Hello, all. It’s that time of the year again. Time to award the grandest prize in once-a-year wrestling journalism today, the Golden Snowcones. That’s right, it’s the seventh edition of the Freakin’ Awesome Network’s WWE Awards. FAN Forum has been busy tabulating and nominating their selections for 21 prestigious Golden Snowcones, in an attempt to reflect what has been yet another eventful WWE year.
Let’s not waste any more time…
Best Tag Team – The Usos
It’s been a banner year for tag team wrestling in WWE, with top-tier tandems like The New Day, Sheamus and Cesaro, and the reunited Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose all putting in for some wrestling master classes. But there was one team that stood tallest of all in 2017, becoming the first pairing to win twice in this category.
A lot of things have changed for The Usos since they won this award back in 2014. The fans kind of got over their whole colourful “play hard in the paint” and Siva Tau routine by the end of 2015 and were yearning for freshness from the Samoan brothers. What they got was a killer edge that became fully formed over the course of 2017. After turning heel on American Alpha in mid-late 2016, Jimmy and Jey found a new niche both in-ring and on the mic as gritty thugs, tearing into their opponents with rabid and reckless abandon both in the ring and on the microphone on their way to claiming the SmackDown Tag Team Championship. Unfortunately, at the time, the tag division on SmackDown was somewhat of a wasteland, with all teams struggling for regular airtime… That was until The Usos began their series of matches with The New Day. My goodness, what a saga of bouts between these five men. The Usos would end up being victorious in arguably the two peaks of the rivalry, a spectacular match at SummerSlam that may be the best pre-show match in company history, and the eventual finale, a tag team Hell In A Cell match that was one of the most creative and brutal matches ever held in the structure. With the goodwill they had lost with the fanbase now fully restored and revived, The Usos continue to reign as champions at the time this goes live.
After possibly their greatest ever year in WWE, The Usos have the Golden Snowcone for Best Tag Team on lock in the Uso Penitentiary for a second time. Now… Try and get them on the WrestleMania main card for once please, WWE.
Honourable Mentions: Sheamus and Cesaro, Breezango
Worst Tag Team – Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson
This was a tricky ballot to figure out, as most of the teams that would normally be in the running were out for different factors (Golden Truth broke up, The Colons disappeared after Primo got injured and The Ascension found cult status via their Fashion Files cameos), so in the end most voters/NERDS gravitated towards a duo that has just not been able to put it all together in their WWE run so far.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson’s year started off well enough by beating Sheamus and Cesaro for the RAW Tag Team Championship at the Royal Rumble. They actually ended up carrying those belts into WrestleMania. But after the surprise return of The Hardy Boyz led to their loss of the gold, they just became non-factors in the division. Any team in contention for the tag titles were sent their way so they could do the honours for them. In-ring, Gallows especially has regressed from his New Japan run or even his previous WWE run, while Anderson has yet to show his full potential either. And while there wasn’t an Old Day-esque stinker in their promo catalogue this year, there was nothing of note from them on the mic other than spamming the NERD thing onto their merchandise. In fact, their major contribution this year was not even on TV, but in the Southpaw Regional Wrestling webseries. Fair play to them, they absolutely tore it up as their characters of Tex Ferguson and Chad 2 Badd in the affectionate parody of ’80s territory wrestling, leaving many to lament why this charisma and personality couldn’t be showcased on RAW.
There’s definitely something there for them if they get paired up with former Bullet Club stablemates Finn Balor or AJ Styles, or as comedy characters if they play it exactly like Tex and Chad (although don’t actually BE them, like the one time they were against Heath Slater and Rhyno), but in their current form, the Good Brothers are simply the unfortunate winners of this Golden Snowcone-ski in 2017.
Dishonourable Mentions: The Hype Bros, The Colons
Best Promo – Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens – “The Festival Of Friendship”
Very rarely can a promo run the emotional gauntlet of comedic to dramatic without stumbling along the way. This year, our Golden Snowcone winner not only ran that gauntlet, it left goddamn trails of fire like the DeLorean. It’s Chris Jericho’s magnum opus, The Festival Of Friendship.
For all intents and purposes, this looked like being a pure comedy segment, and it may have been in with a shout of winning this award just based on that. Live in Las Vegas, Jericho strutted to the ring in a gaudy jacket and hat accompanied by showgirls while Owens lurked behind, disinterested in the whole thing. Jericho would go on to give Owens a series of increasingly awkward gifts, ranging from a statuette of two figures in embrace, to a painting of the “Creation Of Kevin”, based on the famed Michelangelo piece that adorns the roof of the Sistine Chapel. Friendship The Magician was next, putting in a pissweak performance that left Jericho no option but to put him on The List. Finally, of all people, Gillberg made a cameo appearance to serve as tackle dummy practice for Owens, who was about to defend his Universal Championship against Goldberg at the upcoming Fastlane PPV. From there, Jericho produced probably his most heartfelt promo in WWE ever, expressing how much fun he’d had with Owens over the previous few months of their pairing, and it actually looked like it got to Owens’s heartstrings. In fact, as a response, he had a gift ready to give Jericho… A new List. The next quote, arguably the last of the segment other than off-mic adlibbing, was “How come my name’s on this?”, and this will go down in history as one wrestling’s greatest WHAM Moment lines. The camera manages to catch on the back of the clipboard, “The List Of KO”, moments before Owens begins to lay into his best friend. One throw into the Jeritron later, and The Festival Of Friendship ended with a friendship in tatters like so many names on a list.
