Best WWE Matches of 2017
2017 has come and gone, and it was another outstanding year in pro wrestling. Okada and Kenny Omega put on a trilogy for the ages in New Japan, the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes caused a stir in Ring of Honor, and Lucha Underground gave us another action-packed season. But pro wrestling moves with the federation, and 2017 was a big year in the WWE. Robert O'Neill gives us his list for the best WWE matches from last year. (Photos & videos courtesy of WWE)
#15 - Men’s Money in the Bank Match (Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn, Money in the Bank)
While this likely won’t crack everyone’s list, I had to give it an honorable mention for a couple reasons.
First, it was the best match I saw in person this year. Live professional wrestling is an amazing thing. Even if a match or show is average, you remember it as being much better when you’re in the building.
This match was OK for a Money in the Bank match. Owens and Zayn took a ton of insane bumps, Corbin looked good in the victory (boy, that went places.) and we saw Styles and Nakamura’s first staredown/fight in WWE, in a cool spot where they both decided to forgo the ladder and just brawl for a couple minutes.
I’m generally biased towards multi-person matches as it is, because there’s generally many more avenues for excitement. This one is no different.
#14 - Roman Reigns d. Cesaro (Raw, December 11)
The single best match on Raw this year, as far as I’m concerned. Say what you will about Reigns as a character, but if you continue to question his in-ring ability, you and I likely won’t get along all that well.
One of WWE’s cooler tropes in recent years is the mid-card champion doing an open challenge. John Cena did it in his US title run and we got a bunch of good matches out of it. They did it with Reigns, and we got this match with Cesaro. It’s excellent that WWE finally seems to have found a usage for Cesaro. He’s probably good enough to be the main champion, but to have him around the tag team/mid-card scene sure beats what they used to be doing with him.
#13 - Finn Balor d. AJ Styles (TLC)
TLC was, in no uncertain terms, a giant clusterf--- for WWE. Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt and meningitis, which was going around the locker room. They couldn’t compete. What came of it? Honorary Shield member Kurt Angle (that match didn’t make the cut, unfortunately) and the first-ever match between AJ Styles and Finn Balor.
If you know the history of those two, that’s a huge deal. They’ve been all over the world, but never crossed paths in the ring before this. Oh, by the way, Styles was called in from Smackdown’s tour in South America, so he flew 16 hours to Minneapolis for the event.
With the two performers, it should come as no surprise that it was an awesome match, capped off by a Too Sweet in the middle of the ring after Balor pinned Styles (with one of the sickest Coup De Grace’s I’ve seen). While it didn’t crack the top 10, it was very fun given all the circumstances.
#12 - Asuka d. Nikki Cross (NXT, June 28)
This was a huge week for WWE, as all three shows were main evented by women’s matches. While I’m sure Stephanie McMahon would love to take credit, it really speaks to the evolution of both the division and viewing audience.
Asuka and Nikki Cross put on one of the most physical women’s matches in WWE history with their last woman standing match on NXT TV. It was intense, and featured a ton of table shots. WWE hasn’t managed to use Asuka quite right on the main roster yet, but matches like these serve as a hope that they can figure it out.
#11 - Brock Lesnar d. Goldberg (Wrestlemania 33)
Wrestlemania XX is widely regarded as one of the best WWE events of all time. The one flaw? The shitpile of a Lesnar/Goldberg match. It’s another story for another day to talk about how badly WWE mismanaged Goldberg in his original run, but it clearly led to a lot of hard feelings that kept him away until 2016. Same can be said for Lesnar, to a lesser degree. He, like Goldberg, was on his way out and on bad terms. Neither cared about the match.
When it was announced that Goldberg was coming back to face Lesnar, many fans had a flashback to that night at Madison Square Garden, especially knowing that both guys were a decade older and couldn’t exactly work a long match. The Survivor Series match was… fine. It was a shock that Lesnar got beat so quickly, if nothing else. The same happened at the Royal Rumble where Goldberg got the upper hand yet again.
It was pretty obvious that Lesnar had to get the win at Wrestlemania and it was going to be a short match. With those two caveats in everyone’s mind, WWE did the best they could in putting on perhaps the best sub-10 minute match of all time. It was physical as all hell and Lesnar hit a million German Suplexes en route to winning the title back. It was somewhat similar to his match at Summerslam 2014 with John Cena, except Goldberg got a bit more offense in. If part-time guys are going to work Wrestlemania, I prefer that they face each other or have otherwise non-consequential matches. While this one was for the WWE Universal title, it didn’t main event and since Lesnar isn’t around weekly and has held the title since, it was pretty non-consequential, so in my eyes it was perfectly fine.
