The 2012 college football regular season is in the books and my Notre Dame Fighting Irish have emerged undefeated and set to take part in the national championship game. My now-deceased father is surely smiling from the Heavens; as am I. Many of you have become aware of my affinity for college football and my penchant for rankings. Some might even remember my feeble attempt at getting a weekly-to-bi-weekly poll put together for the WWE roughly a year ago (though, as it would turn out, it was not that memorable). Well, 2012 will soon be coming to a close and another wrestling calendar will end, as well. I think it has been a pretty good year (I’m serious) for the WWE and, as has become customary for me each December for the last ten years, I am preparing to sit down and reminisce about the best matches. This year, with as busy a schedule as I’ve ever had, I have not had the chance to re-watch many of the non-Mania bouts as I would normally try and do. So, I’ve decided to pre-rank what I feel have been the top ten. Much like a coaches’ poll in football done prior to a bye-week, which allows for substantially thorough viewing of each ranked team, this list of mine is based primarily on first-and-only viewings. My intent is to sit down and really engage in each match once again. Then, if changes need be made, I will revisit the ranking and re-order accordingly. Please feel free to share your thoughts.
Doctor's Orders: 2012 was a Year to Remember (Part 2: Tie for WWE Match of the Year)
By The Doc
Dec 9, 2012 - 10:30:54 AM
I’ll make the Wrestler of the Year conversation quick because I think my overall thoughts from the Royal Rumble to Survivor Series should be sufficient to back up my argument in naming CM Punk as the obvious choice. It was a smark’s year, as the beloved Chicago Made Superstar was easily the most entertaining act, particularly from the moment he turned heel at the 1000th Raw until now, but certainly including the work he did with Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan. He has been champion all year and has earned a stellar mark of critical success with his near 4-star average for title defenses on PPV. The only other guys I would put in the conversation would be John Cena, mainly for the consistency throughout the year and especially his performances both on the mic and in the ring at Mania with The Rock, and Daniel Bryan, who showed me something huge this year in not resting on his considerable in-ring laurels and actually stepping up with a wildly interesting character that was exceeded only by Punk in memorable television moments.
After finishing the column, I checked the word count and remembered that you ladies and gentlemen do have a life, so I'll split this up into 6-10 tonight and 1-5 later this weekend
(Ratings reflect those originally given in PPV reports; notes are taken from original reviews)
10 – Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton at Night of Champions (Doc rating - ***1/2) (Doc note - I thought Orton and Ziggler worked hard, worked smart, worked efficiently, and worked a nice climactic finish, but I do think that they worked a bit too slow given how well-conditioned both of them are. It’s like seeing an Oregon vs. USC defensive-minded slugfest instead of the track meet that you’d expect)
9 – Big Show vs. Sheamus at Hell in a Cell (Doc rating - ***1/2) (Doc note - Those two guys worked their tails off and it paid off in spades with a dramatic, back and forth contest that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations)
8 – Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam (Doc rating - ***1/2) (Doc note - This was difficult to rate, much like Brock’s last match. Bottom line: I liked the match, but it could’ve been better)
7 – Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus, 2/3 Falls at Extreme Rules (Doc rating - ****) (Doc note - That had to have been very satisfying for anyone that has wanted to see Bryan vs. Sheamus at the last two Wrestlemanias)
6 – Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena at Extreme Rules (Doc rating - ****) (Doc note - Cena vs. Brock shattered expectations, as far as I’m concerned. That was utterly incredible to watch)
5 – Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk at Over the Limit (Doc rating - ****1/4) (Doc note - You won’t see many WWE matches like this. I feel privileged to have seen this live; it definitely made the trip worth it. The match itself was excellent and unique)
4 – Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk at Wrestlemania XXVIII (Doc rating - ****1/4) (Doc note - I think it may take a little bit of time for it to sink in for everyone just how very good that match really was and I wonder just how high some might end up placing it on their lists. I see it as a match that the years will be kind to)
3 – CM Punk vs. John Cena at Night of Champions (Doc rating - ****1/2) (Doc note - Personally, I prefer Cena-Punk to every match this year with the exception of the Wrestlemania double-headed monster of Rock-Cena and Trips-Taker, which have intangibles and a setting that couldn’t be duplicated tonight)
2 – John Cena vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania XXVIII (Doc rating - ****1/2) (Doc note - So much hype went into this match. Whether you loved that build or didn’t, the fact of the matter was that there was a lot of hype and the two had to live up to it. I, personally, thought that the match was excellent. It was everything that I could’ve hoped it would be)
1 – Triple H vs. Undertaker, Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania XXVIII (Doc rating - ****3/4) (Doc note - I hope that people understand how great a story was told in that match and can put aside whatever bias they may hold against any of the guys involved. That was an amazing performance by three of the best of all-time)
Going into my viewing of the top ten, I sat back and thought about where the WWE is right now. There was some disappointing news on the net this week leading into next Sunday’s TLC PPV (an event I regularly omit from my year-end review due to year-end time constraints with the holidays). There is a sense of panic across the IWC that is common and, to a degree, understandable. It makes me think that the last few months of 2012, which have followed the trend of recent years in being perhaps the most boring part of the WWE calendar, will mar the overall year. I’m at a stage in my fandom where I simply concentrate on what I can control, which when it comes to wrestling is very, very little; so, I basically sit back and watch. You can tell how interested I am in the product by how often I write about it. November was my low for the year with just four columns posted. I haven’t watched a PPV since Night of Champions. All that being said, the product will become interesting again, soon, and I hope that once the stink of October-December wears off, the perspective of the year that was will set in.