The stars didn’t quite align enough after that, with their feud being fought over Jericho’s United States Championship rather than Owens’s Universal Championship (he lost it to Goldberg in the match mentioned earlier, because of the returning Jericho), but there’s little doubt that The Festival Of Friendship was not just 2017’s best, but one of the greatest team breakup promos of all time.
Honourable Mentions: Roman Reigns – 4/3 RAW, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns – 4/10 RAW
Worst Promo – Alexa Bliss – “Bayley, This Is Your Life”
Back in 1999, we had the famous “Rock, This Is Your Life” promo that ran over its allocated time on RAW by almost double and was one of the highest-rated segments in WWE history. What history doesn’t tell you is that it wasn’t all that great a promo, yet for whatever reason, it’s a well that WWE will come back to occasionally in search of that golden nugget. This year, they definitely brought up a nugget all right.
Alexa Bliss may arguably be one of the stronger promos in the WWE women’s division, but even she was merely a passenger in this wreck of a segment. Accompanied in the ring by an assortment of Bayley’s personal treasures (Logic Hole #1… How the hell does Bliss get these? At least when they did this with Jack Swagger a few years back, he brought in his own trophies and special sandwich that tasted like freedom, not the rival), the RAW Women’s Champion proceeded to run down her challenger’s character as the lifelong fan made good, bringing out people from Bayley’s past to do the same. In fact, at one point, a person that was allegedly Bayley’s childhood best friend claimed that Bayley was a loser for watching RAW as a child and Bliss agreed with her, which brings us to Logic Hole #2… If wrestling is so uncool, Little Miss Bliss, why the fuck are you here now? Anyway, at some point the best friend made out with the ex-boyfriend or whatever, and by that point Bayley had had enough and came out to throw down. But then this led to what would become a bigger issue for Bayley down the line, and one that ended up stalling her career momentum dead later on… Her inability to muster up the confidence to use the kendo stick. She couldn’t, Bliss easily did, and a few swings later, this was mercifully over.
WWE aren’t usually ones to hide their shame, so it is telling that not only did the “highlight” footage of the segment they uploaded to YouTube begin at Bayley’s interruption and only show the follow-up brawl, but the next week on RAW, they had General Manager Kurt Angle openly state on air to Bliss that it was one of the worst things he’d ever seen on the show. Judging by the results here, that line was written in there for a damn good reason.
Dishonourable Mentions: Jinder Mahal – 9/19 SmackDown, Bray Wyatt – 10/9 RAW
Best Feud – Roman Reigns v Braun Strowman
We had a tie that needed to be broken in this category, with my decision being between Roman Reigns v Braun Strowman and The Usos v The New Day. In the end I went with Reigns and Strowman, as that had a lot more meat to it as a feud beyond the matches, and while The Usos and The New Day had an admittedly awesome series of bouts, there wasn’t much else to write about beyond that other than that one rap battle segment.
But with Reigns and Strowman, there was a veritable buttload more beyond their matches. Reigns is at his best when he’s just slugging away with a hoss or a big monster, and Strowman is as hossy and as monstrous as anyone that’s come down the line in years. Strowman fired the first shots, costing Reigns a likely Universal Championship win at the Royal Rumble to set up a match at Fastlane. Reigns got the win that night, and it looked like that was going to be the end of it… But as The Monster Among Men would so eloquently put it himself, he was not finished with him. After WrestleMania, Strowman tore Reigns apart on many occasions to the delight of his many critics. Strowman got the win over a visibly-wounded Reigns at Payback, who was left coughing up blood by the end of that bout. Reigns would temporarily get a measure of revenge on Strowman by injuring him with a steel chair, but Strowman returned quicker than expected and as angry as ever. Their big blow-off match was at Great Balls Of Fire (explain that out of context) in an Ambulance match, that Reigns seemingly lost on his own, missing a Spear and landing right in the ambulance long enough for Strowman to technically win. Five minutes later, Strowman was in that ambulance, which just been reversed against a semi-trailer truck by Reigns, in an act much akin to the last camper in the night putting away the horror movie monster… Or so he thought. They’d continue facing each other on-and-off throughout the year, and as of this time, Reigns has yet to truly put away Strowman again since their initial Fastlane bout. With Strowman’s burgeoning babyface run gaining momentum, it may be a while coming.
And you know why Strowman is now such a top babyface in the making? Because of how much the fans loved him beating up Reigns, despite him still nominally being a babyface himself. It was a rivalry that may end up being the making of The Monster as we head into 2018.
