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 final part of my 2017 Spotlights, you can find the first three below:
2nd-16th October – Sierra. Hotel. India. Echo. Lima. Delta.
The reunion of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose naturally invoked memories of The Shield, and got the fans wondering if the third piece of the puzzle would come together. As it turned out, three and a half years after Rollins slammed a chair into Roman Reigns’ back, The Shield returned as a united force. Battling against their common enemies of The Miz, The Bar and Braun Strowman, it was fantastic to see the ever-popular trio working together once again.
Hell In A Cell – Teamwork makes the dream work
This was the first time WWE Tag Team Championships had ever been defended inside Hell In A Cell, and victory gave The Usos a record 3rd SmackDown Tag Team title reign. But even if neither of those had been true, this match would still be in this article because it was just that damn good. This was the first time we got to see The Usos and The New Day use weapons in their feud, and they did so with both brutality and innovation.
Hell In A Cell – Leap of Faith into the unknown
It’s usually a good bet that when Shane McMahon steps into a ring for a match, he’s gonna do something crazy. Make that a Hell In A Cell match, and there’s a good chance he’s going to jump off the top. And sure enough, against Kevin Owens in October he did exactly that. The only problem was that much like against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 32, he didn’t hit his target. This time, KO was pulled out of the way by Sami Zayn, executing a heel turn that just a few months ago would have seemed unthinkable. The decision for Sami to embrace his inner hate was a risk, as he had never played a heel role before, but it’s one he has excelled in over the last couple of months.
TLC – A first time ever dream match
Despite having obvious history in Japan as part of the Bullet Club, AJ Styles and Finn Balor had never had a one-on-one match-up. They had briefly competed against each other in 2008 in a 6-man-tag match, but this pairing was one fans had wanted to see for years. Despite being on opposing brands, medical issues took Bray Wyatt out of his scheduled match against Balor at TLC just three days before the show, so WWE brought in a big gun as a last-minute replacement. The match didn’t disappoint, proving to be the best outing of the night, but also left a hunger to see what these two could do in a proper programme.
TLC – Swapping the Red, White and Blue for riot gear
When Kurt Angle came back to the WWE, he made no secret of his desire to wrestle. But I bet he didn’t expect it to happen on three days’ notice. Similarly to the Bray Wyatt situation, Roman Reigns was pulled from TLC due to medical issues, spoiling the idea of the Shield reunion that the show had been built around. Wary of disappointed fans potentially asking for refunds, WWE turned to the biggest option they had left at their disposal – Kurt Angle’s first WWE match in 11 years. It was without a doubt a huge moment in the year, and despite there being logical storyline issues and the change possibly leading to a disjointed match, seeing Kurt Angle wrestling in the WWE in 2017 was without doubt fairytale stuff.
October 23rd – Under Siege
After TLC the focus of both Raw and SmackDown really turned to Survivor Series, and in particular the 5-on-5 elimination matches. After 11 months of ignoring the brand rivalry, it needed something to really kick it into gear and make it feel like a war – and when Shane McMahon fired the first shot it got exactly that. It was the first mass invasion of it’s kind in years, which made it all the more effective. The SmackDown roster ripped through the Raw locker room, attacking everyone who crossed their path. It kicked off an exciting month’s worth of TV, with several storyline implications and title changes.
1st November – This is War
NXT was chaotic between SummerSlam and Survivor Series – by design and in the best possible way. The Undisputed Era (consisting of Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) ran afoul of everyone they met, and tried to recruit Roderick Strong. Sanity kept coming back for revenge after TakeOver: Brooklyn III, who themselves ended up being targeted by the former NXT Tag Team Champions the Authors of Pain. Roderick Strong turned down The Undisputed Era’s offer, resulting in the nine men involved brawling on this episode of NXT. Eventually General Manager William Regal came out to restore order, and announced the return of a match concept that hadn’t been seen in 19 years: WarGames.
6th November – Raw is Dunne
Pete Dunne has been one of the standout performers for WWE in 2017, and everything about him screams superstar. His look, his facial expressions, his attitude and his wrestling all suggest there are no limits to how far he can go. He received his WWE tryout in Glasgow in November 2017, and almost exactly a year later he was walking out on Monday Night Raw for the first time. It hasn’t led to anything more regular on the main roster as yet, but it was a hugely cool moment to see him appear on Raw in his home country for the first time just a few days before his 24th birthday – not just to compete, but to beat the Cruiserweight Champion.
7th November – A Phenomenal WWE Championship change
Jinder Mahal had been WWE Champion since May, but his reign was littered with stereotypical characterisation, boring matches and even downright offensive promos. With the announcement of inter-promotional matches for Survivor Series, the prospect of Jinder Mahal vs Brock Lesnar was enthralling no-one. Thankfully, history was made in Manchester as the WWE Title changed hands outside North America for the first time ever. AJ Styles became the new champion, his second reign with the title, meaning that for the second month in a row fans could look forward to a dream match between a Raw superstar and AJ Styles.
