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The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Seven) – The Most Outstanding Performers of 2020

January 9, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Bayley Smackdown

Welcome back to Part Seven 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 Outstanding Performer of the year. Let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. Kenny Omega
4. Kyle O’Reilly
3. Sasha Banks
2. Io Shirai

1. Finn Balor – For the record, Pentagon and PAC would both be in the top 5 if they hadn’t missed so much time in AEW due to travel restrictions during the pandemic. Love both of those guys. But for me, Finn’s year felt like Johnny Gargano’s from a year or two ago. He just put on match after match after match. I never cared about Damien Priest… until Finn pulled a great encounter out of him. Never had an affinity for Timothy Thatcher… until he and Finn tried to murder each other. The hour long iron man match? The subsequent sudden death match with Cole? Finn and O’Reilly going to war? All fantastic stuff. NXT Finn is the god damn man, and he proved to WWE fans that he is SO MUCH more than The Demon.

Jeffrey Harris

5. Gino Gambino
4. Eddie Kingston
3. Roman Reigns
2. Kenny Omega

1. Pat McAfee – Even a microphone stud like CM Punk and WWE Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin have singled out the efforts of Pat McAfee in NXT. McAfee is a former NFL player, yes a high-level athlete, but he was still a man with very little in-ring time and experience before he was inserted into one of the top angles in NXT. Normally, an outside athlete or “celebrity” coming into a major wrestling angle or mixing it up with top guys in the business is looked down upon. Sure, there have been some positive moments time to time, but McAfee set himself apart from past instances of celebrity or sports star appearances in wrestling.

McAfee is actually a huge wrestling fan, and it shows. It looks like in another life or dimension, he could’ve become a WWE World champion or one of the top stars in the business. McAfee not only loves the business, but he understands and gets it in ways that some veterans do not or could stand to take some pointers on. Everything he says he does with conviction and belief. He never sounds like he’s reading a script or even reciting bullet points. He’s a shocking natural.

I’m giving McAfee the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award not just because he’s done a fantastic job, but he’s really defied all logic and expectations for how these types of angles, storylines, and sports or celebrity crossovers in wrestling and WWE do go down. And once again, some of the best promo guys in the business who don’t always have nice things to say about WWE’s current product have singled out his work. So, hats off to McAfee.

Steve Cook

5. Sasha Banks
4. Bayley
3. Roman Reigns
2. Drew McIntyre

1. Jon Moxley – I’ll be honest, I didn’t see much wrestling outside of WWE, AEW, Impact & ROH in 2020. So I don’t know where I’d put Naito or Ibushi or whoever else is being hyped in Japan these days. From what I did see, Moxley was the best performer in 2020. Carried the AEW Championship well and defended against a variety of opponents in very good matches. When he wasn’t around, he could send in a promo that made it seem like he wasn’t too far away. Since leaving WWE, Moxley has been determined to succeed on his own terms, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing.

Len Archibald

5. Sasha Banks
4. Tetsuo Naito
3. Asuka
2. Jon Moxley

1. Io Shirai – Io is known as Jupiter’s most prominent moon, its most dense and with the number of volcanoes it produces, its most volatile, much in the vein of the performer I believe just blew my mind more than anyone else in 2020. In my opinion, the best wrestling show on TV also boasted its best champion: a wonderfully unique sociopathic Japanese import who is not defined or bound by any traditional face/heel lines and is about as smooth in the ring as anyone I have ever seen, male or female. Most everyone within NXT’s women’s division in 2020 had a very clear character with goals and obstacles and antagonists and allies…all intertwined and interwoven beautifully, all with the goal to achieve the NXT Women’s Championship.

