The year is almost over, so it’s a good time to look back at some of the most memorable and best moments from World Wrestling Entertainment in 2017.
It’s been an average year in terms of the quality of Raw, Smackdown and pay-per-view events. There isn’t one show that stands out as being the best of the year by far. Some great matches happened along the way, but this isn’t a match list. It’s more about the moments.
I’m not going to include bad moments that, for whatever reason, involved Randy Orton too often. Things like insect images shown during the Orton-Wyatt match at WrestleMania, the even worse House of Horrors match or Jinder Mahal beating Orton for the WWE Title. Don’t forget the awful Mahal-Orton Punjabi Prison match too. In case you missed it, I already wrote about the bad stuff last month.
I’m only going with Raw and Smackdown moments here. If I included NXT moments, then maybe Tommaso turning heel on Johnny Gargano or the debut of Adam Cole would be here,. But I’m not sure if either was top 10-worthy anyway.
Some of the things that came close to making it, but I left out: Debuts of superstars on Raw or Smackdown from NXT like Nakamura, Roode and Asuka. There isn’t anything from the women’s division, although I thought the return of Mickie James early in the year and Paige’s return recently were both well done. Also left out The Shield’s return because while it was fine for what it was, it really didn’t feel like that big of a deal since they have only been apart for three years.
When it comes to the biggest moments in WWE this year, it was no surprise that WrestleMania weekend was when a few of them happened. Here are my top 10 WWE moments of 2017.
10. The Smackdown roster invades Raw building to Survivor Series
There isn’t much of a rivalry between Raw and Smackdown, even though both shows would be better if there was. In the build-up to Survivor Series last month, WWE tried to tell us that it was a big deal because it was the “one time of year where Raw stars battle Smackdown stars,” unless you forget the Royal Rumble match. Anyway, it’s fine as a selling point, but there is no prize for the winners or anything to fight for, which makes it just an event without much in the way of consequences.
What do the winners get? Nothing. What happens to the losers? Nothing. Why should we care? I don’t have that answer, but at least WWE Network is cheap.
On the October 23 edition of Raw, superstars from Smackdown invaded the show by putting Raw #UnderSiege, as they called it. It led to moments where the Smackdown talent was shown in the backstage area beating up some people on Raw, ranging from the guys who are barely on the show to the women of Raw, and even some bigger names like Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. After the Smackdown crew beat up everybody on Raw, Shane McMahon put Kurt Angle on notice and that made Survivor Series feel a bit more meaningful.
A few weeks later, New Day caused The Shield to lose the Tag Team Titles while the Raw guys were paranoid that an attack was coming. It was just a tease.
The Raw guys got their revenge with an invasion of Smackdown, but it didn’t have nearly the appeal of the original Smackdown attack.
I give WWE credit for using the #UnderSiege angle to make Survivor Series feel more interesting. It would have been nice if something more was on the line, though.
9. AJ Styles wins the WWE Championship from Jinder Mahal on Smackdown
It’s rare that a WWE Championship changes hands on Smackdown, so it should make the list. Plus, I was so sick of Jinder’s Mahal WWE Title reign lasting six months. It was way too long. I already covered the Mahal mistake plenty in a column last month.
The original plan for Survivor Series was WWE Champion Jinder Mahal vs. Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series. That changed when WWE decided to put the WWE Championship on AJ Styles instead.
Styles’ win over Mahal took place on November 7 in Manchester, England. Since it was in England, that meant it was taped several hours before airing on television, so a lot of us were marking out on social media before the match. When I saw the match, I thought it was very good and the best match Mahal has had this year, which is a credit to Styles working his ass off to make him look good.
Here’s how Mahal explained finding out about the title change in a recent interview with WrestlingInc:
“I found the day of [Smackdown], when we got to Manchester. To be honest, I was a little disappointed, I was looking forward to that match. But I know that match is going to happen sometime in the future, and it is up to me to make sure that it happens. And I’m going to make sure that it happens. Either; as I said earlier, there are two ways you can take it. You can either say you’re going to make it happen, or write and do whatever it takes to get there, or you can pour out, boohoo, and blame someone else. But what is meant to be, was meant to be, it will be. And I’m going to make sure that it becomes.”
It sucks for Jinder, but Lesnar vs. Styles was one of the better matches this year and I don’t think Lesnar vs. Mahal would have been nearly as good. Styles is the best wrestler in WWE. Mahal is clearly not. The WWE decision makers made the right call.
