The 2012 411 Wrestling Year End Awards Part One: Breakout Star, Top Announcer, Biggest Disappointment, More
Welcome to the 411mania.com Year End Wrestling Awards. I am your host, Scott Rutherford, here to bring you the best and worst from 2012! To look at the year that was, our staff got together, voted, and wrote about all the craziness from this year! With that said, we have a several platefuls, so let’s get to it!
Voting went as follows…staff could vote for three places per category; 5 points awarded for 1st place vote, 3 points for 2nd place vote, 1 point for 3rd place vote. Whoever gets the most votes wins. However, unlike previous years if we get two picks on equal votes it will be declared a tie rather than picking a winning on count back.
Before anything else, let me thank everyone who voted and participated in this year’s Awards. And in no order, here they are:
ROBERT S. LEIGHTY JR
So without further ado here’s your…
411MANIA’S WRESTLING YEAR END AWARDS 2012!
WINNER: JBL – 37 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: William Regal – 34 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Jim Ross – 25 Votes
Excalibur – 15 Votes
Bryce Remsburg – 6 Votes
Lenny Leonard 1 Vote
Dasher Hatfield – 1 Vote
Todd Keneley – 1 Vote
Leonard F. Chikarason – 1 Vote
UltraMantis Black – 1 Vote
Nigel McGuiness – 1 Vote
It almost seems perfunctory that the Announcer of the Year will end up going to a WWE talent at this point, and more to the point a WWE talent who didn’t work as an announcer for the whole year. Last year went to Jim Ross despite the fact that he only worked for about three and a half months and in 2010 CM Punk came in a VERY close second with a very brief run at the booth. This is both a statement on the sad state of announcing in professional wrestling these days and a testament to the skill of the men in question. This year we have JBL, who came back to WWE to fill in after Jerry Lawler’s heart attack and ended up staying around to save the state of the announcing table on Smackdown. Bradshaw’s return did exactly what the brief runs of a few others have accomplished in showing how much WWE’s commentating staff needs to be shaken up. But I’m not going to spend this whole thing complaining about WWE’s other announcers because that would be a disservice to JBL. The man is a consummate professional who instantly brought back an old school feel to announcing, and I mean that in a good way. The announcing team had more or less become a homogonous mess and there seemed to be a real apathy in terms of getting the heels over; Cole tried to do so during his heel run but no one took what Cole was saying seriously. People listened to JBL because he wasn’t just shouting out hyperbole or sounding like a complete tool. Sure, he was a heel and some of his justifications were sketchy but for the most part he had credibility when he extolled someone’s virtues; he helped get heels over which, in turn, helps get the babyfaces over. You would think this isn’t a difficult concept to figure out but it took JBL to accomplish it.
I find it interesting that right behind JBL is William Regal, because it supports exactly what I’m saying. Regal has doing for NXT what JBL has now done for Smackdown; he has been a credible voice who isn’t just a blindly praising or loathing heel or babyface at the booth. These are skills that you don’t learn from Vince McMahon shouting in your ear while cameras are rolling live; they are skills you gain from the perfection of your craft. And make no mistake about it: Regal and especially JBL are those who work every day to perfect their craft. And they are closer at having done so than any regularly-working announcer in the business.
