Rotoden Awards: Remembering the best (and worst) of WWE in 2017

2017 is coming to a close, and with it comes the end of another eventful year in the world of wrestling. The independent circuit is as talented and as interesting as it has been since the territory days. New Japan Pro Wrestling has become a global phenomenon. Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground both had very good years, too. And TNA, well, is still TNA.

This year was also a great one for the WWE. Their United Kingdom Championship and Mae Young Classic tournaments both showcased the very best in wrestling outside of mainstream companies. NXT put on a show in all five of their TakeOver events, and their roster is talented from top to bottom. The main roster had a solid year, as well. Both Raw and SmackDown had a lot of very good matches and rivalries, and the brand split has brought about a lot more stars on the roster.

The year wasn’t all perfect for the company, though.

A handful of NXT Superstars, like Tye Dillinger, Bobby Roode and, to some extent, Shinsuke Nakamura, were handled poorly upon their debut. Mike Kanellis totally disappeared just months after his arrival on the blue brand. Bayley has absolutely no momentum. The WWE decided to run an illegitimate son angle with Kurt Angle and Jason Jordan. Oh yeah, and Jinder Mahal was the WWE Champion.

To recap the best and worst of this year, the WWE Rotoden staff partook in a survey, in which they voted on a series of different awards. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who won awards this year.

Superstar of the Year

Winner: A.J. Styles (three votes)

A.J. Styles had such a good rookie year in WWE that almost nobody thought that he would be able to top it in 2017. Until he did.

Styles started the year off in style (pun intended), delivering the match of the night against John Cena in the Royal Rumble. He put on a good showing in the Elimination Chamber, and he carried Shane McMahon to what was arguably the match of the night at WrestleMania. After turning face, Styles entered a feud with Kevin Owens, in which he won the United States Championship twice. In the midst of that feud, Styles also participated in the Money in the Bank match, teasing a feud with Shinsuke Nakamura. After losing the belt in a Triple Threat match at Hell in a Cell, Styles feuded with Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship, and won it for the second time in his career.

For putting on a great match every time he stepped foot in the ring and stealing the show on most pay-per-views, Styles gets the well-deserved honor here.

Other options: Braun Strowman (two votes), Roman Reigns (one vote), Brock Lesnar and The Miz (no votes)

Woman of the Year

Winner: Alexa Bliss (four votes)

Alexa Bliss was one of WWE’s breakout stars in 2016, and she cemented her status as the top female heel with her 2017 performance.

She opened up the year as the SmackDown Women’s Champion and held that for the first month and a half of the year. She regained the title after Naomi, to whom she had lost the title, relinquished it due to injury. After losing it again at WrestleMania in a six-pack challenge, she headed over to Raw in the Superstar Shakeup. After just a few weeks on the red brand, she defeated Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship. She had a poorly booked feud with Bayley which saw one of the worst moments of the year in the Bayley, This is Your Life! segment. Despite that embarrassing feud, Bliss maintained her momentum. She engaged in a rivalry with Sasha Banks, which saw her lose and regain the belt in just eight days. She defended her championship in a Fatal Five-Way at No Mercy, and in a singles match with Mickie James at TLC. Bliss also put on a good match with Charlotte in an inter-promotional bout at Survivor Series.

Despite questionable booking, Bliss was the top female heel, and arguably the top female, in the entire company this year. Her in-ring work improved greatly, and she continued on her stellar mic work. 2018 has great things in store for the 26-year-old star.

Other options: Charlotte (two votes), Natalya, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch (no votes)

NXT Superstar of the Year

Winner: Drew McIntyre (three votes)

After WWE released him in 2014, Drew McIntyre roamed around the independent circuit for the better part of two years. He made a name for himself in promotions like TNA, ICW, Evolve and WCPW, known now as Defiant Wrestling. He announced in April that he re-signed with WWE to join their NXT brand, just after appearing in the front row of NXT TakeOver: Orlando.

Other options: Bobby Roode (two votes), Aleister Black (one vote), Hideo Itami and Andrade “Cien” Almas (no votes)

NXT Woman of the Year

Winner: Asuka (five votes)

Asuka is undefeated for a reason: there is no woman in WWE on her level. For this reason, she held the NXT Women’s title for 510 days, which included one of the greatest women’s matches of all time at Takeover: Brooklyn III against Ember Moon. The only way to get the belt off of her was for her to break her collarbone in that match. She had other great title defenses against Nikki Cross, Ruby Riot, both women at the same time, and The Iconic Duo. WWE has never had a woman with the ring presence the Empress of Tomorrow has. On the main roster, it seems like they have finally figured out how to keep that aura on her: beat everyone, and beat them convincingly. Expect Asuka to win the best (main roster) woman award in 2018.

