Alex has been an online sports and pop culture writer for five years. When he's not writing about sports, Alex is an aspiring screenwriter.
2020 stunk. Let’s address that elephant in the room. The world fell down around us and the world of wrestling was hit too. In addition to the numerous problems in the world, WWE made some bad decisions. Remember Raw Underground? Wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t. Or how about Retribution? Here we had a gaggle of losers that resembled generic created wrestlers. They made so little impact that bringing them up this way feels like the only way to talk about them. (Plus there are criticisms that don't have a place in this article.) But for all the rightful criticisms WWE has received, the company tried to make the best of a bad situation. And PPVs not only varied in quality this year, but there was variety in how PPVs were even presented. So, here’s a ranking of each show from worst to best.
Will… there ever be a year that a Saudi Arabia show doesn’t make the bottom of one of these lists? Granted, I miss when awful Saudi shows were the worst of our problems. But anyone who skipped this show for ethical reasons made the right call. The Fiend lost his cool factor when he was squashed by Goldberg who was so decrepit, he couldn’t even perform a proper Jackhammer. Yeah, The Fiend earned his mojo back but still. Remember when Goldberg nearly killed The Undertaker? Remember when WWE used to bury old WCW talent? (As of this writing, he’s being slated for ANOTHER title shot against Drew McIntrye.) Speaking of burials, Ricochet got buried for no good reason. And no, it’s not a burial simply because he lost. We will see some examples of guys losing that aren’t burials. However, no one expected him to beat Brock Lesnar. What makes this a burial is that he could have at least put up a fight. That’s the bad news. The rest of the show? Nothing else to really talk about.
WWE put on a major show literally a week after Summerslam. Honestly, for a show cobbled together that quickly, it was decent. In fact, the gulf between this show and Super Showdown is ginormous. Roman Reigns winning the Universal Title and beginning his epic heel turn is the big news and really felt like this show’s raison d’etra. It was weird but also kind of refreshing to see a show with only one world title on the line. It was nice to see Keith Lee make a big main roster debut and there were some okay matches. The Mysterio brood vs. Rollins and Murphy was pretty good, as was the U.S. title match. It’s only towards the bottom because there was much better in the year. But for the subterranean bar, WWE did a decent job.
This show may actually depress me more than Super Showdown. March 8 – That date sound familiar? Okay, probably not because it was a few days before the world shut down. And that’s the sad thing: Remember crowds? Remember people? Remember things? This was the last major show WWE produced in front of a live crowd. And they hardly went out on a high note. “Universe Mode” has become shorthand for random matches. And with both world champions being part-timers, that’s how this show felt. For what it’s worth, there were some solid matches and some feuds were progressed. The women’s number one contendership was the main event because SOMETHING had to be. I’m all for women headlining shows. However, Shayna Bazler didn’t win her title match and spent most of the year as just another woman on the roster. Hindsight does not defend this one.
WWE literally promoted Edge vs. Orton as the Greatest Wrestling Match Ever. This became one of those things where even roasting WWE for this became a tired take. In hindsight, I kind of admire the “legitimate puffery” at hand. To their credit, Edge and Orton put on one of the best main roster matches of the year. (Though, that wouldn’t be nearly as catchy.) Unfortunately, some post-production “fixes” and obvious crowd sweetening hold this match back from true greatness. The rest of this show was serviceable but nothing special. We were robbed of that McIntryre vs. Mahall dream match we all wanted. (I hope you pick up the sarcasm because I’m laying it on pretty thick.) Instead, TNA history was recreated with Bobby Lashley vs. McIntyre. Decent match, but the Hurt Business was still getting over. Braun Strowman fought off both Miz and Morrison in what felt like a Smackdown main event. Everything else was nothing special. Oh, except the bizarre Viking Raiders vs. Street Profits match – unquestionably WWE’s worst “movie match”.
The Horror Show at Extreme Rules
With the promise of “Horror Show,” I simultaneously had high expectations and low expectations. By that, I figured we would see something good or at least something bad in an entertaining way. Sadly, this show didn’t live up to its lofty promise. I mean, this was barely Halloween Havoc level of absurdity! Only two matches really lived up to the Horror Show premise. As mentioned earlier, WWE had already bottomed out with the movie match premise. But even though the Wyatt swamp fight was a marked improvement, the bloom was off the rose. The Eye for an Eye match was better, even if the stipulation pushed believability. Dolph Ziggler playing Calvin Ball by booking a match that was advantageous for him was entertaining. As was Bayley trying to referee a match to save Sasha’s title. Speaking of Bayley, she had a respectable defense against Nikki Cross. Despite some worthwhile talent, the Smackdown Tables match was forgettable. WWE did a better horror show later in the year. But we’ll get to that one.
