Wrestling is an incredibly dynamic industry where everything can change in a matter of days – if not hours – and 2017 has really typified that in WWE. From wholesale roster changes, to walk outs and injuries, you can never predict what’s going to happen next, not that I won’t keep trying. As the year draws to a close, what better opportunity than to look back and reflect on the memorable moments WWE gave us in 2017?
This is the second part of this look back at 2017, read the first here: January – March
NXT TakeOver: Orlando – The Authors of Pain eliminate the competition
2017 has seen a real resurgence of a tag team division in NXT. American Alpha, The Revival and DIY had been having great feature matches, but there was no real depth to the divisions. There is now. And on Wrestlemania weekend, once again the tag team stars shone bright. The Authors of Pain, The Revival and DIY put on one hell of a match that went for 20 minutes before the first elimination. They told a wonderful story of DIY and The Revival, bitter rivals in 2016, needing to team up to take out the defending champions. This may have been WWE’s match of the weekend, which was no mean feat.
NXT TakeOver: Orlando – Return of the Chosen One
He had left TNA a couple of months earlier, and he had been one of the busiest independent wrestlers in the world since leaving WWE in 2014. He even wrestled earlier that day for another company, so it was a shock to see Drew McIntyre sitting ringside during TakeOver: Orlando. He got a big reaction when he was shown on camera, and as a Scottish fan who has always been a McIntyre fan – in and out of WWE – it was a great moment to see him return.
Wrestlemania 33 – AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon
I don’t think the prospect of WWE’s 2016 VIP facing Shane McMahon at the biggest show of the year thrilled many fans when they first heard about it. But my god did they make it work. From Styles throwing McMahon through a car window to the match itself, it was great. Possibly because there were low expectations, possibly because they were the first match on the main card, either way Styles vs McMahon was the best match on the Wrestlemania main card. The two men shook hands two nights later, and the always popular Styles’ face turn was official.
Wrestlemania 33 – A WONDERFUL return!
This was my personal favourite moment of the year. Growing up my favourite wrestler was Jeff Hardy, and when rumours started swirling in late 2016 that WWE were interested in the Broken Hardys gimmick I started getting excited. When Matt and Jeff left TNA in February, I felt like it had to happen. So when they returned at Wrestlemania as the fourth team in the Raw Tag Team Championship ladder match, I’m not ashamed to say I lost my mind. The crowd in Orlando reacted just as loudly, and the Hardys even ended up leaving with the gold.
Wrestlemania 33 – Entering a Suplex Universe
As noted in the first part, Goldberg came back for one last title run, but at 50 years old it was only ever going to be a brief reign. He had already set up a match against Brock Lesnar (who he had embarrassed at Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble), who was out for revenge. This match was just a barrage of big moves, which was awesome six hours into the show. It kicked off Brock Lesnar’s current Universal Title reign, and was a highlight of the show for sure.
Wrestlemania 33 – Deadman… no more?
Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker. It is without doubt a marquee match-up, and with every passing year there is a higher chance that it is The Undertaker’s last. It was certainly framed like The Undertaker had retired, and that’s why it’s in this list. The match itself was nothing special, but the post-match truly was. Undertaker gathered his things, and left them laying in the middle of the ring, before descending down through the stage, all while the crowd gave him a rapturous ovation. It may or may not have been his last match, but it if was, it was the perfect visual to go out on.
3rd April – Raw emotion
As you would expect, WWE kicked off the post-Wrestlemania Raw with a highlights package of the PPV, closing with the Undertaker scenes. This fed into a solid five minutes of Undertaker chants. It was difficult to watch without getting emotional. But it was also a point of pride – that feeling that we got to witness the career of one of the greatest ever. It was a special moment. Roman Reigns of course entered to resounding boos from the crowd that were so loud they prevented him talking on several occasions. And when he did eventually speak, it was just one line: “This is my yard now.” All things considered, this was as good as it could have possibly been.
3rd April – An Olympic General Manager
As part of the Seth Rollins vs Triple H Wrestlemania match, Stephanie McMahon went through a table. So with no GM, and the Commissioner incapacitated, Raw needed a new authority figure. Vince McMahon came down to the ring to announce Mick Foley’s replacement would be the 2017 Hall of Famer: Kurt Angle! The crowd went nuts, and Angle has continued to get great reactions week after week. Plus he got a son! I bet that was an unexpected bonus.
3rd April – Say yeeeeeaaaahh
Throughout 2016 and early 2017, there was a common denominator in every great tag team match NXT produced. Know what that was? The Revival. So it was with great anticipation that they made their main roster debut, answering an open challenge by and defeating The New Day. They showed the world what they were all about by tipping over The New Day’s ice-cream cart on their way to the ring, and proved they could back it up between the ropes. They’ve had bad luck with injuries ever since, but if they can stay healthy 2018 will be the year of The Revival.
3rd April – Part of the club again
The 2016 draft was an opportunity not just to give people opportunities within a crowded roster, but also to call up the best talent from NXT. That was certainly the case with Finn Balor, and his success immediately translated into a chance to become the first ever Universal Champion at SummerSlam 2016. He won, but got hurt in the process, and had to vacate the title. He made his return the night after Wrestlemania, as a surprise tag team partner for the man he beat to become Universal Champion, Seth Rollins. He too has mostly been one of the most popular stars on the show ever since.
