Sunday 30 December 2012

Year End Awards 2012

Wrestling, as I noted at this time last year, attracts lists. For the second year in a row I thought I’d get in on the list action and put together lists of wrestling’s bests over the last twelve month.

Best what? As with my 2011 (available here) entry there are six categories. Top Fives for characters, feuds, shows, and matches, a Top Ten for tag teams and a Top Twenty for singles wrestlers. The eagle-eyed and elephantine-memoried amongst you may notice that the number of tag teams ranked has been upped by five. I thought I’d do a top ten because tag team wrestling in general has improved this year. Both WWE and TNA have put some thought into their divisions and created a few regular duos each. There are enough double acts to merit a top ten as opposed to a top five.

Before we move onto the lists I should explain my criteria for rankings. Wrestling being a worked business means that title reigns and victories actually mean very little. A grappler could, in theory, lose every single one of their matches but still put in the best performance of every show they’re on. Should a bad wrestler who is chosen to win more be ranked above them? Of course not.

The way I’ve ranked wrestlers takes into account the company they work for, their spot on the card, what is required of them by their employer and how well they’ve performed within their parameters. Different things are expected of Kevin Steen and CM Punk for example, despite both men being world champions. Even within WWE there are different expectations of wrestlers: more is expected of Sheamus than of Cody Rhodes for example.

As regular readers will be aware I cover no Japanese or Mexican wrestling, and only occasionally reference the British scene. As such performers plying their trade in these regions will not feature on these lists. It’s not a reflection on their abilities or my feelings towards these territories (there’s a contentious word). It’s more reflective of the amount of spare time I have to watch wrestling in than anything else.

Last year I noted that the lists were dominated by WWE. The same is true this year but not to the same extent. Ring of Honor had a tough year and didn’t hold my interest as it has previously. Meanwhile TNA failed to make me a regular viewer but I did find myself checking out pay-per-views and Impact Wrestling highlights more than I ever have before. As such there are more entries for the Orlando league on these lists than there were in 2011. As I stated last year if these promotions improved themselves (and in the case of ROH, got a UK TV deal) I’d watch them more frequently and so they’d be likelier to rank in this (un)prestigious awards.

Let’s kick off with the Character of the Year again. Wrestling ability doesn’t have any bearing here. It’s an award that acknowledges how good performers have been at establishing their character through the art of the promo and with consistent development, as well as interpreting the vision of the writers who tell them what to do. All the other awards should be fairly self-explanatory.

Top Five Characters of the Year
5. John Laurinaitis
He was not a featured performer in North America during his career as an active wrestler and is clearly very limited when it comes to promos even now. Despite this the creator of the Ace Crusher became one of the most hated men in wrestling. Since he was written off television as a regular he's been missed. I didn't think I'd write that at the start of the year.

I think we all miss this guy...
4. Christopher Daniels
As the sleazy, lying opponent to the virtuous AJ Styles 'The Fallen Angel' was great. He made a convoluted, boring storyline worthwhile (at least in places) and has remained an entertaining turn even since moving into new programmes.

3. AJ Lee
AJ started out the year as the meek and timid girlfriend of the vainglorious Daniel Bryan and ends it as the besotted beau of World champ-in-waiting Dolph Ziggler. The arc of her character throughout 2012 has been fascinating to observe, partly because it has been down mostly to AJ’s hard work. She turned in such a storming performance as Bryan’s gal pal that WWE’s writing team felt compelled to give her more to do. There have been some unfortunate twists and turns along the way (making her the RAW GM was particularly ill-conceived) but AJ has never been less than consistent and entertaining. She is easily WWE’s most accomplished female performer of the year.
2. Daniel Bryan
Bryan only made it to number two? No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!
1. Damien Sandow
'The Intellectual Saviour of the Masses' immediately stood out from the WWE pack. He's had a surprisingly varied year. He started off his run by refusing to wrestle before finally stepping into the ring to prove he could. He worked with many of the company's premier faces on television, provided us with stirring promos that were unlike any others in wrestling, and was put into an effective team with Cody Rhodes which helped the careers of both.
His position as character of the year should help to encourage everyone reading this to better themselves next year. You're welcome.

Top Five Feuds of the Year
5. CM Punk v Ryback
Ryback was originally pitted against Punk when John Cena was out of action with an injury. The originally planned Cena v Punk Hell in a Cell match was altered to feature 'Big Hungry' instead. Amazingly it wasn't too bad.
Since then Punk has done everything possible to establish Ryback as a headline star. He’s bumped around like a lunatic and willingly made himself look vulnerable in order to benefit the bald behemoth. Showing fear and dodging Ryback whenever possible has shown Punk up to be a coward and built Ryback up as a dangerous competitor.

Hopefully their clash on January 7th (or whenever it actually happens) will provide a fitting end to their lengthy programme.
4. Kevin Steen v Davey Richards
What was so good about the conflict between Steen and Richards was how well they complemented one another. Physically they’re very different people but their matches together were never less than well crafted. There was a very real sense that the two men hated each other, with Steen being one of the few performers who has ever managed to push Davey to entering decent verbal performances.

Strong style

3. CM Punk v Daniel Bryan
WWE’s two best workers had great bouts at Over The Limit, No Way Out (with Kane), and Money in the Bank and even got to wrestle lengthy matches on RAW. Towards the start of the year it was a friendly rivalry based around one-upmanship and athleticism. Then AJ and Kane were added to proceedings and the focus became a love triangle (or square).

It’s rare for WWE feuds to last as long as Punk v Bryan did without becoming boring and repetitive (see Alberto Del Rio v Sheamus). That this programme didn’t dissolve into tedium is a testament to the talent of Punk and Bryan and their versatility as performers.

2. Jeff Hardy v Austin Aries
The story was simple: Aries was jealous of Hardy’s popularity. ‘The Charismatic Enigma’ rode a wave of fan support to the top of the Bound For Glory series, earning himself a world title match with ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’. That bout exceeded its high expectations. Hardy won the belt, providing a feel-good moment and a career highlight for his TNA tenure. Their ladder rematch at Turning Point, also won by Hardy, was even better.

