“For Your Consideration is a number of columns from our writers here at Voices of Wrestling talking about their favorite matches of 2020. These matches don’t have to be their number 1 match of the year, and in fact, don’t even have to necessarily be in their top 10 for the MOTY poll that this series will lead in to. These simply have to be matches that each particular writer thought were important enough to write about and highlight. I hope you enjoy this look back at what are likely to be some of the hidden gems and standout matches of 2020. I hope it is able to make 2020 just a little bit better or a least help your MOTY list be a little more complete. At the very least it should get you looking forward to Match of the Year season and hopefully get you looking forward to where some of these may place in the VOW MOTY poll in the next few months.”
Read the full introduction to the VOW MOTY 2020 For Your Consideration series at voicesofwrestling.com/2020/12/07/vow-moty-2020-for-your-consideration-part-1-introduction/
NXT UK Championship
Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER
WWE NXT UK
October 29, 2020
Before October 29, 2020, the definition of violence was short and simple.
Violence: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.
After October 29, 2020, the definition of violence has become even shorter and simpler.
Violence: WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov.
WALTER vs. Dragnuov is a viciously violent match. Simplistic but not mindless. Straightforward but not mundane. Stiff and severe as it is satisfying and successful. What was even more incredible was this match aired days after the bloated, over exposition laden, dialogue-heavy failed attempt at epic storytelling that was Jey Uso vs Roman Reigns in Hell in a Cell. What a contrast to behold. This match didn’t need exposition, dialogue, corny and hammy scenarios, and side characters to convey and get over its purpose and meaning. Fuck all of that.
All it needed was two men willing to lay it on the line and beat the living hell out of each other.
That would be accomplished in spades. Not only did they beat the hell out of each other, but they also managed to beat it back in just to beat it back out. This match is pure physical violence. Perhaps one of the most brutal matches I’ve ever seen on any WWE programming. They achieved it without gimmicks, without weapons, without smoke and mirrors. It was deliberate, blatant, in your face, simplistic, and fantastic. They didn’t just let you see it, they made sure you felt it. Each strike, each kick, each slam, everything was done in a way it penetrated your television screen and hit you as well.
It also got uncomfortable. It wasn’t an uncomfortableness that turned me away. It was an uncomfortableness that drew me in, held me, made me cringe but also kept me from tuning out and turning away. The whole time I desperately wanted to know how much harder they would hit, how much further they would go for their art, and they just kept going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of violence that many wrestlers would shy away from. This is definitely not the style of match you want to achieve repeatedly, but as a special rare treat, it works. As a rare specimen of “this is what we are willing to do to put over this match” it stands out, it’s amazing, it’s wonderful. It’s both uncomfortable and unnerving but awesome and awe-inspiring all the same.
It was an assault on my senses. My sense of sight was assaulted as Dragunov’s body got redder and redder from the chops he endured. My sense of hearing was assaulted at the sound of many of the chops, kicks, forearms that were thrown throughout this match. It even crossed over to my ability to feel as my vivid imagination latched on and I swear I could actually get a sense of how those strikes felt. It wasn’t pleasant, but it added to the experience all the same. This match lives up to the hype you’ve potentially heard. It lives up to the expectations, and it never dies down once it gets started. Both men lay it all on the line in a battle that you just feel both men NEED to win. It’s not a WANT it’s a need.
As previously stated, the violence is simplistic but it’s not mindless. It’s not done without purpose. It’s not just spot after spot that hurts like hell and means very little. There’s purpose in every strike, meaning in every movement, emotion in every segment. From the moment Dragunov showcases himself full of piss and vinegar before the match even starts you know you’re in for a period of time you won’t forget.
I cannot begin to explain the number of times “God”, “Damn”, and “Holy Shit” escaped my lips while watching this wrestling match. I didn’t need an actual crowd, I became an audience of one reacting and responding as needed. This wasn’t accomplished because of overdone spots that take forever to set up. It didn’t happen because of spots that are complicated and nonsensical. It happened because two men fought for everything they were worth. They fought for pride, for respect, and most importantly for the title WALTER held. Both men took it hard but gave it right back even harder. This was a fight for survival. It felt real, it felt raw, and it was riveting and rewarding to watch.
At times I found myself just wanting them to stay down, for it to end, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying the match. I had gone into the mindset of investment. In the moment I wasn’t a critic, an analyst, or a reviewer – I was a fan. I was both telling Dragunov to stand down, but when he refused I changed to hoping for him to overcome the odds. He didn’t, but there is beauty in losing. And with his beaten body, his bloody lips, and his mental and emotional exhaustion there was beauty in the effort I fail to put into proper words. WALTER the monster, the machine, the man. Slowly leaving the ring knowing he was in a fight. Beaten and Battered but victorious all the same. THESE are simple things, subtle things, important things and it’s the little touches that make all the big stuff even more fantastic.
