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 third part of my 2017 recap, find the links to the previous two parts below:
Extreme Rules – Fatal-5-Way
The thing about multi-matches is they can be so chaotic that there isn’t a cohesive story to the match. But at the same time, put enough talent in there, and it can be all action and constant entertainment. The latter scenario certainly applied to the Extreme Rules main event between Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe in a match to decide Brock Lesnar’s next challenger. With five of the top guys on the brand in one match there were always going to be fireworks, and use of chairs, stairs, a broken barricade and a broken announce table delivered in that regard. In the end, it was Samoa Joe who came away with the win, as he turned his attention to the Beast Incarnate.
Money In The Bank – History in the making
The announcement of the first ever women’s Money In The Bank ladder match was exciting, with even SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi commenting that she would have loved to be a part of it. As it was, the match absolutely held it’s own against the men’s match later in the night. In fact, the women’s match arguably stole the show – it was certainly all anyone was talking about afterwards. Granted that may have been for the wrong reasons, as it was largely complaints that the briefcase was retrieved by James Ellsworth, and not one of the actual competitors. Still, if the goal was to get attention and have people talking about the match the next day, it delivered above and beyond.
Money In The Bank – The power of love
Things haven’t quite gone their way since, but when Mike Kanellis debuted alongside his wife, the returning Maria, it was a sit-up-and-take-notice moment. They were unique, which is always a good thing in wrestling, and could have been an important player in the SmackDown mid-card scene. Alas it wasn’t to be, but their unannounced arrival was still a cool moment.
Money In The Bank – A Phenomenal tease
I think it’s quite easy to forget about the men’s Money in the Bank match amongst all the controversy on the women’s side, but though it wasn’t constructed in the way I expected it still delivered. The story of the match was Shinsuke Nakamura being taken out and later returning, and Nakamura was front and centre for the highlight. People have been clamouring for a Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles match ever since they both arrived in WWE, and here it looked like they may do battle again. That moment when they locked eyes, and the crowd realised what was going on, was great.
26th-28th June – Women’s wrestling *clap, clap, clap clap clap*
This was the week where Raw, SmackDown and NXT were all headlined by women’s matches. And it’s not like they were token filler segments that just happened to go on last, or be the last match. Raw featured a gauntlet match featuring most of the division, where Nia Jax dominated only to fall at the last after 26 minutes. SmackDown closed with Money in the Bank: The Do-Over as a result of the controversy surrounding James Ellsworth’s involvement at the PPV, even though Carmella still left with the contract. And NXT finally got that one-on-one match between Asuka and Nikki Cross for the NXT Women’s Championship, as they brawled all around the arena in a Last Man Standing match that will live long in the memory.
Ongoing – Samoa Joe rises to the occasion
After becoming number one contender to Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship at the start of the month, Samoa Joe went about proving that he belonged not just to be in the match, but to be taken seriously as a viable threat. He met Lesnar with a head on determination that had to be respected, even if you didn’t like Joe. For most of the feud he got the upper hand too, choking out Heyman, then choking out Lesnar, and winning a pull apart brawl between the two. It was compelling television, and if there were any doubts before this rivalry that Joe was a top guy they were long gone afterwards.
4th July – Let’s keep this PG
This was a prime example of a segment I expected to be massively cringeworthy, but was actually very entertaining. Wale hosting a rap battle between The New Day and The Usos could easily have been plain horrible, but they made it work. There were some really good lines, but rather than trying to recreate them I’ll let you witness them for yourself.
7th July – A house show title change
After Kevin Owens had finally gotten rid of Chris Jericho, his next challenger for the United States title proved to be none other than AJ Styles. Or at least, Styles tried to make it happen. KO refused to defend his title in an open challenge against him, but Styles won entry to an Independence Day battle royal on 4th July to earn a shot at Owens’ gold. He got that shot at a house show in Madison Square Garden three days later, and defeated Owens after a Phenomenal Forearm to win his first United States Championship. Notable as much for the shock factor of being at a house show as it was match quality, this was certainly a big deal to wake up to.
Great Balls of Fire – Setting The Bar… Again
Much as I was tempted to include this PPV name as a highlight of the year in itself, the 30-Minute Iron Man match between Sheamus & Cesaro and The Hardy Boyz gave me reason enough to include it. This was the culmination of their feud that essentially went back to the Hardys’ return at Wrestlemania, and it was well worth the build-up. This feud established The Bar as Raw’s premier team, while also proving that the Hardys could still produce the goods for WWE in 2017. This loss saw Matt and Jeff move out of the title picture for a while, but The Bar would continue to put on great matches for the belts.
Great Balls of Fire – More attempted murder
The ever-mesmerising feud between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman took another seemingly murderous turn in July, as the two battled in an Ambulance Match. But it was the aftermath that really got people talking – possibly even more so than the PPV name. Strowman had won the match, but Reigns managed to turn the tables, lock Strowman in the back and drive it to the parking lot. Once there, with Strowman still trapped inside, Reigns reversed the ambulance into a production truck. Perhaps even more remarkable than the number one “good” guy in the company resorting to attempting murder to vanquish his foe, was that the monster among men eventually walked away from the situation, refusing medical treatment.
14th August – Brothers Reunited
For weeks, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins had been teasing reconciliation, but had never quite gotten back on the same page. With memories of The Shield bounding back to the forefront of fans’ minds, anticipation was growing each week at the prospect of seeing the former partners on the same side again. It finally happened on the last Raw before SummerSlam, despite the two coming to blows. They fought off the advances of Raw’s Tag Team Champions Sheamus & Cesaro, and we finally got to see two-thirds of that Shield fist-bump one more time.
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III – Adam Cole Baybay!
