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?
9th January – Chris Jericho defeats Roman Reigns for the United States Championship
What’s that? A year ago Roman Reigns was holding a mid-card championship that was essentially filling time until something bigger was in store for him come Wrestlemania season? Sounds familiar somehow. What might be more difficult to remember is that the best friend pairing of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho was in full flow as one of the regular highlights of Raw. While this match in itself wasn’t entirely memorable in amongst seemingly hundreds of matches between Reigns, Jericho and Owens, Y2J’s championship win made him a WWE Grand Slam champion, so if only for the history books it’s definitely worth noting.
January 14-15th – United Kingdom Championship Tournament
The WWE Universe got introduced to some of the best talent the UK had to offer on these two nights in Blackpool. A lot of the matches were short in the early going, but there was still enough time for Jordan Devlin, Trent Seven, Wolfgang, Mark Andrews, Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne to impress – the latter three in particular putting on some great matches in the Empress Ballroom. Danny Burch even managed to reignite his NXT career off the back of it, and it was Nigel McGuiness’ WWE debut as a commentator. A full-fledged series hasn’t come to fruition as yet, but these guys have made their mark in WWE in 2017, and this was the start of it.
16th January – The Hall of Fame? Oh It’s True… It’s Damn True!
The Olympic hero, the Grand Slam Champion, the Wrestling Machine: Kurt Angle. He left WWE under a cloud in 2006 after refusing to go to rehab, and promptly showed up in TNA. He spent 2016 wrestling around the world, handpicking opponents he wanted to make a point of facing before it was all said and done. And in January, he returned home. Angle was announced as the headliner for the Hall of Fame Class of 2017, and gave one of the better HoF speeches in recent memory.
17th January – Mickie James returns to the main roster
Ahh La Luchadora. Those were the days. Though Mickie hasn’t done as much as I (and probably her too) would have liked since returning to WWE in January, there can be no denying this felt like a big deal. Surprisingly being inserted into the fold as a heel, siding with Alexa Bliss and costing Becky Lynch the SmackDown Women’s Championship, there was so much potential for interesting matches that never took place because of the Superstar Shake-Up.
NXT TakeOver: San Antonio – Asuka retains the NXT Women’s Championship in a Fatal-4-Way
Ok, so I realise Asuka is still undefeated across NXT and WWE, so her keeping her title may not be that newsworthy, but this was still a really good match. With the dominant champion having three opponents in the form of Sanity’s Nikki Cross, and the iconic Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, it felt like the title was in danger of changing hands without Asuka being beaten. A real star-making performance from Nikki Cross was the backbone to this match, being thrown off the announce table through another table on the stage, and suddenly everyone wanted to see Asuka vs Cross with the gold on the line.
NXT TakeOver: San Antonio – The NXT Championship becomes Glorious
Considering it feels like ages since either man was on the yellow brand, it may surprise you to remember that in January Shinsuke Nakamura lost the NXT Championship to Bobby Roode. These two worked well together to tell a well-structured story, with this match serving as a good example of how you keep a massively popular face strong in defeat. Bobby Roode would embark on a lengthy and glorious title run, while for Nakamura, as soon as the bell rang thoughts turned to when he would appear on Raw or SmackDown.
2017 Royal Rumble – Kevin Owens retains the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns
There were a lot of shenanigans surrounding this match, not least the shark cage that Chris Jericho found himself locked in above the ring. But don’t let anything take away from this being a really good match that goes under the radar because of what followed it. A chunky frog-splash from the top rope through a table on the outside, a tower of chairs, Braun Strowman’s interference out of nowhere, this match was full of memorable moments. The then-longest reigning Universal Champion of all time escaped with his belt, and one of the hottest feuds of the year in Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman got going.
2017 Royal Rumble – John Cena wins his 16th World Championship
I don’t think the result here was really much of a surprise – AJ Styles had proven his worth as a top guy in WWE and solidified his position, John Cena was going for a WWE record-equalling world title, and also looking to get revenge on a man who had beaten him twice in 2016. Similarly to John Cena vs The Rock II, there was no way Cena wasn’t getting his win back. But these two went above and beyond, putting in an early contender for WWE match of the year in an absolute classic.
2017 Royal Rumble – Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble Match
There was so much to this year’s Rumble. Chris Jericho lasted for 60 minutes, Tye Dillinger made the number 10 entry perfect, Braun Strowman continued his dominance eliminating more people (7) than anyone else, the tension between the then Wyatt Family members Luke Harper, Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt boiled over, Goldberg eliminated Brock Lesnar in about 30 seconds, The Undertaker entered a Rumble for probably the last time ever, and Randy Orton came out on top for the second time, eliminated the surprise final entrant Roman Reigns last. Orton became the seventh man to win the Royal Rumble multiple times.
30th January – Samoa Joe debuts on Raw
As part of the ongoing rivalry that saw Seth Rollins missing the Royal Rumble and showing up at TakeOver: San Antonio to confront Triple H, Samoa Joe debuted the night after the Rumble as Triple H’s personal hit man. He was effective at once, legitimately injuring Rollins that night, putting the architect’s participation at Wrestlemania in doubt for the second year in a row.
