We’re half way through 2017, and it is already proving to be one of the greatest and most interesting times to be a wrestling fan. So I’m looking at the bouts that have made this year so great up to this point – here are the Top 10 Matches of 2017 so Far.
- Authors of Pain vs. The Revival vs. DIY – NXT Takeover Orlando
Any match involving both DIY and The Revival is bound to be a great one. The two pairings lead this tag team triple threat match for the majority, and we actually got to see these bitter rivals teaming against a bigger and more dominant force – The Authors of Pain. We saw the members of DIY and Revival teaming up to deliver both of their tag team finishers to AOP (a moment which made me mark out like crazy), but it still wasn’t enough to put the behemoths away. Once DIY was eliminated from this match, the pace did slow down a lot, and the excitement drained slightly as the Orlando crowd began to boo, but the match was still fantastic nonetheless. If it had been this consistently brilliant throughout, it would certainly be much higher on the list.
- AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon – Wrestlemania 33
Prior to this match, there was a feeling of genuine anger from a large portion of WWE fans. Why was a wrestler as talented and as successful as AJ Styles being made to face against someone who rarely steps into the ring? And why was it in a regular old singles match when all Shane McMahon is known for is his fascination with trying to kill himself through ridiculous high spots? Well, although I wasn’t as sceptical as most people seemed to be, I was still blown away by how entertaining the opening match of Wrestlemania 33 turned out to be.
The match started with AJ demonstrating his technical superiority, until Shane managed to take him down, and shut his ego up. What ensued was a down and dirty brawl full of memorable moments, including Shane countering a 450 Splash into a triangle choke, which was then countered into a brutal one-armed Styles Clash. Once the referee was inadvertently knocked down, that’s when the toys came out to play. Styles tried to hit Shane with his signature Coast to Coast, but McMahon swatted him out of mid-air using a steel trash can, and then hit Styles with his own Coast to Coast. Then of course, to the surprise of no one, we saw Shane crash through an announce table because, well, that’s what he does. But what did surprise us all was seeing the 47 year old, pepper-haired son of a billionaire do a Shooting Star Press out of nowhere that unfortunately missed. One Phenomenal Forearm later, and the best match of this year’s Wrestlemania was over, leaving everybody watching pleasantly surprised.
- The Hardys vs. Young Bucks: Ladder Match – ROH Supercard of Honor
In 2016, we saw The Young Bucks compete in Ladder War VI, and it was one of the craziest matches of the year. Well, the Bullet Club members certainly didn’t disappoint in their next epic ladder match in which they faced their childhood heroes and the hottest duo in professional wrestling, The Hardys. The two teams traded some of the most brutal and incredible ladder and table spots seen since Wrestlemania X-7. By the end of this one, the legendary brothers were well and truly broken after all the insane punishment they endured. What makes this bout even more impressive is that just one night later, Matt and Jeff both turned up at Wrestlemania as surprise entrants into yet another tag team ladder match, and it created one of the greatest moments in Wrestlemania history.
- Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW Wrestling Dontaku
Do you like seeing men hitting each other really, really hard? Then this is the match for you! Despite how talented and aggressive both of these men are, they still managed to blow me away with this fantastically stiff and gripping contest. Most recently, the two battled in another incredible match to become the first ever IWGP US Heavyweight Champion, but as great as that was, it still doesn’t beat their first encounter of 2017. Fighting for the right to face Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at NJPW Dominion (don’t worry, we’ll get to that match later), the two men almost destroyed each other in one hell of a fight, but in the end, The Cleaner managed to sweep up The Stone Pitbull, and because of this number one contender match, The Elite member went on to have one of the greatest matches in the history of pro-wrestling.
- KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW BOSJ Finals
KUSHIDA is somebody that has consistently brilliant matches, but it seems as though whenever he has one of these in-ring epics, somebody else later on in the show overshadows his brilliance. We saw it at Wrestle Kingdom 10, Wrestle Kingdom 11, and this year’s NJPW Dominion, but in the Best of the Super Junior Finals, KUSHIDA was given the main-event spotlight to show what he could do, and he certainly delivered. The Time Splitter and the 2016 winner of this prestigious tournament, Will Ospreay, began the match slowly, trading technical holds, but then built to the crazy, high-flying, ridiculously fast brawl they are well-known for. The athleticism, stamina and mental and physical toughness shown throughout is outstanding – it’s the type of brawl where even you’ll be in pain just from watching because of how relentless it is. By the end of the night, KUSHIDA stood tall, and the two men earned themselves a prestigious Meltzer 5 Star Rating. At only 24 years old, Ospreay continues to wow audiences around the world, and become of the best young wrestlers in the world, whilst KUSHIDA, at 34 years old, is quickly becoming one of the best junior competitors New Japan has ever seen.
