From tipped ambulances to #deletion.

WWE circled its wagons in 2017. If 2016 was the year they turned towards the future, 2017 was the year they retreated to safer territory. The old guard reasserted itself. AJ Styles is the WWE champion. Brock Lesnar is the WWE Universal champion. The Shield is reunited. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are back on Raw. And Roman Reigns? He’s still The Guy, without question.

This year was a clashing combo of nostalgia and freshness–of saying goodbye to veteran monsters like The Undertaker and saying hello to new monsters like Braun Strowman. Here are the highlights of the past 12 months.

10. The New Day And The Usos Battle Rap

The battle rap between The Usos and The New Day was a rare modern instance of wrestlers writing their own lines rather than having a creative team provide them. Among the best lines:

“Yo Big E, let’s just keep it PG, you know what’s good/Just don’t get all Rated-R like your boy, Xavier Woods.”

“Now, Jim. You and your brother, you’re tag champs. You turned the Universe into believers/But please always remember you were absolutely nothing until your wife put you on Total Divas.”

Back in the old days, WWE Superstars always cut their own promos; their responsibility was to themselves rather than the company. This segment made a great argument for reverting back to that and allowing wrestlers to be themselves.

9. The Hardy Boyz Return At WrestleMania

The rumors were flying because the Hardys were in the Orlando area and WrestleMania 33 was at the Citrus Bowl. If there was ever an opportunity to have a shocking surprise entrant in the Raw Tag Team championship match, this was it. And lo and behold, right before the match began, The New Day came out to announce a surprise entrant. Then came the familiar drums of the Hardys’ entrance. And the crowd roared.

It was a nostalgic roller coaster for the fans, but it was also a milestone for both brothers, who struggled with addiction and injuries in their time away from WWE. Now, they were back, healthy, and able to perform their high flying stunts. It was a symbolic triumph, made literal when they won the match and the titles to go along with it.

8. Chris Jericho Presents: The Festival of Friendship

Somewhere in the midst of his budding bromance with Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho became a babyface. He cheated for Kevin Owens every week, but he also had The List, a fantastic comedic device that got him over with the fans. The fan love for Jericho seemed to build at the same rate as his scarf length.

So by the time Jericho threw his Festival of Friendship for Kevin Owens, he was getting more cheers than boos. And every single part of this segment killed: the entrance with Vegas showgirls, the Sistine Chapel “Creation of Man” painting with Owens and Jericho’s heads photoshopped on, the Gillberg cameo, and, finally, Owens’ betrayal, which was surprisingly heartfelt and sad. It’s up there with Shawn Michaels’ betrayal of Marty Jannetty. Jericho even went through a glass screen, a clear callback to Brutus Beefcake’s barber shop window.

7. Paige Returns With Backup

Who would have guessed that Paige would return to WWE in any way, shape, or form? After a tumultuous romantic relationship (which was, according to Paige’s brother, abusive), a catastrophic neck injury, two failed Wellness Policy drug tests, and a trove of leaked personal pictures and videos, one would have reasonably thought that Paige had used up her last chance. It had been a year since WWE fans had seen her on television.

But then she appeared on Raw, all smiles, with NXT backup flanking her on both sides. Paige was not only back on the main roster; she was back on top of the division. In her first televised singles match, she pinned Sasha Banks cleanly. Clearly, she has a guardian angel backstage (perhaps Triple H?) looking out for her. It was like she never left in the first place.

6. The Miz and Maryse Take Down Total Bellas

The WrestleMania build-up to Miz and Maryse vs. John Cena and Nikki Bella had zero heat. There was no stakes-driven storyline that gave them a reason to fight–no title on the line for someone to lose and someone else to win. But The Miz and Maryse did everything they could to make it matter. It was one of the worst matches at WrestleMania. But it certainly had the best set-up.

In the weeks leading up to the show, The Miz dressed up on John Cena, Maryse dressed up as Nikki Bella, and they performed a hilarious parody of Total Bellas. They made fun of Cena’s lack of commitment and backstage clout. They made fun of Bella’s materialism and desperation to be married. And it was all mean, immature, vicious fun.

5. “This Is My Yard Now.”

Depending who you are, this could be one of the worst WWE moments of 2017. But even Roman Reigns haters can admit: This Raw segment was an epic trolling that worked in every way it was supposed to.

The night prior, Roman Reigns pinned and retired The Undertaker in the main event of WrestleMania 33. On most nights, Reigns gets a mixed reaction. But after ending the career of a living legend, Reigns was reviled. And from the time his music hit, to the time he walked back behind the curtain, the fans in attendance booed for 10 straight minutes.

4. The Shield Reunites

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. When The Shield finally reunited after multiple false starts, the audience response was uniformly positive. WWE’s adult fans were so happy that they started cheering Roman Reigns instead of booing him. The Shield gives Reigns a take-no-prisoners edge that he decidedly lacks as a solo star.

Why did WWE choose this moment to reunite one of its greatest stables? Probably because it wants Reigns to get a more positive response leading into WrestleMania. And although it’s worked in the short term, it’ll be interesting to see how it works in the long term. The Shield will inevitably break up again, and Reigns will be on his own. And the adult fans might go right back to booing him.

3. John Cena Ties Ric Flair’s World Championship Record

In a very short amount of time–starting from his initial feud with Kevin Owens in 2015 and lasting to his 2017 feud with AJ Styles–WWE fans have warmed up to John Cena. For years, he got a mixed, down-the-middle response. Half the fans bought into his Never-Give-Up schtick and the other half just wanted to see someone else in the main event.

But then, Owens pinned Cena cleanly. Styles pinned Cena cleanly. Shinsuke Nakamura pinned Cena cleanly. And that vulnerability has made him relatable and likeable again. His match against AJ Styles at the 2017 Royal Rumble was not only one of the best matches of the year; it was also the match that tied John Cena’s championship record with Ric Flair. They are now both credited with 16 world title wins, and it’s only a matter of time before Cena surpasses that.

2. Matt Hardy Becomes #Woken

Matt Hardy is officially #woken and more eccentric than ever. Up until recently, he only performed his TNA gimmick in subtle ways–by performing his delete taunt, for example, or by mugging for the camera with “broken” facial expressions.

But after a decisive loss to Bray Wyatt on Raw, Hardy underwent a massive character alteration. This gimmick has the potential to go extremely far and entertain a lot of fans, so long as WWE Creative stays as far away as possible. They shouldn’t script something that is meant to feel spontaneous.


This segment, right here, is how to book a monster to succeed in WWE.

This Raw segment came on the heels of Reigns defeating and retiring The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33. The fans, even the ones who supported Reigns, were furious. WWE, rather than ignoring that anger, harnessed it and let the fans get it out of their system. And they sent Braun Strowman in as an audience avatar, to administer the beating of a lifetime.

One of Reigns’ most underrated talents is his ability to sell. And he sold every second of this beatdown, where Strowman threw Reigns into walls, slammed him onto hard surfaces, rammed rolling carts against him, threw his ambulance stretcher down a flight of stairs, and finally tipped over the entire ambulance. These segments required camera angles, wire work, and stand-in dummies to keep Roman safe. But at first glance, it was an extremely convincing, visceral display of violence.

After this segment, Strowman was a made man. He was more than just a giant; he was a force of nature, the closest thing WWE had to a comic book villain. And that’s why his beatdown of Roman Reigns is the greatest WWE moment of 2017.