Before I begin my top ten list this week, I felt it prudent to say something quickly about the tremendous tragedy that struck the wrestling world this week. Back in 2006, my younger brother and I used to drive an hour each way every month to watch a young Brodie Lee defend the NWA Upstate Heavyweight Championship. Even way back then it was evident that Lee was going to be destined for much bigger things. Over the next 14 years, I found great enjoyment in watching Lee reach those heights as he competed on wrestling’s biggest stages. Tragically Lee‘s journey came to an end this week when he was taken from the world at the young age of 41 from a non-Covid related lung issue. Lee left behind millions of adorning fans and much more importantly a wife and two young sons. I have spent days trying to find the right words, but have failed to come up with anything that can express such a loss. I would like to give my condolences to Lee’s wife and children and share a birthday message my brother got me from Lee this past June. Hopefully, this will put as big of a smile on your face as it did mine. Rest In Peace Brodie.
— Fowlerwrestlingfan (@Fowlerwrestlin1) December 27, 2020
Welcome Back TJR readers. Did you luckily spend all of 2020 in a coma and miss wrestling this year? Perhaps you spent all year on a deserted island, after taking a three-hour tour, and couldn’t tune into your favorite wrestling podcast. Worry not, for I have returned with another edition of The Top Ten Wrestling Stories of the Year to catch you up.
10. WWE Releases and Furloughs a Number of Employees During a Pandemic
Due to the pandemic, 2020 was a horrible year financially for many companies. However, this was not the case for WWE, whose revenue increased by almost 20% this year. A part of this financial success was WWE choosing to release and furlough a number of on-screen performers and other employees. Some of the notable names that were cut were Kurt Angle (as a producer), Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Zack Ryder, and Rusev. Firing employees during a global crisis although financially prudent, was not a popular decision. WWE’s unpopular decisions did not stop there, as they announced a ban on their performers from using third-party platforms like Twitch and Cameo. When Zelina Vega chose to not follow this ban, she was released as well. These releases were hard on many people of course, perhaps no one more than Tony Khan’s father and his checkbook. (TJRWrestling)
9. AEW and Impact Wrestling Begin a Partnership
For many years now, wrestling fans have asked if this year will be the last for Impact Wrestling? With a global pandemic and sagging viewership, it would have made sense for 2020 to finally be that year. That is, until their top executive Don Callis suddenly showed up on AEW Dynamite, helping Kenny Omega win the AEW Heavyweight Championship. Omega followed up his win by appearing Impact Television with the AEW title, and will now be competing in a six-man tag team match at Impact’s next PPV Hard to Kill. Omega’s appearance gave Impact the most viewers and publicity they have had in years; showing that just like cockroaches, they come out stronger after a global disaster. (TJRWrestling)
8. Becky Lynch and Seth Rollins Have Their First Child
When 2020 began, Becky Lynch was arguably the biggest star in wrestling and poised to have an amazing year. Lynch started the year by dominating the Raw Women’s Division, setting the record for longest Raw Women’s Champion at 399 days. Lynch’s historic reign came to a sudden end this past May however, when she relinquished the title due to being pregnant with her fiancé Seth Rollins child. Lynch has not been seen on WWE television since then, and recently gave birth to her and Rollins’s daughter named Roux. We will have to wait and see if Lynch chooses to once again be “The Man” in 2021, or is more then content to just be “The Mom”. (TJRWrestling)
7. Tragic Losses
The year 2020 was not just a hard year in wrestling due to the global pandemic, but also because of those that we lost as well. In May, former WWE Superstar Shad Gaspard tragically passed away at the age of 39 while saving his son from drowning. Also in May, rising Japanese superstar Hana Kimura committed suicide after being the victim of online bullying. The losses did not stop there unfortunately as we also said goodbye such wrestling legends as Danny Hodge, Kamala, Road Warrior Animal, Howard Finkel and Rocky Johnson this year. The year then saved its worst for last, with December being its most tragic month. First, the legendary Pat Patterson passing away at the age of 79. Then just this week Brodie Lee passed away at the young age of 41 from an unknown lung disease, leaving behind a wife and two young son. Without question, after this year we are all ready to see 2020 join Vince McMahon’s Kiss My Ass Club. (TJRWrestling)
6. Sting Joins AEW
When Sting joined the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016 and announced his retirement from wrestling, his legendary career was seemingly over. That was until Sting shockingly appeared with his signature black bat during the December 2nd episode of AEW Dynamite. Sting has appeared on several more episodes of Dynamite since his shocking debut, but has yet to announce if he will actually be competing in a match for AEW. At the age of 61, Sting will want to be very strategic when, and if, he chooses to wrestle. Unless of course, AEW starts running shows in Saudi Arabia, in which he then still has many good years ahead of him. (TJRWrestling)
