At long last, 2017 is finally coming to an end. To fans and critics of popular culture, this can mean only one thing — endless lists detailing the best and worst entertainment the year had to offer. It won’t be long before everyone on the Internet reads more “best of” music, television, and film compilations than they’ll ever remember. Considering it’s our forte, we may as well throw professional wrestling and WWE into the mix.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because WWE has been on a huge downslide creatively for quite some time. Sure, it’d be easy to find the worst moments of the year, but the highlights were unfortunately few and far between. On the bright side, with enough digging, we were ultimately able to come up with quite a few segments from this past year that reminded us everything great about Vince McMahon’s company and the industry in general.
Everyone has their own opinions on sports entertainment, so it’s entirely possible that some of our most hated moments were your personal favorites, or vice versa. In fairness, the one thing all the wrestling we’re about to discuss, positive and negative, had in common is that it was unquestionably memorable, which some might argue is really all professional wrestling needs to make sure fans keep coming back.
Ultimately, it seems like they’ve succeeded, because we’ll keep on watching into 2018 and then some regardless of anything that happened in the last 12 months. The few good moments of 2017 might even have something to do with why. If you want to see what we liked or just need a refresher on the year gone by, keep reading to learn our picks for the 8 best and 7 worst WWE moments of 2017.
15 BEST: Joe And Lesnar’s Face Off
Most WWE fans are aware the product they’re watching isn’t “real,” but when everything goes perfectly, it almost feels like it is. Neither Samoa Joe nor Brock Lesnar are typically known for their microphone work, yet it was during a classic face to face style interview where both had their best moment of 2017. Talented and intense though he is, some fans were a little surprised when Samoa Joe was named number one contender to Lesnar’s Universal Championship at Great Balls of Fire. That confusion went away 24 hours after he was announced as the new challenger, when the two hurled insults at one another so intense Joe couldn’t take it any more, ripping his way through the Raw set to force a one on one confrontation. It took Raw GM Kurt Angle and half his staff to keep Joe away from the still cocky, smiling, unbeatable champion. On the downside, the resulting match was just another trip to Suplex City, but it was maybe the best built random encounter of the year.
14 WORST: Kevin Owens Is Next
Given the rapturous applause and incredible online response to Goldberg’s long awaited return to destroy Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series 2016, it’s hard to blame WWE for making him Universal Champion the next year. Unfortunately, they really couldn’t have gone about achieving this end game in a worse manner than what went down some four months later at Fastlane. WWE never intended for Kevin Owens to be Universal Champion, and yet the man went on to define what the title meant over five dominant months with the belt. For the company to ignore all of that and basically hand the gold over to Goldberg on a silver platter in 20 seconds or less was a huge insult to his career. Fans wanting to see a good Goldberg match weren’t going to go home happy either, as 20 seconds was barely enough for the requisite Spear and Jackhammer, with all the real focus on interfering Chris Jericho. Huge title changes like this shouldn’t be an afterthought.
13 BEST: A Fist Bump Reunites The Shield
Over the past four years or more, Roman Reigns has easily been the most controversial super in pro wrestling. Therefore, it might be surprising to see him on the positive half of this list, even if it’s only because he once against stood beside his old friends Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in a climatic moment. For months, WWE had been hinting that the Hounds of Justice might reunite sometime soon, and that moment finally came on the October 9, 2017 episode of Raw. It all went down when all members were embroiled in various feuds against names like Sheamus, Cesaro, The Miz, and it obviously seemed like it was in all their best interests to put aside the past couple years of animosity and work together once again. Moving Reigns and the others out of the solo main event spotlight and keeping them busy with other titles isn’t exactly a bad thing, either.
12 WORST: Team Raw VS Team SmackDown VS Progress
For everything bad about the state of pro wrestling in 2017 encapsulated in 33 minutes or less, look no further than the main event of this year’s Survivor Series. Ignoring the simple fact that the Raw versus SmackDown posturing is almost entirely irrelevant the moment it ends, the match was even worse in practice than it was in theory. Fans have long been complaining WWE sacrifices any potential new stars to keep feeding the egos of their so-called legends, and nothing made that more clear than a match pitting 10 of the top current superstars against one another. Anyone with WWE less than a year was out of the match in minutes, the less than a decade crowd came next, and at the end it was just Triple H, Randy Orton, Kurt Angle, and Shane McMahon, all men near or over 40. Sure, Braun Strowman was there too, but he was such an afterthought it almost didn’t matter. The match could have been a coming out party for all the new guys, instead, the same old guard that’s been boring us for years crushed them.
