The 2012 411 Wrestling Year End Awards – Part Four: Best Wrestler, Best Promo, Best PPV, & More
REVIEW: Before we get to it, let’s take a look at the winners we’ve already announced to this point…
Announcer of the Year: JBL
Worst Announcer of the Year: Michael Cole
Overall Rookie of the Year: Saturyne
Breakout of the Year: Daniel Bryan
Comeback Wrestler of the Year: Brock Lesnar
Disappointment of the Year: Brock Lesnar Loses His first Match Back Against John Cena
Best Indy Show of the Year (non-PPV) : Threemendous III
Free TV Match of the Year: C.M Punk vs. Daniel Bryan RAW 02/27/2011
Story/Surprise of the Year: Jerry Lawler Has Heart Attack On Air
Worst Story/Surprise of the Year: WWE Shows Footage Of Jerry Lawler Getting CPR Backstage
Feud/Storyline of the Year: John Cena vs. The Rock
Worst Feud/Storyline of the Year: Claire Lynch
Best Fed of the Year: TNA
Worst Fed of the Year: ROH
Worst Promo of the Year – TIE: John Cena/Star Wars & Zack Ryder Changes A Tyre
Worst Pay-Per-View of the Year: WWE Over The Limit
Worst Match of the Year:> John Cena vs John Lauranitis
Worst Non-Wrestling Character: Brooke Hogan
Worst Tag Team of the Year: Co-Bro
Worst Women’s Wrestler of the Year: Aksana
Worst Wrestler of the Year: Tensai
411MANIA’S WRESTLING YEAR END AWARDS 2012!
WINNER: “What’s more important is what’s running down his leg: Piss.” – Brock Lesnar (WWE RAW, 4/16/2012) – 29 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Kane Tells His Life Story (WWE Raw, 07/27/2012) – 17 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: “I know that when a man challenges you and you walk away, that makes you a coward.” – HBK & HHH (WWE Raw, 2/13/2012) – 15 Votes
A Torn Quad Couldn’t Stop Triple H, But Brock Lesnar Could: Paul Heyman – 11 Votes
Do You Want To Be A Statistic Or A Legend?: Mick Foley – 7 Votes
Anger Management Part 1 (07/27): Daniel Bryan & Kane – 5 Votes
Hallowicked is a God : Tim Donst (CHIKARA) – 5 Votes
Cena Raps On The Rock – 5 Votes
Terry funk Don’t Need No Mouth Guard: The Briscoe Brothers – 4 Votes
Big Shows Begs John Laurinaitis Not To Fire Him – 3 Votes
Kevin Steen chooses his Cibernetico Team – 3 Votes
Chris Jericho’s Silent Return – 2 Votes
Run Steen Run: Adam Cole – 1 Vote
Chris Jericho Discusses C.M Punks Sister – 1 Vote
Brock Lesnar & HHH Set Up Their SummerSlam Match – 1 Vote
I honestly felt like Brock’s sit-down promo almost gave him an unfair advantage in this category. He had the benefit of multiple takes if necessary, as well as the WWE’s always-excellent AV team to put together a nice music and video package surrounding his words. Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that the promo was damned effective. When I see Brock Lesnar, I see a douchebag frat boy. I see the guy that everybody wants to make shut up, only nobody really has the means to do so. I see the bully that’s long overdue for an ass kicking. I see WWE’s brilliant plan to make John Cena look vulnerable and sway some public opinion back to his side after being a default
The other side of the spectrum was Kane’s life story. What a brilliant job by Kane. I’ve remarked several times in several of my columns on 411 that Kane is one of WWE’s most valuable superstars ever. This promo just underscored how great and how valuable he truly is. It was like Kane and the WWE were winking at the camera and acknowledging just how absurd that his character history has truly been. He delivered the lines with a straight face in a tone of voice that sounded almost bored with what he was. Excellent work.
The personal highlight of the year in promos for me was Chris Jericho’s return and his tirade in which he accused virtually everyone of being a Jericho ripoff. Then again, I’ve been a confirmed Jericho-holic since about 1997.
In an industry based on blurring the line between performance and reality, legitimacy is hard to gain, impossible to keep, and inevitable to lose. Therefore, when Brock Lesnar returned in 2012 to proclaim, “I’m not a superstar, I’m an ass-kicker, I’m Brock Lesnar. That’s it”, he was refusing the play the game — the game of public relations, the comfortable, palatable, smiling, kid-friendly Rock ‘n Roll, New Generation, Mattel action figure superstars of the WWE Universe. By ending with “that’s it”, Lesnar was brilliantly saying more by saying less — by refusing to elaborate on his legitimacy, he reinforced it because he understood that walking softly and carrying a big stick is only surpassed by forcing John Cena to walk softly for you by carrying your bags and pissing his pants because he’s afraid of you. Thinking the WWE was plagued by the inadequacies of the outlandish Five Knuckle Shuffle and “JBL is poopy” rhetoric, Lesnar felt he was anathema. If John Cena was the disease, Brock Lesnar was the cure. But this is no white knight vs. dark knight; these are not the two faces of Harvey Dent — the vigilant crusader for truth and justice and the misguided vigilante for vengeance. Lesnar has no master plan, no grand design; he’s a bully who fights for money because he’s greedy and he’s good at it. And while he has the superior size, skill, and strength to beat anyone, he cheats to win because it’s easier. Whereas John Cena likes fulfilling a dying child’s last wish, Brock Lesnar likes beating people up because it’s more fun. He likes to kick a man while he’s down after putting him down. He’s a villain not by destiny, or fate, or rebellion against authority for perceived wrongs, but by choice. Some men take the low road and Brock Lesnar is one of them.