I hate to say things like this, because it makes me sound like a crusty old man, but professional wrestling announcing appears to be becoming a lost art. Can you think of the last time that a truly great play-by-play guy or color commentator debuted on a national level? I can, and it was when John Bradhsaw Layfield made the transition from wrestling to announcing for the first time back in 2006. JBL won 411 Wrestling’s “Announcer of the Year” award for the first time in that year and now here we are six years later and Bradshaw is still the winner of the award, despite the fact that he was only active in the booth for less than three months coming on the heels of Jerry Lawler’s heart attack. (And, trust me; we’ll have more on that later.) Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that JBL isn’t good at what he does. He has an understanding of what goes on in the ring that guys like Michael Cole and even Josh Matthews lack, he makes interesting and usually accurate references to old school and international wrestling that nobody else in the business is making, and he has an air of credibility about him because he’s an individual who will call things like he sees them, almost completely regardless of what the script calls for. However, it definitely says something about the state of announcing in modern professional wrestling when your top three vote-getters in this category are a guy who has been announcing for less than a quarter of the year, a guy who has been announcing almost exclusively on an internet-only show that probably less than 5% of WWE fans are watching, and a guy who is only calling the action on a part-time basis. I enjoy hearing JBL call the action, and he was definitely on my ballot for this award, but I have to admit that his victory is far more of an indictment of this aspect of professional wrestling than it is a statement about how great Layfield is. But, hey, if nothing else he deserves some recognition for his for climbing mountains to raise money for charity, which is a truly amazing feat.
This is an award for honesty. JBL has only been back in the announce booth for the latter part of the year and yet he has come top here because he is a man who has very little to lose by breaking WWE policy and actually talking about other companies and highlighting things that the WWE might not otherwise want highlighted. To a point this is the same for William Regal, and I believe that is why he came second in the vote, although JBL delivers his experienced views without so much garble and drivel about his twin daughters and horrible experiences with women as Regal is prone to do. I think most WWE fans respond to honest opinion and enthusiasm rather than half-hearted artificial company propaganda, and while I don’t always agree with what JBL says, you have to respect the guy for being in the position where he can say it and get away with it.
Of course it’s not necessarily the fault of most other announcers that to keep their jobs they have to spout off this pointless spin all the time, it is just that as commentators we look to them to sell us the matches, performers and action going on in the ring, and when said commentators are hiding facts, focusing on unrelated events, and spouting repetitive sound bites, it somewhat spoils our enjoyment of the product. Apart from anything else though, JBL has been a breath of fresh air in a stale environment, and what’s more he actually seems to make the three man booth work, at least to some extent. His presence at the announce booth, like many other things this year, came out of unfortunate circumstances and you have to give it to the WWE for turning things round and bringing a guy back into the fold that seemed set to stay retired and spend his time climbing mountains, as great as he is for that, I am glad JBL has come back full time to commentary.
At present JBL is on both PPV with Cole and the returned King, and Smackdown with Josh Matthews, replacing Cole’s obnoxious heel antics with a savvier, morally blurred view to balance out Matthews’ black and white nerdy face commentator vibe that Cole gave off when he first started. Overall JBL isn’t exactly a revelation on the commentator desk, but he is honest and he speaks his mind, and in this current climate that is more than anyone could usually ask of an announcer, so if nothing else he truly is a dollar with a dime whenever he takes to a WWES announce booth.
WINNER: Michael Cole – 45 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Booker T. – 18 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Mike Tenay – 13 Votes
Jerry Lawler – 11 Votes
William Regal – 7 Votes
Matt Stryker – 4 Votes
Tony Luftman – 3 Votes
Jim Ross – 1 Vote
JBL – 1 Vote
Kevin Kelly – 1 Vote
I used to defend Michael Cole by saying “At least he’s trying” when he was saddled with the overbearing heel character that lurked inside the Cole Mine. It was easy to blame the character and not the man, because the character was so godawful, so ill-conceived as the “Voice of the WWE” that very few (if any) people could make it work. But, that character has faded into the background to a degree, while Cole has continued to suck. Actually, he’s worse, because at least his heel persona provided some consistency. Now, he’s completely random, at the mercy of who he is working with and which performers are in the ring. He’s paired with Jerry Lawler who loves Babyface A? Well, Cole hates Babyface A! He’s paired with JBL who hates Babyface A? Well, now Cole loves Babyface A! Instead of being a strong, defining voice that clearly presents the company perspective, he’s an empty voice with no substance and little to enjoy. When the WWE has many other talented announcers that run circles around the likes of Cole, his continued spot as the “Voice of the WWE” is baffling.
