In case you don’t quite know this about me, I am a huge fan of professional wrestling. I like the action, athleticism, drama, storylines (sometimes), and overall presentation of the product. From the glitz and glamour of the WWE to the low down, real feel you find in promotions like New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Defiant Wrestling (formerly What Culture Pro Wrestling), Lucha Underground, Combat Zone Wrestling, Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide, whatever the hell Impact Wrestling is called at the moment, and numerous other relatively smaller wrestling promotions across the United States and around the world – the art and showmanship of professional wrestling has drawn me in as a fan since I was first exposed to it way back in 1983.
However, not since the end of the Monday Night Wars in 2001 when the WWE (then World Wrestling Federation) acquired its rival promotion World Championship Wrestling, and to a smaller degree Extreme Championship Wrestling, has there been this diverse of field in wrestling promotions providing wrestling fans all over numerous options to watch quality professional wrestling at such a high level of performance – and, for the first time in forever, from both the male and female rosters of various promotions.
That is why putting together a list of my ten favorite wrestlers of 2017 has been so difficult. Watching matches from promotions from all over the world, both men’s and women’s matches, has been almost a job in itself.
Honorable mentions: Brock Lesnar, Charlotte Flair, John Cena, Kevin Owens, Matt Hardy, Matt Riddle, Rosemary, Taya Valkyrie, Tetsuya Naito, The Young Bucks
10. Pentagon Dark (aka Pentagon 0M)
One of the hardest hitting and visceral performers in professional wrestling that I feel doesn’t get the recognition that he truly deserves, Pentagon Dark has had some incredible matches in 2017 including matches against Johnny Mundo, Son of Havoc, The Chosen Bros, The Young Bucks, and Prince Puma, defeating the latter at the Lucha Underground at Ultima Lucha Tres to capture the Lucha Underground Championship.
9. Zack Sabre Jr.
What can I say about the all-out athleticism of Zack Sabre Jr that hasn’t already been said. One of the hardest hitting entertainers out there, Zack Sabre Jr has had some amazing matches in 2017 that include a pair of amazing matches at the Battle of Los Angeles event against Jonah Rock and Rey Fenix, two matches in Mexico against both Negro Navarro and Daga, Tomohiro Ishii at the G1 Special in USA, and two amazing performances against Hiroshi Tanahashi, with one match at the Destruction in Hiroshima event where he failed to capture the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
8. Alexa Bliss
While Alexa Bliss was one of my favorite wrestlers on the NXT roster a couple of years ago, since being called up to the main WWE roster she has improved both in the ring and on the mic exponentially. She has improved so much so that she has won the RAW and Smackdown versions of the Women’s Championship twice – the first female in WWE to do so. She had a great pair of matches against Naomi for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, both times dropping the belt to Naomi. She has also had a pair of matches on the RAW brand, winning the belt from both Bayley and Sasha Banks. And her Champion vs. Champion match at Survivor Series with Charlotte Flair was a standout match for her in 2017.
7. Kairi Sane
Before Kairi Sane signed with the WWE to participate in the Mae Young Classic, she had two amazing matches in World Wonder Ring Stardom; the first an unsuccessful attempt against Io Shirai for the World of Stardom Championship and then against Mayu Iwatani in which she lost her Wonder of Stardom Championship. And that was before she came to the WWE for the Mae Young Classic. And that is where she really showed the world what she could do. She defeated Tessa Blanchard, Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, and Shayna Baszler, defeating the latter to win the tournament. She also participated in a mind-blowing 4-way match for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship against Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, and Peyton Royce with Ember Moon coming out victorious in the end.
6. Kazuchika Okada
You only need to look at the trio of New Japan Pro-Wrestling matches between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega that began on Wrestle Kingdom 11, continued at Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-jo Hall, and culminating at the 2017 G1 Climax, winning the first two matches against Kenny Omega and losing the final match. He also had an amazing match defeating Cody Rhodes at the G1 Special in USA. He also had several high caliber matches against Katsuyori Shinada, Evil, Bad Luck Fale, and Minoru Suzuki – each of which were amazing matches in the own rights throughout all of 2017.
