wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Eleven) – The Best Women’s Wrestlers of 2020

January 14, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Sasha Banks and Bayley WWE Raw

Welcome back to Part Twelve 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 Best Women’s Wrestlers of the year. Let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. Deonna Purrazzo
4. Io Shirai
3. Jordynne Grace
2. Bayley

1. Asuka – My eternal love and respect for Grace and Shirai aside, this is pretty easily a two-horse race. Bayley and Asuka were dominant for long stretches of 2020. Asuka really shined at the start of the no-crowd era where he incessant yelling and taunting made her stand out against so many people just going through the motions. Bayley was the must-see heel that WWE thought Charlotte would be post-Mania; her work was so obnoxious, and she seemed to be putting her heart into it. Ultimately, I will give the edge to Asuka. She’s just had better matches top-to-bottom. But this is really a 1A and 1B for me here.

Jeffrey Harris

5. Asuka
4. Serena Deeb
3. Thunder Rosa
2. Giulia

1. Sasha Banks – I think it was unquestionable that for a long time Sasha Banks was getting lost in the shuffle in WWE. Despite establishing herself as one of the top workers on the roster, it seemed she was constantly getting the shaft. In her entire WWE run, she had yet to even successfully defend her title. It happened yet again when she had a brief Raw title run after beating Asuka. I think that all changed once Bayley finally turned on her, and fans finally got to see a feud they had been begging to see for years. It finally paid off, and credit to WWE, Sasha Banks vs. Bayley was one of their better feuds for 2020, and the matches were great. But more than anything, Banks finally got the strong title run she was well overdue for.

Steve Cook

5. Thunder Rosa
4. Asuka
3. Sasha Banks
2. Bayley

1. Deonna Purrazzo – Deonna Purrazzo bet on herself. She could have stayed in WWE’s developmental system forever, and maybe gotten a chance to shine on one of their TV shows one of these days. Eventually. She didn’t want to wait. Purrazzo knew she was ready to shine. So she got her release, and she found a promotion willing to take her. Impact Wrestling saw the talent there, highlighted it, and Deonna dominated the Knockouts Championship during the second half of 2020 with some classic matches. WWE didn’t see it, but pretty much everybody else did.

Len Archibald

5. Rhea Ripley
4. Bayley
3. Sasha Banks
2. Asuka

1. Io Shirai – So I’ve already let the cat out of the bag: I believe Io Shirai is the best overall wrestler in 2020. I know, I’m crazy. But this is me doing me and all I can say is no other individual captivated me me more than the Genius of the Sky. Her character in my opinion is the most consistent in wrestling – whether babyface or heel all she cares about is fighting, defending her title and being absolutely batshit crazy doing it. Io is presented as a force of nature – from the disorienting bass of the 808s and strobes from her entrance to everything she does in the ring, it all has a purpose into the insight of her character and Io is willing to put her body on the line to inflict the most damage to her opponent.

Whether she is killing it against Charlotte and Rhea Ripley in a triple threat, having great showdowns with Candace LaRae, suddenly banging out a MOTYC against Rhea Ripley late in the year, having a banger against Sasha Banks…or JUMPING OFF THE WARGAMES CAGE WITH A TRASHCAN OVER HER BODY, there is no limit to what the NXT Women’s Champion will rise to in order to express her passion to perform. The things she has been doing to her body for our entertainment this year has been insane. I am appreciative of her efforts and accomplishments. Io is wrestling in 2020 to me: pure carnage and chaos with no rhyme or reason to it, but you know it is compelling and brilliant and sometimes frightening. Top it all off – she reigns as queen of what I believe to be the best division in all of wrestling, and I can’t think of anyone else even close to the current NXT Women’s Champion to be the best Women’s Wrestler of 2020.

Jake Chambers

5. Kay Lee Ray
4. Bayley
3. Sasha Banks
2. Mayu Iwatani

1. Io Shirai – To be honest, the women’s “divisions” that are arbitrarily tacked on to men’s wrestling shows don’t do much for me. While there were some awesome women’s matches in the WWE/NXT that I watched this year, there’s little logic as to the hierarchy of when the female performers are given TV time to run angles or have meaningful matches. Because of this, outside of title feuds, we still get as many rushed storylines and nonsensical TV matches in the WWE for women as there ever was. I thought Io Shirai had as good a year as you can have in this environment, but it’s hardly comparable to her years as a main eventer in the Japanese women’s promotion Stardom. So I’ve got Mayu Iwatani as #2, even though I just don’t have the time to watch much Stardom (or EVE or Tokyo Joshi Pro or Shimmer) but want to acknowledge that women’s wrestling can stand on its own. So I would prefer if the women either wrestled intergender with the men or had their own programming, but as stacked as the WWE women’s roster is on paper I think we’re still far off from seeing this as a rightful reality.

Ian Hamilton

5. Mercedes Martinez
4. Britt Baker
3. Sasha Banks
2. Bayley

1. Deonna Purrazzo – “Women’s wrestling” has taken a bit of a hit in 2020, with the two big western women’s-only promotions having run a heavily-reduced schedule. Save for the Collective, SHIMMER didn’t run in 2020, while EVE went on hiatus after their March show. What we were left with on the indies were those working the “token” matches, or those working intergender on the indies. Deonna’s 2020 was similarly weird – going from NXT to a debut on Raw and then being released. Immediately landing in Impact, she became the centrepiece of the promotion’s women’s division, and held their Knockouts title for the majority of the second half of the year. With extra eyes on Impact as a result of whatever’s going on with AEW, hopefully there’ll be some opportunities for a move over to Dark or Dynamite?

Kevin Pantoja

5. Asuka
4. Hikaru Shida
3. Bayley
2. Io Shirai

1. Sasha Banks – Hikaru Shida might’ve ranked higher if she got some actual feuds to work with. Asuka was consistently entertaining, Bayley had a record setting year, and Io Shirai was basically a goddess. She would’ve locked this up most years but Sasha Banks was on a tear in 2020. As soon as she and Bayley won the Tag Titles, she was nearly untouchable. Banks had a great, entertaining run with Bayley. She won the Raw Women’s Title for a bit. After splitting from Bayley, she turned in great babyface work in more great matches and won the Smackdown Women’s Title. Stellar performances against Bayley, Asuka, Shirai, and others across all three brands made her hard to not put on the top.

Jeremy Thomas

5. Bayley
4. Deonna Purrazzo
3. Jordynne Grace
2. Asuka

1. Io Shirai – When it comes to in-ring workers, I don’t think anyone has delivered consistently among the women of the wrestling world. Shirai’s matches have consistently been excellent and it’s led her to a hell of a 2020 — you know, even considering it was 2020. I don’t recall her having an actively bad match for the year; whether she was facing Shotzi Blackheart, Charlotte Flair, Toni Storm or Tegan Nox, Shirai could always be counted on to give a match that fans would be happy with. The main roster duo of Banks and Bayley were very good and Jordynne Grace and Deonna Purrazzo kept the Knockouts division going very strong, but Shirai was the easy pick for best women’s wrestler of the year for me.

AND 411’s TOP 5 Women’s Wrestlers of 2020 ARE…

5. Deonna Purrazzo13 points

4. Asuka17 points

3. Bayley20 points

2. Io Shirai21 points

1. Sasha Banks22 points