Every week I am going to take you through the past seven days in the world of professional wrestling, hand pick a number of moments and offer up my thoughts on them. What I loved to see, what liked from a fan standpoint, and what I loathed.
Though to be fair, “loathe” is kind of a harsh. I think “dislike” is more accurate, but alliteration is important for a catchy weekly column.
While every Monday I’ll be recapping the week that was, my first column here is as good a time as any to look back at the year of 2020. Make sure to share your thoughts on what you loved, liked and loathed in the comments below, or at my Twitter.
Loathed: The Year 2020 Itself.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first before moving to better stuff. This year sucked to varying degrees on personal levels. We have all been affected by *gestures with arms flailing in the air* everything that has happened in our world this year.
This past year was a proverbial Melina versus Alicia Fox match. No one will ever look fondly back upon it – well, almost no one – and while we all got through it, we’ll never be quite sure how.
Loved: Wrestling In 2020
One of the things that stands out from this past year was the absolute havoc the pandemic brought upon the sports world. Leagues shut down and then came back with compressed schedules and fan-less ‘bubble’ experiences. Wrestling was no different, but no entertainment industry adjusted as quickly to the new realities that Covid brought like wrestling did.
It kind of makes sense when you think about the very nature of wrestling is to be scripted, but also rely heavily on “make-it-up-as-you-go” improvisation needed when something goes sideways. It shouldn’t have been surprising to see, but it was still impressive, and that’s not even accounting for the fact we saw a lot of good stuff between the ropes this year. If ever there was a time for professional wrestling to drop off in quality, it would have been understandable, but multiple companies gave us outstanding matches and moments, which I think years from now we’ll gain a greater appreciation for.
A lot of things stopped or outright changed in 2020… Wrestling had a slight hiccup and then carried on and we saw plenty of good stuff that I won’t even really get into here. NJPW pulled of an amazing Wrestle Kingdom 14 with the Double Gold Dash, and then after Covid resumed with some compelling tournaments. Even Impact Wrestling found a way to carry on and before Kenny Omega made headlines by taking his newly won AEW World title to Impact, that promotion was putting on some really good shows.
Wrestling in 2020 was good.
Liked: Cinematic Matches
One of the trends early into pandemic pro wrestling was the use of cinematic matches. The Boneyard and Firefly Funhouse matches from Wrestlemania, the Money In The Bank match, the Dream/Cole Street Fight and Gargano/Ciampa ‘One Final Beat’ matches from NXT, even AEW getting into the act with the Stadium Stampede match.
Not that the concept of cinematic matches were new to us in 2020. Of course Matt Hardy had a hand in making them far more popular in recent memory, but if you’re 25 years or older, it’s very likely the first ever cinematic match you ever saw as Roddy Piper versus Goldust at Wrestlemania 12’s Backlot Brawl, or perhaps the Halftime Heat match between Mankind and The Rock. (Some would argue those matches are cinematic, half traditional, but in my eyes they still count.)
If you were to ask me what my collective thoughts are on Cinematic matches – and I presume you are since you’re in fact reading this – it would be that it was good for this year given the hands that were dealt to WWE and AEW, and going forward seeing the odd match like this will be fine, but it shouldn’t be a regular occurrence let alone a staple of monthly events.
Knowing WWE, they’ll likely turn the concept into a theme PPV much like they have with Elimination Chamber, Hell In A Cell, Money In The Bank, etc… Although now that I think about it, if they promised to keep it all limited to just one night, I could go for an entire wrestling card of straight up cinematic matches.
Liked: WWE’s ThunderDome
Around the time of Wrestlemania, Triple H was doing a press junket worth of interviews and one thing he repeatedly mentioned was that the pandemic was giving (or forcing) WWE the chance to try new ways of presenting their product that may just influence how they put on shows well beyond 2020 and once things “return to normal”
A handful of months later, WWE debuted “ThunderDome”, a closed off, video-walled wrestling arena within an arena (or stadium) that would give shows a much closer feel to what we were used to seeing pre-Covid – at least far better than how the shows looked inside the WWE Performance Center. (Although they did a fantastic job of renovating the PC into a ‘ThunderDome-ish’ Capital Wrestling Center for NXT tapings.)
At some point in the future, wrestling fans are going to be allowed to attend events again and WWE certainly will welcome them back with open arms, but part of me hopes they don’t abandon the concept of the ThunderDome entirely. Yes shows from there have been “live” but there is obviously a little bit of Hollywood magic happening, as we saw when Randy Orton roasted The Fiend to close out TLC.
It’s giving WWE a chance to get creative without going full blown cinematic matches all the time. It’s also allowing WWE to control the environment to a degree and allow them to tell the stories they want to tell without fans potentially hijacking segments.
I don’t know what a future WWE would look like running live shows and ThunderDome shows together, but I hope they try and pull it off. I feel like it’s helped with their overall presentation.
Maybe it’s because back in the day I had such high hopes for TNA Wrestling to be the choice alternative to WWE, only for the company to be completely mismanaged into near oblivion, that I haven’t allowed myself to get fully attached to All Elite Wrestling.
There isn’t much about AEW that I don’t like. I don’t think there was a single show they produced where I felt like it was a grind for me to sit through the entirety of.
It is unfortunate that Jon Moxley’s run with AEW’s top belt didn’t happen in front of full arenas, but I have little doubt that he will have that championship yet again. Kenny Omega’s progression back to more of The Cleaner persona that he perfected in Japan was welcome as well, and overall the company is starting to fill out the roster depth with some really good talent.
There are areas for improvement of course. Most shows seem to end in a mish-mash of multi-man mayhem that feels a bit played out week after week. Jim Ross is a legend in the business, but it also feels like he’s past his time calling matches. The women’s division was largely neglected for the first year of the company’s existence. The promise of wins and losses mattering doesn’t actually seem to have played out when it seems they don’t really count anything that happens on their secondary YouTube show “Dark.”
But Tony Kahn, Cody Rhodes and the rest of “The Elite” deserve credit for withstanding a pandemic that could have easily brought a fledging company to its knees and getting through it as a strong alternative to the giant that is WWE.
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Honestly, I could write a multi-post look back on 2020 as I’ve only just scratched the surface here of what all happened both good and bad.
In a way that’s maybe the best thing about wrestling in 2020. If there was one thing you didn’t like, chances are you could easily find two or three that you would enjoy. If you’re the type that likes all aspects of wrestling from good story telling, to compelling action in the ring to surprise moments, then this past year had plenty for you to enjoy.
We can only hope for more of the same in 2021… With less pandemic though.