#5) Styles/Cena/Wyatt/Ambrose/Miz/Corbin – Elimination Chamber
This match is honestly on this list by virtue of its final moments. Once Miz was gone, all bets were off – we got tastes of Styles/Cena, with Bray Wyatt acting as an agent of chaos. At this point, it was a bit hard to convince myself that always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride Wyatt could actually win this thing, no matter how badly I wanted it. But there was hope once he handily eliminated the initial agent of his destruction, John Cena. There was barely time to process what had happened before Styles went for the Phenomenal Forearm and got caught in the sister Abigail, winning Bray Wyatt his first WWE Championship.
It’s easy, when looking back on matches, to get caught up in what came after. My hatred of both post-split Wyatt/Orton matches could power the sun, both because they were bad matches and because they made Bray one of the most ineffectual champions of all time, aside from defending against Styles and Cena in an excellent triple threat. But in this moment, when we knew that Wyatt was on top of the world and Orton was going to betray him sooner than later, this match was incredible, and I believe it holds up at the end of the year.
#4) Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne – NXT TakeOver: Chicago
The British Strong Style teammates (and bitter NXT rivals) have never disappointed together, but they have never quite reached the heights they did at TakeOver Chicago in their brawl over the UK Championship. Confirmed as a special attraction by the sole NXT appearance of Jim Ross on commentary, this match had a lot to live up to.
The UK division doesn’t seem to have a problem exceeding expectations.
Tyler Bate is inherently likeable and Pete Dunne oozes “scumbag,” so heel/face dynamic is already established just looking at them.
Bate hit the most impactful Spiral Tap I’ve ever seen – even he looked shocked that he’d pulled it off, which really sold a move that only didn’t end the match because Pete Dunne is just that tough. Bate’s escalation proved to be his downfall – after missing a dive at Dunne and crashing to the arena floor, he found himself hit with the Bitter End.
It’s hard to believe that this match was only fifteen minutes long. It was hailed as a MOTY contender at the time, and its impact hasn’t lessened since May.
#3) The New Day vs. The Usos – Hell in a Cell
While the early stages of the feud may have primarily been laughs and rap battles, this Hell in a Cell match was a war. Even in the New Day’s “clap or snap” era they were never this brutal, but they had to give it as good as they were getting it – and courtesy of The Usos in full prison-fight mode, they were getting it. The first action of the match was an Uso trying to throw a chair directly at Xavier Woods’ head, which he ended up succeeding at later in the match.
I always feel a little dirty declaring the most brutally violent moments of a match my favorites, but in Hell in a Cell, it’s almost implied. Both were courtesy of Xavier Woods: I thought it would be impossible to top Woods trapping Uce in the corner with a kendo stick prison and whaling on him, but the Usos’ revenge at the end of the match did the trick. As they both brutally beat on Woods, he refused to fall down, attacking them with his head to compensate for his bound hands. He acted like someone with nothing left to lose except to tag titles, but when he did lose them, at least he’d put up a convincing fight in the best match of 2017.
#2) Asuka vs. Ember Moon – NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III
No one is ready for Asuka, but Ember Moon came close.
Their first match at TakeOver Orlando ended with a surprising instance of the unquestionably dominant Asuka using dirty tricks to win instead of pure skill, knocking the referee into the ropes to interrupt Moon’s finisher and essentially turning heel, though nobody could ever boo someone that damn good. After killing some time with an Ember Moon injury angle (and basically killing Nikki Cross in an incredible Last Woman Standing match,) the women’s division was due for another Asuka/Moon clash at what has become NXT’s Wrestlemania.
This is one of the year’s few matches where, going in, I had no idea who was going to win. I was definitely pulling for Asuka, but Ember Moon was the most believable contender in the entire division and it felt like the right time for a change. While Moon’s character still existed in an awkward half-measure space, the build had me unsure who’d be running with the ball from here on out.
It’s redundant to say an Asuka/Moon match was hard-hitting. It’s redundant to say an Asuka/Moon match told a kickass story of an unstoppable force taking an immovable object to her limit. I was sure it was all over when Moon finally hit the Eclipse, but Asuka became the first person to ever kick out. That moment put over both of them and solidified that, whoever won, we were seeing the pinnacle of NXT’s women.
Moon just barely came up short, inexperienced in having to craft a post-Eclipse game plan. But it’s safe to say that this match stole the show in Brooklyn and served as the perfect swan song for Asuka’s NXT run.
#1) Aleister Black vs. Velveteen Dream – NXT TakeOver: War Games
So here’s the story: Prince harasses a goth.
It’s a tremendous credit to Aleister Black and especially Velveteen Dream, whose ratio of age to wrestling talent is frankly ridiculous, that their amazing feud transcended that silly description. Over the past year, Patrick Clark has poured everything into creating a memorable, interesting character like Velveteen Dream, and it worked like magic that that flamboyant, enigmatic character just so happened to be the polar opposite of stoic asskicker Aleister Black. A collision between the two was inevitable ever since we first heard the name Velveteen Dream.
And this feud was all about the name.
After his defeat of Hideo Itami in Brooklyn, Black found himself hassled at every turn by the loud rockstar, demanding respect in the form of the simple command “say my name.” When indie star Black refused to give noted wrestling fanboy Dream that recognition, it sent the latter into an obsessive spiral that saw him lurking in the theatrical darkness of Black’s entrance, waiting to strike. It’s proof that some feuds work precisely because they’re so simple.
The match was guaranteed to be gold the moment Dream revealed his tights, plastered with both of their faces. He knew that he’d never out-fight the Muay Thai badass, but he could certainly get a mental advantage. However, Black was still unfazed, hitting back each stolen taunt with one of his own. You could feel Dream’s desperation to be acknowledged, and that desperation led him to defeat after a few very convincing near-falls.
After the match, Black said “Enjoy infamy, Velveteen Dream.”
It’s a strange bizarro version of Jeff Hardy vs. the Undertaker. Loud, unrepentant heel Dream earns the respect of the unshakeable face because he just put up that damn good of a fight. With Black walking away the physical victor and Dream, in a way, the emotional victor, this match stole TakeOver: WarGames and will be hard to top as either man’s greatest NXT performance yet.
Written By: Bobby Murphy