Spoiler alert: The # 1 headline for this year is the pandemic. I mean, how could it not be?
Much like everything else this year, COVID-19 had a measurable impact on the professional wrestling industry. Very few of the news items listed here don't have some connection to the pandemic -- either directly or where something may have played out differently had the entire world not been in lockdown for most of the year.
In other news, All Elite Wrestling continued its journey to wrestling supremacy, making bold and strategic moves. Impact Wrestling upped its game on several fronts, despite not having a live crowd to feed off of. World Wrestling Entertainment made a number of key updates to its roster and its overall presentation. And while a few all-time greats returned to the spotlight, we also lost more than our fair share of them.
In counting down the Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2020, Wrestling Merchandise and Memories considered the following criteria:
Was the event unique to this year? Or does it happen quite frequently?
What were the overall ramifications for said event?
Did the development have a profound impact on how this wrestler or promotion did business?
Did this development receive any mainstream publicity outside of the wrestling community?
When possible, we have tried to add a date to each development. Some of them combine more than one event, and some lump a string of developments to demonstrate an overall trend.
If you'd like to be a part of this conversation, Tweet us at @canadianbulldog using the hashtag #Top50, or leave a comment below.
Ready? Here we go!
Wrestling Merchandise and Memories is born
A self-promotional headline to kick us off. While Canadian Bulldog's World was created in 2014, technology issues prompted to us to change domains six years later. Wrestling Merchandise and Memories represents a new start, while retaining tons of the same great content!
Heath gets a contract
Despite the fact that He's Got Kids... Heath (formerly known as Heath Slater) was not warmly welcomed by management at Impact Wrestling upon his debut in the promotion. After months of campaigning and an all-star campaign video, Heath earned an Impact contract after a tag match at Bound for Glory.
Owens vs. Rollins
Kevin Owens began feuding with Seth Rollins following the previous year's Survivor Series, with the rivalry intensifying as Rollins turned heel and aligned himself wih AOP and Murphy. The feud concluded with a No Disqualification Match at WrestleMania XXXVI, which featured Owens leaping off of the WrestleMania sign before pinning The Monday Night Messiah.
During an episode of SmackDown, Jey Uso had a rare singles match in which he became number one contender to the Universal Championship, which was held by Uso's cousin Roman Reigns. While Uso put up a brave fight, he would go on to serve The Head Of The Table and Paul Heyman, utilizing a new, aggressive tone.
A new day for The New Day
After six years of being unseparable on the WWE roster, Big E who the one who (Who? Who? Who?) was removed from the trio of The New Day, staying on SmackDown while Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were drafted to Raw. While they didn't technically break up, they are now presented as separate acts in WWE.
Tessa Blanchard leaves Impact Wrestling
2020 was a roller-coaster year for third-generation star Tessa Blanchard. After capturing the Impact World Championship in January, Blanchard was presented with allegations of racism and bullying. Five days before her contract was set to expire, Impact released Blanchard and stripped her of the title.
R.I.P. Bob Armstrong
Another Southern wrestling star who passed away in 2020 was WWE Hall of Famer Bob Armstrong. In addition to a five-decade career in the ring that lasted until the early 2000s, Bullet Bob was also an authority figure in SMW and TNA and father to the Armstrong wrestling family that included Brad, Steve and Brian.
Shane McMahon returned to WWE programming in August with his Fight Club-esque concept known as Raw Underground. The segments aired for a couple of months during the third hour of Raw and gave WWE fans an early look at Dabba-Kato (later drafted to Raw) and Omos (the Raw Underground bouncer).
Impact goes shopping
Impact Wrestling's Slammiversary pay-per-view was centered around the idea that a former WWE star released in April would be coming "home." Several ex-WWE stars debuted in Impact that week, including Eric Young, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Brian Myers (f/k/a Curt Hawkins) and Heath (f/k/a Heath Slater.)
The Hurt Business begins
MVP had an unusual return to WWE, first making a one-off appearance at the Royal Rumble and in the months ahead, signing Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin to form The Hurt Business. Cedric Alexander turned heel in September to join the faction and by year-end, three of the group's four members were wearing gold.
All Delete Wrestling
After weeks of teasing that former WWE star Matt Hardy would resurface as The Dark Order's Exalted One in AEW... Hardy did resurface, and he did so in AEW, but not with The Dark Order. Hardy relaunched by Broken Matt Hardy character and soon became an ally of The Elite in their feud with The Inner Circle.
WWE Hall of Famer Sting made his return to wrestling in grand fashion, showing up on AEW's Winter is Coming episode of Dynamite following a tag team match featuring Cody Rhodes and Darby Allin. While The Icon hasn't wrestled in AEW yet, his T-shirt instantly became a top seller on the ProWrestlingTees.com website.
Otis gets the girl
The romance between Otis and Mandy Rose appeared to take several twists and turns throughout the year, including Dolph Ziggler interfering in their affairs. Otis took on Ziggler at the second night of WrestleMania XXXVI, defeating his rival and ending the match sharing a kiss with his "peach" Mandy.
Scary moment for Hardy
During a Broken Rules match at AEW's Double or Nothing PPV, Sammy Guevara speared Matt Hardy off of a scissor lift, causing him to hit his head on the concrete. The referee restarted the match, which caused an outcry from the general public and even from Matt's wife Reby.
Money in the... Building?
Given 2020 was such an unusual year, it kind of made sense that this year's Money In The Bank event would be equally unusual. Held in WWE's headquarters in Stamford, CT, both the Mens and Womens MITB matches took place throughout the building, with the briefcases being perched atop the building's roof. Asuka and Otis were this year's winners.
Strowman wins Universal Championship
.... Roman Reigns pulled out of his WrestleMania XXXVI match with Bill Goldberg due to family health concerns at the beginning of the pandemic. Braun Strowman was named the top challenger to the Universal Championship, and defeated Goldberg for the gold in the first night of WrestleMania.
The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever
WWE's Backlash pay-per-view was headlined by a bout between WWE Hall of Famer Edge and his WrestleMania opponent Randy Orton. This particular content was dubbed "The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever" and featured a nearly 45-minute clinic from both men.
Tyson vs. Jericho?
Fresh off a cameo appearance at Double or Nothing, WWE Hall of Famer Mike Tyson showed up on AEW Dynamite to have an in-ring confrontation with Chris Jericho over allegedly drinking the last of his champagne. While a match never happened, the confrontation garnered mainstream media attention for AEW.
Kamala, the longtime wrestling persona of James Harris, passed away at the age of 70 after going into cardiac arrest as a result of COVID-19 complications. Billed as The Ugandan Giant, Kamala was a top draw in the WWF and other promotions in the 1980s and 1990s, batting the likes of Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant.
Omega's mega victory
After more than a year in AEW, Kenny Omega silenced his critics by capturing the AEW World Championship... with more than a little help from his longtime friend, Impact Wrestling's Don Callis. Over the next few weeks, Omega would take the belt to both promotions' shows.
R.I.P. Pat Patterson
WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson passed away at the age of 79 following liver failure due to a blood clot. The first Intercontinental Champion, Patterson's career included a long stint in Vince McMahon's inner circle, credited as the creative genius behind the Royal Rumble.
R.I.P. Howard Finkel
WWE Hall of Famer Howard Finkel passed away at the age of 69 after a lengthy illness. The Fink was the first and longest-serving employee in WWE history who spent decades as a legendary ring announcer as well as a trusted front-office employee for the McMahon family.
Moxley wins gold
Jon Moxley refused an invitation from Chris Jericho to join Jericho's Inner Circle faction, and soon found himself in the crosshairs of Le Champion. The two battled at AEW Revolution, with Moxley winning the AEW World Championship and going on to hold the title for nearly 300 days.
