2016 was a very average year for the WWE, so coming into 2017, it was expected they’d go as big as possible to make this one of the better years in recent memory, and while PPV quality and overall match quality are as high as they’ve ever been, there is still something lacking from the biggest wrestling company in the world today. From odd pushes to strange moves in the roster shakeup to great returns to not so great matches, the company has been a mixed bag so far in 2017, and while the ratings are still quite low, that doesn’t reflect the overall quality of the product, as it has been fine.
As fans however, we all want something else from the WWE, so it’s hard to say what they’ve done "right" and what they’ve done "wrong," as it’s mostly up to personal opinion, but we are going to take a shot today and talk about 8 things WWE have been hitting out of the ballpark so far in 2017, and 7 things that they have swung and missed on.
15 Right – NXT: TakeOvers
Ever since the first NXT: TakeOver live special in 2014, which featured Bo Dallas and Neville in the main event, these periodic special bouts for WWE’s developmental promotion have been incredible, and anytime they’ve been matched up on the same weekend as a main roster PPV, they’ve outshined the WWE main roster. With a great tag team division, great booking for the women and a true top star in Bobby Roode, each and every TakeOver event has been fantastic from start to finish, with not even a single bad match yet this year, and this has led to a revival of sorts for NXT. The tag team division, however, may struggle from here on out with the loss of DIY, The Revival and TM61 late last year, but (spoiler alert) both members of ReDragon have recently debuted, so that may turn into a strong point for the brand. Either way, it looks like NXT and their critically acclaimed Live specials aren’t going downhill anytime soon.
14 Wrong – Boring, Scripted, Formulaic Weekly Booking
This has been a negative in the WWE for quite some time, but with ratings consistently at the worst rate they have been in years, it bears repeating. The scripted formula that they go with each and every week is beginning to drive their fans away, and something has to be changed if they wish to establish themselves as an entertainment powerhouse yet again. The complaint from fans is that the company fail to establish stars these days, and it’s easy to see why they struggle, as each person is given the same type of script week in week out. This, combined with the stop-start, 50/50 booking is hurting all the superstars. It’s unlikely this will change with Vince McMahon in charge, but it seems to be getting worse as he ages, and the product overall is noticeably struggling because of it.
13 Right – Tag Team Breakups
The WWE have a reputation for breaking up tag teams way too early, and sometimes doing it in very odd and boring ways, but in the year 2017, we have seen three teams break up, and each one has given the fans amazing, yet very heartbreaking moments. While you may not agree with breaking them up, you can’t deny they were entertaining. First it was Kevin Owens turning on Chris Jericho at the Festival of Friendship, and while their matches weren’t as heated and exciting as we expected, there was definitely animosity between them, and this breakup started it in the perfect way. Then came DIY and Enzo & Cass, and while the latter may not have been the best idea, they were both done perfectly, turning Tommaso Ciampa and Big Cass respectively into major a**holes, giving WWE a couple of villains on NXT and RAW who are now drawing genuine heel heat from the fans.
12 Wrong – The Booking Of The Entire Tag Team Division
Ever since the Attitude Era, the WWE has struggled mightily to book a solid tag team division, and while we’ve had some great tag teams over that time, we’ve never had a deep division that’s booked as well as other parts of the show, and with the talent on offer in 2017, it’s even more of a travesty. With guys like The New Day, The Hardyz, The Revival, The Club, The Usos, American Alpha, Breezango and even Enzo & Cass before they were split, the tag teams should all be a featured part of main roster programming, but they’re just not, and it creates a hole in the depth of the product. We’ve seen some great matches from these teams over the past year, but the consistency in the booking is just off, and for the WWE to become as good as they can be, this desperately needs to be changed.