11 BEST: Braun Strowman Beats Up An Ambulance
Making his mainstream debut as the latest nondescript monster in the Wyatt Family, things didn’t look all that great for Braun Strowman when his career began. Even after he branched apart from Bray Wyatt and his other goons, it took a little while before fans accepted Strowman as something special. A big part of the shift was his violent feud against Roman Reigns, and more specifically the attack that started things on the April 10 episode of Raw. Truly decimating his opponent, Braun beat Roman so bad he was attached to a stretcher, which the monster then threw off a ramp. When that wasn’t enough, Braun summoned superhuman strength to tip over an ambulance The Guy was trapped inside. Instantly, Braun struck out on his own as a genuine killer, and fans are still wildly cheering for him to this day in remembrance of that time he beat up a medical vehicle.
10 WORST: Jinder Mahal Becomes WWE Champion
It’s long been said that anything can happen in the WWE Universe, but the company tends to ignore the fact this trademark unpredictability can occasionally have some severe downsides. For example, it’s entirely possible that some random jobber no one in the audience cares about could get a shocking upset over the WWE Champion and reign in terror for several months…but would anyone want to see it? Turns out the answer is no, and WWE spent almost six full months proving it with Jinder Mahal. One of the worst parts of Jinder’s reign as champion was the very beginning, meaning the match at Backlash where he defeated Randy Orton for the gold. Defining his reign as one with mediocre matches, bland finishes, and weak celebrations, Mahal’s match with Orton should have been proof positive he didn’t deserve to be anywhere near the top of the industry. Worst of all, Vince McMahon read the situation as the total opposite.
9 BEST: Kurt Angle Comes Home
Returns, comebacks, and outrageous surprises are so commonplace in professional wrestling it could be said they define the entire industry. However, there are still a few things fans genuinely believe could never, ever happen in WWE, and one of those things actually came to be in 2017. We’re talking about the long-awaited yet assumed to be impossible return of the only Olympic Gold Medalist in company history, not to mention one of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, Kurt Angle. It was an absolute shock when WWE suddenly announced he would headline this year’s Hall of Fame Ceremony, and the surprises just kept getting bigger and better when it was revealed his comeback would be full-time as the General Manager of Raw. Truth be told, Angle’s return hasn’t exactly been perfect since then, and we’ll get into some specifics on the other half of this list. However, just seeing the guy back in a WWE ring with a smile on his face should warm the hearts of wrestling fans everywhere.
8 WORST: Kurt Angle Reveals His Illegitimate Son
Barely two months into his triumphant return to WWE, Kurt Angle received a firsthand lesson in being careful what he wished for. It began with the usual WWE brand of intrigue, by way of announcer Corey Graves telling Angle he had some “scandalous information” the Raw GM should know about. Turns out said scandal related to Angle’s “illegitimate son” Jason Jordan, an athlete with considerably less charisma or talent in the ring than the Olympic Hero. The big reveal was a dud from the moment it happened on the July 17 episode of Raw, and things have only been getting worse since there. Every interaction between Jordan and Angle reminds fans they have no chemistry and the pair isn’t doing anyone favors, all of which could have been predicted by the audible groan when the news first broke. The only real mystery involved is why WWE hasn’t given up on it yet knowing it’s such a huge failure.
7 BEST: John Cena VS AJ Styles At The Royal Rumble
Depending on how one feels about John Cena in general, they may just throw this one on the other half of this list. At Royal Rumble 2017, Cena finally made history in a way his many fans long predicted he would, tying with Ric Flair’s record as a 16 time World Champion. Whether you think Cena deserved it or not, another important issue is that the match he wrestled with AJ Styles to achieve this feat was easily one of the greatest of the year. Across 24 high impact minutes that no fan could forget, Styles and Cena beat the hell out of one another, escalating their war fare to a higher level than their earlier feud throughout the prior year. Some fans might complain that Cena won or his ensuing title reign was short and meaningless, but in terms of the match itself, there’s no denying this one was a classic for all ages. For what it’s worth, AJ also looked as good coming out of it as a loser possibly can.
6 WORST: WrestleMania 33
Well, it happened again. No matter how big, loud, and outrageous it may have felt at the time, WrestleMania was quite possibly the worst sports entertainment spectacular of the year. With respect to the performers involved throughout the show, we do have to say it wasn’t all bad. There were a handful of good matches and memorable moments that could have been just fine on any other night of the year. Once again, though, WWE tried so hard to make WrestleMania a big deal they kinda just made it big, big, big. The show was over seven hours long, and almost five and a half of them were pure, forgettable filler. Even most of the matches didn’t matter longer than a few minutes. It also can’t be ignored that one of the ones that did, the WWE Championship bout between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt, was incredibly stupid and poorly wrestled. WrestleMania is supposed to showcase everything good about wrestling, not everything bad about wrestling, but Vince McMahon’s been getting the two mixed up for a while now.