Honourable Mentions: The Usos v The New Day, Aleister Black v Velveteen Dream
Worst Feud/Most Embarrassing Moment – Jinder Mahal v Shinsuke Nakamura
Ladies and gentlemen, here comes the first of many Golden Snowcones referencing the rise of The Modern-Day Maharaja, Jinder Mahal. This once concerns the Worst Feud of 2017, both because of its subject matter and its final results.
The first match held at SummerSlam ended disappointingly enough, with Mahal retaining the WWE Championship over Shinsuke Nakamura off the back of Singh Brothers interference. But after that, it got a bit controversial. At the heart of this feud was a series of controversial promos by Mahal aimed at Nakamura, so much so that these would win the Most Embarrassing Moment in voting for these awards. Weaving in many unnecessary potshots at Japanese culture, like Pokémon, Mr. Miyagi and how they all “rooked” the same (and that wasn’t a reference to chess, either), Mahal got so many pairs of knickers in a twist that the live crowd actually started chanting “THAT’S TOO FAR” at him. Dude may as well have been out there with the big fake teeth and flapping dickie. The Singh Brothers’ over-the-top literally rolling on the floor laughing responses to these wisecracks were funny, though. Lost in the thinly-veiled racism, was the supposed idea by Mahal that the crowds should hate Nakamura for being foreign like they supposedly hate him for being foreign. Anyway, we end up with a rematch at Hell In A Cell, and guess what happened? The Singh Brothers interfered! I know, right? If only there was a cage they could have used to keep them out! This time it didn’t work, but Mahal still won a few minutes later anyway, just about beating Nakamura mostly clean. It was Triple H v Booker T all over again, and Nakamura’s momentum has yet to fully recover from it even now. And you know the bizarre thing? Nakamura beat John Cena and Randy Orton clean in separate #1 Contender matches, just to end up losing to Mahal twice.
It’s simple. If you feel it necessary to bring racial matters into a feud, then you’d better make damn sure that the target of those comments gets the victory in the end, otherwise you just leave your fanbase more bitter and jaded than usual and leave the company to get the heat for the feud, not the heel that won it.
Dishonourable Mentions (Worst Feud): Alexa Bliss v Bayley, Bray Wyatt v Randy Orton
Dishonourable Mentions (Most Embarrassing Moment): “Bayley, This Is Your Life” – 5/29 RAW, John Cena and Roman Reigns’s shoot promos on each other
Most Improved Superstar – Braun Strowman
These are strange times, wrestling fans. In an era where the average WWE wrestler is smaller, faster and more athletic than they’ve ever been, it’s an old-fashioned hoss that has captured the imagination of WWE fans and left broken bodies and broken rings in his wake.
Braun Strowman has been a work-in-progress, with all of that progress taking place on the WWE main roster. Gone is the lumbering Black Sheep of The Wyatt Family that fans joked was holding back a 630 Splash for special occasions (he still might be). In its place is a streamlined, lean and mean Monster Among Men, who commands attention on the mic and demands it whenever he’s in the ring. In 2017, he has spent most of the year tossing around wrestlers for fun. Kalisto copped it extra-hard early in the year, being thrown for distance at the Royal Rumble and then being tossed in a dumpster a couple of weeks later. Roman Reigns has been a favourite victim, at one point throwing him so hard into the corner that the turnbuckle broke, not to mention the thing with the ambulance that we’ll elaborate on later. But it was his series of matches with the Big Show that got much critical acclaim, as a showcase of monsters past and future meeting at a career crossroads. Big Show was in career-best shape, and Strowman had things to prove. Naturally, the ring broke during one bout, and in a follow-up match, so did a steel cage. Strowman even managed to have his way with Brock Lesnar at times, laughing off one of Lesnar’s famous German Suplexes and putting him on a stretcher during a wild Fatal 4-Way match at SummerSlam. Recently, he’s been dealing with Kane, at one point powerslamming the Big Red Monster right through the ring.
He’s walked off ambulance crashes and garbage truck crushings, he’s broken more rings than any one wrestler ever has, and he’s even made Triple H cower at his feet. And this is just his third year in. If there’s one guarantee we know of Braun Strowman, it’s this… He’s not finished with anyone yet, and the crowds can’t get enough of it.
Honourable Mentions: Velveteen Dream, Neville
Most Exciting Moment – The Hardy Boyz return to WWE at WrestleMania 33
For the better part of 2016 and early 2017, against all expectation and logic given the state of their home promotion at the time, The Hardy Boyz were the viral buzz of the wrestling world. Spearheaded by Matt’s captivatingly kooky “Broken” character and with ample assistance from “Brother Nero” Jeff and a wide cast of supporting characters (not all of them human or even animate), this eventually became their ticket off the sinking ship of TNA and into the world of the independents. The Hardys could name their price… So, nobody should be surprised when Titan Towers called their bluff.
