As one of the greatest years for in-ring action comes to an end, we choose our 2017 Wrestler of the Year…
3rd Place – Tyler Bate
There are some who would question the choice to include the 20-year-old Brit in our top three, but when you consider his achievements in 2017, it’s hard to look past the young man as one of the best of the year.
From becoming the first ever WWE United Kingdom Champion, to being a part of several Match of the Year candidates, 2017 was unquestionably Bate’s finest year in the wrestling business. He became one of the hottest names in British wrestling, and his match with Pete Dunne at TakeOver: Chicago was one of the best matches to take place under the WWE umbrella in years. Throw in being runner-up in PROGRESS Wrestling‘s Super Strong Style 16, and you’ve got a man who many could have rightfully called the Wrestler of the Year by the end of June 2017.
Unfortunately, Bate’s singles career was put on the back burner in the second half of the year, as he prioritised his work with his British Strong Style faction, and his Moustache Mountain partnership with Trent Seven. Whilst he still had some wonderful matches in that time, it rarely felt like the focus was solely on Bate, and as such a few other wrestling superstars strongly positioned themselves in front of Bate as the year came to an end.
That said, Bate did end 2017 in style. He had a fun match with Enzo Amore on 205 Live in November (read our review), and his rematch with Pete Dunne for the WWE United Kingdom Championship in December was exceptional (read our review). He’s ended the year by giving us a little reminder of what he can and will offer as a singles competitor in 2018, and we hope to see him take hold of a few top titles in promotions across the U.K., assuming his WWE employers don’t take him over to Florida for NXT full time.
2nd Place – Kenny Omega
He may not have achieved his dream of winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2017, but Kenny Omega certainly managed to establish himself as one of the biggest names in professional wrestling.
It could be said that 2017 was the year that saw wrestling fans look further afield than WWE to satisfy their grapppling needs, and no one person signified that shift in the business than Kenny Omega. His match with Kazuchika Okada at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 brought an incredible amount of mainstream publicity to the Japanese promotion from the Western world, and only four days into the year, the match was being hailed not only as the best match of the year, but as the greatest match of all time. It was hard to question both claims, even as the year went on, but there’s no doubt that the main event contest set the standard for 2017 that so many other matches have tried to match or even beat.
Omega himself came close to topping the match in his second bout with Okada, which ended in a tie. His G1 Climax final with Tetsuya Naito was hailed as one of the best of the year only a few months later, and all the while Omega found his drawing power growing away from Japan. Ring of Honor shows sold out with no card announcements other than his name, and New Japan‘s two day jaunt to the US not only saw the company put even more eye space on its product in front of a sold out crowd, but also saw Omega crowned as the inaugural IWGP United States Champion. It may not have been the championship that Omega had hoped to hold during the start of NJPW‘s assault on the WWE-controlled United States of America, but it did represent faith in him by management to be the face of the brand for US audiences.
Proving that he wasn’t simply just a great in-ring competitor, Omega closed out 2017 in one of the hottest storyline angles of the year. Following the shock reveal of Chris Jericho as his Wrestle Kingdom 12 opponent, Omega then found himself blindsided by Jericho in a brutal attack that left the IWGP United States Champion bloody and beaten. A brawl at a press conference the next day meant that even non-wrestling media was covering the feud, and Omega now finds himself in a position where he could grow his international fanbase exponentially with a solid showing against the legendary Chris Jericho on January 4th.
Many are hoping to see Omega end up in a WWE ring, but when he has so many unfinished goals in NJPW, it’s hard to believe that he will make the move to the McMahon-owned promotion any time soon. Omega is very driven, and does not strike us as someone who would simply give up on his immediate goals just for a bigger pay cheque. Given the upward trajectory of New Japan and the indie scene as a whole, there would seem to be no reason to want to see Omega in WWE other than for a few “dream matches” that will, more than likely, still be there waiting for him in several years.
Wrestler Of The Year: Kazuchika Okada
For many wrestling fans out there, their top two wrestlers of 2017 will likely look the same as ours, but perhaps with the order swapped in some cases. For us, though, Kazuchika Okada was the standout performer of 2017.
We wrote about Okada’s sublime match with Omega (WK11) earlier in this article, so we won’t repeat ourselves, but will add that Okada played as key a role in that match as Omega, and cemented his place amongst the elite of professional wrestling as a result.
In a year that saw Okada become the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time, he put on a number of title matches that were up there with the very best of the year, perhaps of the last several years. His first Omega match was followed by a brutal strong-style battle with Shibata, which sadly became more famous for the injury Shibata gave himself than for the incredible action that was put on for NJPW‘s world audience. His 60 minute draw with Omega followed, as well as another fantastic title defence against EVIL, who had previously shocked everyone by beating Okada in the G1 Climax. Even in non-title singles action, Okada was stealing the show, proving that NJPW were right to keep their faith with him even as their international growth perhaps almost demanded they put the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on Kenny Omega.
Just like everyone else in NJPW, Okada enjoys the luxury of taking part in multiple-man tag team matches when touring ahead of big PPV’s. This not only allows him to work at a healthier level than his main event counterparts in WWE, but also ensures that there is huge demand for his singles matches when they eventually come around. NJPW shows are always good, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t also desperately tuning in just to see Okada in action. He’ll give anyone one of their career best matches, and that’s another reason why he has earned himself he now has.
2018 will presumably see Okada step down from the top of the New Japan ladder to allow for the rise of Tetsuya Naito, so quite where the next 12 months will take him is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that Okada is the best performer on the planet right now, is in the perfect wrestling promotion for him, and still has his best years ahead of him. He’s scary good for his age, and his 2017 run is one of the best of a World Champion ever, in any promotion.