Looking back on 2012
FOUND THE ORIGINAL VERSION - I will use my trusty Wikipedia references to remind myself of my feelings through out 2012, and the long term effects.
Rise of Sheamus
I am guessing it’s not the biggest piece to the puzzle that was 2012, but I have to say Sheamus made quite the impression on me as a wrestling fan. I know there are a lot of people online who are not fans of his these days, spurning from several reasons which I don’t think are fair whatsoever. But my point isn’t to defend him or his push, but rather how well done it was, and what it will mean in the future.
Sheamus debuted a century ago, and won the WWE Title from John Cena. You’d think that would be the biggest moment of his career, but somehow it seems forgettable thanks to his run as World Champion in 2012. And I’ll be fair, he didn’t do all that much that was important for the company. He didn’t have any huge angles, he didn’t elevate new talent. He didn’t rewrite the role of a top WWE face. But what he did do, he did really well. He took a lame feud with Alberto Del Rio and made it watchable. Sheamus can never be labeled a bad worker. He had great matches all year long with a variety of opponents; from technical wizards like Daniel Bryan or somewhat sluggish giants like the Big Show, Sheamus always had a top quality match in him.
But the real key to his 2012 is what he did for himself. While many will brush it off as generic top babyface antics, Sheamus found his stride as a lovable Irishman. It was quite the change of pace from the heel Sheamus we saw since Jesse Ventura gave him his break out run in 2009. His stories of weird uncles, his charismatic smile that connects with the audience perfectly while antagonizing his angry opponents, an array finishing moves that have been cemented as pop moments to the WWE Universe – he put it all together in 2012.
So while most may taint his success as a HHH bosom buddy, or say he’s just a carbon copy of John Cena, I see that 2012 was a great year where the groundwork was set for him to become a major star. It was a such a smart and well booked year for him, I’m quite amazed. He is clearly not at the megastar level of a John Cena or even CM Punk, but being the star of Smackdown means he’s on the verge of getting to that level, which is something we haven’t seen in WWE for a long long time.
Basically, like it or not, 2012 showed that Sheamus has all the tools to be a main stay star for the WWE for years to come. And he’s still got a lot of work left open. Since becoming such a successful face, it pretty much erases his history as a heel in the sense of feuds. Working with Orton or Cena again would be fresh due to the change in dynamics. Add CM Punk into that mix of new options for feuds, and I think we have a glimpse into what 2013 will hold for us on Raw.
In a quick review of all the PPV events this year on Wikipedia, I can see a trend. CM Punk was on only one poster (Hell in a Cell). This ties him with Santino Marella for 2012. To be fair, only 2 men appeared on the posters more than once, with John Cena having 3 cover shots and Brock Lesnar with 2. Still, seems odd does it not?
I think that’s a great lead into what 2012 was for CM Punk. I know the issues most have is how badly booked CM Punk was for 2012 as WWE Champion, but that’s not honestly the issue, but merely a symptom of the issue.
See, the problem isn’t that he was in the shadows, as much as it is who he was in the shadow of. John Cena had a terrible 2012 any way you look at it. Kayfabe, he had a terrible win/loss record. Booking, he had some of the poorest feuds in the history of WWE. As a character, he didn’t develop at all (though that’s been a stagnant issue for at least 3-4 years). As a performer, he didn’t deliver the amazing in ring work we’ve become accustomed to.
Yet, he got the spotlight over a vastly superior CM Punk in almost every way. Kayfabe, booking, character development, and match quality – CM Punk trumped John Cena (and most of the WWE roster) in 2012. I am not going to pretend that CM Punk is a bigger star, or that he has the ability to draw like Cena does. My argument is that if you’re going to book John Cena over CM Punk the way they did, then CM Punk shouldn’t have ever been WWE Champion.
I don’t think the title actually loses credibility when it’s not in the main event. I truly believe title credibility is a figment of our imagination. The problem, as I’ve stated several times, is the champions credibility. And CM Punk might have been WWE Champion for over 400 days, and setting records of all kinds, but the majority of fans still came out of the year knowing the title would be Cena’s whenever he wanted it. And not just online fans with our cynical mindset, but general fans still saw Cena as the uncrowned champion in a lot of ways. And that hurt Punk.