Money in the Bank
WWE had proven that they could run a solid show without a crowd. And without one, they settled on another cinematic match for the annual Money in the Bank match… es. Yes, both men’s and women’s money in the bank would happen simultaneously. At first, I thought this was a bad idea. But considering how it played out, that was the right call. And what a match it was: We saw impressive spots, comedy spots, and obvious post-production spots. Some of these even made me laugh out loud. But those couldn’t deter this match. What did deter this match? It seems like since 2017 the women’s briefcase holders have been used wisely and the men have been busts. Tradition continues. When Becky Lynch went on maternity leave, she gave the belt to Asuka. Since we’ve seen sneak attacks a billion times (and we’ll see them a billion more), this was a smart move. While her runs have been spotty in 2020, she proved she’s worthy and even reinvented herself as a lovable goofball. Otis was less desired. Honestly, I can live with the guy as an upper midcard goof, but he hasn’t proven he’s ready for the big leagues. Hardly appearing on PPVs and losing the briefcase shows WWE realized their mistake. Not to mention HOW he won it. AJ rightfully pulled the briefcase down, but Otis caught it. Since when has that counted? But that was one black eye on an extremely entertaining match.
Oh yeah, there was the rest of the show. Drew McIntyre had his first successful title defense in a great match against Seth Rollins. Braun Strowman also defended the first time against Bray Wyatt, in what would be the seeds of a more entertaining feud. The four-way tag match was also decent. Bayley vs. Tamina and Lashley vs. R-Truth sure… happened. This show was a mixed bag but overall entertaining.
After months of shows in empty arenas, WWE finally had a crowd… from a certain point of view. Yes, WWE debuted the Thunderdome. It’s kind of a cheap way to get fans back into arenas, but it’s safe, and it’s refreshing to hear reactions again. (Even it’s sometimes obvious they’ve been sweetened) Dominik Mysterio made an impressive debut against Seth Rollins. Drew McIntyre and Randy Orton had an impressive match without even using their finishers. Real life tragedy turned Sonya DeVille vs. Mandy Rose into a loser leaves town match. (If you don’t know what happened, I’d rather not talk about it.) The Fiend regained his Universal Title in a wild brawl against Braun Strowman. However, he was just borrowing it. Because the real news of the night was the return of Roman Reigns, who turned heel and became one of the best things in WWE. Most matches were at least good, and there were no major stinkers. But this is still a show that would likely get forgotten shortly after watching.
In 2016, Survivor Series went from redheaded stepchild of the big four. But it has felt like declining returns ever since. The Smackdown vs. Raw Survivor Series match did nothing wrong, but the brand warfare theme has been diluted. The women’s match was worse and turned into a borderline comedy match. There was still more good than bad on this show. Even if we had seen it several times already, Sasha vs. Asuka was pretty good – these are women who can deliver. New Day vs. Street Profits was also a winner. And even though Roman and Drew had a few matches in 2019, their showdown at Survivor Series topped them all. The main event of the evening was the retirement ceremony for the Undertaker. Yeah, it was weird that several legends made entrances for no reason. However, this was still a good retirement for one of the most important wrestlers in WWE History.
The build for WWE’s biggest show of the year coincided with the inevitable shutdown. I may rate this show a little generously, but I respect WWE’s ability to make lemonade out of the lemons they were given. They even went so far as to make “I wasn’t at Wrestlemania” shirts and cleverly acknowledged the situation in the video package. Plus, we still needed entertainment in that tough time. Split over two nights, Wrestlemania was the first show with no crowd. Even if I admire the heart, this show had a lot of fluff and padding. Despite a memorable ending, Orton and Edge’s Last Man Standing match was surprisingly dull. Otis’s victory over Ziggler was an emotional highlight, even if it wasn’t a mat classic. The women’s 5-way was more entertaining for Bayley roasting the commentary team but still decent.
The two world title matches weren’t exactly mat classics but seeing the right guys win made them feel-good moments. (Brock has been MIA since. I get the feeling that when he was told to social distance, he just thought “Done and done”.) Becky Lynch defended her title in her swan song match before becoming a mommy. Rhea vs. Charlotte was good, but it was irksome to see Rhea fed to Charlotte in what should have been Rhea’s star-making moment. Considering Charlotte was out most of the year, it’s a good thing WWE got behind that promising newcomer. The real highlight was the movie matches. Let’s be honest: Cena vs. the Fiend and Taker vs. AJ probably would have been only okay as regular matches. But The Fiend regained his mojo against Cena in one of the most weirdly entertaining “matches” of the year. The match saw many eras and alternate realities of Cena. The Undertaker (hopefully) had his swan song in what felt more like an actual match. Boneyard and Firefly Funhouse were the kind of silly lighthearted entertainment that made me feel good at a time we all needed it.
