Hi folks. As we head towards the latter part of the coronavirus pandemic, let’s take a look at the AEW wrestlers making names for themselves, despite the difficulty of performing with no crowds. Here are my personal top 5 AEW Breakout Stars of 2020 up til the end of spring.
Please note that I purposely chose not to include former, well-known WWE superstars; to highlight how good Dynamite has been in getting over new faces. This was originally scheduled to be a top three, but I couldn’t bring myself to serve two an injustice.
It was really challenging to decide the final rankings, so I’m fully expecting others to see it differently. I’d be surprised if there was a universal approval. And just to reference an inside joke for our Facebook users… sorry, but I will not be featuring Ryan, Dave Meltzer, JD From NY, or Bryan Alvarez.
Before we look at the honorable mentions, I want to say that the women’s division has been on the back-burner since Nyla Rose claimed the Women’s World Championship. Therefore, I could not bring myself to include any of them in the top five. It’s not a matter of gender or anything like that, it’s just how it is in AEW at the moment.
Also, I cannot include Lance Archer just yet. While he’s delivered pretty well… he hasn’t done enough to earn a spot. Same goes for Wardlow & Pineapple Pete. Jungle Boy hasn’t done anything noteworthy since last year. Jimmy Havoc was considered, but needs something big to get the ball rolling in his favour.
AEW Breakout Stars Of 2020 — Honorables
While you can count the number of times she has wrestled this year on two hands, she has enjoyed enough airtime to be noticed by fans. And yes, part of that will be because of her looks… but it’s mainly her managerial work.
Her & Kip Sabian are the newly married couple nicknamed “Superbad”, and the duo work well together as a reliable mid-card act. And I don’t want to insult Sabian here, but let’s face facts here, Ford’s outside interference can sometimes cast a shadow over his ring work. She adds flair and randomness, which is what Kip needs… but well, it could be a curse if he ends up becoming a Marc Mero equivalent.
Dr. Britt Baker
Remember when everyone hated Baker because she was being pushed as a face, despite not being good in the ring? Pepperidge farm remembers. Also, do you remember when she failed miserably with her early heel promos with Tony Schiavone? Again, it’s these moments which have haunted her early AEW career. Almost as badly as how frequently she reminds us of what she does for a living. Did you know she’s a dentist?! How can you not know already?!
In all seriousness though, the dentist gimmick has evolved tremendously. From the insulting of fans hygiene, to the chemistry with Tony. Adopting the Mandible Claw. Extracting one of Yuka Sakazaki’s teeth on live TV. The recent vignette where she took us on a tour of her dentistry.
Mick Foley couldn’t have said it better, in that she has surpassed Isaac Yankem DDS as the greatest dentist in wrestling history. It’s hers to own, and I’m sure there’s many more extractions to come. We’ll all be flossing after every meal by the time she gets done. Perfect smiles all around.
I hate to use the word winningest… it just doesn’t sound right. I’d rather say that Hikaru Shida has the most impressive record of any division in 2020. The only reason she hasn’t broke out of the honorable mentions, is because she hasn’t won the title when it matters. There’s another thing holding her back though, and it’s the fact it took til last week’s episode to finally get an interview with her. And you know, she’s not that bad at English.
We should never expect anyone from Japan to speak fluent English anyways. I digress, but the point is that while Shida is a fun, in-ring performer, there’s a long way to go in establishing who she is. What does she like? What are her goals? And can she get nasty when necessary? Although she’s still a little one-dimensional, Shida has managed to make a name for herself by proving to be one of AEW’s best workers.
Top 5 AEW Breakout Stars Of 2020
#5. Hangman Page
Aside from his last match, which saw The Elite lose out to the Inner Circle, Hangman Page is undefeated in 2020. And while he’s been inactive since March 19th, it’s because he has chosen to do the right thing by not showing up to a form of entertainment which has been deemed “essential.”
Putting that to one side though, his character’s evolution should be one of the biggest takeaways of the year so far. In 2019 he was a cowboy… but that was about it. His only real highlight was riding in to the first AEW title match on a horse, only to lose out to Chris Jericho. There was nothing to him, not at least til he started to distance himself from The Elite.
He’s had us guessing for months on whether he would turn full-blown heel, as he’d rather drink a lot than spend time sharing the spotlight with his tag team partner; and especially The Young Bucks. This underlying tension led to one of the most exciting matches of the year, when he & Omega faced off against them at Revolution.
It wasn’t just a spot fest like some were expecting, as it told a story which easily stole the show. And much of it can be attested to the character work directed at Page especially. “Cowboy Shit!” is over, and one day he is bound to become AEW World Champion.
#4. Sammy Guevara
What more can we say about the “Spanish God”? This kid is a shining star in a group which we all know is dominated by “Le Champion” Chris Jericho. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the ring work of Hager, Santana & Ortiz, but in terms of character? Guevara is leaps and bounds above them. His biggest singles victories were earlier in the year, when he went over on two veterans in Dustin Rhodes and Christopher Daniels.
Since then though, he hasn’t had much luck in that department, as he fell short to Darby Allin, Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega. But that’s OK, he’s only 26-years-old and there’s no rush. It seems that he is the preferred tag team partner of his leader, which is funny when Jericho’s got a powerhouse in Hager he could call upon.
