Many have called 2017 the greatest year of all time for in-ring action. Here, we put together our Top 10 matches of the entire year…
10th Place – Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi
(G1 Climax 27 – Block A)
The return of Kota Ibushi (as himself) to New Japan Pro-Wrestling was an exciting time for fans, and his match with eventual G1 Climax winner Tetsuya Naito on the first day of the tournament set the bar very high for everyone else. Having failed to capitalise on the popularity that he gained internationally through 2016’s Cruiserweight Classic, Ibushi seemed to return as a new man here, driven to reclaim his spot amongst the world’s elite.
Of course, he didn’t put on a Match of the Year contender on his own, and Naito played his part too. Both men gave it their all in a main event that wowed the live crowd, and those watching at home. It started slow, as many NJPW main events do, but had the time to build and build into what was ultimately a nail-biting, don’t blink or you’ll miss something, match between two of Japan’s best.
9th Place – Asuka vs. Ember Moon
(TakeOver: Brooklyn III)
The day after this match took place, we wrote that NXT had finally delivered a women’s match that rivalled the one between Sasha Banks at the TakeOver: Brooklyn event two years earlier. Many months later, it still holds up as one of the years best, and easily claims the crown of the best match between female competitors in WWE in 2017.
Going into the match, all signs pointed to Ember Moon finally overcoming the undefeated Asuka to become the next NXT Women’s Champion. A few near falls made that outcome look even more likely, particularly after Asuka’s attempts to cheat to win were spotted by the referee. Moon’s efforts were ultimately all in vain though, as Asuka eventually submitted her with the Asuka Lock. There was unquestionably some disappointment at the outcome, as the time felt right to pull the trigger on Moon and wrap up Asuka’s reign, but the quality of the match meant you simply could not feel any long-lasting bitterness toward it.
Unknown at the time, Asuka was wrestling with a significant injury in this match, and would eventually vacate the championship later that week at NXT television tapings. Asuka carrying her undefeated record onto the main roster was a big plus for her, but it was a shame that she didn’t give her rub to Moon. In hindsight, one almost wishes Asuka had reported her injury mid-match, allowing for an audible to be called, and Moon to overcome her as a result.
Regardless of said hindsight, this match was arguably Asuka’s best in WWE to date, and firmly established Ember Moon as not only a star of NXT, but also as a future headliner for WWE‘s main roster.
8th Place – Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Famous for all the wrong reasons, Kazuchika Okada versus Katsuyori Shibata is a match often overlooked due to the head injury suffered by Shibata during it. Choosing to hit an unprotected head butt on his opponent, Shibata not only cut his head open as a result, but also caused damage to his brain that has prevented him from returning to the ring.
The injury started a lot of discussion about head butts in wrestling, with many agreeing that unprotected shots have no place in the business in todays day and age, making it even more baffling that WWE tried their own take on it, when they had Kevin Owen’s smash skulls with a 70+ years old Vince McMahon several months later. What shouldn’t get lost in any discussion about Shibata’s injury, however, is just how wonderful his match with Okada was.
This was the title defence where it became clear to everyone that Okada was going to have a special year. Completely different to the match he had with Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom, this was a contest that epitomised “strong style” wrestling, and saw both men beat the hell out of each other. It was technical, it was stiff, and it was brilliant.
7th Place – Tyler Bate vs. Travis Banks
(Super Strong Style 16 – Final)
In May 2017, Tyler Bate was on an absolute roll. He had become the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion after winning the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament in January 2017, had gone on to make appearances on NXT, headlined both nights of the first ever WWE UK/205 Live joint tour, stole the show at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, and was a part of the hottest currently active wrestling faction in British wrestling (“British Strong Style”), maybe even wrestling as a whole. That he would make it to the final of PROGRESS Wrestling‘s annual Super Strong Style 16 tournament was a no-brainer.
He came face to face with another talent who’s star was beginning to shine brighter. Travis Banks was becoming a household name on the British independent scene, and was destined to reach the peak of PROGRESS itself only 3-4 months after his match here with Bate. Both men’s styles merged perfectly, and this was easily the best singles match of Bank’s PROGRESS career until that point.
