2017 has been an eventful year in the WWE. We’ve already seen several things we thought we’d never see again. Goldberg in a WWE ring again, even defending a main championship at Wrestlemania. Kurt Angle is back on weekly WWE programming. The Undertaker has supposedly wrestled his last match. It’s been a wild year and we haven’t even mentioned the rollercoasters that were the Festival of Friendship and the House of Horrors Match…
So, with over half the year in the books, let’s review the year so far and pass out our mid-year honors…
Superstar of the Year
2016 was easy to call in favor of A.J. Styles – he consistently created big moments, had classic matches, and captured championships. This year, that’s not the case. At this point, there’s no clear frontrunner for Superstar of the Year. The first two names that come to mind are Jinder Mahal and Braun Strowman. Mahal came out of nowhere to win the WWE Championship earlier this year, and has really clicked atop the Smackdown roster. That said, outside of a tired feud with Randy Orton, he hasn’t done too much just yet. Let’s see him rattle off quality matches against multiple challengers before we give him the crown.
As for Strowman, he’s easily the most improved wrestler and character. He’s now a focal point of Monday Night Raw, and can deliver a great match each and every week. Consideration has to go to Kevin Owens for his Universal Championship run, feuds with Chris Jericho and Styles, and subsequent United States Championship reigns. Then, of course, there are the usual suspects – Styles, Roman Reigns, Finn Balor, and The Miz. Bobby Roode has become the face of NXT and deserves consideration as well.
Who would have thought that after the dust of the women’s wrestling revolution began to settle, Alexa Bliss would have carved out a spot as the best performer in the Women’s Division? Her in-ring work has improved dramatically, and she’s become the first woman to win both the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships. She’s now a three-time champion, holding championships for a cumulative 202 days. The only woman to hold one of the two major Women’s Championships longer since Wrestlemania 32 is Charlotte Flair.
Naomi finally broke through and capture the SmackDown Women’s Championship earlier in 2017, and has become one of the centerpieces of the Smackdown Women’s Division. Likewise, down in NXT, Asuka remains undefeated as NXT Women’s Champion.
Match of the Year
This is always the toughest category to call, but at this point, I still it’s Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne’s showdown for the United Kingdom Championship at NXT TakeOver: Chicago. On the main roster, I still go back to January and the epic clash between John Cena and A.J. Styles for the WWE Championship. Braun Strowman and Big Show had a classic on an episode of Raw. Styles also stole the show at Wrestlemania 33, competing in one of the event’s greatest opening contests of all time opposite Shane McMahon.
The NXT Tag Team Championship Triple Threat at TakeOver: Orlando was some of the finest storytelling you could ask for in tag team wrestling. DIY and The Revival set their differences aside to try and chop down The Authors of Pain. Neville vs. Jack Gallagher came out of nowhere to steal the show at Fastlane. And, it’s been a good year for gimmick matches as this year’s Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank Ladder Matches were awesome.
Tag Team of the Year
It’s been a transitional year in WWE’s tag team division. We’ve seen several tag teams break up – from Enzo & Big Cass to American Alpha to DIY to Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens to Golden Truth to The Vaudevillains (okay, so that one was a bit different…). That makes the pool a little thin, and while conventional would say the fanfare surrounding the return of The Hardy Boyz would put them in the top spot, I don’t think it’s automatic. We’ve yet to see the real reason they returned to the WWE – the #BROKEN gimmick. Otherwise, it’s been a nostalgia world tour. Sure, they’ve created some great moments and had good matches, but consistency is key here.
That’s why I’m going with a team that has been consistent for the last several years: The Usos. Jimmy and Jey continually redefine themselves, and when the SmackDown Tag Team Division needed a jolt, they stepped up and became one of the greatest heel tag teams we’ve seen in a while. Not to mention, they’ve been putting on high quality matches with the likes of American Alpha, Breezango, and New Day.
Also, it’s worth noting how far The Authors of Pain have come along. Maybe it’s working with teams like DIY and The Revival, but these two behemoths look like a future blue chip tag team prospect.
Breakout Star of the Year
Jinder Mahal – hands down, no one is even close right now. If anyone says they saw this WWE Championship run coming, they are lying. Now, I’m anxious to see how the rest of the year pans out, as reports are surfacing that Mahal isn’t getting over in India quite like they thought he would. But, that doesn’t change the past several months. He is the unquestioned frontrunner in this category.
Of course, Mahal isn’t the only superstar who is having a breakout year. Many thought Elias Samson’s “Drifter” gimmick was awful (not me), but it’s translated incredibly well on Raw, as he continues to get momentous natural heel heat.
Carmella won the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match (twice, mind you), and could have her first Smackdown Women’s Championship by year’s end. The Princess of Staten Island has certainly come a long way since her main roster call-up.
It’s early, but it appears the WWE machine is ready to get behind both Jason Jordan and Chad Gable, though American Alpha never quite clicked on the main roster. Tyler Breeze and Fandango have redefined themselves with the hilarious Fashion Files bit, and Mojo Rawley won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. It looked like Rawley was going to receive a push, but that’s yet to really happen.
In NXT, they added depth to Roderick Strong’s character, and the payoff was a standout NXT Championship match opposite Bobby Roode. Andrade Almas is also starting to gain traction as a heel.
Show of the Year
This is a two-horse race so far between Great Balls of Fire and NXT TakeOver: Chicago, which is something I never would’ve thought I’d write seven months ago. But, both shows we phenomenal, featured big moments, and had consistently good matches throughout the night.
Wrestlemania 33 wasn’t bad. In fact, it was much better than 2016’s showing. But, it was long. It’s a lot to consume, and after Pitbull and a boring Orton-Wyatt match, it failed to truly pick back up. Also, this year’s Royal Rumble featured two stellar title matches (Owens-Reigns, Cena-Styles), but the Royal Rumble itself was rather underwhelming.
Feud of the Year
Another easy one for me to call. Strowman vs. Reigns has been the only program this year to have such great longevity without getting stale. Something about those two guys in a ring together creates magic. Seth Rollins vs. Triple H is another deeply-rooted personal rivalry. We finally saw the showdown between the two at Wrestlemania 33. But, by the time we got to the match itself, it was almost a relief to blow off the storyline. It’s something that has been building for years.
Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar was incredibly fresh. Speaking of Lesnar, his program with Goldberg was the one they should have run back in 2004. The series of matches between Neville and Austin Aries were great. And, I’ve been surprised to see how well The Hardy Boyz and Cesaro and Sheamus have performed together.
Who’s had a bad year?
Though he won his first WWE Championship back in February, Bray Wyatt continues to languish about the upper mid-card of the roster. His promo work continues to grow formulaic, and his rivalry with Randy Orton produced some of the most boring WWE Championship matches in recent years. Speaking of Orton, he has phoned in some matches this year. But, you have to give him some credit for toughing it out during the Punjabi Prison Match, where he definitely took some lumps. Plus, there’s that whole “one of the greatest of all time” things. I guess he’s earned his spot…
It’s not fair to blame Bayley, but her character has not panned out the way we all thought it would. The way she was booked at the beginning of the year was atrocious. She still has a wealth of potential, but she needs a do-over.
It’s been a tough year for Enzo Amore, too. Since he and Big Cass broke up, it’s hard to see a future for him as a singles star. Not to mention, he’s starting to develop a bad reputation in the locker room. It was reported a couple of weeks ago that Roman Reigns threw him off of a bus. It seems he has some serious heat on him.
Finally, what the hell has happened to No Way Jose? Come on, Triple H….NXT needs a little more fiestas…