Hell in a Cell
A Hell in a Cell match had an ending! I’ve bemoaned how the match that used to be THE feud-ender has been watered down. But after two straight years of main event matches without a conclusion, even an actual ending felt like a victory. Fortunately, that wasn’t the only highlight. The show lived up to its name as all three Cell matches were bangers. Orton vs. McIntyre was excellent, Bayley vs. Sasha was the blood feud match fans had been waiting for. It may have been the best women’s match all year. Roman vs. Jey wasn’t as good as their prior effort but continued building Reigns’ character. Alas, this was a show of peaks and valleys. Those matches were all good, but everything else felt like “Universe Mode” shenanigans. Honestly, rubbish like Jeff Hardy vs. Elias should have been on TV. Retribution actually made it to a PPV. But of course, they continued their losing ways as Bobby Lashley mauled Slapjack. (Presumably, Fit-Bit, T-bone, and Dog Food were busy that night.) Miz vs. Otis at least sort of felt like it belonged on the main stage. Or maybe I just feel that way because I was happy to see Otis lose his briefcase. Luckily WWE capitalized on Tucker’s betrayal by keeping the two on separate brands and making Tucker a complete jobber.
Clash of Champions
When I heard that Jey Uso was going to challenge Roman Reigns for the Universal title, I thought it was going to be some 7:40 dark horse match before Roman moved on to bigger fish. (Don’t ask why I had it down to the second.) Instead, it headlined the show. Not only did Jey and Roman tear down the house in a match of the year candidate. It was an emotional rollercoaster that revealed Jey Uso was ready for primetime. Plus it solidified Roman as one of the best heels in wrestling right now. This show was bookended with great matches as the show began with a superb triple threat ladder match. Everything in the middle was pretty average though. Zelina Vega’s last stand saw her in a decent effort against Asuka. Asuka did double duty in a fairly pointless stopgap in the Bayley-Sasha feud. Bobby Lashley and Apollo Crews battled for the U.S. Title. The match wasn’t bad, but we’ve seen it before, and we’ve seen it better. Randy Orton battled Drew McIntyre in a solid ambulance match. Orton mostly received comeuppance from all the legends he beat up. Either way, it raised the bar of the midcard. Two match of the year candidates and no major stinkers made this one of the better shows of the year.
Ah January of 2020. We still had live crowds and no idea of what was ahead of us. For one of the last shows with a live crowd, WWE gave fans their money’s worth. Roman Reigns had one of his last babyface matches against King Corbin. Hardly anyone’s dream match, but the hardcore stipulation played to both men’s strengths. The women’s Royal Rumble was decent, even if Charlotte’s victory amounted to Jack and Squat. And Jack’s social distancing. The men’s Rumble match was an absolute banger. We saw the best version of Brock Lesnar we’ve seen in a long time and a star-making performance from Drew McIntyre. Despite the way things turned out, it’s a good thing we still had crowds for Drew thwarting Lesnar and Edge’s big comeback. Daniel Bryan had another classic with the Fiend, Becky Lynch earned her win back from Asuka in another good match. The only lowlight of the evening was Lacey Evans trying to win the women's title against Bayley. It was already in the unenviable spot of following the women’s rumble, but fans were never given a reason to root for Lacey. It felt like WWE peeked early, but one show managed to edge this one out.
The Fiend. On. Fire. That was the image that ended 2020 WWE PPVs. Yeah, I can’t even say the Fiend losing against Randy Orton was a burial. (It was a cremation ba-doom chow.) Whether it goes down in the record books as Mankind falling off the cell or bloody Steve Austin, the Fiend losing by BEING SET ON FIRE has to go down as an example of someone looking strong in defeat. Not to mention we got an epic RKO WHILE THE FIEND WAS ON FIRE. Yeah, that was the big news of the night. That alone may have elevated this show, but you know what? It delivered everywhere else.
Like Hell in a Cell, this show excelled in its two eponymous matches. Kevin Owens challenged for the Universal Title against Roman Reigns. The epic encounter saw Owens valiantly fight against Reigns and Jey Uso to the point where seeing Owens lose was almost heart-breaking. McIntyre vs. Styles was already set to be a classic. But the Miz stuck his nose in (without even losing his briefcase) and added a little extra flavor. The Hurt Business claimed some tag team gold, and Carmella proved she can go in a superb match against Sasha Banks. The weak link was Asuka teaming with a returning Charlotte to beat Nia Jax and Shayna Bayzler. But even that was okay. There’s something to be said about the two best PPVs bookending the year, and TLC was a pretty solid ending to a lousy year.
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