Wow, well, what a year this has been.
From sold out stadiums and arenas…to empty arena shows, 2020 has been quite a surreal year. One from the movies as I like to say. While fans have been absent for the past nine months, the world of professional wrestling kept on going and considering the circumstances, I think everyone did pretty well.
There’s nothing that can replace live fans in an arena and I can guarantee you that no one will ever take fans for granted ever again. But we’ve seen some of the best shows this year and that is credit to WWE, AEW, Impact, and all their staff and wrestlers. For that, we say THANK YOU!
2020 did bring a variety of stories with it, some good, some bad, and some ugly. Below, and in no particular order, well, except maybe from the top one, we take a look at the top 10 wrestling stories of the year on Wrestling-Online.com.
CORONAVIRUS WRECKS HAVOC
There were several major stories in 2020 but none bigger than the COVID-19 outbreak that pretty much paralyzed the whole world. With countries at a stand still in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus, the wrestling business – just like most of the other businesses – was greatly affected by the coronavirus.
As COVID-19 wrecked havoc, WWE, Impact, and All Elite Wrestling fought to stay alive by still producing their weekly television shows from closed sets. WWE moved to the relatively small WWE Performance Center, AEW moved to The Daily’s Place, and Impact Wrestling hold their shows at the Skyway Studios in Nashville. With no tours and no ability to let the public in, all shows took place in front of zero fans, including the highly-anticipated WrestleMania. The pandemic damaged AEW and its plans came to a screeching halt at a time when they were gaining momentum and selling out arenas just months after inception. Each company suffered at least one coronavirus outbreak but it was WWE who fared the worst with many people testing positive leading to several changes to many television shows throughout the year.
Independent wrestling also took a big hit and many promotions which were hoping for a payday during WrestleMania weekend had to close down.
- Tampa Bay ready to pull the plug on WrestleMania
- Anonymous WWE employee complains that they’re being forced to work during pandemic
- Coronavirus outbreak hits the WWE Performance Center and NXT
- AEW moves tapings to Georgia as state goes on lockdown
- Wrestling deemed an essential business by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
- AEW suffers coronavirus outbreak as several talent test positive
#SPEAKINGOUT MOVEMENT BRINGS CHANGES
Speaking of independent wrestling, no one was ready when the #SpeakingOut movement hit in June as countless women came forward to accuse dozens of indie wrestling stars of sexual abuse and harassment. The movement led to many getting fired, promotions closing, and lawsuits filed.
While most of the individuals affected were independent wrestlers, there were a few casualties as well from WWE, Impact Wrestling and AEW, most notably Matt Riddle, Michael Elgin, Sammy Guevara, Jimmy Havoc, and Velveteen Dream.
But perhaps the biggest loser of the whole #SpeakingOut movement was Joey Ryan, whose dick-flipping tactics were apparently more frequent outside than inside the ring. Ryan was accused by many women of inappropriate behavior and that led to Ryan filing many lawsuits to protect himself. Ryan was also fired from Impact Wrestling due to all the accusations.
- Impact Wrestling issues statement after three of its wrestlers are accused of improper behavior
- Joey Ryan sues Impact Wrestling for breach of contract
- Tony Khan addresses the suspensions of Jimmy Havoc and Sammy Guevara
- Guevara apologizes for rape comment, Banks acknowledges talk with AEW star
- Triple H talks fallout from the #SpeakingOut movement
- Candi Cartwright files $10 million lawsuit against Matt Riddle, WWE, and Gabe Sapolsky
WWE’S MASS PANDEMIC LAY OFFS
No other wrestling company in the world is as financially stable as WWE so when the company decided to do a mass layoff in April and furlough the majority of their office employees due to the coronavirus, well, it did not go down well. And rightfully so. With massive television contracts keeping the company alive for the foreseeable future, the firing of over 50 WWE Superstars seemed excessive especially when they were just a drop in a bucket when it comes to the WWE money machine.
Superstars such as Rusev, Aiden English, Drake Maverick, Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins, Karl Anderson, Mike Kanellis, Rowan, Luke Gallows, EC3, Primo, Epico, Lio Rush, Eric Young, No Way Jose, Heath Slater, Maria Kanellis, and Sarah Logan were given the pink slip and other referees and many backstage producers were also fired or furloughed. Mike Chioda, Tony Chimel, and Gerry Brisco, all of whom had three decades of service with WWE, were let go much to the surprise of fans.
Many of those let go have found a new job since then, with Impact Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling providing an alternative employment. But still, after WWE posted record profits in two consecutive quarters, the idea of going on a firing spree looked even worse than it was.
- WWE announces several cost-cutting measures and employee furloughs due to COVID-19
- Several Superstars released from their contracts, including Gallows and Anderson
- More cuts made from NXT and the WWE Performance Center
- Gerald Brisco furloughed by WWE
- Another round of cost-cutting measures at WWE
- Long-time WWE employee Tony Chimel released
A NEW WAR…ON WEDNESDAY NIGHTS!
