood and was letting the company move past him.
In many ways, his return echoed that of The Rock, the man he once heavily criticized from coming back and taking this spot. His work with Wyatt had always been good enough but not great, but WWE took an unconventional approach with this return.
Cena never stepped into the WrestleMania ring. Instead, he was transported to the Firefly Fun House, where he was forced to face his greatest failures and missed opportunities. Wyatt mentally broke him down before The Fiend arrived to finish the job.
Wyatt's mind has always been a fascinating labyrinth, and no one else in wrestling could have done this. Even now, the idea of another Firefly Fun House match is strangely alluring. This is the contest wherein Wyatt breaks down his rivals piece by piece, telling a story beyond what can be done in the ring.
This was not for everyone, but those who loved it will never forget it.
2. Hell in a Cell: SmackDown Women's Champion Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, WWE HIAC
WWE struggled to find its footing in 2020, but two women carried a heavy load in an effort to help it prosper amid the pandemic. Bayley and Sasha Banks made the most of the moment and brought great wrestling and spectacle to every brand without a crowd.
It was inevitable that their clash would be special, but Bayley and Banks already had put on one of the greatest women's matches of all time back at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. No matter how much better they had gotten, matches like that are once in a lifetime.
That is why Bayley and Banks never tried to replicate it. Instead, The Role Model and The Legit Boss told a different story in the ring. They got creative with the weapons. The Hell in a Cell trapped and relentlessly tormented them, and both suffered through.
This was not just one of the greatest women's matches of all time but also one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time, especially inside Hell in a Cell. Watching Banks overcome Bayley's ingenuity with her own unique tricks sold their years of history together.
In the final moments, Banks managed to put years of surprising failures behind her, including a few inside the Cell, to become the new SmackDown women's champion. This match stands as a testament to just how great these two are.
1. AEW Tag Team Champions Omega and Page vs. Young Bucks, AEW Revolution
It is strange to look back at a time before COVID-19 in 2020, but there were a few shows that pre-empted the shutdown of the world at the onset of the pandemic. The roar of a crowd is a special treat that we took for granted.
"Hangman" Adam Page and Kenny Omega walked into this match with a ramped-up crowd. The Young Bucks entered with high expectations. This was an emotional contest from the outset, and it would never have been as good without the crowd on its feet for the journey.
Perhaps too quickly labelled as the greatest tag team match of all time, this contest stands up as one of the best. Both teams brought everything to this fight, and each moment was a physical gut punch that stings even knowing the outcome.
In particular, this was the moment when Hangman was made it. No matter how popular Matt and Nick Jackson may be, when they went after Page, they were booed relentlessly. Everyone wanted to see Page prove himself. At times, he was left alone, fighting an impossible handicap match with pure passion.
These are the type of matches that framed AEW as a special alternative to WWE. While the in-ring action was great, it was the story—furthered by the emotion of the audience—that made it great. Every frame built a tale that is growing to this day as Page struggles to find his purpose.