Well, 2017 was a wild year in the world of professional wrestling, but it's finally drawing to a close.
Over the course of 12 months, the WWE on ESPN staff has watched hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of wrestling programming, and we've seen the best (and worst) of it all. In recognition of the greatest achievements inside the squared circle in 2017, we got together to make our picks in 10 categories, covering individual performances, teams, rivalries and shows.
We've hit the final stage of our year-end superlatives, and we wrap up our "Best of 2017" coverage with our picks for best female wrestler of the year
Let's dig in.
Asuka is the female performer of the year primarily because of her stellar NXT performances in the first half of 2017 -- but she also gets major points for wrapping up a legacy-defining run as NXT women's champion that dates back to 2016. At 523 days, Asuka blew away almost all of the modern title reigns in the WWE and only a few women even came close to dethroning her during that stretch. While Asuka's legend was built upon her TakeOver matches in 2016, her last two title defenses as NXT women's champion stand out as two of the best women's matches of 2017.
The first, a Last Woman Standing match on NXT TV in June against Nikki Cross, was an intensely physical contest that started with stiff strikes and built into so much more. Cross powerbombed Asuka into a pile of steel chairs on the outside of the ring, and hit an intensified version of her fisherman's neckbreaker on the floor with Asuka's legs draped on the steel guardrail. Asuka seemed destined to fall, but she fought up just before the 10 and set herself up for victory with a vertical suplex off the top of a ladder through the commentary table.
Asuka's final NXT women's title defense against Ember Moon in Brooklyn seemed to put her even closer to the end of her reign, as Moon threw everything she had at the champ. When Moon hit the Eclipse, which had put away every single opponent who had crossed her path to that point, Brooklyn was ready for a title change -- only for Asuka to kick out at the very last second.
Asuka tried to use the referee and a handful of tights, as she had in her previous defense against Moon, but the match finally ended when a seemingly prone Asuka caught an overconfident Moon in an Asuka Lock out of nowhere. An injury and the relinquishing of her title had Asuka out for two months, but after taking a little time to get her legs underneath her on Raw, Asuka is back on the path of dominance -- and big things seem to be inevitable for the "Empress of Tomorrow" heading into 2018. She has to be the favorite heading into the first ever women's Royal Rumble match. (Tim Fiorvanti)
In this day and age, a title reign that lasts more than half a year seems almost unheard of, given how many talented performers are at the peak of their careers. But what Asuka accomplished in her 523-day reign as NXT women's champion transcended her character before she even made her main roster debut. Since her WWE debut, she has not been defeated, and she's already making waves after becoming the sole survivor of a women's match at Survivor Series that featured six former WWE women's champions.
The aura of invincibility was built up early on in various Takeover title defenses, but the one that stands out the most was against Ember Moon at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III. Many members of the NXT Universe thought that would be the moment Asuka would be toppled, especially after Moon landed her Eclipse finisher. But Asuka persevered, putting Moon in the Asuka Lock to grab a piece of NXT immortality as she relinquished the title to move to Raw.
Other options in this category are understandable, but they've all lost. Asuka is unbeaten in 2017 in NXT and WWE. "The Empress of Tomorrow" is here to stay -- and we might just be having the same conversation this time next year. (Andrew Davis)
Asuka is the best wrestler in the world based on her undefeated streak alone. Every time she steps into the ring, she is poised to make history. The term "future Hall of Famer" is used way too much these days, but it definitely applies here. Given her undefeated streak, her 523-day NXT women's championship reign and her growing list of critically acclaimed matches, she will be receiving a Hall of Fame ring one day. And since she only recently moved to the main roster, it's safe to say the best is yet to come. So for now she just has to settle for being 2017's best women's wrestler. (Greg Hyde)
It's incredibly difficult to have a long title reign and still make the fans hang on the big moments in every match, but Asuka did just that. In this year, alone she passed Goldberg's win streak and Rockin' Robin's modern day WWE women's championship record. And we still wanted more. Her clashes with Ember Moon gave us drama, and her Fatal 4-Way title defense at NXT Takeover: Chicago brought the crowd to its feet. Asuka conquered her way through NXT, and in the early stages of her time on Monday Night Raw, she has continued to do the same thing. (Sachin Dave Chandan)
No woman on the Raw, SmackDown or NXT rosters has been more valuable than Asuka in 2017. Even putting the 529-day title reign aside, impressive as it is, Asuka helped get the NXT women's roster through a team of upheaval during which a number of performers were called to the main roster as the women's ranks in NXT were thinned. She carried the title and kept it interesting, and it's near-impossible work to have such a long title reign without it seeming stagnant. Along the way, she made competitors like Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Ruby Riott and Nikki Cross seem bigger just by entering title feuds with them. (Matt Willis)
Alexa Bliss is a two-time Raw women's champion and a two-time SmackDown women's champion, and she has won all four titles since last December. She has been the focal point of the women's division on both shows throughout 2017, and she has improved each time she has stepped into the ring. Her arrogant, holier-than-thou character is spot-on, and fans that have watched this season of Total Divas have seen that her character is a complete 180 from her real personality, making it an even more impressive feat. Bliss is the best performer the women's division has, and her in-ring skills are quickly approaching that level as well. (Joey Koontz)
Listen, Asuka is impressive and really the only other potential candidate for this spot. She's going to be the star of 2018, but Alexa Bliss has been the female performer of 2017. Just like The Miz, mostly every single significant storyline in the women's division has revolved around her. She's held the title, on one brand or another, for pretty much the whole year, and ran through the division because there's really nobody else who can really leada women's division with the title the way she can right now.
As I mentioned a few days ago in "Most Improved", she did have a few hiccups, but her promo work has become must-see and her in-ring work has dramatically improved over the past year. (Andrew Feldman)
Bliss is the first woman in the company to hold both the Smackdown and Raw women's championships, and in 2017 she proved that, more importantly, she should be considered a top talent in the company, right up there with Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks. Her arrogance, style and ability to improvise on the mic (doing more to combat the WHAT? WHAT? WHAT? chants than anyone else) put her promos on another level compared to every other woman on the roster. If the Survivor Series match with Flair is any indication of the future, Bliss will remain in the upper echelon of performers for years to come. (Pete Ferlazo)
Not only is Charlotte Flair the best female performer in the WWE today, but she has already made a case to enter the all-time great conversation. 2017 was yet another example of that. Charlotte entered the year as the Raw women's champion -- a title she held four times -- and later on in the year, Flair defeated Natalya to become the SmackDown women's champion.
Flair became just the second superstar to have held both championships, and the only superstar in history to have held the NXT women's championship, Divas championship, Raw women's championship and SmackDown women's championship. On top of all that, she defeated current Raw women's champion Alexa Bliss at Survivor Series, which marked her 21st career WWE pay-per-view win. That's a big number by any measure, as she zoomed passed her father, Ric Flair, on that all-time list. What a year for Charlotte. (Sean Coyle)
Sure, roll your eyes at this selection, but when I look around the wrestling landscape and think of what it means to be impactful, Natalya comes out on top. She doesn't have the clout of Charlotte Flair or the overall oomph factor of so many others, but Natalya, more than anyone else, gave the women's division some direction and stability for a number of months.
That was particularly impactful on SmackDown, where she broke free from the various factions that ultimately hurt the brand to re-establish herself as a bona fide star. Will she get her title back? Probably not, but for 2017, Natalya not only made the leap from mid-carder to champ, but she helped streamline the blue brand's women direction, which was in a state of chaos. (Matt Wilansky)