What is pro wrestling without personalities? What is pro wrestling without characters? Well I suppose every one’s answer is different but in my opinion, it’s not much fun. For that very reason I’ve decided to take a different look at the end of year list season and have opted to rank the absolute best character moments seen on the main roster in 2017. These are moments that took place outside of the bell ringing and points in time that developed, enhanced or in some case even established performer’s personalities.
These are brief moments that will hopefully fill talents’ hall of fame reels one day and though they didn't take place mid-match, played a major part in redirecting people’s fortunes. It doesn't even specifically have to be dialogue, it could be just a motion or a gesture, sometimes that’s all an audience need. With that troublesome introduction out of the way, let’s get to the list….well actually the honorable mentions but you get what I mean.
DISCLAIMER: This is clearly a preposterous thing to list so I recommend you worry less about my almost certainly questionable order and instead just enjoy this fun trip down recent memory lane. Then again, you could ignore this advice and get very angry with me. Either is fine.
ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: It’s highly likely that I’ve missed major, ground-breaking moments so take everything you read this point forward with a grain of salt.
“It’s Not Paranoia, It’s the Usos” (February 21st)
SmackDown Live was in the midst of a hot streak of sorts but with the tag team division floundering behind, a renewed energy was needed. That came in the form of The Usos as the pair finally found their feet as heel characters, cutting a spectacular promo on American Alpha all whilst walking through the crowd. They memorably punctuated it of course with those now famous words listed above. It felt fresh and unique and in hindsight, kick-started the Usos’ eventually superb 2017. More on that later though.
Braun Strowman Emerges From The Garbage Truck (October 30th)
Sometimes in WWE you have to embrace the silliness that can come from Vince McMahon’s wonderful brain. This was a good example of that. In the middle of this year’s interesting TLC main event, Braun Strowman was thrown into the back of a garbage truck and by all accounts, pronounced dead. However, 8 days later he would return and he did so by emerging from a garbage truck, shouting his name proudly and absolutely destroying The Miztourage. I have nothing else to add really, this was insane and I felt it deserved at least some kind of a mention for that very reason.
“Alexa Bliss is the Best Say What” (April 24th)
There’s arguably never been more great athletes in pro wrestling but at times, we seem to be lacking personalities that are truly worth watching. Alexa Bliss has become an exception to that growing trend though and showed her capabilities as a talker when she out-thought the RAW crowd “WHAT?!”-ing her this past April. It came just weeks after Bliss’ arrival on RAW and showed that any fears surrounding her transition were misplaced. She’s since revealed that the brilliant response came following a previous failure to combat the chants and that makes this tiny moment all the more impressive.
Miz and Maryse Reveal the Lost Episodes of Total Bellas (March 21st)
I’m not proud of what I’m about to say but sadly, this is the only Miz sighting on this list. The former Intercontinental Champion has been brilliant all year long but I couldn't quite pick out any key individual moments from within his tremendous in-ring promos that to be fair, have come almost weekly. Fortunately, Miz and his wife Maryse did make a huge impression with their beloved “lost episodes” of Total Divas in the lead up to WrestleMania. Allegedly dressed like rivals John Cena and Nikki Bella, Miz and Maryse marvelously mocked their foes and helped the promotion for the WrestleMania match tremendously. It didn't quite make the list but it absolutely deserves a mention nonetheless. Now to the top 10!
10. Austin Aries is a Commentator No More (March 6th)
We start our actual list here with a moment that’s likely been forgotten by now. After months of comically critiquing the 205 Live roster, Austin Aries had become more popular than most of the show’s wrestlers all by just sitting on commentary. The end game always felt clear though and that came to fruition as Neville grew frustrated with Aries’ line of questioning in a post-match interview. The crowd didn't seem to agree with Neville’s notion that he’d wiped out the entire division and responded with loud “Austin Aries” chants. Aries only embraced the chants, enraging Neville in the process.
After threatening to re-injure Aries’ left eye, Neville was greeted with a left hand as the crowd erupted in support. It’s easy to forget how fun of a moment this was and the image of Aries removing his sunglasses sticks with me as a rare standout Cruiserweight moment. Personally, I loved this angle and that’s why it’s listed here but sadly, it’ll be mostly lost in history due to the somewhat meandering follow-up in the pair’s actual feud. Either way this was a strong segment and the clear highlight of Aries brief WWE run.
9. The Shield Are Back Together (October 9th)
In all honesty this moment should probably come in higher but my struggles with its execution halt it from being ranked any better unfortunately. Regardless, when the trio stood reunited at the top of the stage, the audience’s response showed how pivotal of a moment it still was. The set-up to the whole thing seemed a little forced and it felt like a real struggle to form a group worthy of fighting the already iconic stable. For all of my small gripes though, people were genuinely delighted to see all three together again and that’s why it belongs on my list anyway.