There’s something exciting that 2020 gave us – a new war on Wednesday nights between Dynamite and NXT. It’s something that fans have been clamoring for since the end of the Monday Night War and let’s face it, competition brings out the best out of everyone.
With head-to-head programming, both AEW and NXT fired on all cylinders this year but it was All Elite Wrestling which came out victorious. Winning the absolute majority of the battles and never losing the demographics war this year, it’s easy to crown AEW the kings of Wednesday night. AEW presented exciting television every week and its themed episodes of Dynamite always delivered.
Before the pandemic hit, the company was selling out arenas and some of the stuff that happened throughout the year would have been awesome in front of a packed crowd. And as far as NXT goes, well, as Triple H said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But they need to pick up pace as while NXT has been exciting as well, fans still prefer to watch Dynamite on TNT.
- NXT Halloween Havoc live on USA Network tonight
- Ladder match for WarGames advantage headlines NXT on USA
- Pat McAfee returns to haunt The Undisputed Era
- Four segments on Dynamite pull in over a million viewers each
- Tony Khan explains how and why they’re using Winter Is Coming for Dynamite
- AEW announces three themed events for the holidays
MATT HARDY AND STING DEBUT IN AEW
Two of the biggest debuts for All Elite Wrestling happened this year with the arrival of Matt Hardy and Sting.
Hardy arrived when AEW was really going pedal to the metal but unfortunately for the former champion, he had to make his highly-anticipated debut with no fans around due to the pandemic. After having The Young Bucks bury him on his YouTube series, Broken Matt Hardy showed up on Dynamite to help The Elite in their war against The Inner Circle. But things didn’t go as expected for Matt and his debut didn’t lead to any high-profile matches.
Sting, on the other hand, came as a big surprise during the Winter Is Coming episode of Dynamite this December. Who can ever forget Tony Schiavone screaming, “It’s Stiiiiiiing” when the Hall of Famer came out to fend off Team Taz under fake snow? It was an awesome moment to see Sting back in wrestling on TNT 19 years after WCW closed.
- The Young Bucks “bury” Matt Hardy in latest episode of Free The Delete
- Broken Matt Hardy debuts on Dynamite
- Matt Hardy ready to change the world with Cody and All Elite Wrestling
- Sting makes surprise AEW debut on Winter Is Coming Dynamite
- Sting sings multi-year deal with All Elite Wrestling
- Sting listed as a competitor on AEW’s roster page
MCMAHON FORCES TALENT TO STOP PLAYING GAMES AND MAKING MONEY
With no tours, no appearances, and a lot of time on their hands, WWE Superstars found other ways to connect with fans during the pandemic and make some extra money as well as they launched their personal Twitch, YouTube, OnlyFans, and Cameo accounts.
But just like the Grinch, Vince McMahon put a stop to all of that in a very unpopular decision that might come back to bite him back in the ass down the line. In an e-mail to the whole roster, McMahon ordered everyone to stop doing what they’re doing and hand over their accounts to WWE. One individual, Zelina Vega, defied the order and was fired, but not before she managed to send a tweet that she supports unionization. A few minutes later, WWE tweeted that Vega was fired.
Andrew Young, the former U.S. presidential candidate, also fired a warning at McMahon, saying that if Biden won the presidency – and he did – he’d be looking into the corrupt labor practices at WWE after taking a personal interest in the whole Twitch/Cameo/YouTube story.
- Vince McMahon orders Superstars to stop Cameo, Twitch services or face termination
- WWE taking ownership of personal Twitch accounts operated by WWE Superstars
- WWE forcing talent to sign new deals which includes Twitch streaming obligations
- U.S. Presidential candidate promises to look into WWE’s “corrupt labor practices”
- Zelina Vega released from WWE
- SAG-AFTRA President reaches out to Zelina Vega after getting fired
THE UNDERTAKER RETIRES AFTER 30 YEARS
2020 gave us WWE’s best-ever production when it comes to a WWE Network documentary. The five-part Undertaker: The Last Ride was an intimate look at the man behind the legendary gimmick, one of the, if not the best gimmick ever in professional wrestling history.
For 30 long years, The Undertaker kept that curtain down but The Last Ride showed us the real man portraying the character. But why now? Well, as we came to find out, The Undertaker retired in 2020 and received his final farewell at the Survivor Series.
30 years to the exact date when he made his WWF debut, Taker gave us goosebumps one final time with an entrance and an exit fit for a legend and a sure future Hall of Famer. Too bad no fans were in the arena to give this legend the sendoff he deserves.