Outside interference from Trent Seven and Pete Dunne threatened to overshadow the amazing match Bate and Banks were having, but the arrival of C.C.K (Chris Brookes and Kid Lykos) quickly added an incredibly memorable moment to the contest [and 2017 as a whole], elevating this into one of the years best. You always hope that tournament finals will live up to the hype of the matches that have preceded them, but sometimes the talents are too exhausted to really hit the heights one would hope of them, but this was one of those occasions where everything went absolutely perfect for the talent, the company, and the live crowd/viewers.
The most shocking part, however, was that this wasn’t even Tyler Bate’s best match of the month!
6th Place – Kazuchika Okada vs. EVIL
(King of Pro-Wrestling)
Following his shock defeat to EVIL in the G1 Climax, Okada put his IWGP Heavyweight Championship on the line against the same man, and found himself pushed to his limits yet again. It’s quite easy to overlook EVIL, given he’s normally hidden away in multi-man tag team matches, but if his surprising victory over Okada a few weeks earlier didn’t make people take notice, his near-victory at King of Pro-Wrestling certainly should have.
The story across 2017 was that Okada was nursing injuries, particularly to his neck, and we saw these targeted in every big match he had. Versus EVIL, it finally felt as though those injuries would finally catch up with him, and were it not so unlikely that NJPW would cancel their planned Naito/Okada Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event, you almost would have believed that EVIL was going to pull off another upset. In our review of this show, we wrote that Okada can make a star out of anyone, but that if his opponent brings their best too, then viewers would be treated to Match of the Year contenders each and every time. This brutal affair was no different, and sits amongst our favourites of 2017.
5th Place – Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne
The match that once and for all made the world take notice of British wrestling, which WWE arguably didn’t capitalise on as they should have.
Bate and Dunne had faced each other for the WWE United Kingdom Championship four months earlier, in what was actually the first every championship match for that title. On that occasion, Bate came out on top, and a new babyface star was born. But a heel star was also created that weekend, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Dunne perhaps had more people talking about him after the tournament than Bate did.
Through a build up that was actually quite brilliant given the WWE UK division had no weekly television show to work on it (and limited NXT air time), this rematch was quite easily the most anticipated match of TakeOver: Chicago for many, and it did not disappoint. It was a match that built its action and intensity up as it went on, and whilst a lot of the moves on show were ones that UK fans would be very familiar with from both, no one was doing them in a WWE ring, and so this battle left many jaws on the floor. Near falls aplenty, and whilst pre-match predictions would have all seen votes for Dunne to win the championship, both men did a fantastic job of making us think that Bate would retain. In fact, for what was the best match of his entire reign, it was almost a sad thing to see Bate drop the belt here.
That WWE waited seven months for the rematch was insane, and it certainly should have taken place at NXT‘s next big show, TakeOver: Brooklyn III. That said, as an isolated match with no idea of what would come afterwards, this was the greatest match in a WWE ring in 2017, and one of the best worldwide.
4th Place – Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega
(G1 Climax 27 – Block B)
We’d be lying if we said we didn’t consider grouping the Okada/Omega series as one match, as the idea of ranking each separately seemed almost impossible. In fact, even now we have done so, it still feels somewhat impossible! This was the greatest series of matches in a calendar year/feud for decades, and some would claim they were the greatest ever. It would be hard to argue with them.
Perhaps the one overlooked match of their series was this, their battle in Block B of the G1 Climax. With no title on the line, and merely a place in the final at stake, it would be easy to assume that the stakes were lower here than in any of their previous matches. But that wasn’t the case at all, and given that he hadn’t been able to pin or submit Okada in almost two hours of one-on-one action in 2017, the odds of Kenny Omega managing to do so within the 30 minute time limit here seemed unlikely.
Their previous two matches had lots of time, but on this occasion, time was at a premium, and if Omega was to progress to the G1 final, he would need to try something different. So he did. The action here came thick and fast, both men wrestling at a pace we hadn’t seen in their previous clashes. Omega’s focused efforts on Okada’s neck were brilliant, and had the match ended ten minutes earlier than it eventually did, but with the same outcome (an Omega win), you wouldn’t have felt robbed at all. The story was logical, the outcome was logical, and Kenny making their series 1-1-1 was a brilliant way to close out the feud for the time being.
If Okada vs. Omega I and II were matches you would only ever be able to see in New Japan due to the style and time they had, III was the kind of shorter and quicker PPV main event you’d see in other companies (WWE, for example), and it still blew the socks off anything those other promotions did in 2017. This feud transcended any one particular promotion, and represented the best qualities of professional wrestling as a whole.
