WWE Year in Review: Highs and Lows of 2017

This year has been quite the rollercoaster for the WWE. From the return of a Dusty Rhodes-created classic to the epic failure that was Jinder Mahal’s title reign to the post-WrestleMania Superstar-Shake Up it’s been year of high times and head scratchers. Call this my version of the best and worst list. Let’s start with:

The Lows

The Raw Women's Divison-

With all the talent it’s had throughout the year the Raw women’s division has been one massive disappointment. Sasha Banks started the year feuding with Nia Jax. The problem with that scenario is that Sasha couldn’t afford to lose back to back feuds (having just lost to Charlotte Flair) but at the same time this was Nia’s first real rivalry. Predictably, Sasha won the feud and Nia has found herself aimlessly floating. Given her size and strength, she could be the female Braun Strowman but instead she’s been the odd woman out in women’s championship matches throughout the year. While Sasha was fighting Nia, Charlotte found her next challenger in Bayley. That rivalry started out promising. Bayley lost her first title match at the Royal Rumble, which is how most rivalries begin. Unfortunately, creative found a way to mess it up, badly. They had Bayley challenge Charlotte on Raw. Dana Brooke (at the time Charlotte’s second) attempted to get involved and that brought out Sasha Banks who took her out. Sasha didn’t stop there though. She broke up Charlotte’s Figure 8 leg-lock by poking her in the stomach with a kendo stick allowing Bayley to use the distraction to pick up the win and the strap. To recap, the babyface was aided to victory by outside interference. What happened the following week might have been the flabbergasting moment on either television show all year. Stephanie McMahon confronted Bayley about the way that she won the title. She didn’t just confront her though. She laid into her, verbally blistering the brand new babyface champion and dressing her down like child for nearly ten minutes before Sasha came out to. If Bayley’s character was tarnished by the nature of her title win, it was practically crippled by this segment. Fast-forward to after the Superstar Shake-up. Alexa Bliss arrived and though that was a welcome sight, she immediately put the final nail in Bayley’s coffin. Between verbally trouncing her in promos and beating clean as a whistle twice, Bliss buried Bayley’s character but good. I could go on for a while, but I’ll mention just one other thing, the mess that was the build to Great Balls of Fire. Maybe the person responsible for writing the women’s division was on summer vacation because that’s the only way I can explain the lack of an actual story going into that event. For three weeks they had tag team matches but no clear opponent for Alexa Bliss stuck out. On the fourth week, six days before the event, Sasha Banks won a gauntlet match and the right to challenge Alexa Bliss for the title. They had a pretty good match at GBOF with absolutely no build-up. The match ended by count-out, normally a sign that the story is not over, however the program was dropped when Sasha lost a number-one contender’s match to Bayley of all people. One final note, Sasha Banks wound up challenging Bliss again at Summerslam after Bayley was injured, won the title, and immediately lost it back to Alexa eight days later. If you’re keeping track, Sasha has won the women’s title 4 times and never successfully defended it once. There is no reason for Sasha to ever win the title again. Smackdown Live may not have had stellar matches throughout the year but they have had consistent storytelling. Wish I could say the same for Raw.

The Jinder Mahal Experiment

On April 11, 2017 Jinder Mahal lost a match to Mojo Rawley, thanks in part to interference from New England Patriot’s tight end Rob Gronkowski. Two weeks later he was the number one contender for the WWE Championship. Just writing that sentence makes me shake my head. Vince McMahon in desperate attempt to increase WWE Network subscriptions in India looked at Mahal, born in Toronto but of Indian descent, as his ticket. It didn’t matter that Mahal was basically a jobber with mediocre wrestling skills and precious little promo ability, he was Indian (enough) and that’s all that mattered to the boss. Given the Singh Brothers as heaters to help make his victories more digestible, Mahal was crowned champion at Backlash. What happened next was a self-conducted slow-motion train wreck. Mahal spent the next six months vacillating between jingoistic, xenophobic promos and matches better left forgotten (Punjabi Prison, anyone?). One of his promos on Shinsuke Nakamura was so controversial it made the Washington Post and WWE didn’t upload it to their YouTube channel. Mercifully, Vince McMahon finally gave the order to topple the Maharaja from his throne and Jinder lost the title to AJ Styles to the elation of the fans in Manchester. Before his reign ended though, it had depressed both ratings and attendance for Smackdown and reduced the most coveted prize in wrestling to a mid-card prop. Thankfully AJ is restoring the title just by holding it though it may take him awhile to get the taint of Mahal off the championship. To be clear, I don’t Mahal himself for this debacle. He was guy who put into a situation he was neither equipped nor prepared for.

Jason Jordan as Kurt Angle’s Son

Speaking of debacles, Jason Jordan has been the centerpiece of one for about the last five months. He started off the year on Smackdown as one-half of American Alpha with Chad Gable. By July they weren’t involved in any major stories. On the side of the WWE, Kurt Angle was getting odd phone calls and texts and having strange meetings with Corey Graves. Finally, on July 17 he revealed his big secret was that Jason Jordan was his illegitimate son. There is precedent for as this the WWE passes off the Undertaker and Kane as brothers. The difference between the stories though is 20 years. When Kane debuted in 1997 a much larger potion of the audience was willing to buy that he really was the Undertaker’s brother. In 2017 however, that’s simply no longer the case. People are too smart to buy this story, so it was basically dead on arrival. The corpse of this story has been dragged from one episode of Raw to the next, with Jordan, Angle, and the commentary team reminding us multiple times a show that Jordan is Angle’s son. This story has literally done nothing for Jordan as he’s bounced from feud to feud getting consistently beaten and increasingly booed despite the fact that he’s a babyface. I’m not sure how this one gets fixed but they need to come up with something in a hurry because the dead body is really starting to smell.