WALTER vs. Dragunov is a brutal, bruising, battering, beautiful battle. You’ll cheer, you’ll gasp, you’ll cringe, you’ll find yourself uncomfortable at points but in the end, you stay with it, you stay through it. They hit hard and it hits you harder. I don’t want this to be every match I see. I’ll be fine if Dragunov and WALTER don’t have this style of match again for a long time. But this is easily one of the best matches of the year and no doubt the best match WWE has put on this year. If you shy away from NXT UK (or just WWE properties in general) I would sincerely ask you to consider finding a way to view this match. It is a fight that’ll be on my mind for a long time and it is in my mind one of the best matches, if not close to the best match of the year.
The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, and Roderick Strong) vs Imperium (Walter, Fabian Aichner, Marcel Barthel, and Alexander Wolfe)
WWE NXT: Worlds Collide 2020
January 25, 2020
Back in January 2020, which feels like 5 years ago, there was a Worlds Collide show on Royal Rumble weekend, a show which was NXT vs NXT UK. This was easily one of the best shows of WWE in 2020 and the best NXT show of the year. The card had DIY vs. Moustache Mountain, Toni Storm vs. Rhea Ripley, Finn Balor vs. Dragunov, and the amazing eight-man tag of Imperium vs Undisputed era. This was a blow-out match that had a simple formula: two dominant teams trying to prove who is the best.
We are in an era where NXT feels strange, so it comes as a surprise that there was a simple hot angle to sell this match in the same year of zombies and strange stipulations. After NXT UK Blackpool II, while Imperium was celebrating at the end of the night their victory, Undisputed Era attacked them. Imperium answered back by attacking them on NXT in the US, and the match was made. Sounds simple, it was simple. But did it work? Yes, it did. The beatdowns were intense enough to make you care about this match even if you had no idea who one of the teams were. It’s not like NXT UK is a hot commodity in the wrestling world.
Reading the audience before the match, you definitely knew who were the favorites. The Undisputed Era was showered with cheers while Imperium was received with polite claps that in a moment were replaced with “USA” chants. The match started with the usual big tag match feeling out process, where each wrestler had a sequence with an opponent and then there was a tag. On one of these sequences something awful happened: an errant Bobby Fish kick knocked out Alexander Wolfe. The ref threw up the X with his arms and they started to remove him. Now we can assume that the wrestlers were worrying about their fellow wrestler and they had to improvise a match that was starting.
Let me tell you that, even with this snag, the match was a thing of beauty. To get the crowd back, the team leaders, Walter and Cole, got into the ring to kick things off again. The match now had Undisputed Era as the heels taking advantage of the 4 on 3 situation. UE tried to eliminate each member of Imperium one by one, but when they were about to take out Aichner or Barthel, there was the monster Walter to interrupt. On one memorable moment, O’Reilly was making fun of Walter and tried to kick him off the ring, but when Walter got the hot tag, he started killing UE. Up to this point, the crowd was behind UE even though they were the heels. Walter’s hot tag was so awesome in this match that he turned a pro-UE crowd in favor of Imperium. How can you not go for an ass-kicking monster?
Walter’s attacks on UE were a thing of beauty with chops, powerbombs, and kicks. There is a memorable moment when UE took out Barthel and Aichner and started to circle around Walter. How else can you beat a monster? Well, with 4 guys beating the shit out of him at the same time. Walter was able to fight it off, but still, UE was able to take him outside. They prepared a table for him, Walter fought back, but Fish kicked him in the knee and they ended up breaking the table with him.
Back in the ring, O’Reilly started working on Barthel’s knees, but Aichner saved him by jumping from the top rope. UE tried their best to end the match, but the knocked out monster from the outside recovered from the broken table and entered the ring to chop everyone. The match ended when everybody made their big moves and they all ended up outside. Strong and Aichner jumped on top of almost everyone, which left Walter alone in the ring with Bobby Fish. A dropkick and powerbomb later, Walter was the winner. You had the whole arena chanting Walter, changing the crowd’s allegiance.
This match is a great example of two great factions going at it and it shows the importance of how simple storytelling in pro wrestling always works. Even though Wolfe was out and it altered their plans, they still had an amazing match that took advantage of this unexpected moment. Without Wolfe in the match, UE looked even more violent, and Imperium’s comeback had more heat to it. Walter was definitely the star of this match, to the point that he turned the crowd, even though everybody came out of it looking awesome.
If this was not the weird year of 2020 and with so much wrestling news and happenings, I think that people would remember this match as one of the greats of this year. I even wonder if there was a plan for another Worlds Collide show that would have these two teams going at it separately. I would have loved to watch Cole vs Walter, Aichner and Barthel vs Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong, and Alexander Wolfe looking for revenge against Bobby Fish for knocking him out. One can only dream what could have happened this year.