The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era coming soon!
”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: From ‘Mania 33 to ‘Mania 34, who was the best main-eventer, mid-carder, women’s wrestler, tag team, and special attraction?
Every year around this time, the NBA releases its All Pro teams, three groups of five starting line-ups featuring the best guards, forwards, and centers in the league from the regular season. I found particular interest in them when I was a young basketball fan, being analytical even then about ranking and filing history, and then when Bill Simmons wrote his book in 2009 and I read that his pyramid Hall of Fame player hierarchy took great stock of the All NBA teams in shaping the tiers through which he ranked the all-timers, it only served to support the value that I personally placed in the All Pro announcements as snapshots of the regular season that was.
So, this will be the WWE equivalent, across the time period that we hold as fans to be the “season” in sports entertainment from WrestleMania to WrestleMania, particularly for today’s purposes the days following The Showcase of the Immortals in 2017 through WrestleMania 34 just recently in New Orleans. The All WWE “teams” are comprised of a top star who best exhibited the qualities of a main-eventer, a mid-carder who added considerable depth to the product, a leading female who advanced the continued big picture evolution of the women’s division, a duo that best represented the consistent maintenance of tag team relevance, and a special attraction who added a historic punch to proceedings without significantly taking away from the core roster whose job it was for him to boost at big events. First-teamers will be discussed with brief honorable mentions for the second and third teamers.
The All WWE Teams
Main-Event: Due to AJ Styles doing a lot less in the character department of top end value as compared to his previous season, when he was the unquestioned MVP of WWE and the ’16/’17 first-team headliner, this spot goes to the most consistent main-event star of last season, Braun Strowman, who may not have held his brand’s top championship, but was widely considered one of the best parts of Raw while rarely leaving the brightest spotlight. Be it memorable feats of strength, never being finished with Roman Reigns, giving all and sundry “These Hands,” and competing either in the top billed match or in a match for the Universal Title on six different occasions, Strowman was front and center most Monday and occasional Sunday nights. His persona got over, he produced several very well thought of matches, and he generally by any metric was one of the five most important WWE stars across the totality of the twelve month stretch.
Second Team: AJ Styles, Third Team: Roman Reigns
Mid-Card: In one of the closer races of the determination process, Seth Rollins made a strong push given his work in a wide variety of roles including the most emotionally engaging angle of the year with Dean Ambrose (deserving of mention in his own right) and one of the most intriguing stories that was cut short from being fully fleshed out with Jason Jordan, but the clear answer was still The Miz when all was said and done. How well he carried the Intercontinental Championship throughout the year on Raw was incredibly impressive. Nobody was more important to beefing up the three hour program with strong microphone work than him and nobody truthfully had better singles mid-card matches than him. He was a workhorse in every sense of the expression. Again, Rollins kept it close by way of his own integral role on Raw combined with his seizing of a greater share of the spotlight during the Big 4 months, but Miz was basically the foundation of the red brand last season.
Second Team: Seth Rollins, Third Team: Finn Balor
Female: A new talent emerged at the peak of the Women’s Evolution in WWE after WrestleMania 33, and she proved to be the Goddess of the Raw women’s division for a full season, taking the title off of Bayley right from the start and carrying it into New Orleans. Charlotte Flair, in a division weakened considerably by group-think booking that struggled to allow any one particular individual to shine for very long, found herself right in the thick of the First-Team discussion on account of a greater peak, specifically speaking of her arguable biggest women’s match in WrestleMania lore against the previously undefeated Asuka, who along with Nia Jax and Natalya Neidhart made good cases for the second and third team spots. Does Charlotte’s awesome mid-card classic that some say stole the show at Mania (her second such instance in three years) vault her ahead of Bliss, who regularly put on rock solid three-star matches across the physical year being evaluated? Given the strength of Alexa’s character and her ability to get it done on the microphone at a level at least a notch or two greater than Charlotte and the rest of their peers, I say “No.” Alexa Bliss makes the first team.
Second Team: Charlotte Flair, Third Team: Natalya Neidhart
Tag Team: Three teams were magnificent across the entire season and one was arguably transcendent for the period that it shared the limelight to make the trio a quartet. It was a generationally significant year for tag team wrestling, in 2017 particularly, and The Usos, The New Day, The Bar, and The Shield-ish (Ambrose and Rollins) all deserve a share of the credit for how much it added to the product and for how much it served as a reminder for what tag team wrestling should and could be. The Hounds take a backseat to the other three only because they teamed for just a few months, but who among the chosen few deserved the top spot? Jimmy and Jey were just awesome, but they also confined their awesomeness to just one rivalry, whereas Cesaro and Sheamus had a good feud with The Hardy Boys before the great storyline featuring Rollins and Ambrose; and New Day, in addition to the all-time great Usos series, also had a fantastic match with The Shield at Survivor Series. The Usos were just on another level, though, as an engaging act that provided entertainment held in high esteem to compliment their hopefully trailblazing in-ring exploits.
Second Team: The New Day, Third Team: The Bar
Special Attraction: The definition truly shapes the first teamer, as it is not someone you would initially think of frankly. Brock Lesnar is the obvious first team candidate that immediately jumps to mind, given the more frequent role he played in the ring compared to most of the other part-timers, but he took a lot away from Raw by not being around much and by having lousy, formulaic Beast Mode matches against Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, and Kane. The Raw main-event often felt out of sync without a champion – creatively handicapped. Triple H was very valuable whenever he was around, but only on the Road to WrestleMania was his presence felt much at all. Others like John Cena, The Big Red Monster, and Shane McMahon had their moments, but could quite easily be construed to have taken more away than they offered in return. The answer, then, is actually Kurt Angle. Our Olympic Hero not only played a decent authority figure on Raw that helped cleanse the palate from Stephanie McMahon’s repetitive overuse in 2016, but his storyline with Jason Jordan was far more interesting than it had any right to be given its premise and he performed quite well in limited in-ring action, especially with Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania.
Second Team: Triple H, Third Team: Brock Lesnar