After counting down the top WWE Superstars of the year, we move onto my favourite thing to do in the entire world: the listing of matches. I really loved the quality of high-end WWE matches last year, and there was a good mix of everything: workrate and brawling, spots and storytelling, TV semis and PPV main events. Here are my favourite matches from WWE in 2012…
#10 – The Shield vs Ryback, Daniel Bryan & Kane (TLC Match), TLC
What an awesome, chaotic brawl this was. After the way the Shield debuted this was everything a match involving the Shield was supposed to look like, and more. Bodies flying in and out, chaos and mayhem everywhere, brawling all over the shop and weapons galore.
To me the most impressive thing about the match was how smart it was. Since they came in The Shield have worked an angle where they isolate a certain guy in the ring and take him out, three-on-one. So here in this official match, their strategy was to isolate a certain guy and take him out, three-on-one. Whenever they did this, they had the advantage, and whenever the faces recovered their numbers, they lost the advantage. They worked this strategy constantly, flawlessly all match, until finally they had picked off all the babyfaces one-by-one – Kane down at ringside, Ryback stranded up the ramp, and Bryan in the ring finally cornered and pinned. For such chaos there was a brilliant thread of logic running through it, and it made for an awesome ride.
#9 – Sheamus vs Dolph Ziggler, Smackdown 22nd June
Sheamus was Dolph’s Randy Orton for 2012, having approximately eleven thousand matches together, Dolph losing approximately 10,098 of them, but all of them being really, really good. This was their very best one, and is an excellent slice of Smackdown workrate. And I love me some Smackdown workrate. There is further similarity to the Orton/Dolph matches in that they don’t so much do anything extraordinary as much as do everything extraordinarily well. Every move is nailed, every blow connects, every bump is amplified. Dolph throws himself around with typical reckless abandon but also sells the damage (as distinct from simply bumping big) really well. Sheamus is the perfect babyface powerhouse, using his strength and selling just enough. They incorporate a couple of memorable big spots in this as well, like their first fallaway slam on the barricade, the fameasser off the stairs, and of course Dolph leaping up to the top and being KILLED INTO OBLIVION. God damn I loved that, Sheamus goes up, slips on the rope for a millisecond, Dolph takes his chance to pounce and BAM, INSTANT DEATH. I could watch that spot every day until the day I die. This match is just everything that I enjoy about Smackdown.
#8 – Sheamus vs Daniel Bryan, Smackdown 4th May
It is possible that this is my favourite ‘body part work’ match ever. It isn’t generally my preferred style of working a match, if I’m honest, but I like it when it’s done well, and this was done extraordinarily well. I was already going nuts before the bell after such a great 3 minute opener and then show-long angle to establish the injury, and here we are. This was pretty much the exact moment that Sheamus became the new Greatest Man in the Entire World.
His arm sell is so awesome here. I’ve said this before but Sheamus just knows perfectly well how to play his role and just how much to sell and give to his opponents. He’s a wounded bear, but still a bear who can rip your face off if you give him the chance. He is great here, debilitated by this God damn arm of his but still desperately fighting back no matter what. Bryan, for his part, is one of the best offensive wrestlers in the game and gives an outstanding performance here; it is no exaggeration when I say that literally every single offensive move Bryan made in this match was on Sheamus’ bad arm. Every. Single. Move. These guys had me going nuts over the most simple things in the universe. The way they worked something as basic as a hammerlock as a glorious struggle between two mighty warriors was awesome. This was Sheamus’ coming out party and I loved every single second of this.
#7 – John Cena vs The Rock, Wrestlemania 28
It seems to me that many people were disappointed with this match. I was not.
I’m pretty sure I was already going to like it more than everyone else because to me it was my #1 guy working a main event dream match at Wrestlemania, and I have no problem admitting that. But I also felt it was a really great main event. It effortlessly had that ‘big match feel’ beyond almost any other recent match up; things like the pop for the bell ringing to start the match are spine-tingling. I also thought it was worked very well and had a lot of storytelling depth. Cena continued the theme of him dominating Rock in the build up by dominating Rock in the match, doing a good job working a role he’s largely unfamiliar with. He also incidentally did a good job working around Rock blowing up. There’s a cool detail in that any time Cena got too cocky he’d lose the upper-hand, which wonderfully foreshadowed the finish, where Cena couldn’t resist the urge to be a dick and try the People’s Elbow, only to get caught and pinned in the match he could not lose. It felt like a real payoff to such a long and juicy build, even if it was sadly not followed up on afterwards. I for one am really interested to see what they do with the rematch.
#6 – CM Punk vs Mark Henry, Raw 2nd April
2012 was the year that CM Punk figured out how to work babyface in the ring, and this is Exhibit A. A wonderful, beautiful TV match. Mark Henry struggled with his injuries at the start of the year but he was off the charts awesome here, putting in one final Greatest Man in the Entire World performance before having surgery. He was a perfect monster, completely unstoppable, trash talking like a mofo, and giving just enough so that Punk had a glimmer of hope to pull it out. And Punk was genuinely great selling his ribs from the night before and working desperately from underneath. He fought and fought, built up all the momentum he could muster…only to get knocked down again and again. The flow of this match was awesome, the beating, the talk, the hope, the cutoffs. The finish is Punk being cut off from a final comeback, dumped outside and counted out. This is the finish to a WWE Title match in 2012. And it totally, totally worked, such was the level of beating Punk took in this match, and how believable Henry was as a monster. Just perfect TV from everyone.