The scheduled WrestleMania 33 contest was to be a Triple Threat Ladder Match between the teams of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, Enzo Amore and Big Cass and Sheamus and Cesaro for the RAW Tag Team Championship held by Gallows and Anderson… At least until WrestleMania hosts The New Day appeared on the stage. Co-incidentally, due to their role as hosts, they weren’t booked on the card but had the power to change that if they chose to do so. Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods started slowly walking to the ring… until the famous bass intro of The Hardy Boyz’s long-running tag team entrance theme stopped them in their tracks and a veritable explosion of cheering accompanied Matt and Jeff into the stadium, not even 24 hours after they lost the Ring Of Honor Tag Team Championship to The Young Bucks in a separate ladder match. Only one word was on the lips of Camping World Stadium… DELETE. Now involved in a Fatal 4-Way Ladder Match, the opposing teams just couldn’t quite get over the surprise factor of the addition of the Hardys, and thanks to their own veteran abilities and some satiating of Jeff’s spot monkey a-dee-ction, the Cameron, NC brothers would leave WrestleMania with the gold. Stunningly, this was Jeff’s first career win on WWE’s premier stage. Unfortunately, due to legal wrangling and contract hold-ups with TNA, The Hardy Boyz were left in a bit of a nostalgia holding pattern for most of 2017. Matt couldn’t do the Broken character again in earnest until November when it was finally all settled, by which at that point Jeff had succumbed to a shoulder injury.
It was a delightful night in April, playing host to a wonderful WrestleMania moment. And with Jeff continuing his recovery, and Matt delving head-first back into his broken brilliance and woken wisdom… The battlefields of WWE truly are prepared for massacre now.
Honourable Mentions: AJ Styles beats Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship – 11/7 SmackDown, Kurt Angle makes in-ring return – TLC
Most Hilarious Moment – Breezango’s “Fashion Files”
I’d like to think that I was channelling Nostradamus on this one. Last year, in writing up The Golden Truth’s Worst Tag Team entry, I mentioned how Breezango was comedy gold waiting to happen, they just needed a spotlight for it. Well, Fandango and Tyler Breeze took their places on the stage with a hilarious series of vignettes throughout the year, titled “The Fashion Files”.
The setting was consistent. Fandango and Breeze out somewhere in the world, working on a case in relation to opponents in the SmackDown tag team division, usually with sight gags in the background you’d need to pause the DVR for. Initially, in what essentially acted as a face turn for the duo, it was The Usos that took their attention as they tried to figure out if Day One was in fact H or not. When that case went cold, they moved on to mystery attackers who trashed their office. No fooling, they spent six months on it before they figured out it was The Bludgeon Brothers. In the process, the skits moved away from solving cases and became more a buddy-comedy series based around various movies and TV shows like Twin Peaks, Stranger Things and Saw, among others, with long-suffering rivals The Ascension joining in on a quest to try and make friends with the oblivious Fashion Police, as well as adding kooky quirks to their characters like both eating gluten-free, a shared interest in bashing chains and yelling in storage closets, and being secret Eddie Ocean fanboys. These skits have arguably made The Ascension hidden comedy highlights in their own right. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the cameos from other talents, like The New Day appearing as clients in a film noir scene, Arn Anderson as the murderer of Tully the horse and James Ellsworth as a Reservoir Dogs hostage.
At this time, the skits have become more infrequent and even moved to WWE.com, but the heart is still in the right place. At its peak, this was parody and satire done extremely well, and helped Breezango and The Ascension cement themselves regular TV time over the course of the year, if not necessarily the championship belts.
Honourable Mentions: Braun Strowman destroys Roman Reigns – 4/10 RAW, Roman Reigns loses ambulance match with own move, Great Balls Of Fire
Most Disappointing Moment – Roman Reigns enters the Royal Rumble at #30
The Royal Rumble is usually one of the most anticipated matches of the year, but in recent years it has often been tinged with a sense of dread, as something usually happens in that match that you know you’re not gonna like. The match itself this year was fine enough, but it almost went pear-shaped with the arrival of our favourite Big Dog.
The match goes on into its final stages. Surprisingly, but somehow not surprisingly, the ring is loaded with WWE’s top stars, the part-time guys. Undertaker, Goldberg, Lesnar, all in with a shot at going to the WrestleMania title match. But there’s still one more person to come in. All the confirmed entrants have come in already, so it’s a complete mystery as to who this last person in is. Is it Finn Balor triumphantly returning after his long injury layoff? Is it Samoa Joe getting the big callup from NXT? Is it… oh, it’s just Roman Reigns. It’s not an unprecedented move to have a fallen world title challenger of the night back up in the Rumble, but given the choice, pretty much everyone would have chosen AJ Styles, who’d lost the WWE Championship to John Cena earlier, over Reigns. The Alamodome ripped Reigns to shreds, as seems to be Rumble tradition at this point, as he went about his business, including eliminating The Undertaker to plant the seeds for their WrestleMania bout. Fortunately, the crowds went home happy-ish when Randy Orton last eliminated Reigns to win the Rumble for the second time, which may have been the intent of Reigns being in that place to start with.
