WrestleMania. The time of year when it feels that all eyeballs are on the WWE and the wrestling world. Seldom nowadays is it the best card of the year for us hardcore fans but there is no doubt at all that it’s the biggest occasion. WWE have done an incredible job over the last decade of elevating WrestleMania from simply being their biggest event of their to being something much bigger. Nowadays WrestleMania is like a festival of wrestling. WWE fills the weekend with events and activities such as NXT Takeover, the Hall Of Fame Ceremony and WWE Axcess. Hell, even the Raw After Mania has become a marketing brand in itself. Outside of WWE, independent companies from around the world come to town to capitalise on the tens of thousands of fans flying in for the big show. This year even sees companies like Progress, Rev Pro and WCPW flying the flag for UK companies – it truly is amazing to see every wrestler of any note in one city to be part of the occasion.
In mainstream terms, WWE are no longer content with marketing WrestleMania to their fanbase. Nowadays it is incredible to see WWE seep out in to mainstream consciousness, even for a weekend. Every media outlet in the western world seems to touch on the WrestleMania. It still amazes me when I see articles on the BBC website celebrating WWE. Unthinkable even five years ago.
Anyone reading this though doesn’t need an article such as ‘The Top 10 Reasons You Should Watch WrestleMania’. We are all going to be watching along whether we like the card or not. Will you be in the stadium in Orlando? Sitting at home with the WWE Network on your big screen? Or will you be among the cool kids and enjoying WrestleMania with hundreds of fellow fans at one of the Hooked On parties in London, Leeds, Brighton, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham or Birmingham? If not, if they haven’t sold out when you read this you might still be able to get yours from www.ringsideworld.co.uk .
As the first blog article on our new website we wanted to put together our thoughts on the WrestleMania card. Let’s call a spade a spade. There have been better events on paper. It’s not by any stretch looking like a bad event but I think we all would have done things slightly differently. That said, there truly is some gold in there. Some that will provide spectacle, some that will showcase ‘sports-entertainment’ at it’s finest and some that will be flat out damn good wrestling matches.
So with that in mind, here’s our breakdown of the card and our predictions for who will be walking out of WrestleMania with ‘the winner’s share of the purse’ (Thanks Gorilla Monsoon)
WWE Universal Title Match: Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
Let’s start with a wager: Is this one going over or under five minutes? One thing we can be quite sure on is that this will be the shortest world title match at WrestleMania since Sheamus inadvertently catapulted Daniel Bryan in to superstardom.
If you would have told me after WrestleMania 32 that Bill Goldberg would be walking in to this weekend with WWE gold strapped round his waist I would have had you sectioned. But here we are. What started as a quick shot to build up a video game has mushroomed into a well-received and hugely successful return to WWE for Goldberg. The fans have embraced Goldberg on his return and quite quickly that one match became the run that was due to culminate this weekend against Lesnar. Make no mistake, the short interactions at previous shows have been done purposely to not give away the real match that we will get at Mania. It’s classic booking. Make no mistake, we are not getting 25 minutes of catch as catch can here but what we are going to get is a ‘proper match’ where Goldberg will likely finally take those bumps that he hasn’t needed to do yet. The question is, can he withstand the genuinely high impact, hard-hitting style of Brock Lesnar. It’s genuinely intriguing.
What can we expect from this match? A great atmosphere. Although Lesnar’s aura has undoubtedly cooled, he still garners a great reaction from the crowds. As does Goldberg. Despite a smattering of boos since he won the title, he still has the vast majority of fans on his side who are still enjoying the chance to be part of the Goldberg experience. We are certainly not getting a repeat of the poisonous crowd we saw last time these two met on this stage at WrestleMania 20.
Will it be a great match from a technical standpoint? Oh heck no. it will be hard hitting and short and expect Lesnar to walk out with the red belt around his waist. We have a choice with this one folks. It’s an attraction. We can either poo poo the simplistic nature of the match or we can enjoy the spectacle. I’ll be in the latter camp and I hope we get the ‘Goldberg, Goldberg, Goldberg chants’ at out party.
