Ranking the WWE PPVs of 2017
The top show of 2017 was a true no-brainer. First of all, this show had two stone classics in the world title matches. Roman Reigns/Kevin Owens was the no holds barred brawl fans had wanted from these two. Cena/Styles was an instant classic. I wondered what could have topped the Summerslam classic from months prior, but somehow they did. It was the first PPV of the year, and somehow it included possibly best WWE match of the year. It’s not just having two great matches, but this was one show that also lacked any bad matches. If there was any weak link, it might be Bayley vs. Charlotte. But when the weak match is still above average, it speaks volumes for how good this show was. The Rumble itself was good but not great – lots of younger talent was thrown out like yesterday’s garbage for guys like Goldberg and eventual winner Randy Orton. This set a trend for 2017 where younger guys were fed to past stars. Not to mention Roman entering the Rumble just so Orton would get cheered. Despite these minor gripes, the Rumble was still a lot of fun – Ambrose faking out James Ellsworth, Tye Dillinger’s debut, setting up Taker/Roman.
– Last year, the two best WWE PPVs were Royal Rumble and Survivor Series. Amazing how it’s the same again, but this time the order is flipped. Last year’s Survivor Series was predominantly Raw vs. Smackdown matches. WWE creative decided to build on that by building the entire show around a Smackdown/Raw feud. Even if it was just bragging rights (Yes, I know there used to be a show with that name), it added a little drama to matches with no real stories. A few matches were actually changed in preparation for the show. Charlotte won the women’s championship from Natalya to have a veritable dream match against Alexa Bliss. AJ Styles won the WWE Championship against lukewarm Jinder Mahal, providing not only the match of the night, but one of Lesnar’s best one-on-one matches in a LONG time. The company stuck to its guns with heel Corbin against heel Miz. That and the women’s elimination match weren’t groundbreaking, but they got the job done. Usos vs. the Bar was solid, Shield vs. New Day was even better.
Strangely, the headlining Team Raw vs. Team Smackdown was the weak link of the night. Roode, Balor, Joe, Cena, Nakamura, Stroman – what could go wrong? How about the fact that everyone but Stroman was eliminated like a gaggle of scrubs and we were left with Shane McMahon, Triple H and Kurt Angle. Don’t get me wrong, I like those guys, but putting middle-aged part timers over future stars doesn’t show forward thinking. Okay, I’d hardly call Cena a future star. But why is THE BIGGEST STAR IN WRESTLING just eliminated like a jobber? He’s also the only guy who could’ve gone Raw or Smackdown, but he was a complete afterthought. It was a sad end to an otherwise stellar show.
Hell in a Cell
I thought nothing would top Raw’s No Mercy. Somehow Hell in a Cell did. I’ll get to why No Mercy fell just a little short, but this is a show with hardly a weak match to be found. Usos vs. New Day was a wild brawl that combined technical creativity, comedy and unique use of the cell. Owens vs. McMahon was a little long in the tooth but still an epic and dramatic nailbiter. The triple threat for the US title was a strong showing that took advantage of the three-man format. Rusev/Orton and Ziggler/Roode were strong showings even if the latter had a headscratching conclusion. Nakamura carried Mahal to one of his better matches. Charlotte vs. Natalya was another good match only hindered by a weak finish.
When I saw No Mercy, I remember thinking it was the best brand exclusive PPV up to that point. Hell in a Cell knocked it off its perch, but the red brand put up a strong fight. The show was sold on two dream matches. Cena vs. Reigns sounds like something one would see at Wrestlemania. (Even as another example of Raw borrowing talent from Smackdown.) And yeah, it lived up to the hype. Stroman vs. Lesnar… did not. Even though Lesnar proved he could do so a month later, nobody was expecting Lesnar to go over 10 minutes. But did he have to have such a nothing match? Stroman’s entire gimmick has been doing ridiculous strongman angles, such as tipping an ambulance or just denying Apollo Crews mid-air. Yet Lesnar and Stroman played it safe – too safe. Neville vs. Enzo was also a weak link. But it crossed the low bar that was set for the match. Dean Ambrose/Seth Rollins against the Bar was another match of the year candidate… if you can get through Cesaro’s dental mishap. Wyatt vs. Balor, Miz vs. Jordan and the women’s 5-way were all pretty good too.
