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2017's 10 most underrated matches
It’s the year so nice, we had to make the list twice. Our Top 25 Matches of the Year list ranks the most epic and memorable contests WWE had to offer in 2017, but a contentious voting process left a lot of greatness on the cutting room floor. And that was something we simply could not abide. So, as a companion of sorts to the larger list, and as a way of giving some of the lesser-remembered classics of the year their due, we present, unranked, 10 underrated, under-the-radar show-stealers that would have made the top 25 in any other year.
Randy Orton vs. Harper (WWE Elimination Chamber)
How close was Harper to being a WrestleMania main-eventer? Really close. But if it was a narrow loss to AJ Styles that formally kept him off The Grandest Stage of Them All, it was this grinder from Elimination Chamber that proved he was worthy of consideration in the first place. Randy Orton got the win against his then-estranged brother in The Wyatt Family, but it was Harper, after a long period of bubbling under the surface, who turned in one of the year’s breakout performances. He’s back on the tag team scene now as part of the promising Bludgeon Brothers, and the division is lucky to have him.
Neville vs. Gentleman Jack Gallagher — WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match (WWE Fastlane)
In the infancy of 205 Live, Gentleman Jack Gallagher emerged as an early favorite of a WWE Universe that was getting used to a whole new division of skillsets and personalities. But if Jack’s colorful trunks and unorthodox move-set got them intrigued, it was this gritty outing that showed he was the real deal as far as Superstars go. In the make-or-break moment, Gallagher stepped up and showed his stuff even in defeat, rattling the near-unbeatable Neville with a series of headbutts so ferocious that the high-flyer had to resort to his rarely used Red Arrow to finish him off.
Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James — Raw Women’s Championship Match (WWE TLC)
We said: Experienced veteran against a newcomer on a hot streak. It’s a tale as old as time, only Alexa Bliss decided to focus on the “old” bit during the run-up to her title defense against six-time Women’s Champion Mickie James. The response was a turn-back-the-clock performance from Mickie, who dedicated the challenge to her son and made no secret about her desire to bring a title home to him. She may have fallen short, but she did him proud anyway.
They said: “The approach to that match is to try to basically keep up. The fact that she’s a veteran and has accomplished so much, and trying to follow in her footsteps while having a match with her is amazing. You never stop learning in this business, and Mickie has taught me so much as a performer. When she came back to WWE, she was partnered with me on SmackDown. I learned a lot from her. But to actually face someone in the ring, you learn a lot from them. She’s an amazing opponent, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” — ALEXA BLISS
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler (SmackDown LIVE, June 20)
Shinsuke Nakamura became a household name about five minutes after he showed up on SmackDown LIVE, but don’t sleep on his signature rival for the year, Dolph Ziggler. The Showoff may have ditched his flashier tendencies, but the former World Heavyweight Champion has not lost a single step in the ring, going toe-to-toe with The King of Strong Style throughout 2017. This June 20 match, with its sternum-rattling kicks and serpentine mat game, was among their best.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III)
At the year’s halfway point, Tommaso Ciampa blew up #DIY and broke Johnny Gargano’s heart before an injury forced him onto the shelf. Nobody was really sure what we’d get from Gargano in response, but if this is what a Johnny Wrestling solo run looks like, sign us up. Gargano went move-for-move with future NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas in this whip-fast opener for TakeOver: Brooklyn III, sending the crowd into a frenzy and setting the bar for both the show and his matches to follow. Almas got the win when Zelina Vega threw a #DIY shirt in Johnny’s face, which means he’s not quite over the betrayal. Good news is, a match between the former #DIY teammates — whenever it happens — might be even better than this one.
Sami Zayn vs. Braun Strowman — Last Man Standing Match (Raw, Jan. 2)
In one of then-Raw General Manager Mick Foley’s more impressive rolls of the dice, he allowed Sami Zayn to attempt to prove himself against a still-ascending Braun Strowman. The former NXT Champion got a moral win by lasting 10 minutes against The Monster Among Men, but Strowman got the last word in this hellacious Last Man Standing contest that spilled into the locker room and beyond. Still, it was the most profound evidence yet that Zayn would be not held down — a clear indicator, in hindsight, that he would take his destiny into his own hands once he came to SmackDown LIVE.
Enzo Amore vs. Kalisto — WWE Cruiserweight Championship Lumberjack Match (Raw, Oct. 9)
We said: Everybody hates Enzo Amore, and they all got a chance to show how much in this Lumberjack Match that saw The Realest Guy in the Room defend his ill-gotten WWE Cruiserweight Championship against Kalisto, the division’s newest signee. A clause Enzo had finagled meant nobody else could challenge for the title if he lost, and thanks to no small help from competitors who were looking to restore the competitive field, The King of Flight walked away as champion to usher in a new day for 205 Live. That he won it on the birthday of one of his in-ring heroes, the late Eddie Guerrero, made it all the sweeter.
They said: “That was one of the first times I closed down Raw. It was breathtaking. When I get moments like that, I always try to take full advantage and give my all, everything I have, so I can make sure I can perform at my best. Being there, in that moment, was very surreal. It was one of the best days of my life. I feel like I opened the door for everybody to get an opportunity at the Cruiserweight Title. I closed down that clause. That moment when everybody started celebrating, it made me happy. It made me smile that everybody had an opportunity. Who knows? Maybe 205 Live can close down a pay-per-view. My dream is to have a Ladder Match at WrestleMania where all the Cruiserweights can display their true art.” — KALISTO
Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match (SmackDown LIVE, June 27)
We said: So, the first-ever Women’s Money in the Bank Match was sort of won by a guy. Whoops. Time for a mulligan. Asked to not just make history but repeat it, the women of SmackDown LIVE delivered for the second time in three days, turning in an epic showcase that stood toe-to-toe with anything the male Superstars ever put together. That Carmella won the coveted contract yet again, and without any assists, was further proof that her status as next-woman-up was far from a fluke.
They said: “All of us wanted to pull together and make history and have the best match we can possibly have. It was a surreal feeling. The first time I saw a ladder I couldn’t even pick it up. But standing in the ring with the girls, and that crowd, you could feel how special it was. That’s a feeling I’ll never forget. I’ve only been doing this for less than four years, [but] no matter what happens in the future, I always made history. It’s such a cool, exciting time for women in this industry.” — CARMELLA
Pete Dunne vs. Mark Andrews (WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Semifinals)
Pete Dunne and Mark Andrews had their very first match together, so it’s only fitting they’d steal the show on the biggest stage yet afforded to their native style of competition. Staging the United Kingdom Championship Tournament in the first place was an all-in move for WWE to begin with, but given the efforts put forth by Andrews and Dunne in this Semifinal Match, you’d have a hard time arguing the gamble didn’t pay off. These guys throw and wrench and kick each other with such ferocious abandon, you’ll be half-hoping they take it outside, and half-planning ahead for the rematch.
Kairi Sane vs. Bianca Belair (Mae Young Classic Second Round)
The Mae Young Classic was full of rising stars and eye-opening performances. Plucking just one contest to represent the entire tournament is something of a fool’s errand, both in terms of the talent scope and the importance of the event itself. But if you’re looking for one gem to sample, this quick, nasty affair, wherein Bianca Belair weaponizes her ponytail and eventual champion Kairi Sane fights from underneath to cave in her sternum with an elbow, will do quite nicely.