WWE Championship Match: Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton
Another world championship match, another match where I have conflicting feelings. I’ve loved the Wyatt/Orton dynamic since they surprisingly began teaming last year. Clearly it was temporary and leading to a showdown but my god it worked, breathing new life in to both guys on Smackdown. When Orton won the Royal Rumble, a WrestleMania title match felt nailed on, and as it proved when Bray Wyatt won the belt at Elimination Chamber. All was set for a great build into the split and the Mania match and it began as such, bringing Luke Harper in to the story on the way in a hugely successful way.
Then Randy Orton burnt down Wyatt’s compound and the wheels came off entirely.
Who are we rooting for? Who’s the babyface? Who’s the dastardly heel here? I genuinely don’t know and neither do the audience and that has really dampened down the hype for this one because the audience is confused.
It’s going to be a spectacle, of that there is no doubt. It will also likely be a hard hitting, well worked match, Each of these men have a grasp of ring psychology that comes from growing up in the business and we will possibly see involvement from Luke Harper and a returning Erick Rowan. Ultimately though, they are going to need to tell a damn good story to bring the crowd back in to it. The first 5 minutes are critical.
Who will win? Randy Orton I suspect. The thought of The Viper in a title programme with AJ Styles is mouth-watering.
Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns
Let’s get this out of the way first. Roman Reigns is a damned good big match performer. Feel free to knock the booking and resent how he is pushed down our throats (Which he undoubtedly is), but do not knock this man’s talent to deliver on the biggest stage. This year he has been given the honour of wrestling the centerpiece of WrestleMania in The Deadman and if you believe rumours they will be closing the show – the third year in a row that Reigns will have done so.
This match is a logical piece of booking when you look at the long term. Rightly or wrongly, WWE want Reigns to be their top star going forward and therefore pairing him with ‘Taker (Rather than Cena which I and many others clamored for) makes all the sense in the world. Reigns has an opportunity to do here what only one man has done before and that is defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. But should he?
Yes, he should. But only if it is done right. Let’s face it, Taker is not the force he once was. The man has given his all to the wrestling business and now it’s starting to show in his work and wellbeing. It truly is amazing that it’s taken this long. The scuttlebutt says that this could well be Undertaker’s last WrestleMania and if so, he really needs to go out on his Shield (outdated pun intended) and give Reigns the win. However, this could easily be counter productive. If Reigns wins a competitive match and walks out after a handshake or a hug with Taker, the crowd are going to absolutely crap on proceedings. This helps nobody. If however WWE uses this moment as a way to give Reigns the heel turn then we are off to the races. It is so, so obvious that the way to accomplish their goal of bringing the fans in to Reigns is to give him a short heel run. It will work incredibly well as it’s so natural. If they do that here, Reigns can turn back when the fans are dying to cheer him (And they will), and when that happens they will have a fresh, elevated, rehabilitated main event act on their hands that crucially will have EARNED the fans support.
Come on WWE, don’t waste this golden opportunity. Make it happen for everyone’s sake.
AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon
Yet again we come to a match that has frustrated many fans with the booking. There is a pattern here. Whilst many fans wanted to see the best wrestler in the world (Sorry Shane but I’m talking about Styles) in a match that would give him a chance to match the spectacle of the Okada vs. Kenny Omega classic promoted by NJPW in January. This match will not allow for that to happen. What it does though is give Styles a chance to be spotlighted in a clear main event match which will have a memorable impact. Shane McMahon is a key player in WWE. All one needs to do is look at the pop on his return last year and see how he spiked WrestleMania ticket sales for evidence of that. A match with the younger McMahon man is a clear endorsement of the exceptional work AJ has done in WWE since joining at the start of 2016. It bodes extremely well for his future prospects and my advice for Styles fans is to enjoy this match, safe in the knowledge that it paves the way for even bigger and better moments for the Phenomenal One. Shane is no slouch even in his 40s and AJ will be desperate to drag something great out of him and you know what? I think he will. This is unquestionably my sleeper choice for match of the night. Do not underestimate what these guys will do together.