Of course this award would go to Michael Cole. Did anyone even remotely doubt that he would pull this one out in a landslide? To be fair, I don’t think it is his fault. Michael Cole should never have turned heel. Ever. Playing a bad guy requires a certain amount of charm and finesse and while I certainly don’t believe that Cole is completely without skills, “charm and finesse” are two qualities that he most certainly does not command. But he tries. When he was playing heel, he tried SO HARD to get his mannerisms down pat, to come up with catchphrases and get the cheat sheet of who to support and who not to. Unfortunately for Cole, Yoda was wrong; there is in fact a concept as “trying” and it does not guarantee success. Cole has always been a bit problematic as an announcer, but he has always managed to rise to the top and deliver when we needed him through sheer force of will. When WWE Creative decided it was time for him to become a major part of WWE storylines, you just knew that disaster was ahead and that’s exactly what we got.
Now, in one aspect this does kind of seem unfair because he improved drastically when he went babyface at the end of the year. And I feel mean nailing Cole with this when he did a very admirable job under insane pressure during Jerry Lawler’s heart attack. But when it comes to the best and worst we have to be harsh, but fair. Cole certainly earned this award by any criteria you can imagine. And this is coming from a guy who cringed every time Booker T opened his mouth to speak. Booker at least sounds like he is speaking from a logical standpoint, even if he has no other discernible announcing skills. Cole was all about hyperbole and histrionics, and while both undoubtedly have a place among the skillset of wrestling announcer he relied on them to the exclusion of any other skills. We keep hoping for him to improve but he doesn’t. But hey, at least this year—barring changes to his character again, anyway—he won’t be competing at WrestleMania. Thank the gods for small favors, I suppose.
I’ve been as critical of Michael Cole as anybody else on this website, but I don’t think he deserves this award this year. Not after the job he did on the September 10 edition on Raw where his partner Jerry “The King” Lawler had a heart attack at the announce table. There aren’t very many people out there that would be able to keep themselves together in that kind of a situation, but Cole was able to deliver news on Lawler to viewers with remarkable composure. Since then he’s gone back to the geeky character he was for the lion’s share of his WWE stint, and especially when he’s paired with JBL he adds a lot to a telecast. There are a lot of worse announcers out there, like the overacting & overbearing Kevin Kelly, the even more overacting & overbearing Mike Tenay, or even Booker T, who I enjoyed listening to because of how bad his commentary usually was.
That being said, the Cole that was on television prior to September 10 definitely deserves this award. I never understood Vince McMahon’s obsession with the heel announcer, especially one that’s supposed to do play by play. It’s not even like Cole was putting over all the heels either, he pretty much buried everybody that appeared on screen other than Miz. I believe that WWE’s younger stars would be more over if there was somebody at the announce booth talking up their strengths & praising their actions…with Cole at the booth all we’d hear about was how terrible everybody was. That’s the opposite of what a good announcer does, even the biggest heel announcers like Ventura & Heenan would take care not to completely bury the top faces & talk about them in ways that would build them up in the eyes of the people even if their characters didn’t necessarily like them. Vince’s obsession with having Cole bury the roster has done a lot to diminish their potential drawing power, and that’s the worst thing an announcer can do.
WINNER – tie: Saturyne & deviANT/assailANT – 22 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Ross & Marchall Von Erich – 16 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Chinhiro Tominaga – 4 Votes
Garrett Bischoff – 1 Vote
Todd Mckeneley (TNA Announcer) – 1 Vote
For what I believe is the first time in the history of the 411 Wrestling Year End Awards, we have ourselves a three-way tie for first place in a category, and all three are wrestlers from CHIKARA. If you think about this result, it highlights just how impressive of a training facility that the CHIKARA Wrestle Factory is. The school debuted several different newcomers this year, and there were three of them – the intergalactic luchadora Saturyne and Swarm members deviANT and assailANT – who were such strong candidates that there was not a clear frontrunner when it came time for those of us here at 411 to pick a Rookie of the Year. If that doesn’t make the Wrestle Factory seem impressive enough, consider this: We have had a 411 Rookie of the Year Award going back to 2007. Over the years, CHIKARA trainees have taken home the prize in 2008, 2009, 2011, and now in 2012. That’s a track record for excellence that is unparalleled in just about any other category in our awards.
