2020 has been an interesting year for the wrestling business (to say the least). The main promotions have spent time on hiatus, running shows in empty rooms or performing to restricted crowds, and the leading Indies have either been unable to run or only been able to present a limited number of shows.
But how has this changing environment impacted the GRAPPL 100 for 2020 compared to 2019?...
Despite the reduction in show numbers, encouragingly GRAPPL continued to grow in terms of our user-base and also the number of ratings inputted onto the app. Over quarter of a million ratings were entered for 2020 alone, and the 1 million mark for overall ratings on the app should be passed in 2021.
Key to maintaining this growth was the continued addition of new promotions. In 2020, app users were now able to rate matches from Beyond Wrestling, CMLL, DDT, MCW, NWA, Pro Wrestling NOAH and Stardom.
Reflecting the importance of adding new promotions to GRAPPL, nearly a fifth of matches in the 100 are from two of these additions. 10 of the matches this year were from Pro Wrestling NOAH with 9 coming from Stardom. So who have these replaced?
The most represented promotion in the GRAPPL 100 was again New Japan Pro Wrestling with 35 matches being on the list. This however is a decrease of 9 compared to 2019 with fewer tournament matches (notably the G1 and Best of Super Jr.) making the cut.
The most noticeable decrease on the list was among the European independent scene. In 2019 the aggregated number of shows run by OTT, PROGRESS, RevPro and wXw available to rate on the app was 89, whereas in 2020 this fell to just 33 (a 63% decrease). In line with this, the collective number of matches in the GRAPPL 100 from these four promotions fell to just six compared to 17 in 2019 (a 65% decrease). The decimation of the talent pool by NXT UK and the rightful exclusion from the scene of specific individuals named in #SpeakingOut were also clearly influential.
Another promotion clearly impacted by COVID-19 was All Japan Pro Wrestling. In 2019 they had the second highest number of matches included in the GRAPPL 100 (13), but they were represented on just six occasions in the 2020 list. All Japan's reduced schedule was again clearly a factor, with the number of shows almost halving, but the change in Triple Corwn champion also appears to be influential. The 2019 performance was largely driven by the strong and consistent Triple Crown run for Kento Miyahara with an average rating of 4.41 across eight title matches, whereas Suwama's three title defences averaged just 3.90.
AEW was the promotion represented in both lists who showed the biggest growth, with nine matches in the GRAPPL 100 this year compared to three in 2019. The number of matches in AEW has however increased from 152 to 779 so this should be expected.
The overall split of the GRAPPL 100 was:
OVERALL MATCH QUALITY COMPARISON
The quality of the GRAPPL 100 as a whole is lower than last year. In 2019 the average rating across all 100 matches was 4.40 and this year this has declined to 4.27 overall.
This is predominantly driven by the bottom half of the 100; indeed, none of the matches in the 2020 GRAPPL 100 from number 57 would have even made the list in 2019.
The natural assumption might be that there were less matches this year due to COVID-19 which may have influenced this, however there were actually 300 more matches included on the app this year than 2019 (and that wasn't just one episode of AEW Dark!).
Another assumption would be that the crowd-less/restricted crowd period from April onwards had lower match ratings than the January to March period where normal crowds were present. When you isolate the top 50 matches in January to March and top 50 from April to December however, there is no discernible difference in the average rating (4.24 for the pre-Lockdown period and 4.28 for the post-Lockdown period).
A key factor appears to be poorer quality G1 Climax in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Just 16 matches (18%) were rated at 4 stars or above on average this year, whereas there were 28 (31% of all G1 matches) in 2019. Further emphasising this lower level, there was just one match with an average of 4.5 or higher in 2020 compared to eight last year.
Despite the under-performance of the G1 and the bottom half of the GRAPPL 100, interestingly the top end has however been somewhat comparable to 2019. The average rating across the top 20 this year is 4.58 compared to 4.64 in 2019, which is essentially parity, and in fact the average for the top 10 this year is virtually identical (4.71 in 2020 vs. 4.70).
Supporting the idea that the time of year had a lower than anticipated impact on ratings, five of the top 10 this year happened in October-December with the other five happening in January/February. It shows that you can still have excellent wrestling with clap crowds or no crowds.
Overall it's been another great year of wrestling with a wide variety of matches capable of making anyone's "top 10". The quality has undoubtedly been there at the 'top end' of the list, but the same depth hasn't been there that we experienced in 2019.