As for a winner. It has to be Styles. Shane is 100% expendable and has never been a man that needs his ego stroking with big victories. He will know that the value going forward is in Styles winning and that will happen. I can’t wait for this match.
Seth Rollins vs. HHH
In my view, the best booked match at WrestleMania. Pretty much pitch perfect to get us to a point where many are desperate to see this match and it could well steal the show. It has also been successful in rehabilitating Rollins as a babyface. Something that was well needed after a mediocre run for him so far. This match is likely to be in a similar vein (Although not as epic) as HHH vs. Shawn Michaels at Summerslam 2002. Rollins real life injury has actually been a blessing for this feud and gives them another dramatic wrinkle to play with. Who’s going to win? Hard to say actually. Rollins probably should but this story likely isn’t over. There are rumours of a HHH led faction forming after this show and will one of the guys pegged in that group (his name rhymes with A Rower Toe) get involved here? Bank on it. Like Shane/AJ on Smackdown, this Indy darling vs. McMahon family member has the chance to blow away everything else presented by their respective brand on the night.
John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse
I don’t care what people say about this, I am bloody loving this feud and actually cant wait for this match. For many reasons. Firstly, the build has been great. Both men have been on fire on the microphone. They’ve been going down the well-worn ‘shoot’ road but in the best possible way. The barbs they’ve thrown have really raised the stakes in the feud and got the atmosphere up to boiling point. It’s going to be pure soap opera (Hell, most of us are expecting Cena to get down on one knee at the end!) but it’s going to be fun and hopefully, Miz’s exceptional work as a heel and level of loathing from the audience will result in Cena finally and deservedly hearing a cheering crowd at Mania. As fun as it is to boo Cena (Because nobody really means it nowadays, surely?), it would be so fitting for him to get that massive ovation that he has earned over the years. Let’s hope it happens. Surely Cena/Bella winning is the lock of the night? I can’t see any scenario where them losing serves any purpose.
Raw Women’s Championship Match: Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
This has big boots to fill after the greatness of last year’s multi-women title match. This writer has to confess about having somewhat of a sulk on with this match. I was so adamant that Charlotte would be champion walking in to this event that I allowed my graphic designer (Big up, the talented Sam Ibrahim) to break my rule of not using images with title belts on for our poster for the Brighton party. Annoying! That aside, why did they spoil Charlotte’s well-built streak right before Mania? The title hot potato of last year was frustrating but ultimately did well in serving this image of Charlotte being unbeatable on PPV. Now, it’s for naught and we have a fairly aimless multi-women match here. Who wins? I’m going with Sasha Banks who will head in to a heel turn and feud with Bayley. I wouldn’t put the mortgage on that but that’s where I would take it.
Smackdown Women’s Title Match – Alexa Bliss (c) vs. The World
I love Alexa Bliss. Just love her. For me she is right up there with The Miz and Braun Strowman in the most improved stakes this year. She has got a big future and plays her character so, so well. That said, I don’t see her walking out with the belt here. Naomi is the hometown girl and the temptation to give her that Orlando title win will be too tempting to pass on. She’s winning. Will we see appearances from some former stars? It’s been rumoured and they’re all in town so let’s see.
US Title Match: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Team Friendship explodes! Whilst Rollins/HHH has been the best-built match on this card, this one runs it mighty close. The Festival Of Friendship was probably my favourite segment on Raw in 5 years. We are chomping at the bit to see this match aren’t we? Two guys who have clearly steered the ship towards this match will not disappoint on the big show. It’s going to be an exciting, passion filled match that I suspect will be full of suspense for the 15 minutes or so it gets. Expect the return of the more vicious Kevin Owens on the way to him taking that title off of his former best friend. It’s not a happy ending but it’s the right one. Jericho has been absolutely stellar all year and he knows this feud has to end with Owens looking like a true star. And he will. Can’t wait for this one.
