2017 was a banner year for pro wrestling with plenty of shocking surprises, big news events, interesting matchups, and plenty more. And while it was a bit quieter for MMA, maybe the biggest pay-per-view spectacle of all time took place when Conor McGregor faced Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match.
We asked our group of writers and podcast hosts who won 2017 in their eyes: wrestler, fighter, promoter, or group.
Jeremy Peeples, 205 Live recapper
2017 was a massive year in pro wrestling, but no single person saw their star rise more than Kenny Omega. He began the year with a single opportunity: a main event at Wrestle Kingdom. At the time, it was an incredible feat simply because he went from being slotted as a junior to suddenly being thrust into AJ Styles’ role as the Bullet Club leader so quickly.
Omega seemed to take this in stride by not only upping his in-ring game, but also creating a character that was far more serious than before while also retaining a silly side to it. In doing so, he became someone who has almost become bigger than his core company, at least in America. The rise of The Elite as a whole has given New Japan its biggest level of mainstream popularity outside of its own country with the company’s merchandise now being sold in malls as featured items in Hot Topic stores.
Without Omega finding the best version of himself this past year, it wouldn’t have happened. As a result, the first-ever IWGP United States Champion may not have the company’s top prize in his possession yet, but he does hold the keys to the company’s popularity in America in his hands and that is something that has allowed him to make himself and his title more valuable than anyone could have imagined.
He began 2017 with a lot of hype after his first match with Okada and now ends 2017 with a feud with Chris Jericho that is bringing back the most serious version of Jericho since his legendary 2008 run.
2018 will begin with a single match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 that may not close the show, but the Omega vs. Jericho could catapult the company’s stock in the US to even greater heights, especially if they find a way to have a classic match that isn’t just a technical showcase. With the two men involved, it should be one of the best matches of Jericho’s career and could be something that changes the game if he winds up sticking around with New Japan as a part-timer.
Brian Denny, NJPW recapper and general writer
Who won 2017? Look no further than Cody, who revealed on Busted Open Radio that he had his first seven-figure year in pro wrestling. That happened outside of the WWE. He was the ROH World Champion, had successful tours in Japan for NJPW, appeared on several sold-out indie shows throughout the year, held multiple other championships, and is about to personally (with others) help fund the potentially biggest non-WWE pro wrestling show in the US since the end of WCW.
Alan Boon, UK scene writer
It's difficult to consider any attempt to decide who "won" 2017 in pro wrestling without mentioning WWE. They always win by virtue of being in a position to consolidate their place as market leader.
Having said that, they haven't had too many outright victories this year in things they've tried with the "Jinder Mahal as champion" experiment not paying massive dividends in India, the WWE UK project failing to get off the ground past a limp taping in Norwich, and the Mae Young Classic being an admirable but lackluster shadow of the previous year's Cruiserweight Classic.
Outside the New York bubble, New Japan has made big strides in increasing their market share in the US, admittedly from very little to a little bit more (although the sales of NJPW-branded shirts at Hot Topic have been astonishing), and they've enjoyed another strong year at home with their in-ring at an extremely high level. Even limited or inexperienced wrestlers have had some outstanding main events, and there will be no one else attaining such a high level on a regular basis.
From my own backyard, British wrestling has continued to thrive, becoming possibly the hottest scene in the world when taken as a whole. What's been especially surprising and welcome is that a few individuals have become genuine ticket sellers. Not only the WWE UK guys like Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, and Trent Seven, but others like #CCK have become stars with long queues at the merch table.
So who won 2017? We all did. Never has there been so much top class professional wrestling so easily available from quality action in every town that can support a population of graps-hungry adults to the plethora of streaming services bringing the good stuff right into our front rooms. And you know what? There's no reason to think 2018 will be any different. Yeah, the bubble is going to burst at some point but let's enjoy the ride while things are hot.
Josh Molina, general recapper
At age 47, Chris Jericho continues to reinvent himself. He began 2017 setting the record for the longest cumulative time in the history of the Royal Rumble with more than five hours of ring time. He escalated his spectacular angle with Kevin Owens, advancing his “You just made the list!” gimmick into a WrestleMania match. Jericho entered that as United States Champion and although he lost, he established himself, again, as a legend and true icon of the sport.
Jericho left the WWE to tour with his rock band Fozzy and we all thought he’d be gone for awhile, but he reinvented himself again with another tremendous angle involving Kenny Omega in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He shocked the world by challenging Omega to a match which is now the scheduled co-main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12. Jericho has used some simple 1980s wrestling tactics to launch himself into arguably the number one angle the sport today.
Jericho somehow made himself more internationally relevant than any wrestler on the WWE roster and he is one of the most talked about guys in the industry as we close the year. Chris Jericho won 2017.
Paul Fontaine, MMA and wrestling recapper
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, is the capital of the wrestling world in 2017, and the city that I’m proud to call my hometown has a lot of buzz around it for a match that will happen in the first week of the New Year. In my opinion, the man who will defend his US title in a match against a fellow Winnipegger in the mecca of Japanese wrestling, the Tokyo Dome, is the clear winner in 2017.
Kenny Omega wrestled in only the second six-star match in history to kick off the year. He followed that up with two arguably better matches later in the year (all against Kazuchika Okada, who had a pretty good year himself) and along the way became the first ever IWGP US Champion with another five-star classic against Tomohiro Ishii in the tournament final. And the scary thing is that the best may be yet to come for one Kenny Omega.
Ethan Renner, NJPW recapper
Conor McGregor reportedly earned “around” $100 million for his August 2017 boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather. The common thread in pro wrestling and combat sports is drawing money, and McGregor drew enough of it to earn himself nine figures, and possibly an early retirement from giving and receiving punches to the face. He lost the Mayweather fight, but he certainly won 2017.
Jeff Hamlin, Raw recapper
It can’t be limited to this year, but there’s now more mainstream acceptance of pro wrestling from media sports outlets. Ric Flair’s 30-for-30 was the most watched show on cable for the night it premiered on ESPN. Wrestling podcasts are earning year-end awards for the best in all of sports, not just pro wrestling. Journalists are no longer afraid to say they’re wrestling fans. The reason is because many modern media critics, writers and journalists were teens (or younger) during the boom period in the late 90s.
The irony of it all is far fewer people are watching wrestling now compared to the 90s when it was still common to degrade wrestling and its consumers. For example, the coverage of Mike Tyson appearing at WrestleMania XIV saw some anchors and writers saying it was proof Tyson had hit rock bottom, evidently forgetting his rape conviction from 1992.
I wonder if WWE will work harder to entice bigger named celebrities for WrestleMania in the future, something that has steadily fallen by the wayside. From that standpoint, I suppose WWE’s marketing won the year.
Alan4L, podcast host and Figure Four Weekly writer
At the end of 2017 when you think about the impact players of the year and the men who “won” the year, you might think of names such as Kenny Omega or The Young Bucks. These wrestlers were on the tips of peoples' tongues all year long. However, I’d like to think about this question in terms of what the answer might be when you look back at 2017 thirty years from now. That answer will be “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada.
The year that this man had was not built on buzz or shocking the system. Rather, it was built on creating a portfolio of work that will stand the test of time and be looked at in the future as one of the greatest in-ring years in wrestling history. An historic IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign saw Okada string together one classic defense after another, and even when he could have relied on his status to coast in the G1 Climax and let others carry the water, he went out there and killed it every night, arguably becoming the MVP of the tournament.
Okada is amazing, his 2017 was amazing, and he is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Mike DellaCamera, columnist
Who won 2017? The clear winner of 2017 is Chris Jericho, who provided the best moment in WWE with the Festival of Friendship and now is co-main eventing goddamn Wrestle Kingdom in Japan. But since he's already been mentioned, I’ll pick someone who continued to do the best work of his career and still be underrated -- The Miz as WWE wouldn’t have worked without him this year.
He continuously elevated every feud he was in, cut the best promos in the company, and made everything feel that much more important. He got people to react to Bo Dallas. He got people to react to Curtis Axel. He got us to care. There’s been a noticeable absence in the product since he’s been gone and everything will be better once he gets back. Here’s hoping 2018 brings us more of the Miz and provides him with a well deserved title run.
Josh Nason, editor and podcaster
The undisputed winner of 2017 is content.
I base that simply on the sheer amount of content available at the ready. From WWE Network to YouTube to the dearly departed FloSlam to traditional TV to various smaller streaming services to illegal streams to everything in between, you could easily spend days on end watching old and new content without repeating anything.
If you had told me in 1996 that I wouldn't have to buy VHS tapes to see the best talent in the world outside WWE do their thing and could get those matches ASAP, I would have hugged you. The future is now for active fans, lapsed fans, and everyone in between. We're all hugging everyone.
But that future does come with a slight conundrum: there's too much available to us and quantity over quality is winning. Everything competes with everything now and what pushes through to our TVs, computers and phones depends on how badly we want to see it. For the content providers like WWE, they aren't competing against ROH. They're competing against Netflix, pro sports, Amazon, HBO, and everyone else. But their issue is to keep feeding the content (aka money) monster which is why Raw is three hours every week.
I expect more of the same in 2018: a mix of great matches and fights and a lot of very forgettable drivel along the way.
Joseph Currier, editor and Figure Four Weekly writer
While Kazuchika Okada's in-ring work was unmatched this year, no one did more to improve their stock in 2017 than Braun Strowman.
Strowman’s push was already well underway at the start of the year. And him being successful was likely inevitable given that he’s exactly what Vince McMahon looks for in a pro wrestler, but it’s easy to forget that Strowman didn’t even have a featured match at WrestleMania this year. He was just involved in a pre-show battle royal that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski ended up being the star of.
Aside from his completely underwhelming match against Brock Lesnar at No Mercy, Strowman proved himself capable of being really good in the ring. He was a valuable part of the fatal four-way main event at SummerSlam, which may have been the best main roster match of the year. His feud with Roman Reigns delivered. And his Raw matches against Big Show were even surprisingly good.
Strowman enters 2018 as one of the top babyfaces in WWE and will face Lesnar and Kane in a triple threat match for the Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble. He’ll almost certainly have a top match at WrestleMania, and he’ll probably be in an even better position the year after that.