Now that 2017's days are officially numbered, it's time to get retrospective. Per usual, WWE put out a seemingly infinite amount of content to consume and we here at Pop Culture didn't miss a second. Well, maybe a few episodes of 205 Live, but you get the point.
To send 2017 out with a bang, we decided to cover the year that was with a slew of awards ranging from Wrestler of the Year to Favorite BRAUUUUNN! Moment. Naturally, because we're talking WWE, not one of the awards was unanimously agreed upon, but admittedly, AJ Styles deserved to be the unconditional Wrestler of the Year.
One thing we can agree upon is that WWE is growing at a torrid pace and this makes room for plenty of excitement. We tried to encompass that sentiment in our mini-ceremony.
Check it out:
Ryan Droste: AJ Styles. Further proving that WWE should have signed him years earlier, Styles has continued to impress during his time with WWE. 2017 was once again a banner year for the Phenomenal One. He started things off with an unbelievable match with John Cena at the Royal Rumble (losing the world title) and ended the year as the (rightful) WWE Champion once more after defeating Jinder Mahal. Oh, and there were some great matches in between with the likes of Kevin Owens and Finn Balor.
Connor Casey: AJ Styles
Honestly, who else could it be? The man started the year as WWE Champion, won the United States Championship twice, ended Jinder Mahal's dreadful reign as champ and put on great matches with the likes of John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Finn Balor and even Shane McMahon. The WWE brass has even gone so far as to name him the great in-ring worker of this generation, and considering how badly they want their home-grown talent like Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman to be the faces of the company, that's a huge feather in Styles' cap. He's been one of the best wrestlers in the world for the last decade, but this was the year he finally got to cut loose on the biggest stage.
Jack Snodgrass: AJ Styles is a great answer. So is Braun Strowman. So is Roman Reigns. But I want to give the wrestler of the year award to all of WWE's Tag Team Division.
The New Day, The Usos, The Bar, The Hardys, and Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose have supplied a renaissance of sorts for the art of tag team wrestling. Have you forgotten that the Los Matadores were a thing just two years ago?
Every team mentioned above has been involved and a show-stealing match this year. I mean, instead of Sin Cara, we have 3-time WWE Champions, Grand Slam Champions, one of the most memorable factions of all time, future WWE Hall of Famers and plenty of Shield overtones. This refurbishment of the division happened in no time and shows no signs of letting up. Bravo, gents!
Ryan Droste: Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate for the U.K. title at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, closely followed by Cena vs. Styles at the Royal Rumble, as far as WWE matches go. The Dunne/Bate match was just so damn innovative, though, that it gets my vote. It was genuinely one of the very few matches of the last couple of years that I have wanted to go back to and watch numerous times.
If I'm expanding this outside of WWE, Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada in the G1 Finals was my favorite match of the year. I liked it slightly better than their matches at Dominion and WrestleKingdom.
Jack Snodgrass: AJ Styles vs. Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series. With a lethal cocktail of psychology, storytelling, juxtaposition, and novelty, Lesnar and Styles gave us a hysterically fun match that we've probably already taken for granted.
After spending all of 2017 handling massive dudes (Goldberg, Joe, Strowman) it was a delight to be reminded how fun it is to watch Lesnar flip humans around the ring. And speaking of flipping, while there may be more explosive acrobatics in WWE, no one has the precision of Styles. The combination of his grace and Lesnar's brute strength manifested a match I'll certainly be remembering for some time.
Connor Casey: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Dominion
If you follow the wrestling business in any capacity online, you know the theme of 2017 was that the non-WWE scene continues to grow in popularity. And one of its best offerings came right at the beginning of the year when Kazuchika Okada (New Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest star) and Kenny Omega (leader of the Bullet Club) wrestled a match that was so good it broke Dave Meltzer's famous star-rating system.
