Even with the pandemic changing the way pro wrestling operated around the world, there were still plenty of outstanding matches in all organizations, 12 of which earned five stars or better in Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
As we do at the end of every year, we present Dave's top-rated matches from the past 12 months with a slightly edited excerpt from the corresponding linked WON. We'll start with the five star matches first and look at the seven matches that earned more than five stars in a separate post.
IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada vs. Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito | New Japan Wrestle Kingdom 14
January 5, 2020
Note: Originally, Dave rated this four and 3/4 stars watching in person (remember those times?) but after watching it on TV, he bumped it up to five.
"(Fans) got up for the key spots (the Liger retirement, the Minoru Suzuki run in on Jon Moxley, Jericho vs. Tanahashi) and where Naito beat Okada to conclude a multi-year storyline that started six years earlier when fans voted he and Okada out of the Tokyo Dome main event, and that continued in 2018 when most expected Naito to win the title only to have it not happen. The fatigue was not enough to hamper the great moments, but did hurt some of the undercard bouts.
It is true that Naito peaked as a cool character and merchandise seller in 2018. If the world was only about Naito, he should have won the title that night. Most second-guessed Gedo’s decision, but in hindsight, for the company, Okada on top in 2018 was far superior to Naito because of the Tanahashi and Omega storylines and the chasing of records. 2019 had to be revamped due to Omega leaving, but there was no way they could have gone to Naito that year where it would have ended up as big as it was here.
But after doing all that and with the emotions the highest, Gedo took away the celebration by having KENTA attack Naito. He did give Naito time to recover and cut the closing promo, so everyone went home getting to see the experience -- a big moment that culminated a six-year-long quest."
Best Friends vs. Ortiz & Santana parking lot fight | AEW Dynamite
September 16, 2020
"The company had one of the craziest and best matches in its history with the parking lot match. I’d go ***** as it was among the best matches of its kind I have ever seen and while totally different, the only thing I can compare it to was the Ted DiBiase vs. Jim Duggan tuxedo street fight coal miner’s glove match in Houston in the 80s. Jim Ross said it was the best street fight match he had ever called. It’s not my personal favorite kind of match because all four guys killed themselves taking bumps on car hoods, roofs, windshields and other crazy spots with all kinds of hardway blood all over people’s bodies. It highlighted what was one of the best Dynamite shows to date.
The backstory: when the pandemic hit in March, Tony Khan had two immediate ideas. One was putting the wrestlers in the crowd with faces on one side and heels on the other, taken from watching Jimmy Kimmel using the staff as his audience. The other was a parking lot match which came out of a long weekend of brainstorming while working on the 3/18 show. The match was set up for Best Friends vs. Penta & Rey Fenix and advertised for the 3/25 show. But things happened with the tapings and it was simply impossible to do the advertised match and show.
The match was put together by Jerry Lynn and the four guys with Khan also having some influence. It was a one take match, not edited. The Orange Cassidy coming out of the trunk finish was the scheduled finish for the original match in March. The idea changed when Santana pitched Khan on doing a program with Best Friends with the idea of destroying Sue’s (Trent’s mother) minivan to start the feud. When Khan agreed, the destroying of the minivan idea led to Khan thinking that ,if possible, the angle blowoff should be the parking lot match where they finally did the Cassidy finish. So, at that point, they laid out a three match program with this as the final match."
Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay | New Japan G1 Climax
September 27, 2020
"This was only the second time these two have ever wrestled and the first was the 2019 match of the year winner. They did an insane opening spot, channeling Low Ki and Samoa Joe from early ROH. Takagi hit a death valley bomb on the floor followed by a Billy Graham throat drop and a DDT. They traded wicked chops like explosions. Ospreay used hard kicks until Takagi used a dragon screw. Takagi tried a brainbuster, but Ospreay flipped in mid-air and somehow ended up doing a stunner, followed by a phenomenal forearm and a space flying Tiger drop....
...Ospreay went for the hidden blade but Takagi ducked. Ospreay then used a rolling elbow. Takagi did the Hansen/Kobashi clotheslining the guy off the top rope spot and a death valley bomb off the middle rope, but was slow in going for the pin. Ospreay kicked out at one. Takagi then got the win after a pumping bomber and Last of the Dragon. This was among the top five matches of this year."
NXT UK Champion WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov | NXT UK
October 29, 2020
"Probably the most brutal match in WWE history took place on the NXT UK weekly TV show with WALTER retaining over his longtime rival in 25:09. It’s a ***** match, but one I almost hesitate to give it to because of the brutality level. If you compare it to one of the great Minoru Suzuki matches, the offense wasn’t nearly as crisp as far as looking like a trained fighter. WALTER, who is close to 300 pounds, just chopped the hell out of Dragunov who is a master seller. Dragunov also has one of those pale bodies where the damage shows up, so he was all beet red throughout the chest and upper back mostly from hard chops. WALTER's chest was beat up as well.
Dragunov was whipped into the ropes and went throat first into the middle rope and whiplashed himself on purpose. Dragunov did a missile dropkick three quarters of the way across the ring. WALTER gave him a choke suplex on the floor. Dragunov is like Ishii in the sense his selling is legit in a different manner than most pro wrestlers. WALTER gave Dragunov a power bomb on the apron, a second in the ring, and a splash off the top rope but Dragunov kicked out. WALTER finally beat him with a choke. By this point, Dragunov was bleeding heavily from the mouth. It was gruesome. To pull this off at this level with no fans was unbelievable. I thought WALTER vs. Tyler Bate last year was better due to the superior storytelling, but this was still an incredible performance by both."
GHC Champion Go Shiozaki vs. Takashi Sugiura | Pro Wrestling NOAH
December 6, 2020
"Shiozaki’s title retention over Sugiura was one of the best matches of the year. There are natural comparisons between this and Shiozaki’s win over Katsuhiko Nakajima which a lot of people talked about for match of the year. Both matches were exceptionally hard hitting. This match was even longer, had more variety, and peaked better. I think the pacing for this match was perfect and it went 51:44, and obviously felt long, but not that long because of the slow pace and the great selling of every move.
To go that long given the restrictions on cheering is a risk. I’m sure some would feel it went too long, but I never got that feeling because it was always intense and never felt slow or rushed. I don’t know about match of the year, but I would say it’s a match that if you are voting for match of the year, you should go out of your way to watch."