3rd Place – Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega
(G1 Climax – Final)
For the second year in a row, Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega faced off in the G1 Climax. In 2016, Omega was victorious, allowing him to go on to successfully defeat Hirooki Goto to claim the main event at Wrestle Kingdom 11. In 2017, it was Naito’s turn to beat Omega (this time in the Final), earning him an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 12.
Much like Omega’s contest with Okada in this same competition, this was worked at an electric pace. Bodies were flying out of the ring before I’d even had a chance to get comfy in my chair, and there was a sense of urgency to proceedings that made every big move feel like it could be the finish, and there was almost a desperate sigh of distress each time either man kicked out of an attempted pin at the last millisecond.
Any discussion about Omega’s 2017 will always invariably revert to chatter about his series with Okada, and I suspect that his match here (and others across the year, in fact) will often be overshadowed as a result, but that shouldn’t devalue what both men did in this contest at all. It is one of the gems of 2017, and must-see for any professional wrestling fans.
2nd Place – Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega
The match that many say topped the match that those same people said would never be topped. Coming a lot sooner than we expected, Okada and Omega found themselves battling over the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for a second time in mid-2017.
Whether they would be able to match the quality of their previous headlining contest was the subject of much discussion, headed into Dominion. But there should have been no doubts, and not only did both men once again put on a wrestling clinic for everyone else worldwide, they did it in a match that lasted sixty minutes and barely took a moment to stop and breathe throughout. Making it even more of a classic of our time, there wasn’t even a winner, with time running out before either man could successfully pin the other. It was a brilliant finish that no one could have predicted, going into it.
A lot was made of Omega never hitting the One Winged Angel in their Wrestle Kingdom match, believing that it signalled how Omega would eventually beat Okada in a rematch. Okada wouldn’t survive being hit with Omega’s finisher, we all believed. No finishing move had been built up like this in years.
At Dominion, Omega hit the One Winged Angel, and Okada looked beaten. Ever so weakly and slowly though, his foot found the rope before the referee’s hand hit the mat for the three count. It was brilliant, and not only had they played into everyones theory of the use of the One Winged Angel, but they proved everyone correct only to pull the rug out from under their feet by having Omega lad it too close to the ropes.
This entire match was so well-thought out from start to finish, and one could argue that it deserved a bigger stage. Matches like this brought huge attention to the company though, and given no rematch appeared to be in the pipeline for 2018’s Wrestle Kingdom show, we aren’t disappointed that NJPW decided to give us this match at the much smaller Dominion show.
Match of the Year:
Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega
(Wrestle Kingdom 11)
Was it ever in doubt?
Four days into 2017, the world witnessed what many described as the best match of all time, as two wrestlers who many international fans barely even knew wrote their names in professional wrestling history.
The debate as to the best match in the Okada/Omega series will rage on for years, and will likely have even more matches added to it for consideration, but for us at TalkProWrestling.com, this match wins. Yes, II told a wonderful story, and III wrapped the series up with a vastly different and exciting match, but this first match between them both had this writer have to leave his home to take a walk out in the fresh air immediately afterwards so to gather his thoughts on what he had just witnessed. It was brilliant, and evoked feelings that the other matches purely couldn’t because their came after this one.
The match is probably more famous for its second half than its first, and when you rematch it, you’re surprised by how much actual wrestling took place before all the big memorable spots later on. This match earned its big moments, and didn’t just hit us over the head with them from the start, meaning that they meant a whole lot more when they came, even if they were the bits we really remember months and years later.
This was to be Omega’s time, everyone thought. The man himself has even discussed that very fact in interviews since, making clear his disappointment that NJPW‘s top brass didn’t feel the time was right to pull the trigger (no pun intended) on him as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. If you were a newbie going into this show, and were watching for curiosity’s sake, you likely had heard about how this was Omega’s obvious win too. That Omega didn’t win sent shockwaves through the crowd and viewing audience, and not only made the story even better, but turned Kazuchika Okada into the clear greatest world champion in professional wrestling at the time. Okada, of course, would become one of the greatest champions of all time as 2017 progressed.
This match, four days into the year, set the standard. One almost wonders if we would have had the incredible match quality that we had in 2017 if we hadn’t had Omega versus Okada I. So many came close, but there was only ever going to be one contender for Match of the Year, and this was it.