Before WWE ran it into the ground, the taped promo featuring Brock Lesnar hyping his match (and himself) against John Cena was one of the best videos WWE has come out with since Placebo’s Running Up That Hill accompanied the Wrestlemania 26 Shawn Michaels/Undertaker video. It looked professional and made Brock seem like a badass, which the WWE accomplished until they jobbed him at Extreme Rules. It was reminiscent of UFC’s hype videos for their fighters, but obviously a lot more turned up because it’s WRESTLING YAYYYY. Whether you want to call it a ripoff of UFC’s stuff or not, you have to admit that this vignette was absolutely fantastic. Sure WWE played it WAY too many times and eventually made everyone and their mother sick of it but looking back on it, it’s as good to me as it was the first time.
WINNER: WWE Extreme Rules – 39 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP – TIE: NJPW King of Wrestling & WrestleMania 28 – 20 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Destination X – 16
Glory By Honor (ROH) – 7 Votes
Chikarasaurus Rex (CHIKARA) – 5 Votes
Power Struggle (NJPW) – 4 Votes
Open The Golden Gate (DGUSA)- 3 Votes
Elimination Chamber (WWE) – 3 Votes
Night Of Champions (WWE) – 1 Vote
Hell In A Cell (WWE) – 1 Vote
Bound For Glory (TNA) – 1 Vote
Over The Limit (WWE) – 1 Votes
Royal Rumble (WWE) – 1 Vote
Money In The Bank (WWE) – 1 Vote
WWE has seemingly lost their way with PPV. WWE just doesn’t understand that they are consistently not giving people bang for their buck. It’s one thing if you pirate every PPV (because sure, most WWE PPVs are an easy watch), but I can’t imagine people shelling out $45-55 a month got a ton of satisfaction from WWE PPVs this year (or any recent year). However, a few times a year, WWE delivers a really awesome PPV that even the paying fans appreciate. The Extreme Rules PPV was not only the best WWE show of the year, but it was also the best PPV in all of wrestling this year.
You know a PPV is going to be special when the show starts with a good Kane match. Kane and Randy Orton delivered a lifeless match at this year’s Wrestlemania, but they pretty much made up for it with a really fun Falls Count Anywhere match here. Ok, the PPV goes downhill for a bit with the next two matches. Brodus Clay squashes Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes defeated Big Show in a Tables Match that ended when Big Show was too fat and accidentally stepped through a table (The PPV would also later feature a Ryback squash and Divas Title match between Nikki Bella and Layla). The PPV went back to being awesome again when Sheamus and Daniel Bryan delivered a fantastic Two out of Three Falls match for the World Heavyweight title. After these two got the shaft at two straight Wrestlemanias, they finally got the chance to show how awesome they are in front of a PPV audience. CM Punk and Chris Jericho concluded their feud over the WWE Championship in a Chicago Street Fight (unlike a regular Street Fight, this street fight featured corruption on a mass scale and very convenient public transportation to the main airport). While I never really got into the issue of Jericho constantly insulting Punk’s family, I really enjoyed both of their PPV matches. The Wrestlemania crowd had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to a good experience, but the Extreme Rules crowd was more than willing to provide an awesome atmosphere for them. While Bryan/Sheamus and Punk/Jericho were both great, neither of them were nearly as special as the main event: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena.
I still can’t completely believe that this match happened and happened in the fashion that it did. Brock just mauled the WWE franchise player for twenty minutes, and the crowd ate up every moment of it. This was one of the most surreal and exciting wrestling matches I have ever experienced. Sure, John Cena winning was absolutely the wrong decision, but this match was so awesome that I don’t really care eight months later. WWE has so much trouble producing matches that feel unique and exciting, but they did it here in spades. This was my match of the year, and it concluded the best show of the year.
Well that is an interesting result. Truth be told, I don’t think Impact Wrestling quite deserves this award; while New Japan and PWG performed a superb string of shows and stories, TNA had a fair few high-profile missteps this year, as browsing some of the ‘worst…’ awards will show. They got off to a middling start to the year, and after a superb summer coughed and spluttered their way through the Autumn and Winter with an ill-advised focus on the messy Aces & Eights story. But their run from June through to October was very very good, delivering four fantastic PPVs out of a possible five, some compelling episodes of television, and a tangible optimism that had been lacking in the promotion for a fair while. A patchy year for Impact then, but when they were good they were very very good, and being as they have much more television exposure than their closest rivals in this award I totally understand why they’ve received it. The creative team deserve massive credit for the turnaround seen in 2012, and if they can halt the recent run of middling TV shows the future looks as bright as it has in a long time for Impact.
