WWE women’s wrestling continued to have its ups and down in 2017. On one hand, there was the Mae Young Classic, which was great. On the other hand, James Ellsworth climbed the ladder at the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Match.
But I’m here to focus on the positive, and take a long look at the best women’s matches that WWE, NXT, and the Mae Young Classic had to offer in 2017. I’ve put them in chronological order, because I can’t bring myself to rank them from best to worst (they’re all so good!).
Runners-up include Ember Moon vs Asuka at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III, Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler in the Mae Young Classic finals, and the fatal four-way for the NXT Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: WarGames. I had to make tough decisions here, but I stand by these ten matches. On to the list!
Becky Lynch vs Alexa Bliss Steel Cage Match — Smackdown Live, January 17
It’s amazing how fast wrestling moves in a year. If you’d told me that Mickie James made her full-time return to WWE in 2017, I’d have told you no way; she’s been back for at least a year and a half. But in fact here she is, grinning as Becky pulls off the La Luchadora mask (remember that angle?). That reveal makes up for the screwy finish of this otherwise pretty great steel cage match.
Becky Lynch didn’t get nearly enough moments to shine in 2017, but she looked great here, and so did Alexa. Ignore all of the commentary team’s hype about “these women making history tonight,” and the match really does feel pretty historic.
Naomi vs Alexa Bliss — Elimination Chamber 2017
This was the first time Naomi won the Smackdown Women’s Championship, before she had to give it up due to injury — and then immediately healed and won it back.
More than just about anyone else on the roster, Naomi really had to claw her way to the top of Women’s Division over a long and frustrating period of time. In this match, you can really see how far her in-ring work has come, and you can hear how over she is with the crowd. “You deserve it” chants may be too common these days, but the chants and belt were certainly deserved in Naomi’s case. In that amazing moment, we could all feel the glow.
Bayley vs Charlotte — Monday Night Raw, February 13
Put yourself back in an early-2017 mindset, when it wasn’t yet a truism on the wrestling internet that main roster booking had ruined Bayley for good. When the Extreme Rules “Kendo Stick on a Pole” match hadn’t happened, and Bayley still felt like the beloved Bayley of NXT. And also, of course, when Charlotte was still a bad guy.
Just forget everything that’s happened since, and watch these two talented wrestlers put on a great match. Watch the girl who loves wrestling more than anyone else defeat the evil queen to become Raw Women’s Champion. Sure, there’s a little bit of outside interference on both sides, which became much more of a focus as time went on. But this is a truly great match, and well worth a revisit with fresh eyes.
Women’s Gauntlet Match — Monday Night Raw, June 26
This was the match that really got Nia Jax over as a powerhouse, as she took out Bayley, Mickie James, Emma, and Dana Brooke all in a row. But it’s only then, when Sasha Banks enters, that the real match begins.
If this was just a Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks match without the other four women, it would still be a match of the year contender. Making it the final chapter of a gauntlet match just gives it that much more impact, and of course also keeps Nia looking pretty strong since she’d already fought off four other wrestlers before Sasha made her tap. Sure, this match is kind of a low point for Bayley, Mickie, Emma, and Dana, but that’s the nature of the Gauntlet Match.
Nikki Cross vs. Asuka Last Woman Standing Match — NXT, June 28
As I mentioned above, I chose not to rank these matches against each other. But if you want to know which one is my absolute favorite, it’s this match, hands down. Asuka is an unstoppable wrestling machine, and Nikki Cross is a beserker embodiment of chaotic brutality, and this is the match they were born to have.
Asuka wins, of course, because Asuka always wins, but Nikki takes the Empress of Tomorrow to her absolute limit like almost nobody ever has. These two throw each other into every surface in Full Sail, and hit each other with anything they can lift. Asuka puts Nikki in a trash can and kicks the can so hard it leaves dents, and that’s not even the most brutal-looking part. Ultimately a match like this isn’t even about winning, it’s about surviving just long enough for the bell to ring.