Intercontinental Title Match: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin
This is one match that really, suffers from being on this card. These guys have done really well in building up a good rivalry but ultimately it could never have been enough to crack the top of a card this stacked. It’s a shame and the hope is that they put in a good show here on the undercard and get more of the spotlight that they deserve on Smackdown’s next PPV.
It’s Corbin’s time presumably. All signs are pointing to it and the next step for him is title gold. He deserves it too. He’s had a good year and will make a good heel champion. And could we see this as the next step in a blossoming Wrestlemania streak for Corbin? Maybe. You heard it here first….
Raw Tag Team Title Ladder Match: The Club (c) vs. Enzo and Cass vs. Sheamus and Cesaro
This one is going to be our opener. Very little doubt in my mind. Enzo and Cass are becoming masters of hot PPV openings and the ladder match has also opened the show the last two years. This one seems nailed on. As far as triangle tag team ladder matches at Wrestlemania go, this has massive boots to fill and on paper, it cannot do that. The talent level just isn’t there. If we don’t get any surprises in this one then I would like to see Cesaro and Sheamus take back the belts as I am a sucker for an arse kicking face tag team. I would suspect Enzo and Cass would get the nod though which will be fine and all but crowds are starting to see through their act a bit. Are they more than just an entrance? Time will tell.
Could we see any surprises in this match? Who knows. I wouldn’t want to get your hopes up too much though. There is nothing worse than BROKEN promises….
Cruiserweight Title Match: Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries
What a shame this is on the pre-show. This feud, these two guys deserve the Mania spotlight and 12 minutes to wow the crowd. Instead they are likely to get 10 tops and still could well steal the show. Austin Aries is, well….Austin Aries. His moniker of The Greatest Man That Ever Lived isn’t that over the top. Neville has been a revelation since his heel turn and these two (With Tozawa and Gallagher in support) have breathed life into the 205 Live brand that in my eyes was dead on arrival. No longer. I seriously cannot wait to see this match and I am not alone. Who wins? Who cares, really. Either outcome will be satisfying. I hold both men in very high regard and both have bright futures.
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
On first look this match seemed quite jobberific. Looking closely though, there is some real talent in here and intriguing possible winners. It’s a shame American Alpha, Sami Zayn and Braun Strowman haven’t had higher profile showcase matches but it is what it is and let’s hope they make the best of it. It’s also been announced that Killian Dain (Big Damo and Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero) will also enter which will please a section of the audience.
The smart money is surely on Strowman to win and it’s the right choice. With a gun to my head that would be my comfortable prediction. However, if you like a flutter, my cheeky tip would be Tian Bing. His odds are long and rightly so but it’s worth remembering just how important cracking China is to WWE. It’s an enormous market awash with money and consuming more and more Western Media. WrestleMania will be the first ever WWE PPV aired live in China and what better way to make real waves in the country than have Bing take the win here. From a business point of view it would be massive and with my experience in international broadcasting coming in to play, I could completely see the logic in putting this scenario in place. So in a nutshell, Strowman is my favourite but Bing is my ‘I’m so smug because I look so smart with this prediction’ choice. If he is the second man eliminated then please forget I said anything!
It’s that time of year again for our now traditional end of year awards. We know that every website, blog, podcast etc produces a list like this so hopefully annual awards fatigue isn’t setting in just yet.
One important point to note is that these awards cover WWE/NXT only, Whilst we try to catch wrestling from all over the place, we can only consistently watch WWE so it feels unfair to try to judge outside of these. The awards themselves are decided by the core Hooked On team and based on our opinion only. We hope that you guys will have differing opinions on most of these because after all, variety is the spice of wrestling life!
We also concentrate on the positive awards only. Not for us these ‘worst of’ awards. There has been PLENTY of bad this year (cough cough JINDER MAHAL: WWE CHAMPION cough cough) but we choose not to dwell on it. Let’s remember and discuss the good parts.
With that in mind, here we go...
Male Wrestler Of The Year - AJ Styles
Nobody is going to give us any points for originality on this one are they? For the second year in a row we are giving this award to The Phenomenal One. The only differences this year is that unlike in 2016, it isn’t even close.
For various reasons, it has not been easy to stand out on WWE’s roster in WWE year. The machine itself is less reliable on individuals than ever before and unless your name is Roman Reigns, it is very difficult to have the focus on you that you need to shine. However, Styles is the exception to this and has somehow got even better in his second year with the company. 2017 started with a bang for Styles as he posted a bonafide match of the year contender with John Cena at the Royal Rumble. More on that later. He transitioned that in to a feud with Shane McMahon leading to a WrestleMania showdown in the opening match. Whilst many observers scoffed at this pairing, there’s no doubting that a pairing with the younger McMahon man is seen as a badge of honour and a show of faith. Sure, it may have stopped Styles having the chance to steal the biggest show of the year but it spoke volumes for his position with the company and for that, his fans should have rejoiced. A good match at Mania led to a much clamoured for face turn and a feud with Kevin Owens that seemed like a match made in heaven. It’s impossible to deny that this feud failed to live up to expectations but we were still treated to a few damn good matches.
Then came Manchester. At the SmackDown Live taping in October, Styles became the first man to win the WWE Championship outside of North America by mercifully ending the reign of Jinder Mahal. A warmer ovation it is hard to remember outside of WrestleMania in recent years as fans were delighted to see AJ take the strap again.
The year ended with a pair of PPV matches against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series (Excellent) and a rematch against Jinder Mahal (Much better than we could have hoped for).
Nobody has had consistently better mathes than AJ Styles this year. His in ring skill is beyond compare in WWE and in real rarified air across the globe. His amazing ability and newfound charisma with the microphone puts Styles on a pedestal far above his peers. In probably the easiest choice in this article, AJ Styles in the Hooked On Wrestling Male WWE Wrestler of the Year.
Honourable Mentions: Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Kevin Owens, John Cena
Female Wrestler Of The Year - Alexa Bliss
It’s been a strong year for women in WWE with some strong candidates for this award across WWE and NXT. Whilst many would have pegged Asuka for this award, we feel she did most of her best NXT work in 2016. Instead we are giving this award to a woman who understands and embodies her character like very few in wrestling do. Whilst she will never be known as the greatest female worker on the planet, few wrestlers of either sex can lay claim to bringing such energy to every story, match and segment she is in. Well, except Bayley This Is Your Life…
Bliss commands your attention whenever she is on screen not just with her storytelling in the ring, not just her verbal jabs (and she really is a wizard on the mic) but with the merest of looks. Bliss can convey with one raised eyebrow what it takes many wrestlers a whole promo to emote. Has anyone in WWE ever had such a command of body language? It’s hard to think of anyone….
Alexa Bliss is our female wrestler of the year.
Honourable Mentions: Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Kairi Sane
Tag Team Of The Year - The Usos
Sneakily, WWE has seen something of a tag team renaissance in 2017. Both Raw and SmackDown are blessed with a number of fantastic tag teams. It says something for the depth of the divisions when you can break up American Alpha and the division doesn’t miss a step.
There are a number of teams that could lay claim to this award but for us, one tag team stands head and shoulders above the rest. One tag team stands out in a sea of excellence to the point where they could be count themselves in the conversation amongst the greatest of all time. That team is Jimmy and Jey, The Usos.
