wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Eight) – The Best Weekly Shows of 2020

January 10, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
NXT WWE Superstars NXT's WWE NXT Logo NXT TV - NXT on USA Network Ealy

Welcome back to Part Eight 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 Weekly Show of the year. Let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. Raw
4. Smackdown
3. Impact
2. AEW Dynamite

1. NXT – NXT had a wild year. A strong start, kind of a lull in the middle in the “Here Comes Karrion Kross” era, and then it finished about as high as it has ever been. And man, with AEW and NXT pushing each other, both shows were fantastic all year. Honestly, we are all winners as long as they keep competing and that means NXT gives us stuff like Halloween Havoc and Great American Bash and hour long 4 man iron man matches on weekly TV. But for me? I watch NXT when they air and catch up with AEW later.

Jeffrey Harris

5. NXT
4. WWE SmackDown
3. NJPW Strong
2. AEW Dark

1. AEW Dynamite – I think just in terms of a wrestling program giving what you need in terms of bell-to-bell action and exciting storylines from week to week, AEW Dynamite has done a pretty good job. Now granted, I find watching wrestling during the pandemic tougher than ever. However, I do think from the word go, Dynamite did a pretty good job and set the standard on how to present wrestling in times like this.

I like that they set the hard camera at the entrance. It calls attention away from the empty seats. And they have performers behind the guardrails serving as a default audience and making some noise and reacting to the action. In this era, it’s far from perfect, but AEW set a standard for presentation during the pandemic that WWE later copied for its events through most of the year.

Steve Cook

5. Ring of Honor Wrestling
4. Impact Wrestling
3. WWE SmackDown
2. Dark Side of the Ring

1. AEW Dynamite – The decision between my top two was really tough. I don’t think any wrestling series got to the same highs as Dark Side did in 2020. Every episode they did was a home run. I give the nod to AEW Dynamite since they ran all year & did the best job of running through a pandemic and having things make sense in their universe. Not all of their episodes were home runs, but the Brodie Lee tribute episode was right up there with Dark Side’s Benoit, Owen & Dino Bravo episodes. The gap between 1, 2 & everything else is pretty immense.

Len Archibald

5. WWE Smackdown
4. Impact
2. AEW Dynamite

1. NXT – NXT just gets it. Even with the expanded time NXT just knows how to maximize every moment down to its essence, yet its devotion to bare-bones simplicity continues to be its strength: it allows each of its own talents time to shine and to breathe – meaning that there is no overexposure, we get to spend just enough time with Par McAfee to know he’s a righteous douche. He doesn’t need to be on the show each week and it works. It allows for the evolution of characters through their in-ring abilities: KUSHIDA hasn’t needed one promo for me to know he’s taken on a new bad ass attitude and has been kicking ass. NXT still provided out of nowhere gems like Leon Ruff’s out of nowhere rise to fame, or even better yet, Kyle O’Reilly’s legitimacy as a main eventer in light of Finn Blair’s shocking return and rise to become NXT Champion.

But for me, nothing highlighted NXT’s excellent 2020 as its women’s division which may go down in history as one of the most stacked and talented. The year started with Rhea Ripley as the hottest star, not just in NXT, or WWE, but the entire planet whose fame grew further as the first NXT Champion to defend her title at WrestleMania…yes, Charlotte. I know. Sigh. IT KEEPS HAPPENING. But Charlotte’s time as NXT Women’s champion was not a waste of time as it raised the stock and visibility of the title and allowed NXT producers to begin introducing and interweaving the various players of the 2020 women’s division who all had their fair share of shine: Rhea and Charlotte, the brash Bianca Belair, pre-Retribution Mia Yim, Tegan Nox before her unfortunate injury, her nemesis – the diabolical Dakota Kai and her new heavy Raquel Gonzalez, firecracker babyface Shotzi Blackheart, a heel Candace LaRae that proved me wrong as a tremendous heel and her lackey Indi Hartwell, a rejuvenated Ember Moon, a badass Toni Storm, a Mercedes Martinez with a new purpose (thankfully)…there is still intrigue over how Xia Lee will find herself in the mix after she returns from those bonkers vignettes or the tag team I dub KC and the Sunshine Band (Kacy Catanzaro and Kayden Carter) – all revolving around the orbit of who I believe is the best in the world, the NXT Women’s Champion Io Shirai. All throughout 2020, the NXT women’s division has weaved in and out of different stories seamlessly with fleshed out characters and motivations, with rarely a moment where I questioned any story decisions that seemed illogical. The road from Rhea to Io and everything between has been compelling and satisfying and while AEW Dynamite showed that their first full calendar year was no joke, especially in light of a pandemic – I have to go with NXT as the more well-rounded show…maybe I’ll say pound for pound it’s the best wrestling show on TV.