With the next Royal Rumble not all that far away now, many are already bracing themselves for further Reigns-related disappointment as he is the hot favourite to win it in 2018, based largely on a year’s worth of “Lesnar vs Reigns is the WM34 plan” in Dave Meltzer’s Observer newsletter. Can he somehow dodge the bullet he couldn’t manage to do so in 2017? We’ll see on January 28.
Dishonourable Mentions: Jinder Mahal beats Shinsuke Nakamura – Hell In A Cell, Brock Lesnar beats Braun Strowman – No Mercy
Most WTF? Moment – Jinder Mahal wins the WWE Championship at Backlash
Since 1963, only 50 men have had the honour of being the WWE Champion. It reads as a who’s who of WWE history, from the New York territory era of Sammartino and Backlund, to the ’80s boom with Hogan and Savage, the New Generation of Hart and Michaels, the Attitude Era with Austin, Rock and Foley, to the post-Attitude stars of Cena, Batista, Lesnar and Orton, and the modern stars like Punk, Bryan, Styles and Mahal. Nope, that last name ain’t a typo, boys and girls, although it may be a stretch to call Mahal a “modern star”. In one of the great WTF moments of our time, Jinder Mahal became the WWE Champion this year.
The match was scheduled as the main event for Backlash, as Randy Orton would defend the WWE Championship against top contender Mahal, who had won a six-pack challenge in shady circumstances due to the assistance of his new allies, The Singh Brothers. Those brothers would become key to Mahal’s presence as the year went on. The match goes on as it does, Mahal trying his best with his limited ability and Orton seemingly in his competent autopilot state. We head into the final stretch and here comes the interference from Samir and Sunil, right on cue. Orton takes his eyes of the ball to deal with the former Bollywood Boyz, including a beastly back suplex onto the announce table for Samir, essentially dumping him on his head in the process. Even Orton had to grit his teeth at that one. Back into the ring, but oh no! Mahal hits the Khallas and gets 1… gets 2… gets 3? Wait, what? Him? AS CHAMPION? The wrestling world couldn’t believe it. Mahal wasn’t even with the company a few months earlier, and even then he only got brought back in as a glorified enhancement guy. Now he’s the world champion? The standard bearer of not just WWE, but of all of professional wrestling? Man, fast times at Titan Towers, am I right?
Early reactions seemed to indicate that Mahal’s title win was fine for its novelty factor. After all, it was just Randy Orton losing, he’s had plenty of wins and big moments. But then one night became one week, and one week became one month, and one month became multiple months… But more on that a bit later on.
Honourable Mentions: Jason Jordan is revealed as Kurt Angle’s son – 7/17 RAW, Bray Wyatt becomes Sister Abigail – 10/9 RAW
Best Spot – Braun Strowman pushes over an ambulance
It was the week after WrestleMania, and Roman Reigns was backtracking as fast as Usain Bolt would run forwards from his 20 minutes of hate the week before, in an interview segment backstage. Little did he know, that he would end up literally in the middle of 2017’s best spot.
Braun Strowman had a major bone to pick with Reigns, looking for revenge over his loss at Fastlane. He would go and ambush Reigns, beating him from pillar to post and literally hurling the man through the air at times. Soon enough, Reigns needed medical attention and was strapped to a stretcher, as a cold, savage, bloodthirsty crowd chanted “YOU DESERVE IT” at him. As the medics started to wheel him away, Strowman came back for more, taking command of the stretcher and rolling it right off a loading dock, ostensibly making Reigns land face-first on the concrete below to further rapturous approval. The medics came back to tend to Reigns some more, and they wheeled him to an ambulance. As they were about to drive him away, Strowman bellowed his shot, and beat up the stranded Big Dog some more. At that point, a lightbulb went off over his head. Strowman shut the doors, went around to the side of the ambulance, took a wide stance and got a grip. In answering the immortal question of “Do you even lift?”, Strowman lifted the damn ambulance up and over onto its side with a mighty crash, barely louder than the cheers of the crowd. The only thing that could have topped it is if Strowman poured gasoline on the fallen vehicle and set it on fire.
A mere wrestling beatdown had ventured into seemingly an attempted murder, and it made Strowman into one of the most beloved talents on the roster. The spot itself was probably rather tame production-wise, and there were more brutal hits and bumps happening in the ring throughout the course of the year, but this made for an incredible visual.
Honourable Mentions: Jeff Hardy Swanton Bombs Sheamus and Cesaro off a ladder through another ladder – WrestleMania 33, Braun Strowman powerslams Brock Lesnar through a commentary table – SummerSlam
Worst Match – Randy Orton v Bray Wyatt – House Of Horrors – Payback
The Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton feud had so much potential for a great conclusion. Unfortunately, after liberal amounts of shack fires, rubbing of sacred ashes, whatever a crucix is and Wyatt somehow projecting stock footage of bugs onto the ring during their disappointingly poor WrestleMania match (the runner-up in this category), this feud ended up in both a metaphorical and a literal House Of Horrors at Payback.
