So here it is, my year end awards for 2017 in the world of professional wrestling. Because I expanded my scope a bit and went as overboard as I ever have before, I’ve “only” got my top 100 wrestlers of the year and my top 200 matches of the year, with blurbs of varying lengths for most of the stuff listed. If you’d like to hear me talk about my top 120 matches at greater length, Quentin Moody and I did an entirely-too-long podcast on our lists which you can listen to starting here. If you’d rather a written form of Quentin’s list, I’ve uploaded it here.
***Be forewarned: there are a few images of and more than a few descriptions of blood and violence throughout these lists, so be wary of those.***
But without further ado, here are some words on 2017:
I really don’t know what to think of the state of wrestling in 2017. The big thing the last couple of years has been talking about how “weird” wrestling has been, seeing places like WWE and NJPW continue to scramble for any and all talent they can get as the ubiquity of streaming services allows the product—past, present, and future—to be more accessible than it ever has been before. But I think those sorts of proclamations, coy or earnest alike, don’t get to the heart of how truly absurd so much of the world of wrestling has been of late, often to a tragic or at the very least depressing degree.
If you’ve known me for any period of time or have read this blog at all, you’ll be familiar with my laments. Whether it’s the virtual monopolization of wrestling that first came into effect long before I was born or the fact that the people best suited to challenging that status quo are insufferable hacks, the greater homogenization of wrestling styles or the lack of what I find emotionally gripping, the seedier parts of the industry or how my personal fandom relates to it, the things I harp on about are pretty clear and common complaints, all of which were to be found in abundance in 2017.
To make matters worse, the old standbys I could hang my hat on weren’t always so reliable. Promotions that have in recent years supplied so much of my favorite wrestling, such as BJW, Dragon Gate, EVOLVE, Lucha Underground, NXT, Lucha Libre Elite, were either outright bad for large swathes of 2017 or literally nonexistent. Even the best promotions of the year, wXw and CWF Mid-Atlantic, were plagued by stagnation or the harsh realities of responsibility. Furthermore, of my top 15 wrestlers from 2016, five found their way into my bottom 25 for 2017, which included Chris Hero, who was top-ranked last year and the year before. The fact that he basically guaranteed that he wouldn’t be the 2017 Wrestler of the Year before the year even began by signing once again with WWE got the year off on a strange, uncertain note. What’s more, of my top 50 wrestlers of 2016, a grand total of 19 didn’t make my list at all this year, causing quite a bit of turnover as far as my best wrestlers were concerned. This in turn affected my matches of the year list, as a little under a third of my top 50 matches of the year contain at least one of my top 10 wrestlers of the year. Part of that’s just due to the peculiarities of taste, but the state of wrestling being largely so unappealing to me leads to quite a circular, insular effect on the top portions of my list.
Finally, to top it all off, 2017 was marked by tragic self-reflection. Only a few months into the year we lost the likes of Katsuyori Shibata and Yoshihiro Takayama to debilitating, life-threatening injuries exacerbated by their in-ring styles that I’ve loved so much in these ten years of my wrestling fandom. In the fall came the injuries of Takehiro Yamamura and Yuji Okabayashi, which will either end the careers of these two reliable, talented men or put them on hold for several years at the very least. Outside of the realm of injuries, the real life activities of people like Nick Gage or a whole slew of domestic abusers and sexual predators put in stark relief just what my fandom may or may not be supporting, may or may not be aiding and abetting.
So if there was so much to hate in wrestling both in and out of the ring in 2017, why am I writing this? I suppose it’s because this bizarre and incomprehensible activity continues to bring me joy in a time in my life when I, and others, need it most. Even with all my myriad complaints and lamentations, I was able to put together a list of 200 matches I loved and 100 wrestlers I loved with a good deal of ease, something I either struggled with in the past or simply could not complete. Much of that quality comes from a particular trend of sentimentality in the wrestling I loved in 2017, a quality I quite like. Obviously some of that comes from getting to see the likes of Shibata, Takayama, Yamamura, and Okabayashi a handful of times before the worst happened. Some of that came in the form of people like Atsushi Onita, Tank, and Danny Havoc retiring, people who defined huge parts of my fandom. Some of that came from people like Matt Tremont, Nick Gage, and Homicide seemingly having one foot out the door and putting on some of their best work in the process. Some of that came from seeing dream matches come to fruition for me and my friends, most notably in a tiny bar in Seattle. Some of that came from a truly great wrestler getting to immerse himself in everything he’s ever wanted to do in a new home surrounded by friends and peers. Whatever the source and regardless of how I feel about larger trends across the world, there was a simply astounding level of great wrestling to be seen in 2017, wrestling that moved me in unforgettable ways. I’d like to tell you about some of it, if you wouldn’t mind.
Some notable omissions from my Wrestler of the Year and Match of the Year lists:
No one has as much time as they’d like and while I was able to watch more wrestling than I ever have before in 2017 there was still so much that I missed. Notably, I was unable to see much of the lucha libre and joshi wrestling that I’d have liked to see, as well as many of the smaller Japanese promotions such as DDT, NOAH, and AJPW. I didn’t even get to see all the NJPW I wanted to check out. There are likewise large blank spots in my American viewing, not just in daunting media giants like WWE but also in places such as ROH, Freelance, IMPACT, and a whole ream of smaller promotions, chiefly in the South and the Midwest. By and large Canada escaped my view and while I was able to watch quite a bit of wrestling from the UK and Ireland, promotions like OTT, ATTACK!, and ICW continued to either befuddle me or elude me entirely. If you think a certain group or individual is found lacking on one of these lists, it might be due to these omissions or it might just be because we have different tastes. Assume the former, fear the latter.
Wrestler of the Year:
I’ll talk about most of these people individually but some I’ll tackle as a group, usually due to their similarities.
100. Alexander James
not ranked in 2016
no matches in my top 200
With an ascent no one saw coming, the Prince of Pro managed to turn my opinion of him around in 2017 with a quality run in wXw, most notably with a winding feud with the members of Massive Product late in the year.
99. Ric Converse
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#28)
Whether teaming with youngsters, taking on all comers in the Rumble, or mixing it up with an old rival, Converse’s quiet intensity added to a few standout notable matches from CWF’s great 2017.
98. Rocky Romero
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#132, 158)
Even in the senseless miasma of NJPW’s junior divisions Rocky manages to bring a level of poise second to none, highlighted by a few of my favorite juniors tags in several years.
97. Mustafa Ali
ranked 86 in 2016 (-11)
1 match in my top 200 (#175)
Try as they might, the crushing weight of WWE’s C tier programming couldn’t overcome the ever-endearing Ali who stood as one of the few bright spots of the 205 Live division in 2017.
96. Tetsuya Naito
ranked 14 in 2016 (-82)
1 match in my top 200 (#127)
So, looking at that “-82” up there, you might be thinking “wtf Brock” and to be honest I can’t blame you. Just what exactly caused such a drop off for a guy who got even hotter, even more popular the year after I finally turned the corner on him? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s just me getting less and less pressured to fit in with the general wrestling Twitter mindset, something that heavily influenced my 2015 list, less so in 2016, and now is nearly absent in 2017. Maybe it’s just my increasing frustration with all things New Japan, even people I used to really like. Maybe it is actually Naito taking it easy in a year in which he knows he’s going to the Dome and may or may not know that it won’t pay off for him in the end. I’m not sure. All I’m sure of is that he didn’t affect me the way he did in 2016, or at least the way I publicly proclaimed that he did once awards season rolled around back then.
95. Takuya Nomura
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#101)
The world’s strongest boy who constantly struggles to find a foothold in a promotion dominated by men twice his size and exponentially more experienced. Sure is fun to watch him struggle.
94. Hiroyo Matsumoto
not ranked in 2016
no matches in my top 200
Despite not having much in the way of high end matches I enjoyed, Hiroyo was almost inarguably the most important person in joshi wrestling in 2017, a central figure in OZ Academy, Sendai Girls, Stardom, and SEAdLINNNG.
93. Chad Gable
ranked 47 in 2016 (-46)
1 match in my top 200 (#113)
Overshadowed by his former partner’s rise late in the year, Gable still managed to put together a few quality TV matches throughout 2017, holding his own against main eventers well above his level.
92. Masashi Takeda
not ranked in 2016
no matches in my top 200
Arguably the MVP of BJW, holding together the deathmatch division in the back half of a year that was marred by underwhelming title matches, bad booking, and major injuries, producing the best deathmatches of the year in Japan.
ranked 31 in 2016 (-60)
2 matches in my top 200 (#42, 138)
CMLL might be the most boring promotion in the world right now but whenever Rush got to cut loose and be as ungovernable as he could, it made for some great wrestling.
90. Daisuke Sekimoto
ranked 50 in 2016 (-40)
1 match in my top 100 (#124)
2017 was probably the worst year of his career in at least a decade, but even in a down year Sekimoto was one of the best tag workers in the world, especially against younger punks who need to learn ‘em a thing or two.
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#166)
One of the few people able to prevail in the mire of 205 Live, in no small part due to regular PPV title defenses as well as a refreshing heel persona that brought depth to an otherwise one-note character.
88. “Speedball” Mike Bailey
ranked 54 in 2016 (-34)
3 matches in my top 200 (#136, 192, 198)
A victim of my weird relationship with DDT, whenever I was able to see Bailey in his brief forays into Europe he still entertained massively with a level of polish that continues to improve by the day.
87. Tracy Williams
ranked 33 in 2016 (-54)
2 matches in my top 200 (#167, 191)
While he mostly took a step back into a supporting role in his usual haunts, Hot Sauce made the most of his opportunities in EVOLVE/WWN and Beyond, also having a run at the top of the card in AIW that I didn’t get to see.
86. Jack Gallagher
ranked 12 in 2016 (-74)
2 matches in my top 200 (#166, 177)
An effortlessly charming wrestler whose 2017 mainly consisted of a PPV title shot and a few choice appearances in WWE-affiliated indie promotions, shining in these matches like the Gallagher of old.
85. Nikki Cross
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#135, 197)
Low key the MVP of NXT in 2017, someone who consistently brought fire to the women’s division as well as various matches with men she was either booked in or interjected herself into.
84. Yuji Okabayashi
ranked 9 in 2016 (-75)
no matches in my top 200
Even in a year in which his promotion was falling apart and he got seriously injured, this big lug was able to shine as the best part of half a dozen tag matches that kept me going when BJW repeatedly let me down.
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#123, 132, 158)
While he’s certainly a big weirdo who should probably just stay off social media outside of the ring, in the ring Trent is a great babyface who time and again was able to have some of the best tag matches in NJPW and PWG in 2017.
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#77)
Talk about a guy who came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass. Grizzled vetern Wolfgang really wowed me with his emotional appearance in the UKCT, stringing it together with enough quality showings in NXT and PROGRESS to make my list.
81. Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno
ranked 1 in 2016 (-80)
3 matches in my top 200 (#98, 168, 178)
So yeah, 2017 was a real frustrating year for Chris Hero fans, watching one of the best wrestlers of the millennium step into a role in which he only made tape 13 times. For comparison he wrestled in EVOLVE 18 times in 2016, that being merely one of 30 promotions he appeared in that year. While I’m not here to lament the passage of time and the slow decline of one of my favorite wrestlers, it was sad to see him “only” manage to put together three of my top 200 matches of the year, even if they all were the sorts of emotional, charming, hard-hitting pieces of work that he used to put out on a weekly basis. When I started putting this list together I didn’t expect him to make it at all, so I’m glad that I was able to find a place for the greatest of all time.
80. Martin Stone/Danny Burch
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#58)
Stone’s a guy who I’m often let down by due to his habit of playing to his opponent’s level, but when he was able to match up with the likes of Oney Lorcan it made for some of my favorites matches of 2017.
ranked 42 in 2016 (-37)
2 matches in my top 200 (#179, 188)
I wish I could have the warlock higher but CMLL’s mediocrity and the peculiarities of my relationship with indie lucha ensured that I was only able to see him a few times in 2017, which thankfully did result in some great maestro matches.
78. Lio Rush
ranked 7 in 2016 (-71)
3 matches in my top 200 (#70, 74, 161)
Big dropoff for my favorite rookie of 2016, mainly due to the fact that he leaned hard into the many bad habits you see from wrestlers his age. Still, even with all that he managed to bafflingly put together the best PWG matches of the year.
77. Penelope Ford
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#99, 144, 170)
Honestly one of my favorite people to watch in the American indie scene in 2017. Routinely Ford was able to charm the hell out of me in matches where she was completely outgunned, making each feel like a distinct and memorable battle against larger/superior opponents that she’d occasionally get the best of but more often than not get destroyed by in brutal fashion. Her boyfriend gets all the press for his wacky spots and crazy bumps, but honestly Ford might just have him beat.
76. Jason Jordan
ranked 57 in 2016 (-19)
2 matches in my top 200 (#111, 113)
Odd that he ended up lower than I had him in 2016 because I’d say Jordan improved dramatically in 2017, with a few American Alpha bangers early in the year and then a late singles run with notable matches against Roman Reigns, John Cena, and The Miz.
75. Hideki Suzuki
ranked 79 in 2016 (+4)
2 matches in my top 200 (#101, 124)
You wouldn’t know it by his underwhelming title defenses but Suzuki was pretty great in 2017. If people can fawn over Okada’s cold detachment then they can sure as shit learn to appreciate Suzuki casually nuking whatever young punk dares stand up to him, especially when BJW doesn’t make you wait two years to finally see him get his comeuppance. If I loved the Okabayashi match like other people did he’d end up even higher.
74. Gladiator Jeremiah
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#59)
Finally got around to watching some Anarchy Wrestling in 2017 and the man formerly known as Slim J was a delight there with a new unhinged character and a shockingly good midcard title match more people should be talking about.
73. Mike Bird
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#96, 171)
I only got to see Bird in PROGRESS and ATTACK! in 2017, both of them being places he didn’t find much success in, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t so much fun to watch as he hurtled towards defeat repeatedly. You’ll always be a loser and that’s ok.
72. Shingo Takagi
ranked 28 in 2016 (-44)
3 matches in my top 200 (#67, 94, 133)
He continued to play less and less of a factor at the top of the card in Dragon Gate, but even in a reduced role Shingo is one of the most enjoyably explosive wrestlers on Earth, playing a big part in some of my favorite tags of the year.
71. LA Park
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#48, 142)
What can I say? The tubby skeleton man really knocks it out of the park sometimes. Watching him enact tremendous violence on a slew of younger men was one of the scant few highlights of lucha libre in 2017, most notably in yet another match with recent rival Rush.
70. Smith Garrett
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#93, 103, 119)
The guy only had 11 matches throughout the year but goddamn it I loved him in most of those, ok? I’m a sucker for the working class ass kicker archetype in wrestling and no one gave me that better in 2017 than Smith Garrett. I worship at the altar of the predatory tongue waggle.
69. Chuck Taylor/DUSTIN
not ranked in 2016
4 matches in my top 200 (#110, 123, 174, 185)
Despite being my favorite wrestler Chuck doesn’t often make these sorts of lists for me, but one last standout in EVOLVE, some enjoyable midcard work in AAW, and a particularly good run of emotional matches in PWG makes the case for him in 2017.
68. Jeff Cobb
ranked 83 in 2016 (+15)
2 matches in my top 200 (#36, 195)
My friend Tim, a big fan of Cobb, said on the Psychology is Dead Top 50 Wrestlers of 2017 podcast that he didn’t see a match of Cobb’s drop below three stars in 2017. I don’t really do star ratings but I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, thinking that Cobb didn’t have much above three stars throughout the year either. There’s certainly merit in a guy who can be consistently good-and-not-great, but it sort of baffles me sometimes how people view him as this top tier wrestler. I suppose I get it on some level because I can see the potential there. Dude has all the tools in the world to be a great wrestler (legit grappling chops, monstrous strength, great look, athleticism to do things you wouldn’t expect from a guy of his size and build) but lacks the charisma that brings it all together for me. Rarely ever does he have what I consider to be an interesting match unless he’s facing someone the likes of Chris Hero or Timothy Thatcher, guys who can basically sleepwalk into a clear and compelling story. That said, why does he make it this high on my list, higher than he did in his breakout year no less? Most of that’s due to his celebratory match with the aforementioned Thatcher at wXw’s AMBITION 8 tournament, a match in which one of my favorite wrestlers got to have a blast going the distance with a longtime friend and sparring partner in the promotion he was starting to call home. While the focus is on Thatcher, Cobb more than holds up his end of the match and I’m not so sure that it would have worked nearly so well with any of the other noted California grappleboys like JR Kratos or Joe Graves, so he deserves props for that.
67. Kota Ibushi
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#54, 63, 127)
The best part of the tournament that is the best part of New Japan’s year every year, so for those of you who believe in the transitive property (I myself am a mathematical agnostic), Ibushi was the best part of New Japan in 2017. While some of his more emotional efforts missed the mark for me, the dude’s spotty shoto style is incredibly fun and was a welcome respite over the summer in fresh matchups.
66. Demus 3:16
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#86, 91)
A highlight of a particularly bad 2017 for lucha libre, second only to a man he feuded with extensively throughout the year. None of his matches ended up terribly high on my list, but the little gremlin was always reliable for a good time when I needed it most.
ranked 75 in 2016 (+9)
3 matches in my top 200 (#67, 84, 92)
The bad news is that CIMA’s Twin Gate reign with Dragon Kid was one of the worst things about a fairly dreadful period in recent DG history. The good news is that he was still CIMA in every other match he had, an endlessly entertaining trickster who can hang with the best of ‘em and give certain people the rub when they need it.
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#50)
63. Hiroshi Tanahashi
ranked 56 in 2016 (-8)
1 match in my top 200 (#26)
If you asked me five years ago (Jesus Christ, 2013 was five years ago, brb gonna start hyperventilating) if I was a fan of Tank and Hiroshi Tanahashi, I would have said no. Tanahashi was someone who annoyed me from the very beginning of my NJPW fandom back towards the turn of the decade and Tank was just a guy who never really clicked with me outside of some deathmatch stuff. (Not to mention the Mike Levy incident) As time has gone on, though, and especially as both men have gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate them more and more, with 2017 being the pinnacle of that in a lot of ways. Tank retired, having embarked on a bloody tour of matches against successors such as Matt Tremont, Brad Cash, and Jeff Cannonball before capping off his career with a great match against Matt Riddle at the SCI tournament. Tanahashi remained firmly in the spotlight for New Japan despite his litany of injuries, which was often hard to watch but culminated in a quality G1 Climax and the latest—and perhaps last—match against generational rival Yuji Nagata. With these touching matches in mind, it was impossible to leave either of these men off my list at the end of one’s career and the twilight of the other’s.
62. Ace Romero
not ranked in 2016
4 matches in my top 200 (#129, 144, 151, 191)
One of the best big men of 2017 and the best wrestler who mostly stuck to the American Northeast. He hasn’t yet put a high end match together but dominated the mid level portion of my list with great matches from Beyond and Limitless, most notably a couple of my favorite hardcore matches of the year.
61. Jurn Simmons
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#37, 41)
I struggled with where to put Jurn on this list because, despite his presence in a few of my favorite tag matches of the year, he doesn’t put out a lot of work that I enjoy. Sure, the multifaceted feud with David Starr and Alexander James late in the year was good, leading to a pair of necessarily nasty matches. Sure, his wXw Unified title defenses were all solid. Sure, he was one half of the all-too-short-lived Massive Product team that was a delight both in February and the fall. But he’s never the highlight of those moments, those matches, those teams for me. He’s always the other guy there. There’s certainly merit in third/fourth/fifth wheels in wrestling, especially when they’re able to facilitate moments of brilliance from their partners and opponents, but I’m never sure how to rank those sorts of performers. In 2017 Jurn was as charming as always and a welcome presence in one of the best promotions in the world, but I can’t say that he was a particularly big part of making that promotion so good. Still, I can’t deny that he did contribute something to these matches I loved, so he finds a place on my list.
60. Dominic Garrini
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#25, 112)
Brazilian jiu-jitsu influence sure isn’t a new thing in wrestling but Garrini’s particular approach was terribly refreshing in various US indies throughout the year, punctuated by his two clashes with Cain Justice in CWF Mid-Atlantic.