Look at what we were offered in 2012: the return to the ring of The Rock, a great three hours of Mania 28, the return of Brock Lesnar (no matter for how long or often), a yearlong title reign for arguably the most popular wrestler on the internet, a rise to prominence of arguably the second most popular wrestler on the internet, an influx of talent from the indies sure to make the smarkiest of smarks happy, and a handful of other happenings. Unless there is some major change in the booking style, then the general week-to-week TV product is going to be like it has been this year and in recent years and we’ll get more than our fair share of bland Raws and Smackdowns. Yet, there was plenty in 2012 to get excited about.
10 – Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam (***1/2) (I watched this match three times and my opinion really has not changed. Brock Lesnar’s matches this year were both very unique; they were not the typical professional wrestling bouts. There is something about him, though, that makes that justifiable. In the Trips match, he spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to use the Kimura lock. That was the only real drawback for me. The mere sight of seeing those two fighting each other was more than enough to make up for the non-traditionality of what they were doing, stylistically. The story told was still what I had hoped for. I’m very curious to see what’s in store for Brock next year, as there are numerous talents that I’d like to see mix it up with him and try their hands at creatively utilizing the qualities that he brings to the table with his MMA-type character)
9 – Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton at Night of Champions (***3/4) (I underrated this a bit in September. I chose it because I wanted Ziggler represented, more than any other reason. I believe him to be the man with the very best Money in the Bank year resume, even eclipsing Edge. Ziggler has already wrestled for a World title on three PPVs and has rounded out his year with PPV matches against Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and John Cena. The WWE has conditioned the audience to accept him in the main-event by osmosis. They are hoping that by putting him in the ring and having him either competitive or victorious over well-established top talents that the fans will immediately buy into him once he becomes a consistent top guy, himself. I think it will work based on performances like this one against Orton. Ziggler has come a long way. He carries himself with a main-event swagger and has what it takes to be more than just a cog in the wheel of the machine)
8 – Big Show vs. Sheamus at Hell in a Cell (***3/4) (I stand by what I said six weeks ago about this match. It was a little slow in the middle parts of the match where Show was on offense for a long stretch, but that period was sandwiched by a very strong beginning and an excellent ending. Sheamus proved to me that there is no size opponent with which he cannot have a great match. I think he had a tremendous year as a surprise fixture in the World Championship picture. I expected he’d be in the mix, but I did not foresee him becoming the face of Smackdown. Time will tell if he earned, in the WWE’s mind, a lengthier stay at the roundtable, but I was impressed throughout the year with his in-ring work. He does a nice job of varying up his signature stuff. That’s an important thing to have in your arsenal these days; bland storylines make it more difficult to get the crowd invested. The feuds get repetitive, making it all the more essential that the payoff matches feature talents that can succeed despite the writing leading up to them. Variation in the moveset is an important quality. Show is one of many older talents that need to move on, as they are dragging down the product and giving the WWE a series of crutches that aid in their avoidance of going full force with developing a new crop. I’ll give him credit for his work with Sheamus, however. The closing sequence of events to this match was perfect. Knockout punch kick out, Brogue kick false finish, and KO punch ending. It had to be done in that order for maximum effectiveness, in my opinion)
7 – Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena at Extreme Rules (****) (The question upon second viewing was whether or not the same awe-inspiring feeling could rush over me as I watched such an unusual, yet thrilling match. To a degree, it did. Seeing that much blood for the first time in years was eye-popping; and even when the ref intervened to stop it, it made a lot of sense given the fight feel. The difference between Brock-Cena and Brock-Trips was that the Chicago crowd was the ideal group of people to get such a match over. Their reaction helped make this match seem more special. I’m not sure that this can stand the test of time, but it was one of the most compelling matches of the last decade on the first viewing. You’re just not going to see anything like it if you comb the WWE video library. If there’s one thing that we can confidently state about Lesnar it’s that he is going to give us something that nobody else does)