But for as great as that match was, its sequel in June was even better. The story this time around was Omega becoming more and more desperate to beat Okada and overthrow him as New Japan's best wrestler, driving him to hit every move in his arsenal multiple times. But no matter what he did, he couldn't put Okada down, leading to an incredible finish where the 60-minute time limit expired just as Okada nailed Omega with his Rainmaker finisher. The Okada-Omega trio of matches from this past year was some of the best wrestling the world had to offer, and its a terrific starting point if you want to sink your teeth into
Ryan Droste: As far as the main roster goes, SummerSlam was the best from top to bottom. We got a tremendous match between the Usos and New Day right at the star, a great tag team title match with Rollins and Ambrose taking on Cesaro and Sheamus, a really good U.S. title match between Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, and one of the best matches of the year in the main event as Lesnar defended in a fatal four-way against Strowman, Reigns, and Samoa Joe.
The best PPV shows of 2017 were not on the WWE main roster, though. As great as SummerSlam was, it was topped the night previously by NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III. NXT TakeOver: Chicago also had more in-ring masterpieces, collectively, than any main roster PPV show this year. The trend of NXT TakeOver shows topping their main roster counterparts on the same weekend started before 2017, and that trend continued through this year.
Connor Casey: NXT TakeOver: Chicago.
2017 was a good year for matches in WWE, but a bad year for main roster pay-per-views. With the company's decision to stretch some of their bigger shows out to six hours (not even including pre-shows), many of the events felt bloated and drawn out. NXT opted not to go that route, and their shows were all the better for it.
I was torn between TakeOver: Chicago and the recent TakeOver: War Games, as both had excellent main events and strong undercards. But what put Chicago over was the outstanding Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne match along with Tamasso Ciampa's heel turn to close out the show. Once he comes back, Ciampa's rivalry with Johnny Gargano could be the next Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens with a series of matches we'll want to see again and again.
Jack Snodgrass: I don't know if it was the best show of the year, but my pick is Tables Ladders and Chairs. Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt likely would differ with me, but the viral infection that kept them out, sucked me in.
WWE, as a by-product of being a monopoly, often books its shows like they're a mere formality. But when main eventers suddenly couldn't go, WWE found itself booking from its heels for the first time since the injury-plagued WrestleMania 32. And considering the creative emergency they endured, I think they crafted a really fun show.
Ryan Droste: Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt. This was just a colossal waste of time for both men. Balor should have been positioned in a more prime position on the card, having the history of being the first Universal Champion and with a ton of fan support. Instead, he's placed in a feud with Wyatt, a man who the fans desperately want to cheer. The whole thing went on way longer than it should have, though it did end up (in a round about way) giving us Styles vs. Balor after Wyatt was unable to perform due to illness at TLC.
Connor Casey: Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt.
Poor Bray Wyatt. I really thought the House of Horrors debacle would be his low point for the year, but then WWE's creative had to go and top themselves.
At first this felt like a harmless feud. Wyatt won the first match the week before SummerSlam, prompting Balor to bring out The Demon for their SummerSlam match and put down Wyatt with little trouble. Yet as the weeks went by the rivalry just refused to end. Balor beat Wyatt again at No Mercy, this time without the paint. It looked like Balor was finally free to find a new program after that, only for Wyatt to come back and threaten us with a match where he dresses up like Sister Abigail. I don't want to think of how that match would've turned out, and by seemingly divine intervention we were spared that abomination.
Jack Snodgrass: Roman Reigns vs. Undertaker.
To me, this whole thing just felt unnecessary. Clearly, this was always about Reigns collecting another scalp, but I think it really cheapened the Undertaker's mystique while also proving that nothing is off limits for Reigns' push.
I genuinely am a Reigns fan, but this was damn near unapologetic. And to cap it off, Taker looked alarmingly bad. From the build up the to match, The Deadman seemed out of place.
Ryan Droste: It's gotta be the thrown chair at Roman Reigns, which lead to some tremendous memes.
Connor Casey: "I'm Not Finished With You!"
At first I thought the ambulance tip was a little too goofy. BUt looking back it actually set the tone for how Braun would be presented for the rest of the year. Now he's best part of Raw every week!