59. Bobby Gunns
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#56, 155, 196)
58. The Miz
ranked 45 in 2016 (-13)
3 matches in my top 200 (#104, 153, 154)
57. Minoru Suzuki
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#79, 90, 109)
Three of my favorite heels of 2017, each of whom occupied distinct roles in their respective promotions. Miz surrounded himself with a slew of lackeys that helped him succeed by means of constant shenanigans that made for the best sports entertainment matches of the year. The young Gunns elected to merely harass his opponents, operating as a snot-nosed shithead outside of the ring and a conniving weasel inside it. Suzuki made use of both of these strategies but set himself apart with his trademark wickedness, seeking to torture his victims with a variety of brutal holds and strikes. All three men put together a few choice matches throughout the year, with Gunns being the least of these. You may argue that he had the least to work with compared to his two contemporaries, often facing fairly middling wrestlers when he wasn’t mixing it up with the two best wrestlers of the year or Japanese legends, but his efforts weren’t always consistent, most notably in his poor performance against Homicide. Miz is next, then, as a highlight of my grudging WWE viewing and certainly someone who entertained greatly week to week, but being that I’d only cherry pick matches and segments, my perception of Miz’s 2017 is incomplete and doesn’t quite match up to the heights of Suzuki’s year. Despite edging closer and closer to 30 years in the business, Suzuki never appeared out of step with a slew of younger opponents outside of a baffling moment in which a weaboo attempted to give a poisonrana to a near-50 year old man. Moreover, in every appearance he was the epitome of evil and a welcome presence in a company whose bad guys are much more concerned with catchphrases than legitimate badness. I wasn’t always a fan of his main event matches—which I’ll attribute moreso to the pants-on-head stupid decision to put a 48 year old in a 40 minute mat-based match with a guy who can’t grapple than overt failings on Suzuki’s part—but there was no one else in New Japan who was able to draw me to watch the millions of meaningless tag matches throughout the year, which I went out of my way for merely to see Suzuki battle the likes of Ibushi or Yano. On top of that, his best match of the year was among the best title matches of 2017 in the promotion, with a far worse opponent than any of the members of the other matches I’d have ahead of it. When he was able to drag drama out of fucking YOSHI-HASHI, something that the likes of Naito and Omega have repeatedly failed to do by my estimation, I have no choice but to put Suzuki so high.
56. Io Shirai
ranked 26 in 2016 (-30)
1 match in my top 200 (#19)
Big dropoff for the ace due to having a fairly bizarre year in Stardom, but even in a year full of questions and doubts I was able to find at least one Io match I really loved and it carries her to a fine spot near the middle of my list.
55. Chip Day
ranked 87 in 2016 (+32)
2 matches in my top 200 (#33, 119)
Chip’s heralded as the South’s best kept secret and thankfully I’m in the know. I really wish he was able to break out more but the little Chip Day I watched in 2017 by virtue of his appearances in CWF was great, selling what I imagine is a very real sense of hunger and desperation.
54. Juice Robinson
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#69, 134, 190)
53. Soner Dursun
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#22)
Two guys who took me completely by surprise in 2017 and became some of my favorite babyfaces to watch. Back when the Juice/Cody match was announced for Wrestle Kingdom 11, my friends and I all ridiculed that match but when it finally came around I was shocked by how impressive Juice was, dragging one of the best matches of the show out of a Cody Rhodes at his worst behavior. Here was a guy who never once impressed me in his NXT run who now delighted me with a bare bones style based on rock solid fundamentals and genuine emoting, the sort of thing I’m often desperate for in the Shin Nihon. None of his matches made it all that high on my list but he was one of the best things about the G1 and even if I wasn’t able to catch much of his stuff outside the tournament, he was just plain good enough to be one of my highest-ranked NJPW wrestlers of the year. Soner Dursun was even more of a shock, frankly. I began watching small Manchester-based promotion FutureShock Wrestling to find more quality Zack Gibson content, but what I found instead was this endearing midcard champion who was facing some of the most beloved members of the BritWres scene and blowing them out of the water with his rough-around-the-edges highflying and his passion. The kid’s certainly still a work in progress but he’s got a natural appeal that I don’t find often these days in his home country. While none of his other various other Adrenaline title defenses made it onto my list, Soner’s ranking here was made mostly off the back of his exceptional match with Rockstar Spud, in which he held his own against a 15 year veteran putting on one of the finest heel performances of the year. That means a lot to me when I had never once heard his name only a week before.
52. Mike Quackenbush
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#44, 51, 120)
I couldn’t bring myself to rank Quack in 2016 based on two matches but when he doubled that number in 2017 I couldn’t keep him off the list. His series with Zack Sabre Jr and emotional rematch with Johnny Kidd were some of the best technical matches of the year, especially in a much-maligned and misunderstood style.
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#29, 91)
It’s weird to say that Wotan was the best luchador of 2017 but when I look at the facts I can’t argue with it. Nobody else in Mexico had me scouring YouTube for any and all footage I could find. Barely anybody else in Mexico had a match that made it into my top 50 of the year and neither of the men who did were able to excite me the way this man did. After very nearly seeing Wotan light himself on fire back in February, I was ready to call his match with Impulso the match of the year. It ended up being only #29 for me, but that feeling goes a long way.
50. Yuji Nagata
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#26, 63)
I’m a sucker for old men struggling to keep a hold of their place in the world and hardly anyone gave me that story better in 2017 than Yuji Nagata. His only real highlights were in the G1 Climax, but when one of those includes a match like his first meeting with longtime rival Hiroshi Tanahashi in several years, it’s a real big deal. Nagata was a guy I was immediately drawn to when I first started watching New Japan and seeing him enter his last G1 and go down swinging meant a lot.
49. Ethan Alexander Sharpe
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#24, 28)
If I had made this list back at the beginning of September I sure as hell wouldn’t have had Sharpe this high, but a great run at the end of the year made me reevaluate things. Most of his case is built on a pair of October matches in a great title bout with Trevor Lee and a hilarious appearance in the CWF Rumble, but throughout the year this Snidely Whiplash-looking motherfucker delighted me time and again in time filler tag matches and sub ten minute singles. I never skipped ahead when a Sharpe match came on and that’s something I can’t say about a lot of people on this list, so he definitely deserves a spot here.
48. Ember Moon
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#32, 95)
In some ways I think Ember was very much hurt by being in NXT and in other ways it was the very reason she ranks this high for me. Her relentless chase of Asuka and the NXT Women’s Championship came to repeated heartbreaking defeats, to the point that when Asuka finally vacated the title and left for the main roster undefeated, it hurt Ember’s stock. But that heartbreak made for a few of my favorite matches of the year, examples of the seldom times the women of WWE were able to rise above shitty booking and unideal card placement in 2017. I might not remember when she eventually won the title but I won’t forget the look in her eyes as she tapped out in Brooklyn.
47. Alex Daniels
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#4)
Maybe the guy’s got a big head outside of the ring. Maybe the Ben Affleck gimmick is dumb. Maybe he pulled the cheesy fake retirement shtick. Despite all that, Daniels was so good in 2017. He first caught my eye when I was trudging through the AAW backlog as this young guy who didn’t annoy me with his spottiness and instead charmed me with his presence. Even just a few years in the business it seemed like he was controlling multi-man matches with less-than-stellar opponents and managing to overcome the worst efforts of Michael Elgin and Crist brothers trainees. On top of that, his appearances in CWF Mid-Atlantic were great, with his match against Trevor Lee being the best multi-layered match of the year. All this from a guy who’s only 22! So glad he’s not retiring after all.
46. Jordynne Grace
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#141)
The best female wrestler in America who’s not booked to be nigh-indestructible, and forgoing restrictive gender-based limitations Jordynne’s one of the most consistently good wrestlers in America period. I’ve yet to see a bad match from her and considering the level of men and women she’s facing half the time that’s one hell of an accomplishment. When she was able to match up with someone on the level of Jonathan Gresham or Fred Yehi it made for great, memorable matches and her frustration with Gresham over the spring in Beyond Wrestling was probably the most interesting storyline on the indies this year.
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#7, 140, 196)
I don’t care who you think you are, Homicide was fucking great in 2017. He’s not getting a whole lot of chances to shine as he’s well over 20 years deep into his career and more than a decade past a devastating shoulder injury, but when an opportunity came his way Dee knocked it out of the park. Most of that came in the form of a weekend in wXw that resulted in a trio of matches that made my top 200, one of which was straight up phenomenal. Even outside of that his matches with people like Nick Gage, KTB, and Matt Tremont were great and he showed that he can still carry people who aren’t holding up their end, as evidenced by the matches with Gunns and the Crists. And, as always, he was effortlessly entertaining in everything that he did. Like, I can’t watch footage of him trying to yank a street sign out of the ground to hit his opponent with and not have him on this list. It just wouldn’t be right.
44. Jack Sexsmith
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#14, 83, 114)
I’m gay so he rules.
No, no, I should say something more than that. While there’s certainly a connection there since I’m bi, I think Sexsmith’s real appeal is just in being an incredibly endearing and incredibly sympathetic figure. Watching him struggle in his efforts to make something of himself in PROGRESS, fending off and often falling to main eventers and world travelers, was so very compelling. Finally seeing him beat Zack Gibson was maybe the most rewarding win of the year, in a year defined by constant heartbreak in and out of the ring. It doesn’t work out so well for him in the end but that win, that single moment of jubilation, was just incredible.
And yeah, I’m gay, so he rules. Fuck it.
not ranked in 2016, oddly
3 matches in my top 200 (#52, 74, 194)
Weirdly didn’t have Ricochet on my list last year but I guess that sort of defines why I was surprised to have him this high in 2017. When I was doing the preliminary legwork for this stuff a few months back, counting up what I considered high end matches that could make my list, I found Ricochet popping up way more than I thought he would. I’ve never really hated the guy, especially since he got really good during his Dragon Gate run, but I suppose the Ospreay theatrics of 2016 put a bad taste in my mouth. In any case he mostly righted the ship in a year in which he could have taken it real easy en route to the fed, churning out a couple of my favorite highflying matches of 2017 against a young up-and-comer and a monster still new to the scene. Maybe he wasn’t stellar but he was reliably good when I didn’t expect him to be and that’s not nothing.
42. Big R Shimizu
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#11, 88)
Didn’t think the big lug was going to make it this high but he really was a central part of Dragon Gate turning things around over the summer. It starts off with his match against Yamamura in February that is one of the few bright spots holding that period of time together and once MaxiMuM really gets going he’s in the thick of it, having good matches with YAMATO and the Jimmyz. The real brunt of his case, obviously, is his number one contendership match with Masaaki Mochizuki, the sort of frantic, gritty, hard-hitting match that Dragon Gate only puts on every once in a while and really knocks you on your ass. Fighting tooth and nail with a man who has been wrestling as long as he’s been alive, Big R showed that he has what it takes to be a main eventer, the sort of thing the promotion desperately needs right now. With that, he cemented his place on this list.
41. Joey Janela
ranked 27 in 2016 (-14)
3 matches in my top 200 (#47, 144, 170)
Bad Boy? Yeah, definitely. Bad wrestler? Not a chance. Even being firmly lodged in the style many would describe as “garbage wrestling” or worse yet “backyard wrestling”, Janela somehow manages to avoid the worst pitfalls of the style while leaning so far into it. Maybe it’s just that he’s charming in a slimy sort of way. Maybe he does, in fact, know what he’s doing. Janela drops a few spots from his ranking in 2016 due to a lack of several enjoyable Lio Rush matches but there’s no way I could leave him off this list, especially with how delightfully disgusting the David Starr match was.
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#67, 72, 94)
When I started the thread for T-Hawk on the WDKW forums back in October, I described him as a “mixed bag candidate” and that he was “teetering towards the top” of my list “and could go either way”. I still think he’s a mixed bag but it’s funny how a guy I thought could miss my list entirely ended up this high in the end. A lot of that has to do with how well he carried himself in DG in 2017 despite often having the odds stacked against him, much like a certain Samoan gentleman he’s often compared to. Even in main event matches against guys who seemed to do everything in their power to undercut him, T-Hawk came across like a domineering ass kicker more often than not. When he was able to mix it up with people who aren’t actively trying to keep him down (mainly younger wrestlers), he was able to elevate and infuriate them, making for some of the most heated moments of the year in the floundering promotion. He’s still not quite there yet as far as being THE guy goes, but 2017 was the year where I was finally convinced that he could someday achieve that.
39. Roy Wilkins
ranked 30 in 2016 (-9)
2 matches in my top 200 (#8, 28)
Once again I have Roy Wilkins absurdly high on this list based on a scant few matches or, in last year’s case, one match. I know it probably won’t add up for other people, but when Roy works his magic I buy in so, so much. Most of his case is built on the Snooty Foxx match from Chapel Hill, in which he was able to work a crowd into such a fever pitch that they demanded the match be restarted when he won by nefarious means. Sure, he was aided by a pair of villains extraordinaire in Coach Gemini and Arik Royal, but when it comes down to it Roy was the one in the ring and he did his job perfectly. So too in the CWF Rumble in which he spent a mere two seconds in the ring, but the moment is so well-crafted and well-executed that I was left cackling with laughter when Roy got clowned. And that’s really the point I’m getting at. Roy Wilkins is built up to be this world-class technician, this infallible in-ring genius flanked by a score of scoundrels who are constantly blowing smoke up his ass, and it is endlessly enjoyable to watch him get punked out time and again. Other wrestlers would refuse to do the things he does, citing their need to stay strong, and they’re not exactly wrong to do so. I’m just so glad that Roy doesn’t.
38. John Skyler
ranked 60 in 2016 (+22)
3 matches in my top 200 (#100, 150, 183)
I’m not totally sure what to say about Skyler because he’s certainly not the sort of person who leaps off the page. The Southern Savior is a fairly minimal wrestler, electing more to prop up his opponents than make a big fuss of himself. He was a central figure in PWX throughout the year, though, and it made for a number of great matches. The first two were mat-based bouts against Timothy Thatcher and Jonathan Gresham, where Skyler was able to hold his own against the two best technical wrestlers in the world for extended periods of time. His best work, however, came in a blood feud with former partner Corey Hollis, leading to an unsanctioned match that is very much rough around the edges but made entirely on his performance as a fiery, wounded roughneck looking to take out a year’s pent-up aggression. The fact that he was able to do so against the combination of bad commentary, a bad venue, regrettable booking, and an opponent who wasn’t firing on all cylinders is pretty remarkable. That’s really what it comes down to: the fact that I was finally impressed by John Skyler. I liked the guy the first time I ever saw him, but 2017 was the year where he was able to raise my eyebrows in less-than-stellar situations.
37. Shayna Baszler
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#19, 87, 99)
God, I love Shayna. There’s something so likable about someone who’s so unlikable. Maybe it’s just the mouth guard, but she seems to be constantly sneering and I couldn’t really blame her if she was. All too often she’s challenged by women far below her level, people she’s able to steamroll almost effortlessly, and when she does find an opponent of her caliber it fills her with contempt. Watching her batter a few of America’s best women only to find herself upended by a pair of standout Japanese ladies was the highlight of what sadly wasn’t a great year for women’s wrestling by my count.
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#48, 65, 75)
At first glance you might say KUSHIDA had a pretty minor year compared to some of his contemporaries, but I think that’s only half true. While he did spend six months getting his ass blown out by Hiromu Takahashi and later lost to Will Ospreay for the first time, KUSHIDA remained the most important part of the NJPW junior division, overcoming the new hotness and building up a foreigner to the point that he could finally win the big one. Along the way he won two tournaments of various quality and importance and had one of the better trios of matches of 2017, certainly the best one in his promotion. Not bad for a guy who lost in two minutes in a Sumo Hall semi-main.
35. Brock Lesnar
not ranked in 2016
4 matches in my top 200 (#17, 80, 92, 102)
34. Snooty Foxx
not ranked in 2016
3 matches in my top 200 (#8, 28, 61)
33. Katsuyori Shibata
ranked 48 in 2016 (+15)
4 matches in my top 200 (#3, 45, 97, 176)
As is becoming a theme in this part of the list these are three guys I didn’t expect to have so high, but I suppose these three are particularly strange in how high they placed despite the weaknesses of their individual cases. Lesnar, as I’m sure you know, is a bullheaded part-timer with what appears to be serious health problems that actively prevented him from performing to the best of his abilities in 2017, something that was exacerbated by his own laziness or unwillingness to play ball. Snooty, while undoubtedly healthier, is still a fairly green wrestler in a promotion that doesn’t necessarily help rectify that and spends much of his time in the ring fumbling around awkwardly with other people who aren’t all that better off. Obviously Shibata’s case is built on only four months of work, with a few of his most notable matches being either completely underwhelming or so immersed in a style that has jumped the shark for me that I’m unable to really call it anything other than vaguely good. So how is it that these three are able to make it deep into the 30s above people who have much stronger cases on the whole? Simply put, these three men made me feel in 2017. Lesnar isn’t what I’d call an emotional wrestler but his spectacular sprints throughout the year—often built around his decimation and eventual explosive comeback—were certainly moving, being these dramatic, action-packed matches that left me breathless in the end. Snooty’s matches were even more compelling, as I was drawn to this quietly charismatic gentle giant who was more than willing to whoop some All Star ass in his home town at various points throughout the year, with one such match ending up in my top ten. Even though his case may be the weakest, Shibata’s efforts were even more rewarding, though bitterly so. From final confrontations with old rivals to the best matches of the careers of frustrating figures in wrestling to a long-awaited title match that almost assuredly cost him his career and very nearly his life, Shibata’s last four months as a professional wrestler were… I don’t even know what to say. Devastating? Cathartic? The sort of wake up call we need in wrestling? Merely the latest horrific loss that no one will learn from? The touching and tragic climax of an 18 year career? I suppose it was all these things and more, and above all else, it was unforgettable.
32. Keith Lee
ranked 17 in 2016 (-15)
6 matches in my top 200 (#52, 70, 98, 105, 118, 193)
When he first stormed onto the East Coast in the summer of 2016, I was immediately smitten by Keith Lee. Here was a man who had all the best qualities of the modern Athletic Big Man but the poise, confidence, and wherewithal to avoid the worst pitfalls of modern indie wrestling. I was hooked, ranking him in my top 20 wrestlers of the year in 2016 based on just a few matches. As he continued to grow in fame, though, things began to decline. He increasingly began not only to succumb to the soulless monotony of the modern indie style but to embrace it wholeheartedly, most notably in long-running feud with Donovan Dijak. As time wore on, I saw less and less of the man who swept me off my feet only a few months ago, more and more seeing instead a Texan Michael Elgin. When I counted up the numbers, though, Keith came in with a shocking 6 matches in my top 200, tied for seventh most out of anyone on this list and tied for the most out of all the wrestlers ranked outside the top ten. That’s nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that some of those matches were the best matches of the year in widely popular promotions that had a lot of high end contenders. Even in a year where I think he lost the thread more often than not, Keith is simply too talented to not make it onto this list.
31. Samoa Joe
ranked 43 in 2016 (+12)
6 matches in my top 200 (#92, 102, 137, 147, 162, 200)
Man, it’s so good to see my guy firing on all cylinders again. After slumming it for years in TNA and a run in NXT that was mixed at best, Joe finally made it to main roster WWE in early 2017 and immediately it began paying off in spades. He mostly stuck to the RAW main event scene (11 of his 31 televised matches being against Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, or a mixture of both in some fashion and with a further 11 of those being paired with or against second tier main eventers like Finn Balor or Seth Rollins) but was a fantastic addition to that fracas, being a stone cold killer able to hang with the best monsters in the world by virtue of his experience and intellect. He didn’t necessarily have a ton of high end work with only one of his matches ending up in my top 100, but with six total in the top 200 it’s clear that he was good for quality of some form whenever he stomped onto the stage. Whether it was against Lesnar or interfering in long-running rivalries, there were a number of matches and moments throughout the year that wouldn’t have worked so well without him and I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have quite as many WWE matches on my list were it not for his presence.