#10 - Kevin Owens d. Shane McMahon, Hell In A Cell (Hell In A Cell)
I understand that putting a Shane McMahon match on a top 10 list in 2017 is a bit wild, but I couldn’t justify not including this one. Simply put, it’s the most emotionally invested I found myself in a WWE match since Daniel Bryan’s two at Wrestlemania XXX.
The entire buildup to this, from Owens attacking Vince, to the match, to even continuing right now has been incredibly well done. The final 10-15 minutes of the match outside the ring and on top of the cell are breathtaking because, while WWE rightfully focuses on a safer working environment these days, it certainly seemed like the roof of the cell was going to cave in at any second and one of Owens or Shane would be sent plummeting to the ring. Obviously every Hell in a Cell match is compared to Mankind/Undertaker, and this one definitely had some of the same spots as that, with the exception of the roof actually breaking. Zayn saving Owens from Shane and turning (kinda) heel for the first time in WWE was also completely out of nowhere.
The big knock on WWE is the lack of long-term storytelling and continuity, and this feud goes to show that when they really put their minds to it, they can still tell an incredible story.
#9 Bayley d. Charlotte Flair (Raw, February 13)
For my money, this was WWE’s best women’s match of the year. Asuka had her share of fun ones in NXT, but the story of every Asuka match is “Asuka wins, here’s how”. That’s perfectly fine, but the story of someone like Bayley, an ultimate underdog, will always be far more interesting to me.
That was the case here, too. There was a ton of little things that I loved about this match. The house/TV mics, either intentionally or unintentionally, picked up a ton of trash talking between Bayley and Charlotte, who showed why she’s one of the best heels around. Bayley played the role of Ricky Steamboat to Charlotte’s Ric Flair, and the top rope hurricanrana that Bayley busts out in big matches was on display.
Bayley’s selling and ability to play the face in peril is virtually unrivaled in the company, and Sasha Banks coming down to even the odds against Charlotte’s protege Dana Brooke is awesome given the history between her and Bayley. It’s arguable that no one in the company sells as well as Bayley, and that really shows in this match, as Charlotte throws everything she has at Bayley and Bayley makes it look like a million bucks. To Charlotte’s credit, she was also awesome in this match, highlighted by a moonsault off the barricade to the floor. Her freakish athleticism is always incredible to watch, and it was no different here.
#8 Roman Reigns d. John Cena (No Mercy)
Alright. Let’s get one thing out of the way. NOT EVERY MATCH CAN BE “SAVED” FOR WRESTLEMANIA!
That’s was the single biggest complaint about this match leading up to it. And, I get it. You have two generational talents and you’re having their first ever pay-per-view match be at… No Mercy? Really?
Yes! All the PPVs are on the WWE Network. Things aren’t like they used to be.
Anyways, this will likely be remembered as much for the nuclear fire promo battles leading up to the actual match itself, but the match was as good as you would expect. Cena still brings it when he’s around and, as noted above, Reigns is perhaps the best in-ring performer in the company. To get wins over Cena and Undertaker on PPV within a four-month stretch goes to show that Reigns is what we like to call a “made man”. For the record, I would love to see a rematch at Wrestlemania someday. Not this year, though. Reigns likely has a different rematch on his horizon…
#7 Authors of Pain d. DIY (NXT Takeover Chicago)
NXT’s tag division used to be one of its weaker spots. That started to change in 2016 with American Alpha and The Revival and continued to change in 2017 with these two teams. After an incredible match in Orlando between these two teams and The Revival (more on that later), the stage was set for a ladder match.
Given the four people in the match, you would think it was a physical spectacle. You’d be correct. These teams had a fantastic level of chemistry and delivered one of the better ladder matches in recent memory. Not to mention, Tomasso Ciampa turning on Johnny Gargano still cuts like a knife.
#6 Brock Lesnar d. AJ Styles (Survivor Series)
Survivor Series going entirely Raw vs. Smackdown this year was cool. While we initially thought we would be getting Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal in the champion vs. champion match, Styles saved us from that and helped Lesnar to one of his best 1-on-1 matches in his entire second WWE run. It was also Lesnar’s longest singles match since Summerslam 2015 against The Undertaker.
One of the criticisms of Lesnar’s second run, especially recently, is that sometimes he’s disinterested in his matches and they don’t really click. The Dean Ambrose match at Wrestlemania 32, for example, stands out. That certainly wasn’t the case here, though.
Everything about this match flowed beautifully, and Lesnar sold Styles’ Calf Crusher as if he was going to pass out at any second, which was wonderful work. Most Lesnar matches have become Brock gets all his shit in and wins fairly easily. This one wasn’t like that. Styles got kicks, submissions, and aerial moves in and it actually seemed like he could win at some points.
The Phenomenal Forearm into an F5 was a fairly obvious ending, but it was still an awesome visual.
WWE likes to tout around the term “dream match” a ton, but this one was one. At least for me.
