January 16, 2018

2017, W(w)e Hard[L]y [K]New(jpw) Ye(hi, Fred)

Ummmm get it?  I think my zeal for wordplay has been outpaced by my ineptitude at... wordplay.

So, it's two weeks into January, and every wrestling pundit on the net besides us posted their year-end thoughts at least a month ago.  I think I wrote one in October once.  But how mature, how self-possessed we must be to allow ourselves some breathing room to really savor and dwell on the entirety of the past 12 months, to really challenge ourselves to take in a broad scope of understanding, meditate on it, and then pick apart some nuance and delve into the finer details during this time of reflection.  Or, maybe I've just been procrastinating writing this, which feels more obligatory than imperative.

That's not to say there hasn't been plenty to be excited about this year, it's just that most of it has already been lauded to the point of exhaustion, with the 5 stars, 6 stars, 7 stars, etcetera.  Let this post serve not to beat a dead horse, but to serve posterity as being the shiniest beacon of pure, wholesome, horribly marky and beautifully jaded pro-wresting fan drivel in the blogosphere: Quarter Marshall's Annual Opinion-o-thon!

Match of the Year: Of course it's going to be an Okada match.  His run with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (which predates 2017, and continues to present) is on everybody's short-list of 2017 highlights, and I'm toward the front of the mark parade, waving the Rainmaker flag right next to Gedo.  Okada's my favorite wrestler working today, there's no doubt about it.  I mean, I think there are some other performers who have Okada's storytelling ability (AJ, Tanahashi, and Asuka might top that list), but being top player in New Japan means you have the best spot to tell great in-ring stories, and Okada's been knocking it out of the park with what's regularly being called the best title run in wrestling history.  The most talked-about of his matches (at least in the Western hemisphere) were the trilogy against Kenny Omega, an amazing series which will go down in history.  Other title defenses this year included Minoru Suzuki, Bad Luck Fale, Evil , and Cody, bookended by 2016 and 2018 classics with Naito.  (Also, let the record show there was a great defense against Naomichi Marufuji in late 2016.)  My personal pick, a sentimental selection for favorite match of 2017, was his defense against Katsuyori Shibata.  Likely his last match due to head injury sustained therein, Shibata's performance felt like the epitome of a swansong- a phrase referring to an ancient belief that a swan would let out a beautiful call before its death, after having been silent for most of its life.  The match told a beautiful story, with the crowd playing an integral part, as they loudly shifted favorites as the energies of the wrestlers waxed and waned.  By the final stretch, with Shibata embodying the fighting spirit, and Okada selling his ass off but seemingly unbeatable, the crowd was firmly in Shibata's corner, but after the three count, and Okada's arm was raised, they were still totally into it.  It was just an epic story Shibata and Okada told in the ring, one of the only matches I've re-watched this year, and I think the only match I've watched three times.  I believe that it would be my top match even if Shibata hadn't been retired by it, but I have to admit that aspect makes it a sentimental favorite on top of it already being being a pure storytelling/great pro-wrestling classic.

Wrestler of the Year: I don't really have one singled out.  I've already extolled the storytelling prowess of Okada, and admitted he's my favorite wrestler.  Kenny Omega is perseveringly innovative and has maybe the best offense I've ever seen.  AJ Styles is the "Five Star Match with a Broomstick" candidate for worker of the year.  I'm looking at Asuka, Samoa Joe, Neville, Suzuki, Naito, Tanahashi... some people are saying Reigns and Strowman, I've got three words for them: Wha.  Te.  Ver.  There are great talents and performances all over, but it's impossible to compete with the storytelling platform of the New Japan main event.  Gun to my head, it's Okada, but the case can be made for Omega, and Styles even being in the conversation says tons about his ability to rise above cable tv mediocrity.

WWE Matches of the Year: Since I'm biased against their (usually homogenized) match style, I would like to draw attention to some favorite 2017 matches of mine.  Firstly, Abbey Laith vs Jazzy Gabert from round one, day one of the Mae Young Classic.  This is a great example of a match that you could show to a non-fan, where they'd probably "get it", with Abbey being the obvious underdog, but bringing the noise to the fight, showing tremendous in-ring work and emotion throughout.  From the way she hopelessly sells Gabert's offense to the way she plants her feet when throwing forearms, Laith might have my vote for babyface performance of the year.  I had goosebumps and Alice and I were kinda choked up by the finish, even the second time we watched it together.  This set the bar high for the rest of the tournament, and for my money was best of the whole event, Kairi Sane vs Toni Storm notwithstanding.  Other WWE standout matches: Samoa Joe vs Brock Lesnar.  AJ Styles vs Brock Lesnar.  Does that make it sound like Brock Lesnar is WWE wrestler of the year?  No way.  There's probably some NXT stuff which belongs on the short-list.  Aleister Black vs Velveteen Dream?  Lars Sullivan vs Demitrius Bronson?  The reality of my lovelife which surrounds me vs Nikki Cross?

I wish I had more to say about ROH.  It isn't their fault they keep getting talent-raided by WWE, but the fact remains that my fandom has fallen off a lot this year.  I still tune in for the big shows, and they're always enjoyable, but not enough to get me back into watching weekly, which is dumb of me because when I was a bigger fan, I preferred their tv to their ppvs.  Maybe it just comes down to the amount of time I have to watch wrestling.  It's not like I'm watching Raw or Smackdown, either.

I think Jim Cornette was involved with Impact in 2017.  Now Don "the Jackyl" "Cyrus the Virus" "Mark-for-himself Jerkoff" Callous is in the mix.  Billy Corgan bought NWA.  Chris Jericho had a helluvarun, especially if the first week of 2018 is factored in.  Some people died, probably.  Really important people I can't recall at the moment, but whose presence will be felt across the industry for all time god bless them.  WWE fired Emma those basterds.  Austin Aries leaves WWE by choice and talks about what a great decision it was because his schedule's way easier and he makes more money.  This becomes a really interesting topic of conversation, as the non-WWE path is perceived as a viable alternative, with the Young Bucks being flag-bearers of lucrative indie opportunities, with their (and other Bullet Club members') merch being top sellers at Hot Topics across our great nation of shitty malls.  Daniel Bryan keeps talking about wanting to wrestle again.

In all, we've seen wrestling evolve and improve.  New records were set, and we even had multiple contenders (per Meltzer) for best match of all time, which sounds like hyperbole, but I think is not outside the realm of reason.  Looking at this year from 2007 would be insane.  <3QM