30. Sami Callihan
ranked 8 in 2016 (-22)
3 matches in my top 200 (#13, 62, 108)
What in 2016 felt like an off-kilter personality with a fresh, energetic style has grown into a nearly insufferable self-important quasi-character with dozens and dozens of completely uninteresting, uneventful matches in 2017. Despite all that, Callihan somehow managed to impress me enough to make it to a cushy spot on my list, though he dropped quite a ways from his top ten placement last year. Throughout the year Callihan was able to worm his tendrils of influence into many promotions, but most of his case is built on his work in his home promotion of AAW, where he reigned as heavyweight champion for much of the year. While it was a reign marked by repetitive, uninteresting, and at times actively detractive booking, against all odds it resulted in a couple of imperfect matches that I really loved, one of which had a strong shot at being my match of the year before it bumbled the finishing stretch. When combined with a smattering of other enjoyable matches in PWG, CZW, and GCW, the guy has just enough quality work to warrant a spot this high on my list.
Wouldn’t be too bummed if people just stopped booking him altogether, though.
ranked 34 in 2016 (+5)
4 matches in my top 200 (#32, 95, 135, 197)
Long live the queen. While her consistency is an essential advantage with four of her six longest matches in NXT making it onto my list, perhaps her greatest quality in 2017 was the character work during the latter stages of her reign as Women’s Champion. As she felt the tide of change swelling behind her, led by a ferocious young woman just as capable as her, Asuka stood resolute but with fear in her heart, electing to apply nastier tricks to get by on top of her raw power. It probably hurt Moon in the process but in the moment it made for some incredible pro wrestling, the sort of drama that puts its hooks in me and reels me in instead of driving me to scroll through Twitter. Even with only a few notable matches in the year, Asuka made the best use of her time and stands as the second best woman in wrestling for 2017.
28. Konosuke Takeshita
not ranked in 2016
1 match in my top 200 (#60)
So this is a weird one, in that I only got to see maybe four or five Takeshita matches throughout the year and I didn’t even like a lot of them. But I think I have to put Takeshita here out of what he represents. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I can’t ever truly get into DDT. It’s not the roster, as I think they have one of the best rosters in the world, the sort of group they can just throw into random matches every month and slot into several different interesting matchups. It’s not exactly the wrestling itself, because although I think it’s often this awkward amalgamation of puro pacing and western theatrics, it comes out alright in the end more often than not. Whatever the problem is, I recognize that DDT was one of the best promotions in the world in 2017, probably the best one in Japan. Takeshita was a huge part of that, reigning on top of the mountain with the KO-D Openweight title for nearly the entire year, bringing a level of stability to a promotion marked by near constant title changes. I didn’t get to see his most acclaimed matches like the Tetsuya Endo rematch or the tag against the Osaka Pro guys, but what I did see mostly ruled, like the Keisuke Ishii match that made my top 100 and the sixty minute draw with Endo that shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. If I extrapolate how much I liked those matches out to a full year, sprinkling in the things I heard from people that I trust, it sounds like Takeshita was pretty great in 2017. Is it fair to rank a guy this high off of two matches and hearsay? Probably not, but this is my list, fuck you. With the D-King tournament that just ended being apparently real good, I’m going to try to watch DDT more thoroughly and regularly in 2018, in which case Takeshita might make it even higher on my list next time.
27. Masaaki Mochizuki
not ranked in 2016
5 matches in my top 200 (#11, 133, 146, 156, 187)
26. Takehiro Yamamura
not ranked in 2016
5 matches in my top 200 (#67, 72, 82, 88, 146)
The oldest member of the Dragon Gate roster and one of the youngest members, back to back on my list of wrestlers of the year. Funny how that worked out. I suppose it makes sense because they represent the people who carried one of my favorite promotions in the second half of the year and the first half of the year, respectively. Mochizuki’s run to taking one last shot at the Dream Gate title made for one of the absolute best matches of 2017, and his reign with the title helped to invigorate the company that had been floundering only a few months earlier with quality matches against YAMATO and Susumu Yokosuka. Combined with a few notable singles earlier in the year and a surly presence in tags against the fresh-faced MaxiMuM unit, the iron man had a lot to offer in 2017. Mochizuki’s highest highs might have been way higher than his young counterpart’s, but as far as consistency and average match quality goes Yamamura had everyone in Dragon Gate beat this year. From his standout time limit draw in February to his brutally tragic injury in October, Yamamura was the highlight of shows time and again, often the sole highlight in singles matches, two-on-two tags, and multi-man tag matches of varying sizes. He never felt out of place or lost in the shuffle, with his only real middling match being a singles bout in which he was given too much control, if anything. If a 22 year old kid who wrestled upwards of 100 times in ten months only once faltered in my fairly comprehensive viewing, it sure goes a long way in my book, especially when he was practically carrying the company on his shoulders for the first seven months of the year. When the doldrums of Dragon Gate had me down for the count, it was Yamamura who kept me going. Utter shame that it looks like his career might already be over.
25. Pete Dunne
ranked 90 in 2016 (+65)
3 matches in my top 200 (#10, 35, 143)
24. Tyler Bate
ranked 72 in 2016 (+48)
4 matches in my top 200 (#10, 35, 77, 143)
Retweets are not endorsements and these rankings are not an endorsement of most of what Dunne and Bate did in 2017. More often than not, these two spent the year coyly sneering their way through self-referential tag and title matches that, when they weren’t mindless spotfests, did nothing for no one outside of stroking the ego of a mostly-retired corporate hack half a world away. They weren’t even effective matches as far as heel work was concerned, as people instead elected to silently sit on their hands as often as limply flip the bird at the various half-assed antics in the ring. Maybe that indicates a greater change in how people react to heel work these days, but in any case I think Bate and Dunne failed to adapt to their situation and effectively tell stories as dominating baddies. Thankfully, that wasn’t all these two young men did in 2017. Dunne miraculously was able to put in a transcendent heel performance in the King of Trios finals, taking that match as far as my top ten and standing up to an incredible veteran who has been wrestling about as long as he’s been alive. On top of that, the matches against Bate for the WWE United Kingdom Championship were various flavors of good, with one making it to number 35 on my list. Bate was likewise in all those matches, doing relatively worse in the KOT finals but better in the UK title matches, performing especially well in the promising but imperfect third match with Dunne. What puts Bate a little higher than his partner is the UK Title Tournament match against Wolfgang, which I found to be the highlight of the show and one of the more emotionally gripping matches in the early part of the year. While these matches were the scant few highlights of the year for these two men, hidden among the drudgery of a few dozen intolerable tag matches, the good stuff is really good and combined with the mechanical quality inherent in their more misguided matches, I think it evens out to get them this high on my list.
23. Meiko Satomura
ranked 3 in 2016 (-20)
2 matches in my top 200 (#10, 27)
22. Low Ki
not ranked in 2016
2 matches in my top 200 (#7, 13)
Two veterans I like a whole lot who don’t have a lot to go on, both in terms of matches in my top 200 as well as total matches for the year, but who have a pair of high end matches that go a long way for me. Satomura had more matches in 2017 and more matches that I watched and enjoyed, with a variety of tags and midcard singles in Sendai Girls, OZ Academy, Stardom, and WAVE, as well as more prominent matches in a pair of UK-based tournaments. This latter platform gave her her best match of the year, the finals of King of Trios in which she led her team of reigning champion trainees to a bitter end at the hands of the dastardly BSS. Watching her bristle at Dunne’s torturing of DASH Chisako and eventually enact just revenge upon him was one of my favorite segments of wrestling in quite a while. Rounding out her case is a rematch with Chihiro Hashimoto, in which she tried unsuccessfully to unseat the young phenom who defeated her a year before, which was a rare opportunity to see the 20+ year vet sell extensively. Low Ki wrestled quite a bit less during the year but managed to have decent mid-level matches in AAW and TNA/IMPACT. The brunt of his quality, though, came from a pair of matches that ended up real high for me, the first of which was a title shot against Sami Callihan in the aforementioned AAW. While the match falls apart by the end for reasons that aren’t entirely his fault, his intensity draws something special out of the champion and it makes for a delightfully brutal bout. His other major match is a tag match with Homicide against the Ringkampf team of WALTER and Tim Thatcher in wXw’s yearly tag tournament, this wonderful clash of styles and personalities. Ki’s not the best part of that match but he certainly ain’t bad either and combined with the Callihan match it would be impossible for me to leave him off the upper end of this list.
[Note: I changed the order of these four after putting that picture together so now it’s all weird but fuck it, I’m way too exhausted at this point to go back and fix it.]
21. AJ Styles
ranked 49 in 2016 (+28)
4 matches in my top 200 (#17, 84, 153, 181)
20. Hideo Itami
not ranked in 2016
4 matches in my top 200 (#15, 30, 117, 139)
19. Hiromu Takahashi
ranked 25 in 2016 (+6)
4 matches in my top 200 (#48, 65, 75, 122)
18. Ilja Dragunov
not ranked in 2016
5 matches in my top 200 (#2, 49, 126, 145, 184)
Alright, so here we have four guys who have sort of incomplete cases for a variety of reasons but who were able to put together just enough hard-hitting, high quality, emotive matches to end up pretty high for me.
Anyone who knows the first thing about me will know about my various issues with AJ Styles, but the dude was undeniably good in 2017. A meandering, listless feud with Kevin Owens wasted entirely too much time, the Shane McMahon match at WrestleMania was a chore for me, and the feud with Baron Corbin didn’t deliver when it counted most, but for the first three months of the year and the last three or four months of the year AJ was pretty great. The Cena and Elimination Chamber matches early on weren’t perfect but were a lot of fun and better than I can expect from most WWE title matches. He had a number of great TV bangers throughout the summer with the likes of Chad Gable and Tye Dillinger but his great equalizer was an awesome match with Brock Lesnar that skyrocketed his stock for me. If I was able to see some of his other late matches against Jinder Mahal and Finn Balor, upping their respective values tremendously from what I hear, he’d have broken the top 20.
Itami probably has a lesser overall claim compared to AJ but has a higher average of quality. 2017 was the first year in quite a while that he had anything close to a complete year of wrestling, returning from injury in March with a fire under his ass. This extended to his in-ring persona, which was far more aggressive and mean-spirited than his previous NXT work and made for all sorts of good matches and angles that played off what I imagine is very real animosity and frustration. It didn’t always pay off well, making for a notably lackluster match with Kassius Ohno, but when he clicked repeatedly with Oney Lorcan over the summer in a pair of jaw dropping matches it made the difference for me. Combined with stiff standouts against Aleister Black and Roderick Strong he has about as many great matches as anyone in NXT for the year. The real kicker for Itami is the fact that he was off TV from the end of August through most of December, which combined with his earlier time off due to injury adds up to a little over five months of on-screen inactivity, but I think his high end work takes him pretty damn far in the end.
Unlike the rest of these four, Hiromu’s 2017 was marred more by bad booking than his own shortcomings or the shortcomings of his opponents. He started off the year about as hot as you could be with a great debut match, an exceptional little sprint in Sumo Hall, and other real good defenses against an old rival and a few standbys of the junior division. But hey, you want evidence that New Japan is finally succeeding in aping WWE? Look no further than Hiromu Takahashi. For the first six months of the year, he was the hottest wrestler on the planet. He was the main focus of the Tokyo Dome. The biggest new star in over a decade, and yes, that’s including Okada. Someone who was totally unique in appearance, appeal, and approach. But as soon as it came time to nut up and stick to their guns during the BOSJ, New Japan backed off from him, booking him to get pinned left and right before losing the belt in Osaka. From there, knowing that he’d have to find something new to stay relevant outside of the title scene, Hiromu introduced the polarizing Daryl character, something that felt fresh regardless of whether or not you were into it. And as soon as New Japan noticed that it was getting even moderately over, they beat it into the ground until Daryl was an exhausting meme and Hiromu was a joke, getting punked out by British juniors the crowd couldn’t pretend to care about. New Japan took the next Mistico, the next Liger, the next Sayama and turned him into a putz in less than a year’s time. Remarkable act of sheer buffoonery. Hiromu’s stellar first six months ensures that he makes it pretty high on this list but god, imagine how high he’d be if they hadn’t dropped the ball on him after June.
Finally there’s Ilja Dragunov. The bad news is that Ilja did a whole bunch of nothing between wXw’s two big tournaments, spending most of the period from April to September embroiled in an ever-worsening feud with old pal Avalanche or flitting in and out of various underwhelming matches on his part-time schedule. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Ilja was the most emotionally moving wrestler of 2017, which includes a person who very nearly died in the process of having a career-defining match. His run through the ranks of the 16 Carat tournament was incredible, defeating the aforementioned Avalanche, a fresh face in Timothy Thatcher, a long-running rival in the form of “Bad Bones” John Klinger, and capping it off with a stunning, sonorous match with WALTER in the finals that stood as my match of the year for nine months. That entire run, despite so many of us seeing it coming, was so, so emotionally gratifying, in no small part due to Ilja’s stagecraft. The young Russian transplant is very theatrical both in and out of the ring and watching him give his very all as he was battered into a bloody pulp by a massive Austrian wrecking machine, eventually coming out on top, was simply transcendent stuff. Sadly that same magic was found lacking throughout the spring and summer, though considering how his story ends I suppose that’s for the best. By the time Klinger became wXw Unified Champion with the help of his new stable RISE, Ilja had found the spark again, having a few of his best matches in months, and embarked on an undefeated streak (not dropping a fall in the three months before the 17th Anniversary show) in his chase for the title that was so clearly his. But it was not to be. After it became bitterly clear through a series of interviews about his life that he could not continue wrestling anywhere close to a full time schedule—as being Unified Champion would necessitate—due to the needs of his blossoming family and the effects of his destructive in-ring style, he suffered a bloody, brutal, heart-wrenching loss to Klinger at the end of the year, delivering a teary promo afterward in which he stated that he’d fought his heart out and suggested that his family needed him most. It was a frankly devastating outcome for me as a viewer, watching this man (Christ, practically a child; he’s the same age as me) who I had invested so much emotion into find that he doesn’t have the physical ability or the moral conscience to keep doing what he does best and to receive that which was so rightfully deserved, the good and faithful servant brought low by his iniquity. But in what may end up being the last year of his career, Ilja took me on an unforgettable emotional journey that was admittedly more valleys than peaks, but one that I’ll treasure until the end of days.
17. Braun Strowman
not ranked in 2016
6 matches in my top 200 (#31, 68, 102, 107, 121, 165)
BRAAAAAAUU- *cough, splutter* oh god, I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me there. Jesus. Well, now that that’s done, let’s talk about how great Braun Strowman was in 2017. Every so often you’ll see WWE carelessly toss someone into the metaphorical fire for no good reason and Braun is by no means the first or the last of these. He may, though, be the one who was initially least-equipped to handle the flames (jfc, seven total career matches and no TV experience before making his debut, which was one match before a major PPV debut?) and also the one who came out best for it. After a terrible tail end of 2015 and a mostly forgettable 2016, Strowman somehow put the pieces together towards the end of the latter year and became a fantastic, if still limited, wrestler. His most obvious strengths lie in being a legitimate monster of a man who also possesses a frightening agility, but I believe his greatest asset is a degree of characterization that is shockingly robust for a guy so new to wrestling and moreover a guy who came to wrestling so late in life. Sure, it’s inherently pretty goofy to see this man cartoonishly tip over ambulances or drag down lighting fixtures, but you sort of buy it because of how Braun carries himself. I’m kind of bummed they make him speak at all—though admittedly “I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU” is remarkable stuff—but unlike so many other giants he actually pulls off WWE’s overbearing promo style and schedule fairly well. I wouldn’t actually say his infamous Brock Lesnar match was his worst match of the year, being that I was pretty well disgusted with his popular bouts with Big Show, but outside of those handful of matches the guy’s probably got the highest average quality of match in WWE at the moment, which is certainly aided by what was a great series of matches with Roman Reigns. It’s nuts to me that the guy I got in Facebook arguments with strangers over in 2015 turned it around and became one of the best wrestlers of 2017, but somehow the big guy did it and we’re all better for it.
16. Fred Yehi
ranked 22 in 2016 (+6)
3 matches in my top 200 (#40, 53, 116)
15. Arik Royal
ranked 63 in 2016 (+48)
4 matches in my top 200 (#28, 61, 76, 186)
14. Zack Gibson
not ranked in 2016
6 matches in my top 200 (#14, 114, 130, 173, 177, 192)
13. Cain Justice
not ranked in 2016
4 matches in my top 200 (#25, 28, 112, 119)
The four best heels of the year end up back to back to back to back! This was completely organic and happened naturally as the result of my stringent vetting and was in no way specifically constructed to allow me the ability to talk about these four rather similar wrestlers at the same time and using the same interweaving arguments. I swear.
First we have Fred Yehi, who is a guy I earnestly love but often find myself frustrated by. He brings the best out of people constantly and has the best match of his opponent’s year—if not career—on a seemingly weekly basis, having done so repeatedly throughout 2017. He was also the MVP of multiple promotions during the year but not necessarily the focal point of those promotions. Yehi doesn’t exactly get the chances to knock it out of the park like similar figures such as Jonathan Gresham and Trevor Lee get to do in places like Beyond Wrestling and CWF Mid-Atlantic and due to that his ranking in these sorts of lists tends to suffer. You could make the argument that he has to make do with less and for the most part I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t know if I saw that a ton in 2017. For every Brian Cage match that was quietly incredible there was a Teddy Stigma or an Ethan Case match that achieved the same basic goal but felt so much less compelling. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what the issue is, either, being that Yehi is endlessly watchable, but time and again I pulled up a match expecting something great and instead finding something merely good. However, a few dozen “merely good” matches combined with a few truly great matches against the likes of the aforementioned Gresham is certainly enough to get you to a comfortable place on my list, especially when your general approach to just about everything in wrestling is so unique.
Arik Royal is the first of two CWF wrestlers in this grouping and is honestly one of my favorite wrestlers in the world right now. The dude is fun to watch in a way so many other wrestlers just aren’t, especially as a wiseacre heel. My reviews of his matches are littered with hilarious things he says that are not only funny but actual effective heel work, being that he whips the CWF crowds up into a frenzy so very often. On top of that he’s just a mechanically great wrestler, someone who infuses the increasingly trite “athletic big man” archetype with such life and individuality, getting the most out of simple moves like the Space Jam or a running tackle. His big matches against Trevor Lee, Snooty Foxx, and the various members of the CWF Rumble all made it into my top 100, but I think what’s really impressive about Royal is his ability to elevate random tag matches and secondary singles matches to a memorable level. And on top of all that, he’s real good in NOVA Pro too, playing a genuinely likable babyface who can bowl over people without losing his natural charm. A lot of people I like were able to float between being heels and faces throughout 2017 but I don’t think any of them did it so casually or so well as Arik Royal.
All in all, even though he’s not the highest-ranked member of this group, Zack Gibson is my pick for the heel of the year. Playing off regional animosity, sports affiliations, and his own appearance as a damned hateful-looking man, Gibson was able to cut basically the same promo and have basically the same match every night in 2017 and spin it into gold. It’s more than fair to suggest that there’s a bit of wink wink nudge nudge playing along with the act among the British crowds he haunts, as there is with just about every audience in the world today, but man alive I haven’t seen groups of people so enthusiastically boo a man outside of Mexico in years. Gibson’s bare bones “bruiser with some arm work” style isn’t the most exciting thing you’ll see in the UK but it’s almost certainly the most compelling, something that works just as well on 25 year veterans as it does tiny underdogs. Only one of his matches broke my top 100 but the Scouse bastard is basically the king of the mid-level match, which really only aids his ability to be a dastardly heel when so much of what constitutes heel work in his home country starts and ends with “sick matches” and “mean faces”. His best matches were in PROGRESS but with regular appearances in RevPro, OTT, and FutureShock—among other promotions I didn’t get to see—he was able to work in front of a variety of crowds of all sizes and dispositions, all of whom hated him. There’s something to be said about that consistency. The real crown jewel of his case, obviously, is his SSS16 match with Jack Sexsmith, a shining beacon of simple, well-executed dominating heel vs beloved babyface professional wrestling in a year where there was simply far too little of that.