So they turned him heel. WWE decided not to have Cena make Punk the next face star with another confrontation, but let CM Punk continue with this history of unclean wins over the face of the company.
Now, no one can doubt that CM Punk is most effective as a heel. He is as smarmy and arrogant as they get. So this is a better role for him. And he makes a lot more sense as champion as a heel now. I just wish it all happened sooner. And I don’t mean years ago (though WWE dropped the ball then too) but rather he should have turned heel earlier in the year. While we enjoyed his angles with Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Chris Jericho, I think they all would have worked a lot better with the face/heel roles reversed.
Now, it is all hindsight being 20/20 here. I don’t expect WWE to have thought of this last year. They had a hot thing with CM Punk after the 2011 Summer of Punk, and they went with it. The problem is they realized they wouldn’t (couldn’t) go 100% with the Punk push, so it ended up being a truncated version of what many Punk fans hoped for. But had they had him turn heel immediately after coming back, say around SummerSlam 2011, I think we’d be seeing a much different WWE today.
Will the rest of Punk’s career show that his peak was in 2012? My prediction is regrettably yes. CM Punk is someone the WWE should be taking advantage of, and using in a main event capacity, and as champion. But while John Cena is still around, he’ll never catch the same stride as babyface that Sheamus will. He’s not that likable. Never will be. If WWE was in an era where a Stone Cold Steve Austin could succeed, CM Punk would have a chance. But it’s very hard to push Punk as a face in today’s world of wrestling. So don’t waste your time with it. Let him heel it up and be the Ric Flair of this generation. Nothing wrong with that.
Daniel Bryan’s year
2011 was when he won the World Title and reinvented himself as a heel. But 2012 was his year. There’s no doubt WWE realizes the talent they have on their hands, and there’s absolutely no risk of him losing steam any time soon.
While many might feel he’s lost his luster, pointing to how he was the World Champion at the top of the year, and is now a tag champ after losing most of his singles matches on PPV, and the World Title in 18 seconds, there’s no denying how valuable Bryan has been to WWE. Unlike CM Punk, I don’t think the Master of the ‘No’ Lock has peaked. I know I’m repeating myself here, but we’ve got a face push for Daniel Bryan coming as the undersized underdog who rightfully earns his championship.
But ignore the future for a second, and take a look at everything D-Bry has done this year. He stole the show from Sheamus in the earlier half of the year. He stole so much of the momentum from the Great White that he was given a WWE title program with CM Punk basically out of nowhere. They had something hot with the vegan, so they jumped at it and milked it for all its worth. From that, he started working against and then alongside Kane and helped rebuild the WWE Tag Team division. He’s been on a hot streak throughout the entire year, which is not something we can say about Cena, Punk, Sheamus, or any other top star. No matter what he was given to work with, no one made the most of the opportunities like Daniel Bryan.
The biggest knock against him since debuting on NXT was his lack of character and charisma. Those people (myself included) must feel fucking dumb. He exceeded the expectations of even his biggest fans. I doubt Danielson knew he had this in him.
At this point, you know the end of the tag team run is coming. This will mean it’ll be time to allow Daniel Bryan to start something new. And no matter how much he did over the last 2 years, there are still so many options. He can take on Kane, Orton, Punk, Cena, Ziggler, Miz, Del Rio, Barrett, Cesaro, Big Show… basically anyone besides Sheamus would feel like a fresh option for the Aberdeen native. Things are looking up for Daniel Bryan Danielson.
Oddly enough, the Divas division mirrored the WWE Title division. It has not been an exact replica, but think of this: WWE have placed more time and interest into a female wrestling star than the champion. AJ had a great year… at least until December. No matter how clueless WWE seemed to be in booking the young female, she stayed over with an undeniable charm. She was on a PPV poster, was involved in several WWE title matches, and basically stole the show before she joined the man who wore that on his shirt.
