2012 is rapidly moving further and further away (how is it already February?!), but let us pause for a moment and take one final look at the past year. The results for the TWO/W101 Wrestling Awards are in, now join me as I count down my own personal best of the best for WWE in 2012…
#10 – Brock Lesnar
Last year I included Kharma in my Top 10 based off less than a months’ worth of run ins and no actual matches. So when a guy makes a handful of TV appearances and puts in two unbelievable performances on PPV like Brock did, it was a no brainer. Frustratingly brief as it was, Brock Lesnar’s work in 2012 was phenomenal.
Brock in the Cena match was at a level I have rarely ever witnessed before, one of the most effective heel performances I’ve seen in a single match. Everything about him was perfect, from his demeanor to his wrestling style and brutal offense, to his facials and selling. He effortlessly brings an air of legit danger to a WWE match, the likes of which nobody else can. He was also completely amazing in the Hunter match as well. Things like tipping the announce table over and leaping off it, or the incredible way he sold the Diverticulitis work, he himself was outstanding in what was for me a frustrating match. Brock just has this unique and compelling aura now, and more than anything I just wish we could have seen more of it. I just hope to God he has re-signed.
#9 – Ryback
One of many new faces around the scene this year, it has been quite the year for introducing new talent I think. And Ryback has certainly been the most successful so far. You know honestly, even if he never got the Raw push I would probably still have included him just for his squashes. To me his most impressive achievement this year was making squash matches a viable segment on WWE TV again, especially for a babyface. They were exciting, they perfectly established his character and moveset, and they were some of the best squashes I’ve seen on TV in years.
But then he got thrown from squashes into the Raw main event in the space of five minutes and managed to make it work. “FEED ME MORE” just keeps getting more over by the week, and he had people salivating at a completely fresh main event prospect. I think he did well in his PPV matches and definitely has a future working on top once they sort out the incidentals and figure out how to book him long-term. He’s the most badass looking guy to come along in quite a while, and frankly WWE is sorely lacking in badasses.
#8 – Damien Sandow
Another new face. This guy came in with the total package and has just been rocking it. The gimmick is classic overblown pro wrestling cartoonishness and he nails it, from the music to his pink and lavender combo to his hand twirling, eyebrow waggling, cartwheeling mannerisms. His promos are great, and what shines through in the recent audience segments and website stuff is how quick he is on his feet ad-libbing. He’s one of the most natural promo guys they have, which will serve him well going forward. Perhaps my favourite thing about Sandow is that despite all the ridiculousness and borderline-effeminacy of the character, he brings it all together in the ring by bringing the toughness with his clinched knees and clobbering. He has already had a lot of fun singles matches with the likes of Sheamus, Orton, Cena, and will surely deliver in the ring more and more with opportunities.
I want to mention somewhere that I feel bad leaving Cody off this list, he has had a really good year in the ring and Rhodes Scholars were a really great thrown-together team. Cody had a lot more good matches this year, but Sandow has just burst on the scene doing all this character work, and he thanked a crowd for their irrelevant opinion, so he earns his place on the list.
#7 – John Cena
Come on, who’s blog do you think you’re reading? Ain’t no list without Cena. But its not just me, he’s had quite the year. Especially out of the ring, always a sore point with so many, with the amazing promos he got to cut on Rock for Mania. The last few years they seem to relish doing this cocktease where they let Cena off the leash for a couple weeks on the mic, make us all realise just what we are missing, and then laugh and bring him back to jokey Cena the rest of the year. But still, every serious promo he cut this year was great.
And another good year in the ring. He seemingly always ends up with a handful of great main event matches by year’s end, but I feel like this year he also backed that up with a lot more good work in between. There were TV matches with Alberto, Bryan, Miz, Punk, Show, and so on, along with the triple threats at Summerslam and Survivor Series, the Money in the Bank match, the Kane Rumble match (am I alone in thinking it was worked amazingly well?). All adding more depth to a typically good year for high-end matches; Rock at Mania, Brock at ER, Punk at NoC, Dolph at TLC. The guy just keeps on truckin’ and keeps putting in quality work year after year. Maybe at some point he’ll get the credit for it.