So that brings us to Cain Justice, who isn’t quite the best heel of the year but is damn close to it. On that front he’s just completely despicable, this 21 year old kid who has managed to scrape his way into some success due to what honestly isn’t a nefarious shortcut but feels that way due to his showboating and the leg work put in by the CWF staff. He comes across so effortlessly as this snot-nosed brat who can back it up *just* enough to continue winning and proclaiming himself king of shit mountain, which is so great to watch. Being that 2017 was basically still his rookie year in wrestling, having had less than ten matches between 2014 and 2016 as he expanded his horizons with judo training, he’s certainly still rough around the edges in fields like move execution and selling, but if we’re painting with broad strokes the kid’s so much more effective to me than more “polished” wrestlers like Kenny Omega or Finn Balor. Looking at Cain’s matches that I have ranked in my top 200 it doesn’t add up to a whole lot, comprising of a sub-ten minute grapplefuck match, maybe 15 or so minutes at the back end of a battle royale, an even shorter rematch of the earlier grapplefuck bout, and a good chunk of time in a six-way match that he was on the apron for as often as not. Compared to someone like, say, Tetsuya Naito who I had way lower on this list and who was regularly putting on 20, 30, 40 minute matches throughout the year, it seems like Cain just doesn’t stack up. That’s fair, I think, but what it comes down to is the things I value most, and Cain’s best attribute in 2017 was something I value a lot, that being turning chicken shit into chicken salad. Half of Cain’s matches (something like 16 of his 33 matches in CWF) were against people who had three years or less of in-ring experience or else were semi-retired veterans who hadn’t wrestled more than ten matches a year, if that, in multiple years. Outside of that, another 12 of his matches were tags of some kind, very rarely just a two-on-two and hardly ever something that was given much time. When he was able to get a singles match with an experienced wrestler in their prime, it didn’t go much longer than 10 minutes if it reached that length at all. Simply put, Cain wasn’t given the opportunities to shine like other people in CWF were, despite the fact that he was undoubtedly a pushed talent. But whether it was in seven minute TV matches against other rookies or 16 man torneo ciberneticos or 30 man battle royales or three minute sprints on the biggest show of the year, Cain made sure that he shined despite the odds, often bringing his opponents along for their best matches of the year. For a guy who is only fucking 21 and who has, at the time of this writing, less than 45 career matches to achieve something like that is nothing short of astonishing. Cain Justice is the real deal and was perhaps the most effective wrestler of 2017.
12. Kazuchika Okada
ranked 35 in 2016 (+23)
4 matches in my top 200 (#3, 21, 109, 190)
11. Roman Reigns
ranked 41 in 2016 (+30)
7 matches in my top 200 (#31, 68, 102, 111, 121, 147, 165)
It’s not really a shock that these two ended up so close on my list, though not because of some perceived similarities in who these two are and how they’re booked but rather because they sort of had similar years.
I wasn’t much a fan of Okada’s big matches throughout the year, with only one of his seven IWGP Heavyweight title defenses making my top 200 matches. (If you’d like to disqualify the Fale and Cody defenses from being counted among the “big matches” I wouldn’t blame you but the point stands) Most of his case, then, is built on his bizarre but often exciting smaller performances in the G1 Climax, which strayed from his usual formula and showed a great degree of both fire and vulnerability. The former has been dormant for some time now, basically since 2013 by my estimation, but the latter has always been present, albeit in a way I find annoying. Okada’s always shown vulnerability, I suppose, in that he gets beaten up for long stretches of his matches but always manages to shrug it off in the end and come out victorious, none the worse for wear, having neither learned or lost anything. In 2017, though, in the midst of what was a lengthy undefeated streak and what would eventually become the longest ever reign with the IWGP title, he dropped a pair of falls in the G1 and went to a time limit draw in another match that featured a wily veteran taking advantage of his weakness. After 40 minute matches full of leg work that amounts to nothing by the end or 60 minute draws full of neck work that doesn’t secure the victory, it was terribly refreshing to finally see the man lose and lose hard. I suppose that’s the aim with any megalong title reign like the one he’s had but I can’t say that the journey has been as enjoyable as in other examples of the same. Obviously, though, most of his case relies on the exceptional match against Katsuyori Shibata. Even if he’s merely the second-best guy in the match, it might actually be the best match of Okada’s career and in any case is a shining example of what pushing a guy out of his boundaries will do. Not only was Okada fiery and vulnerable there but he bristled at Shibata’s attempts to draw a fight out of him and tried to beat Shibata at his own game. It didn’t work in the short term but worked out alright in the end as he took advantage of Shibata instead trying to play Okada’s game, illustrating exactly why he’s been on top for so long. What works against him is the fact that in NJPW you live and die by your big matches, and with so many of Okada’s biggest matches in 2017 leaving a bad taste in my mouth he’s forced to rely on the standouts against Shibata and Kojima, the latter of which was another great example of the man finding his fervor again this year. While those two matches are excellent, they represent a total of half of his matches that I actually liked in 2017 and you simply need a bit more depth than that to get any higher than sniffing my top ten.
Similarly to how I was infuriated by Okada’s highly-touted matches with Omega in 2017, Roman’s biggest matches throughout the year were my least favorite. This of course includes the WrestleMania main event against The Undertaker, which, depending on how you slice it, was either abjectly bad or as good as it could have ever been simply because of Roman’s efforts. I lean towards the former and while I recognize the latter to be true, it doesn’t sway my opinion of the match’s overall quality. Even aside from that, Roman’s matches on PPV in 2017 ranged from dull (Owens) to uninspired (five-way) to gag-inducing (Cena). The exceptions, of course, are the matches with Braun Strowman, a feud so powerful and so appealing that no amount of brand-specific PPV apathy or baffling attempted vehicular homicide could ever hope to overcome it, and thankfully we got to see them mix it up a whole lot on PPV in 2017. While my favorite of their matches was actually on RAW, their feud was easily the highlight of what was mostly an otherwise dry spring and summer for me in the world of sports entertainment. The real difference maker for Roman, though, is his TV work. Being that he wrestles most every week on TV and is facing off with other main eventers/upper midcarders most of the time, Roman always has a great television résumé every year. It was certainly business as usual for the first few months of 2017 as the big guy racked up surprisingly good TV matches with Chris Jericho and a great standout with Samoa Joe before a summer dominated by both Joe and Strowman. Where he really kicks it into high gear, though, is in the final four months of the year where he has an extended feud with The Miz, a pair of great matches with Jason Jordan, and bouts with old rivals Joe and Cesaro as Intercontinental Champion. In the last 16 weeks of the year (which, I should note, contains an entire month where Roman did not wrestle on TV due to that viral meningitis outbreak), the dude has seven matches that I’d describe as varying levels of great and all of which were strong contenders for my top 200. That’s one hell of a run. These smaller matches add up in the end to the point where, combined with a number of great Braun Strowman matches both in and out of PPV, I think I’d describe 2017 as the best year of Roman’s career and if not for a late change of heart regarding the next man on this list he’d have made my top ten.
10. Matt Tremont
not ranked in 2016
4 matches in my top 200 (#1, 16, 57, 129)
I really didn’t expect to have the Bulldozer this high in the end (had him at #12, behind Okada and Reigns, when I started writing this blurb) but I guess a late inclusion of what ended up being my match of the year will do a lot for you. Even without that I suppose it makes sense. Deathmatch wrestling is something built into the very fabric of my wrestling fandom and Tremont, perhaps the finest deathmatch wrestler ever, embarking on what basically amounts to a retirement tour is sure to make me all sorts of weepy. More so than just the sheer sentiment of the thing, which is certainly a huge factor, Tremont was just awesome in the ring throughout 2017. Facing off against a wide variety of opponents from aged legends of the style (Atsushi Onita, Zandig, Tank, Masada, Mad Man Pondo, Toby Klein, Supreme) to the next generation of hardcore (Joey Janela, Jeff Cannonball, Rickey Shane Page, Jimmy Lloyd) to a slew of non-deathmatch or deathmatch-adjacent wrestlers (Matt Riddle, Penta el Zero M, Eddie Kingston, Ace Romero, Homicide, Tony Deppen, Anthony Henry, Kyle the Beast, Craig Mitchell) to a bunch of goddamn luchadors he’s never met before, Tremont faced ‘em all in 2017 and had good matches with just about everybody. It’s not like they were all walks in the park, either. The Tank and Onita matches notably featured old men with one foot out the door facing off against a very unhealthy Tremont who was basically fighting to survive, and yet by sheer force of will and a tremendous amount of charisma (check out the promos hyping up each of those matches; they’re incredible) he was able to pull it off. Shit, he was even able to pull off a deathmatch in a dingy Brooklyn bar without a ring pretty fucking well. ON TOP OF ALL THAT, Tremont was finally able to square up with Nick Gage in a feud five years in the making, resulting in the best trio of matches in a year bursting at the seams with high quality triptychs, crafting a story that interwove kayfabe and reality en route to an exhilarating, emotional, interesting, and disgusting series of matches, one of which ended up being my match of the year. Frankly, Tremont was phenomenal in 2017, in what will almost certainly be the last year of his serious career. He’s stated that he’s not retiring just yet, merely taking a number of concerted steps back, but every time I saw the big guy walk out from behind the curtain as Steve Perry crooned about promises made in vain, it felt like the last time. It felt magical. It felt awesome in every sense of the word. Though we’ve touched and will one day go our separate ways, I’ll always love Matt Tremont and I’ll always remember the way he made me feel.
9. Oney Lorcan
not ranked in 2016
6 matches in my top 200 (#15, 30, 58, 66, 71, 78)
More than anything, being employed by WWE is a mindfuck. It’s certainly been true historically, but since 2001 and especially in recent years we have seen so many world class wrestlers slowly unravel mentally due to the company’s sundry bullshit or collapse into defeated complacency under the weight of the meaningless routine. Thankfully Oney Lorcan has not yet fallen prey to either of these outcomes. Despite only making TV thirteen times in 2017 and never for longer than 11 minutes (his average match length was just above 5 minutes), Oney was the same old Oney in 2017, an incredibly fiery and gripping performer, the reincarnation of Billy Conn as a goddamn cougar. The dude made the most of the scant opportunities he was given (which included such meager portions as a total of three matches in the final five months of the year, all of them squash matches under 3 minutes long) and repeatedly produced some of the hardest-hitting, most eye-opening matches of 2017. Whenever Oney was on my screen I was completely floored by his effort, even in matches where he did little other than get his ass beat. He was probably less effective on the whole than a Cain Justice or an Asuka, but on a sheer minute-to-minute basis no one got more bang for his buck than Oney did. Likewise while he wasn’t so emotionally moving as Ilja Dragunov or Matt Tremont, he was certainly more consistent and more polished in the ring. To put it another way, the only other people who were able to get six matches ranked in my top 100 matches of the year were the four highest-ranked wrestlers on this list, and all of those men had ample opportunities in which to achieve that whereas Oney had to rely on once-a-month TV sprints. Plus, those six matches were a slew of NXT regulars having their best match of the year, by a wide margin, with Oney. Simply put, Oney was just sort of a perfect package in 2017. The only thing I can think of that he lacked was promo skills, something he’s never really had in his career, but even then he got more out of one word promos than a lot of people do talking on RAW for twenty minutes. Oney had everything working against him in 2017 but time and again rose above the mire and proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that he was one of the best wrestlers alive.
8. Nick Gage
not ranked in 2016
6 matches in my top 200 (#1, 16, 20, 23, 38, 115)
As of this writing on January 22nd, 2018, it’s certainly fair to say that this blurb would have shaken out differently if I had written it even two or three weeks ago. Recently there’s been a lot of hubbub online surrounding Nicky’s in-ring persona, most of which ranged from absurd pearl clutching to baffling disregard for slippery slopes, but more than that I’ve had some serious discussions with friends and peers about who Nick Wilson is outside of wrestling or perhaps who he was during a specific period of time in his life. The concerns raised in those discussions are obviously valid, being fears that I’ve also harbored in my heart regardless of how that impacts their validity, but I don’t know that my writing about these sadly all-too-unconfirmed suspicions on a tiny wrestling blog will do much anyone any good. I also don’t know if writing positively about the man on said tiny wrestling blog is an affirmation of what he may or may not have done in his life, and that sort of question is something I’ve struggled with a lot lately. What I do know is that Nick Gage was a fantastic professional wrestler in 2017. After having his comeback run in 2015 cut short by a parole violation and after taking the entirety of 2016 off, Nicky returned with a vengeance in June, steamrolling his way through a great deathmatch tournament before embarking on one hell of a seven month run. Just about every time he stepped between the ropes, he had intense, high quality, in-your-face matches that were either the best entries in a style I love or something so completely off-the-wall great that I could barely wrap my head around it. Who else was not only facing such varied opponents as Jonathan Gresham, Masashi Takeda, Matt Riddle, and Ciclope but having quality matches with all of them? If I’d gotten to see his matches against Dominic Garrini and Tim Donst, I’d think even more highly of his versatility. Of course, so much of his ranking here is based on the feud with Matt Tremont, resulting in a trio of matches that were so ambitious and weighty that I consider them the conclusion, dare I say the perfection, of the style that Atsushi Onita innovated nearly 30 years ago. Above all else, Nicky’s greatest strength lies in his natural magnetism, a carefully crafted facade of genuine emotion and toughness. It may only be the case for me and people like me (read: dumb, young white boys), but when the guy says things like “its [sic] us against the world”, I can’t help but chant along with the people screaming his name. I hope I don’t end up regretting that in the coming months or years, but in the moment it felt like nothing else.
7. Jonathan Gresham
ranked 2 in 2016 (-5)
8 matches in my top 200 (#20, 34, 40, 53, 55, 141, 167, 183)
For a while I was scared that Gresham wasn’t going to make my list at all, let alone remain in the top ten wrestlers of the year after his stellar 2016. Thankfully the introduction of the Powerbomb.TV Independent Championship in the back half of the year did wonders for him, as did the fact that I was finally able to see his two matches with Fred Yehi in NOVA Pro. Let’s tackle those in reverse order. When Gresham first faced off against Yehi back in May, he came up short against a slightly more famous version of himself, being undone by Yehi’s focused limb work and in particular a variation of a classic hold that Gresham would then appropriate for his own use throughout the rest of the year, with mixed success. Their rematch in November was far more fiery, stemming from a situation involving Jordynne Grace, and riding on the momentum he had found by taking this move from Yehi and applying it all over the place, Gresham came out victorious. That same weekend—my birthday weekend as it so happened—he came toe to toe with Nick Gage in a last-minute replacement for a different title bout and proceeded to have a match so unlike anything else that I’m still sort of reeling from it. Uniqueness has always been one of Gresham’s greatest strengths but never so evidently as in 2017, in which he created something terribly interesting with a fairly limited deathmatch legend and was able to have two memorable matches with the (forgive me, every English teacher I’ve ever had) equally unique Yehi that managed to avoid being so offbeat that they became jumbled messes. He didn’t manage to get multiple matches into my top ten matches of the year like he did in 2016 so he drops a few places, but with all the great matches that did end up in my top 200 and a bevy of other quiet bangers on smaller indies with people who I wouldn’t dream about putting on this list, not to mention being the best thing going in ROH, I can’t deny the Octopus a spot in my top ten.
6. Matt Riddle
ranked 65 in 2016 (+59)
12 matches in my top 200 (#45, 50, 57, 64, 73, 106, 118, 136, 160, 174, 182, 198)
Hey, look, it’s the Matt Riddle everyone pretended existed in 2016! While that’s an incredibly petty oversimplification of the situation, I think it really does ring true in that I think Riddle has finally grown into the accolades and hyperbole that surrounded his rookie year. Sure, he’s still got all the bad habits in the world that all too often results in matches I loathe including one I’d have as the #2 worst match of the year if I made such a list, but he’s shown significant growth and put together a staggering amount of matches I really liked in 2017. None of them ended up particularly high for me but 12 matches in my top 200 is sure as shit a lot. Likewise, even if many of those matches featured a veteran who knew how to rein him in, Riddle was able to hold his own against the likes of Katsuyori Shibata, Timothy Thatcher, and Dan Severn and that’s not nothing. And it’s not like he was always being carried either and in fact sort of did the opposite against Tank, putting together a real compelling retirement sprint with a guy well past his expiration date and well out of Riddle’s usual wheelhouse. On top of that he did well in other matches that were very much not designed for a guy like him or would otherwise be exceedingly dull and/or annoying if not for his performance, from a bout with Juan Francisco de Coronado in Chikara to a pair of Matt Tremont matches to an overstuffed elimination match over Mania weekend to a Donovan Dijak blowoff that same day. Included in that group are a bunch of matches from the UK where Riddle did shockingly well considering how easily his exuberance + the general match and booking style of the various British, Irish, and Scottish feds could have combined into a disastrous combination. Whereas I used to really hate this former MMA guy who only wanted to do springboard moves and Pelé kicks, I think he’s grown into more of a singular figure lately who covers a lot of ground stylistically, especially being that he’s dipped his toes (literally) into deathmatch wrestling. The best thing I can say about Riddle is that his seven or so best matches of the year were matches that fundamentally would not work the same way without him and in a few cases would be actively worse. Not bad for a guy who isn’t yet three full years in the business.
5. Trevor Lee
ranked 6 in 2016 (+1)
8 matches in my top 200 (#4, 24, 28, 33, 76, 119, 161, 185)
So if you’re reading this, you’re probably among or at the very least aware of the contingent of CWF Mid-Atlantic fans who think that Trevor was worse in 2017 than he was in 2016. While I myself felt that for a few months and still agree that he wasn’t quite the home run champion that he used to be, by the end of the year the kid had won me over again. Much of that malaise stems from his big matches that missed me by a mile (Richards, Elgin, the Wilkins rematch) but more than that, a whole lot of it comes from the fact that as the year went on, it felt like Trevor was never going to lose the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight title. Kazuchika Okada had embarked on a similarly lengthy, record-breaking run with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2016/2017, even defeating the greatest challenge to his reign in June like Trevor did, but once Kenny Omega was unable to win the gold in Osaka-Jo it sucked all the air out of Okada’s defenses. While mostly the same can be said for Trevor, I think there’s still some life in his title matches, or at least there was. What really helps is that he had a few of his best defenses over the fall whereas Okada had only two gimme defenses after the draw with Omega. Even moreso than that, while I didn’t necessarily buy the idea that Trevor could lose even when faced with 29 other men in a battle royale or a first blood match against a whole squad of villains, on some level I bought into the drama and the struggle of the pursuit by his opponents, something I was only able to get from Okada’s match against Shibata. It became less about how Trevor was going to squirrel his way out of tough situations and more about how various challengers were going to approach this seemingly unbeatable mastermind and how Trevor was then going to respond. Nowhere is that more evident than in my #4 and #24 matches of the year that featured a pair of young, intelligent weirdos applying solid strategies to the champion that slowly unraveled as time went on. Neither really quite stacks up to the sheer #content of the original title switch, but those two are probably my favorite two matches of Trevor’s reign, and for them to come this deep into his run when people were questioning whether he’d ever actually lose is a point not lost on me. The bad matches from this run were certainly bad and are what keep Trevor from being any higher on this list, as well as the general quality of the next four ranked men. While the Richards match is simply a much-hyped emotional plunder brawl (Is that a plunder brawl that’s also emotional or a brawl featuring emotional plunder? You decide.) well in line with the greater narrative I’ve laid out here that simply didn’t hit me the way it was meant to, the Elgin match is bad through and through, being the epitome and/or the culmination of so many of the qualities I despise in modern wrestling. The Wilkins rematch is a little more layered, with a weird stipulation, a half-hearted performance from one or both men in the ring, a lack of coherent structure that marks all of Trevor’s other matches, and a cheap finish that ensures this long-running feud may, in fact, never end. What’s more, it’s also a match that’s going to have big implications for CWF moving forward, with this being either the point the promotion jumped the shark for a lot of people or the last hurrah of a creative team that has been ousted recently for good reason. I’m real scared about where they go in 2018 and beyond but in the moment of 2017, when I was watching these matches against Chip Day, against Alex Daniels, against Arik Royal, against Cain Justice, against Ethan Alexander Sharpe, Trevor came across like one of the best goddamn wrestlers in the world. A flawed wrestler, to be sure, a guy who leans heavily on the faith of the Gibsonville regulars to pull him through some roughshod schemes that don’t totally pay off, but a great wrestler all the same. No one else on this list managed to put together five title matches in my top 100 (the next closest being Hiromu Takahashi and KUSHIDA, who had three title bouts against each other) and that sort of means a lot to me, especially when the narrative has been that Trevor hasn’t been believable as a guy who could lose. Maybe that just means that it doesn’t always matter to me that the challenger is a viable contender who has a good shot at winning, which may or may not be true. What is true is that more often than not, Trevor Lee was tremendous in CWF Mid-Atlantic. When that run is combined with more heel-oriented performances in PWG, AAW, and IMPACT, all of which were some of the best matches of the year in those promotions and welcome changes from the passion play babyface that he was in CWF, it makes it clear to me that I had to put Trevor Lee down as one of the top five wrestlers of 2017.