When Smackdown packs 6 of its top talents into one Elimination Chamber match, it should be no surprise that a match like that would be a show stopper. But with all that talent in one match, how do they fill out the rest of the card? Randy Orton and Luke Harper had a match that showed Harper’s real potential… before he slunk back down the card. The women really showed their value that night with THREE matches on the undercard. There was a time when that sort of thing would have been cringe-inducing. But all six women showed their worth, with Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James being the best of the bunch. While those were all highlights, this show wasn’t perfect: The tag team turmoil match was entertaining, but reeked of the Smackdown bookers not knowing what to do with the tag division. The weak link of this show was a fairly pointless handicap match pitting Kalisto and Apollo Crews against a recently turned-heel Dolph Ziggler. Considering how far all three fell down the roster, that match feels particularly pointless in hindsight, with Ziggler not regaining momentum until Clash of Champions.
Comparing this to the last three years, this wasn’t quite as good as 31 but leagues better than 32. One reason this year’s Mania ranks so high is that every match did what was required of it… for the most part. Styles/McMahon was surprisingly the match of the night. Goldberg/Lesnar was way better than anyone could have expected – it was less than five minutes and featured four unique moves, but it was such a wild brawl that it still tore down the house.
The ladder match was a fun spotfest, as was HHH/Rollins. Was the mixed tag match where Cena and Miz teamed with their significant others a mat classic? Hardly, but it was fun and Cena’s proposal was a feel-good moment. Even the pre-show was fun… even if Mojo Rawley’s battle royale victory is baffling in hindsight. The only lowlight of this evening was a snoozefest between Orton and Wyatt – hard to believe this was a world title match. But this night will always be remembered for the Undertaker’s emotional retirement. While he tragically showed his age against Roman Reigns, he put on a good showing in his final bout.
Even before people started getting sick, this card felt… odd. With Brock Lesnar on borrowed time, the company has had to make up for the lack of a world champion on Raw PPVs. Their solution was a Shield reunion against the Miz, the Bar, Braun Stroman and Kane. Reigns ended up getting sick, causing Kurt Angle to take his place. The match ended being a little silly but in a fun way. It reminded me of the fun of the Attitude Era but adjusted for a PG setting. The odd part of the show is that is what the only TLC-related match on the card. A few gimmick matches might have spiced up this show. Not making Kalisto vs. Enzo a ladder match felt like a missed opportunity. Jason Jordan against Elias sure… happened.
Even without gimmicks, most other matches were solid. Asuka beat Emma in a surprisingly competitive match – even more surprising since Emma would get her walking papers days later. Mickie James reminded everyone she’s still got it a match against Alexa Bliss. She also made every redblooded male fan insanely jealous, but let’s not go there. The cruiserweight tag was pretty good as well, even if it felt out of place. With Wyatt on the sick list, the company replaced him with AJ Styles. Styles vs. Balor may not have had much of a point, but the company really made lemonade out of lemons. Even if it was one of the weirder shows of the year, TLC was also one of the stronger shows.
Money in the Bank
The Money in the Bank match is one of WWE’s few can’t-miss match concepts. Even the few weaker matches tend to be watchable to some extent. And this year was no exception with a pretty stacked eponymous match. As usual, we saw the dramatic spotfest we’ve come to expect, with Kevin Owens taking the lion’s share of the bumps. Not only that, we saw the first women’s Money in the Bank. The match was decent, though James Ellsworth’s interference became a controversy magnet. Even for the few of us willing to defend this choice, Ellsworth’s termination made this harder to accept in hindsight. Surprisingly, the money in the bank match on Smackdown days later was superior. Even with a lame ending, The Usos and the New Day tore down the house. But they more than made up for that ending in the following months. Jinder Mahal had the one of the better matches of his reign in a successful defense against Orton. The Singh Brothers harassing Orton’s pop added some much needed drama. With so many talents booked in one match, it can’t be surprising, there was a little filler. In her debut against Naomi, Lana showed her greenness, with moves that may have injured Naomi. While injuries would suck, I really miss Lana’s entrance music.