There was only one thing wrong with the Hardy v Aries programme: the heel turn of ‘A Double’ occurred far too quickly. It could have been eked out for a month longer and had more impact. Not only that but it came just a few months after Aries had officially turned babyface and beaten Bobby Roode for the world title. It was a worrying dalliance with TNA’s rush-obsessed past. Thankfully it was only as brief return.

1. The Rock v John Cena
Together these two men did what so few in wrestling manage: they blurred the lines of what was real and what was scripted. Their match at WrestleMania may not have been up to much but the build-up to it and the interactions between 'The Great One' and 'The Franchise' could not have been better.

Top Five Shows of the Year
5. WWE Over The Limit
Outside of its two superb world title bouts the event delivered an entertaining tag battle between champions Kingston and R-Truth and challengers Ziggler and Swagger and an above average Christian v Cody Rhodes tussle. The headline match between John 'Don't Call Me Ace' Laurinaitis and John Cena shouldn't have gone on last but was good enough for what it was.
As they did with last year’s TLC event WWE prioritised helping new acts with TLC ’12. This was most obvious in Dolph Ziggler’s scintillating ladder match victory over John Cena but also shone through in The Shield’s win over Ryback, Daniel Bryan and Kane and, to a lesser extent, the time allocated to the Barrett v Kingston collision and the Rhodes Scholars’ triumph over Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara.
3. TNA Bound For Glory
Topped by one of TNA's best matches of the year and featuring an undercard that contributed to multiple long-running stories BFG was TNA's hottest show of the year. Aries and Hardy tore it up in the main event with a collision that helped to portray the TNA world championship as a genuine prize as opposed to the useless trinket it has been in years past. While the tag title match was won by the wrong team it was still packed full of near falls and memorable spots, a statement which holds true for the X Division title clash also.
The Storm v Roode street fight was a fitting addition to their storied rivalry and featured the correct result ('The Cowboy' won). Finally, the Aces and Eights plot may be unfolding at a sluggish pace but that did at least mean that fans were interested in the tag battle between the invaders and Sting and Bully Ray. The event signalled the official face turn of 'Calfzilla' too, a move that has worked well for the group and the individual.
2. ROH Final Battle: Doomsday
This was the return to form ROH had desperately needed all year.

Not only did this show resurrect the hot programme between Kevin Steen and El Generico, it also featured the long-awaited clash between Roderick Strong and Michael Elgin, a predictably hard hitting American Wolves reunion and the continued reliance on aggressive tactics of Jay Lethal. That's one packed show. So packed, in fact, that the poor decisions to have Matt Hardy beat Adam Cole and the Briscoes capture the eighth ROH tag team title can (just about) be overlooked.
1. WWE Extreme Rules
A show headlined by John Cena getting legitimately beaten by a former UFC champion was always going to be looked on favourably. On the undercard Dolph Ziggler gave Brodus Clay his best outing of the year and Jericho and Punk had the best encounter of their series.  The Sheamus v Daniel Bryan two-out-of-three falls match for the World Heavyweight title was the match the two should have been allowed to have at ‘Mania and the opener between Kane and Randy Orton was far better than I’d expected it to be. It was a highly enjoyable show.

Top Five Matches of the Year
(There’s no analysis here. If you want to know why these matches are in the top five just go and watch them...)

5. Jeff Hardy v Austin Aries – TNA Turning Point (11.11.12)

4. Kevin Steen v Davey Richards – ROH Best in the World (24.06.12)

3. Sheamus v Chris Jericho v Alberto Del Rio v Randy Orton – WWE Over The Limit (20.05.12)

2. Kevin Steen v Michael Elgin – ROH Glory By Honor XI (13.10.12)

1. Davey Richards v Michael Elgin – ROH Showdown in the Sun, Day Two (31.03.12)
Top Ten Tag Teams of the Year
10. The Ascension
Kenneth Cameron (no relation to David) and Conor O'Brian were one of the best things about NXT following its revamp over the spring and summer. Their crisply delivered, well put together double team repertoire was one of the best in wrestling. Sadly Cameron’s release (on November 30th after he was charged with the assault of a law enforcement officer) brought a premature end to the pairing and has put Conor O’Brian back on square one as far as making it to the main roster is concerned.
9. The Briscoe Brothers
Mark and Jay started the year as seven time ROH world tag team champions. They put on mostly decent outings against Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team and a stellar performance against Team Richards. Their title defence against CHIKARA regulars Jigsaw and Hallowicked was good but could have been better.
'Dem Boys' remained perennial contenders to the straps since losing them to Haas and Benjamin at Border Wars in May and eventually recaptured them at Final Battle. Sadly they lost steam in the latter half of 2012, their only highlight before becoming eight time champs being making it to the semi-finals of the tag title tournament. At this point they should be given a few months off TV so they can return feeling like a fresh act.
8. AJ Styles and Kurt Angle
They didn't start the year as a tag team and they're not ending it as a tag team but the months they were paired up as a regular combo were great. Their programme with the WTTCOTW was the saving grace of the Claire Lynch saga and yielded some of TNA's best matches of the year.
7. The Prime Time Players
They may have failed to capture the WWE tag team championships despite multiple attempts but the twosome did become multi-time number one contenders. For a while it seemed as though they were destined for the tag gold but the unexpected improvement of the WWE tag scene changed that. The pair also deserve praise for surviving the removal of their agent (AW) from WWE television over the summer, and 'The Big Deal' deserves credit for showing us a personality throughout the last couple of months of 2012. Next year could be their year.
6. Samoa Joe and Magnus
These two had the misfortune to be split as a unit before Daniels, Kazarian, Styles and Angle reenergised the company's tag output. Before their tedious feud for a belt nobody (including them) cares about began Joe and Magnus reigned as tag champs and had good matches against pretty much everyone they were pitted against.
Their GHC tag team championship victory was an impressive feat that could have been turned into something special by TNA. Sadly the company’s not interested in something special. They'd rather do the feuding former partners shtick instead.