- Nikki Cross vs. Asuka: Last Woman Standing – NXT
In a week that saw women main event WWE’s main three television shows, the best of them all came from NXT – a Last Woman Standing Match for the NXT Women’s Championship that will never be forgotten. What made this match so outstanding was the dedication to both women’s personas: Nikki Cross literally never stops being in character no matter what is happening within the ring, whilst Asuka is without doubt the hardest-hitting woman in WWE, and the most willing to take punishment.
Earlier in the night, the drama started as Nikki Cross jumped on-top of Asuka’s moving car. Then before the match started, Cross waited in the ring, repeatedly saying her opponent’s name, biting the ring ropes, and flailing her body around. Cross’ perfect character work really made us feel like anything could happen in this match, and that we were about to see something crazy and incredible – and that’s exactly what we got. Cross vs Asuka may be the most violent WWE women’s match we’ve ever seen. These two future main roster stars threw everything at each other, including chair shots, moves onto the apron, and moves onto chairs, but they both still got up. The story of Asuka being so unbeatable throughout was told impeccably – she even managed to stand up after a hung-up spinning neckbreaker to the floor outside the ring. Ultimately, it was an insane superplex off a ladder onto an announce table that ended this unbelievable brawl, as Nikki lay still at the ten count, and the unbeatable Asuka barely stood tall.
- John Cena vs. AJ Styles – Royal Rumble
As the old saying goes, “good things come in threes”, and in the case of the AJ Styles vs. John Cena trilogy, it certainly rings true. Styles and Cena’s first two matches were both fantastic, their Summerslam showdown especially was one of the best of 2016, but it’s fair to say that this one may be even better. The final instalment in this saga took place back in January in front of over 50,000 people, and it was a masterpiece. There was a true big fight feel in the air as the San Antonio crowd gasped and cheered as these two megastars traded signature moves, false finishes, and maneuvers we haven’t seen from them in years. It took every single weapon in his arsenal, but John Cena managed to put Styles away to win his 16th world championship, whilst making AJ seem like the bonafide main-eventer he deserves to be. Also, what really adds the perfect finishing touch to this match is the commentary provided by Mauro Ronallo – it’s possibly the greatest call of his career, full of passion, emotion, and “MAMMA MIA!”-ness. Everything about this bout is wondrously memorable, and is no doubt the best main roster WWE match of 2017 so far.
- Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne – NXT Takeover Chicago
They may have a combined age of just 43, and they’re part of a WWE division that doesn’t even have its own weekly show yet, but these two young UK talents can put on one hell of a great match. We saw them compete in the UK Championship Finals all the way back in January, and it was fantastic, and the fans in attendance that night were eating it up. But that was when these two future stars were in front of their home countrymen, and competing in the final match of a fantastic tournament for a brand new, beautiful title – how would they fair against an American crowd with very little TV time to build-up the match? Well, turns out, even better than before.
The Allstate Arena exploded in excitement throughout this memorable title bout, and fans watching at home were treated with the fantastic commentary of Jim Ross and Nigel McGuinness. Dunne worked on Bate’s hand throughout, Bate delivered one hell of a flying clothesline, we saw an unbelievable Spiral Tap from the 20 year old, and Dunne X-Plexed Bate right onto the apron. It was a match filled with high spots and excitement that ended with the gorgeous Bitter End, and a new champion was crowned. To most, it may be hard to believe that two WWE UK competitors could pull off what many think is WWE’s best match of the year so far, given how it’s still a developing brand in WWE that’s had little exposure, yet if you’ve watched these two on the UK indie scene in the last couple of years, you won’t be surprised at all by the quality of this memorable brawl. Once the UK division finally gets its own regular show, this match will certainly be responsible for bringing in plenty of its viewers.
- Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11
Leading up to this bout, I was expecting it to be nothing but incredible: I wrote about it multiple times in 2016, and it even topped my list of the things I was most looking forward to in 2016. As good as I expected it to be though, I could never have predicted the unbelievable epic we were treated to on January 4th.