As if to proactively compete with Money in the Bank, team Red stuffed five of its best guys into one match to determine who would face Brock Lesnar. It’s debatable whether this or the Money in the Bank was the superior match. But both were pretty epic. The Intercontinental and Tag Title matches were both good… even if they were marred by strange booking decisions. Since when did the ref have to walk to the bell? Why did Matt Hardy fight so hard to keep both Sheamus and Cesaro in the cell? He could have evened the odds. Austin Aries had a great match with Neville in his last stand with the company. The mixed tag match was average but at least felt like it belonged on a PPV.
Honestly, Extreme Rules could have beaten Money in the Bank if not for one match: Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss. What should have been a slam dunk turned into quite possibly WWE’s worst PPV match of the year. It was the only major black eye on an otherwise entertaining show.
Boy, talk about a show of peaks and valleys. On one hand, we had two titanic match of the year candidates. On the other hand, we had two of the worst matches of the year. In the latter category, Orton squashed Rusev at a time when Rusev badly needed some momentum. Big Cass defeated Big Show in a match that was boring AND obnoxious. On the opposite end, the fatal four way was EPIC. WWE put four of their best big men in this one, and they delivered. Lesnar got the duke, but all four men looked like a million bucks. Ambrose/Rollins vs. the Bar was an absolute nailbiter of a match, which will probably be best remembered for Cesaro’s war on beach balls. Despite that, there was a lot of averageness on the card. Styles/Owens was still solid, but fell short of being the definitive match between the two.
A lot of matches were fine for what they were – Balor/Wyatt, the two women’s matches. It was mindboggling that Nakamura and Cena faced off in a dream match on free TV only to have fairly middling matches with Mahal and Corbin respectively here. What sticks in my craw is that one of the best matches of the night – The Usos vs. the New was relegated to the pre-show. Seriously, those teams tore down the house! And it’s not like they aren’t over or anything. Oh well, maybe I just need to be grateful it happened. If you missed that beauty because it was on the pre-show, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Clash of Champions
Well, this pay per view sure… happened. December PPVs have a history of stinking, and luckily I can’t say this one was that bad. The good stuff included a solid triple threat for the US title and an epic tag team fatal four-way. Breezeango against the Bludgeon Brothers was a pointless squash that maybe should have been on free TV. Charlotte/Natalya was a disappointing schmoz, only memorable for its post-match promo. Zayn/Owens against Nakamura/Orton was passable – Shane and Bryan were surprisingly the best and worst of the match. On one hand, there was a lot of sloppiness. On the other hand, Shane and Daniel taking turns screwing each other over added a lot more drama. The main event saw AJ Styles retain his title against Jinder Mahal. The match was pretty formula – when Mahal roughed up Stlyles for the first five minutes, I knew this was gonna be a “super-Styles” match. Still, it was a rare occasion where Mahal looked like he belonged in the main event. To be fair, while Clash of Champions was hardly a great PPV, it did show a lot of forward-thinking and continuing storylines. So that’s a positive for the show overall.
Great Balls of Fire
This show received attention for its silly name. Personally, I thought it was awesome. However, I was a little disappointed by the arena design. The show had a ‘50’s motif. And I remember a time when the company would have decorated the arena with muscle cars, drive-in speaker boxes. But we got none of that! Just the same bland set design as always.
This was a PPV I wanted to like more than I did – Maybe I figured for a PPV with Lesnar at all, the booking team would bring out the big guns. But this ended up being a fairly average PPV. Most matches were at least good, but nothing exceptional. Miz/Ambrose were clearly in the twilight of their singles feud, and this was easily one of their weaker matches – but still watchable. Bliss vs. Banks had the potential to be better but a weak ending put the kibosh on that. Reigns and Stroman’s ambulance match was the most exciting match of the night, even if Roman acted a little too heelish before Stroman’s official face turn. There was cautious optimism for Joe/Lesnar. On one hand, we had a dream match. On the other hand, it was obvious Lesnar wouldn’t exceed 10 minutes. While not the epic encounter we were all hoping for, it was still a worthwhile brawl. The weak points were Big Cass and Enzo Amore’s middling blow-off and Hawkins vs. Slater – a Main Event match that seemed to only exist so fans had something to watch while bloody Stroman struggled in an ambulance.