4. Zack Sabre Jr
ranked 4 in 2016 (no change)
12 matches in my top 200 (#34, 39, 44, 54, 83, 89, 110, 120, 123, 125, 164, 199)
I wanted to have Zack higher than this, maybe out of some lingering peer pressure, or maybe just because I thought the guy really deserved it, deserved to move up higher than I had him in 2016. When I looked at the numbers, though, it didn’t seem like he even had the case to make it back to his rank at number four here. His highest-ranked match of the year is a random tag match from Beyond, where he wasn’t the focal point of either the match itself or the feud that predicated it? His other matches in the top 100 feature an 11 minute opener with a semi-retired cosplayer, a four minute squash with an injured LGBT+ comedy character, and a 15 minute “you do a move, I do a move” G1 sprint? When you add it all up, it looks like Zack just doesn’t cut it. But I think, more than maybe anyone else on this list, he’s a guy that you have to see the forest for the trees with. The three factors that got Zack this high for me were his volume, his variety, and his improvement. Let’s tackle those in order. Firstly, outside of the ever-popular Riddle and the next man on this list, Zack had more matches than anybody here in my top 10 wrestlers of the year. Not all of them were great, sure, and I don’t actually use star ratings, but if you were to average all those matches out I’d wager Zack’s arithmetic mean of match quality ranks well above just about everybody on this list. King of the Three Star Match if you will, sure as shit better than the grandson of a plumber we undeservedly throw that prestigious moniker at. Looking at the guy’s schedule in 2017, on a week-to-week basis there’s not a lot of gaps where he didn’t have some match that I held in fairly high regard, with his longest stretch perhaps being the first half of June and even then that contains a Joey Janela match I heard rave reviews for and just didn’t get around to watching. More than just his volume, though, Zack’s variety goes a long way for me, being that he branched out with his career more than ever before. Moving to New York allowed him to make forays into smaller US indies that he’d never have ventured to before as well as a few fruitful trips down to Mexico and South America, on top of the various notable promotions in both the States and the UK that he was already a regular for. Likewise he made it out to Australia for a tour that I was sadly unable to see but heard good things about. In addition to all that he returned to Japan in earnest for the first time in a few years, this time with a refreshing role in NJPW. Nobody else was facing British rookies, the greatest of all time, shooters hurtling towards their own doom, undead luchadors, South African highfliers, Michinoku Pro legends, Mexican maestros, very injured aces, and Austrian and Australian giants alike and certainly nobody else was having good matches with all of ‘em. Even when playing major roles in such stale promotions as EVOLVE and NJPW that are often based around repeating matchups, Zack was able to bring a level of versatility to his craft that was second to none. Perhaps his greatest strength, however, lied in the ways he improved in 2017. I’ve long since had a difficult relationship with Zack’s work, being constantly frustrated by his performances even in matches I really liked, but he managed to fix so many of those problems this year. His bumping was tighter. His selling was livelier and more robust. His habit of flitting between submission holds felt nasty and focused for the first time. His aloof distance dissipated to be replaced by a spiteful, petty personality that was a joy to watch. His matches had an emotional core to them with a greater regularity than ever before, with the Hero, Thatcher, and Chuck Taylor matches all being memorable bouts in their own right, that Thatcher title switch being the most notable match in independent wrestling since Danielson’s farewell almost a decade ago. In 2017 Zack managed to right many of the wrongs that plagued his matches for me in the past and I was so very happy to see it. Sadly it didn’t push him to my top three wrestlers of the year but it ensures that he retains a cushy spot here in my top four.
3. David Starr
ranked 5 in 2016 (+2)
13 matches in my top 200 (#6, 9, 18, 37, 38, 41, 47, 105, 131, 140, 164, 169, 199)
Since I first saw him back in 2014, I’ve always liked David Starr. I guess it comes from the fact that he’s able to pull off the worst habits of the 21st century indie style in a way that I really enjoy. In 2017’s very self-indulgent wrestling climate, Starr completely embraced the trend and turned into the skid without being quite so self-serving or annoying as his peers and opponents are. He was able to flesh out a distinct persona in the assorted promotions he frequents, being a cocky but flawed braggadocio who was extremely talented but not quite the best in the world, haunted by this fact. This character ended up being probably the best babyface of the year in his initial home promotion and what has essentially become his new home away from home. In wXw, the second of those two, he found some success but was mired in the second year of a lengthy feud with WALTER, a giant who simply had his number time and again, swatting him aside like a particularly persistent fly. This sort of idea was taken to an even further extent in CZW, where he went on an extended losing streak that was easily the highlight of his home promotion’s year, holding his own or outright dominating matches before being bested time and again. Starr’s various “the Little Engine That Couldn’t” stories throughout the year were some of the most moving wrestling narratives of 2017, with three of them in particular (I’m sure you could guess which) ending up in my top 20 matches of the year. That’s especially impressive considering that he spent the year going on winning streaks in other promotions such as Beyond and AAW, being quite a fiery and aggressive face in the former and an outright heel in the latter. His best matches were to be found in these four promotions for the most part, where he explored multiple sides of what is essentially the same character who simply finds various levels of success depending on where he goes. He also spent a lot of time in a few UK-based feds that resulted in a handful of notable matches—nothing necessarily that I loved—but it served to illustrate how even when knee-deep in a local style that baffles and annoys me he was able to transcend the most annoying tropes. He did that in places like wXw and Beyond too, I should note, being that neither of those promotions are perfect and are populated with people I’m not particularly thrilled with. In wXw, notably, Starr especially played up his hammy selling in matches against WALTER, something that I’d hate otherwise but something that totally fits in with this petty, driven, self-obsessed character that he so compellingly embodies. Related to this is the fact that he’s a surprisingly great deathmatch wrestler, something that we continued to see more and more in 2017 in matches against Joey Janela and Nick Gage where his passion and petulance led to victorious but destructive ends. I think the thing about Starr, though, is how endlessly watchable he is, even compared to the two guys I have higher on this list. Those two dudes suffer from mainly sticking to the same promotions and not always being able to adapt to a weird matchup, but Starr certainly didn’t have those problems in 2017, being that he worked nearly 160 matches in over 40 promotions throughout the year. I didn’t watch even half of those, I think, but whenever the guy did cross my path I don’t think I skipped his matches, even against people I’d otherwise have no interest in seeing like Ryan Smile, Tyson Dux, Ethan Page, Jordan Devlin, or Angelico. Time and again I made time for matches with people I didn’t like because I thought “hey, maybe Starr can pull off something interesting here” and that’s a quality that means a ton to me.
2. Timothy Thatcher
ranked 13 in 2016 (+11)
15 matches in my top 200 (#5, 7, 36, 39, 41, 43, 46, 64, 126, 130, 143, 150, 155, 160, 163)
“I will sail
to the far shore
and I will chop
a hole in the hull too big to repair
And I will turn
the soil with my hands
and I will make
my home there.
My garden will grow so high.”
For most of the year Timothy Thatcher was who I saw as the best wrestler of 2017. As with everyone else who I earmark as the best, Thatcher was eventually overthrown by my number two, and not without good reason, but the reason Thatcher was on top for so long was the fact that he made me so, so happy.
I loved Thatcher from the first moment I saw him. Here was the spitting image of George Bellows’ boxers, a rugged everyman yet also a chiseled Adonis, someone who eschewed all the worst trappings of modern wrestling that I hate, someone who was very talented and very accomplished within a style I love but also someone who was so very magnetic and charismatic. That he was rather mysterious and secluded made him all the more appealing in the age of over-informing social media. Watching his rise to prominence in 2015 was magical and his subsequent fall from grace in 2016 was bitter, but I was not prepared for what followed in 2017.
2017, as with many of the years that preceded it, was a frustrating year for me in wrestling, as much as with life in general. With so much of wrestling being marked by an in-ring style and/or fashion of storytelling that I hated as well as many of my favorite wrestlers either retiring or being shunted into various systems in which they were creatively limited, there wasn’t a lot I could hang my hat on. But I could always count on Timothy Thatcher. Even in the rough first few months of the year in which his EVOLVE title reign continued to draw much criticism and a much-anticipated rematch in California fell short in my eyes, Thatcher was his own man, a resolute figure who stood fast for his convictions. As time marched on through his remarkable loss to Zack Sabre Jr and his memorable inclusion in a pair of tournaments in wXw in March, he began to gain a sort of momentum we haven’t seen on the indies since Chris Hero first returned, having a whole heap of matches I loved all over America and Europe, including a very emotional match with an old friend of mine that I’ve been clamoring to see for years.
More than scores of matches that ended up in my top 200 or some average level of quality, it was watching Thatcher be happy that places him this high on my list. His ability to pursue what he wanted, to make the sort of art he wanted, to forge his own path separate from the WWEs and NJPWs and TNAs and even the EVOLVEs of the world was what made 2017 so special. So much of that, obviously, was due to wXw, a promotion that allowed him to wrestle an old friend in a shoot style tournament, that gave him the opportunity to wrestle Koji Kanemoto, that awarded him with a pair of titles with his newfound nakama, that became his new home. I was overjoyed to see this man that I love find his place in the world, to take a massive gamble and leave his entire past life behind to move to the west of Germany, risking it all. I got to see him accomplish so much. I got to see him smile and goof around in photos for maybe the first time. I got to see his garden grow so high. In a year that was so horrific for so many people, getting to see Thatcher’s dreams come true was nothing short of transfixing.
ranked 23 in 2016 (+22)
15 matches in my top 200 (#2, 6, 7, 9, 18, 37, 41, 43, 46, 56, 89, 96, 143, 155, 182)
WALTER’s reason for being higher on this list than Thatcher is far more clinical than the sentimentality of his friend’s case, but simply put no one put on more high quality wrestling for me in 2017 than WALTER. The most obvious indication of that is a staggering four matches in my top ten matches of the year, but more than that he had a consistent level of quality second to none. The only matches I saw of his that were middling or anything less than good were PROGRESS bouts against the London Riots and maybe Matt Riddle, which I’d blame more on those opponents than the big Austrian himself. Even then, his bare bones superheavyweight style lent a structure and mechanical enjoyment to those matches that would have been absent otherwise, and when such efforts were turned towards better wrestlers it made for great wrestling time and time again. WALTER did well in singles bouts against other freakish giants (Lee, Cobb), smaller hosses (Wolfgang, Bird), technical marvels (Thatcher, ZSJ), supermen (Dijak, Riddle, Al-Ani to some degree), and wily trickers (Gunns, Yehi) as well as in tags against super teams (Starr & Simmons twice), established teams (Briscoes, BSS twice), aging veterans (Ki & Homicide), up-and-coming teams (Monster Consulting, EYFBO), and squirrelly smaller opponents who bit off more than they can chew (Gunns & Stone, CCK). That he did so with a fairly repetitive style and in promotions that were varying levels of stale or secluded is all the more impressive. Chief among these matches, obviously, are his bouts against David Starr and Ilja Dragunov. The rivalry with Starr resulted in three singles matches ending up in my top 20 matches of the year (no other matchup or permutation came nearly so close) and was as interesting and gripping as it was devilishly mean. The Dragunov match was my MOTY for nine months and is one of the most singularly moving bouts I’ve seen in years. I don’t think I can argue that WALTER was the best man in any of those matches, being that emotional connection is what matters to me most and the big guy doesn’t provide a ton of that, but the fact that he was able to facilitate those sorts of matches for others (which is not merely limited to his opponents, either, as his run in the tag league would suggest) time and again in 2017 means a lot to me. The big thing I harped on about regarding Chris Hero these last two years was the fact that he was always able to elevate his opponents and was always able to give them a platform on which to have their best work. WALTER’s no Chris Hero but he’s damn close, elevating people better than anyone in 2017, providing the bedrock for greatness for so many people. Along with the sheer amount of high quality matches he had and with being the MVP of the best promotion going right now, there’s no way WALTER can’t be the best wrestler of the year.
Match of the Year:
Sadly only the top 122 or so of these will have blurbs. Planned on doing write ups of all the top 200 but with how tired I am by now it would take until February to get this out and nobody wants that, ok? Ok? Ok. So here’s a list of 78 or so matches with no context on why they made it here and then 122 that do. If you’d like a little more than what these blurbs entail, everything on this list has already been reviewed on this site, so navigate around using the menu at the top of the page to find those reviews if you so desire. Enjoy.
200. Samoa Joe vs Titus O’Neil – WWE RAW #1279 (11/27/2017, Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tennessee, United States)
199. David Starr vs Zack Sabre Jr – CZW Sacrifices (05/13/2017, Flyers Skate Zone, Voorhees, New Jersey, United States)
198. “Speedball” Mike Bailey vs Matt Riddle – AMBITION 8 First Round – wXw AMBITION 8 (03/11/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
197. Asuka (c) vs Peyton Royce vs Billie Kay vs Nikki Cross – NXT Women’s Championship – NXT TakeOver: San Antonio (01/28/2017, Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio, Texas, United States)
196. Homicide vs Bobby Gunns – Relaxed Rules – wXw World Tag Team League 2017 Day 3 (10/08/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
195. Jeff Cobb vs James Drake – PWX Ode to Tradition (03/26/2017, Shelby City Park Gym, Shelby, North Carolina, United States)
194. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c) vs Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi & Ricochet) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – NJPW G1 Climax 27 Day 19 (08/13/2017, Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan)
193. Travis Banks (c) vs Keith Lee – PROGRESS Championship – PROGRESS Chapter 56 (10/29/2017, Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
192. Zack Gibson vs “Speedball” Mike Bailey – RPW Live at the Cockpit 21 (10/01/2017, Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
191. Tracy Williams vs Ace Romero – Beyond Wrestling Looking California (04/29/2017, Old Country Banquets & Deli, Enfield, Connecticut, United States)
190. Kazuchika Okada vs Juice Robinson – G1 Climax Block B Match – NJPW G1 Climax 27 Day 10 (07/30/2017, Gifu Industrial Hall, Gifu, Japan)
189. Rey Mysterio vs Will Ospreay – Pro Wrestling World Cup First Round Match – WCPW Pro Wrestling World Cup Day 1 (08/23/2017, Planet Ice, Milton Keynes, England, United Kingdom)
188. El Satanico vs Rey Hechicero – Lucha Memes y MDA (06/04/2017, Arena Puebla, Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico)
187. Masaaki Mochizuki (c) vs Susumu Yokosuka – Open the Dream Gate Championship – Dragon Gate The Gate of Destiny 2017 (11/03/2017, EDION Arena Osaka, Osaka, Japan)
186. Arik Royal vs Logan Easton LaRoux – NOVA Pro Project 3 (09/22/2017, Jewish Community Center, Fairfax, Virginia, United States)
185. Chuck Taylor vs Trevor Lee – PWG Man on the Silver Mountain (06/16/2017, American Legion Post #308, Reseda, California, United States)
184. The Avalanche vs Ilja Dragunov – Number One Contender’s Street Fight – wXw Fans Appreciation Night 2017 (09/01/2017, Markthalle, Hamburg, Germany)
183. Jonathan Gresham vs John Skyler – PWX What Lies Beneath (05/21/2017, Cabarrus Arena & Event Center, Concord, North Carolina, United States)
182. Matt Riddle (c) vs WALTER – PROGRESS Atlas Championship – PROGRESS Chapter 51 (07/09/2017, O2 Academy, Birmingham, England, United Kingdom)
181. AJ Styles (c) vs Tye Dillinger – WWE United States Championship – WWE Smackdown #941 (08/29/2017, Verizon Arena, Little Rock, Arkansas, United States)
180. Ayako Hamada (c) vs Taya – Street Fight for the AAA Reina de Reinas Championship – AAA Rey de Reyes 2017 (taped 04/21/2017, aired 05/13/2017 I think, Auditorio Municipal Fausto Gutierrez Moreno, Tijuana, Mexico)
179. Rey Hechicero & Solar vs Caifan & Negro Navarro – AULL (02/04/2017, Arena Lopez Mateos, Tlalnepantla, Mexico)
178. Lars Sullivan vs Kassius Ohno – NXT TakeOver: WarGames (11/18/2017, Toyota Center, Houston, Texas, United States)
177. Zack Gibson vs Jack Gallagher – PROGRESS New York City (08/12/2017, Elmcor Center, New York City, New York, United States)
176. Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto – NEVER Openweight Championship – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 (01/04/2017, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan)
175. Drew Gulak vs Mustafa Ali – Two out of Three Falls Match – WWE 205 Live #34 (07/18/2017, Legacy Arena, Birmingham, Alabama, United States)
174. Matt Riddle vs DUSTIN – No Disqualification – EVOLVE 77: A Hero’s Exit Day 2 (01/28/2017, Woodlawn Lake Park Gym, San Antonio, Texas, United States)
173. Dalton Castle vs Zack Gibson – RPW Summer Sizzler 2017 (08/17/2017, York Hall, Bethnal Green, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
172. The New Day (Big E & Xavier Woods) (c) vs The Usos (Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso) – Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship – WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 (10/08/2017, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan, United States)
171. “Flash” Morgan Webster vs Mike Bird – PROGRESS Chapter 47 (04/23/2017, Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
170. Janelope (Joey Janela & Penelope Ford) vs Da Hit Squad (Monsta Mack & Dan Maff) – Beyond Wrestling Seven Years of Bad Luck (03/19/2017, Electric Haze, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States)
169. Eddie Kingston vs David Starr – AAW Take No Prisoners 2017 (05/06/2017, Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago, Illinois, United States)
168. Kassius Ohno vs Johnny Gargano – NXT #277 (taped 11/29/2017, aired 12/06/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
167. Jonathan Gresham (c) vs Tracy Williams – Independent Wrestling Championship – Beyond Wrestling Heavy Lies the Crown (12/31/2017, The White Eagle, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States)
166. Neville (c) vs Jack Gallagher – WWE Cruiserweight Championship – WWE Fastlane 2017 (03/05/2017, BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States)
165. Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman – WWE Payback 2017 (04/30/2017, SAP Center, San Jose, California, United States)
164. David Starr vs Zack Sabre Jr – Super Strong Style 16 Tournament 2017 First Round Match – PROGRESS Chapter 49 Day 1 (05/27/2017, Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
163. Timothy Thatcher vs Gideon Grey – RPW Live at the Cockpit 13 (02/05/2017, Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
162. Samoa Joe vs Sami Zayn – WWE Fastlane 2017 (03/05/2017, BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States)
161. Trevor Lee vs Lio Rush – PWG Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock n’ Roll) (03/18/2017, American Legion Post #308, Reseda, California, United States)
160. Timothy Thatcher vs Matt Riddle – AMBITION 8 Finals – wXw AMBITION 8 (03/11/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
159. Toxin vs Arkalis – Lucha Memes (03/25/2017, Arena Coliseo San Ramón, Puebla, Mexico)
158. Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta) (c) vs The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-Jo Hall (06/11/2017, Osaka-Jo Hall, Osaka, Japan)
157. Pirata Morgan Jr vs Golden Magic – Lucha de Apuestas – IWRG (02/12/2017, Arena Naucalpan, Naucalpan de Juarez, Mexico)
156. YAMATO (c) vs Masaaki Mochizuki – Open the Dream Gate Championship – Dragon Gate Dangerous Gate 2017 (09/18/2017, Ota Ward Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan)
155. Ringkampf (WALTER & Timothy Thatcher) (c) Bobby Gunns & Jaxon Stone – No Disqualification Elimination Tag Team Match for the wXw World Tag Team Championship – wXw Broken Rules XVII (11/18/2017, Eventwerk, Dresden, Germany)
154. Dean Ambrose (c) vs The Miz – WWE Intercontinental Championship – WWE Extreme Rules 2017 (06/04/2017, Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore, Maryland, United States)
153. John Cena (c) vs Dean Ambrose vs Bray Wyatt vs AJ Styles vs Baron Corbin vs The Miz – Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship – WWE Elimination Chamber 2017 (02/12/2017, Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona, United States)
152. Barbaro Cavernario & Volador Jr vs Ultimo Guerrero & Valiente – National Parejas Increibles Finals – CMLL Super Viernes (02/24/2017, Arena Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico)
151. Ace Romero vs AR Fox – Fans Bring the Weapons – Limitless Wrestling Problematic (05/13/2017, Westbrook Armory, Westbrook, Maine, United States)
150. John Skyler vs Timothy Thatcher – PWX This Is How We Do It (07/08/2017, Escapade VIP, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States)
149. DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) (c) vs The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) – NXT Tag Team Championship – NXT #230 (taped 01/05/2017, aired 01/11/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
148. Penta Zero M & Daga vs LA Park & Rey Escorpion – AULL (03/01/2017, Arena Lopez Mateos, Tlalnepantla, Mexico)
147. Samoa Joe vs Roman Reigns – Number One Contender’s Match – WWE RAW #1260 (07/17/2017, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee, United States)
146. Masaaki Mochizuki vs Takehiro Yamamura – Dragon Gate Truth Gate 2017 Day 7 (taped 02/12/2017, aired 02/27/2017, Hakata Starlanes, Fukuoka, Japan)
145. Ilja Dragunov vs Robert Dreissker – 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2017 First Round – wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Day 1 (03/10/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
144. XXXL (Ace Romero & Brian Milonas) vs Janelope (Joey Janela & Penelope Ford) – Beyond Wrestling Feeling Minnesota (04/30/2017, Aurora, Providence, Rhode Island, United States)
143. British Strong Style (Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, & Trent Seven) (c) vs Ringkampf (WALTER, Timothy Thatcher, & Axel Dieter Jr) – PROGRESS World Championship and PROGRESS Tag Team Championship – PROGRESS Chapter 47 (04/23/2017, Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
142. Dr. Wagner Jr vs Psycho Clown – Lucha de Apuestas – AAA TripleMania XXV (08/26/2017, Arena Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico)
141. Jordynne Grace vs Jonathan Gresham – Beyond Wrestling Death Knell (05/20/2017, Arts at the Armory, Somerville, Massachusetts, United States)
140. David Starr vs Homicide – wXw Inner Circle 4 (10/05/2017, wXw Academy, Essen, Germany)
139. Hideo Itami vs Roderick Strong – Number One Contender’s Match – NXT #247 (taped 04/19/2017, aired 05/10/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
138. Atlantis vs Rush – NJPW Presents CMLL Fantasticamania 2017 Day 6 (01/21/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
137. Samoa Joe vs Sami Zayn – WWE RAW #1243 (03/20/2017, Barclays Center, New York City, New York, United States)
136. Matt Riddle vs “Speedball” Mike Bailey – 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2017 Quarter-Finals – wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Day 2 (03/11/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
135. Asuka (c) vs Nikki Cross – Last Woman Standing Match for the NXT Women’s Championship – NXT #254 (taped 06/23/2017, aired 06/28/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
134. Satoshi Kojima vs Juice Robinson – G1 Climax Block B Match – NJPW G1 Climax 2017 Day 2 (07/20/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
133. Shingo Takagi vs Masaaki Mochizuki – King of Gate 2017 Block D Match – Dragon Gate King of Gate 2017 Day 1 (05/09/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
132. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c) vs Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 (01/04/2017, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan)
131. David Starr vs Eddie Kingston – I Quit Match – AAW United We Stand 2017 (07/15/2017, 115 Bourbon Street, Merrionette Park, Illinois, United States)
130. Timothy Thatcher vs Zack Gibson – RPW Live at the Cockpit 20 (09/03/2017, Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
129. Matt Tremont vs Ace Romero – 15,000 Thumbtacks Match – Beyond Wrestling Far Beyond Wrestling (09/24/2017, Electric Haze, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States)
128. Jun Kasai (c) vs Akito – IPPON Light Tube Deathmatch for the DDT Extreme Championship – DDT New Year Lottery Special! Every Ticket 2000 Yen Show! 2017 (taped 01/03/2017, aired 01/12/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
127. Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito – G1 Climax Block A Match – NJPW G1 Climax 2017 Day 1 (07/17/2017, Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center, Sapporo, Japan)
126. Timothy Thatcher vs Ilja Dragunov – 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2017 Quarter-Finals – wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Day 2 (03/11/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
125. Gabriel Kidd (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr – WCPW Internet Championship – WCPW Pro Wrestling World Cup – Canadian Qualifying Round (taped 05/14/2017, aired 05/26/2017, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
124. Daisuke Sekimoto (c) vs Hideki Suzuki – BJW Strong World Heavyweight Championship – BJW Ikkitousen Death Match Survivor 2017 Day 7 (taped 03/30/2017, aired 04/06/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
123. Best Friends (Chuck Taylor & Trent?) vs The Leaders of the New School (Zack Sabre Jr & Marty Scurll) – PWG Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock n’ Roll) (03/18/2017, American Legion Post #308, Reseda, California, United States)
122. Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs Dragon Lee – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka 2017 (02/11/2017, EDION Arena Osaka, Osaka, Japan)
A return to form for one of the best touring matches of the last few years. There’s nothing all that new or surprising here, but watching two young maniacs do everything in their power to cripple the other with the stupidest highspots is always appealing on some level.
