What a good year it’s been for the boys and girls over at Tony Khan’s alternative wrestling promotion. With several wrestlers becoming All Elite, a new video game deal, and more victories in the demos than they know what to do with, AEW has had a killer freshman year and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Who made the biggest impact on TK’s black and gold brand in this most awful of years? Let’s take a look.
10. Eddie Kingston
Kingston has only been with the company for the latter half of this year but god damn he’s made his presence known. The ‘Mad King’ made a surprise appearance on a random episode of Dynamite, called out Cody on his pretentious BS, and gave us what is still the best TNT Title match to date.
Since then, Kingston has gone on to cut killer promo after killer promo, challenged for the AEW Championship twice, and continues to be a highlight whenever he graces the commentary desk with his presence. He has stood out as one of AEW’s best signings of 2020.
9. Penta El Zero M
The Lucha Brothers are the best team in AEW to have not yet held the Tag Titles, but individually they’re pretty great as well. Although most of his time this year has been spent competing in tag bouts or sticking with Eddie Kingston as his ‘best friend’, Penta’s recent contests with his brother Rey Fenix and Kenny Omega nudge him into the top ten for me.
The former Impact World Champion combines an explosive lucha (obviously) style with powerful arm-breaking, apron piledriving, chest-stomping brutal offence. And although Rey is also a fantastic athlete, I believe the older brother really shined this year. Look for their alliance with PAC as Death Triangle to feature prominently in the new year.
8. Darby Allin
Darby Allin is friends with both Tony Hawk and Steve-O, and that immediately makes him cooler than everyone else on this list. The current TNT Champion has had a solid year with his feud against Team Taz, AEW Championship opportunity, and triumph against Cody at Full Gear standing out as highlights.
The skateboarder’s face-painted daredevil stunts have earned him comparisons to an early Jeff Hardy, and his popularity with the younger audience (just visit his Instagram to see how many people dressed as him for Halloween, my god he has an army) certainly backs this up.
Maxwell Jacob Friedman, more than anyone else this year, has really made the most of his screen time. Whether he’s successfully hyping up a match in a series of election skits or telling an in-ring story through his ‘old fashioned’ heeling, Friedman is endlessly entertaining and excels in all he does.
MJF’s talking ability is only rivalled by a few people in AEW, one of whom is the ‘Demo God’ himself, Chris Jericho, who Friedman has now teamed up with. Friedman’s success is only just getting started and will only grow further, but don’t let his failed AEW Title opportunity take away from the fantastic year 2020 has been for the ‘Salt of the Earth’.
6. Cody Rhodes
In the year in which he got his name back, Cody Rhodes has shown that he knows how to run a wrestling promotion. The executive vice president has featured in many prominent matches for the company this year and has directed most of his attention to building up the TNT Championship.
The ‘Prince of pro wrestling’ is a former two-time TNT Champion, despite the title’s inception only coming at the end of March this year. Cody – who undoubtedly could have had a longer reign if he so wished – knows how to lose when the time is right. The ‘American Nightmare’ also put on stunning performances with Orange Cassidy, ‘Jungle Boy’, and anyone else who answered his open challenge.
In a company in which the viewers are constantly told wins and losses matter, nobody embodies this ideology more than Cody himself. Now I feel bad for cheering when Kingston powerbombed him on to thumbtacks.
5. Adam Page
Much like The Lucha Bros., ‘Hangman’ and his partner Kenny Omega (no point teasing, he will obviously feature on this list too) spent most of 2020 competing in tag team matches, often defending their AEW Tag Team Championships. They even put on one of the greatest tag team matches of all time against The Young Bucks at Revolution in February. But his recent singles matches against the likes of Kazarian, his former partner, and even John Silver have met this high standard too.
What has remained the same across all his ventures and set him apart from other wrestlers is Page’s unparalleled popularity. Between the cowboy stuff, the beer drinking, and the incredibly over finishing move, Page is a fan favourite for all ages, and so you’d be hard pressed to find an AEW event without at least one “Hangman, drink my beer” sign in attendance. And his dress sense is untouchable.
4. Hikaru Shida
The only member of AEW’s women’s division to feature on this list, but it is a well-deserved spot for the current Women’s Champion. Shida has continually stood above her peers, especially since winning her championship in May.
Her defences against Thunder Rosa and Penelope Ford were particularly excellent, and it’s always exciting to watch her fight from underneath to conquer a beast like Nyla Rose; she is a fantastic babyface with grit. It’s been a strong year for Shida and ultimately it doesn’t look like anyone could be taking that AEW Women’s Title off her hands anytime soon.
3. Chris Jericho
The ‘Painmaker’ has had an eventful year, and much like his new best friend MJF he is consistently entertaining no matter what he is given. Jericho has been praised for his amazing creativity and ability to get anything over; and while some people may deny that this run is even in his top five gimmicks (although it is, we made a list), the creativity shown here by Jericho has been ramped up to max.
Le Dinner Debonair, the Mimosa Mayhem match, his spats with Mike Tyson and Eric Bischoff; Jericho has kept himself relevant, even after leaving the World Championship scene. Jericho’s still no slouch in-ring either despite now being 50, and he continues to entertain whether he’s teaching Max a lesson, teaming with Hager, or joining “Scia-vone” on commentary. The best in the world at what he does.
2. Kenny Omega
According to the man himself we have only recently witnessed the return of ‘The Cleaner’ and the ‘Best Bout Machine’. Despite this, Omega has already had some stunning singles matches against Penta as well as his former tag partner ‘Hangman’ Page, and he has now reignited a feud with the World Champion Jon Moxley which is sure to produce top quality content.
His time as one half of the World Tag Team Champions probably already secured him a place on this list, teaming against The Young Bucks in the aforementioned match of the year. But with Kenny’s renewed sense of self-importance, as demonstrated by his elaborate new entrance and introduction, it seems ‘The Cleaner’ intends to close out the year on a high note and remind the world that he belongs in the top spot. He also entered the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Hall of Fame this year (if that matters to you).
He may be the best in-ring athlete in AEW, and perhaps he does belong in the top spot of the company, but he just misses out on the top spot of this list (which is more important? Who’s to say). That of course goes to:
1. Jon Moxley
Number one on PWI’s top 500, seven 4+ star matches (at time of writing, keep an eye on Omega/Moxley II), three 2020 AEW pay-per-view main events (out of a possible four), and 10 championship defences (assuming Omega/Moxley goes ahead as planned). What else is there to say.
Even if you don’t care about the accolades, you have to respect the amount of work Jon Moxley has put into rebuilding himself since his WWE departure. The man continues to shine on the mic and in the ring – whether participating in “garbage” or straight mat wrestling. His natural charisma and comedy chops make him endlessly endearing, his intense promos generate buzz for his matches, and his ability to go in the ring (and on the floor) means he never fails to put on a great show.
Even the one lowlight of his year – a comedy match with MJF’s ‘lawyer’ – he was able to make entertaining, yelling “this is terrible television” before mercifully ending the match. ‘Mox’ continues to impress and will no doubt carry on being a highlight of AEW television. Even if he is making it up as he goes along.
– Dr Britt Baker, D.M.D.
– ‘Jungle Boy’
– Orange Cassidy
– Thunder Rosa
– The Young Bucks
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