8. Brock Lesnar gets put through two tables by Braun Strowman and still wins SummerSlam main event
There are a lot of Braun Strowman incidents that I could include on this list, but chose to keep out. Things like Roman Reigns driving a car into an ambulance that had Strowman in it, only for Strowman to walk away unscathed comes to mind. Then there was tipping over an ambulance that Reigns was in. All of those were cool, but I think SummerSlam was a real breakout moment for Strowman.
The SummerSlam main event was a four-way with Brock Lesnar defending the Universal Championship against Strowman, Reigns and Samoa Joe. Lesnar ended up getting the win in a great match by pinning Reigns, but the story of the match was Strowman’s attack on Lesnar.
Since there’s no DQ in a four-way, Strowman focused his attack on Lesnar and gave him a Running Powerslam through one of the announce tables. Strowman picked up Lesnar and put him through another announce table. At the time, Strowman was still in the heel role, but the crowd loved seeing the destruction and cheered him for it. It’s no surprise that soon after that, Strowman was booked like more of a face.
Lesnar ended up being helped to the back, but he made his return a few minutes later and ended up winning the match by pinning Reigns.
The Strowman attack on Lesnar was done to set up Lesnar vs. Strowman at No Mercy one month later, which was just an average match that was disappointing. Strowman’s bigger moment that helped him get to the level of being a bigger star happened at SummerSlam.
7. Sami Zayn turns heel to help Kevin Owens beat Shane McMahon at Hell in a Cell
If you would have told me at the start of the year that we would be sitting here at the end of December with Sami Zayn as one of the top heels on Smackdown, I would have told you that you’re crazy. I’m a huge Zayn fan who thinks of him a prototypical babyface that is fantastic at selling moves, getting the fans to rally behind him and using his exciting offense to win matches. Sadly, he was booked terribly on both Raw and Smackdown this year. That all changed at Hell in a Cell.
The build to Owens vs. Shane was really well done with Owens blaming Shane for costing him the US Title. It intensified when Owens destroyed Shane’s dad Vince McMahon with a headbutt and vicious attack that bloodied the grandpa in his 70s. That moment nearly made this list too.
It looked like Shane was going to beat Owens at Hell in a Cell, but then he got greedy. Instead of just trying to pin Owens, Shane climbed up the cell and went for one of his dives off the top. Owens was out of it, but then was pulled out of the way by a man in a hood that ended up being Sami Zayn. The brilliance of that was in the weeks leading up to that, during which Zayn was used to try to talk some sense into Owens, which led to Owens mocking him. It was a beautiful setup.
Zayn pulled Owens out of the way, Shane went crashing through the announce table from about 20 feet in the air (ouch!) and Zayn put Owens on top of Shane to win the match.
Since then, Zayn and Owens have been two of the top heels on Smackdown, which is leading to a big match at Clash of Champions. Zayn has been one of the best heels in the company and I really feel like in 2018, maybe he’ll finally win some gold on the main roster, perhaps even the WWE Championship. Why not? He’s certainly good enough.
In a year full of turns, I thought Zayn’s heel turn was one of the best this year because it was such a genuine surprise. Those are the best ones.
6. Roman Reigns deals with heavy boos on the Raw after WrestleMania
The Raw after WrestleMania crowd is usually the most vocal of any group at a WWE show because they are often fans traveling from a long distance for WrestleMania and want their voices heard. When Raw after WrestleMania started this year, fans chanted for The Undertaker as a sign of respect. Then Roman Reigns hit and the crowd went wild — with boos.
Reigns made his slow walk down to the ring with the crowd still booing him. There was even a guy in the crowd with a “Boo” sign! That’s commitment.
Reigns stood in the ring for about seven minutes as the crowd continued to boo him, chanted obscenities and even started a “F**k You Roman” chant and “shut the f**k up” before he could even speak. How many times are you ever going to hear that at a WWE show, especially in the PG era? It’s very rare. It was even comical when fans chanted “Roman sucks” to the tune of “New Day rocks” and Reigns was bobbing his head along with them.
What was great about the whole thing is that when Reigns was ready to talk by putting the microphone to his mouth, the crowd became even louder against him. Reigns had no problem taking his time to deliver his one line: “This is my yard now.”