Other options: Ember Moon (one vote), Nikki Cross, Kairi Sane and The Iconic Duo (no votes)

Tag Team of the Year

Winners: The Usos (two votes) and The Shield (two votes)

The Usos have always been good wrestlers, but in 2017 their characters finally feel natural. They are not the ritualistic dancing Samoans that they were for so long. Their promos are always entertaining, and they have perfected tag-team psychology, whether they are playing the heels or the faces. As we will see later, their feud with the New Day was the stuff of legends. Great matches against them, The Bar, and Breezango cemented the Usos as one of the top teams in WWE.

The Shield, that being Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, did not reform until July. However, this was one of the best examples of good storytelling in WWE this year. Ambrose did not know if he could trust Rollins and vice versa, before eventually they decided to get back together and take out a common enemy, The Bar. Seeing as Ambrose is out for several months with an injury, it will be a long time before we see these two team up again, if ever, but for those short few months they really made the RAW tag team championships feel special.

Other options: The New Day (one vote), The Hardy Boyz (one vote), The Bar (no votes)

NXT Tag Team of the Year

Winners: The Revival (four votes)

They had one big match in NXT this year, so this award speaks volumes to the impact they had on the tag team division. Some would say they are the, fundamentally, best tag team in the world today, and it is hard to argue that when you watch their match against DIY and the Authors of Pain from Takeover: Orlando. As soon as both Dash and Dawson get some momentum going, they will surely be a top candidate for main roster tag team of the year in 2018.

Other options: Authors of Pain (one vote), SAnitY (one vote), Undisputed Era and DIY (no votes)

Best Authority Figure

Winners: William Regal (two votes) and Shane McMahon (two votes)

Regal and Shane are the polar opposite of what makes a great authority figure. Regal, general manager of NXT, is hardly ever on the show. The only times the viewer will ever see him is when he makes a big match, like WarGames, or Pete Dunne vs Johnny Gargano. He does not take the spotlight away from the talent.

Shane McMahon, on the other hand, is a regular fixture in top storylines on Smackdown, especially over the last five months with the Kevin Owens story. Currently, he is still, technically, a babyface, but he is an imposing one. His underhanded tactics to try and mess with Owens and Sami Zayn make him come off like a total jerk, and makes the fans want to see someone knock him off his pedestal. He is a great, obnoxious, over-the-top authority figure.

Other options: Daniel Bryan (one vote), Kurt Angle (one vote), Stephanie McMahon (no votes)

Feud of the Year

Winners: Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns (three votes) and The New Day vs. The Usos (three votes)

When a feud involves tipping over ambulances and attempted murder, you know you have a good one. Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman brought out the absolute best in each other this year. The three matches they had at Fastlane, Payback, and Great Balls of Fire were all great, told a story, and made a legit megastar out of Strowman. The attempted murder after the match at GBoF should have been the best double turn in years, but alas, it still led to one of the best matches of the year in the main event of Summerslam.

Speaking of Summerslam, the second best match on that show came on…the pre show. The New Day and the Usos aimed to steal the show with this classic, and they would have succeeded had it not been for the main event. But this was just one of the three great pay-per-view matches these teams had. They had another match at Money in the Bank that ended in a countout, so let’s not talk about it. This was one of the best tag team feuds of all time, and it made the Smackdown tag team championships feel important. These two teams built a foundation that the rest of the Smackdown tag team division is now thriving off of.

Other options: Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens, Velveteen Dream vs. Aleister Black and John Cena vs. Roman Reigns (no votes)

Match of the Year

Winners: Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne (NXT TakeOver: Chicago; two votes) and John Cena vs. A.J. Styles (Royal Rumble; two votes)

These were two very different matches, and they were both incredible. All the build to Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne was that it was two guys who do not like each other and they are fighting for a championship. Sometimes this formula does not work, but these two men executed it perfectly. This match was a British strong-style match. They beat the absolute hell out of each other (strong-style) and mixed in some really great mat wrestling (british style). Tyler Bate is awesome, and Pete Dunne is a bona fide superstar.