This 45 minute match had something for every type of wrestling fan – technical wizardry, world-class storytelling, stiff hard-hitting strikes, one of the most ridiculous table spots in history, and more false finishes than you can count. It was a work of art that I couldn’t take my eyes off. I was fully sucked in to the tension and the drama as I sat on the edge of my seat. Every time I thought, “This has got to be it”, the match continued to go on as I gasped with surprise and excitement. Omega hit Okada with almost every move in his arsenal, including a devastating Super Dragon Suplex, but he could not connect with his most dangerous weapon – The One Winged Angel. After a ridiculous amount of Rainmakers, the 6-star epic was finally over, and the wrestling world exploded. We were only four days into the year at this point, but I already knew that nobody could top this match in 2017… until….
Lucha Bros vs. The Young Bucks vs. Ricochet and Sydal – PWG Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock and Roll): Only in PWG could this match take place. Full of comedic silliness, ridiculous high spots, and more superkicks than you can count, it may not be the most psychological of wrestling matches, but it sure is a lot of fun.
Prospect vs. Swords of Essex – WCPW Built to Destroy: A surprisingly good match full of emotion, near-falls and Ospreay’s crazy athleticism. If you’re going to watch any WCPW match, make it this one.
KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi – Wrestle Kingdom 11 and NJPW Dominion: Both matches are instant classics, but unfortunately for these two amazing athletes, they were overshadowed by the epic main events that followed them at both shows.
Marty Scurll vs. Lio Rush – ROH 15th Anniversary Show: Lio Rush has only been wrestling for a few years, yet if he’s already able to put on matches like this, he’s got a very bright future.
Elimination Chamber Match – Arguably the best match of its kind so far, the new chamber was home to Bray Wyatt’s first ever world title win, and one hell of a final showdown between The Eater of Worlds and The Phenomenal One.
Authors of Pain vs. DIY: Ladder Match – NXT Takeover Chicago: A few mistakes don’t stop this match from being absolutely fantastic. I still haven’t recovered from that heel turn afterwards though. #WhyCiampaWhy
Pete Dunne vs. Mark Andrews – UK Championship Tournament: Everything about this tournament was fantastic, but for me, this match had to be the highlight of the weekend.
Young Bucks vs. Roppongi Vice – NJPW G1 USA Special Night 2: Roppongi Vice’s last match as a team was certainly a good one.
- Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Dominion
It turns out the only people who are capable of beating that match from January 4th were the same two men that were involved in it. Normally, I’m not much of a fan of long matches – it’s very difficult to keep up an entertaining pace for over 45 minutes without having significantly long moments of uninteresting action. But for two of the best wrestlers in the world, more time in the ring just means more time to show off how incredible they are.
Simply put, Kenny Omega vs.Kazuchika Okada from NJPW Dominion is a perfect professional wrestling match. There’s a reason why it’s Dave Meltzer’s highest rated match of all time. This match just built and built and built to create an incredible story. At the 40 minute mark, I literally couldn’t sit down because of the tension. I was stood pacing around the room gasping and wrestling with the butterflies in my stomach – I didn’t care if my family thought I was pathetic, I was completely invested in the epic I was witnessing. The story followed from their first bout – Omega tried and tried again to hit his signature One-Winged Angel, but to no avail. They traded the most vicious of strikes, the most awe-inspiring of moves, and plenty of signature moves, until Omega finally managed to hit his finisher, but when it all seemed like it was over, Okada actually managed to kick out to the shock of everyone. They battled on, unleashing everything they had on each other, but neither man could clinch the three-count. The announcer was counting down towards the time limit as the two rivals traded blows. With 30 seconds left, Okada hit one hell of a Rainmaker, but he was too battle-worn to make the cover. He crawled across the floor as they time ticked away, but just as he was about to cover Omega, the draw was called in one of the most impeccable finishes to a match I have ever seen.
Normally, I would see a draw finish as a bit of a cheap ending. With matches as monumental and important as this, we all want a definitive winner, but after seeing these two athletes completely destroy each other for one whole hour straight, for neither man to be able to better the other no matter how hard they tried, it told the perfect tale and it made for the perfect ending to the perfect match. Now, with Okada vs Omega 3 set to happen in the upcoming G1 tournament, let’s see if it’s possible to even come close to recapturing the magic of this match, let alone improve on it.
We’re only 6 months in, but if this is the standard of wrestling in 2017, by the end of it, we will have witnessed one hell of a year.