#6 – Kane
Legitimate question: has Kane ever had a better year of work?
He might well have, but I cannot think of one off-hand. He’s been great this year, hasn’t he? Being utterly wacky and goofy for the Cena feud. Lighting the Fourth of July BBQ on Smackdown. ANGER MANAGEMENT. Frankly the ‘Kane’s Life Story’ monologue alone would get him on this list. The Bryan team has just been unbelievable fun, some of the best comedy WWE has done in years, and more often than not it has been Kane stealing the show.
The other thing is just how good he has been in the ring. Kane has never been a matches guy, to the point where earlier this year I asked the TWO board what his great matches actually were. But he has had multiple handfuls of good matches this year, and quite a few approaching great with Bryan, Punk, Sheamus, Orton, Cena, Rhodes Scholars and so on. And of course the TLC match was amazing. He has not looked this motivated in simply years, and it has paid off with his work both in and out of the ring.
#5 – CM Punk
I feel like Punk’s year has been misleading. The long title reign makes it look like a banner year, but in reality he did little that was interesting for a lot of it. The Jericho feud was disappointing. He was the obvious fourth wheel in the summer AJ feud. And while most probably wont agree with me here, his heel turn work didn’t meet my expectations either. Quite good, but not great. There have been quite a few flashes of brilliance, but even more boring 15 minute promos to nowhere. But having said that, flashes of brilliance are flashes of brilliance, even though I think overall it is his weakest promo year since 2008.
Actually it is his matches that rank him so high for me this year. For 11 PPV matches he had 11 matches that were good at the very least, and most of them were great. Quite a record. The other main thing for me is that after all these years, he finally figured out how to work as a babyface in the ring. And it was so simple: throw him in there with a monster and he sells his ass off. His TV matches with Henry and Show this year were awesome and just perfect big/little guy matches. He’s been great in the ring, and while the 2011 Cena series is better than anything from this year, I feel like in terms of depth he had a much stronger 2012 for matches.
#4 – Dolph Ziggler
He’s getting there, isn’t he? Since 2009 it feels like we keep waiting for Dolph to blow up, and he keeps getting closer and closer, and keeps getting better and better. He’s inches away, but regardless he has stepped up once again this year both in and out of the ring. He’s quietly become a pretty good promo guy, and at least comes off as a bigger deal than he is booked to be.
2012 was the year Dolph really broke out in the ring for me. I think he had the mechanics down a long time ago, and got sh*t done periodically with Rey, Bryan, Kofi and Orton over the years, but this year is where he finally put it all together to have consistently good matches with more than one guy at a time. He’s been doing work on a weekly basis, with guys like Punk, Sheamus, Orton, Jericho, Cena, Kofi, and so on and forth. I think his best matches this year have been the best of his career. And hopefully since WWE is theoretically locked into pushing him next year, he will move onto bigger and better things in 2013.
#3 – Daniel Bryan
What a year this man has had. Just over 12 months ago he was a bland babyface being jobbed unmercilessly as the briefcase holder. Then, a whole bunch of stuff happened and BAM, here he is as one of the biggest and most over characters in the company. From the cash in and the heel turn and monsters feud, through the Sheamus feud and “YES YES YES!” and 18 seconds (OMGZ HIS CAREER IS OVER!!!1!), then Punk and AJ and Kane, then ANGER MANAGEMENT and Team Hell No, and here we are: Bryan Danielson, made man in WWE. He’s taken every opportunity given to him and just ran forever with them, doing such amazing character work that frankly I didn’t even think him capable of. The self consciousness he had as face is gone and he is performing effortlessly and amazingly well.
And he’s backed it up with by far his best WWE year in the ring. He hadn’t really delivered on his potential before this in terms of matches in this company, but he’s had the opportunities now and just nailed them. The Henry and Show monster matches. The brilliant Sheamus feud. Punk at Over the Limit, and their feud. Kane’s best singles matches in a while. Even tag team Bryan is still having good matches, and all year he’s been one of the most consistent guys week-to-week. A career-making, banner year for Bryan, and hopefully only the beginning for him in a featured role in this company long-term.