2012’s pay per view calendar was one of the most unique in wrestling history. TNA chugged along pretty steadily, turning out only one truly great pay per view, but a bunch of pretty good ones, and none that truly stunk. WWE had some incredible pay per views, and some incredibly bad ones. Ring of Honor was hit or miss on whether or not they could get iPPV to work properly.
Looking back, though, nothing really holds a candle to Extreme Rules. My personal favorite match of the year was on that show, and there were no less than three **** star or better matches. It was a show that could have suffered a tremendous letdown from Wrestlemania, but instead exceeded Wrestlemania in a lot of ways. It didn’t have the same spectacle or atmosphere, but the matches were better, the pacing was better, and it was more enjoyable overall.
TNA’s best offering of the year was Destination X, which saw Austin Aries trade his X Division title in for a shot at Bobby Roode’s TNA World Heavyweight Championship. The show rightly returned a focus to the X Division, featuring multiple matches within the division to crown a new X Division champion. Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe had a match on there, too, which is never a bad thing, as well as an excellent AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels match. They finished the show strong with Austin Aries pulling off a somewhat surprising win over Roode to capture the World Heavyweight Championship. It wasn’t quite the feelgood moment that WWE once had with Eddy Guerrero and He Who Shall Not Be Named celebrating together, but it was still a fun show.
WINNER: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki (NJPW King of Pro Wrestling) – 21 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP – TIE: John Cena vs Brock Lesnar (WWE Extreme Rules) & HHH vs. The Undertaker (WWE WrestleMania 28) – 17 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: C.M Punk vs. Daniel Bryan (WWE Over The Limit) – 14 Votes
Robert Rode vs. Austin Aries: Destination X – 11 Votes
Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan 2/3 Falls: Extreme Rules – 10 Votes
Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito (NJPW, 3/4/2012) – 6 Votes
Kevin Steen vs. Michael Elgin (ROH Glory By Honor XI) – 6 Votes
C.M Punk vs. John Cena (Night of Champions) – 5 Votes
Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (06/16) – 5 v
Davey Richards vs. Richard Elgin (ROH Showdown in the Sun Day 2) – 4 Votes
C.M Punk vs Chris Jericho: Extreme Rules – 3 Votes
John Cena vs. The Rock: WM28 – 3 Votes
A.J Styles vs. Christopher Daniels – 3 Votes
C.M Punk vs. Chris Jericho WM28 – 3 Votes
Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson vs. Player Uno & Stupefied vs. Adam Cole & Kyle O’Reilly (PWG’s Threemendous) – 1 Vote
CIMA Royale: Akira Tozawa vs. BxB Hulk vs. Naruki Doi vs. Masato Yoshino vs. YAMATO vs. Shingo Takagi – 1 Vote
C.M Punk vs. Mark Henry – 1 Vote
Mr. Touchdown vs. ACH (CHIKARA Ring of Wax) – 1 Vote
Archibald Peck vs. Chuck Taylor (CHIKARA)– 1 Vote
Believe it or not, in eight year history of the 411 Wrestling Year End Awards, this is the first time that a non-WWE match has walked away with Match of the Year honors. That is interesting to me, because there are so many internet fans out there who complain about the E’s in-ring product but, if the historic results of these awards are any indication, it is only a small number of those complainers who are willing to get out there and follow and promote a legitimate big league alternative when it is available to them. In any event, this year there is apparently some breakthrough in that regard, as your 2012 Match of the Year is Hiroshi Tanahashi defending his IWPG Heavyweight Title against Minoru Suzuki on the October 8 New Japan Pro Wrestling pay per view, entitled “King of Pro Wrestling.”
Individuals not intimately familiar with Tanahashi and Suzuki might have originally thought this match would be a styles clash. The champion, Tanahashi, was the pretty boy babyface who incorporates a bit of high flying into his otherwise traditional puroresu offense. The challenger, Suzuki, was an older, hardened motherfucker who came out of the world of mixed martial arts and spent a lot of time in his pro wrestling matches attempting to submit and/or bludgeon people. However, despite the two of them being opposite ends of the spectrum stylistically, the two are both quite familiar with each other in addition to being damn fine professional wrestlers, so they were able to take each other’s positive qualities and knock out a rollicking thirty minute match that is the most universally praised amongst those who watched it of the entire calendar year. It received the elusive ***** rating from the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and it also received the full ***** from 411mania’s own head boss, Larry T. Csonka, as well as a host of others.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the match is how against type it is. Both Tanahashi and Suzuki – more so Tanahashi – have been accused of having a Ric Flair-esque “form” match in recent months and years and, though I don’t entirely agree with that assessment, there is no way that this could be accused of being Tanahashi’s “normal” match or Suzuki’s “normal” match. In fact, it wasn’t a “normal” match for any professional wrestler in several important ways, the most apparent of which is that there are literally no nearfalls in the match. Nobody attempts a pinfall until the last bit of the match, when Tanahashi actually puts Suzuki away with the High Fly Flow. The nearfall and the dramatic kickout has become such a prominent part of professional wrestling these days, particularly in major title matches on major shows, to the point that overreliance on it has become a hallmark of a match that is lazily put together. The fact that these two men were able to put on such a lengthy, entertaining match without reliance on this convention is a testament to their ability, and it, along with numerous other positives, make the bout something to behold.
