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Top Ten Wrestling Matches of 2012
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 2012 was the best year of wrestling since I started doing “Top 10” lists. The last few years forced me to scrap together a list of ten matches I found to be worthy, but this year was difficult due to the surge of ****+ matches. Seriously, runners up for this list include some of the following:
- Davey Richards vs. Kevin Steen- Border Wars - ****¼
- Kevin Steen vs. Michael Elgin - Glory by Honor - ****¼
- John Davis vs. Finlay - EVOLVE 12 - ****
- Davey Richards vs. Roderick Strong vs. Eddie Edwards - Showdown in the Sun - ****
- Kevin Steen vs. El Generico - Showdown in the Sun - ****
I even cut out the ****½ Davey Richards/Jay Lethal match from ROH Glory by Honor, just because I didn’t really have anything to say about it, other than that it was a great match (it didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things). 2013 has a big year of in-ring action to live up to.
10) Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan - WWE Extreme Rules - ****¼
For weeks heading into Wrestlemania 28, I was worried that WWE was planning on having Sheamus squash Bryan in 30 seconds. Turns out that was an optimistic prediction, the actual match was 18 seconds long and consisted on one Brogue Kick when Sheamus ambushed Bryan after planting a kiss on AJ. I was so angry about this, I wanted to immediately un-order the PPV and never let WWE trick me into spending money on them again. It was evident that WWE felt that Bryan’s 105 day reign as World Champion was enough and that he was going to be getting the Jack Swagger treatment and fall back down the ranks pretty quickly. The next night on Raw, Bryan was only booked for a cameo backstage and Sheamus transitioned directly into a feud with Alberto Del Rio. But WWE was not expecting the backlash that would come from smart fans and casual fans alike. The entire post-Wrestlemania Raw was filled with smart fans who’d attended ‘Mania and they heckled the entire show with “Daniel Bryan” chants and completely drowned out the Sheamus/Del Rio segment. The pro-Bryan wave continued in other cities, forcing WWE to reconsider their plans regarding Bryan. It turned out that Bryan got a rematch with Sheamus at Extreme Rules and Del Rio would have to wait. The resulting match was the match that I wanted to see at Wrestlemania, with Bryan absolutely decimating Sheamus with his still kicks and technical skills. Yes, Sheamus still pulled out the victory in this 2/3 falls classic, but the point was that Bryan was treated with respect during the match. From there, Bryan went on to a 3 month feud with CM Punk over the WWE Championship, so things turned out all right for a man that WWE was ready to give up on.
Ah yes, the match one year in the making. This was the biggest match on the biggest money-grossing event in WWE history, and I’m sure WWE took notes that giving the fans a year of anticipation paid off. The feud heading into this match made for compelling television as well, as it seemed like John Cena was intentionally trying to rattle The Rock during their promo exchanges. There were times when Rock seemed legitimately irritated or thrown off by things Cena would say, especially when getting called out for having notes written on his arm. The resulting match was suitably epic, almost 30 minutes of back and forth action. Rock was clearly winded and almost took a bad spill on an arm drag but bounced back for a thrilling exchange of near falls. It seemed as if a Cena victory was inevitable, but Rock scored the Rock Bottom and stood tall, providing a satisfying surprise and had people wondering for the first time in a while what would be next for Cena.
Go back in time to about four years ago and try telling folks on the internet that in 2012, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk would be having 25 minute-plus competitive matches on WWE pay-per-view for the WWE Championship. Hell, go back in time to 10 years ago and just listen to people say that is nothing short of fantasy-booking smart mark nonsense. But it happened, at Over the Limit and at Money in the Bank. CM Punk was in the midst of what has proven to be a 14 month title reign and Daniel Bryan was one of the hottest acts in WWE thanks to his “YES” gimmick, ill treatment of AJ, and getting royally screwed at Wrestlemania. When forced to pick one of their matches for the list, I decided to go with the blow-off, which was a no disqualifications match. Punk and Bryan blended their technical prowess with hardcore weapons spots and AJ Lee provided some extra drama as the guest referee. This would also prove to be Punk’s last hurrah as a baby face, as his heel turn began a week later at Raw 1,000. For the second year in a row, Money in the Bank was one of the best WWE pay-per-views of the year.
DGUSA/EVOLVE did not have the breakout year they were hoping for, but it wasn’t due to a lack of trying. The dual branded promotion had several strong feuds throughout the year, including Chuck Taylor vs. Johnny Gargano, El Generico vs. Samuray Del Sol, and this one between AR Fox and Sami Callihan. Their issues were built on Callihan’s psychotic insecurities (he is a part of a group called the Dirty Ugly Fucks) and Fox’s somewhat pretty-boy appearances. These two CZW vets worked the first ever Evolution’s End match at EVOVLE 12 and they provided a top-notch effort to make sure that this gimmick match would be taken seriously the next time one was announced. This one loses some points because while I rated it ****½ from the live viewing, it has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle in my mind ever since, and I admit I didn’t see too many EVOLVE shows in 2012, so it’s very possible that some of the Taylor/Gargano or Del Sol/Generico matches exceeded this. Still, this one should be arriving on DVD shortly, it’s worth your time.
