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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The Dark-Horse WWE Match of the Year Candidates for 2017
By The Doc
Dec 7, 2017 - 12:29:09 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 do you feel is the most underrated WWE or NXT match of 2017?

It is that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen; expect to see about a thousand different year-in-review columns and podcasts across your various go-to professional wrestling sites, addressing the two yearly greatest debates: Match of the Year and Wrestler of the Year. Before the awards are more officially handed out in the weeks to come, let us review some of the MOTY candidates that are likely to fly under the radar on most of the lists you will read.

In chronological order:

Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens at The Royal Rumble

Comfortably, this was the most enjoyable match all year that nobody has been talking about. LOP's own, Super Chrisss, replayed it and commented on Twitter his appreciation of it in hindsight, and the reason is simple: it is a blast to watch. The down-side to it and that which holds it back from true MOTY contention is the role that Reigns played throughout the run-time; whenever he is cast as a traditional babyface in his matches, the presentation suffers overall. KO was in his element, though, innovating spot designs that the No-DQ environment allowed for; the stack of chairs that he was thrown onto in the final third of the bout was about as hardcore as it gets in today's product. You can downgrade it further due to the Strowman interference during the climax, but if you sit back and enjoy it for what it was instead of what you may have wanted it to be, you will not be disappointed. Both guys worked their tails off in a match that, mostly for its entertainment value, is destined to age well and join the annals of January Classic lore as one of its finest non-Rumble efforts.

Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns at Fast Lane

After two years of mostly failed attempts to make Reigns look like an underdog, WWE found for him the right dance partner to make that role seem natural. The Monster Among Men and the destructive path that he forged from the brand draft in July 2016 until March of this year, with several impressive and novel exhibitions of his strength along the way, made him a legitimate force to be reckoned with, even against The Big Dog. As usual with Roman, even when he did something good, all anyone saw was the bad, so the titanic clash at Fast Lane that essentially set in motion Strowman becoming one of Roman’s generational rivals has been unfairly chastised for, you know, Reigns-related reasons. That said, if you are capable of appreciating a comic book battle akin to Thor vs. Hulk come to life through the guise of professional wrestling, then surely you thoroughly enjoyed Reigns vs. Strowman; it was also representative of how to get over in defeat and how to book a modern hoss(ish) match. Not best of the year worthy, but still tremendous.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode at NXT Takeover: Orlando

Considering this gem from the night before WrestleMania is part and parcel with your consideration, quite frankly, of the original NXT Title match between the pair two months prior on the night before the Rumble. That said, the Orlando-based bout was wrestled in a more “epic” style (deservedly so) and felt like what could very well be the last epic men’s singles championship match of the peak-level NXT that we came to know from mid-2015 to April 1st of this year. After Nakamura left, the main-event scene consisted of no equals to Roode in terms of talent and presentation, and there do not seem to be any on the current NXT roster (or in the pipeline) capable of equaling what they accomplished in that regard. That said, Roode vs. Nak may gain traction in future years as an all-time classic, with history regarding it as perhaps the shining example of NXT’s mixture of independent influence and WWE production value.

Austin Aries vs. Neville on the WrestleMania Kick-Off Show

If officially ranking the Top 20 matches of WWE’s 2017, this would be toward the bottom of the list, but it was the best representation of Neville as Cruiserweight Champion and he was just too good this year not to get any love during Year-End Award Season. Many fans still clamor for a more “all-out” sort of cruiserweight style in the 205-and-under division, but there is something to very much be appreciated in what Neville did so well and what Aries proved that he could do so well opposite Neville during their three month feud: wrestle smart and build logically toward flurries of big spots that nobody but the cruiserweights can do. Yes, it exemplifies WWE feeling the need to sprinkle its so-called magic on everything it touches like a male dog on a walk, but it is still unique to anything else on WWE TV when two guys work together who can do what Neville and Aries can do.

The Usos vs. The New Day at Battleground

Memories of 2017’s main roster tag team Renaissance will likely center on the rivalry between The New Day and The Usos, who combined to produce 4-star bouts that were stylistically similar to the excellent bouts in NXT last year between The Revival and both DIY and American Alpha. High octane in terms of pacing and incredibly creative in execution, each of the five Usos vs. New Day Tag Team Title matches were worthy of praise, but the Battleground match was the one that saw them hit their stride as opponents and take their combination to the brink of WWE’s overall Feud of the Year. Battleground also featured the intangible quality of it being the break-out performance in the career of Xavier Woods, who had previously been relegated to cheerleading in almost every other high profile New Day match since the group formed in 2014.

Ember Moon vs. Asuka at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III

Many would call this a step-back year for the Women’s Evolution in WWE, with the main roster divisions failing to produce a 4-star effort in 2017 following a banner year in 2016, but NXT kept on plugging away thanks to the likes of Asuka, Ember Moon, and Nikki Cross. Though Asuka and Cross had a tremendous Last Woman Standing Match on NXT TV in June that deserves honorable mention status in its own right, the class of women’s wrestling in 2017 was Asuka vs. Moon II in August. To be frank, it was the best match of Summerslam weekend and it will go down in future years as among the best women’s matches of the entire Revolution on account of its superb storytelling, strength of character, and gripping emotional peaks. It was a fitting conclusion to Asuka’s incredible NXT run and it offered proof of Moon’s ability to supplant her as the face of the NXT women’s division, a thought that many critical of her title win in Houston would be well-served to remember.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose vs. The Bar at Summerslam

If we gave an award for Storyline of the Year, one of the top candidates would be Dean Ambrose forgiving Seth Rollins for betraying The Shield three years prior. Up for Moment of the Year would be when they bumped fists in the climactic segment that brought their multi-month reunion saga to its crescendo. It is their story and their moment that reinforce the resume of their match with Cesaro and Sheamus at Summerslam as one of the best of the year, as few other matches had a build with as much emotional resonance. There was a lot to like about the match itself, which had a bit of a Demolition vs. Hart Foundation vibe to it. The Bar, in general, has been fantastic in 2017, exceeding everyone’s expectations for their ceiling as a unit, and their marquee title defense at the second biggest show of the year was their crowning achievement.

Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon at Hell in a Cell

The last few years have seen the rise of the independent scene's influence on WWE's in-ring product and there have been many positives corresponding to that trend; one of the negatives, however, is that fans seem decreasingly appreciative of character-driven stories like KO vs. Shane 'O and more obsessed than ever with highly athletic spotfests that lack the sort of character nuance to make a great match “in the moment” timeless. Owens has never been better at portraying his on-screen persona in a WWE match than he was against McMahon in October and it was his commitment to character that truly made that match special. Yes, there were eye popping spots, but those were the icing on a cake that already tasted delicious. It might very well have been the finest overall performance of KO's WWE career to date and at no point has he ever felt more like a top star than he did that night, when he was asked to carry, to borrow from the Rich Latta library, “a civilian” to a nearly forty-minute match.

Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles at TLC

Though it should still be relatively fresh in people’s minds, the impromptu borderline dream match between Balor and Styles may suffer in the latter stages of the Match of the Year determination process due to its being a blip on the radar; it was WWE’s one night stand in 2017, as fans were given only a few days notice and no storyline whatsoever to build anticipation. What a one night stand it turned out to be, though; about that, few would argue. In exhibition style, they rather masterfully wove their way through each combatant’s move-set, capping off the enticingly simple presentation not with a handful of finisher kick-outs, but with The Demon King’s patented finishing sequence. The timing needs to be right for the “Epic” style match and TLC clearly was not the time for Balor and Styles to go that route; when the timing is right, TLC 2017 will provide the foundation for what will be considerable hype.

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