121. Braun Strowman vs Roman Reigns – WWE Fastlane 2017 (03/05/2017, BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States)
The first chapter in what turns out to be one of the best feuds of the year, though oddly these two already feel as familiar as old rivals. Big hits and misses both literally and figuratively, but this match connects way more than it doesn’t.
120. Zack Sabre Jr vs Mike Quackenbush – Chikara Bad Wolf (04/01/2017, Orlando Live Events, Fern Park, Florida, United States)
Two remarkably similar wrestlers have a friendly technical match that gets real mean when the lesser man of the two throws a tantrum. Not the cleanest thing in the world but one hell of a first bout in what is one of my favorite series of matches of the year.
119. Trevor Lee (c) vs Cain Justice vs Aric Andrews vs Chip Day vs Smith Garrett vs Otto Schwanz – Six-Pack Challenge for the CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship – CWF Mid-Atlantic End of an Era 2017 (taped 02/25/2017, aired 03/22/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
Big ol’ six-way elimination with lots of moving parts and room to breathe. Hardly the best match any of these men had all year but it’s a colorful and exciting bout that makes good use of its time and establishes itself well within the greater framework of CWF Mid-Atlantic.
118. Matt Riddle (c) vs Keith Lee – Last Man Standing Match for the WWN Championship – EVOLVE 94 (10/14/2017, La Boom, New York City, New York, United States)
Big bombfest to top off an enjoyable rivalry between two guys who are pretty damn good at throwing big moves around. The LMS setting allows for some quality selling but doesn’t get in the way of what these two do best: clobbering.
117. Hideo Itami vs Aleister Black – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III (08/19/2017, Barclays Center, New York City, New York, United States)
One of my favorite dance-oriented strike-based matches in quite a while, aided by a number of thudding kicks, a little bit of blood, a solid game plan from the heel, a fitting end for him when he makes a fatal error, and a hot Brooklyn crowd.
116. Fred Yehi (c) vs Brian Cage – FIP World Heavyweight Championship – FIP Ascension 2017 (02/11/2017, The Orpheum, Ybor City, Florida, United States)
The best example of Fred Yehi turning chicken shit into chicken salad, something he did time and again in 2017. A speedy title match in which the champion scrambles for any foothold he can get against a behemoth one man wrecking crew, eventually picking up the win with an FIP-centric variation of his usual finisher.
115. Nick Gage vs Jimmy Lloyd – Tournament of Survival 2 First Round Match – GCW Tournament of Survival 2 (06/03/2017, Game Changer World, Howell, New Jersey, United States)
Best squash match of the year and honestly one of the best deathmatches of the year too. The King opens a main event-sized can of whoop ass on one of the best weird-looking babyfaces today, delivering a monstrous facewash and all sorts of punishment for an adoring crowd.
114. Zack Gibson vs Jack Sexsmith – PROGRESS Chapter 44 (02/26/2017, Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United States)
It’s always darkest before the dawn. The first singles match of the year between these two, continuing the best underdog story of 2017 that sadly ends in heartbreaking and backbreaking fashion here.
113. American Alpha (Jason Jordan & Chad Gable) (c) vs The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton) – WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship – WWE Smackdown Live #908 (01/10/2017, Raising Cane’s River Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States)
Real belter of a tag title match, illustrating the dynamics of two fun teams and giving them room to run around and hit each other a bunch. Tons of effort, tons of fire, tons of heart in this match, one of the best uses of TV time all year.
112. Cain Justice vs Dominic Garrini – CWF Mid-Atlantic 80’s Night (taped 04/29/“1987”, aired 05/27/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
A rematch that continues to rethink and reinvent even the simplest tropes and approaches in wrestling. Slightly shorter than the first match and not quite as dramatic but something well worth watching all the same as Garrini overcomes his lack of pro experience and takes advantage of Cain’s cockiness.
111. Roman Reigns (c) vs Jason Jordan – WWE Intercontinental Championship – WWE RAW #1280 (12/04/2017, Staples Center, Los Angeles, California, United States)
Great TV match that gets plenty of room to breathe and makes good use of that space. Jordan looks valiant but frustrated in defeat to a superior version of himself that exploits an injury in a big way. Quality slug-and-slamfest.
110. Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs Chuck Taylor – PWG World Championship – PWG Pushin Forward Back (07/07/2017, American Legion Post #308, Reseda, California, United States)
On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation—but I guess I should keep these blurbs short. An emotional title change years in the making. Rough around the edges but I’ll hold it close to my chest despite the barbs, for it makes my heart sing.
109. Kazuchika Okada vs Minoru Suzuki – G1 Climax Block B Match – NJPW G1 Climax 27 Day 16 (08/08/2017, Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium, Yokohama, Japan)
Aside from the knockout Sumo Hall match, the most effective long-form Okada match of the year, in that it’s the one that most truly makes me buy into the idea that he can’t win. Helps that he doesn’t actually win in the end and that he’s across the ring from someone like Suzuki.
108. Sami Callihan (c) vs Kongo Kong – AAW Heavyweight Championship – AAW End of Innocence (02/04/2017, Knights of Columbus Hall, LaSalle, Illinois, United States)
A match that is problematic and has a lot of problems but is so goddamn enjoyable within that space. Ratfaced champion with tons of pride and not quite enough spunk to back it up collides repeatedly with a behemoth who can effortlessly stomp him into the ground if he’s not foiled by loads of chicanery, which—for once—add to the match here.
107. Sami Zayn vs Braun Strowman – Last Man Standing – WWE RAW #1232 (01/02/2017, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida, United States)
The first match I watched in 2017 and a good way to kick things off, with a stipulation I love that allows Strowman to flesh out a few aspects of his monstrous character and gives Zayn plenty of opportunity to bump around and sell his ass off.
106. Gunner Miller vs Matt Riddle – Scenic City Invitational 2017 Semi-Final Match – Scenic City Invitational Tournament 2017 Day 2 (08/05/2017, East Hamilton High School, Ooltewah, Tennessee, United States)
Goldberg vs Lesnar reimagined as a southern-fried slobberknocker in a high school gym deep in the Smoky Mountains. There’s something to be said about the unappealing nature of something so derivative, but it’s hard to think about shit like that when a match is this fun.
105. Keith Lee vs David Starr – EVOLVE 83 (04/23/2017, Saint Finbar Catholic Church Gymnasium, New York City, New York, United States)
Great blow-away debut sort of match for two men who aren’t actually debuting here but getting to stretch their legs in EVOLVE for the first time. Starr applies all the lessons he’s learned from getting beat up by WALTER and Keith is as charismatic as ever when he nukes poor Starr anyway.
104. The Miz (c) vs Dean Ambrose – WWE Intercontinental Championship – WWE Smackdown #907 (01/03/2017, Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Florida, United States)
The best sports entertainment match of the year even if it was far from the best WWE match of the year, if that makes sense. Frantic as hell, lacking in any subtlety as they blow through dozens of spots, lots of interference, a bunch of nearfalls, and just enough structure to hold it all together.
103. Smith Garrett vs CW Anderson – CWF Mid-Atlantic Absolute Justice 2017 (taped 06/24/2017, aired 07/12/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
The match that made me finally understand the hype behind the Enforcer and moreover just a damn fine slugfest. Smith Garrett goes down swinging in the fight of his life and Anderson surely gives him something to fight against. It gets a bit operatic by the end, but the heart of Garrett and the efficient fundamentals of both men hold this thing together.
102. Brock Lesnar (c) vs Braun Strowman vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe – WWE Universal Championship – WWE SummerSlam 2017 (08/20/2017, Barclays Center, New York City, New York, United States)
A chaotic and kooky clash of the titans. Not everyone’s firing on all cylinders here or even doing that much of note, but between four talented heavyweights there’s more than enough horsepower to drag the uneven bits up to a terribly fun match highlighted by the young giant’s finest performance yet.
101. Hideki Suzuki vs Takuya Nomura – Masahito Kakihara Produce Kaki Ride (taped 08/14/2017, aired 08/24/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
The world’s strongest boy applies a nearly foolproof strategy against one of the most accomplished grapplers in the game today, coming within an inch of winning on several occasions before the veteran shoots him down with superior firepower. Doesn’t get much better than that.
100. John Skyler vs Corey Hollis – Unsanctioned Falls Count Anywhere Match – PWX Unsanctioned (10/21/2017, Cabarrus Arena, Concord, North Carolina, United States)
An uneven blowoff to a lengthy feud between these two former partners, marred by the setting and production of the show but featuring more than enough great vengeful fire and wobbly blood loss selling from Skyler to make its way onto the top half of my list. The dive off the corner post is a tremendous spot, both in its simple efficacy and its violent execution.
99. Shayna Baszler vs Penelope Ford – Beyond Wrestling Go With the Flo (06/24/2017, Melrose Memorial Hall, Melrose, Massachusetts, United States)
A delightful extended squash that sees a former gymnast get her ass handed to her by a former UFC fighter that is head and shoulders above her in every way. Shayna’s cocky disdain for the crowd and her opponent is the highlight here, as well as the fact that Ford doesn’t overreach her role in this match that’s tangential to the overarching Riddle/Janela feud by trying to go 50/50 with maybe the biggest ass-kicker in American women’s wrestling.
98. Chris Hero vs Keith Lee – EVOLVE 76: A Hero’s Exit Day 1 (01/27/2017, Woodlawn Lake Park Gym, San Antonio, Texas, United States)
A sentimental final victory for one of the greatest independent wrestlers of all time and a match that sees him take charge in the face of massive equipment failure to breathe life into an on-the-fly installment of his massively entertaining Bully Hero Formula. And hey, that Keith Lee guy ain’t bad either.
97. Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomohiro Ishii – New Japan Cup 2017 Semi-Finals – NJPW New Japan Cup 2017 Day 7 (03/19/2017, Act City Hamamatsu, Hamamatsu, Japan)
The final chapter in a feud that helped to bring me back into watching wrestling full time after I was homeless, as well as a moving interlude to a years-long exploration of how far is too far, concluding at Sumo Hall the next month. Two rivals—two friends—do battle one last time.
96. WALTER vs Mike Bird – Number One Contender’s Match – PROGRESS Cologne (07/01/2017, Live Music Hall, Köln, Germany)
Mike Bird’s exploration of tubthumping, more along the lines of Chumbawamba’s 1997 single than the original political meaning of the term. WALTER’s way, way better than he could ever hope to be but Bird’s gonna keep fighting, god bless him. We’re all made merrier for it.
95. Asuka (c) vs Ember Moon – NXT Women’s Championship – NXT TakeOver: Orlando (04/01/2017, Amway Center, Orlando, Florida, United States)
The beginning of the end for Asuka’s wonderful reign with the best-booked belt in America of the last few years. The next big thing gives the champion all she’s got and the veteran shows cracks in the formerly spotless armor that encases her. Fiery, furious, and the first chapter of a fascinating little story.
94. VerserK (Shingo Takagi, T-Hawk, & El Lindaman) vs MaxiMuM (Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, & Kotoka) vs Over Generation (CIMA, Dragon Kid, & Eita) – Three-Way Trios Elimination Match and 5 Unit Survival League Match – Dragon Gate Scandal Gate 2017 Day 19 (taped 09/05/2017, aired 09/15/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
The best new installment of a long-running Dragon Gate tradition that is made all the more frantic by the looming threat of the unit disbands tournament. Chock full of breakneck action and multi-layered character interactions, this match should be a delight for anyone who’s even remotely a fan of the promotion.
93. Smith Garrett vs Xsiris – CWF Mid-Atlantic Tell All Your Friends (taped 01/21/2017, aired 02/01/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
More of a segment than an actual match—they barely even get in the ring—but a delightful slugfest where a vengeful working man beats the snot out of the guy who screwed him at Battlecade until he literally flees the building. Stone Cold ain’t retired, he’s just in the Carolinas.
92. Brock Lesnar (c) vs Samoa Joe – WWE Universal Championship – WWE Great Balls of Fire 2017 (07/09/2017, American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas, United States)
Two different kinds of monsters collide in a battle where brains and experience come head to head with freakish physical ability. Despite Joe’s best efforts, you can’t choke out a hurricane or a silverback gorilla, though it’s sure as hell fun to watch him try.
91. Wotan vs Demus 3:16 – Lucha Extrema – Lucha Libre GH (01/14/2017, Gimnasio Hercules, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico)
A disgusting and delightful lucha indie hardcore match. Several pints of blood, lots of machismo, lots of goofiness both in selling and in spot content, just a wild romp through one of my favorite circles of the wrestling world, guided along by two of its finest denizens.
90. Minoru Suzuki vs Rocky Kawamura – Masahito Kakihara Produce Kaki Ride (taped 08/14/2017, aired 08/24/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
Pancrase forever. Surly supervillain Suzuki, frustrated by his final standing in the previous day’s G1 Climax, seeks to punish the new face of the promotion he created two and a half decades ago. Rocky, as the name suggests, tries to punch his way free as only he can. What results is one fiery little shoot-flavored match.
89. Zack Sabre Jr vs WALTER – PWG All Star Weekend 13 Day 2 (10/21/2017, American Legion Post #308, Reseda, California, United States)
Former teammates tee off on one another in front of a hot little crowd that is excited to see two Europeans leave welts on each other’s chests. There’s nothing pretty, nothing fancy, nothing altogether too inventive here, but sometimes all you need is several hundred gruesome chops to make a worthwhile match.
88. Big R Shimizu vs Takehiro Yamamura – Dragon Gate Truth Gate 2017 Day 2 (02/02/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
The match that kicked off a wonderful year for the young Yamamura and a pretty damn good one for Big R too. The rookie who desperately needs a win sticks to his speed and slipperiness while the older bruiser who can’t afford to lose tries to pummel him into the dirt. A big showing packed into a deceptively small match.
87. Candice LeRae vs Shayna Baszler – Mae Young Classic Quarter-Final Match – WWE Mae Young Classic #7 (taped 07/14/2017, aired 09/06/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
A speedy little match that doesn’t waste time and instead continues to establish Shayna as HBIC of the MYC. Candice does what she can to stem the tide, frantically scrambling for all sorts of high risk, high reward moves and a number of holds, but in the end she feels the cold sting of a former UFC fighter’s sleeper hold.
86. Demus 3:16 vs Iron Kid – Lucha Memes (06/18/2017, Coliseo Coacalco, Coacalco, Mexico)
A chunky little juggalo tosses an even tinier highflyer around brutally under a tent just outside of Mexico City. What more could you ask for? Demus is the main focus here but the diminutive Kid went all out with his highflying, hitting some of the most breathtaking dives of the year.
85. Danny Havoc vs Alex Colon – Viking’s Funeral Deathmatch – CZW Down With The Sickness 2017 (09/09/2017, Flyers Skate Zone, Voorhees, New Jersey, United States)
The retirement match of my first favorite wrestler and a match that symbolizes the changing tides of American deathmatch wrestling with major retirements and venue changes throughout the year. On top of the emotional underpinnings, this is about as fun and gruesome as any deathmatch has been in 2017, a fitting way for Havoc to go out on his shield.
84. AJ Styles (c) vs John Cena – WWE Championship – WWE Royal Rumble 2017 (01/29/2017, Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas, United States)
An overstuffed and uneven match to be sure, but the tale of two aging, agonizing all-timers doing battle on their biggest stage yet, pulling out all the stops in a futile attempt to cling to relevancy, is always and forever an enjoyable yarn, especially when it ends like this one does.
