clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:


2017 is in the books, so it’s time to look back on this year in WWE and see which superstars stood out and which struggled to have a good year.

It’s a hard thing to evaluate a roster and say “________ had a terrible year.” After all, what does it mean to have a terrible year in pro wrestling? Is it just about being given a push and flopping? Is it about having all the potential in the world but not being given the chance to use it? Maybe a Superstar was pushed and flopped; do we blame the Superstar in question or do we point fingers at the writers? This is not the most improv-supportive company these days; usually when someone goes off script they get reprimanded, which means it’s up to the scriptwriters to give the performers good material. When a superstar struggles, why would we blame him and not the writers?

Vince McMahon likes to talk about a “brass ring” that he’s waiting on superstars to take, but it’s really a phony concept. WWE seems to actively discourage individual thought. The philosophy appears to basically be: “You go out there and do what is written for you to do and if, on the rare occasion, we give you an idea that happens to connect with the crowd, and if we don’t screw it up by overdoing or overthinking it, and if you become a superstar, then you can look back and say you grabbed the brass ring, when really you did nothing but stand where we told you to stand.”

There really is no brass ring. A brass ring implies someone can work hard and earn a shot. What WWE does is fly by the seat of Vince’s pants.

Did Jinder Mahal grab a brass ring? No, he was basically gifted the WWE Title and plucked from undercard obscurity for the sole purpose of selling tickets to a show that ended up being a bust anyway. But you take a guy like CM Punk, who basically forced the company to pay attention to him and to give him a shot, and when they finally did he made 110% the most of his opportunity; like Jinder he too won the WWE Title but unlike Jinder he basically played in the mid-card the entire time he held the title, and also unlike Jinder he earned the right to hold the title, yet wasn’t treated like the superstar he was.

So how do you evaluate talent? You can’t (objectively) because there are a thousand little variables that determine a Superstar’s “good” year or “bad” year. All you can do is say “these guys impressed me this year; these guys did not” and leave the rest to the insane and often arbitrary whims of WWE’s septuagenarian owner.

Merry Christmas, here’s my list.



Three words: House of Horrors. This guy actually won the WWE Title this year. Do you even remember that? He’s fallen so far so fast it’s almost dizzying.


Poor Bayley is just aimless right now. She might finally be getting back on track but she’s still had a terrible year. The idea that the hero of Brooklyn in 2015 could be booed out of the arena just a couple years later is unfathomable. Terrible booking exposed her own limitations and really set her back.


Once you reach the “wrestler’s gimmick is to imitate other wrestlers” phase of your career, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate what has happened. He’s teased retirement more than twice. It might be time, if not to retire, then at least to step away from WWE and start over somewhere else.


It’s not your fault. You did the best with what you were given.



I think that Vince thinks that Brock Lesnar is such a specimen that just having him on camera is enough for a bump in Raw viewership. And who knows, he might be right. I will be the first to admit that, though Brock’s matches are usually lazy and boring, when he does put forth a little effort, he can be captivating and impossible to look away from. But for my money it’s not Brock that makes me tune in whenever they announce he’s showing up on Raw; it’s Heyman.

Heyman has always been one of the most captivating presences in WWE. His way with words, his on-screen demeanor, and his quick wit are unlike any other. I put him on par with The Rock and Ric Flair as the best mic-men in the pro wrestling history. How has his year been?

Pretty pretty pretty, pretty good.


This one should go without saying, considering I wrote a thousand+ words of praise in his honor not two weeks ago. The Miz would have made the list last year too. He’s been on a roll lately and is one of the few guys I can recall in pro wrestling to be around as long as he has been, be as ice cold as he got around 2010 (and again in 2013 or so) and bounce back to being as incredibly entertaining as he is today.

Usually when a guy holds a title without any high quality feuds, I consider it a waste, but Miz—just being the Miz—elevated the IC title this year. I hope he gets a second chance to be a world title contender; I think the fans would be a lot more invested than they were in 2010-2011.


Joe has had such a good year, it’s hard to remember the hand-wringing that went on from January-April. He debuted on the main roster soon after the Royal Rumble as an enforcer for Triple H (who was feuding with Seth Rollins). The role never really went anywhere, however, and Joe found himself without a place on the WrestleMania card.

Despite worries that he’d twist in the wind and be forgotten, he continued to slowly climb the ladder and found himself in a title match with Brock Lesnar, followed by a SummerSlam main-event spot. Unfortunately, just as he was peaking, he was injured for two months, but that time away can’t diminish what was a great debut year. It may not have been as decorated as AJ Styles’ debut season, but it established him as a major player nonetheless.


I don’t think anyone would say Styles’ sophomore year was as good as his freshman outing. That said, he’s had a pretty great second year too. I continue to be amazed at how strongly he is pushed. It’s like a wonderful dream that no one is waking me up from. We lost Daniel Bryan—the last “too good to be true” guy to get a push—and then, in his place comes this wonderful indie darling, a southern boy from Japan, who should have been buried by John Cena and scraped together a US title reign and left to midcard obscurity. Instead he beat John Cena (multiple times!) and won the WWE Title.

He had a heck of a first year; it would have been hard to top it. Still, he had a feud with Shane McMahon (which, while not the most exciting was certainly a signal that he was an important player going forward), followed by a feud with Kevin Owens which elevated the US Title to the most important on SmackDown and now has regained the WWE title and freed us from the reign of Mahal, and he did it all with the best hair in the business. Great year.


I don’t understand it. Braun Strowman, by all accounts, is just the next generation Big Show. He’s a giant (though not as Big as Show), someone to make the little kids ooh and aah, he’s a paper tiger to be built up to lose to whatever babyface they’re pushing, etc. That’s really all he is. And yet, I am all-in on him. I’m totally invested in him. I never looked at Big Show, from 1999 to the present day, and said “oh I hope he gets a world title reign.” But with Strowman I spent the majority of 2017 watching him feud with the likes of Roman Reigns, Roman Reigns, and Roman Reigns (and now Kane) and have thought multiple times “why isn’t this guy a world champ?”

Whether accidental or the product of hidden talent that is just now awakening, Strowman has found a connection to the audience through a combination of monstrous ferocity and giantman goofiness. The crowd—not just the kids—ooh and ahh when he ragdolls heavyweight guys around, and everyone laughs when he slams head first into ambulance doors.

Call it an ironic love if you want, it’s still a love. And for a product that has a hard time stirring too much emotion out of me anyway (especially on Raw), Strowman is a revelation. He’s had a great 2017; I hope he tops it next year with an actual world title run.


That’s my list for the Superstars that I loved (and didn’t) this year.

What about you, Cagesiders? Who have you loved in 2017? Let us know in the comments below!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats