When NXT released their nominees for their annual awards for 2017, I wanted to seriously consider my votes, and that meant having to go back and re-watch every match on their list for Match of the Year. I knew there were a few that I wanted included and many of them are. A few of them aren’t, as well, but that’s okay. Can’t win ’em all, I suppose. It’s still a highly impressive list with a ton of top quality matches that every wrestling fan should see, and if you’re not a fan, a few of these might convince you to start watching. It’s good stuff.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll cut this intro short because some of my summaries are going to run a bit long, especially in the first half of the list. So without further adieu, let’s talk about the nominees for NXT’s Match of the Year in 2017.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III – August 19th, 2017
There wasn’t much story leading into this opening match from this event, and I was a bit skeptical of Almas at this point. He didn’t seem to be living up to his hype, but NXT introduced Zelina Vega as his “business manager” and it appeared to be working, so if Almas was going to step up, this was his chance.
Early on, Gargano shows his stuff with some great mat wrestling and Almas stays with him. The thing with Gargano is that he never has a bad match, and you can see how good he really is in this one. The momentum shifts between the two are executed really well and felt natural. The crowd was clearly on Gargano’s side but you can sense that they respected Almas more as the match went on. Playing off the recent DIY story was a plus for the finish, which featured Almas’ new finishing move.
Looking back, this match was a great start to an angle that is about to culminate at TakeOver: Philadelphia TONIGHT (1/27/2018) as Gargano takes on Almas for the NXT Title.
Best Moment: After two failed attempts at his old finishing move, Almas gets caught in the “Garga-No Escape” for an extended time, but powers out and hits the turnbuckle knees for a very tense near-fall that lit up the crowd.
Ember Moon vs. Asuka (C) for the NXT Women’s Championship
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III – August 19th, 2017
Asuka had been champion for a LONG time at this point, and was undefeated leading into this match. During that time, Ember Moon had been built up nicely and seemed to be Asuka’s biggest threat. Coming off of a mild shoulder injury, Moon was even more determined to win, but that didn’t seem to throw off Asuka one bit. The build-up was big with this being one of the more important Women’s Title defenses in a long time, and the WWE made a point to have Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch show up at ringside for this one.
Moon comes to the ring looking to fight, and Asuka puts on the best cocky swagger as only she can. Moon fires a kick to begin the match, looking to surprise Asuka early on. Some hard bumps taken by both women outside the ring, which is a testament to their toughness and ability. Asuka turned on the “dangerous” in a big way and worked on Moon’s bad shoulder for much of the bout, even mocking Becky Lynch in the process by stealing her “Dis-Arm-Her” submission move and flashing a defiant smile in her direction. Some of Moon’s comebacks felt a bit contrived and sloppy, but she still gave a great performance, especially as the two combatants transitioned into the power moves.
A very strong match to boost the always strong Women’s division in NXT. In the end, nobody, not even Ember Moon, was ready for Asuka.
Best Moments: Auska kicking out of the Eclipse, and the finish of Asuka reversing a pin attempt directly into an Asuka Lock.
Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Drew McIntyre (C) for the NXT Championship
NXT TakeOver: WarGames – November 18, 2017
After reaching the goal of his comeback to the WWE, McIntyre didn’t really have a worthy contender after beating Bobby Roode for the NXT Title, and after giving a shot to Roderick Strong, it was unclear who would be next in line. Enter El Idolo.
Zelina Vega and Almas were finally looking like superstars, and Almas played his angle perfectly, leaving McIntyre lying on more than one occasion leading into the event. Drew seemed poised to be a fan-favorite and hold the title for an extended time, so I wasn’t sure how much I was invested into this one. That said, I was impressed with how it turned out.
Kind of a slow start to this one as it seemed to take a while for both grapplers to feel each other out but they quickly get into a fine rhythm. Vega unsuccessfully tries to make herself a factor early, but is triumphant later in the match. You could see Drew start to favor his arm a bit after a few attacks to it but it didn’t appear to hamper him. The longer the match runs, the more Almas gains momentum, and you can really see how much better and confident he’s become of late.
The finish to this one feels hella awkward, though. Not sure if the move came off smoothly but it didn’t look right. I also didn’t expect Almas to take the title. As I watch, I can’t help but speculate that it might’ve been changed mid-match. Still, a better battle than I expected, and I really like seeing Almas get rewarded for his improvement throughout 2017.
Best Moment: The finishing sequence to this one is fantastic, but instead of the best moment, I want to point out the interesting nature of McIntyre’s response to his loss. Doctors come in to check out his arm but he waves them off in obvious frustration.
I repeat… not in pain, but in frustration.
They did say McIntyre was legitimately hurt and I don’t doubt that given his initial body language after the pin, but he looks defiant in a different way than just to indicate an injury. I truly think the result was changed during the course of the contest. Hopefully this isn’t a hamper on McIntyre’s comeback.
DIY vs. The Revival vs. Authors of Pain (C) for the NXT Tag Team Championship
NXT TakeOver: Orlando – April 1, 2017
You’ve got the power of the Authors of Pain, the quickness of DIY, and the unmatched intelligence of The Revival, so know that this had no chance of being a bad match. DIY and The Revival have a long history of setting buildings on fire via their rivalry, and this one is no exception.
Oddly enough, the old enemies form a quick alliance to start this war, given that AoP have a huge power advantage. Since this was an elimination match, getting the big boys out would leave the other two teams remaining with no outside threat. Of course, once the chance showed itself, The Revival attempts to backstab their short-term friends and DIY repays the favor to them.
There’s a fast pace to this match, but that’s just how triple tag matches seem to go. AoP displays their power to the limit at every opportunity. Later, Ciampa builds great momentum off a hot tag that blows up the crowd. A forgotten table brought out by DIY is used later on in classic “make ’em wait” fashion. As the goal to get AoP out first hovers over the match, the smaller teams join up for a great double submission spot, but are unsuccessful.
As expected, the crowd was invested from the gun for this one. Rightfully so, since these teams could do no wrong. It’s hard to top anything involving DIY and/or The Revival, so we’ll see if any of the other matches on this list will be able to.
Best moment: Gargano and Dawson performing DIY’s knee/kick-to-the-head combo, followed up by Ciampa and Wilder doing The Revival’s “Shatter Machine.” It gives me legit goosebumps every time I see it.
Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate (C) for the WWE United Kingdom Championship
NXT TakeOver: Chicago – May 20, 2017
This match goes back to the WWE UK Tournament, where Bate beat Dunne in the finals to become the first-ever UK champion.
While most matches start with some mat wrestling and basic spot work, the British take it to a whole other level. I haven’t seen this kind of technicality since I watched Dean Malenko dismantle fools in the late ’90s. The exchanges that these two have early could rival with some of the best in the business.
Dunne lives up to his moniker of “Bruiserweight,” delivering moves with impact throughout the match. Bate is easily the more fresh-faced of the pair at a very young 20-years-old, but his ringwork is remarkable. The British Strong Style is in full-effect here, and everything looks as painful as advertised.
Once this match goes into high gear, it never lets up. Bate shows his strength with a couple throws that use very little body momentum, while Dunne later reverses a splash that cleverly gets Bate into a submission hold. Even a rare Airplane Spin gets utilized, and eventually the two just have a Pub Fight in the middle of the ring. Strike after strike connects from both combatants until Bate is thrown into the ropes but comes back with a powerful clothesline.
It’s so good, even the rowdy Chicago crowd couldn’t help but show their love.
Best Moment: That fistfight.
WarGames – Sanity vs. Authors of Pain + Roderick Strong vs. The Undisputed Era
NXT TakeOver: WarGames – November 18, 2017
Three teams of three. Two Rings. One steel cage.
Sit back and enjoy. This one is gonna hurt.
Originally created by the late Dusty Rhodes, this match is as brutal and as intense as its name foretells. Traditionally, two teams of four or five grapplers would choose one from each side to begin the match. After a couple short minutes, another member from one of the teams would be allowed in the rings. Minutes later, another from the other respective team would enter. This would alternate back and forth until both full teams were in the rings, and it was at this point when the real match began.
From creation in the ’80s and until its then-final use in ’97, the match would only end if a member from one of the teams expressly conceded victory. Upon this revamp, however, it was changed to include pinfalls or submissions into the mix, while also adding the stipulation that if a wrestler escaped the cage, his entire team would be forfeit from winning the match.
Got all that? No? That’s fine. Just understand that people got their bodies beat to hell in this one, and after 20 years, I was excited as all hell to see it return.
I wasn’t sure how this match would play out, honestly. The Undisputed Era was made up of three hot signees that I had no deep knowledge of, and I was curious how they’d hang in a rough match with Sanity and the Authors of Pain/Roddy Strong. Also, I missed the ceiling on the cage.
But I digress. Let’s get to the match, itself.
At the start, things are even between the three starting team members, much like the beginning of a standard Triple Threat match. I was pleased to see the Authors of Pain display their impressive power with authority. At one point, they throw every opponent from one ring to the other, then follow it up by tossing their temporary teammate Strong into the pile. AoP keeps everyone at bay for the duration of their entry period until Sanity is released from their pen. That’s when all hell finally breaks loose.
The match officially begins now. All nine competitors are in the rings. Alexander Wolfe brandishes a nightstick and starts taking out man after man, and then Killian Dane raises the bar, throwing in chairs, trash cans, chains, and Kendo sticks. The crowd lights up. They demand brutality. They demand destruction. They demand tables.
They get tables.
All that follows is carnage. Weapons are used with abandon. Bodies are thrown around like beach balls. It’s just 25 minutes of mayhem and it’s beautiful. It’s truly a match worthy of the War Games legacy that you absolutely have to watch for yourself.
Nikki Cross vs. Asuka (C) – Last Woman Standing Match for the NXT Women’s Championship
NXT TV – June 28, 2017
With the Women’s Revolution™ in full-effect up in the main WWE roster, one mustn’t forget that it all started over in NXT years ago. They had the first special event with a Women’s Main Event in the company, which was also the first 30-minute Ironwoman Match in NXT. These ladies kill it night after night, and this title match was no exception.
Nikki Cross plays her (in)Sanity character to perfection, but Asuka remained undefeated in NXT at the time of this contest and showed no signs of slowing down. To make things more exciting, this was the first Last Woman Standing match in NXT history, so the stakes were raised quite significantly.
A thing I always forget is how hard Asuka hits her opponents. I am only reminded when I hear the impact of her strikes. Kudos to Cross, though. She takes them like a champ. There are a couple of spots involving piles of steel chairs that look real painful. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t wanna get back to my feet after either of them. Of course, since we’re in a no disqualification situation, the match naturally ends up outside the ring and all over the arena, building to a climactic end involving hardware and furniture items.
Also, on an unrelated note, this was ring announcer Mauro Ranallo’s return to WWE after being away for some time, so it was cool to have him back. He does good work.
Best Moment: Ladder. Table. Suplex.
DIY vs. Authors of Pain (C) – Ladder Match for the NXT Tag Team Titles
NXT TakeOver: Chicago – May 20, 2017
At the beginning of this ever-expanding blog, I talked about how good Johnny Gargano is. Unsurprisingly, this match is his third on this list of twelve. It’s also the Authors of Pain’s third mention, which shows how strong of a year they had in the tag division.
The ladders come into play early in this one, and in some very painful ways. In fact, Ciampa lands awkwardly from a fall about seven minutes into the match and tweaks his right knee, which was later announced as a torn ACL. Still, as wrestlers do, he stayed in the match and gave it another 20 minutes or so to finish telling the story.
Speaking of storytelling, these teams do a great job of that in this bout with plenty of recoveries, momentum swings, and inventive ladder use. Even AoP’s manager, the great Paul Ellering, does his part. The angle going into this was that it might be DIY’s last shot at getting the titles back, and they gave an effort worthy of that urgency. I won’t spoil the result of the match, but I will say that this tale goes beyond the bell.
Best Moments: A DIY double-splash off a ladder onto AoP, who were lying on ladders themselves, and that sweet, sweet aftermath of the match.
Roderick Strong vs. Bobby Roode (C) for the NXT Championship
NXT TV – July 5, 2017
Roode was the NXT champion for the better part of 2017 and a great one to boot. Conversely, Strong had always seemed on the precipice of contention, but failed to make good on multiple attempts. Eventually, he got his chance at a title shot.
This match has some really good work. Strong shows off his trademark quickness and delivers a number of punishing backbreaker maneuvers, as he does. Roode is a long-time veteran in the wrestling business, and it shows in his style of pacing and move selection. Not only that, but Roode plays his heel persona quite gloriously (heh heh), performing methodical moves to his opponent and gloating in the faces of Strong’s mother and fianceé who were sitting at ringside. We even got a false finish that is called back due to a rules technicality, which never fails to get a crowd riled up.
While a lot less spot-heavy than others on this list, both guys put in solid and consistent work worthy of championship caliber and made each other look great throughout the battle. Matches are supposed to tell a story, and this one does a simple and effective job of doing so.
Best Moment: The finish.
16-Woman Battle Royal
NXT TV – October 25, 2017
Since the title was vacated after Asuka was promoted to the WWE, NXT decided to hold qualifiers for spots in a Fatal 4-Way match at TakeOver: War Games. After three spots were filled, the final spot was to be determined in this battle royal a mere 3 days before the event.
This type of match is tough to rank. Unlike a Royal Rumble where contestants slowly enter the ring in timed increments, this one starts with everyone in the ring and is basically a mess for the first 7 minutes or so. Once a few people are cleaned out, that’s when things develop a bit more clearly.
Nikki Cross was likely a strong favorite to win, and she’s able to eliminate quite a number of women in varying fashion. Bianca Belair takes advantage of her chance and displays some great strength, as well. Overall, it’s nowhere near the best match of the year, in my opinion, but it entertained me quite a bit more than I’d expected.
Best Moment: Billie Kay is saved by a hair, then suffers the consequences of her actions.
Aleister Black vs. Velveteen Dream
NXT TakeOver: Wargames – November 18, 2017
One thing I love about NXT over the WWE main product is that their rivalries feel much more organic than their big sibling’s efforts. It never feels like anything is just thrown at the wall in the hope that it sticks, but rather, feuds feel like they’re born from actual circumstances that matter.
Now, I don’t remember when this feud began, but they took at least 6 weeks building momentum for Dream vs. Black. It was a great journey that gave actual stakes and anticipation to the match.
Now, I just want to take a moment to show my undying love for Velveteen Dream’s character. It’s like a pseudo-Prince thing that’s so fun to watch. I mean, he’s got three-eyed shades, for fuck’s sake. If that doesn’t garner a response, then you’re likely dead inside. It’s impressive to see Dream at this high of a performance level given that he’s only been wrestling for three years.
But don’t get me wrong. Black is great in his own right, and these two put on a match so good, I might be inclined to call it the best of this particular TakeOver event, and that’s saying quite a lot. Everything from the feud that led to here is addressed in this match, even down to the two of them throwing their patented taunts at each other. The ringwork is great, the momentum shifts pull you in, and the crowd is invested on another level.
Don’t miss this one. You’ll be happy you didn’t.
Best Moment: The exchanging of the taunts. Also, Velveteen Dream’s tights.
Kassius Ohno vs. Johnny Gargano
NXT TV – December 6, 2017
Hey look… another match featuring good ol’ Johnny wrestling.
I told you, the man never has a bad match. The funny thing is, he never should’ve been in this one. Velveteen Dream was originally expected to face Ohno in this one but he was left on the sidelines after suffering a minor injury in his big match against Aleister Black. At least, that’s what we were told. This is wrestling, after all.
Here’s another match with two very consistent performers that both have solid technique and a good command of the crowd. Adding to that, this match was for a spot in a Fatal 4-Way for the Number One Contendership for the NXT World Title, so both men had a reason to give their all. Ohno is known for his hard striking ability and BOY HOWDY, do we get to see it on display, here. Gargano takes advantage of his quickness and size disadvantage to great extent. Not a lot of surprises in this battle, but that’s totally okay. As with some of the later matches on this list, it’s not a bad thing to just have a strong match.
Best Moment: In the middle of the match, Ohno delivers a series of strikes to Gargano that look vicious as fuck. I winced at every one of them.
Alright, we’ve made it through all twelve nominees, but what’s the best of the best? Who takes the crown for the entirety of the year in NXT? I’ll admit, I thought this list was very front-loaded, with 6 strong contenders right off the bat. As I made my way thru the list in my rewatches, I felt a lot of the later ones just didn’t hold my attention as much. I also realized that it was no coincidence that Johnny Gargano was in a full third of the list. He really is that good and every time he’s scheduled to go, I get legitimately excited. The Tag Team division is also really, really good and it wouldn’t be wrong to go with one of their many fantastic fights.
It was a strong year with so many strong matches, but there can only be one Top Match of 2017. The following is my final rankings, from “Least Best” to “Most Bestest.”
12 – Roderick Strong vs. Bobby Roode
11 – 16-Woman Battle Royal
10 – Kassius Ohno vs. Johnny Gargano
9 – Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Drew McIntyre
8 – Nikki Cross vs. Asuka
7 – WarGames: Sanity vs. Authors of Pain + Roderick Strong vs. The Undisputed Era
6 – Ember Moon vs. Asuka
5 – DIY vs. Authors of Pain
4 – Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas
3 – Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate
2 – DIY vs. The Revival vs. Authors of Pain
And finally, YOUR NXT Best Match of 2017 is…
Aleister Black Vs. Velveteen Dream.
This match is an instant classic, and one I plan to go back to regularly. Granted, I totally love everything about Velveteen Dream, but Aleister Black is growing on me. I can’t help but cheer for every minute, every knee-to-the face, every taunt that the competitors give. Their match psychology just sucks you right in and never lets go, and hearing the crowd go nuts for both competitors makes it all the more enjoyable.
I haven’t even addressed their ringwork, yet, which is next-level in this bout. Black’s strikes are vicious, and Dream makes them look even more destructive with some expert selling. of course, when Dream goes on offense, it looks brutal but in an oddly graceful way. His movements really play into his persona, and that’s a thing a lot of young wrestlers don’t get a feel for so early in their careers. At one point, Dream lays Black over his bent leg and transitions it into a high-impact DDT that looks damn near crippling.
It truly is the best example that NXT has to show off why the promotion is something special. WWE stars can attest that their time is NXT is sacred, and while the likes of Finn Balor, Sasha Banks, and Kevin Owens are no longer there, superstars like Aleister Black and Velveteen Dream are right there to continue building NXT’s legacy with remarkable matches like this one.
And with that, I bid thee farewell. Stop reading my dumb words and go watch all of these matches. Pay the $9.99 (per month) and treat yo self. Or just piggyback on someone else’s WWE Network subscription. Either way, make it happen.
And that’s the bottom line, cuz… well, cuz it’s the last one I wrote.