NXT TakeOver: WarGames – Say his name
One of the highlights of 2017 in NXT has been the emergence of the Velveteen Dream. He stands out as a unique character in amongst the sea of talent, made all the more impressive by him only being 22. He seemed to have the character down, and he’s good on the mic, but for TV audiences there was still the question of what he could produce in a match. Putting him up against Aleister Black was a risk – as one of the biggest stars NXT has to offer there was always the risk of Dream not looking anywhere near Black’s level, and then fading back into obscurity (hi No Way Jose!). There ended up being nothing to worry about though, as the two superstars produced one of the best matches of the year, and the booking of Black getting the 1-2-3 but Dream getting Black’s respect and validation meant both men came out of the story as winners. Now that’s proper booking.
NXT TakeOver: WarGames – Let the WarGames begin!
So there were changes to the original format, but Sanity, The Undisputed Era and The Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong put on over half an hour of the carnage you could expect from the structure. There was an insane superplex spot from the top of the cage, a super German suplex through two tables (props to Alexander Wolfe for that, considering it looked like he got busted open pretty badly in the process), and a 300-pound Coast-to-Coast. Killian Dain orchestrated the latter, and absolutely looked like a star here. But in the end it was the newest team – The Undisputed Era – who survived long enough to pick up the win, establishing them as a force to be reckoned with.
2017 Survivor Series – The Shield vs The New Day
In the name of inter-branded warfare, it was apt that two trios who between them have in many defined the last five years of WWE would go head-to-head. The Shield debuted at Survivor Series in 2012, and after multiple solo championships their first match back together on PPV happened five years later. The New Day meanwhile rose out of the aftermath of The Shield’s implosion in 2014, and dominated the tag team scene, becoming the longest reigning tag team champions in WWE history. Things became personal when a distraction by The New Day caused Rollins & Ambrose to lose the Raw Tag Team Championships just a couple of weeks before this show, before The Shield led Raw’s response to being Under Siege during a New Day match five days before Survivor Series. This match would’ve been big if it was purely symbolic, but as you might expect from these six the match quality was just as high too.
2017 Survivor Series – World Champion vs Universal Champion
There was just no way that AJ Styles vs Brock Lesnar was going to be a bad match. Paul Heyman could be at his best hyping the encounter, and Daniel Bryan serving as Styles’ advocate on the go-home SmackDown was an added nice touch. These two had a competitive match, which given their level of performances since the start of 2016 was entirely believable. They were also able to use a natural big guy/smaller guy dynamic, but the key to the match was that both men sold significantly for the other. It would’ve been easy to book the match as though AJ couldn’t hurt Brock, but that’s not how it went down, and it was for the best. What we got in the second dream match AJ Styles was involved in within a month was the second great match AJ Styles was involved in within a month. It was a nice change of pace for Lesnar after working with similar monsters for a long time, and it was the best match Lesnar had put on in a long time too.
2017 Survivor Series – Holy star power, wrestling fan
A lot was made of the ages of the competitors in the Raw vs SmackDown Men’s 5-on-5 Elimination Match, and a lot could be made of the booking of the match itself afterwards, but I don’t think it can be denied that seeing those ten names in the same match at the same time was a special moment. Kurt Angle, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and Triple H vs Shane McMahon, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and John Cena. That’s multiple first ballot Hall of Famers there, more championships than most people would see in several lifetimes. Plus we got to see (however briefly) Shinsuke Nakamura vs Finn Balor and Samoa Joe vs John Cena in WWE. The ending was messy, there’s no denying it, but if it sets up Triple H vs Braun Strowman with the monster among men going over, there will have been some good to come out of it.
20th November – She’s baaack
27th June, 2016. That was the last time Paige had been seen in a WWE ring until this night. It was a tumultuous 16 months for the anti-diva, as suspensions and controversies followed her every step of the way as she rehabbed a neck injury. Many times it looked like she would never come back to the WWE. But come back she did, and she didn’t come alone. She brought Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose – two women she judged on the 2015 series of Tough Enough – with her, forming a group they called Absolution. It was a great moment to see Paige back after her time away, and the way Absolution have been booked since their debut suggests Paige could be a key player for some time to come. They, along with the debuting Riott Squad trio of Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan and Sarah logan the next night, have injected a badly needed freshness and depth to the women’s divisions on both shows.