Of course, this award isn’t just about putting over the CHIKARA Wrestle Factory as a training center . . . it is also about putting over the individual wrestlers, because, no matter how good their trainers are, they wouldn’t be in a position to win this award if not for the fact that they worked hard themselves and have inherent talent. deviANT and assailANT are a couple of guys who made their CHIKARA debuts and immediately had to compete at a high level in the top angle in the promotion, a feud pitting CHIKARA mainstays like Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, and the Colony against the crew of Gekido, of which the Swarm was an integral part. deviANT and assailANT definitely held up their end of the bargain, so much so that, by the end of the CHIKARA season, assailANT became accepted as a member of the Colony in a babyface turn that was warmly received by fans of the company. Saturyne has not been featured in such a prominent role, wrestling primarily in undercard matches. However, she has still had numerous opportunities to display her skills, and she has risen to the occasion more often than not, whether it has been against veteran joshi style wrestlers like Sara Del Rey or Kagetsu or whether it has been against core members of the CHIKARA roster like Tim Donst and Ophidian. Given WWE’s track record of barely giving new female wrestlers any training at all before trotting them out on to major shows, it is a breath of fresh air to see a female rookie who has been properly trained and is putting that training to good use. Apparently my colleagues agree with me, because Saturyne is the first woman in history to win our Rookie of the Year award.
I’m admittedly not up on my CHIKARA like a lot of the guys here at 411 are. I keep up with them in the headlines, I catch matches from time to time when I hear good things about them, and I appreciate the niche they fill on the indy circuit. Congratulations to Saturyne and the ANTs. From what I’ve seen of them, they’re a very talented trio of young workers and have a lot of potential going forward. It’s a good sign for any independent promotion to have this type of young talent on their roster.
What I do know about are Von Erichs. Some of my earliest wrestling memories involve Kerry, Kevin, and David Von Erich. To a lesser extent, I also remember Mike and Chris Von Erich. It’s probably best not to speak of Lance or Lacey. The family has a proud but haunted history within the ranks of professional wrestling. Few families were more important to the sport in the 1980’s than were the Von Erichs. Like many people, though, I felt it best for Kevin individually and the family as a whole to walk away from the sport.
I’ll admit that it was morbid curiosity that led me to research Ross and Marshall Von Erich. I wanted to see how much like their father and uncles they truly were. I wanted to see how they moved, how they carried themselves. I wanted to see if there was any sign of the family history weighing down on them. I was pleasantly surprised. Ross and Marshall have escaped the spotlight for now by wrestling in Japan. If they remain in the sport for long they won’t have that luxury. These kids look like blue chippers. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a few years we look back and ask, “Why didn’t the Von Erich boys win the Rookie of the Year voting in 2012?”
The future is bright at CHIKARA, as not one, but three new faces from the organization dominated the Rookie of the Year voting. CHIKARA has been making a lot of strides in terms of becoming one of the most loved indy promotions among the 411 staff as well as the IWC at large, and nowhere is that more evident than here. Let’s take a look first at Saturyne, who as Ryan Byers points out is the first woman to claim a win in this category. What this young woman can do after just a year’s worth of experience is absolutely stunning. The WWE could take a good look at her and realize that this is what happens when you actually invest your resources in properly training your female talent; it is possible to get people who can look good and wrestle too. You would think this is not a difficult concept to grasp, but sadly that is not the case. Joining Saturyne in the win category are deviANT and assailANT, the latest members of the various ants in the promotion. deviANT and assailANT have become integral parts of one of the major feuds that shaped the promotion over season eleven and have integrated fairly seamlessly into the mix.