If you have seen this, you know it’s great. If you haven’t seen it, even if you’re not a puroresu fan, you’re doing yourself a disservice by NOT seeing it. It truly is a deserving 2012 match of the year.
The voting this year reflects how different my tastes are from a lot of my colleagues here at 411. That’s okay. I’m not here to assert that I’m right and they’re wrong. The winner, Tanahashi vs. Suzuki, was an excellent match. However, for me, it’s like watching a match in a bubble. I had no sense of the history between the two men. It was wrestling for the sake of wrestling. That’s not a bad thing. I just don’t follow Japanese wrestling closely and had no emotional investment in the match.
Looking at the list of nominees, several matches got a reaction out of me. I was legitimately surprised when Austin Aries captured the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Punk vs. Jericho at Extreme Rules was frustrating to me because I wanted Jericho to win so badly, but the match was unquestionably excellent. The same goes for their Wrestlemania matchup. There are two matches on here, though, that really stand out to me.
The first is Cena vs. Lesnar. It was fantastic storytelling from the first appearance of Brock all the way through this match. John Cena looked vulnerable for the first time in a very, very long time. Some will complain that after all the work of reintroducing Brock Lesnar, WWE took the easy way out and just made John Cena look unbeatable once again. I disagree wholeheartedly. They emphasized the heart and determination of John Cena and put him in a situation where he was physically outmatched. He was absolutely dominated to the point that the match was uncomfortable to watch. I was sitting in a local restaurant that shows pay per views for that one, and there were several kids in attendance with their families. Things were quiet for that match, and even the local smarks that turn out for viewings were unusually quiet. Brock just kept punishing Cena. Then, when things were at their darkest, Cena dug deep and found a way to win. It took the man that had long been established as WWE’s alpha male a brutal shot with a steel chain to even get back in the match. Brock beat Cena up. Cena escaped with a win. Well done.
The other is my personal favorite match of the year. I thought Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan was absolutely brilliant. I think it more than atoned for what happened in 18 seconds at Wrestlemania. I think it went a long way towards establishing that Sheamus is so much more than just a mindless brawler. He hung in there with arguably the best wrestler in North America (if not the world) for a match that employed more psychology and storytelling than 99% of what you’ll see on WWE or TNA programming. I’ve watched the match more than once since the pay per view and it just doesn’t get old to me.
“Match of the Year.” A category that is defined as much by its certainty as by its elusiveness. How can something as definitive as match of the year have six matches within a few votes of each other? To its strength, 2012 was a year of parity. There was something for everyone: the workers, the technicians, the hardcore, the spot monkeys, the high flyers, the brawlers, the glass ceiling breakers, and the puro. Less than a month after Wrestlemania, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan put on a classic encounter whose goodwill managed to override the backlash of the eighteen-second travesty. TNA outdid even WWE with their elevation of Austin Aries. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan performed an ode to their indy roots that saved a PPV headlined by a nonactive, retired wrestler twenty five years past his prime. Triple H, Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels capped off a series of epic encounters by ending an era on the grandest stage of them all. Brock and Cena revitalized the WWE with the best brawl of the year. Tanahashi and Suzuki had the crowd on the edge of their seats with a marvel of old school wonder with nothing more complex than dragonscrew leg whips and piledrivers. No matter which style, which promotion, which country, which wrestler, or which year, the best matches of 2012 stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best matches ever.
WINNER: Paul Heyman – 55 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Richardo Rodriguez – 25 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Joseph Park -15 Votes
Sydney Bakabella (CHIKARA)- 9 Votes
Vicki Guerrero – 8 Votes
Dr Shelby – 5 Votes
Shawn Michaels – 4 Votes
John Laurinaitis – 3 Votes
Vince McMahon – 3 Votes
A.J Lee – 1 Vote
Konnan – 1 Vote
Harold – 1 Vote
This one is a slight puzzlement to me but I don’t completely disagree with the thought behind the winner of this award. After all Paul Heyman did basically save us from what could have been a much duller feud between Triple H and Brock Lesnar in the summer, where apart from the match itself, surely Heyman’s interactions with HHH and Stephanie were the highlights of the feud. Now personally I would say that this was due to the problem of Triple H messing up a bunch of angles since becoming the COO and that had he not been involved there might have been no need for Heyman to begin with if they had just booked Lesnar better and against someone who he could have gelled with more, seriously who really wanted to see Brock vs. Triple H? But I digress, Heyman certainly did save that feud from becoming nothing more than two cavemen grunting at each other each week until one made the other tap out, so you have to applaud him for that.