Unfortunately, its long term impact from a memory perspective will always be hurt by the follow up match being delayed due to Roman Reigns’ unfortunate illness surrounding TLC. It’s not the fault of anyone involved but this initial Shield reunion simply struggled to ever really get going for a variety of reasons. Luckily, their story isn’t over yet and likely never will be so there’s always the opportunity to change things. In a vacuum, this was a fun moments nonetheless.
8. The Nature Boy is Back and The Queen is Champ Again (November 14th
Okay so yes I’ll concede that this is kind of related to in-ring action but it doesn't matter as this moment stood out so much to me that I felt it simply had to be included. It was SmackDown Live in Charlotte, North Carolina and Charlotte (confusing I know) was once again challenging Natalya for the brand’s women’s title. The moment here obviously isn’t the match itself but instead what followed as Charlotte cut an emotional promo about her father before heading up the ramp with her newly claimed belt resting over her shoulder.
Suddenly, Ric Flair’s music hit and after months of health struggles, ‘The Nature Boy’ emerged with tears already streaming down his face as Charlotte sprinted towards him for an embrace so touching that it would make The Big Boss Man blush. The promo was Charlotte’s most natural yet too and that combined with the hug with Ric felt like a pivotal turning point in her babyface characterization. Five days later she’d face the aforementioned Bliss and it seemed Charlotte had finally found herself as a hero, something very much made possible by this great moment with Ric. It now felt all organic and that’s always a beautiful thing in pro wrestling.
7. John Cena Calls Out Roman Reigns (August 21st)
This was an interesting moment in WWE’s 2017 and one that in hindsight, quite bizarrely stands out. It was the night after SummerSlam and free agent John Cena was finally back on the flagship. He stated that he was here to speak to one particular superstar and Roman Reigns’ music hit just seconds later. They were coming off the back of a fun ‘Twitter beef’ and briefly went back and forth before seemingly being set to brawl right then and there. On that particular night they’d be interrupted by an aggrieved Miz and that would lead to them teaming up in the show’s main event.
Their initial exchange was brief but what it led to was fascinating for a variety of reasons and that’s why I feel it belonged here. In the weeks following this first call-out the pair would exchange ‘shoot’ remarks to each other, splitting the audience in half whilst doing so as people debated whether or not these verbal confrontations were actually any good. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the direction this whole thing went in but it was fun to watch while it lasted and will be remembered as a memorable month-long feud that culminated in a match that was just as polarizing as its build-up. For that reason the whole thing’s first blow belongs on this list.
6. Kevin Owens Leaves Vince McMahon Bloodied and Battered (September 12th)
Looking back now, I’m a little astonished at how distant this actually feels. After verbally assaulting Shane McMahon and inciting a brawl with the SmackDown commissioner, Owens threatened to sue WWE and this of course led to the announcement that Vince McMahon would return the following week. In a face-off with Owens, Vince announced that KO would fight his son inside Hell in a Cell and absolutely eviscerated him while doing so. Owens responded by wanting confirmation that “if provoked” he could beat a McMahon senseless. Vince gave him his word and moments later Owens floored the chairman of the board with a violent headbutt.
Suddenly bloodied, McMahon stumbled to his feet before being dropped again by a superkick and then flattened by an Owens’ frog-splash. It was dramatic, shocking and enthralling and that makes my apathy towards the whole programme all the more frustrating a couple of months later. Almost none of the follow-up to this superb angle has really done much for me which hinders its placement on this list but either way, on its own this segment was undeniably brilliant and does stand out from the usually formulaic SmackDown we’ve seen since the summer. It’s one I’ll remember fondly but I feel the lack of intrigue afterwards has hurt its impact on me.
5. This is Roman Reigns’ Yard Now (April 3rd)
‘The Big Dog’s relationship with WWE fans has always been fun to follow and in many ways, this moment is symbolic of the whole journey. I appreciate that this segment being listed on a positive list will upset some but for me, it’s a moment that will be remembered for quite some time as people look back at Roman’s run as the WWE’s centerpiece. It was the night after WrestleMania, a show Reigns had main evented and more than that, retired The Undertaker on. The traditionally raucous crowd awaited and Roman’s music was the first thing they’d hear.
With an assured smile on his face, Reigns stood in the ring and soaked up multiple minutes of boos before simply stating this this was in fact, his yard now. A quick glance at the questionable like/dislike ratio on WWE’s YouTube suggests that this was polarising to say the least but personally, that’s why I love it so much. Ever since famously coining himself “The Guy” a year prior, Reigns’ character has been less white-meat babyface and more straight-laced ass-kicker. He’s a man with his own motivations and that was no clearer than here as he proudly celebrated his victory in the face of the loudest boos possible.
