The 10 Superstars who defined 2017
If there is a proverbial brass ring to be grabbed, 2017 seemed like the year that everybody lined up and decided to make a go at it. The result was one of the most stacked talent pools in WWE history, in which each Superstar left their mark (sometimes in more ways than one) on the landscape of WWE. From breakout stars to glass-ceiling smashers to a pair of tag teams that reached stratospheric heights, these are the 10 Superstars who owned 2017.
Enzo Amore & Big Cass were one of the most exciting tag teams of 2016, but Big Cass eventually turned his back on Enzo, and The Realest Guy in the Room made a drastic change that took his career to the next level. Joining the Cruiserweight division, Enzo brought greater attention to WWE 205 Live, and his presence led to the Cruiserweights being featured in Raw’s main event on multiple occasions. The Certified G’s influence on the 205-and-under division was cemented when he won the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, twice. As the face of his division, leader of The Zo Train and one of the most prominent faces of WWE 205 Live, Enzo Amore had a great 2017. True, his mouth can make him money and enemies in equal measure, but if he keeps on this path, there may not be anyone to stop Muscles Marinara in 2018. — KEVIN POWERS
Who’s going to be the one to tell Brock Lesnar he is only number nine on this list? Arguably, the reigning, defending, undisputed Universal Champion conquered more this year than he has in any 365-day stretch in his life. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Finally vanquishing Goldberg at WrestleMania? Check. Overcoming the likes of Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman in high-stakes main events on pay-per-view? You betcha. Toppling Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns in a beyond-raucous Fatal 4-Way Match at SummerSlam? Oh yes. Defeating AJ Styles in one of the greatest matches of the year at Survivor Series? You better believe it.
That only equaling number nine on this list might be a borderline crime. Court will soon be in session in Suplex City. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
When Seth Rollins betrayed Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns to put an end to The Shield in 2014, the betrayal stung for years. Although The Lunatic Fringe and The Big Dog remained friends, Ambrose wanted nothing to do with The Architect — refusing every suggestion to reunite in 2017.
However, as tensions flared with Raw Tag Team Champions Cesaro & Sheamus, Ambrose and Rollins found themselves forging an uneasy alliance, eventually winning the titles and inching The Hounds of Justice closer to reunion. One bit of ill-advised trash talk from The Miz later, and Roman Reigns was back on board.
It goes without saying the reunited men in black have left their enemies in a heap, but their individual accomplishments stood out this year as well: Rollins finally shook off the demons of The Authority at WrestleMania, Ambrose and Reigns both became Intercontinental Champion, and The Big Dog earned one of the most monumental WrestleMania wins of all time when he sent The Undertaker into the sunset. The Shield is once again proving to be the most dominant group in WWE history, whether it’s one of them in the ring or all. — KEVIN POWERS
Like him or not, you cannot argue with Kevin Owens’ results in 2017.
The Québécois competitor opened the year as Universal Champion and later accrued three United States Championship reigns, the first of which was earned with a historic title win at WrestleMania 33. He pulled out all the stops in his drive to succeed, even betraying his one true ally in Chris Jericho and later befriending a longtime rival in Sami Zayn. He also cemented his place on The McMahon Family’s radar, both through a brutal assault of Mr. McMahon and through frequent battles with Shane McMahon, including a jaw-dropping war inside Hell in a Cell.
He even ended his year by, quite literally, saving his job at WWE Clash of Champions, making one thing clear to all his critics: Kevin Owens is not going anywhere anytime soon. — MATTHEW ARTUS
Here’s a true story you likely won’t want to admit, but that doesn’t make it any less true: The Miz rules. A onetime outsider who became a bona fide veteran of the industry without anybody realizing it, The Awesome One transformed himself from a self-aggrandizing irritator to firebrand elder statesman in just two years’ time, making every minute he spends on television a must-see moment, perhaps even more so than he thinks it is.
Check his takedowns on the mic, which have cut everyone from Daniel Bryan to John Cena and Roman Reigns down to size. (We didn’t do this list in 2016, but here’s a belated admission that he would, could or should have topped it if we had.) Check the Intercontinental Championship, which some of the most talented Superstars in the world have tried to “rehabilitate” over the years and which Miz made important by simply insisting that it was. And check his last appearance on TV to date, where he unironically got more love than The Shield on “Miz TV.” SmackDown LIVE wasn’t the same once he left, and Raw can’t get him back soon enough. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
365 days ago, would you have believed that Jinder Mahal would land among the top 10 Superstars of 2017? Jinder Mahal took advantage of every opportunity presented to him since moving to SmackDown LIVE in the Superstar Shake-up this past spring and established himself as one of the top competitors on Team Blue, despite everyone doubting him along the way.
Mahal started to make a name for himself in hard-hitting battles with Finn Bálor and Roman Reigns on Raw, but he came into his own after making the jump to Team Blue, almost immediately becoming the top contender to the WWE Championship. He followed it up by pulling off what many thought was one of the biggest upsets in WWE history when he defeated Randy Orton to capture the most coveted prize in sports-entertainment. As WWE Champion, Mahal bested Orton in two rematches, survived a Money in the Bank contract cash-in from Baron Corbin and twice turned back the challenge of Shinsuke Nakamura. Not bad for a guy that everybody counted out, right? —BOBBY MELOK
TIE: The Usos and The New Day
It’s rare that two teams who have done it all in their respective divisions find ways to reinvent themselves and their opponents, but there’s no way anybody didn’t see The Usos and The New Day in a different light in December than they had in January. Throughout the course of a six-month war over the SmackDown Tag Team Championship, these two already-decorated teams tapped into the latent aggression that resided below the surface trappings of war paint and unicorn horns, reminding the WWE Universe that they were, first and foremost, competitors of the highest caliber.
From a thrilling Xavier Woods showcase at WWE Battleground to a brutal capper inside Hell in a Cell, each contest was an escalating reminder of what these teams could do, and both teams pushed each other to reach spectacular heights. They might not even be done: Even after their supposed final battle inside Hell in a Cell, they found themselves mixing it up again in a Fatal 4-Way at WWE Clash of Champions, indicating that they could just be destined to do this forever. We should be so lucky. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Since arriving to WWE from NXT, Alexa Bliss has arguably been WWE’s most valuable female Superstar. 2017, however, was her true breakout year. The four-time Women’s Champion earned three of her four title reigns this year alone, becoming the first woman to win both the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Titles.
In fact, there wasn’t a month in 2017 where Bliss wasn’t carrying a title around her waist. And considering she had to defend the gold against the likes of Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley, it’s hard to imagine many other Superstars topping that resumé. Five Feet of Fury never seemed so tall. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Braun Strowman flipped an ambulance and survived getting crushed in a garbage truck. He launched a giant through a steel cage and drove a demon through the ring. He made the ring collapse and destroyed barricades. He had social media buzzing after throwing an announce chair and leg-pressing a 240-pound man like it was nothing.
Strowman did not need a title around his waist to make 2017 his year. He didn’t even need to compete in all 12 months — he briefly sat out following elbow surgery, only to return more destructive than ever. The Monster Among Men made sure every Superstar, from Roman Reigns to Brock Lesnar, knew that he was someone to fear. And even though Strowman hasn’t yet captured a title in WWE, it’s clear that accolade is a matter of when, not if. — JEFF LABOON
And to think, people thought this guy wasn’t gonna make it in WWE. AJ Styles both began and ended 2017 as WWE Champion, capping off his first reign with our Match of the Year against John Cena at Royal Rumble, and returning to that lofty peak when he dethroned Jinder Mahal in November. But that’s not all. He also held the United States Title for most of the spring and summer, stole the show at WrestleMania and proved himself to be the phenomenal cornerstone on which SmackDown LIVE is built. Safe to say, the notion that AJ Styles doesn’t belong here has long been proven obsolete, and the notion that he isn’t the best in-ring competitor on the planet is on its way out the door behind it. — ANTHONY BENIGNO