The rules of the match, what few there actually were, are similar to that of the old Boiler Room Brawl, if the boiler room was a house that was several miles away from the arena. Start fighting in the house and beat down your opponent badly enough so you could get to the ring and… I don’t know, they both got to the ring at the same time and ended up doing a normal No DQ match. Anyway, Orton arrives at the mysterious house in a damn limo, and the most shocking thing at the outset was that he was wearing pants. Wyatt finds him and they brawl through the house. Oh look, there’s the room with all the doll heads. And there’s a room with a weird sculpture thing. Now we’re in the kitchen, and oh my God, the fridge is dusty all over! Holy shit, man, this is utterly terrifying! The fridge ends up being tipped over onto Orton and Wyatt leaves, summons a scary light show in the house and commandeers the limo setting course for the arena. Later in the night, he arrives with his full entrance, only for Orton to appear behind him as the lights went back on. They brawl for a bit until… The Singh Brothers interfere? Wait, this isn’t a Jinder Mahal match! Oh right… Mahal had stolen the WWE Championship from Orton at time, and would go on to whack Orton in the head with it in this very match to help Wyatt pick up the win.
Once again, WWE had swung and missed in trying to capture the magic of the Matt Hardy Broken Universe through their own kooky weirdo in Wyatt, and all we were left with was two very average matches, as part of a very flat last couple of months of this feud.
Dishonourable Mentions: Bray Wyatt v Randy Orton – WrestleMania 33, Alexa Bliss v Bayley – Extreme Rules
Best Match – Tyler Bate v Pete Dunne – WWE United Kingdom Championship Match – NXT Takeover: Chicago
2017’s best WWE match was not wrestled between pre-established major stars from RAW or SmackDown, or even rising prospects from NXT. No, it was two freelance talents signed for WWE’s ongoing attempts at a UK-based project that came across the Atlantic and stole the Golden Snowcone out from under everyone’s noses with a display of wrestling excellence.
For those in the know with the UK independent scene, Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne are two of their biggest rising stars. Bate is a technical master with deceptive strength, while Dunne is a dirty scrapper whose tactics earn him the nickname of “The Bruiserweight”. They were both initially signed as part of WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament, where Bate actually defeated Dunne in the final to win the new United Kingdom Championship, itself a Match Of The Year candidate. However, it was the rematch at NXT Takeover: Chicago where a rowdy Allstate Arena crowd was enthralled by an unbelievable showcase of wrestling in its purest form… After all, these were two largely unknown talents to a US audience, in a match with no real storyline going in, and they managed to get FIGHT FOREVER chants from one of wrestling’s big markets within 10 minutes of work. After strike exchanges, insane counters and one of the damndest airplane spins you’ll ever see, Dunne needed one more mid-air strike and his patented Bitter End to defeat Bate and win the UK Championship in the process. A third match between the pair only happened recently on NXT, with Dunne again victorious in another banger of a match.
With a series of matches like these in their back catalogue, as well as those they’ve had with other opponents, it almost seems like a waste that they’re waiting for an ongoing UK show to begin. Dunne and Bate’s talents need to be shared with the world as soon as possible, especially if they can keep producing classics like they did in Chicago.
Honourable Mentions: AJ Styles v John Cena – Royal Rumble, Brock Lesnar v Braun Strowman v Roman Reigns v Samoa Joe – SummerSlam
Worst PPV/Major Event – Battleground
I swear, this show must be cursed or something. Only once has Battleground not figured into the placings for this award since its inception in 2013, with an astounding three wins from five now in its lifetime. So, what’s the reason why its back here after a podium finish for the Best PPV category last year? Let’s find out.
The pre-show match was harmless enough, with Aiden English defeating Tye Dillinger, and the main card opener was the first of many excellent matches between The New Day and The Usos (that’s another common theme of Battleground, there’s almost always an awesome tag match buried in the dirt of the rest of the card), but from there it was an indication of the overall fall SmackDown had taken after a hot 2016. Shinsuke Nakamura continued his sluggish main roster run with a DQ win over Baron Corbin. Natalya won a #1 contender match over the remainder of the women’s division. Kevin Owens defeated AJ Styles in a disappointing outing that may or may not have had the biggest botched finish of the year, as Owens rolled up Styles during a submission hold and Styles seemingly missed the kickout. In a bout that took the flag match to strange new places, John Cena convincingly put away Rusev. Sami Zayn defeated Mike “Hey, Remember Mike Kanellis?” Kanellis in a nothing bout. And finally, in our main event, it was the return of, of all the bloody things, the Punjabi Prison as Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton to retain the WWE Championship. It was a 2017 Mahal match. The Singh Brothers died for our sins, and somehow Mahal pulled a win out of his arse with the help of The Great Khali, who did not make another appearance after this.
How do we solve a problem like Battleground? It’s slowly but surely becoming a show synonymous with Golden Snowcone-winning inadequacy and disappointment. Well, better luck in 2018, I guess. Maybe they can have Kizarny come back for one night to inexplicably help Curt Hawkins beat Roman Reigns in a Coal Miner’s Glove match.