22nd November – Johnny Wrestling vs The Bruiserweight
Two of the best in-ring performers in the company did battle on the post TakeOver: WarGames edition of NXT with the United Kingdom Championship on the line. With the announcement of the match came high expectations, and since the match would air on the fifth straight day of new content from the company, they were facing a challenge to live up to them. However there should never have been any doubt that these two would deliver, telling a wonderful story centring at one stage over Dunne taking out his mouth-guard, initially to bite Gargano, but later Gargano realising it left Dunne vulnerable.
4th December – Matt is Woken
Towards the end of 2016 there was an argument to be made that the single hottest gimmick in wrestling was the Broken Hardys. Matt managed to completely reinvent himself at 41 years old, and became a bona fide star because of it. There were rumours that WWE were interested in the Broken gimmick, and when Matt and Jeff Hardy left Impact Wrestling in February 2017 it looked like a foregone conclusion that they were WWE-bound. However, legal wrangling over who owned the Broken gimmick meant that while the Hardys could go back to WWE, they were the old Hardy Boyz instead of the new Broken Hardys. However, at the end of November, Impact announced they would no longer be contesting the gimmick. That meant Broken Matt – or whatever WWE decided to call it so that they could own it – was suddenly available. After a loss to Bray Wyatt, Matt Hardy started deleting in the ring, and on the 4th December Woken Matt Hardy was introduced to the WWE Universe to the delight of everyone who had followed his journey in 2016 into early-2017.
6th December – Johnny Gargano vs Kassius Ohno
Two Gargano matches in as many weeks on this list should tell you just how good he is if you haven’t seen him. Since being attacked by his former partner Tommaso Ciampia in May, Gargano had been on something of a losing streak. He still won occasionally, but never in big matches that counted for much. However, this match was the start of the ascent of Johnny Wrestling as a solo star in NXT. General Manager William Regal announced an 8-man tournament to crown a new number one contender for the NXT Championship, which Gargano wasn’t even in. However, the Velveteen Dream had to pull out because of injury, so Gargano got his spot. And did he ever make the most of it. This match was a great battle between two guys who had something to prove, and you could tell they were determined to create the best match possible in the circumstances. Gargano ended up winning this match, and going on to become the number one contender for Andrade “Cien” Almas’ title the night before the Royal Rumble.
Clash of Champions – Tag Team mayhem
Know how I said before that the latter part of 2017’s tag team scene in WWE was SmackDown’s? This was the exemplification of that. The Usos and The New Day had put on matches so good they essentially turned The Usos face, while the unlikely pairing of Rusev and Aiden English were gaining traction all the time through continued cries of “Rusev Day”. And the fourth team in the equation on the final PPV of the year were by no means afterthoughts, even if Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin hadn’t been as prominent on SmackDown in the months beforehand. Despite a strange format tweak that left a lot to be desired, every team got a chance to shine, with Chad Gable rolling into a Geman suplex on Big E a particular standout. But when all was said and done it was the Uso twins who kept the titles, cementing them as the top team on SmackDown going into 2018.
18th December – Let’s get ready to Rumble
For years now, WWE have been making strides to bring the women’s division closer to parity with the men. The “Women’s Revolution” began in 2014, with the old Divas branding and championship being replaced at Wrestlemania 31. In 2016 women headlined a WWE PPV for the first time as Sasha Banks and Charlotte also became the first women to compete inside Hell In A Cell. In 2017 WWE held the first ever women’s Money In The Bank match. And in December, it was announced that in January 2018 a women’s Royal Rumble match would be held for the first time ever. This is absolutely the right time for it, as depth would always have been the issue before, but with the recent additions of Absolution and the Riott Squad to the rosters there really is no reason not to do it anymore.
20th December – Bate vs Dunne III
What better way to end this recap of the year than with the in-ring rivalry of the year. After tearing the house down in Blackpool in January, and producing in my opinion the WWE match of the year in Chicago in May, Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne went at it one more time for the United Kingdom Championship on NXT as the year drew to a close. These two threw everything at the wall, and pretty much everything stuck as they put on yet another classic. Whenever these two are in the ring together you know you are watching something magical. The crowd began to tire towards the end of the match, which dampened the atmosphere slightly, but it was clear they still knew they were being treated. I’ll say it one more time, Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne produced the best series of matches WWE saw in 2017. Who would have thought we would be saying that twelve months ago? If big things aren’t in store for both men next year, WWE are badly missing a trick.
And that has been WWE’s 2017! It’s important to remember that even amongst all the criticism we lay on WWE, they give us some great moments too. At the end of the day, we will forget most of the bad segments, bad matches and bad acting – but it’s the moments like the one’s I’ve compiled that will live with us. These are the moments that make me a fan, it’s as simple as that. While 2017 hasn’t been perfect in WWE, there are plenty of reasons to think it has been a good year. Here’s to more in 2018.