Jake Chambers

5. Ring of Honor Wrestling
4. NJPW Strong
3. WWE Smackdown
2. NXT

1. NXT UK – A couple of days ago I nominated WWE for Promotion of the Year based on the excellence of the NXT UK weekly show, so it was a lock for my number one spot here. What’s great about NXT UK is that it feels basically self-contained with little stinky taint from the main WWE brands. NXT UK has their own jobbers who you root for, tag teams that feel like friends who want to be partners, and championship tiers with logical stakes. During the empty arena era, they decided to hold a tournament of British Rules matches and it was wildly refreshing. The wrestlers fighting for that Heritage Cup were able to chart out narrative arcs in these matches based on the round sequences that provided many unique thrills and challenges that live audiences probably wouldn’t have been patient enough to sit through and take in. And, c’mon, they had the outstanding WALTER vs. Ilya Dragunov match on just some regular episode one week, and that wasn’t even my favourite NXT UK TV match of the year

Robert S Leighty Jr.

5. RAW
4. 205 Live
3. SmackDown
2. AEW Dynamite

1. NXT – Deciding between the top two was like splitting hairs, but I always find myself enjoying NXT more than Dynamite. Some of that is I am more invested in the wrestlers on NXT because NXT has been around longer. Wednesday nights are amazing right now for wrestling fans and you can’t go wrong with picking either show, but NXT is the one I watch live while I check AEW out on the West Coast feed. Just as a special mention 205 Live had a great year and if you haven’t been watching that show check it out as well and it likely would have been 3 on my list but the emergence of the new Roman Reigns character since August has been an amazing boost to SmackDown.

Ian Hamilton

5. AEW Dark
4. NXT
3. ROH (return)
2. MLW Fusion

1. AEW Dynamite – Pretty much every weekly TV show’s had to contend with new challenges this year. Watching back that first pandemic-era episode of Dynamite was suitably bleak and dark – with an atmosphere to match, despite having a handful of wrestlers at ringside. They grew throughout that time, and after running a spate of shows taped in Georgia with a very limited roster, AEW continued to tweak things to fit what they could do. By the end of the year, AEW was perhaps the American promotion that was the closest to the “old normal” in the sense of having crowds and atmospheres. It’s not been a perfect show, and I’ve not been overly keen on the relative overuse of “special” shows, but more often than not they’ve been my pick of the Wednesday Night Wrestling shows in 2020.

Kevin Pantoja

5. WWE Raw
4. Impact TV
3. WWE Smackdown

1. AEW Dynamite – The Wednesday Night Wars top the list. To me, NXT was far superior when they first went at it in late 2019. Things switched up in 2020. AEW got off to a wild start and their series of Dynamite episodes in February was some of the best wrestling on TV ever. Both shows stumbled in the early stages of the pandemic but both eventually found their footing. I think NXT did better with special episodes like The Great American Bash but Dynamite was more consistently good. It often felt like a show that you couldn’t miss. Now, if only they could book the women properly.

Jeremy Thomas

5. Smackdown
4. NJPW Strong
3. NXT
2. Impact Wrestling

1. AEW Dynamite – A quick caveat: I know a lot of people are going to scoff at me putting Impact over NXT for the #2 spot. That’s perfectly fine. I went by what shows most consistently entertained me in 2020 and NXT was generally great, but I had a blast with Impact for the most part. But anyway, we’re here to talk about #1 and that has to be AEW Dynamite. Dynamite had some things that didn’t resonate, like every show did. But it was also the show with the highest highs and the biggest on-screen moments in episodic wrestling this year. AEW has been able to deal with the many challenges provided by 2020 in the most effective manner to keep the show going strong and that’s more than enough to earn the top spot.

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

5. NXT UK8 points

4. Impact Wrestling13 points

3. WWE Smackdown18 points

2. NXT29 points

1. AEW Dynamite37 points