- 30 Days of The Deadman on the WWE Network starts on October 25
- WWE to celebrate 30 years of The Undertaker at the Survivor Series
- Undertaker Final Farewell set for the Survivor Series
- The Undertaker says he’s 100% done from in-ring competition
- Friends, colleagues, and fans in hundreds of thousands of tributes to The Undertaker
- The Undertaker says goodbye to the WWE Universe at Survivor Series
SHAD GASPARD DIES WHILE SAVING HIS SON AT SEA
In mid-May, the wrestling world received the shocking news that Shad Gaspard, one half of the former popular WWE tag team Cryme Tyme, vanished at sea.
Gaspard and his son were among a group of swimmers who got caught in a strong current around at Marina Del Rey Beach in California. While lifeguards managed to save his 10-year-old son after Gaspard sacrificed himself to make sure his son is saved, he wasn’t as lucky as a wave crashed on him and put him under.
It took three days for his body to wash up ashore and on May 20, his body was recovered and identified. A massive crowdfunding campaign was launched to help the family, spearheaded by a very generous $40,000 donation by John Cena.
- Former WWE star Shad Gaspard presumed dead after vanishing at sea on Sunday
- Reddit user recounts harrowing experience as lifeguards tried to rescue Gaspard
- LAPD continues search for Gaspard as lifeguard details what happened
- Body washes ashore in Venice Beach where Gaspard vanished
- Former WWE Superstar Shad Gaspard dead at 39
- Wrestling world in mourning over the death of Shad Gaspard
THE AEW AND IMPACT WRESTLING ALLIANCE
AEW’s Winter Is Coming episode of Dynamite not only gave us Sting, but also a new AEW World champion in Kenny Omega…and a shocking ending as well.
With Impact VP Don Callis helping Omega secure the title, Callis told everyone that they would explain their actions on Tuesday night…on Impact Wrestling. Since then, Kenny Omega has appeared a few times on Impact and will be main eventing the Impact pay-per-view in January along with his former Bullet Club buddies Anderson and Gallows.
Not only that, Tony Khan has also appeared multiple times on Impact in “paid ads” and also invited Impact stars to show up on Dynamite. This is certainly one story that we never saw coming this year!
- Kenny Omega wins AEW World title, to appear on Impact Wrestling next week!
- Impact Wrestling hypes Kenny Omega’s appearance for Tuesday
- Omega to make major announcement on Dynamite after Impact appearance
- Tony Khan appears on Impact in “paid-ad” segment
- Kenny Omega appears at Final Resolution, has reunion with Karl Anderson
- Kenny Omega to team with Anderson and Gallows at Hard To Kill PPV
HANA KIMURA’S SUICIDE ROCKS THE JAPANESE WRESTLING SCENE
Hana Kimura’s death on May 23 rocked the Japanese wrestling scene after the young 22-year-old Stardom Wrestling star committed suicide following the posting of a suicide note online.
Kimura was also featured on the Japanese reality show Terrace House and was involved in an altercation with a male cast mate earlier in the year where her outfit she wore at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 14 was ruined when the other person mistakenly put her gear in the dryer. That incident was the starting point of her downfall and Kimura was bullied online to no end.
Months after her death, charges are finally being filed against a man who had been harassing Kimura and police have identified 600 other accounts who sent threatening messages to her.
- 22-year-old Stardom star Hana Kimura dead after apparent suicide
- Kairi Sane alerted Stardom founder of Kimura’s suicidal post
- Stardom issues another statement on the death of Hana Kimura
- Hana Kimura’s funeral held today as Japan set to expand cyber-bullying laws
- Hana Kimura’s mother blames Terrace House producers for her daughter’s downfall
- Charges expected to be filed in suicide case of Stardom’s Hana Kimura
…AND #11 – JON “BRODIE LEE” HUBER PASSES AWAY
Jon Huber’s death came in late in the year, in the last week of 2020 actually after this list was compiled. But it would not be correct to publish the top 10 list without including this story as well. Huber’s unexpected death took to wind out from almost everyone associated with AEW and WWE.
The 41-year-old charismatic leader of The Dark Order was taken way too soon due to an unspecified lung illness just two months after he had his final match where he lost the TNT title to Cody Rhodes on Dynamite. The wrestling world rallied together and on Wednesday, December 30, All Elite Wrestling gave Huber a beautiful tribute show.
With his eight-year-old son at ringside watching all the matches, and even getting involved in one, there was not a dry eye at Daily’s Place – and probably even from those watching at home – as we said goodbye to Mr. Brodie Lee.
- Jon Huber, better known as Brodie Lee, passes away at age 41
- AEW in mourning as friends and co-workers pay honor Brodie Lee
- WWE and former colleagues pay tribute to Jon Huber
- AEW to hold Jon Huber tribute show on Dynamite
- Current TNT title design retired, actual belt given to Huber’s family
- Watch: Jon Huber’s tribute video to the song Ol’ 55 by Tom Waits