Following a strong run as babyfaces, The Usos were starting to get seriously stale before a turn that moved them from fun loving island boys to a pair of nasty, arrogant hoods saw them move their already strong act to a completely new level. 2017 started with a strong series of matches with American Alpha. After a few quiet months, the run up to Money In The Bank saw the start of arguably the best WWE tag team feud in 15 years. The series of matches between Jimmy and Jey and The New Day were sublime. Matches at MITB, SummerSlam, Hell In A Cell and SmackDown started excellently and got better, somehow. This feudd came to an end with an Usos face turn and match with Raw Tag Team Champions Sheamus and Cesaro at Survivor Series which was also an incredible spectacle. Their opponents that night, by the way, can count themselves desperately unlucky not to win this award. They would have walked away with it in most years of the last decade.
Let’s see what 2018 has in store for the Usos (A move to Raw? Team up with cousin Roman Reigns? Feud with The Authors Of Pain?). Whatever it is, it is likely to be spectacular.
Honourable Mentions: The Bar, The New Day
Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year - Braun Strowman
It’s not rocket science is it? In fact, it used to be Booking 101. You take a guy, you hide his weaknesses and you showcase his positives. Sounds fairly straightforward doesn’t it? But how many times do we see this actually happen in modern wrestling? It’s rare. Really rare.
So it’s extremely gratifying to see the tactic work so well when WWE employ it. This time last year it was clear Strowman had something. He was being prepared for a top run and was rumoured as a potential Royal Rumble dark horse. However at that time it was clear he was still learning how to fulfil the role the company had earmarked for him. If he didn’t have the ability to portray the nasty giant then the push (That would have been shoved down our throats regardless) would have failed hard. Fortunately for all concerned, Braun Strowman is clearly a guy who understands his craft and is eager to work hard and improve. Clearly he’s never going to be a ‘worker’s worker’ and that doesn’t matter because he really doesn’t have to be. There is more than one way to put on an entertaining match and Strowman is well on his way to mastering his particular niche. This year has seen a plethora of entertaining brawls with Roman Reigns and a trio of Raw main events against The Big Show that were each far, far better than we expected them to be. It’s testament to Strowman’s work ethic and respect he garners that Show was willing to work so hard to give him the rub. Strowman was also clearly the MVP of a titanic SummerSlam main event and has an aura and a presence about him that is unmatched by the vast majority of big men in wrestling. And that’s the key point. Big men and giants have come and gone in WWE and only a few have been able to truly stand out as offering the full package. It’s not about just looking big and mean. It’s about using your natural skills and physical charisma to truly become a giant amongst men, if you readers will pardon the cliche. Strowman is well on track to be in the conversation with the very best giants in the sport. Andre, Big Show, Undertaker, Kane, Vader and a select few others set the standard. Will we be mentioning Strowman in the same breath in years to come? If his 2017 rate of improvement carries on then we most certainly will.
Honourable Mentions: The Usos, Alexa Bliss, Neville, Authors Of Pain, Velveteen Dream
Match Of The Year - AJ Styles Vs. John Cena @ WWE Royal Rumble
By far the closest award to decide in this entire article. To the point where we wrote two different paragraphs with two different winners. In the end we went for John Cena vs AJ Styles in the WWE Championship match at the Royal Rumble by a hair’s breadth over Pete Dunne vs Tyler Bate from NXT TakeOver: Chicago. Both of these matches were superb examples of their craft that absoluetly sucked you in to the moment. Both showcased a simple one on one match between a beloved face and a hated but respected heel. Both had coveted championships at stake and felt like the outcome truly mattered.
I guess the only reason we gave Cena/Styles the edge was because it was on a much bigger stage with tens of thousands of people screaming the place down in San Antonio. It is obviously harder to tell a story in a giant stadium than in front of a relatively smaller crowd so let’s give the nod to the veterans but we will say this….I wouldn’t argue with ANYONE that claimed Dunne/Bate was better. On a different day I might well agree. In closing I’ll say this….Although they didn’t get the nod this year, I’ll be gobsmacked if neither of these guys win this honour in years to come. Both men have massive futures.