NXT’s Wrestlemania was a strange affair in 2017. Bobby Roode hade made the NXT Championship – and the brand as a whole – Glorious, and he was involved in a personal story with Roderick Strong. So naturally on the yellow brand’s biggest show of the year he was defending his title against Drew McIntyre. I wasn’t complaining as a huge McIntyre fan, but there was a disconnect there. Earlier in the show we had seen new Tag Team Champions crowned in the form of Sanity, but they were attacked by the duo of Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish. In the aftermath of the NXT Championship match, where again a new champion was crowned, Fish & O’Reilly jumped up on the apron again. Only this time it was a distraction, as the debuting Adam Cole came through the crowd to attack McIntyre from behind. NXT may no longer have been Glorious, but it was about to be Undisputed.
2017 SummerSlam – The Kick-off Show penitentiary
I really like that all three brands have had periods where their tag team wrestling was dominant. In the first third of the year it was NXT’s DIY, The Revival and The Authors of Pain. For the middle section, it was Raw’s Hardy Boyz vs Sheamus & Cesaro. For much of the latter part, SmackDown’s teams came to the fore, led by The New Day and The Usos. Their title match on the SummerSlam kick-off show was arguably match of the night, and just the latest in a series of excellent encounters. This year tag team wrestling has reached a new level of consistency in WWE, and this match and these two teams are big parts of the reason why.
2017 SummerSlam – Grand Slam Lunatic
The reunion of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had built up so much momentum that even though they had only properly reunited six days earlier, at SummerSlam they received a shot at the Raw Tag Team Championships. They had a tough act to follow after the SmackDown Tag Team title match earlier produced the goods, but they did an excellent job regardless. And Ambrose and Rollins kept their momentum going by winning the championships – in the process rendering Dean a Grand Slam Champion.
2017 SummerSlam – The Samoan Submission Machine vs The Big Dog vs The Monster Among Men vs The Beast Incarnate
If the SmackDown Tag Team Title match wasn’t the best thing about SummerSlam, the Universal Championship was the only thing that beat it. On paper this was the very definition of hoss fight, as four behemoths went to war for the gold. It served as a hugely impressive showcase for Braun Strowman, who truly manhandled Brock Lesnar in a fashion I’m not sure we’ve seen before. There was destruction all round ringside, as there should have been with these four, but in the end it was the reigning, defending champion who kept his title.
22nd August – Simply Glorious
Bobby Roode had a stranglehold on NXT between the Royal Rumble and SummerSlam, defending the NXT Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura twice, Kassius Ohno, Hideo Itami and Roderick Strong. Even though he was a heel, he was incredibly popular – or perhaps his entrance theme was. Either way he was getting enough cheers that two nights after SummerSlam, and three after losing the NXT Championship, he debuted on SmackDown as a face.
28th August – Never give up, big dog
Post-SummerSlam, “free agent” John Cena returned to Monday Night Raw for the first time since the 2016 Draft. And on day one, he set his sights on Roman Reigns. It was a clash of the man who has lived the life of “the guy” for 12 years and the guy the boss wanted to be “the guy” for the next 12 years. And the first time they came face to face with microphones in their hands, Roman Reigns got schooled. Simple as. Cena fired some seemingly genuine personal shots across the table, and Reigns couldn’t touch him. Reigns got flustered, forgot his line, and Cena called him out on it. How Reigns reacted to this setback could have been make or break for him, and to be fair I think he has upped his game and come out of it stronger. So in that sense, it was a successful night for both parties.
28th August-14th September – The Mae Young Classic
In the latest attempt for WWE to try to appear progressive, they announced earlier in the year that they would be organising a women’s tournament in the same vein as 2016’s Cruiserweight Classic. Featuring competitors representing 13 countries, the Mae Young Classic debuted on the WWE Network at the end of August. The tournament was a platform for a swathe of new female talent to make an impression, with just some of the standouts being Kairi Sane, Shayna Baszler, Toni Storm, Mercedes Martinez, Piper Niven, Candice LeRae and Bianca Belair.
6th September – An undefeated farewell
The Empress of Tomorrow, Asuka, debuted in NXT in September 2015. Two years later, she was still undefeated, and had been NXT Women’s Champion for 523 days. It was an incredible run, where at times she single handedly held the women’s division on Wednesday nights together. It was always a matter of when and not if she would move up to the main roster, and whether or not her streak would last that long. As it turned out, an injury picked up at TakeOver: Brooklyn defending her title against Ember Moon was the perfect opportunity – she could logically vacate the title, move up to the main roster and remain undefeated. When the announcement was made, Asuka got a ceremony like no woman had ever had in NXT. A legend was leaving, and it was a heart-warming moment.
12th September – Kevin Owens disrespects his elders
Kevin Owens blamed Shane McMahon – the special referee in his match at SummerSlam – for not being the United States Champion anymore. It got to the point Shane attacked KO, and was suspended for one week. While he was away, Mr McMahon himself came to SmackDown to confront Owens, but after promising that KO could beat a McMahon senseless without fear of repercussion, Owens took out Vince. He planted a headbutt that drew blood, put Vince down with a superkick and then laid him out with a devastating frog splash. It was interesting in that it was the first time Vince had allowed himself to be portrayed as old, but it also took Owens’ feud with Shane to a whole new level.
No Mercy – The “Thwith Thyborg” has his armour cracked
Sheamus & Cesaro weren’t going to take their tag title loss lying down, and they invoked their rematch clause for No Mercy. This match may be most remembered as the time Cesaro’s teeth got pushed further into his head. He kept competing for about 10 minutes despite bleeding that whole time while he must have been in agony. It was a real gutsy performance from him, but it wasn’t enough to get the titles back. Because of the very real accident though, both teams came out of this encounter looking better than they did going in.
That’s all for part three, what was your favourite moment there? There is one more part – October – December – to take us through the final months of the year.