4th April – Intercontinental Street Fight
Dean Ambrose vs Baron Corbin for the Intercontinental Championship was a surprise inclusion on the Wrestlemania kickoff show, and it seemed to affect the match. Luckily enough for them, two days later they had a rematch under street fight rules, and they finally showed that they could do. Both men’s styles were suited to having no disqualifications, and the result was what should have happened at Wrestlemania.
4th April – The Artist arrives
When Shinsuke Nakamura signed for WWE, it was something of a coup. And it’s unusual you can say that for the number one wrestling company in the world. It’s rare for Japan’s top stars to jump to WWE, and even rarer for one of Japan’s top stars to jump to WWE’s developmental system. Straight away he was one of the biggest stars on NXT, and it was only a matter of time before he found his way to Raw or SmackDown. As it turned out, Nakamura was headed to Tuesday nights, interrupting The Miz in a tease of a potentially great feud that didn’t happen for his debut.
10th-11th April – Superstar Shake-Up
Nine months after the draft, it was time to shake up the rosters again. Eight days after Wrestlemania moves started happening, as Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, The Miz, Apollo Crews, Heath Slater & Rhyno, Curt Hawkins, Kalisto, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James made the move from SmackDown to Raw. On Tuesday, we found out that Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, The New Day, Jinder Mahal, Rusev, Sin Cara, The Shining Stars, Charlotte, Tamina and Lana had jumped to Tuesday nights. There were some really good aspects to these moves, but they did tear up long term storylines that had been building and were abruptly cut off with no pay off too.
10th April – Somebody call an ambulance!
After appearing to retire The Undertaker, everyone was wondering what was next for Roman Reigns. What was next for the big dog was the same as what was before: Braun Strowman. Roman Reigns was being interviewed backstage when Strowman attacked, and it went way further than your typical assault. This was where the iconic phrase “I’m not finished with you” was uttered, as Reigns was beaten to the point he needed medical attention. When Reigns was placed on a stretcher, Strowman tipped the stretcher off a ledge. And when Reigns was then put in an ambulance, Braun Strowman tipped the ambulance over on its side. It was, truly, a sight to behold.
17th April – Ring breakers
This is how you push someone strong after Wrestlemania. One week after casually murdering Roman Reigns, Strowman went on a path of destruction, beating people up until eventually he ran into Big Show. The two would face off in that night’s main event, where a superplex saw the ring explode. It was a spot Big Show had done twice before – first with Brock Lesnar in 2003, and once more with Mark Henry in 2011. But this time was a first: this time Braun Strowman got up. The show went off the air with Strowman standing tall amongst the carnage and a fallen Big Show, which was the visual epitome of indestructability.
Payback – They don’t just set the bar…
The Hardys defended the Raw Tag Team Championship the night after Wrestlemania against the former champion The Club, and then went on to have a series of matches against Sheamus & Cesaro. Every time without fail, Matt and Jeff would win. When Sheamus & Cesaro lost yet another Tag Team Championship match to the Hardys at Payback (despite Jeff losing a tooth), enough was enough for them, initially shaking their victorious opponents’ hands, but then attacking the Hardys as they celebrated. As part of the pairing, Sheamus had almost turned face by default, but this fully cemented a heel turn for him and Cesaro. As The Bar, it’s a role they’ve been excelling in ever since.
1st May – Seth Rollins vs The Miz vs Finn Balor
This is something of a sleeper match for WWE this year, as these three men put together a really good match. Fighting to be number one contender for Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Championship, The Miz won by having fewer enemies, strange though that sounds. During the match Samoa Joe attacked Seth Rollins, taking him out of the equation. Then when it looked like Balor had Miz beat, Bray Wyatt interfered and laid him out. Don’t let the shenanigans put you off though, this was one of the better Raw matches of the year.
NXT TakeOver: Chicago – Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne for the United Kingdom Championship
I’m gonna stick my neck out on this one – this was WWE’s Match of the Year. I rewatched what I believed to be the top contenders and this one was still top of the pile. These guys can do everything: they’re fantastic technical wrestlers, their strikes are uber crisp, they can fly and they’re incredibly powerful for their size. This was the first UK match on a TakeOver, which meant they flew a little under the radar going into the show, but they delivered big time. If the tournament in January was the introduction of the UK brand to a WWE audience, this is when they truly arrived.
NXT TakeOver: Chicago – Authors of Pain vs DIY: This time with ladders!
The same show, and another match of the year contender. I’ve already written about these two and the NXT Tag division, but this time these four men pulled out all the stops. Suicide dives through ladders, splashes off and through ladders, a german suplex through a ladder – if you don’t like ladders but do like absolute carnage, this was the match for you. They even got Paul Ellering involved, costing DIY the match and eating a superkick from Johnny Gargano for his troubles. It was a fitting spectacle for what would turn out to be DIY’s last match, made all the more remarkable by the fact Tommaso Ciampa was legitimately hurt going in.
NXT TakeOver: Chicago – You want the spotlight? TIY: Take It Yourself
I just said this was DIY’s last match, and this is the reason. After their loss, Ciampa attacked Gargano, throwing him into the screens at the top of the stage, hitting two running knees and an Air Raid Crash off the announce table. This was masterfully done. During the match Gargano had saved Ciampa from a brutal ladder shot to the face, which made Ciampa’s betrayal all the more hateable. As they retreated from the ring the crowd rallied behind them, likely believing as I did they were headed for the main roster. They were arguably the most popular act in NXT, so this was shocking. Their eventual feud will undoubtedly be fantastic, but they’ve already delivered probably the most memorable NXT segment of 2017.
That’s all for this section, find the next sections at the links below: