Stop me if you've heard this one before, but... this year really flew by, didn't it?
I vividly remember watching New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom 11 and the Royal Rumble, and it seems like they were only about two months ago. Matt and Jeff Hardy returned to WWE almost nine whole months ago?!?
With another year coming to a rapid end, it's time to look back at the last 12 months and discuss some of my absolute favorite things to take place in the world of professional wrestling. Like last year, I will be handing out a total of ten "awards". Some of them will include honorable mentions, while others will not, mostly due to time and space restraints.
These are my own personal choices, based on the wrestling I watched during the 2017 calendar year. Maybe your own selections differ from my picks. That's fine. Entertainment, subjective, blah blah blah. I do look forward to hearing from everyone, though, and to get some discussion started on the year that was.
Tag Team Of The Year: Matt & Jeff Hardy
It was a close race between the Brothers Hardy and the Young Bucks, but at the end of the day, whether it's fair or not, the Hardys saw success on a bigger stage, and that was my deciding factor.
When 2017 began, they were the reigning Impact Tag Team Champions, and they vacated the titles when they left the company. From there, they made their way to Ring Of Honor, winning the company's Tag Titles and holding them for a month before making their return to WWE at WrestleMania... where they won Tag Team Titles again. It was their eighth reign together as some sort of tag champs as members of the WWE roster, and their 20th overall reign since beginning their careers.
To be able to land titles for three different televised promotions in the span of one month is incredible, and isn't likely to be duplicated any time in the near future. Perhaps their overall run with WWE hasn't gone the way many had imagined it would, but it doesn't take away from their accomplishments. Their future is surrounded by mystery and intrigue now that Jeff is on the shelf with an injury, allowing for his brother to become "Woken". Time will tell what their 2018 holds, but their 2017 was successful on a historic level.
Honorable Mentions: Young Bucks, Usos, War Machine, Cesaro & Sheamus, New Day, Authors Of Pain
Promotion Of The Year: New Japan
While WWE is bigger around the world, putting more eyeballs on their product than anyone else by a very wide margin, it's New Japan that continues to put on an incredible (and consistent) string of shows.
New Japan's style isn't for everyone, of course, but what company's style is? They don't always focus on the storylines and promos like a lot of other promotions do, but they don't have to. Their in-ring work delivers on a first class level, and that's what does the talking for them.
2017 saw their in-ring work reach new levels, as far as the infamous "star rating" scales are concerned. For decades, Dave Meltzer has rated matches on a 1-to-5 scale, with not a lot of variation on the concept. This year, New Japan was so good and so impressive, that Meltzer altered his scale, giving four matches a score higher than five stars. WWF/WWE in their prime couldn't do that. NWA/WCW in their prime couldn't do it, either.
That helped to build the overall profile of the company. Their buzz continued to grow, and they had a handful of their wrestlers land autograph deals with trading card company Leaf, leading to autographed cards hitting the market. Adding Chris Jericho to end the year, building to a huge match with Kenny Omega at the upcoming Wrestle Kingdom 12 event, only made their buzz increase some more. From January to December, they stayed hot and delivered night in and night out, making their outlook for 2018 incredibly bright.
Honorable Mentions: Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, EVOLVE, Ring Of Honor, PROGRESS
Promo Of The Year: Mojo Rawley Telling Zack Ryder He Has "Two Days"
For the last eight months, I've had one promo winning this award, but out of nowhere, like a thief in the night, Mojo Rawley stepped in and stole it away.
In case you missed it (like I did initially), this was the promo Mojo tweeted two days before Clash Of Champions. He wasn't the overly excited frat boy that he portrays on television. No, in this promo, he appeared to be filming himself on his cell phone from his home, and he was cool and calculated with the things he was saying. He was believable. He came across as a legitimate menace, telling Zack Ryder that he was going to injure him because of Ryder's lack of "killer instinct". He made reference to Ryder winning the Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania, only to lose it the following night. He mentioned that Ryder "did nothing" after Maryse slapped Zack's father in the face, essentially saying that if Maryse had slapped his (Mojo) father, she wouldn't have a husband anymore because he would be dead. Every word meant something.
The entire promo clocked in at just under two minutes long, but it was the best promo work I've seen by anyone in wrestling all year. Normally, I'd say that tells you how bad promo work was in the business this year, because I'm not exactly fond of Mojo's work. In this instance, though, it says everything about how much he stepped his game up. It says everything about how poor WWE does when it comes to scripting promos for their wrestlers on television. They need to allow the talent to add their own flavor to their characters. They might even be able to come up with some more unexpected gems like this one.
Honorable Mention: Roman Reigns' "Silent" Promo The Night After WrestleMania, John Cena & Roman Reigns Promo Battle On The September 11th Raw (The Drug Test Promo), John Cena On Miz TV (Smackdown - March 28th), The Miz "Shoots" On Enzo Amore (Raw - September 11th)
Most Underrated Wrestler: Roman Reigns
When you look at the word "underrated" here, it could go in one of two ways. On one hand, you have the wrestlers who are underrated by the promotion(s) they work for. The people who can have good-to-great matches with anyone, but who aren't pushed like it.
On the other hand, you have wrestlers who are viewed a certain way by fans, and the views of those fans are very far from the truth. With Roman Reigns, that's where the problem is. He certainly isn't hurting for a push by WWE and Vince McMahon. He's had just about every accolade there is to have over the last few years. However, the fans still tell him that he sucks. They still tell him that he can't wrestle.
That simply isn't true.
While Reigns isn't William Regal in his prime, he gets the job done. Every night. Every opponent. Every scenario. Whether he's facing off against Samoa Joe, Brock Lesnar, Cesaro, Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, Luke Gallows, Kevin Owens, or anyone in between, Reigns has continued to show that he can be involved in entertaining matches. Forget all that "carried" nonsense that his detractors like to use. Forget the "he only wrestles great workers" excuse, too. If that was the case, every match those guys wrestle would be a five-star classic. News flash... they aren't all five-star classics.
Reigns knows what he's doing when he steps between those ring ropes. The things he does garners a reaction, whether he's on offense, selling, transitioning, or even making facial expressions. There are folks who could wrestle circles around him that would kill for even a fraction of the crowd reactions he gets. That counts, folks. That counts.
Now, do I feel Reigns should be theeeee top guy for WWE? That's a different argument for a different day, but here, I will give Reigns the credit he deserves for what he does in the ring.
Honorable Mentions: The Miz, Braun Strowman, Juice Robinson
Most Overrated Wrestler: Shinsuke Nakamura
Normally, you'd prefer things like this to be as positive as you can, but if you're going to discuss underrated, you have to discuss overrated, too.
If you know me at all, you know that it physically pained me to give this to Nakamura. He's one of my all-time favorite performers, but even I'll admit to you that he hasn't exactly shined since making his main roster debut. Now, how much of that is his fault and how much of it is on the WWE Creative Team is up to you to decide. What I think we can all agree on, though, is that he's been underwhelming just about every step of the way. He has yet to have a match that was as good as some of the stuff he was putting out during his time with NXT. For many fans, his time on the main roster is their only interaction with his work, and those people simply don't understand what the hubbub was about.
There is still plenty of time to save the day. His entrance is still guaranteed to get live crowds going crazy. He still remains over. The WWE Universe still wants to cheer for him. They just need to be given something they can sink their teeth into. There's a certain 30-man match coming up here soon that he could win, but hey, we'll talk about that one another time.
Honorable Mentions: Jinder Mahal, Bray Wyatt, Cody, Finn Balor
Segment/Moment Of The Year: D.I.Y. Breaks Up
It's not often that you can watch a segment of any kind in wrestling and say that it was done perfectly.
I can sit here with full sincerity and say that the split of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa was done perfectly. Everyone involved played their role exactly as it should be played. Gargano was the perfect babyface to feel sorry for, with his facial expressions ranging from confusion to pure heartbreak. Ciampa looked like a million bucks as a psychopath who was hell bent on destroying the man he used to call his best friend. The NXT production team looked great as they focused on the build and the dread we were all feeling, taking us all on a roller coaster that we thought was over when the NXT closing graphic appeared in the corner of the screen. The Chicago crowd was as loud as they always are, selling everything and showing that what was happening was a really big deal.
We knew the team would split up at some point. We just didn't want it to happen. Our palms would get clammy whenever they would lose a match as we assumed this would be it, but we were spared time and time again. Just when we thought we might be in the clear once again, we were punched in the gut and left to suffer. That's tremendous, compelling television.
Now, we anxiously await the time when Ciampa is able to return from his injury to continue the feud.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Owens Attacks Vince McMahon, Sami Zayn Saves Kevin Owens At Hell In A Cell, The Hardys Return At WrestleMania, "Woken" Matt Hardy Debuts On Raw, Samoa Joe Debuts On Raw, Samoa Joe Chokes Paul Heyman Out, Braun Strowman Flips An Ambulance Over While Roman Reigns Is Inside, The Festival Of Friendship, Chris Jericho Arrives In New Japan To Attack Kenny Omega, Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins Fist Bump To Officially Reunite, The Undertaker's Post-Match "Retirement" At WrestleMania
Angle/Storyline Of The Year: Braun Strowman's Rise To Main Event Status
If you think back, it wasn't all that long ago that Braun was getting no reactions from live crowds. Sure, he was a massive human being, but that was it. There was no reason for fans to care about him or anything he did.
Somewhere along the way, a switch was flipped. WWE decided to let the "Monster Among Men" be just that... a monster. He was a one-person demolition team, destroying any and everything he could get his hands on, whether it was tables, walls, stage equipment, ambulances, people, and so on. He became one of the acts that you simply had to watch, no matter what he was scheduled to do, because you never knew when he was going to do something incredible or meme-worthy. He threw a computer chair at Roman Reigns and it nearly killed Twitter. He threw a job guy over the top rope like a javelin during a three-on-one squash match and it blew Corey Graves' mind. He hit Big Show with a Superplex so hard that it broke the ring and sent a WWE referee to an early grave. Rest In Peace.