83. Zack Sabre Jr vs Jack Sexsmith – Super Strong Style 16 Tournament 2017 Quarter-Finals – PROGRESS Chapter 49 Day 2 (05/28/2017, Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
Half of a match, truly, as an injured comedy character/underdog feebly attempts to stand toe to toe with one of the meanest technical wrestlers on the planet 24 hours after the biggest win of his career. Hard to watch despite its short length, but it’s not like I could even think about looking away.
82. CIMA vs Takehiro Yamamura – King of Gate 2017 Block C Match – Dragon Gate King of Gate 2017 Day 1 (05/09/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
Another awesome Yamamura singles match in which he takes DG’s finest to the limits with speed and misdirection, eventually keying in on an opportune injury to get a huge upset and lead to one of my favorite post-match moments of the year.
81. Juan Francisco de Coronado vs James Mason – Johnny Kidd Invitational 2017 First Round Match – Chikara Johnny Kidd Invitational 2017 (06/18/2017, The Wrestle Factory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States)
Not the best match of the tournament but the one most befitting of the style of the man the thing is named after. An exuberant old Englishman befuddles an uptight foreigner who can usually hang on the mat but not against a 20+ year veteran who can toy with him endlessly. Fun fun fun match.
80. Goldberg (c) vs Brock Lesnar – WWE Universal Championship – WWE WrestleMania 33 (04/02/2017, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida, United States)
The best possible version of this match there could ever be, which I sure can’t say about any other match on this show. A big goofy set piece-laden sprint that somehow doesn’t fly off the rails. Ok, maybe a little, but the hang time they get is unreal.
79. Minoru Suzuki (c) vs YOSHI-HASHI – NEVER Openweight Championship – NJPW Kizuna Road 2017 Day 7 (06/26/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
If not for, you know, Hiromu’s meteoric rise and Shibata’s swan song, this would be the best NJPW title match of the year. A mega-heated, mega-efficient Korakuen Hall main event with an evil champion torturing the doofiest underdog in the company, each flanked by a whole crew of guys raring to go.
78. Oney Lorcan vs Lars Sullivan – NXT #267 (taped 09/14/2017, aired 09/27/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
Not as long as Oney’s other matches throughout the spring and summer but one that has even more kick, in no small part due to the massive and monstrous Sullivan. Lars is a truly awesome ogre for Oney to bounce off of repeatedly and eventually be slayed by in gruesome fashion.
77. Wolfgang vs Tyler Bate – WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Semi-Final Match – WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Day 2 (01/15/2017, Empress Ballroom, Blackpool, England, United Kingdom)
A fascinating look into the mind of an aging veteran who can feel his last shot at the big time slipping between his fingers. On top of that heartbreaking tale, an extremely effective match on a physical level, with the young phenom struggling to topple this much larger Scotsman as Blackpool cheers him on.
76. Trevor Lee (c) vs Arik Royal – CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship – CWF Mid-Atlantic For The Record (taped 09/09/2017, aired 09/27/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
Overlong, overindulgent, overcomplicated, but something I’m over the moon about. This is a match that boils down so many of the things I love about CWF, from the interweaving history to the colorful characters to the trust they have in their guys to tell these stories and the trust they have in their audience to stick along for the ride.
75. KUSHIDA (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 (01/04/2017, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan)
A great first outing for these two, establishing the idea that KUSHIDA just has no idea what to expect from Hiromu and his usual approach to matches isn’t going to cut it. It’s not quite as polished or gripping as their later matches, but it’s a worthy start that lays the bedrock for one of the best in-ring feuds of the year.
74. Ricochet vs Lio Rush – PWG Only Kings Understand Each Other (02/18/2017, American Legion Post #308, Reseda, California, United States)
A match between two very talented but markedly different highfliers, one that illustrates the gulf in experience between the two. Ricochet is way more effective than Lio can be at this point, which forces the young man to frantically apply whatever sloppy and ill-effective offense he can get in, telling a sort of meta-narrative that I find very interesting and a nice deviation from the norm with modern indie wrestling.
73. Dan Severn vs Matt Riddle – GCW Joey Janela’s Spring Break (03/30/2017, Orlando Live Events, Fern Park, Florida, United States)
I like it when Matt Riddle has to struggle and boy does he struggle here. The weird faux-shoot elements of this match pair exceedingly well with the real life grappling chops of both these men, making for a match that feels wild even if one of these competitors is a good 20 years past his prime. Never have I seen a better use of German suplex no-sells. A match that understands its limitations and works well within them.
72. T-Hawk vs Takehiro Yamamura – Dragon Gate The Gate of Passion 2017 Day 4 (taped 04/07/2017, aired 04/24/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
So mean, so methodical, and so goddamn enjoyable. T-Hawk has to prove himself at this point as he’s making the transition to top heel in the promotion and watching him struggle against the new hotness and get incredibly frustrated by it is so great. Yamamura does what he can to survive T-Hawk’s hellacious strikes and fires back a bunch of his own. We’re all better for it.
71. Drew McIntyre vs Oney Lorcan – NXT #243 (taped 04/05/2017, aired 04/12/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
The match that started it all and drew eyes to the wondrous year Oney Lorcan had in 2017. A real slobberknocker of a match that sees both mean put a ton of effort into big strikes, big slams, and big bumps. The underdog holds this thing together emotionally where McIntyre lacks an appeal for me, but you almost forget about the big guy’s cold demeanor when he’s just beating the snot out of people like he does here.
70. Keith Lee vs Lio Rush – PWG Man on the Silver Mountain (06/16/2017, American Legion Post #308, Reseda, California, United States)
A terribly charming match in which these men play with the massive size difference between them in a way that doesn’t sacrifice believability much, if at all. It’s not too often that a match has two one count spots that make as much sense as the ones here. Delightful big man/little man match.
69. Juice Robinson vs Toru Yano – G1 Climax Block B Match – NJPW G1 Climax 27 Day 16 (08/08/2017, Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium, Yokohama, Japan)
The best comedy match of the year and one that appeals directly to all my sensibilities. From nonverbal communication to the dumbest comedy to serious wrestlers getting humiliated by a trickster, this one has it all for me, highlighted by two of the best countout spots you’re ever gonna see in wrestling.
68. Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman – Ambulance Match – WWE Great Balls of Fire 2017 (07/09/2017, American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas, United States)
For a long time this was my favorite match these two had in 2017, as it fixes the problems I had with their previous meetings and manages to overcome the pitfalls of WWE gimmick matches. Reigns has to pull out all the stops in order to have any chance of defeating the monster, but in the end he’s the one who overthinks things, plunging to his defeat in an incredibly satisfying finish, one of my favorites of the year.
67. VerserK (Shingo Takagi, T-Hawk, Cyber Kong, El Lindaman, & Punch Tominaga) vs Over Generation (CIMA, Dragon Kid, Eita, & Takehiro Yamamura) & Naruki Doi – Ten Man Tag Team Headhunting Match – Dragon Gate Glorious Gate 2017 Day 2 (03/08/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
Great multi-man tag from the people best at them, stemming from budding, fresh, or long-standing animosity between these teams. Unsurprisingly, a hot final third centered around the fiery young Yamamura stands out as the peak of this match, but unlike with most DG matches in 2017 there’s not really a weak point here.
66. Oney Lorcan vs Andrade Almas – NXT #240 (02/22/2017, aired 03/22/2017, The Venue at UCF, Orlando, Florida, United States)
A great blowoff to a little feud these two men had over the winter and the longest Oney match of the year by a wide margin. Being Tranquilo only takes Almas so far, as he has to quickly fire back against the hairy ball of energy that is Oney Lorcan, leading to a wonderful stretch of this match that is just thudding, groan-inducing blows back and forth. Just what the doctor ordered.
65. Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs KUSHIDA – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-Jo Hall (06/11/2017, Osaka-Jo Hall, Osaka, Japan)
The end of a trilogy of three wild matches that illustrates how far KUSHIDA’s come in his quest to remain the top dog in the juniors division. He comes into this match with a focused, honed strategy that corrects his past mistakes and exploits Hiromu’s falling confidence, along the way delivering tons of explosive junior heavyweight action.
64. Matt Riddle vs Timothy Thatcher – RPW Live at the Cockpit 14 (03/05/2017, Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
Such a great grappling match between these two, combining their big personalities with tight, focused, and occasionally horrifying technical work in front of an intimate crowd that is all about it. Were this match 22 minutes long instead of “only” 11, it would be a top ten match of the year for me.
63. Yuji Nagata vs Kota Ibushi – G1 Climax Block A Match – NJPW G1 Climax 27 Day 13 (08/04/2017, Item Ehime, Matsuyama, Japan)
A foolproof story of the veteran applying a game plan that the younger man doesn’t have an answer for but not having the ability in his last G1 Climax to stem the tide of youthful exuberance. Combined with one of the most emotional and effective finishing stretches of the year and you’ve got one hell of a match.
62. Sami Callihan (c) vs Michael Elgin – AAW Heavyweight Championship – AAW Killers Among Us 2017 (06/17/2017, 115 Bourbon Street, Merrionette Park, Illinois, United States)
A match that shouldn’t work but does, bafflingly well. It’s a story full of all the most annoying tropes, told by two of the most annoying wrestlers in front of the most annoying crowd in America, but the core narrative here of a shitheel champion owning up to his fate in the face of certain doom only to win the match by legitimate means is something that knocks me on my ass.
61. Arik Royal vs Snooty Foxx – Brass Knuckles on a Pole Match – CWF Mid-Atlantic Mama Said Knock You Out (taped 09/30/2017, aired 10/11/2017, Hargraves Community Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States)
One of the best heel performances of the year as Royal takes it to the hometown fave with such tremendous douchebaggery that people are throwing trash at him by the end. Combined with some good ol’ fashioned punch/kick wrasslin’ and brawling in the streets of Chapel Hill and you got yourself a great little match.
60. Konosuke Takeshita (c) vs Keisuke Ishii – KO-D Openweight Championship – DDT Uchikomi! Presents Road to Ryogoku 2017 (07/23/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
The best match I saw in a year where I didn’t watch a lot of DDT. A pudgy career midcarder takes the young phenom to the limit with a sound strategy and plenty of cunning, but when he tries to cop a hero’s move it goes poorly for him. Hell of a match despite the fact that Takeshita had to leave something in the tank for his second defense that night.
59. Kyle Matthews (c) vs Gladiator Jeremiah – Landmark Heritage Championship – Anarchy Wrestling Tanks For The Memories (07/22/2017, Landmark Arena, Cornelia, Georgia, United States)
One of the best midcard title matches of the year, covering a lot of stylistic ground in a relatively fresh matchup while upping the ante halfway through with some great hardway blood. Packing a lot into a little less than ten minutes, this is an intense little match that I wish more people were talking about.
58. Danny Burch vs Oney Lorcan – NXT #257 (taped 06/23/2017, aired 07/19/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
Yet another great sprint from Oney’s desperation run through the summer, this time with his British counterpart. Two hard-nosed men tee off on each other, resulting in some delightful hardway blood and a few dozen wild, brutal strikes that connect at weird, rough-looking angles and send me into fits of giggles.
57. Matt Riddle vs Matt Tremont – Beyond Wrestling Seven Years of Bad Luck (03/19/2017, Electric Haze, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States)
Two Matts take to the mat with… matte? No, “just” barbed wire and thumbtacks. Riddle wholeheartedly throws himself into a hardcore match with one of the greatest deathmatchers of all time, taking just as much punishment as he gives, making for one of the better plunder matches of the year.
56. Bobby Gunns vs WALTER – wXw Fight Forever Tour 2017: Frankfurt (09/30/2017, Batschkapp, Frankfurt am Main, Germany)
A cigarette-smoking weasel of a man who’s in over his head does his best to not get nuked by a pissed-off giant. He gets nuked in the end all the same, but watching him scramble to avoid moves and key in on an opportune hand injury as WALTER gets angrier and angrier is so, so much fun.
55. Fire Ant vs Jonathan Gresham – Independent Championship Tournament First Round Match – GSW Black Jack Brawl 4 (09/09/2017, GSW Arena, Old Forge, Pennsylvania, United States)
Frustrated by recent events, the Octopus adapts a former opponent’s strategy to a fresh match and applies the most focused leg work of the year, bar none. The explosive Fire Ant does what he can to fight back but he can’t quite survive Gresham’s onslaught, though his struggles make for one of the best smalltime indie matches of the year.
54. Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr – G1 Climax Block A Match – NJPW G1 Climax 2017 Day 3 (07/21/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
A fresh matchup early in the tournament where anyone can still make or break their fortunes leads to a nasty little shootout between hotheaded young men. On paper it reads like something I wouldn’t much like but the clash of styles actually enhances what is an otherwise annoying match type, as does the reliably good Korakuen Hall.
53. Jonathan Gresham vs Fred Yehi – NOVA Pro 11th Dimension (11/24/2017, Jewish Community Center, Fairfax, Virginia, United States)
A mean-spirited rematch of a memorable May meetup between these two, exacerbated by Yehi’s preceding match with Jordynne Grace. Both men apply different limb work strategies but don’t forget to pepper in memorable sequences of striking, speed, and superplexes as well as one of the cooler finishes of the year.
52. Keith Lee vs Ricochet – EVOLVE 80 (03/30/2017, Orlando Live Events, Fern Park, Florida, United States)
You probably won’t hear anybody but me say it but I think this was the best match of WrestleMania weekend. It’s a real simple affair, your bread and butter sort of big man/little man matchup, but these two have a certain level of poise and polish that keeps this gripping, as does the fact that this was right at the beginning of the weekend and not 18 shows deep.
51. Mike Quackenbush vs Johnny Kidd – World of Sport Rules – Chikara King of Trios 2017 Day 2 (09/02/2017, Starworks Warehouse, Wolverhampton, England, United Kingdom)
The rematch of a frustrating draw the year before, this one stays pretty friendly the whole way through but you can always see the sour, stubborn tenacity in Quack’s eyes. While the finish is a little wobbly I suppose I expect as much from a mostly-retired man in his 60s and it follows 15 minutes of some of the best matwork you’ll see these days.
50. Tank vs Matt Riddle – Scenic City Invitational 2017 First Round Match – Scenic City Invitational Tournament 2017 Day 1 (08/04/2017, East Hamilton High School, Ooltewah, Tennessee, United States)
A match that shouldn’t work as well as it does but I’m so glad it did. An aged legend of various circles I inhabit calls it quits in a main event sprint with a young man who has impressed him a hell of a lot over the last year and who is on his best behavior here. A southern-fried version of Perseus slaying Cetus, only you feel a lot of emotions for the big sea monster at the end. No small accomplishment, that.
49. John Klinger (c) vs Ilja Dragunov – No Holds Barred Match for the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship – wXw 17th Anniversary (12/23/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
One of the most disquieting, bittersweet matches I’ve ever seen in wrestling. So close to receiving the due reward of his deeds, Ilja is struck down, bloody and broken, for perhaps the final time. While the mechanics of the match are well above code, it’s the emotion that carries this to a high place on my list. Like the Ethiopians said: Good things never last, bad things never die.
48. Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs KUSHIDA – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Sakura Genesis 2017 (04/09/2017, Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan)
The best use of time in any match throughout 2017, one that is able to subvert expectations, delight a tired Sumo Hall crowd, provide a balance to the lengthy match that follows it, and tell the middle part of a three act story in a dramatic way, all without wasting any time. Incredible stuff. I honestly should have it higher than I do.
47. David Starr vs Joey Janela – Anything Goes – Beyond Wrestling Paying Paul (01/29/2017, Electric Haze, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States)
What we thought was the bloody blowoff to a heated feud but what was instead just a fork in the road destined to come together once more down the line. Probably the most effective deathmatch of the year, one that gets a lot out of its environment, people at ringside, and the pointed use of some well-worn weapons of the style.
46. Ringkampf (WALTER & Timothy Thatcher) vs The Briscoes (Jay Briscoe & Mark Briscoe) – World Tag Team League 2017 Block B Match – wXw World Tag Team League 2017 Day 1 (10/06/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
Sweet dreams are made of this: well-oiled, fast-paced, hard-hitting tag team virtuosity. Two duos I never imagined I’d ever see together click seamlessly from the get go, with neither side being able to get the sort of firm control they desire and elect instead to just blast the others out of the water. It’s insane that this is only the fourth-best wXw tag match of the year.
45. Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Matt Riddle – RPW British Heavyweight Championship – RPW High Stakes 2017 (01/21/2017, York Hall, Bethnal Green, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
Two men with plenty of shoot experience and even more bad habits miraculously bring their best efforts to a main event title match that feels big and delivers big. With quality stuff on the mat, in strike exchanges, and even through a few German suplex no sells, this match managed to surprise me with just how balanced and impactful it felt.
44. Mike Quackenbush vs Zack Sabre Jr – Johnny Kidd Invitational 2017 First Round Match – Chikara Johnny Kidd Invitational 2017 (06/18/2017, The Wrestle Factory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States)
This is tighter and meaner than the first go around and is in a smaller, more intimate environment with a more engaged crowd, so it ranks well above their previous match. Zack continues to be frustrated by the mostly-retired cosplayer’s endless bag of tricks and he makes sure to voice his complaints in the form of many, many kicks. We’re all made better for it.
43. Timothy Thatcher vs WALTER – AMBITION Rules – wXw Inner Circle 4 (10/05/2017, wXw Academy, Essen, Germany)
The meat of this match is a gut-wrenching, all out superfight from the two best wrestlers on the planet, sandwiched between a pair of tender moments of friendship. It’s maybe the sort of amalgamation of brutal action and friendly sincerity that would annoy me in most places outside of Mexico, but with these two boys it works so very well.
42. LA Park vs Rush – Promociones Baracal (03/11/2017, Gimnasio Olimpico Juan de la Barrera, Mexico City, Mexico)
Not the best lucha match of the year but the most lucha match of the year, if that makes sense. Fierce nemeses batter each other with the help of drink coolers, cartons of beer bottles, their friends and family, and occasionally the referee. You’d think a match with this sort of finish just wouldn’t work but that’s the magic of pro wrestling.
41. Massive Product (David Starr & Jurn Simmons) vs Ringkampf (WALTER & Timothy Thatcher) – World Tag Team League 2017 Finals – wXw World Tag Team League 2017 Day 3 (10/08/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
The culmination of one man’s desperate attempt at putting down roots in a new place and the continuation of another man’s desperate attempt to prove himself when he’s already done that and more. Perhaps not as refined or well-executed as other tag matches on this list, it’s the jubilation of Thatcher and the heartbreak of Starr that makes this match for me.
40. Fred Yehi vs Jonathan Gresham – NOVA Pro The Great Grapsy (05/19/2017, Jewish Community Center, Fairfax, Virginia, United States)
An interesting match that goes on to influence a whole bunch of Gresham’s matches throughout the rest of the year, as he plucks a move out of Yehi’s arsenal here and applies it in his own efforts towards the Powerbomb.TV Independent Championship. And shit, on its own this match is still Yehi vs Gresham so you know it rules.
39. Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr – EVOLVE Championship – EVOLVE 79 (02/25/2017, La Boom, New York City, New York, United States)
By my estimation, this is the biggest match in independent wrestling since 2009, something that will stand out in my memory for years and years to come. Two talented, temperamental technicians do battle in front of a molten hot crowd that can feel a change comin’ on. Even though my guy lost, watching Zack celebrate among his people as Lenny Leonard droned on about the inexorable march of progress was like nothing else.
38. David Starr vs Nick Gage – Beyond Wrestling Powerbomb.TV Pre-Game (11/26/2017, Electric Haze, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States)
A match that is hard to watch for a few reasons but something I simply can’t look away from all the same. Starr continues to excel in deathmatch environments and holds his own against one of its finest purveyors, with these two battering each other senseless here. The real appeal is where this match fits into Starr’s psyche, as he tries to toughen himself up in advance of big rematches with WALTER and Joey Janela.
37. Massive Product (David Starr & Jurn Simmons) (w/ Karsten Beck) vs Ringkampf (WALTER & Axel Dieter Jr) (w/ Christian Mikael Jakobi) – Winner Becomes Chairman of the Championship Board of Directors – wXw Dead End XVI (02/24/2017, Markthalle, Hamburg, Germany)
Covering a lot of storytelling and stylistic ground in over 32 minutes, this match continues themes from 2016 and sets up what will become the major narratives of wXw throughout 2017 without sacrificing a whole heap of hard-hitting action. Hamburg is alive for their foreign faces, even as their hopes are dashed against the rocks, and their exuberance combined with six men who know how to milk the most out of a match makes for a one hell of a bout.