Honourable Mentions: Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate @ NXT TakeOver: Chicago, Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar @ SummerSlam, The New Day vs. The Usos @ Hell In A Cell
WWE Event Of The Year - SummerSlam
Let’s be honest. 2017 was not a vintage year for Pay Per Views. There is no one stand out show that you can point at as the clear event of the year. Much like WWE as a whole, it was a year of highs and lows with both often being showcased on one card.
With that said, we are going to give the nod to SummerSlam simply by virtue of it playing host to a strong number of good to very good matches. The highlight was the Universal title match between Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe which was a low end match of the year contender. Two tag team matches also served as strong highlights with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose against Sheamus and Cesaro shining on the main card whilst The New Day vs. The Usos took its place as hands down the greatest match ever to take place on a PPV pre-show (Utterly criminal positioning by the way). Solid efforts between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks and Aj Styles and Kevin Owens rounding out a very good card that still won’t be remembered that strongly in years to come. Imagine how good it could have been if Randy Orton vs. Rusev were given a real match and Shinsuke Nakamura given a real opponent!
Honourable Mentions: WrestleMania 33, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series
Most Memorable Moment - The Festival Of Friendship
From the moment that Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho began teaming, it was obvious that we would see a feud between the two sooner or later. After all, this is wrestling. It was also fairly clear that upon that feud commencing, Jericho would be the one to play the sympathetic babyface. Thirdly, it wasn’t terribly hard to predict that Jericho’s acceptance of Goldberg’s Universal Title challenge would the catalyst for that turn. What was not as obvious was the timing of this break up. Most would have assumed that it would take place after the aforementioned Goldberg vs Kevin Owens match. Therefore, come the February 13th Raw, not too many people were expecting the eventual outcome we got for the pre-announced Festival Of Friendship.
This segment took a lot of cues from the highest rated Raw segment of all time, Mankind’s This Is Your Life tribute to The Rock in the late 1990s. We had cameos from terrible magicians and of all people, Gillberg. We saw paintings and gifts galore bestowed by Jericho on his best friend Owens. It was cheesy, it was over the top and it was quite hilarious. All the time you could see Owens stewing. Little did we know what the impact gift would be. When Jericho opened his brand new list he was delighted. For a moment. The crushed look of disappointment on his face when he realised his name was on the list turned quickly to fear when he realised it wasn’t a new List Of Jericho at all. It was a List of KO. This was followed by a brutal and cold beating from KO to his now former best friend. What made this segment so incredibly special was the masterful way it was played by both men, especially Jericho. This relationship was given months to build and so when it finally came to an end, we the audience had invested big time in to it which made the pay off that much more special. Credit especially to Jericho who’s over the top ridiculousness for the majority of the skit, contrasted wonderfully with the understated sorrow that marked the closing moments. It was truly a masterclass and one of the very best Raw segments of all time. It would be hard to beat this as a segment in any year.
Honourable Mentions: The Hardy Boyz Return, Break up of #DIY, AJ Styles winning the WWE Championship in Manchester
Non-Wrestler Of The Year - Zelina Vega
Truth be told, it was difficult to see anyone that stood out on the main roster this year. Usually it’s very easy to slot Paul Heyman in here but there is a distinct feeling that we’ve seen his schtick one too many times nowadays. Has he really been as prominent, noticeable or interesting in recent years? If we were going with a member of the announcing team then Corey Graves and Nigel McGuinness would be the only two who remotely had a shot.
In the end, our choice was fairly simple. It isn’t often that a manager or valet can add as immensely to their charge’s act that they make a fundamental difference to their position on the roster and perception or response from the fans. Heyman did with Lesnar and more recently, the addition of Maryse was the catalyst for the total rehabilitation and resurrection of The Miz as a credible upper-midcard player.
It’s with that in mind that we are giving this award to Zelina Vega. The addition of her presence has fundamentally changed everything about Andre Cien Almas’ overall package to the point he has gone from mid-card afterthought to NXT Champion in a matter of months. Unlike Jinder Mahal on the main roster, that promotion has been as deserved as it was surprising. Vega’s positioning is as a business associate rather than romantic figure and that is what is key to making the pairing work. She is invested in making sure Almas succeeds and you immediately know her motivations for doing so. Her presence at ringside carries enough gravitas to give him an instant dose of extra credibility. Make no mistake, this pairing is a main roster act in the making and it won’t be too many months before we see just that.
Honourable Mentions: Corey Graves, Nigel McGuiness
The ‘Simon Malin’ Debut Of The Year Award - Samoa Joe
For years we clamoured for Joe to be part of WWE and we thought it would never come. When he finally arrived on NXT in 2015 we rejoiced. To a point. Because we all knew he was there to coach the younger guys and put them over on their way to the main roster. Right? Before long, Joe was the most over guy in NXT and not long after that, the brand’s champion. OK, clearly this guy was sticking around but still, NXT would be his ceiling. We all knew that for a fact, didn’t we? As much as we hoped otherwise, we were all pretty sure that Joe had reached his ceiling. It wasn’t until early 2017 that we felt change in the air and it became a possibility that Joe would be moved up to the main roster. Our thoughts then turned to how he would be introduced. Would he be a face or heel? What brand would he be on? Would he be aligned with anyone? What transpired, in hindsight, shouldn’t have shocked us at all. Joe debuted just prior to WrestleMania as an associate of HHH by attacking the former ally of the NXT head honcho, Seth Rollins. Not a bad spot to be put in eh? It was an exciting, unexpected debut that gave Joe a massive vote of confidence and air of menace from day one and he has parlayed that into a great first year on the roster. He has been featured in FOUR PPV main events (Who would ever have expected that?) including his biggest WWE win to date when he won a Fatal Five Way match for the right to face Brock Lesnar at Great Balls Of Fire. That the subsequent feud between them elicited such a great response can be traced back to WWE giving Joe the proverbial ball immediately and the veteran wrestler (now superstar?) carrying it in his iron grip, just as we all knew he would.
Honourable Mentions: The Hardy Boyz, Adam Cole, Asuka
The ‘Jimi Murphy’ Underrated Talent Of The Year Award - Rusev
Let’s end on one that is going to split opinion shall we? Before we even decide the winner we have got to decide on the definition of underrated. Do we mean someone that doesn’t get the love they deserve from the fans? Do we mean someone who’s skill in letting other stars shine goes unnoticed? Do we mean someone who despite an obvious ability to shine in a bigger spotlight is held back by booking and creative? We are going to go with the latter simply because it’s a little bit more mischievous.
And using that criteria, our award goes hands down to (probably) Bulgaria’s favourite son, Rusev. When he arrived in WWE he was clearly positioned extremely well. With a long undefeated streak, a feared finisher and a manager who was as hated as she was desired, the Bulgarian Brute was positioned as player on Raw from the word go. In fact, it wasn’t long before he snared the US Title and was booked with WWE’s biggest star, John Cena, on their biggest stage, WrestleMania. Surely he was a made man? Well, not quite. The match with Cena ended up as a pinnacle rather than a jumping off point for his career. A ham-fisted romantic storyline with Summer Rae and Dolph Ziggler was a mess and ended with the pointless split with Lana, to the detriment of his act. And really, that’s all they wrote on Rusev’s career to date. He’s been nothing of note since. A recent resurgence, partnership with Aiden English and the whole Rusev Day schtick is getting over like gangbusters to the point of Rusev being a defacto face for the first time in WWE. Maybe 2018 will be the year when Rusev is pushed in line with his real value as a performer. Here’s hoping.
So that’s it for our awards. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.