Dishonourable Mentions: Fastlane, Backlash
Best PPV/Major Event – NXT Takeover: WarGames
Surprise, surprise. Another well-deserved win for the NXT Takeover series. This one, however, was one of the more unique shows of recent history as it revived an old favourite concept from the heyday of WCW and brought it into the modern era. Two rings and everything.
But that was later on in the night. Before that, we had a very strong card once again showcasing NXT’s rising stars. The monstrous Lars Sullivan took care of Kassius Ohno in a hard-hitting slugfest. Aleister Black defeated Velveteen Dream in a match that should not have worked as well as it did, given their contrasting styles and characters, but ended up being one of the hidden gems of the entire year. Ember Moon finally claimed the NXT Women’s Championship gold that had been eluding her all year, claiming the vacant title over Peyton Royce, Nikki Cross and Kairi Sane. Thanks to his new manager Zelina Vega, Andrade Almas put the cherry on top of his redemption story as he defeated Drew McIntyre for the NXT Championship, with the defeat for the Scotsman compounded by a serious arm injury. And finally, awakening a concept that had been unseen in 17 years, it was three teams of three, The Undisputed Era, Sanity and The Authors Of Pain and Roderick Strong, taking aim at each other in The Match Beyond. It was brutal, it was chaotic and it was bloody (just ask Alexander Wolfe), but at the end of the night, Adam Cole (BAYBAY) and a chair-assisted Shining Wizard to Eric Young sealed the win for The Undisputed Era.
While the spirit of WarGames is invoked in the Elimination Chamber concept, that match was just too different in other ways to feel the same. But thanks to breakout performances from nine top-level talents, NXT’s WarGames was definitely a worthy addition to the lore, and the crowning bout of WWE’s strongest 2017 card.
Honourable Mentions: NXT Takeover: Chicago, NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III
The Eva Marie Memorial Snowcone for Worst Female Superstar – Stephanie McMahon
Well, it’s a historic first in many ways. First, this is the first awarding of this Snowcone after its rebranding to acknowledge perpetual winner Eva Marie, who got her release from WWE this year without making any further TV appearances and thus was ineligible for winning her own award. And second, this may be the first one of these major four awards to have gone to a non-wrestler, but it’s one that has been a long time coming.
As someone who hardly ever steps into a wrestling ring for competitive purposes, Stephanie McMahon basically rode into this Snowcone win solely off the back of her presence on the microphone. She’s always getting compared to her father Vince, who spent years in the same role, so let’s do that here for a minute… Vince was almost always taking his lumps in battle. Very rarely was Vince standing tall at the end of any given night. In contrast, Stephanie hardly ever takes any lumps, largely down to WWE’s tight intergender restrictions, and when she does do so, it’s usually only at WrestleMania and never intentionally. This leads to many scenarios dating back the last few years where Stephanie has run down talents on the mic, even attacked them physically with the old Women’s Special Slap from the PlayStation 2 days, but the victims are unable to respond in any meaningful way. For a fanbase who grew up on Steve Austin giving it to his boss every single week, this can often be some of the most frustrating content of any given show. And what doesn’t help are the times when Stephanie throws the alignment guidebook out the window and acts as a de facto babyface in making big announcements. Just recently, we had her announce the all-women Royal Rumble for 2018, and this was done by sending her out in the middle of a whole-roster brawl, one that stopped instantly when Stephanie came out, and getting them to line up behind her like schoolchildren at morning assembly as she made the announcement. In trying to present Stephanie as a legitimate and competent heir to the company down the line, her presence can often undermine the on-screen product.
I’m not going to lie and say that Stephanie bothers me. I’m on record in saying that she really doesn’t. But these are awards that reflect the views of those who voted, and their will shall be done. Stephanie McMahon is the Worst Female Superstar of 2017, and she didn’t even have to lace up the boots to win it.
Dishonourable Mentions: Tamina, Dana Brooke
Best Female Superstar – Asuka
Our winner in this category this year saw one of the more lopsided results in voting, which is fitting given how lopsided her win/loss record is due to her pure in-ring domination of her opponents. That’s right, it can only be The Empress Of Tomorrow, Asuka.
This Japanese star is arguably one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in all of WWE, male and female, with an array of strikes and submissions that leaves any opponent fearful of what’s coming next. And underneath the ceremonial entrance masks and robes, hides a smile that breaks down any language barrier. It can be alluring one moment and psychotic the next… And it would be in your best interest to make sure it stays at alluring. In her entire tenure under contract to WWE, Asuka has lost only ONE televised match, a battle royal in NXT, with a no contest the only other blemish on her record. To add to that, for over 500 days, almost a year and a half between April 2016 and September 2017, Asuka reigned as NXT Women’s Champion over all challengers. This is a record mark for women’s championships in the post-national expansion era of the company, with Asuka only vacating the belt in anticipation for her call-up to the WWE main roster. Despite an indifferent yet still victorious debut showing against the departing Emma, it’s been more of the same, with three eliminations at the Survivor Series and one of the quickest TV wins in WWE history, a submission win over the hapless Dana Brooke that was four seconds from bell to bell.