36. Timothy Thatcher vs Jeff Cobb – AMBITION 8 Semi-Finals – wXw AMBITION 8 (03/11/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
I initially had this in my top ten matches of the year but even if it lost a little oomph for me as time went on, it’s a fantastic exhibition of grappling and companionship. Two certified mat marvels work their magic in a shootier environment than usual, testing their mettle against a sparring partner they’ve known for years, leading to a flash finish and friendly smiles. The grin on the Thatchman’s face at the end will brighten anyone’s day, I guarantee it.
35. Tyler Bate (c) vs Pete Dunne – WWE United Kingdom Championship – NXT TakeOver: Chicago (05/20/2017, Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Illinois, United States)
The biggest and best match of the ill-fated UK title scheme so far as well as the biggest and best match these two have had yet. Despite some wariness, these boys are on their best behavior here and knock it out of the park by revving up their usual spots and giving their best character performances yet, especially in a promotion that doesn’t allow them that sort of depth often.
34. Doom Patrol (Chris Dickinson & Jaka) vs Jonathan Gresham & Zack Sabre Jr – Beyond Wrestling Feeling Minnesota (04/30/2017, Aurora, Providence, Rhode Island, United States)
An all-star tag with lots of intrigue due to the history between Gresham and Zack as well as the ongoing story between Gresham, Dickinson, and Jordynne Grace, but above all else just a damn entertaining smashmouth tag match. Four fiery men who have more than enough skill and animosity to dish out some hurtin’ do so here in a big way, leading to a frustrating finish that leads to another great singles match on the show after this.
33. Trevor Lee (c) vs Chip Day – CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship – CWF Mid-Atlantic Kernodle Brothers Tag Team Tournament 2017 Day 2 (taped 03/25/2017, aired 04/26/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
Imperfect and clunky yes, but a match that accomplishes what it sets out to do, making for the best IWGP title match knockoff on American soil in some time, well above all but one of the real championship bouts NJPW put on in 2017. For maybe the first time in his reign Trevor finds someone who’s as beloved as him and desperate enough for the gold to go the distance, making for one of the best title matches of the year in CWF.
32. Asuka (c) vs Ember Moon – NXT Women’s Championship – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III (08/19/2017, Barclays Center, New York City, New York, United States)
The climax of Asuka’s time in NXT and sadly maybe of Moon’s time too. While the situation surrounding the match is disheartening, the match itself is one of the most compelling defeats of the year as Moon pulls out all the stops against a champion who is clearly fraying at the ends but just can’t manage to out-think the veteran. If not for Oney’s miracle run, the women’s title match at Brooklyn would be my NXT match of the year for the third year in a row.
31. Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman – Last Man Standing – WWE RAW #1263 (08/07/2017, Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
The cap off of one of the best feuds of a year dominated by major rivalries, delivering more action than ever in a format best suited to getting the most out of WWE’s hyperdramatic production and storytelling. On top of the delightful heavyweight warfare, I think this is probably the best single performance of Braun’s career so far, where he shows subtle signs of character work that were absent or far less interesting even a few weeks before this.
30. Hideo Itami vs Oney Lorcan – NXT #251 (taped 05/25/2017, aired 06/07/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
The second best bite-sized blowaway match in the so-called Year of the Sprint, with the only thing to beat this out being a rematch that builds off of the framework laid here. A pissed-off veteran fresh from injury and bitter defeat tries to punish a human land mine for having the audacity to blow up in his face, eventually employing a dirty trick and an unnecessary level of brutality in the end to do so. The running uppercuts Oney hits here make for what is probably the best spot of the year.
29. Wotan vs Impulso – Mano a Mano – WMC (02/11/2017, Arena San Juan Pantitlan, Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico)
Two brothers doing the nastiest things they can do to each other in one of my favorite venues in lucha libre. It’s not pretty in any sense but goddamn is it fun to watch as these two hit incredible dives and disgusting brainbusters on the floor, utilize light tubes and “la piña extrema”, and very nearly light themselves on fire in the pursuit of victory in front of a couple dozen people in the seediest part of metro Mexico City. In a bad year for lucha libre, this stands out as my favorite match and something that is so steeped in the baffling and awe-inspiring tradition of the style.
28. Trevor Lee (c) vs Ric Converse vs Dr. Daniel C. Rockingham vs Frankie Flynn vs Bellamy Koga vs Otto Schwanz vs Donnie Dollars vs Mitch Connor vs Eddy Only vs Keith Mac vs Aric Andrews vs Nick Richards vs Mecha Mercenary vs Mike Mars vs Kamakazi Kid vs Kool Jay vs Ray Kandrack vs Dave Dawson vs Snooty Foxx vs Ethan Alexander Sharpe vs Brad Attitude vs Chet Sterling vs Michael McAllister vs Cain Justice vs Mikael Yamaha vs Jesse Adler vs Aaron Biggs vs Mace Li vs Arik Royal vs Roy Wilkins – CWF Rumble for the CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship – CWF Mid-Atlantic 17th Annual Rumble (taped 10/14/2017, aired 10/25/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
The ultimate test of the central themes of Trevor’s reign: how far can the iron man go and how long can his resilience and endurance last? Likewise this is sort of the ultimate test of this multi-year booking trend: how long can you make Trevor win and outlast everyone without it becoming comically overwrought? Maybe this is one of the last hurrahs before the whole house of cards comes tumbling down, but I think they pull it off here with a commanding and complex match (with a bunch of rookies no less) that might just be the best battle royale ever.
27. Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls World Championship – Sendai Girls Women’s Wrestling Big Show in Sendai 2017 (taped 09/24/2017, aired 10/07/2017, Sendai Sun Plaza Hall, Sendai, Japan)
Great rematch from last year’s Big Show in Sendai where Chihiro first won the belt and unseated Satomura after a year-long reign. Chihiro doesn’t have the consistency or experience to hold onto the belt for long, which the veteran tries to exploit via an all-out assault combining her incredible strike game with focused arm work. The champion’s combination of strength and sports background is what comes out on top in the end, following one hell of a finishing stretch befitting of a cross-generational battle like this.
26. Yuji Nagata vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – G1 Climax Block A Match – NJPW G1 Climax 2017 Day 5 (07/23/2017, Machida Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan)
The newest entry into a storied rivalry that has defined my modern enjoyment of New Japan. Two old foes—who are certainly feeling the weight of that adjective—duke it out with pride on the line as one man enters his final G1 Climax tournament and the other battles a debilitating series of injuries that look to end the serious part of his career. Fighting against their own mortality as much as each other and putting on either man’s best match in several years, Nagata and Tanahashi take wild swings, rocking back on their heels, hoping in the end they’re not the first one to fall.
25. Cain Justice (c) vs Dominic Garrini – Six-Pack Challenge Qualifying Match for the CWF Mid-Atlantic Rising Generation League Championship – CWF Mid-Atlantic End of an Era 2017 (taped 02/25/2017, aired 03/15/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
So refreshing and so pure, this match is a delight even if it’s a little rough around the edges. Two guys with plenty of martial arts experience but not a lot of pro wrestling experience ply their trade the only way they know how, leading to a matchup so unlike anything else in wrestling right now it’s like a slap in the face. I think I can overlook a few weird bumps or sloppy strikes when a match manages to reinvent the wheel so entertainingly as this.
24. Trevor Lee (c) vs Ethan Alexander Sharpe – CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship – CWF Mid-Atlantic Explosive Elements 2017 (taped 10/28/2017, aired 11/15/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
The quintessential CWF Mid-Atlantic match, taking the best qualities of two very different performers and combining them with a clear narrative, an interesting hook, some drama from an annoyed referee, more than a little comedy, and plenty of great commentary to make for one hell of a twenty minute match. Whether Trevor’s toying with his opponent or Sharpe’s pulling out every dirty trick in the book, this match is a joy from start to finish, something wholly CWF and wholly enjoyable.
23. Nick Gage vs Ciclope – Nick Gage Invitational 2 First Round Match – GCW Nick Gage Invitational 2 (09/16/2017, Game Changer World, Howell, New Jersey, United States)
This would have probably been the best deathmatch of the year in just about any year of the last decade, something that is so revoltingly fun but not quite as great as the two best matches of a feud I’ll talk about later. As Emil Jay says, Gage is the “demented maestro” in charge of this thing but Ciclope more than holds up his end of the deal, taking it to the King like no one else has in a long time. He’s treated to some thunderous chair shots and a literal fish hook in the mouth for his troubles, but it mostly works out in the end. There’s some great no selling in the back half of this match, which I can’t believe I’m saying, but it goes to show you how transcendent this thing really is.
22. Soner Dursun (c) vs Rockstar Spud – FutureShock Adrenaline Championship – FutureShock Reloaded! #2 (06/11/2017, 53Two Theatre, Manchester, England, United Kingdom)
A diminutive veteran, perhaps tired of playing the clown in a third-rate promotion across the pond, vents his frustrations on a young champion who is bafflingly beloved by the fans of this tiny Manchester promotion. It’s a simple story but with the combined efforts of Spud, Soner, and a game crowd, this simple story turns into a shockingly great underdog match with an utterly incredible performance from the older man.
21. Kazuchika Okada vs Satoshi Kojima – G1 Climax Block B Match – NJPW G1 Climax 27 Day 8 (07/27/2017, Aore Nagaoka, Nagaoka, Japan)
Okada has stakes in his own match for once! Kojima, battered and old, tries to give him what for! Tenzan wants to murder Okada and Nagaoka wants to see it happen! Goddamn miracle of a match here, the sort of thing that makes you think that the young champion might actually be great one day for the people who want more than the bare minimum out of matches. Okada takes umbrage with Nagaoka’s appreciation for the veteran and toys with a man who is so far below his league but who can still get in some good shots and it makes for a wonderful match, the likes of which I wish I saw more often in the Shin Nihon.
20. Jonathan Gresham (c) vs Nick Gage – Independent Wrestling Championship – Powerbomb.TV Wazzup (11/25/2017, Wrestle Factory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States)
Something we joked about wanting to see on Twitter that astonishingly manifested itself into being, which goes to show all those #MatchesIn2017 tweets were onto something after all. Two days after my birthday, two performers I love (plus Stokely and Bryce!) have a totally unique match in front of a tiny crowd in a building that makes this already weird matchup even more bizarre. The dastardly duo of the Dream Team don’t fully know how to stop the steam train that is Nick Gage, making for an engaging match where they’re pulling out all these tricks and you wonder if any of them will have a lasting effect on the King. A singular match that is far from perfect but so far above most other wrestling these days.
19. Io Shirai (c) vs Shayna Baszler – World of Stardom Championship – Stardom Stardom of Champions (taped 02/23/2017, aired 02/26/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
Maybe the most well-executed match of the year, in that it tells a story of dueling limb work and two women trying to overcome it in a clear and compelling way that doesn’t sacrifice any spotz in order to do it. Shayna’s cockiness gets the best of her when she tries to show off with a particular superplex variation, which basically hands the match over to Io on a silver platter in the end. While it’s not clear if Shayna realizes the change herself it’s immediately evident in her actions, which is probably the best single instance of selling in 2017 all told.
18. David Starr vs WALTER – Beyond Wrestling Cold Brew (12/10/2017, Melrose Memorial Hall, Melrose, Massachusetts, United States)
Not the best match these two had in the year but one that further illustrates where they are in their feud. WALTER, who now has to fly to another continent in order to face off with this pesky mosquito of a man, has finally taken an active investment in this matchup and looks to take out Starr once and for all. Starr, fiery as ever and looking to see if a home field advantage can help him out of this one, applies the same strategies that helped briefly before but comes up short once again when it matters. WALTER shakes his hand afterward but it’s not enough, because it will never be enough for Starr.
17. Brock Lesnar vs AJ Styles – WWE Survivor Series 2017 (11/19/2017, Toyota Center, Houston, Texas, United States)
The best match either of these men have had in years and something that really turned their cases around after a questionable summer and fall. Lesnar is at his most monstrous but falls prey to AJ’s explosiveness and sound strategy, leading to maybe the best false finish of the year. In the end AJ doesn’t win but for a few minutes there you could feel it in your bones that he just had to.
16. Nick Gage vs Matt Tremont – Tournament of Survival 2 Finals – GCW Tournament of Survival 2 (06/03/2017, Game Changer World, Howell, New Jersey, United States)
The first chapter of the best feud of 2017, and hell, maybe the best feud since Punk/Cena. The two men who, by and large, have defined American deathmatch wrestling over the years battle for the crown that by rights belongs to both of them. There’s no such thing as sharing in deathmatches though, merely kill or be killed.
15. Hideo Itami vs Oney Lorcan – NXT #254 (taped 06/23/2017, aired 06/28/2017, Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States)
After an arguably inconclusive and at the very least inflammatory finish to their last match, Oney returns looking for revenge, busting up his opponent hardway in a matter of seconds. Itami doesn’t stay down for long, teeing off on the Bostonian with a bevy of strikes and the same underhanded trick that helped him to take control of the first match, but even if he can’t win in the end it’s so goddamn fun to watch Oney struggle against the veteran’s efforts and burn out in a blaze of blockbusters.
14. Zack Gibson vs Jack Sexsmith – Super Strong Style 16 Tournament 2017 First Round Match – PROGRESS Chapter 49 Day 1 (05/27/2017, Electric Ballroom, Camden, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
The feel good hit of the summer. A beloved young man whose career has been marked by a whole bunch of nothing in the win column, having only had two wins in PROGRESS in the two years preceding this match, squares up to a dominating bruiser he’s already run afoul of twice in the year. Gibson’s size and strategies seem to be too much for Sexsmith but the crowd won’t give up on him and he can’t let them down. When a match this good is only the fourth-best babyface underdog win of the year, you know there was some great wrestling happening.
13. Sami Callihan (c) vs Low Ki – AAW Heavyweight Championship – AAW Homecoming 2017 (03/17/2017, Berwyn Eagles Club, Berwyn, Illinois, United States)
The best exhibition of violence of the year that wasn’t an actual deathmatch. Even then, it comes real fucking close to matching my #1. Callihan, this talented and dangerous wrestler whose psychosis causes him to get in his own way as often as not, comes face to face with the definition of unprofessionalism that beat the snot out of him a few years ago. Like rats these two go at it and like rats they gnaw and scratch and tear at each other, with probably a dozen memorable, uncomfortable spots strewn throughout this title match. Had they nailed the landing—something that’s all but impossible in AAW—this would be my match of the year, probably.
12. Sasha Banks vs Emma vs Nia Jax vs Dana Brooke vs Bayley vs Mickie James – Number One Contender’s Gauntlet Match – WWE RAW #1257 (06/26/2017, Staples Center, Los Angeles, California, United States)
One of the best-booked matches of the year, at least outside of CWF Mid-Atlantic. Everyone is used to their fullest effect here, whether as a plucky underdog out of her depth, a crafty former champion with momentum behind her, a massive monster pushed to the limits, or the fodder fed to the dominating villainess. The finishing stretch with Banks avoiding these simple but devastating, lumbering moves from Jax, eventually trapping the giant in a move she can’t escape, is captivating, being both incredibly thrilling action as well as the most interesting character work in WWE in a long time.
11. Masaaki Mochizuki vs Big R Shimizu – Number One Contender’s Match – Dragon Gate Scandal Gate 2017 Day 19 (taped 09/05/2017, aired 09/15/2017, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan)
As with many of the best matches in Dragon Gate, youth collides with experience in gruesome fashion. The veteran who may only have one title shot left in the tank uses a superior strategy to fell a massive youngster hungry for his first title shot but lacking in the adaptability necessary to reach the next level. Along the way they blast each other to high heaven with all manner of thudding blows and crushing slams, capping things off with a disgusting submission hold.
10. Team Sendai Girls (Meiko Satomura, DASH Chisako, & Cassandra Miyagi) vs British Strong Style (Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, & Tyler Bate) – King of Trios 2017 Finals – Chikara King of Trios 2017 Day 3 (09/03/2017, Starworks Warehouse, Wolverhampton, England, United Kingdom)
A once-in-a-lifetime matchup between the two leaders of these all star teams forms the crux of the best opening stretch of any match I’ve seen in years. While the other four competitors can’t exactly keep up and drag this down to “only” my #10 match of the year, the immediate, immense chemistry between Satomura and Dunne makes for an unforgettable match.
9. David Starr vs WALTER – 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2017 First Round – wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Day 1 (03/10/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
Maybe not so flashy as its sequels, the first installment of this incredible trio of matches still packs one hell of a punch. Despite recent success, Starr finds himself once more unable to defeat the particularly huge thorn caught in his side, the Austrian Lance of Longinus that pierces him again and again. Little does he know it doesn’t get any easier from here.
8. Roy Wilkins vs Snooty Fox – CWF Mid-Atlantic Double or Nothing 2017 (taped 05/13/2017, aired 05/31/2017, Hargraves Community Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States)
From humble means and meager appearance comes a simple, heartfelt match that turns the mourning of the faithful into dancing. In a year where the altar of the Lord was thrown down and the scale broken anew, a match without the polish or work rate or ambition of the Tokyo Dome limelight stands as the shining example of pro wrestling at its finest, at its most genuine.
7. The Rottweilers (Homicide & Low Ki) vs Ringkampf (WALTER & Timothy Thatcher) – World Tag Team League 2017 Block B Match – wXw World Tag Team League 2017 Day 2 (10/07/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
An affirmation of all the things I love most, a gift from above in the form of four men pretending to beat each other up, or at least pretending to pretend. Killers all, comedians some, the one-of-a-kind characters interacting here for the very first time are the real appeal on top of the high impact action. And hey, it’s not like the action’s bad either.
6. David Starr vs WALTER – wXw Fight Forever Tour 2017: London (10/28/2017, The Dome, Tufnell Park, Greater London, England, United Kingdom)
A desperate man finds himself tumbling headlong into desperate times of his own design. Losing friends, losing his mind, waking a sleeping giant and filling him with a terrible resolve, all Starr can do is push forward. When you’re six feet deep in your own grave, the only direction to dig is up.
5. Timothy Thatcher vs Daniel Makabe – 3-2-1 BATTLE! Wet Hot Seattle Summer (07/28/2017, Battle Palace, Seattle, Washington, United States)
I need excitement, oh I need it bad. Timothy Thatcher, world-class wrestler, is baffled and disgusted by the eccentricities of the 3-2-1 Battalion as well as the efforts of the pale, Whitecaps kit-wearing man across the ring from him. Quickly he finds that he’s not as superior as he thought.
4. Trevor Lee (c) vs Alex Daniels – CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship – CWF Mid-Atlantic 80’s Night (taped 04/29/“1987”, aired 05/27/2017, Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium, Gibsonville, North Carolina, United States)
An exceptionally impressive young man slowly loses control of the match he lobbied so hard for and comes to realize why exactly the champ is the champ. Time and again in 2017, Trevor Lee and the booking of CWF were able to elevate a lesser performer to greatness and this, for me, is the shining example of that.
3. Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Katsuyori Shibata – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Sakura Genesis 2017 (04/09/2017, Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan)
What else can I say? The culmination of two careers, one of which is snuffed out by its own hand. The better side of me says that I shouldn’t like this match for all that it entails but I can’t help but sit mesmerized by what these two men do in Ryogoku.
2. Ilja Dragunov vs WALTER – 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2017 Finals – wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Day 3 (03/12/2017, Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany)
For a few minutes, these men made me believe. With a simple formula, an ecstatic crowd, and all the fire in the world from one young man, these two made me forget that I knew the outcome of the match already and made me simply believe.
1. Matt Tremont (c) vs Nick Gage – Cinderblock Canvas Deathmatch for the GCW Heavyweight Championship and Nick Gage Invitational 2 Finals – GCW Nick Gage Invitational 2 (09/16/2017, Game Changer World, Howell, New Jersey, United States)
The natural endpoint of a style that has defined my fandom of wrestling over the last decade. The two greatest of all time going out on their shields in disgusting, despicable fashion. I can’t fully endorse or approve of this match, of its content, of what these two men do to each other. But I won’t ever be able to forget it.