Cena vs Styles was very different. It was a traditional WWE main event-style match. What made this one special, though, was that it featured John Cena and one of the best wrestlers in the world, AJ Styles. The story telling was impeccable, and the near falls were WrestleMania-worthy. Going in, the majority of people probably wanted to see Styles retain the WWE Championship, but, in the end, people did not care that Cena won. They were just blown away at the brilliance that they just saw in the ring.

Other options: The New Day vs. The Usos (Hell in a Cell; one vote), Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns (SummerSlam; one vote), A.J. Styles vs. Brock Lesnar (no votes)

Worst Feud of the Year

Winner: Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton (three votes)

You know when a feud involving the Great Khali making an appearance, it is going to be a rough one. The Jinder Mahal-WWE Champion experience was a disaster, and it all started here. At Backlash, the two men had an average match. It was not bad, but certainly not main event caliber. Then, at Money in the Bank, they had the exact. Same. Match. At this point, Jinder has pinned Orton twice, maybe we can move on and get him an opponent that can carry him to a good match. Nope. Orton again, but this time, it is inside the Punjabi Prison. To spare the details, the match was bad, the bamboo was too thick to see through, and the Great Khali came back to help Jinder retain the title. Bad.

Other options: Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss (two votes), Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Jinder Mahal (one vote), Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins (no votes)

Best Debut

Winners: Samoa Joe (three votes) and Shinsuke Nakamura (three votes)

Since getting called up, Samoa Joe has been booked about as strong as an upper mid-card talent can be. His first night on the main roster he literally put Seth Rollins on the shelf, and showed no mercy after that, taking out the likes of Sami Zayn and Finn Balor, even earning himself a match against Brock Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire. Vince McMahon loves big guys, and this big guy can work as well as anyone. Expect great things out of the Samoan Submission Machine.

Nakamura being listed here after the injustice that was his booking for his first few months is a testament to how great he really is. He has had uninspiring matches with Dolph Ziggler and Jinder Mahal, but in between all that he is still the most charismatic man on the roster and he put on great matches with John Cena and Randy Orton. His rookie year in WWE could have been better, but his pure ability has allowed him to overcome and stay as over as he is.

Other options: Asuka, Bobby Roode and The Revival (no votes)

Best Return

Winner: The Hardy Boyz (four votes)

They wrestled a frickin’ ladder match against the Young Bucks the night before WrestleMania. You are lying if you expected Team Extreme to be the extra team added to the RAW tag team championship ladder match at that show. Since coming back, Matt and Jeff have played their role perfectly, all while waiting for a settlement in their lawsuit with Anthem. They were brought in to win the titles and make people care about those belts again, and then put over a promising team, that being Sheamus and Cesaro. Now that Matt is allowed to be Woken, it is only a matter of time before we see his broken brilliance team up with Brother Nero again.

Other options: Kurt Angle (two votes), Drew McIntyre, Kassius Ohno and Mickie James (no votes)

Best Commentator

Winners: Mauro Ranallo (two votes), Michael Cole (two votes) and Corey Graves (two votes)

Our only award with a three-way tie, this award was certainly a challenging one.

Mauro Ranallo started the year off as SmackDown’s play-by-play commentator. After taking some time off of the company, he returned as NXT’s lead commentator, where he has continued the phenomenal work that he did throughout the 2016 year. Michael Cole had arguably the best work in recent years when he called the United Kingdom Championship with Nigel McGuinness. He sounded particularly energetic, excited and knowledgeable of the product. Corey Graves was the color commentator for NXT for the first month of the year before settling in as Raw’s color man. He also played a role in the split-up between Enzo Amore and Big Cass.

Other options: Tom Phillips and Nigel McGuinness (no votes)

Best Non-WWE Wrestler

Winner: Kenny Omega (four votes)

To put Kenny Omega’s year in perspective: prior to 2017, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer rated one match in the history of wrestling above five stars (Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada on June 3, 1994). Now, there are five matches rated above that threshold, and four of them involve Omega. His series of matches with IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada will undoubtedly go down as the greatest three match series of all time, even better than Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat in 1989. Now is not his time to hold the Heavyweight title, so New Japan made a title just so he could build it up as, arguably, the promotion’s second most prestigious title: the IWGP United States Championship. Hopefully he never jumps to WWE. As the leader of Bullet Club, he has the most creative freedom to mold his character into what ever he wants it to be.

Other options: Kazuchika Okada (one vote), Cody Rhodes (one vote), Bobby Lashley and Hiroshi Tanahashi (no votes)

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