This was one of the most memorable opening segments in Raw history, and not because it built to something later. It was the WWE crowd telling WWE what they thought about their “Chosen One,” Reigns.
For what it’s worth, I don’t mind Reigns at all and think he had a good year in terms of big matches, but this was probably the best chance to turn him heel. It didn’t happen. Missed opportunity.
5. Braun Strowman and Big Show break the ring on Raw
It’s a move that has happened before in WWE — twice, in fact — but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
On the April 18 edition of Raw, Braun Strowman faced Big Show in the main event. It was their second main event match after Strowman had a surprisingly good match against Show back in February. During that match, they teased the superplex spot that would break the ring, but didn’t do it. They waited until April.
It was a competitive match as usual when Big Show made his way over to the top rope. Strowman met him there, stood on the middle rope and dropped Show with a superplex into the middle of the ring. The ring collapsed, the referee John Cone went over the top rope to the floor (I loved that bump) and the crowd was going crazy at what they just saw.
After both men were down from the move, Strowman got back to his feet to show he could survive just about anything. This segment was done when Strowman was still a heel, but it help set him on the path of becoming a face.
There was even a cool moment after the show with crowd chanting “Thank You Big Show” while Show was in near-tears because he appreciated the respect he was being shown. That was a cool moment too.
4. Festival of Friendship ends badly for Chris Jericho, thanks to Kevin Owens
The “Festival of Friendship” was a unique name for a memorable segment on the February 13 episode of Raw featuring then-Universal Champion Kevin Owens and his best friend, the US Champion Chris Jericho. The friendship between the two was pushed heavily on Raw since the summer of 2016 and they became two of the top heels on the show with Owens carrying the Universal Championship during most of their run.
It started out as a silly event with Jericho having gifts for Owens, including the hilarious painting of Jericho and Owens touching hands while they were naked with only their titles covering them. The whole thing was dragging slowly past the 10-minute mark when Owens told Jericho that he had a gift for him too.
That’s when things changed for the worse for Jericho. While Jericho opened up about how great it was teaming with Owens, doing the “List of Jericho” and having fun with him, Owens ended up giving him a list. Jericho held up the list and wondered why his name was the only name on the list, which ended up being “The List of KO.”
The attack by Owens was vicious as he beat up Jericho all around the ringside area and then sent Jericho head- first into the screen that was in the ring. It was done to make Jericho a face while Owens became more of a serious, sadistic heel.
A few weeks later, Jericho cost Owens the Universal Title at Fastlane by distracting him as the match began and Bill Goldberg beat Owens for the Universal Title. It led to a WrestleMania match with Owens beating Jericho for the title.
As an angle and a singular segment, the Festival of Friendship was the best because of how long it was built up, how fun it was to watch and the payoff when it was over.
3. The Hardy Boyz return at WrestleMania
In any other year, this might be in the top spot because of the great moment it was. Problem is, two moments with bigger WWE legends happened this year, so they’re higher up on the list.
It wasn’t known if the Hardys were going to return to WWE at WrestleMania this year. There were rumors and whispers that it might happen but on the night before WrestleMania, they were in a Ladder Match against the Young Bucks at a Ring of Honor event. On the day of WrestleMania, they had a meet-and-greet with fans but what we didn’t know is that they agreed to a WWE return several weeks earlier.
WWE announced the Raw Tag Team Title match at WrestleMania was a three-team tag match for the titles with Champions Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Sheamus & Cesaro. As the match was about to begin, The New Day’s music started and they were the hosts of WrestleMania, so the assumption was they would add themselves to the match. Nope. They teased it, but then the Hardys’ music hit, Matt & Jeff appeared and the Camping World Stadium in Orlando went wild. Huge ovation.
It ended up being a pretty good, but not great ladder match that the Hardys won to capture the Raw Tag Team Titles. I think if they weren’t in the match, it would have been Enzo & Cass who won, for what it’s worth.
Good to see Matt and Jeff back in WWE. Sadly, Jeff is out of action after shoulder surgery that will keep him on the shelf for about six months while Matt has changed because he’s “Woken” now.
2. Kurt Angle’s return to WWE at the Hall of Fame, WrestleMania and Raw after WrestleMania
It was announced on Monday, January 16 that Kurt Angle would return to WWE after an 11-year absence to headline the 2017 Hall of Fame induction. Was it expected? Kind of, but until it actually happens you never really know.