However I think he has done a much more important thing with C.M. Punk, and had things been handled differently, we might not have the view we have now that Punk’s year as champion has been mostly uneventful. Heyman with Punk works. While Punk has never needed a mouth-piece, and this is what we are used to seeing him as in association with Brock Lesnar, what Heyman does is more important; he helps to legitimise Punk as a big deal. Now in days gone by being the champion by itself should do that, but not anymore. So having Heyman around, to speak to people backstage and in the ring so Punk doesn’t have to, to carry his belt when he comes to the ring, and to generally make a big deal about everything he does, really serves to show that Punk is a bigger deal than in years before, even when he was champion. If you’ll notice Heyman never really gets involved in Punk’s matches like a normal manager, he doesn’t trip people or hit them with a shoe, instead he just stands at ringside and lets Punk do his thing, occasionally shouting support. This is a smart way to let Punk stand on his own while still giving him some heel backup, plus fans are always more likely to boo a guy with Heyman in tow.
Now having said all that I still think that Ricardo or Joseph Parks might have been more deserving in terms of entertainment on a weekly basis for Ricardo, and being a character so far removed from his other persona; Abyss, in Joseph Parks. But Heyman did win by a landslide so what do I know? Heyman has definitely been a highlight of Monday Night Raw and hopefully his involvement with Punk will lead to a Punk-Brock crossover at some point, despite the WWE seemingly wanting to avoid association between the two up until now for some reason. The best part in all this is having Heyman back in the WWE though, honestly even if he disappears off our TV after Wrestlemania or whatever hopefully he will stick around to work behind the scenes as I think a team of Heyman and Triple H, no matter what antagonism exists between the two, could really revolutionise the product in the next ten years.
As the old saying goes, there is no substitute for experience. Experience is likely why Paul Heyman is our 2012 non-wrestling character of the year (an award created to replace the somewhat dated “manager of the year” that we had in the past). Heyman made his debut as an on-screen personality in professional wrestling in 1987. Yes, NINETEEN EIGHTY-SEVEN, meaning that he has been doing this literally longer than a large number of the readers of this website have been alive, i.e. twenty-five years. Moreover, Heyman has been considered one of the best managers in the business for many of those years, and it’s no wonder because, as a teenager growing up in New York, he hung out with and learned from the vaunted “Three Wise Men of the East,” the trio of managers who formed the foundation of the World Wide Wrestling Federation: “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Captain Lou Albano, and “The Grand Wizard of Wrestling” Ernie Roth. Heyman took the tactics that he learned from those three men and combined them with his own braggadocios swagger . . . and a comically large cell phone . . . and created a professional wrestling character for the ages. Whether he was managing the New Midnight Express, the Dangerous Alliance, Sabu, or anybody in between, I don’t think that I have ever seen anybody being critical of Paul Heyman’s managing for any reason whatsoever. Thus, for those of us who have watched Paul E. for many years, the fact that he won this award should be no surprise. Compared to other managers or “non-wrestling characters” who don’t have the same old school upbringing that he does, Heyman is leagues better. Simply put, at this point in history, if Heyman is managing in any given year he is winning this award. There is nobody currently in the big leagues who can compete, there is nobody in the minors who can compete, and there’s not even anybody on the horizon in either the big leagues or the minors who looks like they have the potential to someday compete. Paul Heyman isn’t just going to win this award this year . . . he’s going to have it sewn up every year until he eventually steps out of his managerial role again.
For a thorough and hostorical reason behind Paul Heyman as the perfect choice as winner of Non-Wrestling Character of the Year, check out what Ryan Byers has to say about it. The signing of Brock Lesnar was a huge event that lit 2012 on fire. Sure, it petered out into a flicker of flame, but there was one shining star out of the ashes of the signing, and that was the return of Paul Heyman. Heyman was truly the saving grace of what could have been a failing Brock-Experiment (and some say it’s still on that road). While I can see their point, I don’t think it was a complete failure, considering we got Heyman back on our a screens; something I had sorely missed.
Once Brock took a sabbatical of sorts, I thought we had seen the end of Heyman. Then, the self-proclaimed “Paul Heyman Guy” added him to his side. Many people claimed that Punk didn’t need Heyman as a talking piece, but it worked! Heyman has been at his annoying best, oozing that charisma that we love to hate. If you recall, there was a time during the year that it was a bit hard to hate CM Punk and everything he was saying, since a lot of it was laced with truth. Adding Heyman to his side changed all of that. Punk became a full-fledged heel, and hasn’t stopped since. With Heyman holding Punk’s title high, he has become that slimeball manager that we all want to see get his comeuppance, and in the case of a manager – or any non-wrestling character, evoking emotion is what you’re supposed to do and no one did it better in 2012 than Paul Heyman.