#5 – Sheamus vs Daniel Bryan (2/3 Falls), Extreme Rules
Sheamus arrives. He’d had great matches before, but he’d never before put in a performance like this. Here these guys had all the time in the world to get to work, and get to work they did. I loved the twist on the usual three-fall formula we see by them working a really long first fall – they battled so hard here that it looked like an impossible task to beat either guy once, let alone twice, which is how the World Champion and his No. 1 Contender should look. And in the end the first two falls were inconclusive – the DQ and the ref stoppage – so that really, nobody had truly been beaten yet. Gave that little bit of extra juice to the final fall as a real ‘decider’, as opposed to just seeing which guy gets pinned twice in one match. Bryan looked great working even with Sheamus early, before banking on the arm strategy and just going to town on it. The third fall opening with the Bryan sing-a-long into the BAMBROGUEKICK nearfall was just tremendous. The finish was remarkably conclusive, but totally fits as a payoff to the match, and Bryan looked like a million bucks in this. This was Sheamus’ first great performance of his run, and this was an awesome little match.
#4 – CM Punk vs John Cena, Night of Champions
Chemistry. These guys just have it. They work so well together it is ridiculous. So here, 12 months after their incredible 2011 series, they get another 30 minutes on PPV, in Boston, with Cena curing cancer, Punk in Yankee stripes, Heyman in tow and JBL behind the desk. And of course they knock it out of the park once again.
I love the way they work. Starting off slowly, working holds, almost wrestling an old school title match, being so compelling while doing so little and at the same time creating such depth as it unfolds. Punk is basically Edge at WM24 in this match, finding a counter for every single thing Cena did, trying to establish himself as not only on Cena’s level but above it. Really by this point they both know each other’s game so well that they have counters for everything, forcing them each to bust out bigger counters and crazier new moves to get on top. Punk uses different submissions – Muta Lock, the camel clutch, the crossface, tries a moonsault when he gets desperate, and hits a Rock Bottom..just to be a dick. Cena turns luchador and starts throwing baseball slides and a motherf*cking TOPE, before finally resorting to the Super German that gets them both pinned. They counter their usual stuff up the wazoo in all sorts of cool ways as well, and just built and built into an amazing title match. This could well be the second only to Money in the Bank for their series.
#3 – Sheamus vs Big Show, Hell in a Cell
Andre vs Hansen for the modern age.
An exaggeration, probably, but that was the feeling I got watching it. This was Clash of the Titans, realm of the gods kind of stuff. A superhuman battle. It was the culmination of the whole of Sheamus’ title reign of babyface domination, and also the perfect portrayal of the Big Show. Sheamus is the big badass tough guy who clobbers everyone, sells little and kicks out at one. Every single guy they have put in from of him he has beaten convincingly. He is The Man. And then he runs into…the motherf*cking Big Show. Who does not budge.
I totally freaked out and wrote a small novel on this match on the board when it happened, because this match was basically everything I want out of wrestling. My kind of storytelling, my kind of work, my kind of roles being played, and played to absolute perfection. Show is a great monster heel just beating the utter, utter sh*t out of Sheamus. And Sheamus is a great babyface taking all of this punishment and never giving up. Everything builds so dramatically, and then of course the final finisher shootout at ten paces and Oh My Lord. Just a total, epic heavyweight title fight-feeling match.
#2 – Undertaker vs Triple H (Hell in a Cell), WrestleMania 28
A match literally five years in the making. The culmination of the entire End Of An Era story arc that began in 2008 when Shawn retired Flair. Matches with that level of build and anticipation behind them often find it impossible to meet expectations. Mine were sky high and they still sailed over the bar. I loved everything about this. All the hype and emotion surrounding it, the video, the entrances, Old Man Taker’s mohawk. The way they built off the WrestleMania 27 match by actually doing less than they did in the first match. Cool ass spots like the gogoplata-spinebuster. The killer Superkick-Pedigree nearfall. Shawn Michaels reacting to everything. Hunter taking a bump for the Sit Up. And the final, definitive, unavoidable end. Shawn put Flair down. Taker put Shawn down. Hunter tried to put Taker down, but Taker refuses to go and Hunter succumbs to fate. I don’t even know what else to say, I feel like I’ve written novels on this subject already and still I will never do it justice. Five years of a monumental epic, and this completely delivered as the fifth and final act.
#1 – John Cena vs Brock Lesnar, Extreme Rules
In another eerie parallel to last year, the Hunter/Taker Mania epic cannot beat a superlative Cena main event in the race for my heart.
Recently on the board I called this ”The Other’ of WWE main event matches. It is completely unlike anything else we have ever seen on this particular stage. No WWE main event I can think of has ever felt this legitimately out of control and dangerous. Brock is a beast on a completely different level, and this was one of the best single-match heel performances I’ve ever seen. And nobody takes a big time, main event ass kicking like John Cena. He was at his 2007 best here. And this was so much more than a wrestling match. It was a WWE main event spectacle and a brutal almost shoot-like fight, in equal measure. I don’t even feel like going into any details of the match or the spots. It hardly seems necessary – everyone who saw the match knows exactly what I’m talking about. It was just something else. Something completely else. The more time passes and the more I think about it, this match is seriously challenging for a place on my Top 10 of all time. An incredible piece of pro wrestling that will never be duplicated in WWE.