11 Right – Bringing Back Kurt Angle & The Hardy Boyz
WWE have been relying on older stars over the past decade, and most fans in the WWE Universe hate it, but when you bring back an Olympic gold medalist for the Hall of Fame and to be RAW’s new GM, as well as quite possibly the greatest tag team of all time, who became the hottest property in the wrestling business in 2016, you can’t help but see it as a positive. Although the Hardyz are still relying on their nostalgia, it seems we could be inching closer to their “Broken” form, and when that happens, they will set the wrestling world on fire yet again. On the other hand, we haven’t seen Kurt Angle's best, as a result of the scripted nature of the WWE today, but we may see him in the ring very, very soon, meaning this will definitely be a highlight of the company in 2017.
10 Wrong – The Horrible Booking Of Bayley
The WWE are still pushing the ‘Women’s Revolution’, and while it’s not been all smooth sailing over the past two years, it’s clear that the women in the company are treated much better than they once were. While fans have had some small complaints about the booking of RAW and SmackDown’s women’s division overall, we can all agree that the way they have presented Bayley since her arrival last summer has been atrocious. NXT’s favorite female performer was at best when she was given the right type of promos and stories, and was booked as an underdog who had to overcome the odds, but that’s just it. She wasn’t given any odds, as the company put the title on her relatively early, and she became a dominant champion, and it didn’t fit her character. Only time will tell if the WWE can fix their mistakes, but at the moment, Bayley just isn’t who we all thought she would be on the main roster.
9 Right – Tyler Bate Vs. Pete Dunne
This is quite specific, and may not be something that WWE themselves pushed, as these two have been competing for years together and against each other in the U.K, but the company have had these two battling twice for the WWE United Kingdom Championship, and both matches have been phenomenal, with their Takeover: Chicago bout considered the best match in the company this year (close with AJ vs. Cena at the Rumble). With them each trading wins, both historic in their own right, you have to imagine that there is more in store in this epic rivalry, especially when you consider that Bate and Dunne are just 20 and 23 respectively. This is probably more to do with just the general booking of the U.K title (but that has been inconsistent), but WWE have given us what could be a rivalry spanning at least a decade, and will provide many more amazing bouts.
8 Wrong – Rushing Jinder Mahal To The WWE Championship
Jinder Mahal has been one of the biggest talking points in WWE this year, as he went from jobbing to Sami Zayn and Finn Balor on RAW to the WWE Championship in less than a month. While he has settled into his character very well, such a push for what was enhancement talent in such a short time is a major mistake, as most fans have taken it as nothing more than a joke. He wasn’t taken as a legitimate threat, so when he won the World title from Randy Orton, it was a shock, but not in a good way. Although he has become an interesting character, it would have been a much more effective push if they had built the character first. Only time will tell if fans truly come to respect Mahal as a character and the WWE Champion, but if they don’t, WWE only have themselves to blame for rushing him into that spot.
7 Right – Making Braun Strowman Their Modern-Day Monster
When he joined the Wyatt Family, most people looked at Braun Strowman as another big man who couldn’t wrestle, who made it to the main roster because of Vince McMahon and his love for big men. But ever since breaking out on his own following the brand split, he has proved that he’s been working hard, as he is now one of the better performers on Monday Night RAW, and by far one of the most interesting characters. After almost being murdered by Roman Reigns at Great Balls of Fire, it’s hard to see if the company will keep him heel or push him as the big loveable guy he seems to be in real life, as the fans are already naturally gravitating towards supporting him. No matter what they do, 2017 has been a great year for Strowman, and we should expect to see him challenging for the Universal title before this year ends.
6 Wrong – The Booking Of The WWE Title
Entering the year 2017, AJ Styles was carrying the WWE title in a very impressive reign, with constant title defenses being rated 4 stars and above, and he lost the championship to John Cena at the Royal Rumble in a MOTY candidate, but ever since that point, the championship has just been booked horribly. Bray Wyatt claimed his first World Title inside the Elimination Chamber, and proceeded to lose it to Randy Orton in a terrible match, but one he never should have lost, and since then, it has been Orton and Jinder Mahal feuding over it. The matches have been boring, and the feuds have lacked fire, so the best we can hope for in the second half of 2017 is to have Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, John Cena and even Sami Zayn thrown in the mix for the coveted title belt, as right now, it feels like the U.S. title is the biggest on the blue brand.