TNA wasted an opportunity splitting these two so early
5. The Rhodes Scholars
Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow have made the most of being paired up as a tag team. When given enough time they've put on very good matches and they've shone in every interview segment, skit and promo they've been a part of. Their characters work well together and I hope they remain a double act well into next year.
4. Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team
Haas and Benjamin have been one of the few highlights of ROH this year. Their cheap, ether rag-assisted victory over the Briscoes at Border Wars was good before the finish and the two had a solid outing against the All Night Express at Best in the World. They (along with their opponents) have made the best of a bad situation being pitted against Rhett Titus and BJ Whitmer for the last several months. Benjamin's athleticism and Haas's mat skills and heat generating prowess make them one of ROH's valuable assets. Benjamin’s rumoured return to WWE would be a huge blow to Ring of Honor.
3. Kofi Kingston and R-Truth

They were split up as a unit just as WWE’s tag team scene finally became interesting. The pair had a cracking match against Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger at Over The Limit and dragged surprisingly good performances from the Prime Time Players on numerous occasions. They even managed to look good in defeat when dropping the gold to Team Hell No, despite the awkward size difference with ‘The Big Red Machine’. They deserved a lot better as champions. Had they been given more to do their reign could have been really good.

2. Team Hell No
Has the odd couple tag team routine ever worked better than with Daniel Bryan and Kane? Probably, but not in 2012. The team peaked very early in their run with the anger management skits but there’s still mileage left in them as a pair. They continue to get good reactions and pull passable matches out of most of their opponents. Their greatest achievement is almost certainly having encouraged WWE’s writing squad to get their act together and sculpt an interesting tag team division.

1. Christopher Daniels and Kazarian
Call them Daniels and Kazarian. Call them the World Tag Team Champions of the World. Call them Bad Influence. Call them entertaining. Call them the saviours of TNA tag team division.
The company veterans made TNA's doubles scene relevant with hard work and some astonishingly good outings. Most of those came opposite AJ Styles and Kurt Angle but they also entertained against Samoa Joe and Magnus and Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez. There were no two men more dedicated to making TNA's tag team scene better in 2012 than these two.

Top Twenty Wrestlers of the Year

20. Big Show
Against all expectations Big Show was actually tolerable at several points this year. He was decent as the happy, smiley good guy and has managed to be threatening, despite his less than stellar ring history, since turning heel at Over The Limit. 'The Giant' has excelled as the bullying heel champ. He's clearly a late bloomer.

19. Kazarian
Frankie finally ditched the bland babyface routine and gained himself a personality. He was as reliable as ever in the ring but stood out more to me than he ever has before thanks to his heel turn. Christopher Daniels deserves some of the credit here...

18. AJ Styles
TNA's former MVP had another tough year. He was lumbered with the horrendous Dixie Carter and Claire Lynch nonsense for far too long. Anything that requires 'The Phenomenal One' to talk is generally ill-judged and that story was no exception.
Where AJ went right was in the ring. He had great matches alongside Kurt Angle against Chris Daniels and Kazarian and enjoyed good showings in the Bound For Glory series against pretty much everyone, Jeff Hardy, Chris Daniels, and Kurt Angle in particular.
Perhaps 2013 will be the year TNA finally learns how to use the guy. Don't hold your breath though.

17. Zema Ion
Ion was one of the most consistent men on the TNA roster. The first half of the year was uneventful for him but he still entered the best performances he could when given TV time. Destination X was when he really came into his own: chosen to replace Austin Aries as centrepiece of the paper thin X Division Ion made the title mean as much as his predecessor had. Losing the strap to Rob Van Dam was premature. The man with the hair deserved a longer reign.
16. Cody Rhodes
Rhodes entered spirited performances in both the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber. He was booked like a star in the former, lasting longer than anyone else in the contest.
Things went sour at WrestleMania as his Intercontinental title reign was foolishly cut short in order to boost the career of up-and-coming young talent the Big Show. Their rematch at Extreme Rules did little to help matters. His match versus Christian at Over The Limit aside Rhodes didn't bounce back from his mishandling until October, when he was paired with Damien Sandow to form the Rhodes Scholars. They were one of the teams that helped WWE cobble a passable doubles division and have been reliable ever since.
I shan't lie: Cody's moustache didn't hurt his chances of getting onto this list

15. Antonio Cesaro
Did the former King of Wrestling make the US championship mean as much as Dolph Ziggler did in 2011? No. But then he wasn’t given as much of a chance. ‘The Swiss Superman’ has made it mean more than Jack Swagger and Santino though. He has yet to enter a duff performance since joining WWE’s main roster and has made himself stand out with his deadlifting and man-bag gimmicks.

14. Kurt Angle
The biggest thing Kurt deserves praise for is seeing sense and sitting out the trials to join the USA's Olympic wrestling team. His inevitable failure would have harmed his reputation and almost certainly have added to his encyclopedia of injuries.
In TNA Kurt was on standby for most of 2012, kept bubbling away with meaningless victories and slotted into scenarios, feuds and matches as and when required. Spring saw him reinvigorate Jeff Hardy, with the two swapping PPV victories. His tag feud against Daniels and Kazarian alongside AJ Styles was the highlight of his year but he also had a predictably good showing in the BFG series. He didn't finish in the top four, but he did provide some of the series best matches.
As good as he is keeping Angle away from the world title this year has been a smart move. It's allowed the likes of Bobby Roode, Austin Aries and James Storm to establish themselves as more than bit part players.

13. Adam Cole
Cole headlined ROH's first iPPV of the year, teaming with Eddie Edwards to take on former teammate Kyle O'Reilly and ROH world champion Davey Richards. The surprising finish of that collision saw Cole pin the champion. Their subsequent singles outing was predictably won by 'The American Wolf' but Cole looked incredibly strong in defeat, giving Richards one of the best battles of his title reign.

Palm tree on the trunks there
From there Cole continued his rivalry with O'Reilly, picking up a victory over him at Best in the World in a hit-and-miss Hybrid rules match. He captured the TV title from Roderick Strong in July and should keep hold of the gold well into 2013. As one of the most reliable performers on the roster ROH should have plans in place to move him up the card in the near future.