And until December, I was all for it. She wasn’t perfect, but she added a nice twist in the modern WWE picture. She was a Diva who broke the mold, and caught on in ways no one has since Trish Stratus. But then the heel turn ruined everything to me. I won’t deny that she ran out of men to pursue on the babyface side of things, but that doesn’t mean it was time for a heel turn. Remember, she’s a wrestler. Why isn’t she wrestling? Don’t bullshit me into telling me she can’t wrestle well enough, because that describes 90% of the female roster. Oh, wait, Beth quit? Make that 95%. She was over in a way that could have definitely turned into a decent feud with Eve over the Divas title. Now, the top 3 Divas in WWE are all heel (AJ, Vickie, and Eve) with no one to pull for against these broads. What a mess.
I’m not saying AJ would have saved the Divas division. Not by a long shot. But there was no reason to side her with Dolph. He didn’t gain any heat by the turn. I will say that the segments over the holidays with them celebrating in private were well done to make him a more hated man, but spending that much backstage time with a heel doing anything heelish would have accomplished the same thing. All she did was give WWE a reason to give Ziggler more screen time that they were too lazy to arrange otherwise. And he didn’t gain any credibility that Big E Langston wouldn’t have garnered him without AJ around.
The talk was to remove Vickie from Dolph to let him sink or swim on his own. Instead, they replaced Vickie with another female roadblock. Yes, he can be sexual and flirtacious with AJ in a way that wouldn’t have worked with Vickie, but again, it doesn’t add anything. It’s lazy and dumb.
AJ should have stayed face, and started a Road to Wrestlemania to win the Divas title. Now, as useless as that division has been, it’s only going to get worse from here. And AJ will continue treading water.
All Titles Finding Their Home
I must state it again: Titles don’t have credibility; Champions do. There is a difference. Let’s use a real sport for comparison in boxing and Mike Tyson. When he lost the Heavyweight Title to Buster Douglas, the Ring, WBC, WBA, and IBF titles didn’t lose credibility. Rather, he just seemed like an easy to beat champion. Evander Holyfield proved that idea right by winning all those titles in Buster’s first defense. No harm at all.
The reason I point this out is to define how perfectly the WWE has worked every single title into the perfect position. There’s no confusion whatsoever as to which title is where on the card. Obviously it goes:
- WWE Title
- World Championship
- Intercontinental Strap
- US Gold
It’s a great system that has helped define the roster as well. Starting with the WWE Title, it’s obviously been selected as the sole true main event title. This is important. While I think World Title matches could still headline TV or PPV, there’s a definitely structure to how WWE has positioned the bling belt as the true top achievement. It’s been saved for the elite of the elite. Whereas the midcard titles in the 80s and 90s were almost a training wheel towards a main event title in any federation, the World Title has become another step in that evolution. I’m certain that’s part of the reason why Ryback was never in true danger to take CM Punk’s title, and why the rumors are rampant that he’ll take the World Title sooner rather than later.
As I mentioned, Sheamus worked 2012 so well surrounding the big gold belt, he’s now primed for a WWE title run. The opposite is also true, in that Big Show couldn’t win the WWE title from CM Punk in 2012, but then “dropped” to the World Title.
While Cody Rhodes was nowhere near a bad Intercontinental champion for the beginning of the year, it took the win from Christian to really elevate the position it held on the card. Kofi Kingston and Wade Barrett are former IC belt holders, yet their recent victories are all the more important because of the momentum they had from the current midcard roster. Kofi defeated a huge name in The Miz to win the white belt. And instead of squandering that success, he stayed in a high profile, more than he ever has before as IC or US champ, and made his run, even if short, more memorable. And with Wade Barrett as the new champion, expect similar results.
And having Antonio Cesaro holding the US gold, you can tell how he’s easily a step below the Intercontinental level, while not being a jobber by any stretch.
Having the titles structured like this will make it easy to define the roster and the placement of the talent. When Cesaro eventually drops the US Gold, his trajectory will be determined by how over he is. As of this time, he’s definitely a solid worker, but understandably many are unconvinced of his ability to sell character and gimmick. If he can overcome those challenges, or find an angle where his heat is augmented by some measure, he could be World Title bound. At this time, he’s verging on becoming a tag or IC champion next.
Speaking of tag, there’s no doubt the Tag Team division was re-established in 2012. It might have been only in the latter half of the year, but the improvement is by leaps and bounds. Rhodes Scholars, Prime Time Players, Team Hell No, the Usos, and Cara/Mysterio make for a great dichotomy in tag action, and can carry some great action and storylines for a few more months, before needing to add more teams to the mix. And the roster depth shows that this will be easy, as long as WWE continue to work at it.