#5 Usos d. New Day (Hell In A Cell)
The best rivalry of 2017 came to a conclusion inside Hell In A Cell in Detroit, and it was awesome. New Day sent out Big E and Xavier Woods, my favorite of the possible pairings, while Kofi Kingston offered support from the outside. The match was as good as expected, and the usage of kendo sticks was also excellent, including using them to restrain Jey Uso to the cell wall, a play on “Uso Penitentiary” and then the Usos using one to suspend Woods from the ringpost.
Most of the spots in this match were also pretty insane, including Big E doing a suicide dive/spear into the cell, Jimmy Uso doing a crossbody over the top rope to send Woods into the cell, and The Usos doing what was essentially a Doomsday Device on Big E. Hell In A Cell matches only work if the environment is used properly, and too often the participants look to get out/on top of the cell. This one was a nice change because the entire thing took place inside. The New Day using trombones, cowbells, and a gong as weapons added a nice comedy element, as well.
4. Authors of Pain d. DIY & The Revival (NXT Takeover Orlando)
For the second straight year, the NXT tag team match stole the show and was the highlight of Wrestlemania weekend. Like Revival/American Alpha before it, this match featured three teams that click incredibly well.
There’s a ton of great psychology from the jump, as DIY and Revivial tried to team up against the much bigger Authors of Pain. Then it transitioned to AOP beating up DIY, and Revivial refusing to tag in and letting the big guys soften their rivals up, then DIY let the same thing happen.
One of the coolest spots of the entire match was when Scott Dawson and Johnny Gargano teamed up to hit DIY’s finisher, Meet in the Middle, on Akam. Then, Dash Wilder and Tomasso Ciampa teamed up to hit the Shatter Machine, Revival’s finisher, on Rezar.
Ultimately AOP prevailed, and cemented their place as NXT’s top tag team, but this match will always go down as one of NXT’s best.
#3 John Cena d. AJ Styles (Royal Rumble)
John Cena won this match to win his 16th World Championship, tying Ric Flair for most all time. Based on that fact alone, this match had to be somewhere in the top 10. It’s as high as it is because it was the best main roster singles match of the year.
On one hand, you had AJ Styles, who capped off one of the best debut years in WWE history after coming onto the scene at the 2016 Royal Rumble. On the other hand, you have John Cena, arguably the best WWE performer of this century. While this wasn’t the first Cena/Styles match, it was surely the best.
Early on, there are a pair of clotheslines where Styles almost gets his head taken off his body. That immediately set the tone for the physicality. A bit later, Cena tries to get Styles to submit to the Figure Four, a move I had never seen Cena do up to that point. It was a pretty awesome touch, considering he would tie Flair with a victory. Cena also hit the top rope Attitude Adjustment, which will always be a cool spot, and then hit one in the ring, rolled through, and hit another. People tend to forget just how strong John Cena is so that’s always a great reminder.
The only regret I have when watching AJ Styles’ WWE run is that they didn’t sign him 10 years ago. At 40 years old, he’s clearly approaching the end of his wrestling career despite doing some of the best work of his career.
#2 Brock Lesnar d. Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe (Summerslam)
I mean, how was there ever any chance that this match wouldn’t be good? Look at those four!
There was so much going on here that it’s impossible to touch on everything, otherwise this section would be 5000 words long. It was the best Fatal Four-Way in WWE history, though. Everyone got their moves in and it felt like all four participants had an equal shot at winning. As noted in the Styles/Lesnar write-up, any time it feels like Brock may not win, the match gets that much more intense and exciting because we’ve grown accustomed to him winning. It sure felt like he was going to lose WHEN STROWMAN POWERSLAMMED HIM THROUGH THE ANNOUNCE TABLE.
Obviously Lesnar retained, but this match really solidified Strowman as a star and future WWE Champion. They met in a singles match at No Mercy and it wasn’t the best, but I imagine once they meet again down the line it will be much better.
#1 Pete Dunne d. Tyler Bate (NXT Takeover Chicago)
The United Kingdom Tournament was the single best thing on the WWE Network in 2017. Prior to that, I had no clue who Bate or Dunne were. They had an incredible match in the final of the Tournament which probably would have made the list, had they not put on one of the three best matches in the history of the Rosemont Horizon. (Editors note: if you're too young to remember when the Allstate Arena was the Horizon, you're too young for this site bro.)
That’s right, this match is right up there with Hart/Austin and Punk/Cena for me. I don’t say that lightly, either. Getting Jim Ross to call this match also added to the significance, despite Ross not being what he used to be.
British wrestling is such a different beast than American wrestling. It’s much more technical and mat-based and less high-spot driven. Think of guys like William Regal and Fit Finlay. They were excellent at what they did, but got a bit lost in the shuffle of the era. Hopefully that doesn’t happen with Bate and Dunne.