Angle left WWE in the summer of 2006 because his body was breaking down, the WWE schedule was crazy and he was using drugs to keep himself going. Vince McMahon, WWE’s Chairman and CEO, wanted Angle to get help, but Angle didn’t want it, so he left the company and worked for TNA Wrestling from 2006 to 2016. It wasn’t known if Angle, who is 49 years old, would find his way back to WWE due to his age and injury history.
The announcement on January 16 got a lot of people excited because Angle was a favorite for a lot of us, thanks to his exciting WWE run from 1999 to 2006. In a perfect world, he never would have left WWE at all, but he was taken in a different path. It was great to see him come “home” to WWE, though.
Angle’s Hall of Fame speech was one of the best ever because he pulled out some of his greatest hits by doing some goofy songs and ending it by dousing himself in milk during one of his “Milk-o-Mania” style celebrations.
At WrestleMania, Angle stood on the WrestleMania stage with the others inducted in the 2017 Hall of Fame where he received another huge ovation.
The next night on Raw, Angle was named the new General Manager. He’s done well in the role so far.
At TLC in October, Angle wrestled in a WWE ring for the first time as part of The Shield trio in a victory with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Angle also wrestled at Survivor Series and at a live event with The Shield.
I could have listed three or four Angle moments in the top 10. It’s been so great to see him back in WWE. Looking forward to seeing what’s in his future.
1. The Undertaker says goodbye at WrestleMania… maybe… possibly… we think?
The main event of this year’s WrestleMania didn’t feature a title match. Nope. That’s because The Undertaker wrestled what could have been his last match in a WWE ring, losing to Roman Reigns in a 23-minute main event that put an end to the seven-hour show. Yes, it was really that long if you count the Kickoff Show!
The Undertaker made his return to WWE television in January when he announced he would be in the Royal Rumble. There were some people who thought he might win the Rumble — even though, at 52 years of age, the thinking was there was no reason for an older, part-timer like him to win it. But hat didn’t happen because Roman Reigns was #30 in the Rumble (much to the dismay of the crowd) and Reigns was the one who eliminated Undertaker. That led to massive boos from the crowd, but it was a smart booking move by WWE because it set up the main event of WrestleMania.
I remember thinking at the time that this could have been a brilliant decision by WWE if they wanted to finally pull the trigger on Reigns turning heel. Since The Undertaker is so beloved by WWE fans, you could have Reigns do a promo from Raw bragging about how he didn’t win the Rumble, but sent a message by eliminating Undertaker from the Rumble. Instead, there was no turn which I thought was a missed opportunity.
Fast-forward to WrestleMania with Reigns facing Undertaker. I don’t think anybody watching this match thought Undertaker won especially since his undefeated streak at WrestleMania ended at the hands of Brock Lesnar three years earlier. Plus, most of us knew of The Undertaker needed major hip surgery, so this was believed to be his last match.
Reigns got the win with a Spear. After the match, he left and The Undertaker had his moment in the ring in front of the 70,000 fans in Orlando. After the match was over, The Undertaker left his leather gloves, his leather coat and hat in the middle of the ring before he left. He even kissed his wife Michelle McCool at ringside, which again made people think that was his last match. There was even a story (told by Jerry Lawler) that WWE had a security guy to be ringside for the match to watch his stuff, so that he could get it after the show. The Undertaker descended under the ramp and that was the last time he was on WWE TV.
The next time The Undertaker is scheduled to appear on a WWE show is at the 25th anniversary of Raw special in January. It’s not expected that he will set up a WrestleMania match there, but you never really know.
Time to answer a question I get asked a lot: Do you believe that was The Undertaker’s last match?
Yes. I do. He’s done it all, his health is good aside from the surgeries he has needed to keep going and I don’t think it would be smart to wrestle again. He has looked slower in the last few years obviously, so why risk it? He’s filthy rich, so I hope he enjoys being home and with his family because he spent enough of his life with us. It’s okay to walk away. With that said, if he wants to wrestle again, then who are we to tell him no? I just think the ending was done the right way and in a respectful way. There’s no need to come back for more.
When 2017 comes to a close in a few weeks, the one thing I’ll remember most from WWE was when The Undertaker walked away after a 27-year career that is unparalleled in WWE history. That’s why it is the #1 Most Memorable WWE Moment of this year. Respect. He’s certainly earned it.