Jack Snodgrass: There isn't a wrong answer here, but I chose SummerSlam. Braun showed us that he is without question a blockbuster attraction. For him to steal the show, considering the names he shared the ring with, marked one of the cooler moments of the year.
Ryan Droste: I have to go with Braun Strowman here. When he was part of the Wyatt Family, nobody ever expected him to be anything substantial on the main roster. At this point, he's one of the most over guys in the company with the crowd and his performances have improved tremendously.
Connor Casey: Velveteen Dream.
I was so ready to hate Velveteen Dream, but from the moment he made his debut I was instantly hooked. This guy wasn't just imitating Prince, he was Prince plus Tim Curry from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Every aspect of his character is so over-the-top flamboyant, and Clark is clearly giving 200 percent every time he's on-screen. It all culminated with his feud with Aleister Black, which gave us one of the best matches of the year at NXT TakeOver: War Games a few weeks back. This guy has gone from a nobody to one of my three favorite NXT stars in no time at all, and I can't wait to see what he does in 2018.
Jack Snodgrass: Enzo Amore. There's more to being a wrestler than German Suplexes. I mean, Hulk Hogan only had like 3 moves. While Enzo may only have a few more, I think he's demonstrated that his value lies in his character. While it's become fashionable to rip on Enzo, I think he's done a lovely job of not just resurrecting his career, but anchoring 205 Live.
Ryan Droste: Kurt Angle's return to the ring (on short notice). After anticipating another Angle WWE match for a decade, to have it announced (with no build) out of nowhere just two days before an event because Roman Reigns was unable to perform was a letdown. It was great to see him in the ring again, but I had hoped we would get a long, well-built storyline to bring the Olympic hero back into the ring once more.
Connor Casey: The Kurt Angle-Jason Jordan Storyline
As somebody who didn't start watching wrestling until the early 2000s, I was thrilled to see Kurt Angle back in WWE this year, both as a entrant into the WWE Hall of Fame and the new General Manager of Monday Night Raw. They didn't give him much to do every week other than make matches and spout his catchphrases, but it was a welcome change compared to how suffocating previous authority figures had been (looking at you, Authority).
Then when they finally teased some sort of angle where Angle had a dark secret that only Corey Graves (of all people) knew about, I was genuinely intrigued to see what would happen. We finally get the big reveal and it's... that Jason Jordan is Angle's illegitimate son. Right from the reveal you could tell this had problems. In what many are calling the "Reality Era" of WWE, it's pretty ridiculous that they would go back to the old trope of saying two people on the roster are related. Also for as good as Jordan is in the ring, we were quickly reminded that he got away with having no real promo skills by teaming up with Chad Gable. Finally, as weeks go by we keep seeing Jordan lose over and over, and it doesn't feel like the storyline is going anywhere. Maybe by this time next year, we'll find out that this was just the start of a much bigger story for both Jordan and Angle, but for this year it's been one of the company's biggest disappointments.
Jack Snodgrass: NXT Call-ups. I don't know who to blame, but there is a trend, a real quantifiable, tangible trend of NXT heroes coming up to the main roster and flopping. This year may have been the worst batch of duds yet as Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Austin Aeries, and redshirt rookie year of Finn Balor all have struggled to find relevance. Yes, Samoa Joe's been great, but he's also been hurt, just like The Revival.
I hope that 2018 is easier for these guys, because they are clearly talented, but man, this has been deflating.
Except for Elias, he's been a blast.
Ryan Droste: Within the wrestling business in general, there was no bigger surprise than Chris Jericho showing up to challenge Kenny Omega in New Japan. Period.
In WWE, I'd also have to go with Mahal's long title run. Nobody could have ever predicted that. What a turnaround from his time with 3MB, right?
Connor Casey: Sami Zayn's turn to the dark side.
Ever since he beat (Adrian) Neville for the NXT Championship in later 2014, Sami Zayn has been one of my favorite wrestlers to unironically root for in the WWE. And while he hasn't always been used well on the main roster, his seemingly eternal feud with Kevin Owens was the best part of any show where they chose to revisit it. So when Hell in a Cell rolled around back in October, the last thing I'm expecting is to see Zayn run out and save Owens from Shane McMahon leaping off the cage. The moment was shocking, but it was made all the better by the following weeks where Zayn has turned into an excellent heel by cranking up his "happy beard guy" persona to obnoxiously high levels.
