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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business – The Highs and Lows of Another Year in the Ring with WWE: The Matches Part II
By Samuel 'Plan
Dec 22, 2017 - 9:08:37 PM

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Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!

Just Business – The Highs and Lows of Another Year in the Ring with WWE: The Matches Part II

From the Author

In my final 2017 retrospective, I’m going to be taking a look at the matches that I feel are among the best offerings WWE provided these last 12 months.

As discussed in my The Preview Side of the Pond column a couple of weeks ago, rather than try and distil WWE’s in-ring action into a single set of criteria and picking the best of the lot, I instead prefer to account for the context of matches by placing them into five categories, and I’ll be covering the final two of those five today.

Firstly, it’s worth bearing in mind that these categories might lead to some controversial match selection, primarily because their definitions are up for debate. I have attempted to find a compromise between WWE’s train of thought and the traditionalist philosophy, however, and have categorised matches accordingly.

The Undercard category has been renamed from last year’s Mid Card category to more accurately reflect its purpose. It consists of any non-tag team pay-per-view match that was not one of the top two matches promoted by WWE to sell the show. It could, therefore, feature matches between jobbers; mid carders; or main event talent alike.

The Main Event category, however, consists of any non-tag team pay-per-view match that was one of the top two matches promoted by WWE to sell the show. It could, therefore, likewise feature matches between mid carders, given we live in an age of the Brand Exclusive PPV.

In each category, I made one pick myself for automatic short-listing, asked the readership on social media and other platforms to vote for a second and then picked a third from everything else.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan, and these are some of what I believe were the best matches of WWE’s 2017!

Undercard Match of the Year

Nominee #1: Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles for the United States Championship with Special Guest Referee Shane McMahon, Summerslam

There might not have been all that much love for the finale of a feud widely recognised as disappointing, even among its performers, but the clash between the Phenomenal One and the Prizefighter was, to me, an extremely brave one that, for the most part, worked well.

Amidst an intimidating, confrontational tone, it repeatedly flirted with strong style strikes in a manner that punctuated them effectively and, by extension, ramped up the palpable sense of animosity felt between the two rivals. So too did it allow for a truly classical villainous performance for Owens, who might have been the primary complainant of the stipulation but was also the first to attempt to manipulate it for an advantage. Its conspiratorial tone was milked for all it could be, but in a balanced manner that felt complimentary rather than intrusive, and its decision to invert its primary genre trope – of making the point of the referee to be not trying to screw somebody – was, I felt, truly pioneering.

Nominee #2: Austin Aries vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship in an “I Quit!” Match, Extreme Rules

When you can claim a trilogy of matches as good as those wrestled by Neville and Aries it can be incredibly difficult for anyone to pick a favourite. Their own finale, however, carried a more powerful emotional punch than their preceding two clinics, thanks to the evolving story of Neville’s fear of and repeated capitulation to Aries’ Last Chancery submission hold.

Such a simple, stripped back idea isn’t often the basis for entire feuds anymore, and it is the subtlety with which that idea is built upon in both the feud and the match itself that remains its strongest asset. So obsessed is Aries with proving the point that his submission can make Neville tap that it proves his undoing – he fails to relinquish it at an opportune moment and the match goes on; the effect is withering, thanks to the implacable war machine that is Neville and the champion’s repeated efforts to target and injure first his challenger’s leg and, then, his shoulder. So don’t let its simplicity fool you; it’s an infectiously bitter piece of work fully prepared to engage as a piece of fiction.

But, for me, this was always going to be a run-away winner. How could I not pick….

Winner: Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in an Unsanctioned Match, WrestleMania 33

Everything about this master class of guttural storytelling is right up my street as a fan. Not only is it based entirely around my favourite wrestler of all time, but the television building to it – helped in no small part by a few quirks of fate – was spell-binding fiction; true performance art, with both combatants completely engulfed by their characters and the continuity built up between them over a span of years.

It might not have the feel good verve of its 2002 spiritual predecessor featuring Shawn Michaels, but what it has instead is droves of emotive power, weaving the story of a man desperately fighting to redeem himself and win back the better part of his soul previously stripped from him by an implacable master manipulator. It is the story of the one-legged man who did win an ass-kicking contest, and its execution is sublime. You feel the Herculean effort of the hero; you feel the disdainful contempt of the villain; you feel that the match matters. It’s empathetic, visceral and driven entirely by its emotions and those of its audience – something that was once WWE’s bread and butter, but that, today, is considerably rarer.

It’s ugly but spirited, cynical and uplifting, equal parts of heart and mind; I could write for thousands of words dissecting its myriad complexities. For now, I will simply say that I love it, that it means something very special to me as a fan and that I’m not afraid to show my bias for it here; not one bit.

Main Event Match of the Year

Nominee #1: The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship without a champion’s advantage, Extreme Rules

This might be a controversial inclusion here, considering the lack of Cena / Styles at Royal Rumble, but I couldn’t deny it fit my criteria for Main Event: though it’s for a mid card title, and though it opens the show, it was nonetheless the second biggest match on the card used to help sell the show!