5 BEST: AJ Gets Back On Top
2017 began with AJ Styles proudly and rightfully reigning as the WWE Champion, and by the looks of it, the year will end that way, as well. The only problem with this scenario is that he didn’t hold the gold from beginning to end, and a whole bunch of lesser athletes got to taste greatness in between AJ’s two reigns. Least deserving of all was Jinder Mahal, who held the belt that should have been AJ’s for six long months before the Phenomenal One finally got a shot at it on the November 7th episode of SmackDown Live. In front of a rabid UK crowd, AJ brought the best match out of Jinder that was humanly possible, ending the only way it could have: with a Styles Clash that put the title back where it belonged. Styles reclaiming the WWE Championship didn’t undo all the damage done over the year, but it’s a good start, and it makes us hopeful for 2018 and whatever else AJ has to offer.
4 WORST: Jinder Mahal Gets Racist
It was bad enough that WWE would crown Jinder Mahal as their champion for any amount of time. Amazingly, though, simply winning the belt was far from the worst thing Mahal did this year. Because he lacks any noteworthy microphone skills to speak of, Mahal’s interviews were almost all awful, yet one in particular sticks out as the lowest moment of his championship reign, and maybe WWE’s worst moment of 2017. In preparation for a title defense against extremely popular Japanese superstar Shinsuke Nakamura, Mahal made a bunch of stupid, offensive, and extremely racist jokes to provoke his challenger. The moment came on the September 19 episode of SmackDown Live, and saw Mahal use all the usual stereotypes about Asians “looking alike” while mocking Shinsuke’s accent. Especially considering Mahal himself is foreign and essentially bases his entire character on the fact, fans were highly disappointed and wished he had been more sensitive about things.
3 BEST: NXT Delivers Anarchy For The UK
Before we get into the positives of the situation, it should be acknowledged that the WWE United Kingdom Championship doesn’t really, you know, matter. It only gets referenced once every couple months for a one off match between competitors that get almost no focus in North America. Despite these many downsides, though, each match between Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne this past year has been absolutely phenomenal. Both their United Kingdom Championship Tournament final on January 15 or their rematch at NXT TakeOver: Chicago could easily get named as match of the year, though it’s the latter match that winds up on our list just because of the slightly higher profile. For 15 breathtaking minutes, Dunne and Bate, both in their early 20s, showed off everything the sport has to offer from an athletic standpoint. The absolute only downside to either of their matches is that they kinda disappeared from the spotlight once they were over.
2 WORST: The House Of Horrors
Devouring his own reputation, the same year Bray Wyatt finally won his first WWE Championship will also forever be known as the year he totally jumped the shark. As fans witnessed Wyatt crabwalk his way to summoning unrealistic slideshow insects to give Orton the heebie jeebies at WrestleMania 33, they largely believed it couldn’t possibly get any worse. Barely a month later, it would actually plummet further into the depths of wrestle crap, producing one of the absolute worst segments in the history of WWE. Dubbed the “House of Horrors match,” what fans actually saw was a D-grade low budget horror film where Bray and then-WWE Champion Randy Orton wandered around a shabby house with stupid baby dolls hanging from the ceiling. After surviving a refrigerator getting thrown at him, Randy Orton calmly followed Bray Wyatt to the arena via limousine and continued to wrestle an atrociously bad match, but by that point, fans didn’t even care. In fact, they probably never again will about anything Bray does, and Orton’s prospects aren’t much better.
1 BEST: The Festival Of Friendship
From the second we started compiling this list, there was no doubt in our minds what the best WWE segment of 2017 was: Chris Jericho’s loving tribute to Kevin Owens, the Festival of Friendship. The alliance between Jericho and Owens had been rocky at times, so Y2J wanted to make sure his best friend knew exactly where his feelings stood with an extravagant party. Lights were flashing, confetti was falling, gifts were exchanged, and Jericho made Owens absolutely sure exactly how much he appreciated their friendship, all of which made the assembled audience on the February 13 episode of Raw laugh hysterically. At some point, it almost became obvious that the only possible ending was for Owens to reject it and attack Jericho, yet the moment was nonetheless fantastic when it finally came. The dramatic reveal of “The List of Owens” stands as a testament to the real talent of WWE’s often criticized directors. In short, the Festival of Friendship was truly a celebration, not of human relations, but of everything the wild, wacky world of sports entertainment is capable of being when placed in the right hands.