Now, I do have preemptively address what I know will be coming—the argument that it doesn’t hurt CHIKARA’s voting that the bigger promotions have done such a poor job at recruiting talent as of late. I can sympathize to a degree; after all, consider that only one name came from the Big Two, and that was, of all people, Garret Bischoff. That being said, this should not be viewed as a situation where CHIKARA only won because the ‘E and TNA sucked so hard at making rookies. That is a disservice to not only Saturyne, deviantANT and assailANT, but to the whole CHIKARA Wrestle Factory who are producing some of the best talent in the industry today.
WINNER: Daniel Bryan – 37 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Kazuchika Okada – 25 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Austin Aries – 23 Votes
Bully Ray – 11 votes
Dolph Ziggler – 8 Votes
Karl Anderson – 6 Votes
Adam Cole – 6 Votes
Kofi Kingston – 3 Votes
Damien Sandow – 2 Votes
Antonio Cesaro – 1 vote
Dean Ambrose – 1 Vote
The year started with the World Heavyweight Championship around the waist of a SURELY transitional Daniel Bryan. What we got was a four-month reign that ended abruptly…and the backlash sent Bryan through the glass ceiling. I’ve said it a few times before, but Bryan is the only guy to lose his MitB-induced first championship and stay in the main event since Edge, and he’s still one of the hottest acts in the company. The WWE made the right call in giving him a great rematch with Sheamus, and then using the momentum from the AJ storyline to point him CM Punk’s direction. As soon as Bryan started losing momentum after not winning the championship from that feud (and rightfully so), he was aimed at Kane, which had “dud” written all over it (but that’s silly, because Bryan’s incapable of that). That resulted in some of the best comedy segments of the year in the anger management courses, and arguably the best WWE tag team in quite some time (certainly the most entertaining). As much as I wanted to believe Daniel Bryan could be a top champion in WWE when he started, I heavily doubted it. Then, as much as I wanted him to stay strong after his championship run, I heavily doubted the likelihood of that. Now arenas explode when his music hits, he has the most over catchphrase in the company, and he looks like a goat. Breakout star of 2012 by a substantial margin: Daniel Bryan.
There are no superlatives in the English language sufficient enough to show my love for Daniel Bryan, and when you consider that 2012 may well have been his best all-round year in wrestling yet, you can understand why I am very enthusiastic to write the blurb for his Breakout of the Year award. Bryan didn’t exactly come into 2012 in a weak position; he was the World Heavyweight Champion, after all. But he was far from an established upper card presence, and was only showing glimpses of the personality required to achieve success at the business end of WWE. Over the course of the year, Bryan would go on to pull out a litany of match of the year contenders, battle for both world titles, establish a but highly successful, championship winning pairing with Kane, and become a popular, unique, important part of WWE. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the former American Dragon; his 18 second defeat to Sheamus at Wrestlemania was a humungous let down, and the comedic stylings of Team Hell No certainly weren’t for everyone. But the 2012 Breakout of the Year award was still surely made for Bryan.
At first blush, it might seem a little bit odd to see Daniel Bryan listed as our breakout wrestler of the year. After all, he’s been wrestling for thirteen years now and has been considered one of the top in-ring performers in the United States since at least 2002, when he first started gaining more widespread exposure through Ring of Honor. However, when it came time to vote for a breakout star of the year, Daniel Bryan was absolutely on my ballot. Why? Because, in December of 2011, Bryan somewhat unexpectedly won the WWE’s World Heavyweight Title and went on to hold it through Wrestlemania. He immediately followed that by being involved in a program for the WWE Title and, once that wrapped up, he became part of a massively over tag team with Kane, remaining near the top of the card. In other words, before 2012, we knew that Daniel Bryan was a great wrestler and that he could main event an indy group like ROH or be an entertaining addition to the undercard of a major league promotion like the Pro Wrestling NOAH of several years ago. However, this year we learned for the first time that he could absolutely hang as a main event wrestler in the largest professional wrestling company in the world, and that is truly a breakout, no matter how many great matches you have under your belt or how many “best in the world” chants you’ve received from sold out armories.