It does help my recollection of this moment to see what Roman has gone on to do since as he’s proved his worth time after time throughout 2017. For almost all of the Summer, Reigns elevated Braun Strowman to new heights and with multiple RAW show-stealers under his belt at the years’ close, Roman’s proud proclamation is one that’s hard to argue almost nine months later. Love him or hate him, Roman Reigns is a talent that demands respect.
4. Seth and Dean Finally Reunite (August 14th)
It says a lot about pro wrestling’s silliness when two grown men colliding fists can be awe-inspiring but within its own gripping context, this moment between Rollins and Ambrose was arguably as absorbing as any in 2017. After July’s Great Balls of Fire event, both former world champions were frankly floundering. Ambrose had just come out on the losing end of his 34 month long feud with The Miz and Rollins had suffered the same fate at the hands of an equally struggling Bray Wyatt. Both characters lacked direction and one way or another, needed a renewed focus.
That focus would come with the pair reuniting but it was what preceded this moment that made it all the more special. Seth had come to Ambrose’s aid but after being stabbed in the back three years prior, Dean wasn't ready to trust Rollins’ intentions. Questioning his motives regularly, Ambrose’s understandable bitterness towards his former ‘brother’ pulled on the fan’s heartstrings as people desperately rooted for a reunion more and more after each failed attempt. One week Ambrose would deny the famed fist bump and the next Rollins but on August 14th things would finally come to a head.
After arguing and brawling with each other, Seth and Dean would fight side by side as they removed the opportunistic Bar and when the big fist bump followed afterwards, the crowd’s excitement was simply astonishing. It was a wonderful moment in a quite brilliantly told story, a tale the audience truly cared about since it began all those years ago. Personal investment is pivotal and people’s passion for the Shield’s ascension and decline has consistently made for great TV. As a team Rollins and Ambrose have been excellent too and after Dean’s recent injury, it’ll be interesting to see what their next move is in 2018.
3. Samoa Joe chokes out Paul Heyman (June 5th)
As a very stern wrestling writer, I try to keep my personal feelings out of lists as pivotal as this one. However, no one is immune to bias and we all have our weak spots. For me, that weak spot is the greatest man in the history of men Samoa Joe (also Alexa and Andrade but still, you see my point). It’s that personal fandom that not only makes this moment so special in my mind but also allows me to really understand its importance in Joe’s career trajectory. For all of his experience and skill, Joe hadn't really connected with the main roster audience after a few of months on RAW.
He was doing fine but for a variety of reasons, had yet to really stand-out. After his debut had sadly resulted in Seth Rollins being injured, Joe was directionless and even left without a spot on the WrestleMania card. His eventual feud with Rollins that followed was quite lifeless too as the audience’s investment had declined since the initial angle. Luckily, Brock Lesnar needed an opponent for Great Balls of Fire and for a variety of reasons, Joe simply made the most sense as a guy for the Universal Champ to beat.
In the end, the month long build would make him much more than that as Joe thrived in the spotlight and played a key part in making his title match one of 2017’s most anticipated bouts. That process all began in his June 5th segment with Paul Heyman. After being verbally torn apart by the smug Heyman, Joe decided that he needed to send a message and did just that, even if all in the calm demeanor that often allows him to stand-out so much.
He cornered Heyman and slowly said as follows: “something very bad is going to happen to you right now. Listen, listen, I’m going to wrap my arm around your throat and you’re going to feel it tighten. Understand? And then your vision is going to get hazy until it gets dark and you’re unconscious on the ground. And then, I want you to take this message to Brock Lesnar that this was for him. And I want for you to describe this to him in excruciating detail, like only you can Paul E, what Brock Lesnar’s future holds.”
Ever since that moment Joe has been an undeniable main event player and crowds have reacted strongly in turn. This was a segment that changed Joe’s fortunes in WWE and proved that when given something of importance, he’s one of the most well-rounded professional wrestlers of his generation. Imposing, well-spoken and domineering, Joe is a quite special talent and this moment symbolized that perfectly.
““What stands here in front of you is a man that does not fear Brock Lesnar…I’m incapable of fearing him because I’m far, far too envious of Brock Lesnar…I want everything Brock Lesnar has and I want to take it from him.”
