Well, 2017 was a wild year in the world of professional wrestling, but it's finally drawing to a close.
Over the course of 12 months, the WWE on ESPN staff has watched hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of wrestling programming, and we've seen the best (and worst) of it all. In recognition of the greatest achievements inside the squared circle in 2017, we've gotten together to make our picks in 10 categories, covering individual performances, teams, rivalries and shows.
Our "Best of 2017" is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to this particular category -- the worst wrestling show of the year. A handful of WWE pay-per-views missed the mark entirely in 2017, with one particular show standing out. Stay tuned, though, as later today we'll dig into the opposite side of that coin and recognize the best shows this year had to offer.
For now, let's dig in.
If ever a kickoff show set the tone for a WWE pay-per-view in the worst way imaginable, Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English foretold a miserable night ahead at the SmackDown-exclusive Battleground event. After defeating English and getting the better of a lukewarm rivalry in three straight matches, Dillinger dropped a shock loss in an explicable fourth contest that foretold a rough few months for the "perfect 10". The New Day picked things up as they won the SmackDown tag team titles from The Usos and their rivalry started to heat up, but it went downhill from there. Shinsuke Nakamura had an ugly DQ win over Baron Corbin, and Natalya won the 23rd (or so it seemed) multiway match in the SmackDown women's division in 2017 to become No. 1 contender to the women's championship.
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles was OK throughout, but a botched finish saw Owens pin Styles to reclaim the title. Though that helped extend the rivalry and brought about a one-match Chris Jericho revival, it was a disaster in the moment. A flag match between John Cena and Rusev was loooooong, and it was followed by a fairly mediocre outing between Sami Zayn and Mike Kanellis, which Zayn won. But the coup de grâce of this forgettable night in SmackDown history was the WWE championship match between Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton inside of the Punjabi Prison. The structure, which should have been killed off after two disastrous matches in 2006 and 2007, is awkward to deal with in the most ideal of circumstances, to say nothing of the features' convoluted rules regarding a trapdoor in the cage.
For almost 30 painful minutes, Mahal and Orton did the best they could, with the Singh Brothers absorbing their fair share of abuse as well. In the closing moments, The Great Khali came out to help Mahal retain the title, even going so far as to climb partway up the cage to stifle Orton. Mahal retained, but Khali grabbed the WWE championship from Mahal's hands and held it above his own head -- quite the faux pas -- and didn't appear on WWE TV again after that night. (Tim Fiorvanti)
While Battleground got started off on the right foot when The New Day and The Usos began their stretch of excellent matches, the rest of the show failed to deliver. We witnessed Shinsuke Nakamura's worst match in the WWE when he and Baron Corbin struggled to click in the ring and sat through a John Cena vs. Rusev flag match that went entirely too long. The flag match stipulation in itself lacks excitement, so dragging it out over 20 minutes threatened to put a typically raucous Philadelphia crowd to sleep.
The main event saw Jinder Mahal defend his WWE championship against Randy Orton in a Punjabi Prison match. The match had its moments, including Orton causing Samir Singh to drop off the top of the prison through the announce table, but any positive trends dropped off the face of the earth as a result of the bout's conclusion. Randomly, The Great Khali emerged to assist Mahal with his victory. That would have made sense had Khali been worked into the plans going forward, but it was a one-off appearance that offered nothing to the storyline. It was a peculiar ending to an uninspiring pay-per-view. (Sean Coyle)
If it's 2017 and The Great Khali is involved, it's the worst. Add to that a Punjabi Prison and you have a recipe for the worst main event of the year. Unfortunately, Battleground's previous two hours didn't give us much hope for a good event. The opening match between The New Day and The Usos rated a 4.25 (out of 5), but only one other match rated above a 2.5 (AJ Styles-Kevin Owens). A subpar DQ match from Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin followed the great opening match. Natalya won an uneventful 5-way match that has become commonplace for the SmackDown Live women's division. And a very long and convoluted flag match with John Cena and Rusev was nothing more than another burial of the Bulgarian Brute. Even the Styles-Owens match had a very weird finish that didn't seem to be planned. They didn't even have Breezango solve the case we were told they would solve at Battleground. Very disappointing effort in the lead-up to SummerSlam. (Andrew Davis)
Yep, add another coin in the Battleground jar for me. Look, I like Jinder, I wanted to give him every chance to succeed. But this Punjabi Prison match was unnecessarily overbooked and left no guy coming out looking strong. The less said about The Great Khali, the better. For the undercard, The New Day and The Usos had a fantastic match, but everything else was forgettable or disappointing. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens had a fine match with an awkward looking finish that left us wondering whether someone messed up. Hey, at least it was uphill from here. (Sachin Dave Chandan)
Backlash started with arguably the most anticipated match of the show -- Dolph Ziggler against Shinsuke Nakamura, who made his main roster debut. Ziggler, with his ability to sell and put on a good match against anyone, seemed like an ideal first opponent for Nakamura. That proved not to be the case very early on in the sluggish, mechanical 15-minute bout. The match instantly took away most, if not all, of the momentum Nak had gained from his NXT call-up. And that was just the first match of the night.
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles for the U.S. Title, in what would become a theme with these two, had a head-scratching finish to an otherwise solid match. Owens trapped Styles' leg inside a hole on top of the announce table and won by countout. The Chicago crowd immediately rained down boos in a match featuring the most popular wrestlers on SmackDown.
The main event was the first in a long series of matches no one wanted to see between Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal. With the help of the Singh Brothers, Mahal shocked the WWE Universe by winning the WWE championship. This moment can be viewed as a positive for its shock factor, but all it did was set up a string of subpar matches and segments during a forgettable title reign.
The lone positive of the night was the tag team championship match between The Usos and Breezango that featured Tyler Breeze dressed as an old lady (and JBL not being able to recognize him). Nothing more needs to be said. (Michael Wonsover)
OK ... disclaimer -- AJ Styles vs. Finn Balor was awesome. That said, that match couldn't save TLC.
TLC is what happens when a viral infection takes out two key members of the roster, and even a return by Kurt Angle couldn't save the night. It was a bit of a trainwreck and basically concluded with the murder of Braun Strowman inside of a garbage truck, complete with weird sound effects. (Andrew Feldman)
Can I just write "House of Horrors" here and call it a day? The main event with Braun Strowman defeating Roman Reigns was decent, but a cruiserweight title match between Austin Aries and Neville failed to connect because of the way Neville won, grabbing the referee. The event actually started with a really enjoyable match with Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho that saw Owens' memorable spot where he got one finger on the rope to break the Walls of Jericho. As solid as that was, this event will always be remembered for the House of Horrors and the sour taste that match left. (Matt Willis)
It's become clear that the WWE is trying to leverage its non-big four pay-per-view events. No issue with that -- there are subscriptions to sell. But the big-ticket items at No Mercy came at the expense of what could have been a WrestleMania match, or at least something with a properly big build.
A once-in-a-lifetime match between John Cena and Roman Reigns ended predictably with the successor to the proverbial throne coming out on top in an average showdown. Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar could have easily headlined a WrestleMania too, in one of the most anticipated matches in years if booked and built properly, but that match also managed to fall short of expectations.
That's especially true when you consider the prelude to that encounter; at SummerSlam, during a Fatal 4-way, Strowman manhandled Lesnar in a way no one this side of Goldberg had ever done as he destroyed all of the tables at ringside in the process. At No Mercy, a meh encounter ended with one F-5, and with it, the aura of Braun got dimmer, at least for the moment.
It was all a total waste for minimal short-term gain. (Matt Wilansky)