After the Superstar Shakeup ™, Smackdown went through a bit of a wilderness period. And this show was the kickoff for that. At the time, this show felt kind of special because people who needed them scored big wins. Zayn didn’t really gain momentum until his October heel turn. After being involved a Wresltemania world title feud, Harper fell off, got a win… then disappeared for months. Jinder Mahal actually winning the WWE Championship was so shocking that it felt like a huge deal. But the good will wore off. The six-women tag match was fine, but it was the beginning of a trend where the women on Smackdown were always mixed together, like a soccer team. Nakamura’s debut against Ziggler was serviceable. The Usos against Breezeago was a highlight, combining good wrestling with legit funny comedy spots. AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens was good but could have been better – essentially setting the tone for their feud. Overall, this was an average PPV.
I lamented how Smackdown got the short end of the stick in the Superstar Shakeup. Yet Raw STILL needed to borrow Smackdown talent. And Smackdown STILL put on the better PPV. To be fair, most matches were good, but again nothing set the world on fire. A big problem was that nearly everything that happened was done better at another show. Rollins vs. Joe felt like it should have been better, but it got the job done. Alexa Bliss’s rise to the women’s championship over Bayley was a fun match. Jericho won the US title against Owens in a solid match, but their Mania match was so much better. Even their TV matches had more drama. With Lesnar on borrowed time, the company had to figure out how to put on main events without a top champion. Reigns vs. Stroman was fine, but didn’t feel like a headline match. It did build Stroman’s momentum, so that’s a positive. The real lowlight of the evening was the infamous House of Horrors match. Payback was an average PPV, but that snoozefest brought down the curve drastically. Overall, it felt the Raw bookers being burnt out of ideas after Mania.
Three of the four best PPVs of the year happened so early in the year, nearly back-to-back. So maybe the booking team was running out of steam. Goldberg vs. Kevin Owens felt more like a joke than an actual match. And of course, that’s the note the show ended on. That wasn’t the only problem. Throughout the night, the company squandered records – Nia Jax’s undefeated streak – killed unceremoniously. Charlotte’s undefeated PPV record? Killed off, just before Wrestlemania. Braun Stroman’s undefeated streak was killed off just as Stroman was starting to prove his worth. Smack dab in the middle of the show was a series of pointless matches – Big Show squashing Rusev and Cesaro besting future WWE champion Jinder Mahal. Not every PPV match has to be match of the year, end of a blood feud material. But these felt like Raw filler. I was worried the show would cut to commercial.
So what keeps this from being the worst? For its faults, Fastlane at least had some worthwhile matches. Even if they killed off winning streaks, Bayley vs. Charlotte was good; Stroman vs. Reigns was excellent – proving Stroman’s star power even in defeat. The cruiserweight championship was one of the better matches of Neville’s reign. The tag title match and Joe vs. Zayn got the job done. But an event like this needed more than serviceable to make it good.
Both the best and worst PPV of the year were serious no-brainers. Amazingly for the weakest PPV of the year, there were no MAJOR stinkers. But the problem is nothing about this show really set the world on fire. The best match of the night was New Day vs. The Usos, but those teams did so much better. You know it’s a bad night when even Owens and Styles can’t even muster a four-star match. It still boggles my mind that a seasoned veteran like AJ bungled something as simple as kicking out, resulting in an awkward, abrupt finish. And it was STILL one of the better matches of the night.
Some readers are probably expecting me to dump on Punjabi Prison. Honestly, that match wasn’t that bad. Okay, it was hardly Omega-Okada, but for the subterranean bar that was set, Mahal and Orton somehow crossed it. Conversely, Cena/Rusev could have been better, but was hindered by a silly gimmick. Everything else felt less like PPV filler and more like Smackdown filler. The blue brand’s quality increased significantly after this show. I guess sometimes you have to bottom out, to build up.