wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Eleven) – The Most Underrated Performers of 2020

January 13, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Liv Morgan

Welcome back to Part Eleven of the 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards of 2020! The Year-End Awards have been out for a couple of years but they’re back, and here’s how they work. For the next couple of weeks, we will present our top choices for a particular topic relating to wrestling in 2020. All the writers here on 411 will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic and the end, based on where all of the votes rank on people’s list, we will create an overall Top 5 list. It looks a little like this…

1st – 5
2nd – 4
3rd – 3
4th – 2
5th – 1

Once everyone’s had their say, we will tally the scores and get our overall top 5. Tonight we’re looking at the Most Underrated Performers of the year. Let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. Dakota Kai
4. Drew Gulak
3. Everyone Involved In Retribution
2. Cameron Grimes

1. Pentagon & Rey Fenix – It feels like these guys just kind of exist in the AEW midcard and always feel on the verge of something big… but it never materializes. I know they were gone for part of the year due to travel restrictions, but even before and after that, they seem to be relegated to the “good hands” role in the company. I’d love to see them feature more prominently in the main event scene; particularly Pentagon.

Jeffrey Harris

5. Gino Gambino
4. Kevin Kelly
3. Taichi
2. El Desperado

1. Taiji Ishimori – I frelling loved this year’s Best of the Super Junior tournaments. Collectively, they were some of my favorite matches to watch this year. I feel like this year’s tournament was a real breakout year for El Desperado especially, but honestly, I’m somewhat turned off by the lack of praise and attention that Taiji Ishimori, you know the frelling IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION, is getting. Ishimori’s matches were some of my favorite to watch in the tournament. The dude always wrestles with purpose and intensity. He looked like he had a chip on his shoulder and something to prove in that tournament. In my mind he did. Ishimori won all but two matches in the tournament, losing only to the two finalists, Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado. He was frequently kept out of the main events, despite the fact that he’s the ace and champion of the entire division. So what if Hiromu is the favorite? Ishimori BEAT Hiromu at Summer Struggle. Since coming back as the Bone Soldier, I feel like Ishimori has been performing at a higher level. He’s come a long way from that plucky underdog who fought KENTA in NOAH. Now, he looks like a beast and fights like a vicious monster in the heat of battle.

Steve Cook

5. Chad Gable
4. Trent
3. Lucha Bros
2. Ricochet

1. Rhea Ripley – Heading into 2020, Rhea Ripley was a star in the making. The Nightmare had taken the NXT Women’s Championship from Shayna Baszler at the end of 2019, made a big impact on WWE PPV and looked like the next big thing. What happened? Well, she had a match with Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania, which was a fine idea on paper, and losing wasn’t exactly the end of the world either. You had to figure that eventually Rhea would get her comeuppance. That didn’t happen. Instead, she went away due to visa issues, then came back and, well, did some stuff. She was obviously featured less, which is a shame because she should have had a big 2020. Rhea’s still young, so I have no doubt she’ll rebound. Hopefully WWE still knows what they have with her.

Len Archibald

5. Shotzi Blackheart
4. Minoru Suzuki
3. Moose
2. Cameron Grimes

1. Asuka – Hear me out. Asuka is GREAT, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an observation of her in-ring abilities. This is more about the portrayal of the Empress of Tomorrow on WWE television contrary to what most believed would happen to her once she hit the main roster (and ran smack(down) into the iceberg known as Charlotte). Asuka at one point was becoming close to fading too far into the background to matter and was becoming dangerously close to being viewed as one of those talents who WWE royally screwed up and let get away (already within the context of the “what if?” of Kairi Sane’s short WWE stint), but early in the new COVID-era WWE Asuka turned up her mojo and that led to her winning Money in the Bank and earning the Raw Women’s Title in a genuinely great moment with Becky Lynch that will be revisited for years to come.

