As the WWE starts its TV week, we look at the week and a few heel turn teases.
[Updated] The winner of 2017 was A.J. Styles. He consistently gave good matches and put his opponents over. He gave Jinder Mahal his best televised match of the year and made him compelling—something few other wrestlers did. He started the year as a heel and was a convincing heel, but once he turned face, he was a clear, convincing face. He took shortcuts when he was a bad guy and stayed on the straight and narrow as a face. Through it all, he got the appropriate heat or love from the crowd, and as a face, he hasn’t been so smarmy that the crowds reflexively turn against him.
That kind of clarity is rare in the WWE right now. Raw’s top storyline has the heel Kane feuding with Brock Lesnar, who still gets heel promos cut on his behalf by Paul Heyman, and Braun Strowman, who started this year’s run by bullying GM Kurt Angle into putting him in matches with people that he massacred. On Smackdown Live, Styles is in a program with Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, and while he eats losses week after week due to the confusion around him, Styles remains the one sane, moral point in an otherwise messy storyline. At the end of last week’s match, he called out McMahon and Bryan for their distracting bickering, positioning himself as the one adult in program. But despite the convoluted program, Styles has had good matches with Owens and Zayn. Both are good workers, but Zayn is clearly the junior partner on the WWE pecking order, but Styles put him over like a potential champion.
- The WWE’s tease for Monday night’s Raw asks, “What’s next for Finn Balor and his ‘good brothers’?” Last week, he teamed with heels Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, who he teamed with in Japan before coming to the WWE. Their match against The Miztourage and Elias didn’t make it clear if he was going to turn heel or they were going to turn face. Since Gallows and Anderson have been generic tough guys since coming to the WWE, they haven’t established strong personas that might make a turn challenging, and since Balor had a more devilish smile during the segment you could imagine him going the other way. Still, they’re fighting The Miztourage, and The Miz returns this week. He’s one of the WWE’s most reliable heels, so it’s hard to imagine Balor moving that way.
- Another heel turn question: Will Chad Gable and Sheldon Benjamin turn? After being handed the tag team belts after beating The Usos on Smackdown Live, they had them pulled after a video replay revealed that neither the pinning nor the pinned wrestler was the legal man in the ring. Gable took some shortcuts a few months ago that seem to have been forgotten in recent weeks, but will getting the title and having the match restarted and losing the belt going to turn them? Since The Usos are heels in intro patter only, Smackdown Live could use some heel tag teams.
- It’s sad to see Nia Jax reduced to a comedy act; it’s less so to see Rusev and Aiden English become one.
- Want to see how compelling clarity can be? Check the Chris Jericho/Kenny Omega match for NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 12. We knew from the outset that Omega would win, but knowing the end didn’t change anything. The fun was in the getting there, and making the match so exciting that you popped for the outcome even though you knew it. The two told a great story, and Jericho was a heel in actions, not just words. It wasn’t a match about high spots, even though it had them. The two put on a brawl that was endlessly entertaining, and included what will likely be the Move of the Year, even though we’re only in January: Jericho put the referee’s son in the Walls of Jericho! Someone will have to dig deep to think of something crazier that torturing a ref by punishing his family.
Updated January 12, 5:48 a.m.
This story was initially titled "A.J. Styles Wins 2018," and while that's possible, it should have been titled "A.J. Styles Wins 2017" and now is.