5. Cody Rhodes
To say that Cody Rhodes has had a successful career since leaving the WWE would be a huge understatement. He has gone on to show that a wrestler no longer needs the be in the WWE to be considered a top draw around the world. And a few matches that he has had in 2017 has proven this. His effort to defend his What Culture Pro Wrestling Internet Championship in a triple threat match against Joe Hendry and Gabriel Kidd (the latter winning the belt) and his defeat of Drew Galloway for the same promotion were a great pair of matches. He also had some a pair of incredible matches in Ring of Honor against Christopher Daniels, first at War of the Worlds and later at Best in the World, defeating Christopher Daniels for the Ring of Honor World Championship. And then there was the aforementioned match at the New Japan Pro-Wrestling G1 Special in USA against Kazuchika Okada.
While Asuka’s time in the main roster of the WWE has been somewhat underwhelming, just looking back at her time in NXT earlier in the year shows why she is the phenom that she is right now. The way that she turned the women’s division in NXT into the must watch division in all of the WWE was simply amazing. She had several high caliber matches against many talented women in NXT across 2017 at numerous NXT Takeover events including a fatal four way match and a triple threat match against the likes of Nikki Cross, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, and Ruby Riott, and a couple of singles matches against Ember Moon – every time successfully defending her NXT Women’s Championship. And her Last Woman Standing match against Nikki Cross during the weekly NXT show is a spectacle in itself to behold.
3. Kenny Omega
If you haven’t heard of Kenny Omega by now, how dare you call yourself a wrestling fan. Kenny Omega is perhaps the biggest draw outside of the WWE that you can find around the world. His time in New Japan Pro-Wrestling during 2017 and the matches that he has had there is the stuff of legend. First and foremost are his aforementioned trio of matches against Kazuchika Okada that spanned across 2017.Then you have this stellar 6-man tag match at Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s Battle for Los Angeles where Kenny Omega teamed with The Young Bucks to challenge and defeat Pentagon 0M, Rey Fenix, and Flamita. Then you have his other New Japan Pro-Wrestling matches against Tomohiro Ishii, Tetsuya Naito, Yoshi-Hashi, and Juice Robinson (seriously, who saw this ending coming). And finally, his winning the inaugural IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship during the 8-man tournament during the G1 Special in USA and you have a year that no one else can really rival.
2. Braun Strowman
I’ll admit that I was not a huge Braun Strowman fan when he first debuted in the WWE as part of The Wyatt Family. I thought he was just another big man that was there to look big and intimidating and he showed that in his first year with the WWE that he could barely move and was just another lumbering brute. But as 2017 rolled along we began to see that Braun Strowman could be so much more – and I guess the creative team at the WWE suddenly remembered how to write and book a monster like him as he was booked strongly for much of 2017. His running feuds with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar really pushed Braun Strowman front and center and showed the WWE audiences just how much he had improved in a short amount of time. And while most of his biggest moments have happened outside of in ring matches, his final moments at the end of the 2017 Survivor Series event certainly had fans cemented on his side.
1. AJ Styles
Within the WWE, no other wrestler had as great a year as AJ Styles did. He started the year off hot in a losing effort against John Cena at the Royal Rumble event, losing his WWE Championship. He then faced off against John Cena and four other men in the Elimination Chamber for the same title, losing to the eventual winner of the match, Bray Wyatt. He also had what was probably the best match of WrestleMania 33 against Shane McMahon, pinning him to win the match. He then challenged Kevin Owens for the WWE United Stated Championship on several occasions, winning the belt at an untelevised WWE Live event. He later lost the belt back to Kevin Owens but regained it two days later for a second run with the title. AJ Styles would then go on to challenge then WWE Champion Jinder Mahal in Manchester, England and would score the pinfall to become a two-time WWE Champion. (He would later retain the belt against Jinder Mahal at Clash of Champions.) His outstanding Champion vs. Champion match against WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series was unexpectedly good. But it was the surprise match that no one expected that pitted AJ Styles against Finn Balor at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs that really had fans gasping in awe as it was perhaps the best match in the WWE for 2017 – and it totally came as out of left field.