2. The Usos and New Day Belong Here (October 10th)
When I look back on WWE’s 2017, one series of matches stands above the rest in my mind. It was a year not short on great matches but for me, the lengthy conflict between The Usos and New Day was on a level of its own in almost every category. After months of going back and forth in frankly sublime encounters, the teams’ rivalry concluded inside Hell in a Cell and two nights later, it was finally time to show respect. Now hear me out here guys, if there’s one thing I hate in my pro wrestling its respect…ugh, awful word.
With that being said, sometimes there’s an exception to the rule and for me this was just that as the previously villainous Usos offered a truce to their three rivals in what was one of the most incredible segments of the year. I understand that for many of you, this moment comes in way too high on my list but to me, this is a moment that these two teams may well be remembered for and that’s because it followed a feud that they absolutely will be remembered for. It was touching, sincere and at times, startlingly real.
In their offer of respect, Jimmy and Jey opened up in a way that immediately shifted them babyface and even looking back a couple of months later, it stands out as being completely different tonally to almost anything else seen on WWE TV this year. The New Day’s response was fittingly comedic and that continued dynamic represented a moment worth celebrating as two truly brilliant teams had finally found their most famous foes. Simply fabulous stuff.
“After that show, when that cell went up and these lights went off they didn't see us driving to the next town...they don’t see our families calling us saying ‘daddy, husband, whatever, are you okay? Is everything fine?’ And what do we do, what do we say to comfort them? ‘Yeah, daddy’s fine, everything is okay.’ And after all that I say my prayers, I lay my head to my pillow, I close my eyes and then it hits me…nobody can understand what The Usos are going through other than you three. So after all we put each other through…we belong here! My brothers, we are the tag division and we run this tag division.”
1. The Festival of Friendship (February 13th)
As odd as it may sound, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a segment that better represents pro wrestling’s capabilities than what I’ve got at number one on this very list. After six months of a friendship that almost single-handedly carried RAW from the brand split to the 2016’s close, Chris Jericho opted to celebrate his alliance with Kevin Owens and the result would be memorable to say the least. The pair’s friendship had been through some tumultuous times leading up to the event and everyone watching weekly knew what was eventually coming but the way it came and how makes it stand out in the mind to an almost astonishing degree.
Jericho was desperate to make his pal happy and spared no expense in attempting to do so. He had it all, an underwhelming $7000 sculpture, a hapless magician, the outrageous ‘Creation of Kevin’ and even Gillberg. Yes, Gillberg. None of this did much for Owens and understandably so but Jericho made sure to emphasize his original point nonetheless, “I did all this for you. I apologize if it wasn't what you were expecting it to be but I really wanted to do something to show everybody honestly how much you mean to me as a friend.”
“For the last year…I’ve had such a great time working with you, being your partner, it’s made this last year in the WWE one of my favorite years of my entire career and a lot of that’s because of you. It really is. I’ve had a lot of friends in this business and a lot of partners but I haven’t had the chemistry with any of them like I have with you. It’s been a joy. You’ve made my job here and my time here in the WWE a better place and I wanted to thank you for that...you’re my best friend, even more so you’re my brother I love you man, honestly I really do.”
That moment alone goes a long way to explain why this segment stands out so much for me and more than that, highlights Jericho’s brilliance. After ten minutes of nonsense and wackiness, he was able to seamlessly transition back into just being a normal person, real and relatable. Suddenly everything he said seemed genuine and honest and there was a unique sincerity to it all. All of his actions over the last year had been that of a heel but this few minutes had aligned them with such a pure intention that Jericho’s side of things had become quite endearing. After all, at heart he was just trying to make Owens happy.
What came next would dramatically shift things though as Owens informed Chris that he too had a gift of give. I think we all expected a new list inside the box he handed over and that’s exactly what we got but this wouldn't be the ‘List of Jericho’. With confusion in his voice Jericho pondered “how come my name’s on this?” just seconds before the camera angle revealed that this was in fact the ‘List of KO.’ A legitimate shock hit the crowd as we suddenly saw Owens’ unmistakable cold and callous stare.
The crowd’s unforgettable response represented all the hard work put in, as ridiculous as it may sound people really were genuinely hurt by this on-screen friendship’s demise and the drama only grew as Owens violently battered his supposed best friend around the ring. For the icing on the cake, Jericho would eventually be thrown into the ‘Jeritron’ in a moment reminiscent of his own betrayal of Shawn Michaels almost a decade earlier. Chris’ brilliant speech had forced us to let our guard down and that made Owens’ actions all the more villainous and despicable.
It’s a segment that had it all and for me, will stand the test of time as one of RAW’s finest ever. It’ll stand out in both men’s individual careers too I feel and for all of those reasons, I believe that it simply has to be my absolute top character moment of 2017.
Well folks that’s my top 10 character moments seen on WWE TV this year. Please comment your own favorites below or just tweet me abuse @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do.