2017 has almost come to an end. In my opinion, this has been one of, if not the best year for pro wrestling that I’ve ever been witness to, especially when it comes to match quality. Full of amazing moments, history-making matches, and an endless amount of fantastic content for any type of fan to enjoy around the world, wrestling in 2017 has truly been a gift to us all. But with a year so packed full of scale-breaking MOTY candidates, how on Earth could we whittle so many great bouts down to just the best of the best? There have been certain wrestlers this year that could fill a regular year’s MOTY list with their own matches alone, that’s how good the standard of pro wrestling is right now. An honourable mention in this list could have been a top five match ten years ago. We are experiencing a golden age when it comes to quality pro wrestling, and if you don’t believe me, just take a look at the unbelievable selection of matches we’ve been treated to in the last twelve months. Here is part one of my Top 20 Matches of the Year: 2017.
Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin: NJPW G1 Special in USA
Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin: NJPW G1 Climax
Tetsuya Naito vs. Michael Elgin: NJPW The New Beginning In Osaka
(Due to recent revelations regarding Michael Elgin, I didn’t feel like it was appropriate to feature any of these three matches. As fantastic as they all were to view at the time, it’s hard for me to enjoy them as much in hindsight because of Elgin’s recent controversy. A truly great match should remain great, and sadly, these three have lost some of their appeal.)
New Day vs. The Usos: WWE Summerslam
Drew Mcintyre vs. Will Ospreay: WCPW Exit Wounds
Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak: PWG Battle of Los Angeles
Matt Riddle vs. Jeff Cobb: Progress Super Strong Style 16
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi: NJPW Power Struggle
Pete Dunne vs. Johnny Gargano: WWE NXT
Piper Niven vs. Santana Garrett: Mae Young Classic First Round
5-on-3 TLC Handicap Match: WWE TLC
Elimination Chamber Match
Royal Rumble Match
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – G1 Climax
Authors of Pain vs. The Revival vs. DIY: NXT Takeover Orlando
Eddie Edwards vs. Naomichi Marufuji: NOAH Great Voyage in Yokohama
Marty Scurll vs. Rey Mysterio: RevPro Summer Sizzler
Matt Riddle vs. Tomohiro Ishii: RevPro British J Cup
Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon: WWE Hell in a Cell
Killshot vs. Dante Fox – The Hell of War Match: Lucha Underground
War Machine vs. Swords of Essex: WCPW Loaded
Big Show vs Braun Strowman: WWE Raw (Various)
Asuka vs Ember Moon: NXT Takeover Brooklyn
Keith Lee vs. Tomohiro Ishii: RevPro/NJPW Global Wars UK
Drew Mcintyre vs. Andrade Almas: NXT Takeover War Games
Will Ospreay vs. Jay White: ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds 2017
Travis Banks vs. Tyler Bate: Progress Super Strong Style 16
Kenny Omega vs. Juice Robinson: NJPW Destruction in Kobe
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee: NJPW Best of the Super Juniors
- 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 (and one of my top moments of the year).
- Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Special in USA
Despite some of the worst and most disappointing commentary I have ever heard, New Japan’s G1 Special in USA was a fantastic event, headlined by one incredible match. Kenny Omega made history by becoming the first ever IWGP US Heavyweight Champion by defeating Tomohiro Ishii in one hell of a war. These two have certainly had better battles together, one of which we will get to later on, but this is still more than worth your time, thanks in part to an absolutely devastating Dragon Suplex from the ring apron through a table. If you enjoy countless knee strikes, and Japanese men built like a fridge absorbing inhuman amounts of punishment, this is the match for you.
- Keith Lee vs. Matt Riddle: Evolve 94
Do you like big men beating the crap out of each other? Do you like seeing enormous individuals defying physics with ridiculous feats of athleticism? Do you like stiff strikes and brutal suplexes? Well, look no further than this. 2017 was Keith Lee’s breakout year, and this may just be his crowning glory. Although his match against Donovan Dijak in PWG did get a five-star rating from WON, this match for me tops it. Evolve is one of the hottest indie promotions in the US today, and that’s because of amazing talents like Keith Lee and Matt Riddle.
- Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Almas: NXT Takeover Brooklyn
It is genuinely impossible for Johnny Gargano to have a bad match. The man is a lovable underdog that also just happens to be a ridiculously talented wrestler, and in my opinion is one of the best in the world. In 2018, we will finally get to see Gargano feud against his former tag team partner, Tommaso Ciampa, and if their 2016 epic in the Cruiserweight Classic is anything to go by, there’s no doubt that it will produce some incredible matches and moments. Until then though, we have this amazing opening match from NXT Takeover Brooklyn to keep us happy. Two of the most talented men in NXT faced off in an exhibition to show the world what they could do, and they certainly delivered. Backed by the world-class management of Zelina Vega, and featuring the most memorable t-shirt spot of the year, this is the match that really set Gargano’s single run on fire, and propelled Almas into the main-event run he is currently experiencing.
- 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 second 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.
13. Velveteen Dream vs. Aleister Black – NXT Takeover War Games
At NXT Takeover: Orlando back in April, Black debuted against Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, and blew everyone away with his strikes and effortlessly cool persona. As the months went by, Black eliminated more and more opponents with his awesome Black Mass spin kick, including Hideo Itami, Kyle O’ Reilly and others, racking up an impressive undefeated streak. But then, to the surprise of us all, he entered into one of the most surprisingly brilliant feuds in recent memory. The extremely flamboyant Velveteen Dream became obsessed with Black, vowing to make the silent superstar say his name. After weeks of surprise attacks, the two faced off in a fantastic match at Takeover: War Games. As impressive as Black was, with a series of world-class strikes and a stunning springboard moonsault, the world was talking about Dream. The former Patrick Clark impressed the world with his insane athleticism, charisma and display of character at such a young age. The unlikely feud built perfectly to create an exciting and anticipated match that certainly didn’t disappoint. By the end, Dream earned Black’s respect, and finally gave him what he wanted – the words “Velveteen Dream” left his lips, and the fans couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks to come.
12. Kenny Omega vs Beretta – NJPW Power Struggle
We will certainly remember, remember the 5th of November from 2017 for a long time to come for one huge reason – it was the day that Chris Jericho issued his historic challenge to Kenny Omega at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th. As wonderful and surprising as this news was though, there was one downside to this monumental announcement: it overshadowed the incredible match that had happened just moments before.
Beretta (formerly known as Trent Baretta in WWE) challenged Kenny Omega for the IWGP US Championship at NJPW Power Struggle this year, and it was easily the best match of his career. Starting out as a showcase for all of Omega’s unique and brilliant offence, featuring a dangerous, double stomp table spot at ringside and a frightening back drop onto the ring apron, Beretta showed fire and fought back against Omega in a fantastic showing. After a destructive piledriver on the apron and his signature Dudebuster, Beretta made fans believe that he was worthy of belonging in New Japan’s heavyweight division. Omega may have came out on top, and subsequently been challenged to one of the biggest matches in history, but don’t overlook the performance Beretta put on, and the fantastic match these two heavyweights put on.
- New Day vs. The Usos – WWE Hell in a Cell
These two tag teams had one of the best rivalries of the year. They traded fantastic victories both on Smackdown and PPVs in a series of fantastic matches over the year, as well as some of the best segments in the company, yet sadly they were relegated to pre-shows when they were having some of the best bouts on the shows. But then October rolled around, and they were finally given the credit they deserved when they were granted an extremely rare tag team Hell in a Cell match. Xavier, Big E and the Uso brothers used the surrounding steel in new and unique ways, along with a host of weapons and even a little comedy spots thrown in. It was a punishing yet entertaining affair that deserved far more praise than it was given. Hopefully, the benefit of hindsight will along this gem to eventually go down as one of the top 10 HIAC matches we’ve seen so far.