12. Davey Richards
His ROH world title reign finally started resembling what it should have always been in the first half of 2012. His matches with Jay Lethal, Adam Cole and Michael Elgin were all brilliant. Unfortunately it was cut short in May when 'The American Wolf' lost the gold to Kevin Steen. That said it was nice to finally see the promotion switch the title to a star at their hottest rather than needlessly holding off, and Steen was the right man to replace Richards.
After losing the belt Richards took a few months off and returned to ROH to have blistering matches with the likes of Jay Lethal, Roddy Strong and Eddie Edwards. He ended the year by reforming the American Wolves with Edwards, something that's been a long time coming, and entering an exhilarating performance at Final Battle.

11. Kofi Kingston
2012 saw Kofi enjoy three title reigns. He started the year as a tag champ alongside Evan Bourne before losing the straps to Epico and Primo at a house show and regaining them a few weeks later alongside R-Truth (and Little Jimmy). He was as consistent and entertaining as possible considering his partner's ring work and the less than impressive state of WWE's tag ranks for the first three quarters of 2012.
The doubles belts were dropped again at Night of Champions in September to the surprisingly smooth duo of Daniel Bryan and Kane. Air Truth (as they were never officially known) split after that, stating that they'd achieved everything they wanted to together. Since then Kofi has captured the Intercontinental for the fourth time and entered decent performances at HIAC, Survivor Series and TLC.

10. Damien Sandow
Sandow was supposed to be a low card gimmick act. Plans change. Aaron Steven Haddad proved so good in the role that WWE's writing team found more and more for the character to do throughout the year. Sandow's greatest gift is easily his knack of working his impressive vernacular into promos that achieve that rare thing of obtaining genuine heat. He's a decent wrestler too. His bouts opposite Sheamus in particular have been gripping, and he had a good showing opposite Randy Orton before the obligatory DQ finish occurred.

9. Christopher Daniels
The TNA veteran had one of the best years of his career, proving that you’re not necessarily past it in wrestling once you hit 40 (a trend that seems to be developing in various companies these days). He had a fantastic run as a team alongside ‘Don’t Call Me Frankie’ Kazarian and entered crisp singles performances against perennial foe AJ Styles, as well as Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy and various others. His performance as a sleazebag was pitched perfectly. ‘The Fallen Angel’ deserves continued success in 2013.

8. Michael Elgin
He may have failed to capture the ROH world championship but he looked spectacular when challenging Davey Richards and Kevin Steen on iPPV. In addition to those excellent bouts he had several highly entertaining matches against Adam Cole throughout the year. Then there was his showdown with Roderick Strong at Final Battle. It had been built up for nearly a year and didn’t disappoint. ‘Unbreakable’ is one of Ring of Honor’s most reliable acts, whether they want to present him as such or not.

7. Jeff Hardy
‘The Charismatic Enigma’ had a fantastic return to form with a series of great performances in the Bound For Glory series, which culminated in an eventual victory. His matches with Austin Aries at BFG and Turning Point were excellent, the latter easily equalling Hardy’s WWE stunt outings from over a decade ago.

His television matches against wrestlers lower on the roster than him also deserve praise. Allowing Joey Ryan and Robbie E to look competitive before beating them does much to help elevate them. It illustrates perfectly what a generous performer Hardy is. More men in his position should be attempting to raise new acts whenever possible.

6. Kevin Steen  

'Mr Wrestling' was one of the highlights of Ring of Honor during a distinctly disappointing annum for the league. His popularity convinced ROH bookers to put the world title on him (in his home country of Canada) in May and despite some shoddy and misdirected booking, mainly stemming from the bookers not knowing how to use him, he remains the league's most popular act.
Steen's reign as champion has mostly been a creative success. He's had excellent bouts with Davey Richards, Rhino, Jay Lethal, El Generico and Michael Elgin. Without him ROH would have had an incredibly dull 2012.

The best ROH had in 2012

5. Bobby Roode

'The It Factor' spent the first seven months of the year as the TNA world champion. By the time he dropped the strap to Austin Aries at Destination X he was the longest reigning champ in the belt's five year history.
Roode had excellent matches while champion and has had great matches since. His brief feud with 'A Double' yielded two cracking pay-per-view performances and he's put in spirited showings as a challenger since Hardy won the belt. His matches opposite former Beer Money pal James Storm were always solid but could have been slightly better. Nevertheless Roode has been one of TNA's most consistent grapplers this year. The company made the right decision when they elevated him last year.

4. Dolph Ziggler

This was another cracking year for Dolph Ziggler. For the second year in a row he wrestled a world champion at the Royal Rumble, this time falling to CM Punk despite the match being refereed by the biased John Laurinaitis. From there ‘The Show Off’ mostly killed time until the summer. Entering a great performance in RAW’s Elimination Chamber being about his only highlight.

July saw him lay his mitts on the blue Money in the Bank briefcase, entitling him to a World Heavyweight championship match whenever he wants it before the 2013 instalment. From there he took in feuds against headliners Randy Orton and Chris Jericho, crashing to both in singles contests on pay-per-view but picking up wins over them on television.

Ziggler received a welcome boost in the final two months of the year. Survivor Series saw him outlast ‘The Apex Predator’ to become ‘The Sole Survivor’ of a traditional ten man elimination tag match while TLC featured a ladder match victory over John Cena. The following week’s television saw Ziggler paired with AJ Lee and Big E Langston, a unit designed to get Ziggler over as an even bigger star and heel.

That he still holds the case and is finally having attention paid to him by WWE’s booking team could indicate 2013 will be ‘The Show Off’s’ year.

3. CM Punk

The first man since Hulk Hogan to hold the WWE championship (it was the WWF championship when ‘The Hulkster’ held it) throughout one calendar year. The lengthy title reign has become the driving force of the Punk character since he turned heel on The Rock in July. The champ has become consumed by his hunger for respect.

In the ring Punk has been WWE’s most consistent headliner (as his only real competition is John Cena this is hardly surprising). Punk’s year opening programme opposite Dolph Ziggler was decent but could have been better had John Laurinaitis not been involved. His next rivalry, opposite Chris Jericho, was actively disappointing, mainly due to the two making promises regarding match quality that they simply couldn’t keep. They finally clicked in their blow off encounter at Extreme Rules.

The summer saw Punk enter into the third best feud of the year opposite Daniel Bryan. Their pay-per-view encounters were never less than thrilling, even when they were lumbered with Kane and a gimmick referee.