6 – Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus at Extreme Rules (****) (I stand by my original rating. Everything leading up to the first fall was outstanding and the storyline-driven finish worked just fine but just was not as compelling as the back and forth drama that they had told in the first 20-minutes. I think it’s interesting to reminisce back to April and think about how Bryan had, to that point, never had a feature-length World title match despite being in the main-event for roughly six months. So, there was a lot of anticipation based on that alone, especially from those that saw his work in the indies. Couple that with the fact that two Wrestlemanias had come and gone without showcasing the advertised Sheamus vs. Bryan match and the stiff, part-brawl, part-technical showdown that people expected and the Extreme Rules 2/3 falls match was something to truly look forward to. Both of these guys are very smart wrestlers. I don’t think Sheamus gets enough credit for that. This was as psychologically sound a match as you’ll see. Bryan was the surprise of the year. Whether or not he could wrestle was never in question, but he worked his butt off to develop a character that ultimately managed to get over based on two words. When he was in the spotlight, there was not a more over performer in the company)
5 – CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania (****1/4) (I did a lot of comparing today and the bouts that I most looked forward to studying side-by-side were Punk’s matches with Jericho and Bryan. I look at Jericho as an HBK style of wrestler who has a lot of technical ability, but is flashy enough that he doesn’t make technical wrestling the basis of his offense. CM Punk is like an Eddie Guerrero to me, in the ring. Guerrero was a hybrid. He could do all of the aesthetically pleasing high risks, but he could get on the mat and go move-for-move with the best grapplers in the world. Punk is that same kind of hybrid. In my original review, I cited that Punk-Jericho reminded me of Jericho vs. HBK. I still feel that way to an extent, mainly because I think it will similarly age well as the years go on, while sometimes getting lost in the historical perspective because of it being on the same card as some huge matches. I honestly could sit down every day this week and watch Punk-Jericho. I thought it was excellent. It was not epic and I actually placed their rematch from Extreme Rules ahead of this in the beginning before repeated viewings throughout the year of the Mania match had me pick it as the lone representative in their series for this column. There were several memorable sequences and I think it’s the best catch-as-catch-can match of the entire year – perhaps the best in as many as four years since HBK-Jericho from 2008. Loved it)
4 – CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan at Over the Limit (****1/2) (I bumped this up a quarter star after seeing it for the first time with the commentary and no noise to distract me as I had in the live setting that night in Raleigh. With this match, I make the comparison to the Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko matches from the mid-90s; to a lesser extent the Hog Wild match between Malenko and Chris Benoit. The only difference, in all honesty, between then and now is that Punk and Bryan are just more over and in a main-event setting. What they offered, particularly at OTL, was something that you just aren’t going to see. That’s what made me bump it up a spot ahead of Jericho-Punk. The Mania match might have been something we haven’t seen in up to four years in terms of quality catch-as-catch-can style, but the OTL match was something I don’t think we’ve seen in ten-fifteen. That match in today’s WWE is unique in a totally different way but, in essence, similar to the Brock Lesnar “fights” we saw this year. Punk and Bryan’s technical-high risk blend was just so smoothly executed; I’m not sure I can describe it any better)
3 – CM Punk vs. John Cena at Night of Champions (****1/2) (These guys have the most compelling matches of any of the current combinations in the WWE right now and, with matches like this one, they are beginning to challenge some of the all-time great rivalries. Think, for a moment, about where CM Punk is at in his career. He is above Edge and Randy Orton and just about every heel that has come about since Triple H in terms of what he has accomplished in the last 18 months. I would even put him above Randy Savage, but would say he’s very similar in stature right now for his era. What separates him from the aforementioned recent stars is his title reign; what makes him different from Savage is that his title reign did not start out and has never been a vehicle to strengthen Cena, as was Macho’s for Hogan. They have consistently reinforced that Punk has Cena’s number. It’s like Austin vs. Rock, only if Rock was constantly one-upping Austin instead of how history remembers it. I think they are destined to main-event Wrestlemania XXX together, perhaps for the Undisputed Championship – a card that they should play for that event. Matches like they had at Night of Champions show how much they clearly enjoy working together. It appears almost as easy as breathing. They have such excellent chemistry and there’s an extra pep in each of their steps. Punk has been Cena’s greatest rival, surpassing Edge especially if they ever hook up at Mania because Punk has won all the big matches. Cena is vulnerable when in the ring with Punk. Punk has needed every victory to further legitimize his claims as the “Best in the World.” I’m almost glad that they didn’t end up wrestling at Hell in a Cell, though I would very much like to see them battle using that gimmick. Their matches are special and should be treated as such)