I also have to comment on our second place finisher this year, Kazuchika Okada, who was actually in first place on my ballot. I think the only reason that he didn’t win is that, from what I can tell, about half of our voters don’t watch his home promotion, New Japan Pro Wrestling. This man literally went from being a nobody to being one of the most important wrestlers in Japan (if not the most important wrestler in Japan) all within the span of a year. He returned to his home country after an extended overseas tour in January and, by February, had won the IWGP Heavyweight Title in a shocker of an upset. More importantly, he was a huge success as champion, selling out numerous cards that he headlined and putting on title matches which rivaled the quality of those put on by NJPW’s long-time golden boy, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Okada’s resume gives him a strong case for being Wrestler of the Year, and, when you can say that after nobody was talking about you at all in the prior year; you are absolutely a breakout star.
WINNER: Brock Lesnar – 50 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Damien Sandow – 31 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Ryback – 25 Votes
Chris Jericho – 4 Votes
Kazuchika Okada – 3 Votes
Masakatsu Funaki (AJPW)– 1 Vote
Joseph Parks – 1 Vote
Davey Richards – 1 Vote
Robert Anthony – 1 Vote
Twas the night after Mania, and in the arena, a creature was preparing to attack John Cena. An incredible atmosphere, a real buzz in the air, because Brock f’n Lesnar would soon be there. The fans were excited on the edge of their seats, anticipating various F5 related treats. By the conclusion of Raw they were not disappointed, a new king of Monday nights had been anointed. Lesnar with his muscles and chest sword tattoo had left John Cena with not even a clue, as he charged to the ring all in a rage and mauled him like a lion let out of a cage. Lesnar was a star and the crowd were ecstatic, but soon his booking would become erratic. The feud lost momentum, and fans started maligning; whose idea was that fucking awful contract signing? At Extreme Rules Lesnar and Cena had a classic brawl, and the feud seems redeemed, puzzling promos and all, but then Brock Lesnar would disappear, and leave the WWE universe without any cheer. He returned to battle, to disturb the calm, to snap in half Triple H’s arm, and at Summerslam the two certainly entertained, but was it worth the last few months of pain? 411 think so, we’ve given Brock attention, he’s won this whole award, not just an honourable mention! But Lesnar’s 2012 was both sweet and sour, and has it done damage to his drawing power?
2012 was an interesting year in terms of where the wrestling industry, and WWE in particular, took its direction and put its focus. Using WWE as a microcosm of the industry as a whole, the business’ feet were firmly planted in both the nostalgia factor of the past and the excitement of new, young stars making their way to prominence. (For those who argue that the WWE does not represent the industry, I point out that this attitude was echoed in promotions that sprung up like Extreme Rising and House of Hardcore.) That exact split is perfectly defined in the “Comeback Wrestler of the Year” award, where out of the top four vote-getters you have two huge names of the past and two bedrocks of WWE in the future.
Let’s look first to the past, since that was where this award was won. Two iconic stars have made their return to the wrestling industry over the past couple of years. The first of those, the Rock, already had his coming out part last year—and, in fact, won with ease. This year saw his fortunes continue within the capacity that he was in WWE, beating John Cena to pick up yet another win at WrestleMania—and over the top star in the company nonetheless—in a battle that was billed (possibly disingenuously) as a “Once in a Lifetime” match. If that didn’t show that WWE knew nostalgia was going to sell more effectively than the present, I don’t know what does. Meanwhile, as soon as Rock headed back to Hollywood we had yet another huge name return. The idea of a Brock Lesnar WWE return has been talked about almost from the second he left. Those talks picked up exponentially when he retired from the UFS and lo and behold, he came back in a big way. Not every booking decision around him was a good one, but he still feels like a force to be reckoned with and following the initial FUBAR, they realized their error and corrected ship.