Following his heel turn Punk entered into another feud with John Cena, which took in poor triple threat matches at SummerSlam (also involving Big Show) and Survivor Series (also involving Ryback). The back end of CM Punk’s 2012 has featured a rivalry with Ryback. While this has yielded few classic bouts it has elevated ‘Big Hungry’s’ standing in the eyes of fans and avoided the bad matches it would have been all too easy to have.

‘The Voice of the Voiceless’ misses out on the ‘Best in the World’ moniker for the second year in a row, but he has more momentum going into 2013 than anyone else on this list. His match with The Rock at Royal Rumble could be a career highlight for both men.

2. Austin Aries

‘A Double’ had one of the greatest years of his career in 2012. He spent the first half of it carrying the X Division championship (and the division itself), and ended up as the longest reigning champ ever when he forfeited the strap in July. During his X reign Aries had a feud with Bully Ray which enhanced both men, and was opposite Samoa Joe for Joe’s best match of the year at Slammiversary.

Aries’ greatest accomplishment was easily his TNA world title victory at Destination X. Exchanging his X belt for a shot at Bobby’s belt was a ham-fisted way of writing Aries into the world title scene, but it got the job done and fans rallied behind him regardless. Sadly his title run was cut short so that TNA could give the world belt to Jeff Hardy at Bound For Glory, presumably in an attempt to convince him to re-sign early next year.

Holding titles for ten months of the year, turning himself face by being so good, and wrestling good matches with everyone from Crimosn to Alex Shelley, Aries showed that the league made the right decision in promoting him to the top. His claim to be ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ is questionable, but he is definitely ‘The Greatest Wrestler on the TNA Roster’.

1. Daniel Bryan

Why is Bryan number one over CM Punk and Austin Aries? Because even though he was booked as an afterthought for most of the year he remains one of WWE’s (and wrestling’s) most popular performers. Aries and Punk were both given plenty of chances to succeed. Bryan made his own and got himself over.
The best wrestler of 2012
Bryan had enjoyable, believable matches with everyone he was pitted against. He carried both Big Show and Mark Henry, two limited workers each over twice his size, to a far better than expected cage match at the Royal Rumble, made Santino seem like he could be World champion at Elimination Chamber and somehow emerged unharmed from his insulting eighteen second loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania.

His various matches with Punk during the spring and summer were never less than great and he again proved he could work with larger opponents when he entered into a series with Kane. That eventually turned into a partnership, which became a large part of the reason he’s ranked first. Even though ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’ was dropped down the card after his feud with Punk concluded he still managed to remain relevant and popular and still elicits a strong reaction from audiences.

Simply put Daniel Bryan is the best wrestler in the world in spite of his employer’s attempts to hamper him. All together now… Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! YES!!

Friday 28 December 2012

SmackTalk 28.12.12

The best that could be mustered for the final SmackDown of 2012 was a pitiful show-long story revolving around comedy characters challenging Big Show for the World Heavyweight title. It’s not exactly scintillating stuff is it?

First we were told that Santino would be tangling with ‘The Giant’. That lasted all of about twenty minutes, at which point ‘The Milan Miracle’ pulled a hamstring while learning how to execute the Brogue Kick. The live crowd seemed to find this genuinely funny. I just found it nauseating: the Santino phenomenon has never made much sense to me.

Santino’s replacement was Ricardo Rodriguez. He ended up getting KOed by ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ and so his spot was given to Alberto Del Rio. Why WWE opted for this round the houses approach to promoting a Show v ADR is a mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with Del Rio only recently having become a good guy. The company should have the courage of their convictions though: if they think ‘The Essence of Excellence’ is worth cheering they should give fans a reason to cheer him. That could have been achieved by having his name picked at the end of the opening segment.

Beyond that SmackDown was its usual muddle of fair to middling bouts and wasted opportunities. In a way it was a fitting way for the blue brand to end the year.

Recap video

Tweet 1: Oh hi, everyone. Let's watch SmackDown.
Tweet 2: "Tonight... on SmackDown"... MORE Sheamus v Big Show? Does Sheamus not have feuds less than four months or something?
Tweet 3: More from AJ and Dolph? Now that's win.

Sheamus promo, featuring Big Show, Booker T and the rest of the roster

Tweet 4: Sheamus kicks off the show with his lilting, mincing walk.
Tweet 5: Sheamus didn't really have a great Christmas. He spent it in a ditch.
Tweet 6: This is fascinating. I think Sheamus has regressed since his mega push started in January.
Tweet 7: Sheamus calls out Big Show. Big Show waddles out. How wonderful would it have been if David Otunga had responded instead?
Tweet 8: "Don't boo me!" You should be booing yourselves...
Tweet 9: "I am the world's largest athlete" - Big Show (by largest he means fattest)
Tweet 10: Is Booker T a tweener now?
Tweet 11: Big Show will be in action. A chilling promise.
Tweet 12: Booker is putting the name of every wrestler in a tumbler. The man whose name is drawn will get a World title shot.
Tweet 13: Apparently this took all week for Booker to devise.
Tweet 14: Reminder that Eve and Teddy don't like one another there.
Tweet 15: Santino wins a WHC match. That would have been a disappointment six months ago when he was vaguely popular. Now it's an insult.

Brodus Clay v Primo

Tweet 16: This guy… #Funkasaurus
Tweet 17: Instead of watching Brodus squash Primo can't I just watch Naomi, Cameron and Rosa dance for three minutes?
Tweet 18: Cameron and Naomi double suplex Rosa then small children swarm the ring to dance with a man pretending he's a dinosaur. This is a low point.

Santino and Sheamus backstage

Tweet 19: Santino + Sheamus = anti-comedy
Tweet 20: Sheamus's teaching consists of empty rhetoric. I hope he never becomes an agent.

Wade Barrett and The Rhodes Scholars v Kofi Kingston and Team Hell No

Tweet 21: Didn't we see this six man tag last week? No wait, I'm confusing the Prime Time Players with the Rhodes Scholars. Easy mistake to make...
Tweet 22: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Tweet 23: Bryan wants to be called 'The Dazzler'? That's almost as good as his request to be called 'Beutiful' Bryan.
Tweet 24: Josh please stop saying that Cody and Damien came together. Thank you.
Tweet 25: "Cody sucks" says the audience. You don't get the sucks chants much these days, he said wistfully.
Tweet 26: Did JBL just namedrop Steve Corino?
Tweet 27: Pacey little finishing sequence there. Kofi sold the Bullhammer very well.