Jazzy Gabert vs Abbey Laith — Mae Young Classic, Episode 1
This match made two stars, even if we’re still waiting for either of them to have another chance to shine. Jazzy Gabert was one of the most visually compelling and unique wrestlers going into the Mae Young Classic, and pretty much won everyone over immediately. Abbey Laith used to be Kimber Lee, one of the biggest female stars in indie wrestling, and this is her introduction to a WWE audience.
Jazzy is clearly the monster, and it becomes obvious early on that she’s going to dominate. But then something kind of amazing happens—Abbey rallies and fights back. A perfect underdog story—the sort that usually takes months to tell—happens in just one match.
It was sad to see Jazzy eliminated from the tournament so early, but she was over with the crowd from the moment she entered the arena. Being able to defeat a much larger and stronger opponent (something she specialized in on the indie circuit) is what gets Abbey over as well. She’s still waiting to get TV time on NXT, but this match made me even more excited for her time to come. And Jazzy’s dealing with an injury that kept her from getting signed, but hopefully her time will eventually come as well.
Sarah Logan vs Mia Yim — Mae Young Classic, Episode 2
If you’re not too sure about Sarah Logan as a marble-mouthed member of the Riott Squad, revisit this match to remind yourself of her potential. Sarah’s another former indie superstar (the former Crazy Mary Dobson), and even though she didn’t make it past this match, she came out of it looking great. Mia Yim is a former Impact star (under the name Jade), and watching her Mae Young Classic work will make you wish she was signed with WWE as well.
This match is both brutal and technical, with both women holding their own before Mia eventually gets the win. It lacks the high drama of a lot of the entries on this list, but this is exactly the sort of competitive, straightforward match I’d love to see more of in the WWE women’s division.
Kairi Sane vs Bianca Belair — Mae Young Classic, Episode 5
Everyone knew Kairi Sane was going to come out of the Mae Young Classic as a huge star, but Bianca Belair was the breakout nobody saw coming. Whereas Kairi was already a big star in Japan, Bianca is a product of the WWE Performance Center, a former track and field athlete with barely more than a year of wrestling experience. And while Sane is an amazing wrestling with natural babyface charisma and the most beautiful elbow drop of all time, Bianca is a natural heel with unmatched athleticism and a hair-whipping gimmick that gets heat every time.
Both of these competitors had nothing but good matches in the Mae Young Classic, but the main reason I chose this one between the two of them is that Kairi’s ability to sell meshes with Bianca’s stiff-looking strikes to create an incredibly painful-looking match in which Kairi’s eventual victory feels all the more dramatic, despite her opponent’s lack of experience.
Billie Kay and Peyton Royce vs Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross — NXT, October 4
First of all, Billie and Peyton are the absolute best pair of mean-girl misanthropes who adore each other, and any chance to see them perform together is a delight. Secondly, Ruby and Nikki had already had a brutal feud by this time, so the storyline of Nikki (who’d recently gone from heel to tweener with the rest of SAnitY) deciding she wants to be Ruby’s best friend and turning up to help her out whether she wants it or not is just a fantastic angle. Sadly, it’s a story that got cut short by Ruby getting called up to Smackdown and turning heel along the way, but the moment in this match when she finally gives in and reaches out to Nikki still stands out as some beautiful drama. Plus, Peyton’s petulant reaction to a near-fall is easily the best Peyton Royce facial expression since that time she caught a glimpse of Emma’s offscreen box of Tim Tams.
Paige vs Sasha Banks — Monday Night Raw, December 4
Once of the most exciting moments this year that wasn’t a match was Paige’s return to Monday Night Raw after more than a year away. But the question lingered: Could she still work, or had a combination of injury and ring rust dulled her in-ring shine? Two weeks later, we got our answer, and it was the one we were all hoping for: Paige still rules. Her match with Sasha Banks was given plenty of time, and lacked the amount of interference from Absolution that everyone was kind of expecting.
In other words, this was a real match, and a great one, between two of the most exciting women wrestlers in WWE. Paige may have already been injured again since this encounter, but hopefully she recovers quickly so that we get more great matches like this in 2018.