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    Sunday, December 31, 2017

    31 Days of Wrestling (12/31/17): AJ Styles vs. Brock Lesnar

    Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2017 produced for us.

    To close off our year-in-review columns, allow me, the ever so handsome and severely delusional #NitPickRick, to introduce you arguably the best match of the year. What happens when the Beast Incarnate meets the Phenomenal One? Hold onto your hats because we saved the best for last.

    It all started when then-WWE Champion Jinder Mahal challenged Universal Champion Brock Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. They tried to market this as a “dream” match and for weeks, WWE really believed this was a great idea. Luckily, fans saw through this pathetic attempt to further shove Jinder down our throats and expressed their disdain over the decision. Because really, who the hell asked for a Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal match? Absolutely no one. Jinder is nowhere near Brock’s level, and an overnight push will never fix that. I feel like I’ve hammered this point a thousand times now.

    Seeing the trainwreck they were about to create (and because Brock Lesnar allegedly said no), WWE pulled a quick 180 and had AJ Styles beat Jinder for the title, weeks before the much-hyped PPV. On the November 7 episode of SmackDown Live in UK, Styles captured his second WWE Championship. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief, not only because the best wrestler of the brand was crowned champion, but because Creative can finally start making WWE Championship great again. And what better way to kickstart this initiative by facing Brock Lesnar in a high profile showdown of world champions at Survivor Series?

    They only had one week to sell the match, but it was all they really needed. Master promo man Paul Heyman dished out backhanded compliments to the Phenomenal One neatly wrapped in five bullet points. Meanwhile, beloved indie man Daniel Bryan took the role of honorary advocate for AJ Styles as D-Bry countered Heyman with an equally rousing promo that made us wish Bryan was active again. Suddenly, the Survivor Series card got way too stacked. Aside from the overbooked Team RAW vs. Team SmackDown, everyone was excited to see Styles take on Lesnar, a dream match no one thought they needed.

    If you haven’t seen this match for whatever reason, I highly recommend you go watch and judge for yourself, because I’m sure my words won’t give it justice. But screw it, I’m gonna try anyway. It’s a classic David-Goliath bout, except Goliath was an unstoppable beast and a stone ain’t enough to take him down. That’s how the match started as Lesnar toyed with Styles for the majority of the match. Styles waited for an opportunity to strike and he got it when Lesnar tweaked his knee, changing the tone of the match drastically. As Heyman eloquently pointed out, speed kills, and Styles was speed personified.

    But speed wasn’t enough either. Styles pulled out all his best moves to try and conquer the beast, but Lesnar had all the strength in the world to counter him. In the end, an F5 sealed the deal for Styles as Lesnar proved his status as the most dominant world champion in WWE. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying on Styles’ side. Lesnar had to walk out limping like he injured the tweaked knee, only for dirt sheets to confirm a few days later that he was, in fact, just selling. When the match ended, no one really cared who won. All the people cared about was the fact that they witnessed an instant classic.

    What I loved about this match was the amount of respect Lesnar and Heyman gave to Styles. For Lesnar’s part, he wrestled more minutes than he normally would. He didn’t do that for Samoa Joe, Goldberg, or even Roman Reigns (I think?) and I’m not counting his minutes in his fatal 4-way at SummerSlam because he rested backstage. Lesnar worked harder than we’ve ever seen him work just to sell the damage Styles caused and elevate his star power even further. Heyman then showered Styles compliments and praises in an online promo so rousing, you’d think he’s applying to be Styles’ advocate.

    And as for Jinder Mahal, things worked out well for him, too. He may have failed to fulfill his destiny as a Beastmaster, but he did receive something his push was lacking—a concrete in-ring identity. Losing the WWE Championship gave Jinder a chance to work out his weaknesses without the overbearing pressure of being champ. Feuding with AJ Styles helped the Maharajah establish himself as an intellectual brute; a powerhouse who knows how to use his resources and exploit his opponent’s weak spots to win matches. If you want proof, look no further than their latest encounter at Clash of Champions. They basically took this template but replaced Lesnar with Jinder and changed the outcome, yet it still worked like a charm.

    The MOTY of any given year should stand the test of time and should resonate with any type of fan, casuals or hardcore fans alike. For 2017, this match is definitely my pick. It told a simple story of heart, determination, and dominance in a way that will keep you on the edge of your seats. And sure, this match almost snagged the MOTY in our year-ender awards, but since I have yet to learn the difference between a Bullet Club and a Suzuki Gun (my new year’s resolution right there), you excuse your old nitpicky pal Ricky for choosing a more mainstream match. I should really start broadening my horizons, huh?


    31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2017.

    Read our previous entries:

    1. The Okada/Omega Trilogy
    2. Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 33)
    3. The Mae Young Classic Finals
    4. Billy Suede vs. Jake De Leon (Wrevolution X 2017)
    5. WarGames
    6. Prince Puma vs. Pentagon Dark (Ultima Lucha Tres)
    7. Fatal Four Way for the WWE Universal Championship (SummerSlam 2017)
    8. Manami Toyota's Retirement
    9. Jinder Mahal Wins the WWE Championship
    10. Roman Reigns Tries To Take The Torch (No Mercy 2017)
    11. Hanzello Shilva vs. Aldrin Richards (MWF Balikbayan 2017)
    12. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega (G1 Climax 27 Finals)
    13. The Implosion of #DIY
    14. Ubusan ng Lahi (PWR Vendetta 2017)
    15. The First (and Second) Women's Money in the Bank
    16. Cody Rhodes Wins the Ring of Honor World Championship
    17. The Beginning of the Zo Train Era
    18. Killshot vs. Dante Fox, Hell Of War (Ultima Lucha Tres)
    19. The 16-Time Champ is Here
    20. Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii (G1 Special)
    21. Kurt Angle Joins The Shield for the TLC Main Event
    22. Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne (NXT Takeover: Chicago)
    23. The Festival of Friendship
    24. Christopher Daniels Wins His First World Title (At 47)
    25. John Cena vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (SmackDown Live!)
    26. Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata (Sakura Genesis)
    27. Billy Suede vs. Chris Panzer (Bakbakan Sa Bayanihan)
    28. Lashley vs. El Patron (And The Failed Merger)
    29. Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon (Hell in a Cell)
    30. The Statement vs. Pete Dunne
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    Item Reviewed: 31 Days of Wrestling (12/31/17): AJ Styles vs. Brock Lesnar Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Ricky Jay Publico
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