When The Wrestling Estate, Rolling Stone and PWI all disagree on who the best wrestler of the year was, you know it was a pretty, pretty, pretty good year.
Taking into account wins/losses, championships, entertainment and general buzz, I’ve assembled the top 10 wrestlers of 2017. Of course, the most important factor in determining such a ranking is consistency. Over the past 12 months, who delivered the most for the fans?
10. The Miz
Despite what Rolling Stone says, The Miz was not the best wrestler of the year. That’s not to say he didn’t kill it, though. Although he lost the Intercontinental Championship on the first Smackdown of 2017, Miz would regain the gold just five months later from the lunatic he initially lost to. After several successful title defenses against a variety of opponents, he succumbed to the Big Dog in November. However, Miz’ greatness encompasses more than wins/losses – he lasted over a half hour in the Royal Rumble, resurrected the careers of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel, prompted John Cena to man up and propose, and of course, contained LaVar Ball to disrobing just his shirt.
9. The Usos
A heel turn in 2016 fueled the Usos’ dominance in 2017, as the Samoan twin brothers maintained a stranglehold on the Smackdown Tag Team Championship. Sure, The New Day wrestled those belts away a couple times, but the Usos managed to always win them back, taking the trio on an incredible ride through a rap battle, street fight and Hell in a Cell. No matter who they’re in the ring with, Jimmy and Jey consistently steal the show, elevating their opponents to a higher level than before the bell rang. At Survivor Series, they defeated Raw Tag Team Champions Cesaro and Sheamus to cement themselves as the top team in all of WWE.
8. Joey Janela
The Bad Boy had a very good year, emerging as the hottest unsigned talent in all of wrestling. In a sea of indie shows during WrestleMania weekend, Joey Janela’s Spring Break rode the biggest wave of popularity, as Game Changer Wrestling handed him the book and budget. Mixing up-and-comers with forgotten stars of yesteryear, Janela assembled a highly entertaining extravaganza capturing both casual fans and diehards’ interest. In his home territory of CZW, he waged war with former friend Matt Tremont in the first half of the year, and then traded the Wired TV Title with Maxwell Jacob Friedman during the second half.
7. Roman Reigns
Surprisingly, the Big Dog was never Universal Champion in 2017. You probably doubt that considering he was regarded as the focal point of WWE TV for the past 12 months: having slain Undertaker at WrestleMania, toppling John Cena at No Mercy, reuniting with The Shield in the fall, and winning the Intercontinental Championship from The Miz. Of course, he did face another obstacle, a foe so mighty, so unstoppable that they waged war for months and months…
6. Braun Strowman
“I’m not finished with you yet!”
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, flipping over a fucking ambulance. Although his momentum was derailed after a clean loss to Brock Lesnar, Strowman remains a main event player and one of the most beloved antiheroes in recent memory.
After turning heel at Final Battle last year, Cody shed his Stardust-free, ex-WWE image and developed new skin as the cocky ring leader of the Bullet Club. Perpetually dressed in three-piece suits, puffing on cigars and ordering fans and foes to kiss the ring, Cody has taken a page out of his father’s greatest rival’s book, albeit there’s no need for kiss-stealing when you’re married to Brandi. After competing in New Japan and Impact Wrestling, the American Nightmare proved all his doubters wrong by winning the ROH World Championship in June, and eventually signing a contract with the company. He successfully defended the title until December, when he lost to Dalton Castle, but it’s a safe bet that Dusty’s baby boy won’t be without the gold for long.
From a purely kayfabe standpoint, Asuka has to be the wrestler of the year. She’s undefeated! The Empress of Tomorrow took on all comers, defending the NXT Women’s Championship in fatal four ways, triple threats, a Last Woman Standing match and more, tearing down the house every time. A broken collarbone forced her to relinquish the title, but also gave her the opportunity to join the main roster where she’s been consistently picking apart the Raw women’s division. That doesn’t mean she’s not a team player – she carried Raw to victory over Smackdown at Survivor Series.
3. Kenny Omega
Aside from Gorgeous George or Lou Thesz, is there any other wrestler that most fans have heard of, but have never actually seen in action? Conversely, has any other wrestler drawn more fresh eyeballs to a foreign product? Kenny Omega has been the talk of the wrestling world all year long, delivering masterpieces inside the ring with arch-rival Kazuchika Okada. Outside the ring, Omega’s overconfident (is it cocky if you can back it up?) promos and Bullet Club antics have made him a captivating presence, leaving fans as well as peers wondering what he’ll do next. Although he lost the 6-star and 6.25 star bouts to Okada, The Cleaner did manage to defeat him during the G1 Climax after becoming the first IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion.
2. Kazuchika Okada
According to Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Kazuchika Okada was better than 499 other wrestlers in 2017. It’s hard to argue (but I’m up for the challenge) as the New Japan kingpin became the longest-reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion in October, surpassing Shinya Hashimoto’s previous record of 489 days. He has also broken Hiroshi Tanahashi’s record of 1,358 combined days as champion, an impressive figure when you consider Okada has ducked zero challengers. Omega, Minoru Suzuki, Katsuyori Shibata, Bad Luck Fale, Cody and Evil have all been vanquished by the Rainmaker. Of course, Okada was also Omega’s dance partner in their classic trilogy this year, a modern Flair-Steamboat rivalry.
However, Okada isn’t No. 1 because he simply isn’t as known to casual fans as other wrestlers are. Hell, he’s not even as known as Omega, despite defeating him in both of the highly-praised bouts.
1. AJ Styles
Call it a WWE bias, but AJ Styles remains above all his peers. Simply put, he had a phenomenal year: stealing the Royal Rumble with John Cena, carrying Shane O’Mac to a watchable match, trading the U.S. Title with Kevin Owens, tearing down TLC with Finn Balor, destroying JinderMania and almost slaying the Beast. This year Styles shifted from villain to hero, giant killer to underdog, and midcarder to main event, illustrating his amazing versatility and emotional connection with the audience. Next time you’re at a WWE event, check out all the “P1” shirts and hats. He’s the most consistent in-ring performer, practically guaranteeing fans a great match whenever his music hits. WWE officials clearly agree, deciding to bring him over from Smackdown to face Finn Balor when his scheduled opponent was unable to compete.
He started and ended 2017 as WWE Champion, proving that he truly is the face that runs the place.