Booker T, Ricardo Rodriguez and Big Show backstage

Tweet 28: Santino can't compete because of a torn hamstring? Eh? What's the point of this plot, exactly?
Tweet 29: It feels like I'm watching an episode of Thunder. I might cry.
Tweet 30: Who will Big Show face? My money's on the KISS Demon.
Tweet 31: Booker thinks a still-technically-heel announcer being knocked out by a fat bloke is ridiculous. He hasn't said why. I don't think he will.

The KISS Demon v Big Show could have been a massive draw

Zack Ryder v Antonio Cesaro

Tweet 32: Antonio Ceasro! HEEEY!!
Tweet 33: I am still bothered by the lack of kneepads. #AttitudeEratraditionalist
Tweet 34: Will 2012 end on a high note for Zack Ryder? No. Triple H has made it very clear he does NOT want to push the guy.
Tweet 35: Cesaro blasts Ryder with a hilariously stiff Neutralizer for the win.
Tweet 36: JBL predicts Khali v Cesaro will "fantastic". I predict he'll be wrong.

The Miz v Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 37: Recap of Big E hitting his finish on Miz. I still think it's a stupid move. It's like a botched Ace Crusher.
Tweet 38: How do you botch an Ace Crusher?
Tweet 39: Since he turned face Miz has begun gesticulating towards his crotch before sliding onto the ring apron. Is that what good guys do?
Tweet 40: Big E is stoic. By stoic I mean bland. By bland I mean chronically bland.
Tweet 41: The match begins and JBL immediately starts reading out accoaldes regarding Big E Langston he printed out from Wikipedia.

Miz: haters heart him

Tweet 42: I'll tell you who's a better colour commentator than JBL: Cyrus the Virus.
Tweet 43: Big E catches Dolph Ziggler in what will probably be the spot of the night.
Tweet 44: Josh says Ziggler and Miz both want to end 2012 on a high note by winning in this match. I guess he's forgotten about next Monday's RAW.
Tweet 45: Ziggler can't even beat Miz without an assist? Uh oh...
Tweet 46: Big E needs to learn to throw a clotheline. And hit a proper Ace Crusher for that matter.
Tweet 47: What's that move called? I might start referring to it as the Langston Cutter.

Brad Maddox and Booker T backstage

Tweet 48: Booker hasn't got time to speak to Brad Maddox. He has to stare at Ricardo Rodrigueez and say his name repeatedly.
Tweet 49: With Brad Maddox dismissed Booker can happily resume saying Ricardo's name.
Tweet 50: ADR will wrestle for the World title. He's one of the last guys I want to see wrestle Show.

Brad Maddox v Sheamus

Tweet 51: Is Brad Maddox auditioning for the part of Willy Wonka?
Tweet 52: Brad Maddox versus Sheamus is WWE's Christmas gift to fans.
Tweet 53: Maddox is left handed. Miz's face turn now makes sense: WWE refuses to have two left handed guys on the same side of the heel-face divide.
Tweet 54: Brad eats a Brogue Kick. Add Sheamus to the list of guys he's jobbed to. What is the point of this story?

The Prime Time Players v The Usos

Tweet 55: Darren Young dances like he's got a ferret in his trunks.
Tweet 56: The Usos have been a tag team "since day one". #DemBoys
Tweet 57: The Usos win with Twin Magic. Awful. Just awful.

Matt Striker interviews Big Show

Tweet 58: I wish Striker was facing Big Show. I'd love to see his face plastered all over the ring.

World Heavyweight championship – Big Show (c) v Alberto Del Rio

Tweet 59: How can you tell SmackDown's a taped show? ADR got a serviceable pop.
Tweet 60: Why is Lilian making announcements AFTER the bell's rung? Shouldn't they be locking up by now?
Tweet 61: "Who will leave 2012 as World Heavyweight champion?" asks Josh Mathews. Big Show, Josh. Big Show.
Tweet 62: "Who sucks now?" - Big Show, channelling D'Lo Brown
Tweet 63: This match is, at best, average.
Tweet 64: Ahhhhh the old heel walking out on the match routine. It's a classic.
Tweet 65: Sheamus jumps Show. Show makes short work of him. Will Ricardo run-in next?
Tweet 66: Oh no, just the entire roster.
Tweet 67: Because they're both faces now Sheamus and ADR are happy to team up to batter Big Show.
Tweet 68: You know you're in trouble when you turn Alberto Del Rio face and use Sheamus to give him a rub.

Thursday 27 December 2012

The Big Issue

Big E Langston's WWE debut was, in my opinion, handled very well. Playing to his strengths he was booked to decisively flatten John Cena and The Miz during his first week on TV. Overpowering 'The Awesome One' may not seem especially impressive (because it's not, plenty of superstars have done the same) but getting the better of Cena definitely is.
Cena, for all his faults, is a strong, muscular dude. There are dozens of examples that can be pointed to when discussing his strength (around 85 involve him performing his finishing move on Big Show). His aversion to selling is incredibly well documented. That Big E was allowed to blast Cena like a jobber was the best possible debut for him. It has been shown that he can best the top guy in the company.
Of course this treatment can't last. SuperCena is bound to cease with the generosity sooner rather than later, at which point he will treat Langston like everyone else on the roster. That is to say like fodder for the supremely powerful valiant babyface.
Big E should make the most of the time he has before that occurs. Being put into a unit with the intriguing-once-more AJ Lee character and rising star Dolph Ziggler has placed the NXT champion into a very good spot on the card. He's with two performers that guarantee him regular appearances on TV and there’s next to no pressure on him. He can loll about being a charisma vacuum all he wants, as long as he grimaces at the right moments management are unlikely to care.

