While watching Clash of Champions a couple weeks ago, my friends and I were swept in a melancholy, yawning and sighing more often than ever before. There was little suspense, even less excitement as Smackdown spent the show maintaining the status quo. We were left wondering why we still gather for these events.
But then I looked back on the year, remembering all the action and drama that produced goosebumps. Don’t let JinderMania bring you down – there were ten incredible moments in 2017 that fueled our pro wrestling addiction.
10. Foley’s Last Stand
As a Mick Foley diehard, it pains me to admit that his run as Raw General Manager was pitiful. Growing up during his awesome Commissioner run in 2000, where he enhanced every segment and helped flesh out new characters like Kurt Angle, Edge and Christian, it was heart-wrenching to see the Hardcore Legend now stumbling on the mic and routinely emasculated by Stephanie McMahon.
After months of being degraded like the rest of the Raw roster, Foley finally snapped a few weeks before WrestleMania 33. That old Cactus Jack fire burned in his eyes as he blasted Stephanie and her husband for their corruption. When Triple H came out to give his arch-rival a reality check, he like many of us underestimated the testicular fortitude of Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy.
9. Rollins & Ambrose Reunite
It was the modern-day Mega Powers handshake and the WWE Universe rejoiced.
In July, Seth Rollins saved ex-teammate and long-time rival Dean Ambrose from an assault by The Miztourage. When Rollins tried to make amends for betraying The Shield, Ambrose refused to trust him again. Rollins yearned to rekindle their friendship, even offering Ambrose a steel chair to whack him in the back for revenge. Ambrose declined, and week after week their relationship would teeter between reuniting and fighting.
One week before SummerSlam, they released all their frustration before being interrupted by The Bar.
8. Braun Flips the Ambulance
“I’m not finished with you!”
In one night, Braun Strowman became a certified special attraction whose feats of strength turned into viral sensations. Although he was built up like many monsters Vince McMahon has anointed, demolishing jobbers and midcarders before entering the main event scene, fans embraced rather than recoiled at the bearded mammoth simply because he was feuding with public enemy No. 1: Roman Reigns. His popularity soared one week after WrestleMania as he destroyed the Big Dog in maniacal fashion, reminiscent of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
7. Hardy Boyz Return
An all-time great WrestleMania moment happened in Orlando this year, as the Hardy Boyz showed up to a thunderous ovation. Ditching the Broken Matt and Brother Nero personas, the legendary duo returned to WWE after seven years away, instantly winning the Tag Team Titles in four-way ladder match. In a year where many tag teams broke up, the Hardyz brought stability to the Raw division before Jeff was sidelined with an injury.
6. ‘GLOW’ Premieres
Over 30 years after it premiered, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling returned to TV via a dramedy Netflix series. Jam packed with big names (Jenji Kohan, Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch) and a stellar cast (Allison Brie, Marc Maron, Awesome Kong), the series about a niche wrestling product exploded into a mainstream hit. People that never watched pro wrestling before were hooked on this show, inspired by its feminist tone, mesmerized by its 1980s nostalgia and captivated by its brilliantly funny writing. GLOW’s massive popularity has certainly influenced WWE, which announced a women’s Money in the Bank match shortly after the series premiered and plans on holding a women’s Royal Rumble this year.
5. ‘30 for 30: Nature Boy’
On November 7, the world paid homage to the greatest professional wrestler of all time, a grandiose statement cemented by ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary. It’s a monumental honor for not only Ric Flair, who has now surpassed Hulk Hogan as the personification of his profession, but also for the profession itself, historically shunned by the media for not being a legit sport. The 90-minute special was also a celebration of Flair’s most recent and hardest-fought triumph, a health scare that left him on life support and in a medically induced coma. Thank God, or Ric if you’re on a first name basis, that the Nature Boy lived to experience the universal praise.
4. Kurt Angle Returns
Our Olympic Hero came back home for the WWE Hall of Fame, delivering a highly entertaining speech reflecting on his greatest and most hilarious moments. A few nights later, he was announced as the new Raw General Manager, soaking in the “You Suck” chants from an ecstatic Orlando crowd. While his segments have been nothing to talk about (aside from the Jason Jordan revelation), his mere presence gave hope that the Olympic gold medalist would have one more match in WWE. Well, we got that and then some: Angle returned to the ring with only 48 hours’ notice, replacing Roman Reigns at TLC, and then captaining Team Raw at Survivor Series.
With Undertaker scheduled for the Raw 25th anniversary show, speculation runs rampant that perhaps the Deadman hasn’t hung up the tights, after all. It sure felt that way at WrestleMania 33, when he lost to Roman Reigns and subsequently left his gear in the ring, seemingly soaking in the fans’ adoration while saying goodbye. #ThankYouTaker trended on Twitter and WWE did nothing to refute that the Phenom had wrestled his final match. Whether that’s the case remains to be seen, but for now, it was a bittersweet moment of paying tribute to the cornerstone of WWE over the past 27 years.
2. Festival of Friendship
All good things must come to an end – Chris Jericho found that out the hard way during the Festival of Friendship in February. In one of the greatest segments in Raw history, Y2J celebrated his relationship with Kevin Owens in over-the-top, glitz and glamourous Las Vegas fashion. With his ridiculous bedazzled outfit, hilarious dancing and absurd gifts (plus Gillberg and Friendship the Magician), Jericho annihilated the friendship bracelet market and demonstrated why he’s the most sincere, thoughtful and generous man alive.
Unfortunately, Owens is the antithesis.
1. Jericho Invades NJPW
As if the Festival of Friendship wasn’t enough, Y2J shocked the wrestling world in November by appearing on New Japan TV, challenging Kenny Omega to a dream match at Wrestle Kingdom 12. It would be Jericho’s first match outside WWE since 1999, and his first appearance in NJPW in more than 20 years. However, the surprises weren’t over – Jericho upped the ante by actually appearing in NJPW a month after, attacking Omega from behind and leaving the star a bloody mess. He followed that up at a press conference with a profanity-laced explosion, channeling the late Andy Kaufman.