What Guevara brings to the group isn’t just a good sing along to Judas, but he also represents the current generation with his continued vlogging. He really likes to get his face out there, and I think he perfectly encapsulates the vision Chris Jericho has for the Inner Circle.
Essentially, he has become his right-hand man, someone who is always reliable, always willing to go above and beyond. And he can sell too… just look at the way he took that golf kart like a champ!
#3. Orange Cassidy
Let’s all give a lazy thumbs up to “Freshly Squeezed.” Honestly, he’s like Marmite in the way that you either get it or you don’t. What I particularly like about the way AEW uses Orange Cassidy though, is they never overexpose his character. Teaming him up with the Best Friends is the best thing they can do, because he stands around and you never know what to expect.
Some nights he will do nothing, while other times he will choose to get involved. And it plays in to his character, as it means he’s always seen to be doing the absolute minimum. It’s refreshing, because so many in the business take themselves too seriously, while Cassidy is the antithesis of a hard worker. We all know he can go in the ring; he just doesn’t want to.
This was summed up perfectly in his match with Pac at Revolution. While “The Bastard” worked Cassidy over, we got to see just how tough he really is. And explosive too. His offense has more impact because he’s sly about the way he draws opponents in to a false sense of security. They think he’s not going to do much, because he’s always seen to be that way. But when he’s motivated enough, Cassidy will explode and show the world what he’s got.
And this ties in to what I’ve been saying for years, in that too many wrestlers do way too much. Cassidy teases you by showing glimpses of what he’s capable of, all the while doing so in the coolest way imaginable. Less is more, and Orange Cassidy is the epitome of giving fans only just the right amount of juice.
He’s better than you, and you know it. His inactivity due to an “injury” keeps him from the top spot, but it’s an extremely close call. Maxwell Jacob Friedman is not The Miz… you know, I see people compare him to The Miz and it’s not even close. For one, MJF is just plain better all around, and doing so at a younger age. No one is saying he doesn’t belong, unlike The Miz in his early years.
When you have fans trying to compare MJF to anyone, it makes me wonder why they can’t see him as MJF. Like he said, there is no comparison. He is better than those guys, and this is the kind of confidence sorely lacking from many wrestler’s personalities in 2020. It’s not arrogance, or cockiness, or ego… it’s just sheer confidence in his own ability. Remember that Bret Hart used to call himself the “Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be”. This is no different. And when he calls out fans for their idiocy, he’s only saying what the rest of us feel. He’s not telling us things we don’t already know.
While he’s still a little rough around the edges, we have to remember he is only 24-years-old. Considering how good he is now, just think about what he’s going to be like at 34-years-old. We have guys in their forties who still seem so young (AJ Styles is 42), yet we think of them fondly, when we could be enjoying guys in their primes. His program with Cody is exactly what he needed, and there is no doubting that he will eventually get his hands on the AEW title. Only then, will we see the real MJF flourish.
#1. Darby Allin
“Daredevil” Darby Allin is an enigma. There are very few in the business today that we can look at and say… this guy is unique, there’s no one else like him anywhere. Where else are we going to find someone who not only skates to the ring, but also wrestles in the way he does? You’d think fans would pick on him for his size, but Darby has proven you don’t need to be a stacked meathead to bring it. Being a skateboarder, he has little care for his own body, and that makes for some exciting moments.
The only question I have though, is whether this mentality can be sustained in the long term. We’ve seen it with others in the past, with guys putting their health at risk by not caring enough about their bodies. We’ll see how it goes, but on a more positive note… he does have universal appeal.
Unlike Orange Cassidy or MJF, it’s difficult to hate Darby. Whether you’re a man, woman or child, there’s something about Darby which makes us gravitate to his personality. The way he dismissed Taz giving him advice played well in to his character. He’s a loner who doesn’t want anyone’s help. No one speaks for him as he stands alone, and isn’t about pandering or feeling sorry for himself.
It sucks that he didn’t go over on Cody, but I’m sure AEW has something in mind. After all, much like others on this list, when all the former WWE guys retire or move on, these individuals are likely to carry the ball. These wrestlers need to be established sooner rather than later. Darby Allin will lead the pack of new faces created by the product of AEW Dynamite and its fans.
While some may bemoan the fact AEW relies on former WWE stars like Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, Cody, Dustin Rhodes, Jake Roberts, and more, I don’t see it as a negative. It’s a tried and tested practice, where you take established stars and build them up, so somebody new can knock them down.
If any of the listed top five became AEW World Champion tomorrow, no one would buy in because it’s too soon. Let the veterans build up the championships and draw in the fans to the point that when someone moves up it means infinitely more.
Hot shotting guys to the top has bad results. They must wait til fans are literally begging for a change of the guard. Only then, should they give the fans what they want. AEW Dynamite still has a long way to go, but the main thing is they build steadily and don’t do anything brash.
For example, I’m not a fan of slotting Jake Hager or Brodie Lee in to the title picture with little build. These decisions should be reconsidered, because we all know they aren’t real contenders and it makes a mockery of the ranking system.
While I’m not a fan of GMs, it could help to have some kind of authority figure. If anything, just to rarely enforce the rules of the ranking system. Reiterate the fact that someone has to actually earn a shot; instead of just attacking the champ and goading them in to one.
With that said, as stated above, all these new faces will one day be in a better position. And when that time comes, I hope they have not made a mockery of a system which has the potential to make it so change is met with the least resistance.