No ridiculous comeback here
Big E should make developing some sort of personality a priority. While it's clear promos will never be his strong point (big muscles are his thing) he needs to master the basics if he's to advance beyond his current role. He'll want to do that too, 'The Show Off' won't need a bodyguard forever. Having watched him since his debut in NXT I know this is an area that the big man needs to improve.
A big showdown with Cena seems likely. If it doesn't happen on RAW's 20th Anniversary Show then the Royal Rumble would seem the logical place for that match to occur. Perhaps Cena will surprise us and remain generous in his interactions with Langston. If he does and Big E manages to get a win over the leading man, tainted or otherwise, that would keep the newcomer on the path to success.
His debut has been timed and handled well. If WWE hope to mould Langston into a greater talent capable of attracting and entertaining fans they have a lot of work to do. Pitting him against Cena is a nice start. But it's just that: a start.

Monday 24 December 2012

Twelve Wrestling Things of Christmas

Are the Twelve Days of Christmas before or after the big day? I'm never sure. It doesn't matter really. In the spirit of The Season I present my Twelve Wrestling Things of Christmas.
Twelve... Years Since the Business Changed

2013 will mark the twelfth anniversary of the closure of both ECW and WCW as well as the end of the Attitude Era. That was the last time wrestling was close to being considered cool and popular. Will next year see the beginning of another popularity boom for the business? Don’t get your hopes up…
Eleven... Knockouts and X Division Wrestlers

It’s not an exact number but it feels like TNA has about eleven performers spread across two divisions that used to be really good. Kenny King, Zema Ion, Tara, Mickie James and their co-workers are all great but a division will never be entertaining if it doesn’t have a deep roster. TNA should hire more talent and concentrate on resurrecting their once enjoyable leagues.

If it means the likes of Mr Anderson, Hernandez and Sting have to be released from their contracts so be it. TNA needs new marketable names, not the same old ones in slightly different scenarios.

The most exciting thing in this picture is the lighting
Ten... Pay-Per-Views a Year

TNA will break from the norm and present ten pay-per-views in 2013. I think this is a good move. It will allow more time to develop stories for the remaining shows and ease the pressure on viewers’ wallets. That should result in increased buy rates for the remaining supercards and a better paced, more enjoyable television product for the team in Orlando.
Nine… Shows Confirmed

Between now and May Ring of Honor only has nine shows announced. That’s a worryingly low number for a promotion that used to have a very healthy touring schedule. Of these two are TV tapings and three are internet pay-per-views. If SBG wants ROH to be viewed as America’s number three promotion they need to up the budget to allow more non-televised events to take place. Expanding the roster wouldn’t hurt either.
Eight... Months Left

If we’re to believe what’s been said by the man himself in interviews Davey Richards will depart Ring of Honor when his contract expires in August 2013. As one of the company’s most popular stars and talented performers that’s not good news. ROH has eight months to prepare at least one new star to take ‘The American Wolf’s’ place at the top.

The obvious candidate is Adam Cole. He’s popular, talented and young enough to be able to work the speedy Ring of Honor pace for years to come. If this problem is not addressed and Richards leaves with no successor ready to take his lofty spot then I don’t think the promotion will have much of a future.
Seven... Performers Deserving More

There are plenty of men and women I’d like to see wrestling in WWE but not all of them are currently in the promotion’s developmental system. Of the ones that are there seven stand out as wrestlers I’d like to see on the main roster in the next twelve months.

Adrian Neville, formerly independent wrestling’s PAC, is a high-flying sensation who could be a huge star in WWE if he were allowed to wrestle the style he’s become known for. Based on the promotion’s well established feelings on cruiserweights there’s no guarantee of that happening, unfortunately.

NXT Diva Charlotte was born Ashley Elizabeth Fliehr-Johnson. She is the daughter of Ric Flair. I’m not interested in seeing her wrestle. I’m interested in seeing how WWE handles her call-up and what storylines she’s placed into when it happens. If you want an NXT Diva who can wrestle look no further than Paige. She’s been a hit with the regulars at the NXT TV tapings and could be the woman to revitalise the Divas division in 2013.
Future of the Divas league?
I’ve written before that I’m a big fan of the Bray Wyatt character. It works very well in NXT and would translate well to the main roster. I’m not sure the former Husky Harris would survive the call-up without tweaks and alterations being made though. They could potentially ruin a very quirky heel.

Richie Steamboat is another second generation wrestler who is good enough to warrant a spot on the main roster. He doesn’t have an outlandish gimmick or flawless good looks, but not every member of the roster needs those things. Sometimes it should be enough that a guy has talent. Steamboat junior does. He’d make an excellent addition to the WWE mid-card.

Corey Graves wrestles well and has an interesting look. He’s another guy that could provide some substance to the middle card ranks. Finally there’s Kassius Ohno. Formerly one half of the Kings of Wrestling and the man who did the Wade Barrett gimmick before Wade Barrett, Ohno has the height, look, promo and ring skills to attain a top card position in WWE, as long as he’s given a chance to be himself.
Six... Solid Tag Team Wrestlers

Specifically Daniel Bryan, Kane, Titus O’Neil, Darren Young, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow. Since being put together as a unit and winning WWE’s tag team titles Bryan and Kane, dubbed Team Hell No by the “WWE Universe”, have made the promotion’s doubles league worth paying attention. For the first time in years it’s an entertaining part of WWE programming.

Rhodes and Sandow are easily WWE’s premier heel team, meshing their characters nicely and seeming devoted to getting over as a long term pairing, as opposed to two guys chucked together to work a short programme. Meanwhile the Prime Time Players have blossomed over the last six months into dependable antagonists and stand to inherit the division when the inevitable split of Team Hell No and the Rhodes Scholars occurs.
Five... Gooooooooooooooooold Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings

Um… Yeah.
Four... And Oh

Since The Miz made his WrestleMania debut at show number 26 he has not suffered a loss at the event. While this undefeated streak may seem faintly ridiculous when compared to the Undertaker’s more prominent record I have enjoyed ‘The Awesome One’s’ mention of it after previous shows. I want him to pick up his fourth win this year.