WINNER: Team Hell No – 52
1st RUNNER-UP: Daniels & Kazarian – 32 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Super Smash Borthers – 15
The Young Bucks – 10 Votes
Prime Time Players – 6 Votes
Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi – 5 Votes
The Ascension – 3 Votes
The Briscoe Brothers – 2 Votes
The All Night Express – 1 Votes
Magnus & Samoa Joe – 1 Vote
El Generico & Samuray Del Sol – 1 Vote
It was a truly amazing 2012 for Daniel Bryan. He went from being a favorite of Internet wrestling fans that was mostly ignored by the WWE Universe to one of the most consistently entertaining characters on WWE television that got one word chanted at him in unison by thousands of people wherever he went. He had a great in-ring year as he usually does, but for once many of his best moments didn’t involve matches. His path crossed with Kane’s during his feud with CM Punk over the WWE Championship & the affections of AJ Lee…Kane had a match with Punk & Bryan interfered. Then Kane had a match with Bryan & Punk interfered. One thing led to another and we wound up with a love rectangle with AJ playing all three men off of each other. Bryan & Kane’s issues with each other & AJ led to both men being checked into anger management, and Dr. Shelby managed to get both men on the same page. Or at least in the same book. Since then they’ve been Tag Team Champions that have slowly learned to accept each other because they are a dominant force together.
Team Hell No has further solidified Bryan as one of WWE’s key components while revitalizing the career of Kane. Kane had fallen into a bit of a funk early in 2012, as his big return angle against John Cena & Zack Ryder fell flat with the fans and didn’t get over as much as WWE had hoped. It seemed like Kane had an extra spring in his step once he began feuding with Punk & Bryan, two guys that knew just what to do in the ring to make Kane look like a world beater while remaining strong themselves. Kane’s character work has also been tremendous during this run, as The Devil’s Favorite Demon is at his most fun when he’s self-aware. Bryan & Kane’s great chemistry in & out of the ring as opponents, tag team partners, or even as guests on radio shows, has been one of the highlights of pro wrestling in 2012.
By a landslide the tag team of the year is the fluky, thrown together team of Daniel Bryan and Kane. Now you could say that this team of unlikely singles competitors winning over a more established tag team indicates the current shape of the tag team landscape across promotions, and to a point you would be right. Still I think more than that this definitive win displays the sheer amount of chemistry that the two have together since appearing in anger management all those months ago. Ever since the two were forced to team together, in what definitely should have been named Team Friendship as a unit, they have made for good television, both in backstage segments and matches. They are the current tag team champions in the WWE and are helping to hold the fort while other teams establish themselves more in the minds of the WWE audience.
Unlike the runners up; Daniels & Kazarian, the team is more even in terms of charisma on the mic, as while Daniels is almost entertaining enough to win the award on his own, Daniel Bryan & Kane work together to make their promos work, bouncing off each other with each guy playing the straight man at different points. The team has also gone through a great amount of development from rivals who couldn’t stand each other to now being a, relatively, well-functioning team. The WWE threw these guys together seemingly on a whim and for once actually saw what they had created and realised that they shouldn’t mess it up or break it down prematurely for no real reason, as is often their way, as such the team has been allowed to develop and now the moniker of ‘Team Hell No’ doesn’t sound foreign or temporary, it sounds like a legitimate team, and while they probably won’t be together this time next year, they captured the same type of stature the Jeri-show did where two former world champions make for a compelling enough pairing to have everyone say that they are indeed the best tag team of the year.
But beyond that, Bryan continued to be an incredibly solid hand in the ring, showing up on Raw and SmackDown all year long because that’s what the company needed. He was wrestling some of the more solid short TV matches while blowing the lid off of arenas with “Yes!” chants. So you can imagine my complete lack of surprise when he was able to take the perpetually stale Kane character and make me want to watch him every week. Team Hell No was formed, and they would bicker through their matches – a “strange bedfellows” pairing – and WWE ran with that. We got some hilarious segments (hug it out) and functional (but entertaining) matches and their schtick started getting over. And just when I was starting to get sick of seeing the same thing every week, they got on the same page, and have continued their championship reign, refreshed and aligned. It’s a joy to see the team do their thing, and, perhaps most importantly, get other talent over without having to drop the straps. PrimeTime Players, Rhodes Scholars, and The Shield are all a little bit (or in some cases, a lot) more over because of their work with Kane and Daniel Bryan.
WINNER: Paige – 16 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Sara Del Rey – 13 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Saraya Knight – 12 Votes
AJ Lee – 6 Votes
Cheerleader Melissa – 4 Votes
Portia Perez – 3 Votes
Tara – 3 Votes
Ayako Hamada – 1 Vote
Brook Tessmacher – 1 Vote
For my money, this is perhaps the single most interesting result in all of the 411 Year End Awards for 2012. As near as I can tell, this is the first time that an award has been won by an individual for his or her work occurring exclusively within a WWE developmental territory. Paige, who used to wrestle on both the U.S. and U.K. independent scene under the name of Britani Knight, was signed to a World Wrestling Entertainment developmental contract in September 2011, and she has competed exclusively in Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT since that time. The only thing that evens come close to a win like this for a developmental wrestler was Titus O’ Neil being named worst wrestler of the year back in 2010 when he spent the vast majority of the year in FCW, though I suspect that win had a lot more to do with the three or four weeks that he spent as part of the televised NXT cast during that year. In my mind, Paige’s winning this category based solely on developmental work means one of three things . . . either more fans now have exposure to the developmental television, the state of women’s wrestling is so dire that fans feel there is nobody to vote for except for developmental women, or Ms. Knight really is just that damn good. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to develop his or her own opinion as to which one of those is the most accurate.