Io was already showing flashes of brilliance at the beginning of the year with a match against Toni Storm that put her out for two months, but when she returned in March, everything changed. This Io was in pure DGAF mode and came back as a force of nature, essentially tearing apart the roster with no regard for her own body in ladder matches, TLC matches and Wargames matches where she would think up crazy shit like – I don’t know – JUMPING OFF A CAGE BLIND WITH A TRASHCAN OVER YOUR BODY. Her renewed rivalry with Candace LaRae produced multiple bangers – and let’s not forget that random end-of-year gift that she and Rhea Ripley randomly dropped on NXT that solidified Io’s spot at the top of the mountain like Jet Li at the end of The One (Io is NO ONE’S BITCH.) While 2020 supplied mounds of inspiring work, promos and match output from Moxley, Banks, Naito, Asuka, McIntyre, Omega, etc., it was the Genius of the Sky who continued to inspire my imagination as she dives off In Your House sets like she drinks in the face of death like a morning protein shake. Io was incapable of a bad match with anyone in 2020 (which, yes, is a cheat because she sits atop the best division in wrestling), a master storyteller, but most importantly was the engine that propelled the NXT Women’s division. Under Shirai’s championship reign, the division expanded and evolved to its current incarnation which I believe is the best in the world. Under Io, the NXT women’s division has a credibility that to me is unmatched and she has been the not only the pinnacle, but the nucleus. To me, she was everything I wanted to see in wrestling in 2020 and she delivered every single tim

Jake Chambers

5. Seth Rollins
4. Jay White
3. Roman Reigns
2. Randy Orton

1. Cody – Who do you even compare Cody to at this point? 2000 Triple H? Late streak The Undertaker? Prime NWA Dusty Rhodes? He combines elements of all these guys, but is doing it in 2020 when not only is kayfabe dead, WWE will probably made a Network documentary this year called “24: Kayfabe is Dead”. Without being a “cool” bad guy, Cody forced me to care about what he’s doing despite all the nepotism, good looks, and old school ring psychology he’s got working against him to a generally miserable, jealous person like myself. On top of all his accolades, achievements, great promos and epic matches, in 2020 (of all years) he got an unhide-ably gigantic, patriotic USA neck tattoo that couldn’t possibly look any worse. That’s the kind of FU bravado that’s gonna get you my Most Outstanding Performer every time!

Ian Hamilton

4. Lee Moriarty
3. Ricky Knight Jr.
2. Cara Noir

1. Marius al-Ani – In such a disjointed year, a lot of the “indie” names who’d usually be working at least weekly have seen their dates drop – so in terms of consistency you’ll have to look at the bigger promotions… and since I don’t watch Raw or SmackDown on a weekly basis, it’d be unfair to wildly pick out a name. So I’m going to go to wXw for my pick, and it’s someone who this time last year was on the proverbial naughty step. Since then, he’s been on a bit of a tear in wXw, having racked up 16 singles wins in a row since his first round elimination at Carat. That’s propelled him into the upper echelon of the promotion, and is an excellent “so good you hate them” bad guy to go up against any good guy on the European scene.

Kevin Pantoja

5. Drew McIntyre
4. Io Shirai
3. Hiromu Takahashi
2. Sasha Banks

1. Roman Reigns – Consider this. When it came time for this award, I didn’t even hesitate to put Roman Reigns at the top. That’s despite him missing a good chunk of the year. That’s how good he has been since returning at the end of August. From September through the end of 2020, he has been so far ahead of everyone that he did enough to take over the entire year. From his presence to his matches to his promos to his character work, there is not a soul in wrestling on his level. He is 100% a case of quality over quantity, even overcoming his bad feud with King Corbin.

Jeremy Thomas

5. Sasha Banks
4. Drew McIntyre
3. Bayley
2. Kenny Omega

1. Roman Reigns – This was my easiest pick of the Year-End Awards. People have been begging WWE — absolutely begging them — to turn Roman Reigns heel for years. It always made so much sense to many in the wrestling community; he seemed like a natural fit. I remember seeing him talk at a Wizard World Portland panel years back and thinking, “Why doesn’t WWE let this guy be natural? He’s got the charisma to deliver.” 2020 was the year it finally happened, and it was glorious. It’s not an understatement to say that Reigns absolutely carried Smackdown for the back half of the year. His alliance with Heyman was pitch perfect and he’s had great feuds almost across the board since he came back. And he’s done it all because he’s been allowed to let the natural performer come out. His matches have been compelling, his mic work is infinitely better — he’s simply the complete package now, and no one had the year he did in terms of on-camera work, whether in the ring or out of it.

AND 411’s TOP 5 Outstanding Performers of 2020 ARE…

5. Bayley6 points

4. Kenny Omega9 points

3. Io Shirai11 points

2. Sasha Banks14 points

1. Roman Reigns19 points