Misuse of Shinsuke Nakamura

In NXT Shinsuke Nakamura was kept special. Save for the occasional televised match, Shinsuke wrestled primarily on the TakeOver specials which made him a must-see attraction. When he debuted on the main roster Smackdown seemed to be following that pattern. His first four weeks were composed of in-ring or backstage promos and a video package. His first official match was against Dolph Ziggler at Backlash, which he won. From that point forward his specialness dwindled. He wrestled nearly every week on Smackdown and frankly seemed to be spinning his wheels for months, save for a brief confrontation with AJ Styles during the Money in the Bank ladder match. Maybe the two highlights of his year have been getting clean pins on Randy Orton and John Cena en route to earning and re-earning WWE Championship matches. The championship matches themselves were probably the low points as Nak’s popularity was used to prop Jinder Mahal during his disastrous title reign. Shinsuke Nakamura should’ve at the very least been United States champion and he certainly shouldn’t have been fed to Jinder. Hopefully the rumored WrestleMania match with AJ Styles takes place. If so his 2018 will be made right there.

The Superstar Shake-up

On it’s face the Superstar Shake-up, announced by Vince McMahon on the post-WrestleMania Raw, sounded like a good idea. It moved Superstars around without doing a whole new draft. I’m convinced however that the decision to do the Shake-up wasn’t made until that Monday because the execution was awful. Smackdown superstars randomly showed up on Raw the following week and vice versa. There didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason for why certain people were moved, which made the whole thing a little disjointing. Additionally, matches had already been made for Payback, a Raw PPV. The Shake-up resulted in some of those matches being cross-promotional. In the case of Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt that match was added to Payback after Wyatt was moved to Raw. Because of the cross-promotional mess, SD creative was burdened with trying to tell two stories for Randy Orton and two stories for Randy Orton all at the same time. What happened wasn’t pretty and was the start of the lull SD suffered throughout the summer.


The Return of WarGames

In 1987 WWE Hall of Famer "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, then the booker for Jim Crockett Promotions, conceived of match consisting of members of two teams of five, whose members entered at alternating intervals, fighting in two rings surrounded by a large steel cage with a roof on it. He called his creation WarGames and it became an annual tradition for JCP and later WCW until the latter closed in 2001. In October WWE announced that WarGames would be taking place for the first time since 2000 and the for the first time ever in WWE albeit in NXT. In the years since WWE absorbed WCW fans waited to see if WarGames would ever come back so the thrill was real when NXT general manager William Regal announced that the Undisputed Era, Sanity, and the Authors of Pain and Roderick Strong would be competing in the revamped version of the iconic match. There were some rule changes from the original formatting. The match still began with one member of each team in the ring for five minutes. The other members of the teams were in new shark cages at the top of entrance ramp and both remaining members of each team entered at the same alternating interval. Another big difference was that the cage didn’t have a roof on it. They augmented that decision by announcing that escaping from the cage meant the escapees team forfeited the match. The last difference was victory could be achieved by pinfall or submission rather than submission or surrender. Ultimately the match was great. It felt like a WarGames match and the changes did not mess things up too badly.

Braun Strowman’s Monster Push

From the moment he interfered in Roman Reigns Universal Championship match with Kevin Owens, Braun Strowman was off to the races. Despite the fact that he was supposed to be a heel, he was cheered wildly by the crowd. It didn’t hurt that he spent the better part of the year beating the hell out of someone the crowd loathed in Roman Reigns. He flipped an ambulance with Reigns in it, he was tossed in the back of an ambulance that was backed into a truck and he walked away from it, he superplexed Big Show which broke the ring, he put Big Show through the side of a cage, he powerslammed Kane through the ring, and those are just some of the monster feats he performed. He challenged Brock Lesnar for the Universal title and though he lost, he looked good doing it. Nobody has gotten more over on Raw this year than the Monster Among Men.

Stephanie McMahon Goes Through a Table at WrestleMania

Who’d have thought a table bump could have such a positive impact? When Stephanie McMahon was accidently put through a table by her husband at WrestleMania it allowed for a much necessary write-off. Her presence on Raw, whether it was berating and dressing down any superstar she shared a ring with without reprisal or her constant bickering with Mick Foley about how Raw should be run, became toxic. It dragged the show down in a big way. Her absence allowed Kurt Angle to run Raw in a far less heavy-handed fashion and shocker the show improved. That’s why there was a collective groan when she returned, briefly, last month.

Fashion Files

One of the bright spots in the dark days of Smackdown’s summer lull, the Fashion Files was an immediate hit. Fandango and Tyler Breeze really found their niche in spoofing classic crime TV shows. Miami Vice, Law and Order, Walker Texas Ranger, none of them were safe from Breezango’s gift of parody. Despite the twist and turns the segment has taken, it’s remained a popular with the audience. They even made the Ascension relevant!

Superstar Shake-up

This one made both lists this year. More than just allowing for the freshening up of the rosters, it replaced an annual draft and for that it deserves praise. The notion of an annual draft was rather ridiculous anyway. I mean what other major sports league’s teams put their entire rosters up for trade. When was the last time you saw the Dallas Cowboys or Golden State Warriors trade out half their team in a draft? Conceptionally the WWE draft never made sense so I’m they scrapped it in favor of format that was supposed to feature the GMs working out trade deals for their superstars. The execution was sloppy, as I’ve already discussed, but the idea was a good one and hopefully there will be more preparation for it next year.

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