I know it’s late for a midyear report, but I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway! The following are my thoughts on a few things that have stood out to me so far this year in WWE.
Breakout Star of the Year- Tie between Daniel Bryan and AJ Lee
It’s only fitting that the top two performers in WWE are two people whose careers have been linked together for the better part of the year. It’s also fitting because both represent what the top brass in WWE has traditionally shied away from in terms of appearance.
Bryan is far from the being the most physically imposing specimen, but when he gets inside the ring and on the microphone, he brings level of intensity and psychology that few possess. His yes chants have become the most recognizable one word catchphrase in all of wrestling, even being mentioned in other promotions. He’s been in the some of the year’s best matches and angles and even stood toe-to-toe (and verbally held his own) with the Rock on last week’s 1,000th episode of Raw. It looks like the current direction is for him to engage in some kind of confrontation with Charlie Sheen at Summerslam. Though, I’d rather see Bryan compete for the WWE Championship, I have no doubt he will make his program with Sheen as entertaining as possible. In 2012, it seemed like WWE finally realized what many in the business had known for years: Bryan is great at everything he does.
AJ, without question, is one of the most important women in the history of WWE. Only three others come to mind that could compare with her. Elizabeth was the first major valet in WWE and was involved in storylines with the big stars of her day. The popularity of Sable changed the way WWE would market their women to the masses, while Trish Stratus became the best in-ring performer they ever had.
But AJ has done something that none of them ever did and that was to become a fixture of the main event scene. For the last several months, AJ has been all over WWE television. She started out the year as the bashful sidekick of Bryan before she became a star in her own right. She played major roles in WWE Championship matches at the No Way Out and Money in the Bank PPVs. One could argue that the buildup to those matches was more focused on her than the actual participants. There were weeks on Raw when she was featured in more segments than John Cena. That just doesn’t happen to anyone.
There have been so many memorable AJ moments that it would take me an entire post to write about. If I had to narrow it down to two, they would be the time she pushed C.M. Punk off the top rope into a table and last week’s wedding segment with Bryan where it was revealed by Vince McMahon that she would be taking over as the new general manger. Regardless of what she does next, I’m sure she will make it as entertaining as possible.
Most Boring Performer- Tensai
This guy just sucks the energy out of me, and fans in every arena, each time he steps into the ring. He joins a select list of guys who I actually ignore every time they’re on the television screen. Once I hear his theme music, I know it’s time for me to get up and grab a snack. If he doesn’t do something soon to improve upon his character or ringwork then WWE should really consider firing him.
Most Underutilized Performer– Wow. The vast majority of the roster fits into this category. If I had to choose one then I would say Drew McIntyre. The man has a perfect look and the ability to back it up. It’s as simple as that.
Best Moment– Tie between Rock beating John Cena at Wrestlemania and Dolph Ziggler winning the Smackdown Money in the Bank ladder match.
In my 20 years as a fan of this great business, there are only a handful of moments that gave me the feeling of sheer elation of Rock beating Cena. I watched the show in a sports bar and the place went absolutely nuts when the referee counted to three. Words could not adequately describe the atmosphere that night. For many older fans, it was as if his win was vindication that the Attitude Era was better than the current Cena-dominated era of WWE.
On the other hand, Ziggler’s win was a moment fans desperately craved. Ziggler has been great for such a long time, but after losing so many key matches to Sheamus, I was worried he would end up losing MITB too. Much to my surprise (anytime something good happens in wrestling today, I consider it a surprise), Ziggler won a tremendous match and will likely win the world title down the road. His win was the just an outward symbol of what everyone knew he was capable of. I have no doubt he will be a major player in the WWE for years to come.
Top Five Matches of the Midyear
Rock vs. John Cena, Wrestlemania 28– It was a clash of two of the biggest stars in wrestling history in Rock’s hometown. The yearlong build to this match paid off, as it had the atmosphere of a big time sporting event. Rock winning was the cherry on top, but make no mistake about it, both guys worked hard to make it into a memorable encounter.
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar, Extreme Rules– This was a match unlike any I’ve seen. It was more of a real fight than a regular match and Lesnar dominated Cena in a manner no one ever has. Cena took an insane amount of punishment (being willingly busted open at the beginning and taking numerous stiff blows) to make Lesnar appear like a monster. It worked because there was a level of suspension of disbelief that seldom occurs in wrestling. Despite the outcome, it was still one of the best matches presented anywhere this year.
Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan, 2/3 falls, Extreme Rules– This was the type of match they were robbed of having at Wrestlemania. It was the first time Bryan was really allowed to showcase his talents in a main-event level capacity on PPV and the match told a tremendous story. Sheamus deserved equal credit for holding up his end as well.
Undertaker vs. HHH, Hell in the Cell, Wrestlemania 28– This match was far superior to their encounter from last year. The beauty of any Undertaker match at Mania (particularly the past six) is that everyone knows, deep down, he will always come out on top, but the real fun comes in getting to the conclusion. This was a story-driven match as you had Shawn Michaels as the guest referee. You had two best friends, one whose career ended as a result of Undertaker, teaming up to bring an end to the streak. It was a brutal confrontation with more chair shots than any match I could recall in years. The picturesque ending of all three men embracing on the stage was a classic moment for three standard bearers of the company. When it was over, Undertaker extended his legendary streak to 20-0 and most important, he and HHH brought some much needed prestige back to the Hell in the Cell concept.
C.M. Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, Over the Limit– Who would’ve imagined these two former Ring of Honor standouts would ever compete for the WWE Championship on PPV. Even though it didn’t go on last, this match was considered by wrestling purists as the real main event that evening. They went nearly 30 minutes in one of the more technical matches I’ve seen in quite some time. A fantastic match.
There are plenty of other categories I could write about, but I think this is a good place to stop. I will do a comprehensive year-end review of multiple categories in early January. Hope you enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts.
Writer’s Update: It just occurred to me that I forgot to mention the return of Brock Lesnar as one of the big moments of this year. The ovation he received from the Miami crowd the night after Wrestlemania was one of the loudest pops of the last decade in wrestling. It was comparable to Hulk Hogan, Rock or Steve Austin during their peak of popularity.