5 Right – Letting The Fashion Police Shine
Coming into 2017, if you made a list about the top stars in WWE being underutilized, the names Tyler Breeze and Fandango would be somewhere in your top 10, but with SmackDown Live apparently being the "land of opportunity," they have presented their "Fashion Files," a weekly segment on Smackdown Live that has been as enthralling as it has been hilarious. From old school to Walker, Texas Ranger to Miami Vice, Breezango, aka the Fashion Police, have parodied it all, to hilarious results, and although it’s not translating into Tag Team title wins, the feeling is that it eventually will, but first, they’ve got a crime to solve. If the two can keep this up, and continually evolve their act, they may go down as the modern-day Edge and Christian, if not more entertaining than those two, and hopefully that will force SmackDown Live to push them in the ring too.
4 Wrong – Booking The Return Of Finn Balor
After holding the NXT Championship longer than anyone in history, Finn Balor made his way to Monday Night RAW after being picked #5 in WWE’s latest draft, and he then went on to win the first ever Universal title at SummerSlam in just his third match. Unfortunately, that's where he also was injured, leaving him out for seven months. He made his much anticipated return the night after WrestleMania to team with Seth Rollins (the man who injured him, another thing WWE struggles with, storyline consistency), but since that point, he has struggled to find his place on RAW. While not everyone can be pushed at the same time, this shows how much WWE struggles to book an entire roster, as he should be finding his way into major storylines. His booking since that point has been so bad, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was still on the shelf.
3 Right – The Push Of Samoa Joe
When Samoa Joe came to the main roster, it was hard to see where he would fit in on Monday Night RAW, as there was Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Finn Balor and Seth Rollins all seemingly ahead of him. But while they were biding their time for the eventual Reigns vs. Lesnar showdown, they gave Joe a chance, and thankfully for him and the fans, he has grabbed it with both hands. He may have come up short in his title match at Great Balls of Fire, but he looked like an absolute star, and his performances on promos have proven that he deserves to be the next Universal Champion, and if the WWE do go this way, it will be well deserved. After wrestling for TNA and ROH for so long, it’s great to see a guy get his due on the biggest stage in the wrestling industry, and if he can indeed capture the Universal title, it will solidify Joe as one of the top 5-10 wrestlers of this generation.
2 Wrong – Giving Goldberg The Universal Title
There are some cases where part-time or old stars can be an asset to WWE programming, and Goldberg was just that, because his return was very exciting and gave us a rematch to the pathetic Goldberg vs. Lesnar match from WrestleMania XX, but putting the Universal title on him for his match with Brock at WrestleMania was a bad decision, as he had just turned 50, and their bout didn’t need anything more to make it a big-time match. To make matters worse, the company gave Bill the title by taking it away from Kevin Owens, who was leading into a bout with Chris Jericho, a story which the Universal title would have helped elevate, as it was a great story being told over a year long period, but of course the WWE favored the older star. His reign lasted just a month, and he defended it 0 times, meaning it was a mistake, and absolutely pointless for the WWE to make this move.
1 Right – Roman Reigns Beating The Undertaker
Just seeing this on the "right" side of the list will most likely anger most fans, and I think the WWE has become completely aware of that. That’s the exact point, as Reigns is pushing the line between babyface/heel more and more by the week, so with him being the one to defeat and supposedly retire The Undertaker, it further enrages those fans who hate him, which is what the company wants. The match itself wasn’t one of Reigns’ best (don’t kid yourself either, he has had some fantastic matches over the past year), but it was a master class in storytelling, with the fans hanging on absolutely every move, knowing it might be Taker's last bout, and when Reigns put him down for the 1-2-3, they absolutely erupted in boos. They haven’t yet capitalized on his heel side, but with the recent booking, it seems they may be looking that way, and when they do eventually turn him full-blooded heel, this will be a great moment to capitalize on, especially when you remember his five-word promo to a chorus of boos the night after ‘Mania.