The global pandemic paved the way for Cinematic Wrestling to become an acceptable genre, creating unique settings for everyone from The Fiend to The Elite and from The Undertaker to The Street Profits to compete in, considerably testing the limits of kayfabe throughout the year.
The Undertaker's Last Ride
You can tell that 2020 was an eventful year when the retirement of The Undertaker, arguably one of the most enduring stars in wrestling history, doesn't even land the number one spot. At WrestleMania XXXVI, The Dead Man battled AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match, which he later revealed in his documentary series The Last Ride was, indeed, his Last Ride. By Survivor Series, The Phenom officially called it a career.
Lana... get the tables!
Lana was already having a rough 2020, between her real-life husband being fired from WWE and being asked for a divorce from her storyline husband. To make matters worse, Nia Jax would Samoan Drop Lana through a ringside table for eight straight weeks until The Ravishing Russian discovered a way to fight back.
Drake Maverick gets a contract
Former 24/7 Champion Drake Maverick was visibly upset when he lost his WWE contract as part of the staff reductions. However, Maverick parlayed his performance in the Interim Cruiserweight Title Tournament into regaining a legitimate contract on the NXT roster.
Murder in Impact!
A most unusual wedding took place in the ring on an episode of Impact Wrestling, with Father James Mitchell overseeing the nuptials of Rosemary and John E. Bravo. At the conclusion of the wedding, the lights went out and Bravo had allegedly been shot. A month later, Wrestlers Court revealed that the accused Johnny Swinger was innocent, and that Larry D had attempted to shoot Bravo instead.
FTR join AEW
After nearly a year of teasing they may jump ship from WWE to battle The Young Bucks, the team formerly known as The Revival joined All Elite Wrestling as Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood, a/k/a FTR. The duo would become managed by Tully Blanchard and eventually captured the AEW World Tag Team Championship.
Pat McAfee invades NXT
While former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee was known to NXT fans as an occasional host and broadcaster, he became an in-ring character in August, further an angle he began with Adam Cole on his podcast. McAfee would later recruit Pete Dunne, Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan as a heel faction targeting The Undisputed Era.
R.I.P. Tracy Smothers
Tracy Smothers passed away in October at the age of 58 after a year-long battle with lymphoma. Smothers had competed in promotions including USWA, SMW, WWF and ECW, where the Tennessee native somehow became leader of The Full Blooded Italians. Smothers also teamed with Steve Armstrong as The Southern Boys/Young Pistols in WCW.
MJF joins The Inner Circle
After campaigning the heel faction by giving them gifts and performing an unforgettable duet with leader Chris Jericho, MJF (and his bodyguard Wardlow) formally joined The Inner Circle. MJF joined the group after pinning Jericho at Full Gear, putting him at odds with Inner Circle's Sammy Guevara.
R.I.P. Brodie Lee
Jon Huber, who competed as Mr. Brodie Lee in AEW and Luke Harper in WWE, passed away at the age of 41 from a non-COVID related lung issue. A staple of The Wyatt Family for several years, Huber joined AEW this year as the mysterious "Exalted One" leader of The Dark Order faction.
Balor regains NXT gold
Finn Balor completed what turned out to be a year-long comeback since returning to NXT in the fall of 2019. At an event known as Super Tuesday II, Balor defeated Adam Cole to reclaim the NXT Championship, joining Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe as the brand's only two-time champions.
R.I.P. Rocky Johnson
WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson passed awy at the age of 75 following a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot. Johnson was best known for his tag team team with Tony Altas in the 1980s, becoming the first black champions in WWE history. He was, of course, also the father of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Keith Lee makes history
2020 was a big year for Keith Lee (at least, it was before he left NXT for Raw). The former independent standout defeated Roderick Strong to win the NXT North American Championship in January, and later defeated Adam Cole to win the NXT Championship, briefly being the first person to hold both belts at the same time.
