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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Resetting 2017 Memories to “Glass is Half Full”
By The Doc
Dec 28, 2017 - 6:57:32 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What in your opinion were the Top 5 things that happened in WWE this year?

Step back years happen in WWE as they happen in every other walk of life and few would dispute that 2017 was one such year for WWE, but a lot of good things did happen. In the interest of setting the table for the year that was to be regarded for what it added to our lives instead of for what it subtracted, here is a simple list of highlights and rosier thoughts as we prepare to ring in another New Year.

-John Cena winning his record-tying World Title became, to diehard fans, more about who lost than who won, but as a card-carrying member of the Cena supporter club, I think we need to acknowledge that, while the real achievement is #17, if anyone was going to equal Ric Flair’s mark, it should have been Cena. He has his historical faults, but he’s also an all-time Top 5-level historical great and both winning #16 and the match in which he won it added yet another pair of remarkable achievements to an absolutely absurd career resume.

-Braun Strowman proving himself to be a once-in-a-generation (or two or three) big man in back-to-back Match of the Month winners opposite Big Show and Roman Reigns was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year and it built for The Monster Among Men a ton of momentum coming out of the first quarter of 2017. All that followed, specifically from his continued domination of Reigns (a generational rivalry in the making) to his incredible Summerslam performance to finishing his career’s first peak at No Mercy, were owed largely to that three week stretch from mid-February to early March.

-Time will tell what he has to offer in the ring, but Kurt Angle coming back home to WWE for his Hall of Fame induction was easily one of the Top 10 highlights of the year for yours truly. Over-exposure on weekly TV notwithstanding, the mere prospect of Angle having a few more matches to offer us as fans is icing on the cake to his being back in the fold in the first place.

-By the time that the WrestleMania Kick-Off show had ended, Neville had already confirmed himself as the best individual member of the WWE Cruiserweight division since Rey Mysterio. The King of the Cruiserweights moniker was well-earned through outstanding character work and excellent matches opposite Rich Swann, Jack Gallagher, and Austin Aries. He fell victim to the Law of Diminishing Returns thereafter, as the CW division had to then face its crisis of identity, but Neville laid the foundation for whatever successful things happen with 205 Live moving forward as a third main roster brand.

-As one of my guests, James Boyd, mentioned last week on The Doc Says, WrestleMania 33 Season made the best of what seemed, on paper, to be several lethargic scenarios, especially Goldberg-Lesnar, Rollins-HHH, and Styles-McMahon. The end result was the most impressive top-to-bottom creative presentation across a Road to Mania in at least five years. That the event delivered a very good edition of The Show of Shows felt, therefore, like a logical climax of a strong build rather than a “Thank God” sort of surprise on the back of a horribly mundane build.

-Alexa Bliss was the shining star amidst a sea of mediocrity in the women’s division this year, her ability on the microphone capable of off-setting the vast majority of the poor writing that plagued the Women’s Evolution in 2017. It was around June or July when it became readily apparent that she was thriving in the large spotlight that only Raw provides, advancing the overall cause of women’s wrestling in WWE on account of her steady presence as a personality. Even if her matches were not up to the Banks-Flair standard, her character attributes quite easily usurped anything done by a female on the main roster since Trish Stratus in 2004-2005.

-Was there a bigger surprise hit this year than Samoa Joe from early June through Summerslam Season? He prominently debuted in January, taking out Rollins, but then disappeared and was even left off the WrestleMania Kick-Off show, making his turnaround in the summer pretty abrupt, creatively. The Destroyer wasted little time maximizing his opportunity, building something out of nothing with Brock Lesnar and previewing what he could be for WWE should it decide to unleash him during a period without such a part-timer-heavy main-event scene.

-Both of the most genuinely emotional storylines of the year involved Seth Rollins, who was otherwise moved to the backburner in terms of his headlining position. Rollins seeking redemption by both slaying The King of Kings and earning Dean Ambrose’s forgiveness and trust were just so powerful. Sure, the feud with Triple H was so psychologically engaging, in part, because of a freak accident knee injury, but who cares? It worked! Then, the storyline with Ambrose basically saved Summerslam for me, as everything else felt so paint-by-the-numbers. This year confirmed Rollins as my favorite wrestler of this generation, for even though he stepped back down a few rungs on the hierarchy, he kept producing great work and making the show better.