Sometimes, less really is more. That's the case with Strowman. He's a character that doesn't need a long, complex story. He doesn't need to cut wordy promos where he breaks down all the terrible things he will do to any opponent that stands in his way. All he needs to do is stomp to the ring when his music hits, endanger the lives of people in the ring and at ringside, and then stomp to the back when it's all said and done. He's been doing it, and it has been fascinating to watch.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Jericho Returns To New Japan To Face Kenny Omega, Asuka's Undefeated Streak, The Shield Reunion
Real Story Of The Year: Bobby Heenan's Death
Obviously, this is for the stories that took place outside the ring, and outside the lovely world of kayfabe.
The passing of Bobby Heenan was an easy choice for me. He was added to the list of my childhood favorites who are no longer with us on this mortal coil. Even at a young age, where I was loving the good guys and hating the bad guys, I still found "The Brain" to be a funny guy. As I got older, I appreciated his sense of humor more and more, whether he was a manager at ringside or doing color commentary.
It was sad to watch his health deteriorate in his later years, but hey, he's at peace now, and we'll always have our memories and the WWE Network to let us relive the good times.
Honorable Mentions: FloSlam's Kinda Sorta Rise & Inevitable Crash, Jimmy Snuka's Death, Dave Meltzer Changing His Star Rating Scale, Ric Flair's Health Issues, All The Drama Surrounding Paige
Match Of The Year: Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega - Wrestle Kingdom 11
When I look back at the entire year, I do see a lot of negatives in a bunch of places. There was a lot to be upset about. With that said, though, it was an epic year for in-ring work. Before I really began to whittle it down, my Match Of The Year list had nearly 40 candidates on it.
In the end, I had to go with the match that kicked the year off and set things in motion for just about everything else we saw. By now, what hasn't been said about the first Okada/Omega match? It's going to go down as an all-time classic, and was the beginning of the greatest match trilogy in the history of the business. The drama was off the charts, from questions about Omega moving up from the Junior Heavyweight division to the build playing up that Omega's finisher, One-Winged Angel, is a deadly move that would finish anyone if it hits just once.
Going into the match, I don't recall seeing many predictions that Omega would win. Even his biggest fans felt he would be there to have a great match and look good in the process, but would ultimately be defeated and possibly even go back to the Junior Heavy division. By the end, though, he had made believers of everyone. He did belong at the top of the card.
This match featured two of the absolute best (probably the best) in the world putting on a clinic for nearly 50 minutes, and it set the stage for their two rematches months later.
Honorable Mentions: Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega - Dominion, Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne - NXT Takeover Chicago, Kazuchika Okada vs Katsuyori Shibata - Sakura Genesis, John Cena vs AJ Styles - Royal Rumble, Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega - G1 Climax Day 18, WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov - wXw 16 Carat Gold Tournament Final, Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito - G1 Climax Day 19, Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman vs Samoa Joe vs Roman Reigns - SummerSlam, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kota Ibushi - Power Struggle, Authors Of Pain vs D.I.Y. - NXT Takeover Chicago, Authors Of Pain vs The Revival vs D.I.Y. - NXT Takeover Orlando, Jeff Cobb & Matthew Riddle vs Keith Lee & Donovan Dijak - Battle Of Los Angeles Stage 1, Keith Lee vs Donovan Dijak - Battle Of Los Angeles Stage 3, Brock Lesnar vs AJ Styles - Survivor Series, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tetsuya Naito - G1 Climax Day 17
Wrestler Of The Year: Kenny Omega
If you've been paying attention, this shouldn't come as a surprise to you at all. He was a participant in my Match Of The Year, and also participated in three of the Honorable Mentions. He was featured in a whopping 15 matches that I personally rated at four stars or higher during the year.
Read that last sentence again.
If a WWE wrestler had about half that many four star matches in a single calendar year, we would be calling it one of the greatest years of all-time, and rightfully so. If a WWE wrestler had 15 of them in a single year, the world might implode. Ric Flair's 1989 is about as legendary as it gets within the business. I have nine Flair matches from 1989 rated at four stars or higher. 2001 was a masterful year for a few WWF workers. If I were grading 2001 for four star or higher matches, I would give that score to eight matches each (many involving each other) to Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. Those numbers still pale in comparison to having 15 of them in one year.
2017 was the year that Kenny Omega placed himself squarely on the map, staying red hot and in demand for the entire 12 months, and by starting his 2018 off with a heavily hyped match against Chris Jericho, he doesn't appear to be slowing down at any point in the near future.
Honorable Mentions: Kazuchika Okada, Keith Lee, AJ Styles, Tetsuya Naito, Brock Lesnar, Cody, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Asuka, Ricochet, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Neville, Roman Reigns
Well, there you have it. 2017 was an epic little roller coaster, but now that it's over, what did you all think? You know the routine by now. Hit me up and let me know who your picks for these awards are.
I hope everyone had a joyous and blessed year, and I wish that your 2018 will be even better, no matter what.