As 2020 starts to come to an end, I think it is time to look back on this year and reminisce on the parts of wrestling that were awesome! Welcome to Robby's end of the year awards! This week we will be going over NXT and AEW's best performers in the ring. In-ring work is the bread and butter of a wrestling program. Many wrestlers over the years have forgone crazy characters and absurd stories in favor of hard-hitting matches that speak for themselves. While some of these performers on this list have gimmicks, all of them show up and consistently put on some of the best matches their promotions have to offer.
When talking about in-ring work, it is very easy to get caught up in technical fundamentals, smooth transition, and realistic holds, but in-ring prowess is much more than that. The best workers can tell a believable and compelling story all while pulling off moves that require years of training. All of the wrestlers on this list have shown that not only do they know the fundamentals, but they can put on matches that are worth talking about the next day.
NXT has always featured quality in-ring work, but now that WWE's black and gold brand is no longer just a developmental brand, we see some of the best in-ring work that Vince's company can put out. These five wrestlers (presented in no particular order) exemplify the fantastic work that NXT viewers can expect each week.
Fans of Io's work in Mexico and Japan before her current WWE run will not be surprised to see that Shirai has made it on to my list this year. Io came back from a minor injury and quickly became one of the MVPs of the "pandemic era." NXT made the right move when they chose to put the NXT Women's Championship on Io, making her the center of their extremely talented women's division. This year Shirai has worked banger matches with Candice LeRae, Charlotte Flair, Rhea Ripley, and Shotzi Blackheart, just to name a few.
Io Shirai is one of the bright stars of not just NXT's women's division but of women's wrestling as a whole in 2020. I expect 2021 to be just as big, if not bigger, for the genius of the skies.
Could Timothy Thatcher be booked to win more often? Yes. Does that mean he isn't amazing in the ring and consistently elevating all of his opponents? No. Thatcher has brought back a brutal mat-based style that I think NXT had been missing in the beginning few months before his debut as Matt Riddle's replacement tag-team partner.
Following his feud, with Matt Riddle (including a match of the year candidate in the fight pit), Thatcher has gone on to have some insanely good matches with Tomasso Ciampa, Finn Balor, and Oney Lorcan (a match that stood out on the stacked Great American Bash card in my opinion).
Thatcher's style has really added to NXT this year, and the quality of his in-ring work is undeniable. Let's see him win some matches in 2021.
Rhea's in-ring prowess is no secret. She is the first-ever NXT UK Women's Champion, a former NXT women's champion, and the only person on this list to have competed in a singles match at WrestleMania. Rhea lost her title to Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 36 in a fantastic match and has since gone on to compete in the fantastic triple threat match at TakeOver: In Your House, the women's WarGames match, as well as some great matches against Mercedes Martinez, Raquel Gonzalez, and Toni Storm.
Rhea provides something that very few other women on the NXT roster do, a brutal style that can stand on its own next to the biggest big men on the WWE roster. Rhea seems primed for a run on the main roster any day now, but nonetheless, she has killed it in the ring this year for the black and gold brand.
I will be the first to admit that I wasn't always a believer in Kyle O'Reilly's ability to carry himself in a singles capacity. In just a few weeks, O'Reilly killed it in the gauntlet eliminator, turned in a match of the year candidate against Finn Balor, and carried the Undisputed Era through the men's WarGames match. His work in the ring speaks for itself and if you want to see for yourself, watch his matches again (or just watch them again because they are great).
O'Reilly's time has come, and I can't even be mad. Call me a bandwagon fan, but I cannot wait to see what is in store for this guy as we go into 2021.
While Johnny Gargano has carried the character side of the couple's heel run, Candice has been the one to really kill in the ring. She has had run-ins with the best of the best of NXT, whether it is Mia Yim, Toni Storm, Shotzi Blackheart, or Io Shirai, Candice has shown that she has what it takes to lead the NXT women's division in this new decade.
Candice has worked to elevate herself and her opponents at every opportunity. Her street fight against Mia Yim on Night Two of NXT's Great American Bash was a fantastic example of LeRae getting herself over while still elevating her opponent. Her recent pairing with Indi Hartwell has allowed her to give new opportunities to younger talent while still shinning for herself.
We all know that Candice is a heel currently and that she probably won't be getting a run with the women's championship anytime soon, but honestly, that is a shame, and I hope that Candice gets some gold very soon.
What do you think? Who are the best in-ring workers of NXT this year? Let me know by tweeting at me @robbydeshazer!
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