Bayley turns on Banks
Over the past few years, there have been numerous ups and downs for The Boss 'n' Hug Connection of Bayley and Sasha Banks (see last year's Top 50 list), but they seemed to be on the same page for most of this year. However, after the team lost the Women's Tag Team Championship, Bayley finally turned on The Boss.
Introducing the TNT Championship
A nod to the days of the Television Title in NWA/WCW, AEW created the TNT Championship this year. Cody defeated Lance Archer to win the inaugural title, and the strap has also been held by Mr. Brodie Lee and Darby Allin throughout the year.
R.I.P. Shad Gaspard
Former Cryme Tyme member Shad Gaspard died at the age of 39. Swimming with his son in Venice Beach, California, Gaspard was caught by a strong current and had drowned. Following two runs with WWE in the 2000s, Gaspard had become an actor.
Goldberg wins Universal Championship
WWE Hall of Famer Bill Goldberg came out of semi-retirement to headline the Super Showdown PPV in Saudi Arabia. There, he challenged The Fiend to capture the Universal Championship, apparently setting him up from a dream match of sorts at WrestleMania XXXVI against Roman Reigns. However.....
Much of the WWE's year in 2020 was focused on Rey Mysterio and his family. Following Rey's "Eye For An Eye" rivalry with Seth Rollins, son Dominick Mysterio made his long-awaited debut, having an impressive showing against Rollins at SummerSlam. Rey's wife Angie and daughter Aalyah also made appearances in WWE storylines this year.
Bliss befriends The Fiend
Following a brief cameo in The Fiend's match against Braun Strowman during The Horror Show at Extreme Rules, Alexa Bliss soon became a regular part of The Fiend's persona. Ditching her babyface persona and sporting demonic contact lenses, Little Miss Bliss soon became a regular at The Firefly Fun House.
The #SpeakingOut movement, designed to bring awareness of sexual harassment and abuse within professional wrestling, was one of the year's most controversial issues. Wrestling personalities including Joey Ryan, Jimmy Havoc, Sammy Guevara, Matt Riddle, Dave Lagana and Jim Cornette were among the accused.
WWE firings and furloughs
Citing pandemic-related costs, WWE released about 20 competitors in mid-April including Rusev, EC3, Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. They also fired or furloughed a number of agents, including WWE Hall of Famers Kurt Angle and Gerald Brisco.
The Man is pregnant
After a year that saw her successfully defend the Raw Womens Championship at WrestleMania XXXVI against Shayna Baszler, Becky Lynch reliquinshed her title to Money In The Bank winner Asuka on Raw. The reason? Lynch and Seth Rollins were expecting their first child.
R.I.P. Road Warrior Animal
Joe Laurinaitis, known as WWE Hall of Famer Road Warrior Animal, passed away at the age of 60. Half of wrestling's most influential tag team The Road Warriors, Animal held tag team gold in the WWF, NWA, AWA and Japan.
WWE Hall of Famer Edge made a surprising return at the Royal Rumble; especially surprising given he retired from a career-ending injury nine years earlier. The Rated R Superstar would go on to have high-profile matches against Randy Orton at WrestleMania and Backlash.
The Rise of Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre had a career year in 2020, beginning with his surprising victory in the Royal Rumble. He went on to defeat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXXVI for his first WWE Championship, which he defended against all comers and became a two-time champion after briefly losing the gold to Randy Orton.
Roman Reigns turns
The tag line for SummerSlam was "You'll never see it coming," which certainly applied to the surprise return of Roman Reigns. After attacking Braun Strowman and The Fiend, Reigns soon aligned himself with Paul Heyman and became one of wrestling's most compelling heels.
We told you from the outset that the COVID-19 pandemic would be the biggest Wrestling Headline of 2020. It forced WWE to hold WrestleMania on a closed set for the first time ever. Events were cancelled and promotions pivoted to sparsely-populated, virtual or completely empty venues. And of course, numerous wrestling personalities tested positive for the coronavirus. While it wasn't a banner year for wrestling (or the world in general), it sure was an eventful one.