The other interesting part of this result is that I believe this is the only time that a parent and a child have both finished in the top three for a 411mania Year End Award. Paige is in first place, and independent wrestler Sweet Saraya Knight is in third place. Knight, the reigning SHIMMER Champion, is Paige’s mother. (In fact, in a trivia note, for a very brief period of time in WWE developmental, Paige went by the name Saraya before getting her current moniker.) In addition to both posting solid performances in our YEA’s, there are interesting things afoot for both mother and daughter in the new year, as wrestling fans will keep watching to see whether Paige makes her way up to the main WWE roster and to see whether Saraya will be able to hold on to her SHIMMER Title through the end of 2013.
The lady formerly known as Britani Knight made her way to WWE’s developmental territory in early 2012 & quickly gained attention from people that watched FCW on You Tube due to a couple of things: She’s a beautiful girl, and she’s already damn good in the ring. Markedly better than the Divas currently featured on WWE television. Paige grew up in a wrestling family & her adventures in getting to WWE were chronicled in a British documentary that followed her family during the process. Paige has been one of the Divas on the new NXT program, and though she started out as the designated jobber she’s been getting the wins on more recent episodes.
After the 2012 411 Wrestling Hot 100 I received several suggestions via Twitter that I should check out more of Paige’s work. I did so and was very impressed with what I saw. Was it good enough for Women’s Wrestler of the Year? Tough to say, the women’s wrestling in the major promotions this year has been lackluster to say the least. AJ & Eve had solid character years in WWE but neither of them got attention with their matches. TNA’s Knockout booking has been jumpy, with different Knockouts having solid stretches of performances but none of them putting together a complete year. Sara Del Rey, a perennial contender in this category, has stepped out of active competition to be a trainer for WWE. Promotions like WSU, SHIMMER & SHINE are giving it a go and producing solid stuff, but most people aren’t seeing it. Paige may “only” be appearing on NXT right now, but it’s still more exposure than anybody in the indies is getting. I’m not 100% sure Paige was the best lady wrestler of 2012, but she was damn good and there aren’t any names popping up that were much better. With her looks & ability, Paige is in position to become a favorite of the Internet (moreso than she already is) and win this award on several occasions.
Is the win of FCW’s Paige a good sign or a bad one? I could see people arguing both sides. On the less positive hand, it suggests that the independent scene has hit a nadir in terms of women’s wrestling, to the point that a WWE developmental talent who isn’t deemed ready to join Alicia Fox and Rosa Mendes on the main roster is winning this award. However, that argument belies the fact that Paige came out of the independent scene, where she was competing in SHIMMER as part of a tag team with her mother (and now SHIMMER Champion, and #3 vote-getter to boot) Saraya Knight. One cannot decide that simply because a talent has left the indy scene for a developmental contract that they aren’t good anymore. The fact of the matter is that Paige was competing at a relatively high level in SHIMMER and WWE saw that, picking her up late last year to be a potential Diva. Since that time she has been improving herself in WWE and has competed on NXT against fellow developmental Divas and main roster talent alike, amassing a solid win-loss record and consistently improving her skills. With Sara Del Rey now working at NXT as a trainer for the Divas, Paige is only continuing to get better and I would not at all be surprised to see her make it to the main roster this year. If Triple H is truly serious about making the focus of the Diva division on talent over models, then Paige is a good person to help bring that to pass and her selection as Women’s Wrestler of the Year is appropriate, as she quietly possibly represents the future of WWE women’s wrestling.
WINNER: Austin Aries – 24 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Daniel Bryan – 23 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: C.M Punk – 20 Votes
El Generico – 15 Votes
Robert Roode – 9 Votes
Kazuchika Okada – 6 Votes
Michael Elgin – 6 Votes
Dolph Ziggler – 3 Votes
Akira Tozawa – 3 Votes
Antonio Cesaro – 3 Votes
Kevin Steen – 1 Vote
Sheamus – 1 Vote
PAC – 1 Vote
Brook Lesnar – 1 Vote
John Cena – 1 Vote
While Daniel Bryan broke out from the pack this year, and CM Punk stayed on top the whole year, another man bested them as the best all-around performer, and that was TNA’s Austin Aries. I would have never guessed that Austin Aries would be the TNA World Heavyweight Champion…especially not in his first year there. But he won that prize and held it for a good run, putting on stellar matches with anyone and everyone he was asked to be in the ring with. But it wasn’t just Aries’ in-ring work that won him this accomplishment – it was his ability to develop a character that the audience wanted to get behind. He’s a small dude, but brash as hell, and the audience took to him while he was a face because he wouldn’t back down from a challenge. And he’s super over as a heel because he’s that guy that runs his mouth off at the good guys and then is good enough to get away with it, causing everyone in the building and at home to want to see him get his ass kicked.