She had been consistently great in my opinion on Raw and Pay Per View and she has been presented as a legitimate threat and a major player on WWE’s flagship show, something I’m not sure a lot of people really would have predicted happening. She’s even made past segments with Lana semi-entertaining because of her own madcap persona. Asuka has not been portrayed as some stereotypical geisha or a foreign, menacing heel hell bent on destroying American ideals, nor has any other expected tropes that may have made her stand out as a joke of some kind has formed. She ended the year as a seriously booked double-champion. Did anyone see that coming into the beginning of the year?

Maybe the fact that it doesn’t need to be pointed out and I’m being the douche stating the obvious is the 2020 miracle in WWE. I have been digging what she’s been doing this year and I feel not enough people are talking about her and what I feel has been a bang up repair of Asuka’s aura and she deserves all the credit for taking everything given to her and running with it. I honestly believe over time her 2020 reign will be viewed as one of the better ones in the modern era and will open the door to WWE branching away from the original Four Horsewomen as anchors of the women’s division on the main roster.

Jake Chambers

5. Sheamus
4. John Morrison
3. Trent Seven

1. Mansoor – Mansoor seems like a guy no one wants to talk about other than when these anomaly Saudi show thrillers pop up and he looks like a major superstar then totally drops off the radar. Maybe there’s a bit of Tom Magee syndrome going on with Cesaro and Ziggler doing the Bret Hart work to make Mansoor look like a super hero to his home country crowds, but after his run on 205 Live in the last quarter of the year, I don’t think you can deny this guy his charism and fire, nor what appears to be a nicely varied move set paired with a well learned old school ring psychology. Collecting these undefeated streaks on both 205 Live and on the Saudi shows is building an aura around him as well that could have some astounding effects in the future. So when Mansoor is main eventing Super ShowDown 2023 putting his undefeated streak against Roman Reigns’ world title in a match that is like a cross between Eddie/Brock and Hogan/Rock, remember who warned you this dude was underrated.

Ian Hamilton

5. Robbie X
4. Killer Kelly
3. Timothy Thatcher
2. Saxon Huxley

1. Norman Harras – This isn’t a “I’ve poked fun at him in reviews and on Twitter” bit. In what could have been a year to forget, Norman Harras has managed to flesh out a character and tell a story where he was the bullied minion of a group – only to end the year holding his first championship in the company. They say you’ve got to “show ass” at times – and while chowing down dog food might not have been the most fun experience, but it does seem to have laid the ground for a comeback story that’ll continue to be told in this new year.

Kevin Pantoja

5. Penelope Ford
4. Taichi
3. Liv Morgan
2. Billie Kay

1. John Silver – For this list, I didn’t want to go with underutilized people. The names like Cesaro or Ricochet who everyone knows are good but they just don’t get the push fans want. I wanted to go with those who are consistently good performers but don’t get the love they deserve. Ford is one of the better members of AEW’s division, Taichi turned in great singles and tag matches throughout the year, Liv Morgan is a future star, and Billie Kay is both a solid wrestler and a hilarious character. John Silver tops the list because he became a consistent bright spot for AEW and was the best member of Dark Order besides Brodie Lee. He is someone who should get a major push for AEW in 2021 because he’s that good.

Jeremy Thomas

5. The Lucha Bros.
4. Billie Kay
3. Shotzi Blackheart
2. Liv Morgan

1. Moose – If there’s anyone outside of the New Big Two who should be working at one of them, it’s undoubtedly Moose. The TNA World Champion has been simmering under for years, and 2020 was the year that he absolutely came into his own. The “TNA World Title” storyline was originally played as a joke, but the guy has elevated it to the point that they don’t use the World Title for comedy anymore. It’s baffling to me that Moose doesn’t have more of a following and while I’m glad that he’s still at Impact where he’s a big part of a very entertaining show, I do think more people need to catch onto what he did over the last 12 months.

AND 411’s TOP 5 Most Underrated Performers of 2020 ARE…

5. Billie Kay6 points

4. Liv Morgan7 points

T-2. Moose8 points

T-2. Cameron Grimes8 points

1. The Lucha Bros9 points