Elimination Chamber – 3 women’s matches
The Women’s Revolution/Evolution had been touted for months, but this was a breakthrough moment not just for having three out of seven main card matches being women’s singles, but also for all of them having storylines behind them. Becky Lynch took on Mickie James, Natalya and Nikki Bella attempted to bring an end to their troubles, and Alexa Bliss defended the SmackDown Women’s Championship against Naomi. The night would see a new champion crowned, but Naomi picked up an injury in the process that forced her to give up the title and put her Wrestlemania spot in jeopardy.
Elimination Chamber – Follow… the champion
John Cena put the WWE Championship he won at the Royal Rumble on the line inside the Elimination Chamber, against Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Baron Corbin, AJ Styles, and the man who would walk out with the gold: Bray Wyatt. His actual title run was forgettable at best, but it was a really cool moment to see Wyatt win the top prize in the company after years of misuse.
13th February – The girlhood dream comes true
Much of Charlotte Flair and Bayley’s rivalry early in the year centred round – for better or worse – Charlotte’s opinion that she is a superstar born for this industry, while Bayley was nothing more than a fan who got lucky. This moment really should have been saved for Wrestlemania, even more glaringly in hindsight, but Bayley dethroning Charlotte to become the Raw Women’s Champion made for a fantastic main event that night.
13th February – The Festival of Friendship
All good things come to an end, and the bromance between Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho did exactly that in explosive fashion. Fuelled by The List’s proprietor accepting Goldberg’s Universal Title challenge on KO’s behalf, this was the perfect example of why the big picture is always the most important thing. This segment was almost cringingly cheesy until Owens presented his gift to Y2J: The List of KO. And there was only one name on it: Chris Jericho. Had fans tuned out early, they would have missed the payoff to what ended up being one of the best segments WWE produced in 2017.
21st February – Nikki Bella vs Natalya in a Falls Count Anywhere match
I know, I didn’t expect to be writing about a Bella match when I started this column either. But much like it was a sign of strength in the division as a whole at Elimination Chamber, the culmination of this feud was an ode to long term booking. What started in November at Survivor Series paid off in February, and blended seamlessly into a Wrestlemania program between Nikki Bella and Maryse. In an age where too often long term booking still appears non-existent, any time it works should be commended. Plus the match was actually pretty good, possibly the best of Nikki’s return.
Fastlane – Neville vs Jack Gallagher for the Cruiserweight Championship
A rare 2017 highlight for the Cruiserweight division, this match damn near stole the show. Neville put in stellar work at the start of the year, to the extent he may have been the best heel in the company at one point. Gallagher was his polar opposite: quirky, funny, and extremely likeable. They had 12 minutes to do their thing, and two Englishmen put on a match that looked like it might have been a breakout moment for the purple title.
Fastlane – Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman
I know they would go on to have more stand out moments during the year, but the first match between these two in March should not be forgotten. It was the first time we had seen Strowman in a lengthy match and he passed that test, proving that he belonged at the top of the card. With Strowman not planned for a major match at Wrestlemania, and Roman Reigns scheduled to face The Undertaker, there was only ever going to be one winner, but it should be noted that this served as the first time Braun was pinned in WWE.
Fastlane – Goldberg wins the Universal Championship
Full disclosure: this isn’t one of my favourite moments of the year. But my god was it effective. It furthered the rivalry between Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho (I believe it was Jericho’s first appearance since the ill-fated Festival of Friendship), it protected Goldberg by having a short match and it upped the stakes for the Wrestlemania match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. It served a valuable purpose and cool moment for him, but it also meant Goldberg became the oldest ever Universal Champion in a record that I think is unlikely to be broken.
6th March – The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived makes a statement
Austin Aries had been a revelation on commentary in the introductory phase of 205 Live as he recovered from a broken orbital bone. But it was never going to be a permanent position for him, as A Double was a wrestler first and foremost. So as he was interviewing Neville the night after Fastlane, and Neville claimed there was nobody left for him to defeat, Aries had to remind him that Aries was a force to be reckoned with. He did so to great effect, and to a great reaction. It’s a shame it looks like both men have now left the company, because this 24 hour period really felt like the start of something good for the cruiserweights.
20th March – The Hardcore Legend says goodbye
Mick Foley was a popular choice as Raw General Manager, possibly the best option to rival the popularity of Daniel Bryan on Tuesday nights. He played an important role for several characters, putting Sheamus & Cesaro together as a team, introducing Bayley to the main roster, reminding Sasha Banks and Charlotte of the dangers of Hell In A Cell, and providing entertaining foil to the antics of Jeri-KO. So in true Foley fashion, when he needed to leave his role to have surgery, he made sure to further a feud on the way out. His firing was a pawn in the Triple H/Seth Rollins chess match, and I really don’t think Foley would have had it any other way.
Ongoing – Verbal sparring with John Cena & The Miz
This pairing didn’t seem particularly exciting on paper, but by the time Wrestlemania rolled around this was the match with the best build up. Cena and Miz brought the best out of each other on the mic week after week, trading ever more personal jabs. The Miz is one of the best talkers the company has, and John Cena showed exactly why he’s been on top for 15 years. In the end the match was what it should’ve been for the storyline, it won’t go down as anything special and it may even have annoyed some, but it made sense. What mattered was that the crowd was hot as hell when the bell finally rang, and that was all down to both men’s mic work.
That’s all for this section, see what moments I picked out for: