The best wrestling shows of 2017

Roderick Strong, Adam Cole and Eric Young began the first-ever War Games match under the WWE banner. Courtesy of WWE

Well, 2017 was a wild year in the world of professional wrestling, but it's finally drawing to a close.

Over the course of 12 months, the WWE on ESPN staff has watched hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of wrestling programming, and we've seen the best (and worst) of it all. In recognition of the greatest achievements inside the squared circle in 2017, we got together to make our picks in 10 categories, covering individual performances, teams, rivalries and shows.

After picking on the worst wrestling shows of the year, our "Best of 2017" flips things around to recognize the very best shows that the year had to offer inside the squared circle.

Let's dig in.

NXT TakeOver: War Games

Survivor Series weekend was amazing and it all began with the best card of the weekend at NXT TakeOver: War Games. From the opening match between Lars Sullivan (the next Brock Lesnar, in my estimation) and Kassius Ohno, it was clear the roster was ready to bring it.

That being said, that match was probably the most forgettable one of the night. Aleister Black and the Velveteen Dream put on a match that offered a compelling story and was likely to be in the discussion as one of the matches of the year. The Fatal 4-way between Ember Moon, Kairi Sane, Peyton Royce and Nikki Cross was a 10-minute gem, and the NXT championship match between Drew McIntyre and Andrade "Cien" Almas was a phenomenal match that thrived in every moment from beginning to end, except for the ending when McIntyre was hurt.

Finally, there was War Games. Nine superstars trying innovative maneuvers in two rings -- and they delivered in every way. And, if you haven't read how much it meant to the performers in the ring, you should check out Eric Young's pieces about his experiences over that weekend.

That night was one of the best of the year and another reminder that while NXT as a brand is sometimes considered developmental, those on the roster are more than capable of being the best in the world. (Andrew Feldman)

Since its inception, the NXT TakeOver series has consistently produced not just the best matches, but perhaps the most critically acclaimed cards in all of wrestling. And for wrestling fans of a certain age, War Games is simply legendary. The Match Beyond was the perfect exhibition of the beauty and brutality in the world of professional wrestling. That's why the mere announcement of NXT TakeOver: War Games made it the year's most anticipated show. But these factors, coupled with the fact that several NXT mainstays were promoted to Raw and Smackdown, also meant that NXT roster had big shoes to fill.

Amazingly, every person who performed that night delivered, and every match could be considered a match-of-the-year contender -- especially the War Games match itself. Despite some changes from the classic format, it maintained enough to be considered a proper War Games. Maybe even one of the best. (Greg Hyde)

Not only was this a historic night for NXT, but it was a star-making one as well. The titular War Games match saw its return as SAnitY took on The Undisputed Era and the Authors of Pain with Roderick Strong. If there had been a roof on that cage, they would have blown it off with the creative spots, brutality and drama in this unique setting. Ember Moon finally captured the NXT women's championship, but it was Peyton Royce who stood out to me as the one who kept the action going in a wild Fatal 4-Way that also featured Kairi Sane and Nikki Cross. After that night, we were all saying the Velveteen Dream's name, as he went blow for blow with Aleister Black -- and Andrade "Cien" Almas made it to the top as he captured the NXT championship over Drew McIntyre. (Sachin Dave Chandan)

Royal Rumble

There were otherwise good cards with bad matches, and bad shows with great matches, but no WWE pay-per-view was as consistently good, beginning to end, as its very first of the year -- the Royal Rumble. The kickoff show was solid and set a tone for the year in women's wrestling; there were three women's matches out of eight total contests on that night, starting with a six-woman tag team match (before that became all too common for the women's division). Nia Jax closed out the kickoff while at the peak of her dominant powers, securing a win in just over five minutes, while Charlotte Flair and Bayley kicked off the main card by continuing their budding rivalry.

Elsewhere on the kickoff, the still-hot pairing of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson won the Raw tag team titles in a match with two referees, as they hit their own pinnacle before falling to mediocrity by the end of the year, while Sheamus and Cesaro began to gather more momentum of their own despite the loss.

Action truly picked up as Roman Reigns challenged Kevin Owens in a No DQ match for the Universal championship, with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage. For well over 20 minutes, Reigns and Owens had a remarkably brutal and entertaining match that came down to the final moments. Jericho couldn't come through for Owens this time, but Braun Strowman went a long way in building his own rivalry with Reigns by laying waste to the challenger. It set a high bar for the other world title match of the night, to be sure.

After Neville began his reign as the "King of the Cruiserweights" by taking the title off of Rich Swann, John Cena met AJ Styles for their third one-on-one pay-per-view match in seven months -- and there's a reason they went back to the well once again. In their third stellar effort against one another, Cena notched his first win over Styles and earned his record-tying 16th world championship. It was already a standout event before the iconic Royal Rumble match closed out the show, and after a long stretch of unpopular winners (at least for the crowds in attendance), the match itself and the winner were supported wholeheartedly. Randy Orton last eliminated Reigns, putting him on a path to eventually face second runner-up and compatriot Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania, and the match also helped build up two other WrestleMania showdowns -- Reigns vs. The Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg. (Tim Fiorvanti)

NXT TakeOver: Orlando

NXT TakeOver events have developed a knack for outshining the WWE pay-per-views that happen the following night. That was even the case on the biggest weekend on the WWE calendar -- during WrestleMania weekend. While WrestleMania 33 was a good show, TakeOver: Orlando the night before was simply better. The best match of the entire weekend took place at TakeOver when the Authors of Pain, #DIY and The Revival battled in a triple-threat elimination match for the NXT tag team championships. It was not only the best match of the entire weekend, but it was arguably the best tag team match of the entire year.

The show also featured the thrilling debut of Aleister Black, another chapter in the compelling Asuka/Ember Moon rivalry and concluded with one of Bobby Roode's best matches as part of the NXT roster when he successfully defended the NXT championship against Shinsuke Nakamura in Nakamura's final TakeOver match. The event was ultra entertaining from start to finish. (Sean Coyle)


The Kickoff Show alone was probably better than half of the pay-per-views this year -- most notably with Neville defeating Akira Tozawa in a high-flying encounter and The Usos taking out The New Day in one of the best matches of the year. What a shame that one wasn't held for the main card.

John Cena's music hit, the crowd went wild and the energy never waned in a show that lasted nearly six hours. The lone exception was Big Cass against the Big Show with Enzo Amore locked in a shark tank, which was another example of silly stipulations detracting from a straightforward encounter (see: House of Horrors and Punjabi Prison, to name a couple).

Still, we saw Randy Orton squash Rusev in a 10-second thriller, while Natalya won a much-deserved title and, of course, AJ Styles beat Kevin Owens in another tremendous match between two of the company's top talents.

But what often makes or breaks a pay-per-view is the main event. The top four guys on Raw -- Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe --put everything they had into the match. Strowman in particular manhandled Lesnar; at one point he picked up the Universal champ with ease and slammed him through the announcer's table with a running powerslam.

It was epic stuff with an epic response from the crowd -- a fitting finale to a tremendous card. And, oh by the way, nice job, WWE, for making up for the 2016 SummerSlam, which was one of the worst cards in years. (Matt Wilansky)

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11

While you were sleeping (or maybe watching the NJPW World feed) in the early hours of Jan. 4, there were 11 matches and six title changes on New Japan's biggest card of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 11. Around 2 a.m. ET, the card started with the New Japan Rumble, won by former IWGP Intercontinental champion Michael Elgin. The opening contest was the shortest of the night at under seven minutes, but Kota Ibushi (Tiger Mask W) won against ACH (Tiger the Dark).

The action picked up with two tag matches that each led to new champions. The now-defunct Roppongi Vice won a very entertaining contest against the Young Bucks, while the six-man tag titles changed when Los Ingobernables de Japon picked up their first win of the night. North American singles stars took over the card next as Cody [Rhodes] made his New Japan debut in a fiery contest with Juice Robinson (fka CJ Parker in NXT). Adam Cole then won the Ring of Honor world title for the third time when he defeated now Undisputed Era teammate Kyle O'Reilly. While the Bullet Club took home victories there, the team of Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa lost the IWGP heavyweight tag team titles to the CHAOS group of Ishii and Yano in a three-way dance.

Four singles matches closed out the show with some of the best talent in New Japan -- and another two title changes. Hiromu Takahashi took out Kushida to win the junior heavyweight title, while Hirooki Goto became the new NEVER Openweight champion. Those matches were followed by a stellar 25 minute match between IWGP Intercontinental champion Tetsuya Naito and rival Hiroshi Tanahashi.

To close out the night, Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega cashed in his G-1 Climax briefcase to take on CHAOS leader and IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada. The first of three singles contests they'd have in 2017 went over 45 minutes, and in the end it was Okada remaining the champion after hitting his Rainmaker elbow finisher. For five hours, New Japan brought its version of WrestleMania to audiences around the world, and Wrestle Kingdom 11 definitely won the crown for best show of the year four days into 2017. (Andrew Davis)

NXT TakeOver: Chicago

The NXT TakeOver shows were consistently outstanding all year, but I think my favorite was in Chicago the night prior to Backlash. In a single five-match card, you had two match-of-the-year candidates in the United Kingdom championship match between Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate, along with the Authors of Pain-#DIY match that ended with Tommaso Ciampa turning on Johnny Gargano. And that doesn't even include Bobby Roode retaining against Hideo Itami, Asuka retaining over Nikki Cross and Ruby Riott, and a match between Roderick Strong and Eric Young that our own Sean Coyle gave a rating of four out of a possible five. (Matt Willis)

Ultima Lucha Tres

Lucha Underground's Season 3 finale Ultima Lucha Tres was four parts, so this is cheating a bit, but what an insane five hours' worth of wrestling it was. The first part featured one of the craziest matches you will ever seen on television in the "Hell of War" match between Dante Fox and Killshot. Blood, broken glass, ripped flesh ... and that was just the first part.

The rest of Ultima Lucha Tres saw the in-ring debut of Catrina, an all-out war between Sami Callihan, Brian Cage, and Mil Muertes, and the final match in the storied rivalry between Prince Puma and Johnny Mundo. The show ended with --spoiler alert! -- Pentagon Dark cashing in his Gift of the Gods title in a genuinely shocking moment to face Puma in a career vs. title match. Pentagon Dark, Lucha Underground's longtime fan favorite, pulled off the win and in one fell swoop changed the entire outlook of the show. Now that's an amazing show. (Michael Wonsover)