1A – The Rock vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania XXVIII (*****) (You know, I’ve watched this match a half a dozen times this year and I know that there is always this tendency to critically dissect matches that have so much hype surrounding them. People did that to CM Punk vs. Cena at Money in the Bank last year, claiming that because Punk didn’t land on his feet perfectly during a counter that it wasn’t a 5-star match. It was, though. At least by my scale. I have concluded after watching and studying Rock vs. Cena several times that the gripes about it are merely nitpicking comments and little more. The weak Sharpshooter, for instance, can be broken down by simply observing the angle at which Cena’s back was torqued. Dropping down to one knee actually makes it more difficult for the person to move toward the ropes, in theory. So, you can let that one go. I’m not sure that there was anything else that you could gripe about outside of a little ring rust from Rock that did not phase his ability to tell an awesome story. You can nitpick certain parts of the execution, I suppose. I just don’t understand why you’d bother. Rock’s first feature length singles match in nine years was about as perfect as I could’ve dreamed it would be. I ended up asking myself the question – after observing the great story and the great false finishes and the little touches that make a match like this extra special, such as that moment in the early going where Rock pushes Cena across the ring and tells him, “The Rock’s strong, too” or when Cena was so shocked by Rock’s arm drags and Mahistrole cradle in the early moments that he sat stunned in the corner asking the ref if Rock had caught a quick one on him – what did this match lack that Undertaker vs. Triple H had? I couldn’t come up with anything. I asked that question multiple times to myself and I couldn’t come up with an answer. Earlier this year, I boosted Trips-Taker to five-star status for a brilliant story told. I confirmed that with one more viewing today. So, I sat back and asked myself another question: if Rock vs. Cena had everything that did Taker vs. Triple H with HBK as the ref, do you take Trips-Taker back down or boost Rock-Cena up to the highest level? I saw no reason not to give Rock-Cena that elusive 5th star. Honest to God, I just don’t see why not. Six viewings have only made it better. I’m not all that kind in my ratings, historically; that dates back several years to my days reviewing for LOP in the mid-2000s. Rock vs. Cena lived up to every bit of hype that I gave it in this column)
1 – Triple H vs. Undertaker Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania XXVIII (*****) (Earlier this year, in preparation for a much bigger writing project, I watched the Triple H vs. Undertaker series from the past two Manias. After watching the Mania 27 bout, it helped put the Mania 28 follow-up in better perspective. The fact of the matter was that the awesomeness that was the Hell in a Cell, End of an Era match would not have been complete – they would not have been able to tell the story that they did - without the previous year’s match. You could say that the HBK vs. Taker series also made possible the amazing spectacle that has earned almost unanimous praise as WWE MOTY from what I’ve read to this point. So, it was basically a match four years in the making. There was one particular near fall in the Mania 28 match that, in my opinion, was the culmination of the three Manias that preceded it. When HBK awoke from his Hell’s Gate-induced slumber and connected with the super kick that sent Taker right into the Pedigree, the Streak had never been in greater jeopardy in twenty years. That was the single greatest false finish of the entire Streak. Contextually, it was the near fall that gave Triple H the best match in his career and the Undertaker his second five-star Mania performance of his last four Manias – a feat that not even HBK accomplished. It was a legacy-enhancer for both of them and also a notch in the belt of the Showstopper, whose role as the guest referee cannot be understated. Storytelling was the theme of the night for the last three hours of Wrestlemania 28 and arguably no greater story was told than the Game desperately trying to end the Deadman. Timing was crucial in this match, as they heavily relied on weapons again to fill the dead space, and needed to overcome that minor glitch in their system to ensure maximum critical success. For instance, the use of Hell’s Gate was phenomenal; the chokeslam that followed its prolonged use made for the match’s first great kick out. Little things like that are big things to me. One thing I can definitively state about Mania 28, and likely Mania 29: you cannot replicate what these big stars bring to the table because there has been so much history leading up to their final bouts. I know the fashionable thing to write these days is that those guys should be getting out of the way for the talent of the next generation, but don’t forget to be a fan and appreciate that these are the last great matches of some of the all-time greats in the business)
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was your 2012 WWE Match of the Year?
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