2017 is winding down, and it’s time to look back at the Superstars, tag teams, and breakout stars that dazzled us in the ring. This was an uncommonly stacked year even by normal standards, so in a twist, WWE.com is actually doing two best-matches lists: This one and a separate list of 10 under-the-radar contests you should seek out during your holiday down time. See what made that list here.
As for this one? Keep scrolling for our picks for the 25 best matches of 2017, featuring analysis from WWE.com editors as well as comments from the Superstars involved. Here we go.
Unlike your average office worker, Superstars don’t phone it in just because it’s the end of the year. With a few weeks left before the close of 2017, Roman Reigns and Cesaro clashed for the Intercontinental Championship on Monday Night Raw and left it all in the ring. The two bruisers absolutely pummeled each other with The Big Dog’s prize hanging in the balance.
Cesaro’s relentless onslaught forced Reigns to adapt his offense on the fly, and The Big Dog’s unwavering resilience frustrated The Swiss Cyborg. A barrage of European uppercuts in the corner nearly led to Cesaro finishing Reigns off with the Neutralizer. However, Reigns refused to be put down, launching Cesaro before countering with a thunderous Spear that put an end to the thrilling contest. — BOBBY MELOK
Often in WWE, as in life, you cannot properly account for the element of surprise. However, if you’re Phenomenal, you sometimes take full advantage of it.
Chris Jericho made a surprise return to SmackDown LIVE on July 25 and quickly inserted himself into a United States Title Match between then-champion Kevin Owens and AJ Styles. The impromptu Triple Threat was ripe with athleticism and suspense, and Styles pulled off the final shock of the evening when he pinned Jericho to win the title — despite Owens having just been the one to put Y2J down with a devastating Frog Splash.
Hey, anything can happen in WWE, right? — RYAN PAPPOLLA
Fate kept Shinsuke Nakamura from the winner’s circle at NXT TakeOver: Orlando, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. The King of Strong Style gave as good as he got from NXT Champion Bobby Roode in a half-hour throwdown that the NXT Universe will be talking about for years to come — not just because of how thrilling the match was, but because it’s the last bout Nakamura competed in on NXT. A strong-style sendoff fit for a king. — MATTHEW ARTUS
The mini-match between then-WWE Champion John Cena and AJ Styles to start the bout would alone be worthy of Top 25 recognition. But then factor in the months — and years — of rivalries that played out between the six Superstars inside the Elimination Chamber, and this match is a must-rewatch.
The redesigned Chamber made sure no one was immune to punishment, from Styles and Dean Ambrose bashing each other into the glass pod to Cena leaping from atop a pod to lay out two Superstars. Bray Wyatt stood tall, but as he struggled to his feet to raise his first WWE Title, you could tell that everyone paid a huge price that night. — JEFF LABOON
We said: Huggers gonna hug, winners gonna win.
Dismissing Bayley as a mere WWE fan and not championship material, Charlotte Flair had no choice but to respect her rival following this instant-classic main event, pitting Bayley’s underdog tenacity against Charlotte’s WWE Hall of Fame-worthy genetics.
Despite Dana Brooke attempting to intervene — a threat that was neutralized by Bayley’s bestie Sasha Banks — The Huggable One hit Charlotte with a Bayley-to-Belly Suplex that won Bayley her first Raw Women’s Championship, a title she would carry to, and out of, WrestleMania 33. If you didn’t think Bayley belonged in the main event, this incredible Raw battle made you a firm believer in Hug Life. — JAMES WORTMAN
They said: “Obviously it’s a dream come true. Charlotte and I were in the main event of that Monday Night Raw, and I had Sasha at ringside. It felt like everything I worked for since the very beginning. You hear it all the time; you feel like you made it when you get signed and all that, but it wasn’t until that moment when I felt like, ‘OK. I’ve actually done it.’ [After I won], I immediately thought of my mom and my family because we were in Las Vegas, and my mom always liked to come to all my title matches in NXT because she always says, ‘You never know when it’s gonna happen!’ So I was like, ‘She’s gonna be so mad she’s not here.’” — BAYLEY
We said: WWE Cruiserweight Champion Neville needed a challenger, and Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, Noam Dar, Gentleman Jack Gallagher and TJP all stepped up in a fast-paced Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match to find out who it was going to be.
With alliances cast aside, the five Cruiserweights showed the WWE Universe what their division is all about. One of the most memorable moments featured Gallagher ascending the top rope and diving on top of his opponents, using his trusty umbrella to guide his descent. The Gentleman secured the win following a high-speed running dropkick, and although he would be unsuccessful against Neville at WWE Fastlane, he proved he was an early star among the young division. — KEVIN POWERS
They said: “We knew going into it that no one was going to hold back, and we were all going to go for our absolute best. It was still a young product, and we wanted to make our stamp early on. That’s the best time to do it. The next day I was quite happy, but honestly, it was more, ‘I can do better than that.’ If you think you’ve seen everything, you’ve not seen anything yet. Trust me, I can do better than that one.” — GENTLEMAN JACK GALLAGHER
Chris Jericho goes in the cage, cage goes above the ring, The Big Dog’s in the ring. Our Big Dog.
OK, so it’s not exactly “Jaws,” but even Quint would give a tip of the hat to the then-United States Champion for getting into a perilous shark cage for the Universal Championship clash between Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns.
As laugh-out-loud hilarious as it was hard-hitting thanks to the Superstar dangling above the ring, this back-and-forth no-disqualification bout saw Reigns and Owens take each other to the limit until Braun Strowman intervened and drove The Big Dog through a table to hand the victory to KO. Come for the shark cage shenanigans, stay for the one of the best Reigns showcases you’ll ever see. —JAMES WORTMAN
What a magnificent car wreck this was. After years of rumored attempts to resurrect WCW’s wild WarGames contest, The Match Beyond finally returned as an NXT main event that featured six ravenous Superstars brandishing, seemingly, every piece of plunder conceived by man. Fiery NXT newcomer Adam Cole [Ed. Note: BAY-BAY] will go in the record books as winning the match for The Undisputed ERA, but you’ll probably remember this for the breakout performance of SAnitY’s Killian Dain. Seven months after a surprise WrestleMania appearance in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the 300-pounder followed up with an epic showing that included an honest-to-goodness Coast-to-Coast. It was one of those moments that moved the earth, figuratively and (we assume) literally. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
We said: For Samoa Joe, this was an opportunity to silence his doubters.
No one ever thought he would be a main-event Superstar in WWE, but at WWE Extreme Rules, Joe battled the best Raw had to offer, dishing out punishment and capitalizing on the right moment. It wasn’t clear if anyone — or anything — would be left standing, with Roman Reigns destroying Finn Bálor and Joe with a Spear through the barricade to Seth Rollins Frog-Splashing Bray Wyatt through the announce table.
The final moments featured each Superstar getting seconds away from victory until Samoa Joe saw his opening and pounced, squeezing the life out of Bálor with the Coquina Clutch and seizing his dream opportunity. — JEFF LABOON
They said: “You had four of the most dangerous athletes we have here in WWE. I realized the task ahead of me, and I realized in order to come out, I was going to have to take advantage of the best opportunity. At the end of the match, I saw my time to strike and I did. I think at this point in my career I’ve been counted out and been a dark horse more often than not. It’s not new territory. It neither pushes me nor demotivates me. It’s to be expected, and I’m fine with that. If you’re not expecting me to come out there and do what I do, that’s your fault.” — SAMOA JOE
Say my name. As simple a conflict as you could ask for, but The Velveteen Dream’s bizarre desire to get the ruthless Aleister Black to speak his name led to a star-making performance for the young Superstar in one of the more cerebral matches of the year. It’s the strangeness of Dream — for the uninitiated, think Prince meets “Ravishing” Rick Rude — that draws you in. But it’s his escalating desperation to earn Black’s recognition that keeps you there, and it’s the genuinely surprising post-match interaction that sticks with you long afterwards. An out-of-nowhere masterpiece. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
A longer match doesn’t always equal a better one. Case in point: the absolute demolition derby that was Goldberg and Brock Lesnar’s battle for the Universal Championship on The Grandest Stage of Them All. From bell to bell, this couldn’t have been more than five minutes — a lifetime compared to Goldberg’s 94-second destruction of The Beast at Survivor Series 2016 — but it was an action-packed sprint for Raw’s top prize.
Right from the opening bell, it was a flurry of German Suplexes and Spears from both warriors, capped off with the two of them crashing through the ringside barricade after a devastating Spear from Goldberg. However, The Beast was prepared for Goldberg’s onslaught this time. Lesnar survived four Spears (and leapfrogged over a fifth in a freak display of athleticism) and a Jackhammer before taking his legendary rival to Suplex City. After 10 German Suplexes and a thunderous F5, Lesnar had conquered his demons and made one thing clear: The Beast was back. — BOBBY MELOK
Even though he’s still so young, there are already very few things Roman Reigns hasn’t done in his WWE career. However, on the May 29 edition of Raw, he was confronted with one of the few still left on the list — defeat Seth Rollins in one-on-one competition.
Not yet reunited under the banner of The Shield, the two former WWE Champions absolutely tore the house down. Despite Rollins’ unique blend of offense keeping Reigns reeling for large portions of the bout, The Big Dog protected his yard and added another impressive accomplishment to his ever-growing collection. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
We said: This match instantly became iconic for the catapult from Dean Ambrose that sent Cesaro mouth-first into the steel turnbuckle, pushing The Swiss Cyborg’s teeth into his upper jaw. Cesaro somehow battled through the pain, and his tenacity seemed to send all four Superstars into a different gear. The Bar took control with some excellent teamwork, but a creative move by Ambrose to play possum set the challengers up for a fatal mistake, causing Sheamus to inadvertently Brogue Kick his partner.
The two teams gave everything — including Cesaro’s two front teeth — but nothing would stop the reunited Ambrose and Rollins. — JEFF LABOON
They said: “It was definitely very memorable. I still remember because I have braces on my teeth and my mouth is all torn up. I have to cut hamburgers still. [Laughs] But I don’t think stopping the match crossed my mind once. Me and Sheamus are very competitive. Those Tag Team Titles mean a lot to us. They are the title on Raw and on SmackDown, I want to say. Constantly defended. High-profile matches, matches that always excite, always deliver. And we’re in there with two-thirds of The Shield. Those guys don’t want to lose. We don’t want to lose. Great contest. Hurt like hell. I was afraid the referee was going to stop the match because of excessive blood. But I also knew the damage was done, and, you know, what can I do? I have to go see a dentist, I have to go get surgery, but right now? Let’s go win those titles.” — CESARO
We said: We all knew Shane McMahon was crazy and willing to do the unthinkable, but who knew he could hold his own in a classic head-to-head bout against the greatest wrestler in the world? Shane-O-Mac pulled out all the stops against AJ Styles, busting out a Coast-to-Coast, a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table and a Shooting Star Press in an unforgettable show-stealing performance. — SCOTT TAYLOR
They said: “I think we gave them a little bit of everything. I’m not sure of the last match [Shane had] in a ring that happened with no other rules or regulations. Not many people realize that. It wasn’t a Hell in a Cell, it wasn’t a Falls Count Anywhere, it was just a match. But it was very entertaining and gave them a little bit of everything they wanted to see from Shane and myself. I think that’s why people, including me, were happy with that match.” — AJ STYLES
We said: The Usos learned in this memorable WWE Battleground bout that dividing The New Day does not necessarily make it any easier to conquer them. Xavier Woods, who came through with a breakout effort, and Kofi Kingston displayed the resiliency that has defined The New Day as one of this generation’s greatest tag teams, and they were rewarded with their first SmackDown Tag Team Championship reign. — MATTHEW ARTUS
They said: “I think the mantra of always wanting to do outdo one another is something both teams hold very near and dear to their hearts, but also wanting to make a name for the tag division again. There was a time in this company when tag team wrestling was at the forefront, and that’s kind of slipped through the years. We as a division want to make sure that tag team wrestling gets the spotlight it deserves because it is by far the most entertaining style of wrestling. Our stuff with The Usos definitely felt like it was that old-school tag team rivalry-type situation again. It was very cool to be involved in such a cool, unique moment against The Usos and getting to bust that nasty coast-to-coast elbow that paired up with Kofi’s Trouble in Paradise. It feels good. If one of us is champion, we’re all champion. It feels good to contribute to putting the food on the table.” — XAVIER WOODS
Three challengers. Two uninvited ringside guests. One path to the Intercontinental Championship. Finn Bálor, Seth Rollins and The Miz blew the roof off of Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center with this stunning three-way fight that was taken to the next level when fate, in the form of Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe, intervened on The Awesome One’s behalf. — MATTHEW ARTUS
While it may not have had the pure spectacle of two titans forcing the ring to collapse or the terrifying image of one giant hurling another through a steel cage, Braun Strowman and Big Show’s first battle in Feb. 2017 stands out as one of the year’s most memorable for showing what WWE’s big men are truly capable of.
WWE’s ring crew rushed to reinforce the squared circle for the combined 800-plus pounds of punishment it was sure to absorb. While the WWE Universe screamed “This is awesome!” before Show and Strowman even laid hands on each other, Braun gave them a reason to chant, showing off the agility of a Cruiserweight as he kipped up and out of a Big Show wristlock. The two behemoths engaged in a surprising bit of mat-based grappling before transitioning into an all-out brawl. More than 20 years into his WWE tenure, The World’s Largest Athlete proved he was still a once-in-a-generation talent, but Strowman survived the KO Punch and broke free from an attempted chokeslam to powerslam Big Show and establish himself as Raw’s new giant. —BOBBY MELOK
Politics make strange bedfellows, as do two tandems trying to rip away the NXT Tag Team Titles from The Authors of Pain. That was the daunting task at hand for #DIY and The Revival. Despite their well-documented disdain for each other, the two teams found enough common ground to unite against AOP, resulting in unforgettable combinations like Scott Dawson and Johnny Gargano connecting on #DIY’s finisher, the Meeting in the Middle, and Tommaso Ciampa and Dash Wilder hitting The Revival’s favorite move, the Shatter Machine, on Akam & Rezar. Seeing the famous enemies work together was mind-blowing enough, but to witness AOP prevail against the attack was even more astonishing. — JOHN CLAPP
We said: When medical issues on the Raw roster forced General Manager Kurt Angle to shuffle the WWE TLC lineup at the last minute, little did anyone realize it would result in the abrupt signing of the headiest dream match imaginable. Finn Bálor vs. AJ Styles had been anticipated for ages due to The Demon and The Phenomenal One’s reputations as two of this generation’s finest in-ring performers, never mind that both men had previously captained the same faction in Japan. The too-sweet showdown lived up to the hype and captivated the WWE Universe. It might have been the first meeting between Bálor and Styles, but let’s hope it’s not the last. — JOHN CLAPP
They said: “All I could think about was, what a great opportunity. When you say Finn Bálor, I say “The Demon.” That’s who I got in the ring with. While it doesn’t sound like it should be two separate things, it totally is. Two guys who have history, not because of WWE, but because of the business we’re in. Even though we didn’t have a story in WWE, we had a story, which is what made this match great. It was a great moment to have two guys go toe-to-toe and, at the end, give ’em a Too Sweet. It was a picture that will last forever.” — AJ STYLES
This match was arguably the closest Asuka came to losing her coveted title during her 523-day reign as NXT Women’s Champion. One of the most underrated moments in wrestling in all of 2017 was when Ember Moon hit her spectacular Eclipse finishing move on the undefeated Asuka, only to have The Empress of Tomorrow shockingly kick out. It was awesome, and it was must-see. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles was a dream matchup that managed to exceed expectations. Watching the greatest wrestler in the world battle the most dominant athlete on the planet was everything WWE fans imagined. There were suplexes, sensational wrestling and plenty of drama. Now, how about that rematch? — SCOTT TAYLOR
We said: It’s hard to imagine a six-month rivalry getting better with each match, but that’s what The Usos and The New Day pulled off. This SummerSlam Kickoff masterpiece was the culmination of everything that came before it, from Xavier Woods’ heroics to The Usos’ pinpoint timing. By the fifth or sixth near-fall, nobody had any idea what was going to happen. By the time a Double Uce made Jimmy & Jey champions again, the teams had turned a Kickoff into the climax, and SummerSlam had a very tough act to follow. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
They said: “To be on a Kickoff at 5:00 and the fans aren’t even in their seat, our mindset is, ‘We’re gonna make sure this will be the hardest match to follow.’ And yeah, they messed up by putting us on first, but we ain’t got no choice but to make this match a hell of a tag team match, to make this match a hell of a title match, to make this match a hell of a match period. On the Kickoff? We almost hurt the show, you know what I’m saying?” — JIMMY USO
Pro tip: Watch these guys. Watch them well. Watch Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, and all the rest of the U.K. division each chance you get on NXT. Watch this match in particular, where two young competitors go toe-to-toe for a five-month old championship and turn a middle-of-the-show match into the main event of WrestleMania. Watch this match. Then watch it again. Trust us. You’ll want to. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Disastrous conditions were to be expected when more than 1,000 pounds of bad attitude and hoss power collided over the Universal Title at SummerSlam. Even still, onlookers might have considered placing a call to FEMA considering the carnage that transpired with alarming ferocity. Within the first six minutes alone, Brock Lesnar was Speared through the ringside barricade, powerslammed twice through announce desks, and had a third table overturned on top of him, and the pace didn’t let up from there. Somehow, Paul Heyman’s colossal client emerged victorious, but the fact The Beast was still in one piece was just as incredible. — JOHN CLAPP
We said: This match will be remembered for John Cena tying Ric Flair’s record of 16 World Championships, but reducing the bout to its conclusion negates the whip-fast thrill ride that preceded it. AJ Styles, a full year after his debut and defending the title many thought he’d never sniff, delivered on every bit of his promise, and Cena, knocking at destiny’s door, turned in a superlative performance of his own in response. For much of 2016, everybody loved seeing AJ Styles “beat up John Cena.” Seeing him lose to The Cenation Leader in 2017 wasn’t so bad, either. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
They said: “That rivalry was something people wanted to see and thought would never happen. People knew what they were in store for: Two guys who bring out the best in each other. If you saw me before this match, you’d see a smile on my face because I knew something great was about to happen.” — AJ STYLES