As we close out the year, Asuka is the odds-on favourite to win the first ever all-women Royal Rumble match, on her way to possibly claiming main roster gold at WrestleMania. Is New Orleans ready for Asuka come April 8? If her opponents both in the ring and on the Snowcone polling sheets are any indication… No. Not at all.
Honourable Mentions: Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch
Worst Male Superstar – Jinder Mahal
They say anything can happen in WWE. Often, that anything is something that has been predicted for months thanks to recognisable TV patterns and inside news from the dirtsheets, but if you asked anyone at the start of the year that Jinder Mahal would be a featured player of 2017, you’d be laughed out of the room. If you said that he hadn’t improved in any way to warrant that spotlight, though, you’d probably get unanimous agreement.
Mahal is a throwback superstar in many ways, mostly in that his character is transported directly from 1979, his look from 1989 (including a mullet perm that would stop Lionel Richie in his tracks) and his workrate from 1999 when a lot of the wrestling wasn’t great but nobody cared because that wasn’t a priority of the time. His physique in particular came under heavy critique throughout the year due to how quickly it had come about and the subsequent big main event push happening almost as if Vince McMahon had finally actually noticed it. I mean, innocent until proven guilty and all, but Mahal’s physique was looking downright grotesque by the end of the year, leading many shouts of Wellness violation. In terms of the in-ring work, well… He’s always been a bit clumsy and he hasn’t improved much from there, with one notable instance of concussing Finn Balor with a forearm strike. So, what do you do with a guy who’s jacked to the gills, isn’t a great worker and not much of a talker? Market him to a foreign audience and give him a months-long world title run over better talents like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Randy Orton, Rusev… well, mostly everyone else on that brand, including his own lackeys (Samir Singh deserves something for all those monster bumps he takes). Mercifully, it doesn’t seem like he’ll figure into world title plans at WrestleMania, having lost the world title to Styles, as well as the follow-up rematch.
And you know what the kicker is about this whole Mahal experiment? It appears to have barely made a ripple in India. Subscriber numbers to the Network haven’t grown, and the one live event they did, headlined by Mahal vs Triple H, wasn’t even sold out. Mahal seems like a nice enough, hardworking guy, and he definitely looks the part of a big time star, but he was just placed way above his talent levels in 2017.
Disonourable Mentions: Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler
Best Male Superstar – AJ Styles
Once again, the Face That Runs The Place is the Man Chosen By FAN. For the second consecutive year, the Golden Snowcone for Best Male goes to AJ Styles. In 2017, Styles further cemented his legacy as one of the most versatile stars in wrestling today. And all this in only his second year as a WWE-contracted talent.
What else can be said to praise Styles that wasn’t already said last year? The Phenomenal One has been able to craft compelling matches with talents whose abilities run the length and breadth of in-ring skill, from John Cena, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar, to Jinder Mahal and Shane McMahon. It can be argued that if you can’t have a good match with AJ Styles, then that’s your problem, not his. Character-wise, a face turn after his WrestleMania match meant that Styles had a quieter year in contrast to his bombastic 2016 exploits, but he’s settled very well as the respected in-ring general. But one trait that seemingly set Styles apart from everyone else this year was his intelligence that borders on fourth-wall breaking genre-savvy. One notable example for the GIF archives being Styles being able to see the RKO out of nowhere coming in a #1 Contender match against Randy Orton, aborting an attempt at the Phenomenal Forearm mid-springboard and landing right back on the apron. As we go live with this article, Styles looks like ending the year as he began it, as the reigning WWE Champion after defeating Mahal for it in England, in the first instance of the WWE Championship changing hands outside of North America in the 50+ year history of the belt. What awaits him down the line? Who knows, but he’ll almost certainly be facing it with the same work ethic and ability that has seen him travel from Chile back to the United States on 24 hours notice as sickness cover for Bray Wyatt and still pull out a belter of a match with Finn Balor.
Hell, the way are things are going with Styles, it’s possible I may end up invoking the same wager I did with Eva Marie when she kept winning Worst Female. May we see a day when Styles wins an award named after him? If he keeps this form up, it’s as legitimate a possibility than you could imagine.
Honourable Mentions: Braun Strowman, The Miz
And that does it for another year in the FAN Golden Snowcones. As always, thanks to the good brothers and sisters at the FAN Forums for voting and thanks to WWE for the buffet of content of which we pick and choose at any given time. What’s on the horizon for 2018? We already have a first ever all-female Royal Rumble scheduled, a mixed tag team tournament as WWE test the waters of Facebook television, and of course, that one match we’ve all been predicting just about since the dawn of time. You know the one.
Enjoy your wrestling, and have a happy Rusev Day.
(Image Credit: WWE.com and WWE Network)