It was a massive hit with readers too, and for good reason. This is the very kind of match that the Intercontinental Championship became famous for; a legacy match, as I like to call them. It’s something of a minor classic, in fact. The way it manipulates its otherwise rather mundane stipulation might just be the best example of its kind, with Miz’s shortcuts becoming actual false finish like we’ve never seen before; Maryse’s slap is an especially memorable moment. Best of all, the match makes a point not to forget this stipulation either, as so many can (see Jericho vs. Punk, WrestleMania XXVIII), bookending the action on either end with a torrential onslaught of Miz’s Machiavellian tendencies.

It has guts, too, as any good Ambrose match does. The switch that sees Miz go after the leg is an inspired injection of adrenaline that ensures the bout never becomes two dimensional. Its narrative shifts and slides, goes one way and then pulls you another. The action is fluid, the story is exhilarating and, above all else, it all watches as fiercely intelligent. It deserves to be getting spoken of a great deal more.

Nominee #2: Samoa Joe vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns in a Fatal Five Way Match to determine a Number One Contender, Extreme Rules

Impressively, the second main event of the same show was just as fiercely intelligent in its design too. The Fatal Five Way was another popular bout among readers, and I wonder how much of that is down simply to its field of stars: there’s no veteran or part-timer in sight. Instead, it is a main event that feels like a big deal and looks like it should in the year 2017. Its refreshing line up is one of its best traits.

It translates brilliantly on the canvas too. Bálor has his own arc that sees his Demon side gradually bubble up to the surface, while the unholy alliance between Samoa Joe and Bray Wyatt remains wonderfully paranoid from the moment it is forged. The two former Shield brothers stand out as the biggest names in the pack, and are sure to be treated as such in the production; though Reigns benefits from his relative lack of spotlight just as Bálor benefits from his greater share; Wyatt benefits from his prominence as an aggressor; and Joe benefits from his shocking, but very welcome victory.

Throw in a little carnage and some colourful multi-man choreography and you wind up with what feels like a treat of a main event in the midst of a company that seems to be increasingly phobic about its own future.

Of course, 2017 hasn’t been the best year for main events on pay-per-view, but the match I believe was the best headliner of the last 12 months seems to have been denied due credit because of the toxicity of association. That match is….

Winner: Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles, Survivor Series 2017

World Champion vs. World Champion should be best in the world vs. best in the world, conceptually. In WWE’s fictional universe, Lesnar is the best in the world because of his sheer natural strengths. In WWE’s fictional universe, Styles is the best in the world too, because of his extensive offensive arsenal. The result when they meet is a comic book-like aesthetic of superhuman physicality written in the manner of the best back-loaded Bret Hart comeback stories.

Put simply, think Kyle Reese vs. the T800 and you won’t go far wrong.

The contemptuous viciousness of Lesnar dominates the first half, while Styles’ comeback, gradual and hard earned, grinds out across the second half, steadily building to a riveting climax and creating a genuine, unexpected atmosphere of unpredictability. Styles takes Lesnar to the absolute limit, competitively, and Lesnar does likewise. Not only is the Beast left limping, but the Phenomenal One is forced into a comprehensive reading of his rather well-thumbed copy of the Art of War.

It might lack storyline depth, and it might not wear its character chops obviously on its sleeve, but in terms of telling a story strictly within the confines of a single wrestling match, you couldn’t find a finer example in 2017; and few throughout Survivor Series. For this is a real Survivor Series gem; I’m confident of that, having re-watched it for this column. And if you’re a fan of an old school heroic effort, then Styles’ valiant loss here should be perfect for you.

In Closing

That wraps me up for another year! I’d love to hear your thoughts on my picks for the matches of WWE’s 2017 in the comments section below or over on social media; whether you agree or disagree, and what you would vote for yourself. Don’t forget to leave me some thoughts on the matches you do pick too.

My list once again, for posterity:

Network Match of the Year: Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship, Takeover: San Antonio

Television Match of the Year: Sami Zayn vs. Seth Rollins for Seth Rollins’ Royal Rumble Spot, Monday Night Raw 23/01/17

Tag Team Match of the Year: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose vs. The Bar for the MNR Tag Team Championships, Summerslam

Undercard Match of the Year: Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in an Unsanctioned Match, WrestleMania 33

Main Event Match of the Year: Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles, Survivor Series 2017

Drop me a line and let’s talk about it! Or better yet, alternatively, why not sign up to LOPForums and have a crack at writing your own column in response?!

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LOP’s Columns Forum is not just a forum; it’s a community! And it’s not just about non-fiction either. So, seeing as it’s Christmas, why not try something a little different by checking out the current communal creative writing anthology going on right now, with 17 uniquely individual creative pieces of writing (with more to come) right here: LOP’s ABCs of Wrestling

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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