Ryback, Cesaro, Damian Sandow, the Shield, Brodus Clay, Big E Langston, and Brad Maddox. That’s an impressive list of rookies. Whether or not you’re a fan of any or all of these guys, I’m hard pressed to think of a year that WWE worked their rookies so well into the roster. More can be done obviously, as Maddox is verging on Colin Delaney territory, and Langston has barely arrived, while WWE seemed to drop the disco ball with the Funkasaurus. But none of the talent was truly wasted. Ryback is a main eventer already, though maybe World Title level. The Shield stole the “rookie of the year” honor from him by making a larger impact in impressive fashion. Cesaro and Sandow are midcarders who have all the potential in the world, and weren’t rushed to a position they didn’t deserve. They aren’t tired yet. Langston is still new, so who knows where he’s going to go. Brodus debuted before all of them, so he had more time, but he’s still involved and doing well, and can be easily salvaged into an angle surrounding either midcard titles, or venturing into tag action.
All the new talent has been decently established, without falling off the radar completely. The future is indeed bright with the new crop.
On top of that, but NXT was re-established as the 3rd brand. In a very similar direction as WWECW took, the yellow and black brand is showing itself to be a great breeding ground to get the developmental stars ready for prime time. It also gives WWE a chance to experiment with the talent. There’s no denying that Seth Rollins and Big E Langston played a big part in the original rebranding of NXT, and because of how well they got over and stayed, they were brought to the main roster. Will they work out? Too early to tell. But I find it curious how both were top face stars on NXT, yet debuted as heels in WWE. NXT will give HHH a chance to experiment with these dynamics more and more.
The counterpoint to the rising of such strong future stars, WWE surrounded itself with a bunch of classic stars to help sell more tickets and PPVs. Brock Lesnar must have been the most expensive venture, scoring him for a handful of Raw appearances, and so far only 2 matches (one awesome, one dreadful). Buyrates definitely went up with his matches, but only WWE knows if the profit warranted his paycheck.
2012 also saw a single wrestling match from the legendary Undertaker. All my bullshit hatred and distaste for the Deadman aside, it was a solid match.
HHH on the other hand had only 2 matches, with each of the previous men.
Meanwhile the Rock made his singles action return in successful fashion at Wrestlemania against John Cena, and put on a Match of the Night Contender.
Now, I want to bring up a tired point, but it will be even stronger now this way: Add John Cena’s name to this group, and you’ve got everyone who was involved in these matches. It seems odd that WWE took this long to let any of these stars work with talent that needed the boost to get to the next level (CM Punk vs The Rock at the Royal Rumble). How easily does everyone forget how these men became huge names in the business? Undertaker had his first huge victory over Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship. The Rock was made a bonafide superstar with Mick Foley. HHH ran over The Rock, Stone Cold, and had altercations with Undertaker before becoming the King of Kings.
I don’t think they necessarily handled it wrong the whole way through. I understand that pitting legends against each other is a bigger draw than legend versus relatively unknown modern commodity. That’s why the Rock is taking on Punk at the Royal Rumble, and not SummerSlam or Wrestlemania. It’s still a huge event, but it’s not the top 2 of the year. And there’s no denying that the promotion around the event is the return of the Rock in a WWE Title match, and has very little to do with who against.
I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect every legend to put over a new star. But the only time someone put over the younger star was when HHH lost to Brock. Not exactly mind blowing, especially considering that the rumors of a return match for HHH to avenge the loss are rampant for WrestleMania 29. In an era where every sign points to WWE panicking over the lack of new stars to takeover, they sure seem to be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to getting them to the brass ring. This past 12 months may have let us see a grand array of rookies come into fruition, but if they are made to look like lower caliber competition to guys like Brock, HHH, Taker, Cena, and Rock, why would people continue to tune in when those guys aren’t available?
I am not against them getting a roster spot. I am against them using that spot to help build upon what’s already there. An entire Mania card of legend putting over new guys would be just as incorrect. There needs to be a balance, which is something 2012 did not show. And, again, judging by rumors for 2013, it doesn’t look to be changing.
And on that note, peace out.
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