5. The Undertaker Says Farewell
Throughout the long history of professional wrestling there have been many memorable characters, but none that has made a big of an impact than The Undertaker. Throughout his historic 30 year career, The Undertaker gave us a plethora of memorable moments, including the incredible Boneyard Match at this year’s Wrestlemania against AJ Styles. Little did we know, the Boneyard Match would be Taker’s last. Exactly 30 years to-the-date after The Undertaker debuted for WWE, he said farewell, at the end of this year’s Survivor Series event. Of course with professional wrestling, you can never say never, and there is always a chance that The Undertaker will once again grace a WWE ring. What is not in doubt is that The Undertaker’s legacy in this business will be a lot harder to go away than a neck tattoo. (TJRWrestling)
4. The Rise of Drew McIntyre
I am not sure that anyone can claim that 2020 was a good year, but Drew McIntyre can certainly come close. McIntyre started his year by eliminating Brock Lesnar from the Royal Rumble, before going on to win the whole thing. McIntyre followed up that big win with a much bigger one, by defeating Lesnar at WrestleMania 36 to become the WWE Heavyweight Champion. McIntyre would go on to hold the title for an impressive 202 days, before losing it to Randy Orton at Hell in a Cell. McIntyre’s impressive 2020 didn’t stop there however, as he would defeat Orton just 22 days later on Monday Night Raw to once again become WWE Champion. As of this article, McIntyre is still the WWE Champion, and recently won the Slammy Award for Superstar of the Year. At this point, the only person who may have had a better 2020 is the CEO of Charmin. (TJRWrestling)
3. Roman Reigns Turns Heel
Wrestling fans are a very strange breed indeed. They will often cheer when they are supposed to boo and boo when they are expected to cheer. This perhaps has never been more evident than in the case of Roman Reigns. WWE’s first attempt to make Reigns the top babyface of the company was rejected by a large number of fans, who would boo him loudly anytime he came out. These boos would continue for several years, until Reigns shockingly had to take a hiatus from the WWE in October of 2018 due to leukemia. When Reigns returned in February of 2019 to announce that his leukemia was in remission, he was met with tremendous cheers. Reigns seemed finally poised to become the top babyface that WWE envisioned, as he was scheduled to face Goldberg at WrestleMania 36 for the Universal Championship. Just days before the event plans changed however, when Reigns once again took a hiatus due to Covid-19.
Reigns would not be seen on WWE television until that August at SummerSlam, when he shockingly attacked “the fiend” Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman after their Universal Championship Match. Even more shockingly is what happened at the end of the following Smackdown, when it was revealed that Reigns had aligned himself with Paul Heyman. At the following PPV Payback, Reigns turned full heel and captured the Universal Championship once again. Reigns has flourished in his new heel role, becoming more popular than ever. Along with his attitude Reigns also chose to change his ring attire and now wrestles shirtless, which also increased his popularity….with my wife. (TJRWrestling)
2. Edge Returns in the Royal Rumble match
The wrestling world was left in utter shock and sadness when Edge’s Hall-of-Fame Career came to a sudden end in 2011 due to a severe neck injury. That sadness turned into pure joy and excitement this year, when Edge made his triumphant return at the 2020 Royal Rumble. Edge did not stop there, as he would go on to have two matches with Randy Orton. First, Edge would defeat Orton in a Last Man Standing Match at WrestleMania 36. Then at Backlash, Edge would lose to Orton in what was advertised as “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.” Unfortunately, that match was Edge’s last for the year, as he suffered a torn bicep. The wrestling world now anxiously awaits for another triumphant return that can take the Edge off an otherwise pretty bad year. (TJRWrestling)
1. Covid-19 Changes the Presentation of Professional Wrestling
It will come to no one’s surprise that the number one story in wrestling this year is the same one that has dominated the news headlines. Covid-19 wreaked havoc throughout the world, and professional wrestling was not left unscathed. Wrestling shows that usually housed thousands and thousands of fans, including WrestleMania, went on without a single person in attendance. TV ratings dropped to all-time lows, as the shows just weren’t the same without the excitement of a live crowd. WWE, forced to come up with a creative solution to this problem, invented the Thunderdome beginning with SummerSlam in August.
The Thunderdome is a virtual videoconferencing crowd experience, with thousands of virtual fans watching the show from the comfort of their own homes. Although definitely an improvement over a completely empty arena, the Thunderdome cannot completely replace the feel of a live audience. Hopefully, things can go back to normal in 2021, with wrestling fans getting to whine and complain in person. (TJRWrestling)
That will conclude another edition of The Top Ten Wrestling Stories of the Year. As always, if you like what I do, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter @BackseatBookers and listen to my podcast The BackseatBookers. (Please be aware that it is explicit, and you know what that means.)