The ongoing Kevin Steen vs. El Generico saga has been a strong backbone for ROH over the past few (creatively shaky) years. Despite getting a national syndication deal and being purchased by a big corporation in Sinclair Broadcasting, ROH was dead in the water for most of 2012 due to an uninspiring creative run by James Cornette. For some reason, Cornette was completely uninterested in utilizing the three arguably biggest names in independent wrestling in Kevin Steen, El Generico, and Colt Cabana. Cornette had to cave and bring Steen back into the company at Final Battle 2011, after the fans made it clear that they demanded him back. Generico had been more quietly written out of ROH, so there wasn’t the same sort of demand for him, but where Steen goes, Generico is sure to follow. Generico only made a handful of appearances for ROH in 2012, but when he did, he brought the hatred in continuing his feud with Steen. The blow-off came in this vicious Ladder War for the ROH World title in the main event of ROH’s biggest show of the year. They busted out every dangerous ladder spot in the book, and created a few new ones along the way, but sadly Steen was able to get the belt after delivering a Package Piledriver onto a bridged ladder. Generico is WWE-bound now, so this was probably their last encounter ever. It was a fitting way to end the most compelling feud in wrestling of the last few years.
5) Bobby Roode vs. Austin Aries - TNA Destination X - ****½
I never reviewed this match officially, but watching it live I determined it to be about ****¼. I’m bumping it up because months later, it stands as one of my favorite wrestling memories of 2012. Austin Aries had an incredible year, winning the World title about 12 months after deciding to sign with TNA instead of quitting wrestling all together. I ordered the Destination X pay-per-view hoping for a great main event and the outside possibility that Aries would win the World title. Aries had been on a roll leading up to this event, defeating Bully Ray and Samoa Joe on previous PPV outings and handing over his X title for a shot at the World title and creating a stipulation with Hulk Hogan that every July the X Champion would have the chance to do so too. It seemed like TNA was hell-bent on having Roode reign as champion for an entire year so he could lose the belt to James Storm at Bound for Glory in a huge blow-off, but Aries was getting too over for them to ignore and they decided to strike while the iron was hot. The match itself was excellent, with Aries powering through Roode’s size and strength advantages and getting the upset win with his patented Brainbuster. In one night, both Aries and the TNA World title were elevated. TNA had an excellent summer and this was the peak.
4) Team Hell No and Ryback vs. The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns) - WWE TLC - ****1/2
When a six-man tag team TLC match was announced in place of a Ryback/CM Punk rematch, I wasn’t expecting anything other than a solid effort on a throwaway pay-per-view. Instead, we got an all-out war that has made me take all the talent involved much more seriously. It capped off a year where Daniel Bryan proved that he had the chops and appeal to be main event star in WWE. It signaled the true arrival of The Shield, and made me believe they have big things in store for them, rather than the Nexus who were defined as losers too soon in their run to shake it off. It also made me take Ryback seriously, as prior to this I was rolling my eyes at his main event push. And Kane proved that even after all these years, he not only still has a lot to offer, but he might be the best he’s ever been. This match was bell to bell action and used the TLC stipulations to perfection. I love December surprises like this.
3) Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena - WWE Extreme Rules, ****½
Before I go on about how much I liked this match, let me start off by saying that having Cena go over Lesnar was the booking blunder of the year. If 2012 was supposed to be Cena’s “off year” so 2013 could be his redemption year, having him lose to Lesnar would have played perfectly into that. However, the main reason is that WWE spent seven figures getting Lesnar to return for a handful of dates and it was in their best interest to portray him as a killer and give him the comeback victory. Well, they still succeeded in portraying Lesnar as a killer, as he was in control of 90% of the match and obliterated Cena with stiff offense. Cena’s Superman formula is as tired as anything in wrestling today, but the beating he took in this match and the believable comeback was some of the best work of Cena’s career. Lesnar also didn’t wrestle like 2003 Lesnar, he wrestled like a conquering MMA star but within the confines of a pro wrestling match. I loved everything about this match except the finish, this one deserves a second (or third) look.
This was a veeeeery close runner up to MOTY. The reason it landed at number 2 is that repeated viewings of the match haven’t held up as well due to the rough physical shape of the participants. This match gets extra credit points for being an amazingly dramatic live viewing experience. The trick with Undertaker matches at Wrestlemania these days is creating the fear that the impossible will happen and that the streak will end. If there was ever someone in WWE who had the ego and stroke to book himself to defeat Undertaker at Wrestlemania, it would be Triple H. This background, in addition to a meticulously paced and choreographed match, made for a suspenseful match… if you happened to see it live. Knowing the result, the match loses something, but I’ll never forget jumping out of my seat when Undertaker took the Pedigree and Sweet Chin Music in succession, but still kicked out. If this was the last time we ever saw Triple H and The Undertaker, I’d have remembered them well.
I know, this is a predictable pick for #1, but I honestly did not feet right choosing anything else. To put things in perspective, I was not feeling very good about Ring of Honor over Wrestlemania weekend. The live streams for Showdown in the Sun Parts 1 and 2 were disasters, and GoFightLive could not even get a complete on demand version of the events posted properly. I was throwing my hands up in frustration and it was translating to me not being over entertained by the shows when I finally got to view them. Then came the main event of Part 2, which due to stipulations, resulted in Michael Elgin landing a title shot against reigning ROH Champion Davey Richards. So, keeping in mind that I had lost my enthusiasm for the show, this match still completely blew me away. Elgin and Richards must have been feeling the pressure because they pulled out all the stops to have a crazy main event, complete with believable near falls that had me wondering if Elgin was actually going to win the belt, despite not hearing any headlines about a title change on the news sites. 2012 was a down year for ROH creatively, but they managed to make a fresh star in Elgin in this match. It stands tall as Rowe’s MOTY for 2012.
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