-The Tag Team Renaissance in WWE this year was just marvelous. I have high hopes that what we saw in 2017 will not end in 2018, mainly because the consistent 4-star quality of the in-ring performances was informed by the strength of the characters, who got the chance to develop in high profile situations for the first time in ages. Sheamus and Cesaro became The Bar, a legitimate unit with a verifiable attitude; The Usos fully transitioned out of their old role into the multi-faceted Penitentiary owners; The New Day scaled back their played out happy-go-lucky shtick to make room for some much-needed edge; and, of course, we already mentioned The Shield-ish. Maybe there is more to come and maybe there is not (the likes of The Revival, Woken Hardys, Authors of Pain, Benjamin/Gable, and even The Fashion Police suggest there is), but 2017 will at least go down as the best tag team year for WWE proper in 15 years.

-Kevin Owens continued to offer his career best work in short bursts this year, hitting his crescendo opposite the McMahons post-Summerslam in a feud that culminated with perhaps the year’s most underappreciated match at Hell in a Cell. KO was also great in the month of February during the Festival of Friendship (Segment of the Year surely?) and the build-up to his match with Goldberg, but he took it to another level when he headbutted Vince and remorselessly painted Shane as the true antagonist ahead of Smackdown’s October PPV. In my opinion, Hell in a Cell was the best we have ever seen of Owens in WWE, not necessarily in regards to his ability to have a modern-day classic match but definitely in regards to his ability to fully embrace his inner villain.

-I was not on-board with it, at first, but I do believe that The Shield reunion worked out well in the end. As mentioned on The Right Side of the Pond last week, a series of circumstances prevented WWE from going all-in on it before the time was really right to go all-in on it. What we got instead was what amounted to a preview for a full-fledged reunion down the road, plus an outstanding six-man tag with The New Day at Survivor Series that largely sold me on Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns getting back together in 2017 as being a good thing.

-Going further with the theme of being OK with things working out and not so much caring about how or why they worked out, Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles at TLC was a real breath of fresh air for the former NXT standout's 2017. I think he is one of the few talents to have benefited from the start-stop pushes that otherwise get labeled as “inconsistent”; he was on the cusp of being over-pushed to the point that it might have backfired on him as a top-tier babyface, but inadvertently as it may seem to be, Balor's up and down push this year has translated to the rare for the era “leave them wanting more” principle to be put to action on his behalf. We only saw The Demon twice and it was extremely effective both times at making him seem like a huge deal; it off-set that, for much of the eight months after his return from injury, he was stuck in a pattern of largely inconsequential TV feuds that made him essentially tread water creatively. Something like the “Too Sweet” match against Styles would randomly pop up and remind everyone that his time will eventually come again.

-Brock Lesnar's match with AJ Styles at Survivor Series ended The Conqueror's year on a high note and brought his in-ring track record in 2017 to around the .500 level – three great performances (Goldberg, Summerslam, and Styles) and three very lackluster performances (Rumble, Joe, and Strowman); considering that he batted one for five in 2016 (one for six if you stretch things out to include his juicing scandal in MMA), 50% is literally only half bad...or, sticking with the theme of this column, HALF GOOD!

-In order for the Styles vs. Lesnar match to happen, The Phenomenal One had to win back the WWE Championship. My personal preferences for my favorites being on the top of the wrestling mountain was a fad that I long since overcame (that's a bonus for me in this day and age); I just want to see the best of the best hold the titles representative of that status and be positioned to thrive in the world's preeminent pro wrestling company, both as characters and bell-to-bell performers. Styles regaining the gold was truthfully one of the most cathartic moments of the year, not because of who he won it from, but because of what he represents – a company cognizant of the fact that there is not a better pro wrestler on earth than AJ Styles.

So, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen – 2017 reframed in a more purely positive light. Life's too short to dwell on the negatives of our chosen entertainment escapes and I've done far too much negative-dwelling on pro wrestling this year. I was once jokingly referred to years ago as “The Voice of the Voiceless,” a statement made regarding my positive outlook amidst a sea of negative writers. Time for me to get back to that, no joke. See you in the New Year, folks...I'll be the guy whose glass is half full.

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