Another year passes into the annals of WWE history (i.e. the WWE Network archives – anyone know how much that is a month?) and it has been another year of ups and downs. We have seen angles and pushes that worked and those that failed miserably. We have seen rivalries ruined by untimely medical issues and rivalries saved by… err… untimely medical issues. In a business such as wrestling, especially WWE with its seven hours of weekly TV output and bloated PPV schedule, some things are going to stick, and others are going to suck, especially with people like us picking over everything on internet forums, Twitter, and leading opinion websites like Kayfabe Today.
Here is a look at my personal picks for some of the best and worst of WWE in the last year (no best/worst match as we already have the best covered on the site and the worst was the House of Horrors – no contest). Have different opinions? Feel free to let me know in the comments here or on Twitter (@DodgeeWriter).
Best Superstar: Braun Strowman
It is the wrestlers themselves who keep us coming back to the shows every week (at least, it is for me). There’s nothing like getting behind a star, face or heel, as you anticipate their arrival on TV each week. The one performer who always grabbed my attention was the Monster Among Men, Braun Strowman. Any time his music hits, I expect chaos and usually get it. A lacklustre one-on-one title match with Brock Lesnar aside, he has delivered time and time again, obliterating Roman Reigns on more than one occasion, having a better than expected series of matches with Big Show, and brutalising The Best at Summerslam. An eventual face turn has not diminished the destruction – it has merely given him a fresh set of heel opponents to beat up. Put a title on this monster in 2018.
Worst Superstar: Bray Wyatt
At the other end of the scale, there are the superstars who just make you want to switch off or skip forward. Bray Wyatt was the worst offender by far this year. It all started so well with that WWE Title victory at Elimination Chamber, but the programme with Randy Orton that was initially intriguing turned to farce with projected bugs in the ring at Wrestlemania and the horror that was the House of Horrors. After switching to RAW, we got an uninspiring feud with Finn Balor and a bizarre attempt to introduce Sister Abigail as an alter ego. The fact that viral meningitis was the best thing to happen to Bray in a year when he won the title says it all.
Best Tag Team: The Usos
The tag division on both brands had lulls due to lack of depth this year but both finished strongly, especially Smackdown. That’s why I’m giving The Usos the nod here. They have really upped their game as heels with some of the best promos on the roster backed up by an aggressive style in the ring. The New Day proved the perfect foil and their rivalry lit up the second half of the year with their epic Hell in a Cell confrontation one of the matches of the year. Both teams have come a long way from their 2015 rivalry.
Worst Tag Team: The Colons
The only positive for The Colons was the loss of the timeshare salesmen gimmick but they have remained fodder for the better teams on the roster. A move to Smackdown could have given them a fresh start (indeed, the got a win over American Alpha early on) but injury took them off TV and they have only been seen as lumberjacks since.
Best Debut/Call Up: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe made an immediate impact on his RAW debut, taking out Seth Rollins and putting him on the shelf until Wrestlemania (I am still not 100% convinced that was a legitimate injury, or at least one not caused by Joe – Rollins had not competed in the Rumble the night before, don’t forget). From there, he has remained at the top of the card (bar a post-Summerslam injury and the unexplained exclusion from Wrestlemania itself) and has been a hard-hitting, uncompromising addition to Monday nights.
Worst Debut/Call Up: Shinsuke Nakamura & Bobby Roode
The same cannot be said for two other NXT champs called up this year though. I am making this a joint ‘award’ due to the similarities in both men’s paths. They appeared on Smackdown after major PPVs, but then didn’t really wrestle much (reportedly to build their first PPV appearances, but the tactic didn’t really work). They had uninspiring feuds with Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin, and both were eliminated without doing much at Survivor Series. Hit that reset button quick!
Best Return: The Hardy Boyz
This could only be the duo that got arguably the biggest pop of the night at Wrestlemania. For fans who have been around since the Attitude Era, it has been great to see these two back as a team. Jeff Hardy’s injury was unfortunate, but that has opened the way for Broken Matt Hardy to return. Here’s to Brother Nero returning in 2018 (but hopefully not as a foil to Sister Abigail!)
Worst Return: Maria Kanellis
What was the point of this? Maria Kanellis was given a PPV stage for her return as the dominant half of a ‘Power of Love’ couple with Mike Kanellis and then…. nothing. Granted, Mike has been dealing with addiction issues and the couple later announced they are expecting a baby. However, she was only ineffectively standing at ringside as Mike was jobbing to the Smackdown roster even before all that.
Best Title Run: Kevin Owens
This is a tough one to pick as there have been issues with most of the significant title reigns this year. I would have chosen The Miz as IC Champ, but his run ended weakly with no match at Summerslam (indeed, hardly any defences in the second part of the year) and a loss to Baron Corbin in the champ v. champ match at Survivor Series. Owens gets the nod as he fought for his title as hard as he did for the Universal Championship. He may have dropped the belt a few times, but he was always clamouring to get it back in strong programmes with Chris Jericho and AJ Styles. His eventual loss of the belt for good set up the Sami Zayn heel turn and the biggest storyline on Smackdown right now – nice work KO.
Worst Title Run: John Cena
I resisted the obvious Jinder Mahal name drop here. Why? Because this was the reign that precipitated the decline of Smackdown. It may have been a great match but Cena winning the belt from AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble led to Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton and their awful matches, and then Jinder Mahal and the fall from relevance for the company’s top title (at least AJ is now back as champ to restore some credibility). Add in the fact that this was a record-equalling reign and the fact that it only lasted two weeks is a smack in the face of the business.
Best TV Segment: The Festival of Friendship
Sometimes, even the obvious and predictable can be engaging and engrossing when executed well. Everyone saw the break up coming in the weeks leading up to this and the segment itself. Jericho was at his comedic best, everything was over the top as Owens looked increasingly frustrated and then the List of Owens appeared and one of the most brutal beatdowns of the year took place. One of the best non-match segments you are ever likely to see.
Worst TV Segment: Bayley… This is Your Life
And then there was this. WWE had already done the heel champ making fun of Bayley for being a fan with Charlotte, and that was not exactly compelling viewing, but they somehow topped all that with this absolute dross. It was painful to watch and, for me at least, hurt Alexa Bliss’ credibility as a champion and as a promo queen as much as it hurt Bayley’s momentum. And with the dreadful Kendo Stick on a Pole to follow, this was one of WWE’s low points.
Best Hope for the Future: Rusev Day
Up until recently, Rusev was a candidate for worst superstar of the year. A poorly booked feud with Enzo Amore and a partnership with a pre-push Jinder Mahal did not start 2017 off well for the Bulgarian Brute. Injury meant no Wrestlemania as he returned only to be buried by John Cena and Randy Orton in quick succession. However, his partnership with Aiden English has led to the breakout gimmick of the year – Rusev Day! He closes the year with the top-selling piece of merchandise on the WWE store and we will hopefully have many more Rusev Days to come.
Worst Hope for the Future: Jason Jordan
Man, this push has been dragging for months now. The whole ‘son of Kurt Angle’ story is ridiculous, and WWE’s refusal to turn him heel has been baffling as we now have a grating, whining babyface on our screens each week. He is now a tag champ… with Seth Freakin’ Rollins. Someone end this push now please.