Austin Aries is one of those guys that has more talent in his little finger than most wrestler ever have, and he’s not afraid to let you know it. It took him a long time to get his break, and he was even considering retirement before TNA came knocking (Aries was reportedly frustrated that he got turned away from WWE’s Tough Enough reboot). His outspoken nature supposedly rubbed many the wrong way and he got burdened with the title of having an “attitude problem” – which may very well be true, but it’s only because he knows what he can bring to the table and is frustrated that he wasn’t able to contribute it to a major wrestling company. That’s very similar to the attitude that CM Punk had a year and a half ago, and when he spoke out, he launched into the stratosphere. I still hope that Austin Aries makes his way to WWE at some point in the future, but for now, he’s still got plenty of fresh competition in Florida working for TNA.
You know people who don’t care for independent wrestling on the grounds that everyone involved is a vanilla midget and will never amount to anything? You know how they are really really silly? Austin Aries, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, bred in the American indy scene of the early noughties, each had outstanding years in the two biggest companies in North America. Aries started off 2012 as a rule-breaking X-Division champion quickly amassing popularity, turned face in the middle of the year to become a unanimously popular World Champion, then turned back into a villain to headline Impact Wrestling’s most prestigious show of the year. He’s a star. Daniel Bryan has won both the World Heavyweight Championship and World Tag Team Championships, contributed a litany of Match of the Year Contenders, and has formed one of the most popular tag teams in years with Kane. He’s a star. CM Punk is the longest reigning WWE Champion since the heyday of Hulk Hogan. He’s a star. All three would have been worthy winners of this award, but in the end, and perhaps surprisingly, it’s A-Double that picks up first places.
Austin Aries superficially didn’t have quite as impressive a year as his two rivals; his matches were frequently superb but not quite on the level, in this writer’s opinion, of some of Punk and Bryan’s classics this year, he was constantly charismatic but occasionally misfired (see his worked-shoot on Jeff Hardy in the run-up to Bound for Glory,) and no matter how huge an Impactphile you are, there is no justification to claim that a brief reign with the TNA World Championship matches up to a full calendar year as WWE Champion. However, it’s worth remembering that Austin Aries has suffered more setbacks than either Punk or Bryan on his route to the top; his first stint with TNA led to an animosity fulled departure in 2007, he found himself exiled from his former home promotion of ROH in 2010, and almost immediately after was rejected by WWE for inclusion in their Tough Enough series. And then, just when it looked like his ambitions were going to be thwarted, Impact Wrestling offered him another shot. It is fair to say Aries has snatched that chance with both hands. He has been a consistently thrilling addition to the promotion, whether as the arrogant X-Division champ, an incredibly over World Champion, or as the under-handed challenger to said belt. Austin has turned his career around in 2012, and appears to be loving every minute of his life in professional wrestling once again. I’d consider that enough to be considered a worthy contender for Wrestler of the Year.
Ah the cream really does rise to the top, and it was a pretty tough year what with Punk, Roode, Steen and even Sheamus’ substantial title runs throughout the twelve months. What makes Aries stand out above all the rest however to me was the story involved in his rise to being the world champion in TNA. We all know how it goes; he was contemplating retirement before last year’s Destination X rolled around, but he ended up winning a TNA contract instead amidst a plethora of potential X Division talent. Then Aries went on to rise up the ranks of TNA, mostly through talent alone, winning the X Division title and then defending it against all comers while simultaneously Roode did the same with his world title, then against the Bully Aries found himself turning face and it came round again to this year’s Destination X, where Aries was given the chance to cash in his X Division title for a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship, which he won, ending Roode’s streak as the longest reigning champion in company history, holding the title until Bound For Glory, where he dropped it to Jeff Nero Hardy, turning heel once again the night before the event.
In all that time Aries never became stale, never really had a bad match and always delivered on the mic. His story is one of redemption and his character is one that people want to support or hate depending on his mood. He is also one of the smallest guys to hold a world title and makes even Punk and Hardy look like big guys, yet he managed to beat out everyone else for the award this year. Speaking of size this truly could be called the year of the little men, especially when you consider that the three top contenders for the award were Punk, Bryan and Aries, all from ROH, all not your traditional model of a professional wrestler, and yet arguably the three most talented guys in the business today, and while the WWE might not have recognised Punk and Bryan’s achievements in their Slammy awards (John Cena, really?!) we here at 411mania recognise these three men for their talent and achievements, especially in this year, and hopefully they will remain major parts of the industry for at least the next few years.
This award is always going to be hotly debated as we are deciding the best wrestler of the year and people will have differing opinions on what makes a wrestler truly the best in the world. Perhaps Aries wasn’t champion as long as guys like Punk or Roode, and he didn’t have the impact of Steen, but he had consistency in his momentum and his work and he was certainly the most entertaining man in a company that has been improving, coincidentally ever since he took hold of their world title. Whereas there are points you could point to where Roode or Punk have gotten a little stale, and Bryan has arguably declined in his momentum moving from competing for world titles to tag titles, Aries never really has, instead he has continued to grow and develop as a character and is still in the world title hunt despite his losses to Hardy in back to back events. So while one might argue whether or not Aries is the Greatest Man who ever Lived, he certainly is the Wrestler of the year.