Jack Snodgrass: I still can't believe Jinder Mahal was WWE Champion for 6 months of 2017. I think he deserves more credit that he's been given, but I still can't believe that happened.
Ryan Droste: The WWE Cruiserweight Championship. While Amore has done great since being relegated to the division, the belt just has very little importance in the grand scheme of things. 205 Live, which is usually very well done, draws very few viewers due to WWE suffering from overexposure and too many hours of product each week. The performers deserve better, but this is just where we are at.
Connor Casey: The WWE Cruiserweight Championship.
The cruiserweight division has been a mishandled mess over this past year, and the Cruiserweight Championship's value plummeted as a result. Things started off well with a revamped version of Neville winning the title in January and holding it for nearly 200 days, but then WWE decided to start playing hot potato with it. Akira Tozawa and Kalisto both got ridiculously short runs with it and Enzo Amore (the least talented in-ring worker on a show that is all about in-ring wrestling) is currently on his second run. Meanwhile, the roster's two best wrestlers in Neville and Austin Aries are gone, and there isn't a single person on 205 Live worth getting behind to knock Amore off his perch.
And none of that is even mentioning what happened with Rich Swann, who was champ at the start of 2017.
Jack Snodgrass: All Women's Championships. Off the top of my head, I genuinely can't remember a remarkable good women's championship match. This is no slight to the athletes themselves, but to their creative opportunities. The Women's Revolution got more women more time in the ring, and that is a great thing. However, that's not enough. It's time to give us substantive stories to care about, not just exhibitions. It's time for the Revolution to evolve a little.
Ryan Droste: It's hard to call Samoa Joe a rookie, but when it comes to the WWE main roster, he is one. And Joe really came into his own as a main event caliber player in 2017. It's easy to see him getting a run with the WWE Universal title eventually, especially after proving that he could do great in a championship program when he was paired up with Brock Lesnar over the Summer.
Connor Casey: Samoa Joe.
The jump from NXT to the main roster continues to be an issue for many Superstars, but nobody set themselves apart from the pack better than Samoa Joe. From the first night he showed up he was instantly established as a monster and his programs with Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns only further proved that.
Jack Snodgrass: Jason Jordan. Maybe I sound like a WWE shill, but I like this guy. He's gone from a practically mute existence in America Alpha to routinely portraying some of the deeper emotions WWE plays with. While he's still not exactly Marlon Brando, I think he's grown considerably as a performer.
WWE has to feel confident in him as he has consistently shown his comfort during his promos. He's been all over the place too, as his character has been applied to every tier of WWE's card.
Ryan Droste: Ricochet will come to WWE and become a huge star. One of the top performers on the independent circuit now for the last couple of years, he's been saddled by a Lucha Underground contract that kept him away from WWE due to television exclusivity. That will soon no longer be the case, and he's just the type of new generation star that could set the WWE on fire.
Oh, and Samoa Joe will get a world championship run.
Connor Casey: 205 Live will undergo a massive change
In its current state, 205 Live is the least-interesting show WWE produces every week. And ith NXT now being broadcast on USA and a Facebook-only show in the works, I think the show will be changed drastically in 2018. Maybe it'll be moved down to the NXT arena in Florida and taped weeks in advance, maybe it'll be moved ahead of SmackDown instead of after or maybe it'll be scrapped all together. I'm not sure exactly what, but something will definitely change.
Jack Snodgrass: Dean Ambrose will be the most impactful Superstar of 2018. Now, all of this is predicated on him violently betraying his Shield brethren sometime before WrestleMania 34, but once that happens, Ambrose is set to be one of the better heels in recent memory.
As a bad guy, Dean will be able to shed his kid-friendly version of the Lunatic Fringe and embody a persona that acts more like Hannibal Lecter. Well, I just talked myself into really wanting this to happen.