If built up for another couple of years, and if he becomes popular enough, Miz could possibly be pitted against ‘The Dead Man’ in a few years’ time in an attempt to fool people into thinking ‘Taker’s Streak will end. Failing that Miz could just be fed wins in an attempt to replicate the run that currently stands at 20-0. It wouldn’t be as special, but it would be something.
Three... Never Being Fed
Ryback bellowed "Feed me three!" several times over the summer. He progressed to winning two-on-one handicap matches pretty quickly but he never got his wish to beat three fellas at once.
It's probably for the best: he's proven he’s not up to the task since The Shield debuted.
Two... Promotions I Should Watch More

CHIKARA and Dragon Gate USA. I enjoy both but don’t get to see them as much as I’d like. The only reason for that is that there isn’t enough time. Every show I’ve watched from these companies this year has been very good. Many have been excellent. I intend to try watching more of them next year. You should too.
One... Jobbed Out Santa


Sunday 23 December 2012

Year of the Snake

This has not been a good year for Randy Orton. The man I ranked as the second best wrestler of 2011 has had an uninspiring, underwhelming 2012 thanks to a lack of interest from the booking team, fan apathy and a poorly timed suspension.

That last problem was very much ‘The Viper’s’ own fault. It was discovered he had broken the rules of WWE’s stringent Wellness Policy, which is in place to protect in-ring performers from abusing themselves with harmful substances, and given a sixty day suspension. This was ‘The Apex Predator’s’ second strike. A third strike, should it occur, will lead to dismissal.

Orton made a stupid mistake that cost him two months of his career and necessitated changes to WWE’s programming plans. Orton had been heading into a feud with Chris Jericho. That was immediately canned, leaving WWE without one of their biggest names and with a gaping hole in their PPV line-up. They were also left without the best headliner they have when it comes to helping elevate lesser talent. WWE’s roster has been in severe need of a revamp for a while now. Had Orton been around over the summer I have no doubt a use would have been found for him.
It’s not all been his own fault. Back in January the rumour was that Orton was being considered for a World Heavyweight championship match with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXVIII. That spot ended up going to Sheamus. It’s believed the booking was changed because WWE management were unhappy that their plans had been revealed.

Orton was an innocent victim of that situation. He ended up taking on and losing to Kane at the supershow. It was as unmemorable as it sounds.

Since returning from his sixty day suspension Orton has mainly been used to make others look good. He lost to Alberto Del Rio clean on an episode of SmackDown in order to setup another clash in the boring Del Rio v Sheamus programme and he lost clean to Dolph Ziggler in the ten man tag semi-final of Survivor Series. He achieved his goal, making his opponent look good, on both occasions but it was still a far cry from his success and lofty position on the card in 2011.

It was to be expected though. Having failed a drug test Orton was never going to march back into his old spot. WWE have been wary of relying too heavily on him for fear of another failed test. Should that happen the promotion would be left without one of their most reliable grapplers. The slow approach was the only logical way for the company to handle the situation. ‘The Viper’ had to regain their trust.

Having played a babyface since the early months of 2010 Orton is in desperate need of a fresh direction. Not only has he clashed with everybody of note in his current role he’s also a natural fit as a bad guy. His cold sneer and deliberate promo style are the hallmarks of a villain, not a hero. Even his good looks mark him out as a bad guy: most fans won’t take much convincing to want to see him get his face punched in.

The early part of 2013 seems like a good time to instigate Orton’s return to the dark side. He would have fresh rivalries waiting for him with main event stars Sheamus and Daniel Bryan. He could also fill his time with elevating WWE’s mid-card babyfaces, something he’s been relied upon for with the mid-card heels for a while now. As noted, he’s very good at such tasks.

Turning Orton to coincide with WrestleMania Season could encourage an increase in viewing levels after the big show. Timed and executed right the Orton turn could keep casual, part-time or lapsed viewers hanging around into the summer. He’s better as a bad guy. I’m looking forward to the inevitable switch.

Saturday 22 December 2012


Why is it that every wrestling promotion under the sun (well, the ones in North America at any rate) feels the need to clog up valuable minutes of air time with authority figures? WWE is the prime culprit. This year we've seen AJ Lee become the GM of RAW only to be fired a few months later for "inappropriate relations" with a talent, Booker T appointed as the new SmackDown boss with his assistants (Teddy Long and Eve) bickering and one-upping each other continually, and, of course, the entire John Laurinaitis saga. The latter was a holdover from one of last year's central stories.
While authority figure storylines are a WWE speciality they're not the only ones at it. Over the last few years TNA has become a pustule of unsightly continuity plots with match-making power tossed around seemingly at random between Sting, Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan and Dixie Carter. Not content to simply rotate established names through an existing job a new role was also created: GM of the Knockouts division. Designed exclusively as a way to get Brooke 'Hogan' Bollea onto television it's a move that hasn't improved Impact at all.
Even Ring of Honor, the company all about emphasising in-ring competition and downplaying frivolous stories (supposedly), has seen an above average amount of time dedicated to match-makers this year. Executive Producer Jim Cornette was the main rival of world champion Kevin Steen before being written off TV (because of his real life dismissal from the booking squad) to be replaced by Nigel McGuinness.
In 2012 there is no need for these figures to be featured so prominently. Yet they are. Their prominence is a holdover from the days of the Attitude Era, where the Mr McMahon character first gained notoriety and become a money draw. People had filled similar roles before, but never had they gotten over so well. Vince was so fantastically good at the heel owner shtick that the promotion’s writing team (which was installed during the Era’s latter years) became used to writing with such a character.

The man who started the trend

Authority figures have become a crutch to the WWE writers. They rely on them for easy storytelling and eliciting the desired reaction (usually boos or cheers) easily from fans. It’s a habit that needs to stop. Wrestling shows do not need weekly appearances from General Managers, Executive Producers, Managing Consultants, commissioners or any similar fictitious role.

That’s not to say that these roles should be done away with completely. There’s always a need for authority figures in wrestling. A GM, commissioner or owner is someone who can explain the storylines and book the matches on screen. It’s a good way of getting retired or limited performers (or over non-workers) onto television. They just shouldn’t be on every week talking for twenty minutes.

TNA, WWE and ROH are all just as guilty as one another when it comes to this. All three need to decrease the amount of time dedicated to these performers and start focusing on signing and pushing new acts whom they will be able to rely upon in the years to come. People won’t buy a pay-per-view to see matches being made. They’ll buy a pay-per-view to watch matches being wrestled.