#2 – Big Show
I said it before about Kane, but has Big Show ever had a better year? I am ignorant on his earlier WCW career so I could be way off base, but 2012 has to be in the conversation. As far as calendar years go I don’t think he’s been better in WWE.
His work as a babyface in the first few months of the year was awesome. The emotion and vulnerability he showed when he steamrolled AJ. The stoic determination he had during the Cody Rhodes “WM Humiliation” feud, and the payoff. His FACE when he went through the table at Extreme Rules. His performance when he was fired by Ace. Show is one of the few guys in wrestling who really understands how to be a babyface and has the charisma and likeability to pull it off. And after all that, not even a heel turn could deter him because he kept cutting great promos and being a great heel while retaining the authenticity of character that I always loved. He’s the best Actor in the company and this year has been the best promo guy in the biz. Better than Punk, Rock, anyone you care to name.
He’s also had a HELL of a year in the ring. Matches with Bryan in January and December. Cody Rhodes. Punk and Cena both on Raw in July. The Summerslam three-way that he was the star of. Orton on Smackdown. The amazing Sheamus series. Plus all manner of good matches and great TV tags in between. He’s really stepped it up in all areas since returning for the Henry feud, and again I’m not sure he’s ever been better. Between him, Kane and Henry all having great runs in the last 18 months, we are seemingly in the age of the big men at the moment, which hopefully opens the eyes of some who think a giant fat man cant possibly be a good pro wrestler because he doesn’t move fast enough.
#1 – Sheamus
In a weird parallel to last year, a big man putting in amazing character work loses out to overwhelming babyface workrate. Last year, one of my favourite wrestlers, Mark Henry, embarked on a career-defining run that was basically all my wrestling dreams coming true. And yet he still couldn’t beat Randy Orton’s list of matches. THAT is how much I enjoyed Orton’s 2011 run. And I am wholly convinced that Sheamus’ 2012 beats the crap out of Orton’s 2011. More good matches, more high-end matches, against a wider variety of opponents, and all the while working as a babyface ace even more effectively.
I love the trope of the babyface ace in wrestling, and I really love it when it is executed well. Sheamus’ run this year is one of those times. He just has an innate understanding of what his role is in the hierarchy, and how to effectively portray it while having the best matches possible. He knows how strong and tough to be whilst also selling just enough to show vulnerability and create sympathy. He looked, felt and wrestled exactly like a babyface world champion should.
On this point, I have to talk about his arm. Sheamus first injures his arm when Bryan destroys it in their matches. It never gets time to heal because he runs straight into Alberto who does the same thing. So Sheamus ends up with basically a chronic arm problem, which is a target for the guys who work arms and a useful opening for anyone in the ring with Sheamus, because you know if you hit it, it will hurt. Not only was it a totally fresh take on kayfabe injuries and long-term damage, but it also served as a genuine weakness in Sheamus’ armor that allowed opponents to get believable heat on such a tough guy. Total genius on all levels and I cannot express how much I loved it.
Anyway, the fastest way to my heart is to rack up a big ass tally of great matches, and in this, Sheamus has succeeded better than all but a few guys I’ve seen in a calendar year. Like I said it is not only the volume (if I added them up he probably had 50+ good matches on TV this year, pretty much one per week) but also the quality of the best stuff and the variety of different opponents. He worked limb work matches based around selling with Daniel Bryan and Alberto. TV workrate counter-a-thons with Dolph. A clash of the titans-style heavyweight prizefight with Big Show. Nasty ass brawls with Tensai and Wade Barrett. Ace vs Midcarder showcases with Sandow, Swagger, Cody Rhodes. Then in turn he played the young lion against Jericho, and was an equal against his ace predecessor Orton. So many different scenarios, and in all of them he plays his role to perfection, makes his opponent look great, and delivers good matches. I have just loved the hell out of Sheamus this year and think he’s easily been the best wrestler of the year.
My Top 10 matches of 2012 will be online before the end of the week…