SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The year 2017 may have been the most uneventful year in mainstream wrestling in decades. Unless you are a huge fan of independent wrestling, which I realize a large part of our readership is, this was a pretty dull time to be a wrestling fan. I have done my annual “Top 10” article the last few years, and this time it was a stretch to think of ten interesting stories, but today we examine the biggest pro wrestling stories of 2017
10. The XFL Returns?
This story is still in its early stages, but I think the three letters most people associated with the word of an impending XFL return were WTF?
9. The Attempted Indian Expansion
If you want a perfect example of how out of touch WWE “Creative” is with its audience, look no further than the Jinder Mahal experiment. I do not think it is a bad idea to occasionally elevate a talent to main event status from the mid-card. I thought that JBL was one of the best heels of his generation. Mahal, however, had been booked as a jobber for years, and when he became WWE Champion, it was an obvious contrived attempt to break into the Indian market, which was not a bad idea in theory. I will credit Jinder for getting himself into the WWE shape that Vince McMahon loves, and he also did his best to present himself like a main eventer.
That being said, it was an embarrassing attempt to pander to a foreign audience without understanding that market. I go to India every year, and the huge stars there pattern themselves after major Western superstars like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Showcasing Mahal as an obnoxious race-baiter in stereotypical garb was entertaining at times, but it was set up to fail. WWE fans in India like the product because of larger-than-life stars like John Cena and Goldberg, and they are not looking for a goofy spoof of what McMahon thinks is an alpha-Indian male. Next time WWE wants to break a new market, they need to research what that audience is seeking first.
8. The Women’s “Revolution” is Revolting
WWE is not known for its logical, nuanced storytelling. In fact, even daytime soap opera writers would be forced to wince at the convoluted plotting of wrestling feuds. The absolute worst booking in wrestling history may be the Women’s Division the last few years. Characters have been completely inconsistent, championships have changed hands incessantly without any storyline logic, and the angles have been so bad that even Vince Russo must be shaking his head in disbelief. The atrocious booking of Charlotte, Bayley, Sasha Banks and company has been embarrassing.
It is ridiculous that they are now “rewarded” with a Royal Rumble, which merely seems like a cheap attempt for Stephanie McMahon to push her political agenda. Instead of trying to force the women into goofy angles leading to gimmick matches like Hell in a Cell, they need to put some time into stronger consistent character development and logical storytelling. The symbolic moment that sums up this mess had to be James Ellsworth winning the first Women’s Money in the Bank match. Who will win the Women’s Rumble, Gillberg? The Women’s Revolution was nothing short of revolting.
7. The Rise of Independent Wrestling
If this was a dull year when it came to the monolithic WWE, many wrestling fans rejoiced by escaping to the numerous independent offerings around the world. Not only did the Indy scene grow, so did the entire star rating scale itself as Dave Meltzer blew up the scale he popularized by rating matches with six stars on the five-star metric.
6. Goldberg’s Triumphant Return Continues
I attended WrestleMania live as I have for over a decade, and it was a pretty average card overall. The match that really stood out when it came to larger-than-life characters and fan reaction was Brock Lesnar versus Bill Goldberg. That is extremely ironic because I was also in the audience for WrestleMania 20 when these same two combatants had one of the worst matches in history and it appeared Goldberg’s career was over. Surely, even he could not have imagined that 13 years later he would come to WrestleMania as world champion against the same opponent, and they would steal the show.
5. Roman Reigns Defeats Undertaker but Struggles for Respect
It is no secret that WWE has worked hard in trying to make Reigns the centerpiece star of the company for the past few years. He has all the tools to be the top star, but he has been missing the most important element, and that has been a connection with the crowd. This was painfully evident again in 2017 as WWE continued to push the same character the fans have been booing for years without making obvious adjustments. When Reigns defeated Undertaker, seemingly into retirement, at WrestleMania, he had an even more interesting moment the next day when he stood silent in the ring for ten minutes as fans booed him mercilessly.
The company has tried to shield his weaknesses by reuniting the Shield, but whenever Roman is delivering a promo, it still comes across as awkward and disingenuous. Hopefully, we will finally see a heel turn in 2018, perhaps turning against his Sheild partners, and I feel Reigns will be one of the greatest bad guys in wrestling history.
4. The Nature Boy Lives On
One of the scarier moments of 2017 was when Ric Flair was suddenly hospitalized this past summer with his health in severe condition. In true Nature Boy style, he resiliently fought back to stable condition in time for the world premiere of his “30 For 30” documentary on ESPN. In a year where Hugh Hefner passed away, thankfully we were able to see the playboy of the wrestling world return to cut a promo on his nurse and hopefully style and profile for years to come.
3. The Rise of Retro Podcasts
In my 2014 Top 10, I had written that the power of podcasts was stronger than ever. That was after C.M. Punk’s historic appearance on Colt Cobana’s show and, at the time, Chris Jericho, Jim Ross, and Steve Austin all had successful shows on Podcast One. Those were all shows that largely focused on interviews and current events. This left a huge hole for a niche of fans that wanted to be taken on a nostalgic journey to the golden ages of pro wrestling, the rise of Hulkamania, and the Monday Night Wars. Who could have imagined that it would be a successful “mortgage guy” and wrestling fan, as he refers to himself, that would change the game? Conrad Thompson’s enormously successful show “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” has changed the landscape of wrestling podcasting. Throughout the year, we have been taken on historical journeys with in-depth coverage of singular events or characters voted on by fan polls.
Thompson, also known as the Podfather, has also brought us another retro show with Tony Schiavone which takes us back to “What Happened When” WCW moments. Sean Mooney, Jim Duggan, Eric Bischoff, etc., have all utilized this successful formula and we the fans have been rewarded with trips back in time to when many of us became wrestling fans.
(By the way, check out the latest episode of the show I host with former ProWrestling.Net Senior Editor Rich Twilling, The Pro Wrestling Top 5. Our topic this week is the Top 5 Wrestling Podcasts. (This does not include the newsletter-hosted shows because of course, Wade Keller would deserve mention.)
2. Saying goodbye to Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
Bobby Heenan was the greatest manager in wrestling history, and he was arguably the greatest color commentator as well. He probably entertained me more growing up than nearly any other WWF character. Sadly, he passed away this year after years of health struggles. Thankfully, through the WWE Network and YouTube, we can relive some of his greatest moments. I suggest that all of you check out his Hall of Fame speech after reading this article. It is one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen, effortlessly blending humor and emotion.
1. Cena Goes Mainstream as the Styles Phenomenon Continues
This year finally saw John Cena make nearly a full transition into being a mainstream pop culture icon. This move has been slowly progressing for years as he has hosted the ESPY’s, Kid’s Choice Awards and Saturday Night Live. Now he is transitioning into major movies like the “Transformers” series. Cena had been the face of WWE for over a decade, and now we may see him become a major force in movies and television.
At the same time, while experiments with Reigns and Mahal have had varying degrees of success, it is only fitting that a classic wrestler was the best performer of 2017. A.J. Styles had spectacular matches with the likes of Cena, Shane McMahon, Brock Lesnar, and nearly anyone he faced in the ring. He proved what many had already known before he entered the WWE, and that is that he is the best wrestler in the world.
It is encouraging that the greatest wrestler ends the year as champion, and hopefully 2018 will be Phenomenal for great wrestling and great moments.
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