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 is the last week of my end of the year awards, so it is time to take a look at who were the best performers of the year. This list is going to take into account the previous two week's awards as well as everything else that this year has had to offer to create a list of who really shined in 2020. This year has been hard for many people, but these wrestlers stepped up and killed it despite the state of the world.
NXT, in particular, is a hard list to put together. There were many performers who stepped into the ring in WWE's black and gold brand, and not all of them stuck around for the entire year. This list will also put aside wrestlers from the NXT UK brand as I don't feel qualified enough to judge a show that I only watch occasionally. That all being said, these wrestlers stepped up in 2020. They made a mark for themselves, whether that meant totally reinventing themselves, taking on challenges that they had never faced before, or introducing themselves to the NXT Universe for the first time. So here are NXT's top performers of 2020.
5. Finn Balor
Finn Balor has been pretty active since his return to NXT last year. As of writing this, Balor is one of only 3 wrestlers to hold the NXT Championship twice and has recently surpassed Adam Cole in combined days as champion. In NXT, Finn seems to have a renewed sense of purpose and a drive to do some of the best work of his career. While it is strange to put the NXT champion so low on the list, it should be noted that Finn was out for several weeks following his match against Kyle O'Reilly and had long stretches of creative wheel spinning earlier this year while NXT decided what exactly they wanted to do with him.
As of writing this, it seems like Finn will collide with Karrion Kross at some point in the near future and potentially drop the title once again. Hopefully, this still leads to a satisfying story and 2021 for the demon prince.
4. Candice LeRae
Candice LeRae has had an absolutely massive year. She has totally transformed herself from a reliable worker in the women's division to one of the leading superstars on the NXT roster. This year, LeRae led her team to victory in WarGames, competed in the Royal Rumble, and challenged for the NXT women's title on multiple occasions.
The last part of that list of achievements is part of the reason why I can't put Candice up higher on this list. Despite being a leader, a reliable worker, and a fantastic wrestler all around, NXT, for whatever reason, will not put the belt on Candice. Even before her heel turn, it has been a while since it seemed like Candice has had a real chance at winning the title.
Candice LeRae is a massive talent and should not be wasted. I'd love to see her get some build-up before she challenges for the title again, and maybe it will feel like she could actually pull it off. Anything can happen in 2021, and I truly believe that it could be LeRae's year.
3. Shotzi Blackheart
Shotzi has had an incredible year this year. Having only debuted in December of 2019, Blackheart has made a huge impression in a short period of time. WWE clearly has a lot planned for Shotzi Blackheart as she has gone from relative unknown to host of Halloween Havoc to leading her own team in this year's WarGames. While she hasn't been challenged for the NXT Women's Championship yet, she and Tegan Nox did team up to take on Bayley and Sasha Banks for the WWE Women's Tag-Team Championships back in June.
With just over a year under her belt in NXT, Shotzi seems to have the rocket strapped to her back. I would expect Shotzi to have an absolutely massive 2021.
2. Johnny Gargano
Johnny Gargano has had another massive year in NXT. Not only did Gargano reinvent himself and embrace the role of NXT's most entertaining heel, but he has also become the first-ever three-time NXT North American Champion. He also competed for the NXT Championship in the fantastic four-way Iron Man match. While it seems like forever ago, Gargano also saw the end of the most compelling feuds in NXT history with his empty arena match against Tommaso Ciampa.
Gargano has really killed it and proved that he is one of the most consistent performers on the NXT roster. He hasn't always been successful, but he has continued to be wildly entertaining in and out of the ring. Heading into this year, it felt like Johnny Gargano might have reached his ceiling in NXT, but as this year comes to an end, it feels like he has much more to do before he is done with the black and gold brand.
1. Io Shirai
Io Shirai honestly came out of nowhere and stole this year from the other wrestlers on this list. Heading into the triple threat match at TakeOver: In Your House, it really felt like Shirai's role was to take the pin and keep Rhea Ripley and Charlotte from having to look weak. Since that night, Io Shirai has been one of the most dominant champions in WWE right now.
Honestly, Io has spent this entire year continually impressing me each time she gets into the ring. She has performed some of the most impressive spots, beaten the best competitors in her division, and has been incredibly entertaining while doing it. She is absolutely one of the best wrestlers, male or female, in this era and deserves every bit of praise that she has received. At the time of writing this, I don't know who will take the title off of Io Shirai, and I honestly don't see it leaving her anytime soon.
So who did I miss? Which wrestlers do you think performed the best in NXT this year? Let me know by tweeting at me @robbydeshazer!
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