Meanwhile, while Brock and Rock were trying to bring back old fans who pined for the days of the Attitude Era and just after, some major names were getting ready to break out and two of them were doing so for their second time. If you recognize Damien Sandow then you have a good memory; he worked in WWE for about enough time for you to blink and miss it as Idol Stevens back in 2006. He would eventually fall back down to OVW and got released by the promotion. His return isn’t something that I think many would expect. You rarely get two shots at WWE, but Stevens did and after being dubbed Damien Sandow he quickly made his way to the roster where he’s killing it. Meanwhile, Ryback actually followed a similar career path in that he signed with WWE for a developmental deal and was eventually released. Luckily for us he made his return after not too long and thanks to NXT, he got his chance at the main roster. When Skip Sheffield went down due to injury, it may well have been the best thing that ever happened to him because it gave him the chance to return as Ryback, where he is now a main event player. With Sandow and Ryback rising to the main event while Brock and Rock hold fans there via nostalgia’s sake, the future of the WWE could look bright indeed.
From what I have been able to gather, Brock Lesnar is a somewhat polarizing figure amongst the readers of this website. There is definitely a contingent that has absolutely no time for him, still vilifying him for what they view as him walking out on World Wrestling Entertainment several years ago and thereby not showing the proper respect to the company that built around him so strongly so early in his career. They take that bitterness and use it as a basis for being hypercritical of everything that Lesnar does; attempting to argue that he is not a good performer. If you haven’t been able to figure it out yet, I am not one of those people. Though I will be the first to admit that it wasn’t perfect (the less said about the Cena contract signing, the better), I have to say that Brock Lesnar’s return to professional wrestling was the single most enjoyable part of WWE’s product for me in 2012. Yes, he only had two matches, but they were both great ones, and, more often than not, the interview segments he was involved in were big hits . . . whether it was a result of Lesnar himself speaking or a little bit of help from his associate Paul Heyman.
However, there’s one other major factor that lead to me enjoying Brock’s comeback so much. It was booked seriously, and it felt legitimate. One of the big things that has made the WWE product feel so “blah” to me for the last several years is that, unlike the wrestling that I grew up with, it seems like almost nothing is allowed to be taken seriously. Everything has to be done with a wink and a nod to the camera or otherwise have some comedic element to it, even stories involving internet favorites like CM Punk or Daniel Bryan. However, for whatever reason, Lesnar was allowed to get away without that. There were no jokes at Brock Lesnar’s expense, John Cena didn’t call him “poopy,” and Goldust sure as hell didn’t put a goddamn wig on him. When Brock was on camera, you knew that you were getting good, old fashioned, SERIOUS professional wrestling for a change, the kind that actually tried to get you emotionally invested as opposed to the kind that tries to skate by on kitsch value. Plus, when you’re attempting to do serious professional wrestling, Brock Lesnar is one of the best people to have involved. I was recently watching the WWE Legends Roundtable episode focusing on hardcore wrestling, and Jim Ross, who was part of the panel, compared Lesnar to old school wrestlers like Bruiser Brody and Abdullah the Butcher, guys who had a legitimate air of danger about them. J.R. was dead on, and it is exactly that type of character that I miss in professional wrestling . . . which is exactly why I like to see Lesnar around, even if it is on a part-time basis.
WINNER: Brock Lesnar Losing His First Match Back – 47 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Daniel Bryan loses the World Championship in 18 seconds at WrestleMania28 – 18 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: The Booking of Aces & Eights – 17 Votes
RAW 1000 – 9 Votes
John Cena Loses to The Rock At WrestleMania28 – 5 Votes
Drew McIntyre – 5 Votes
The Fall Of James Storm – 4 Votes
The Non-Result Of Colt Cabana /Adam Pearce 7 Levels Of Hate Final Match – 3 Votes
DGUSA/EVOLVE behind on DVD’s – 3 Votes
The Lack Of Serious Push For Zack Ryder – 3 Votes
Ric Flairs WWE Return – 3 Votes
The “New” ROH Fails To Delivery – 2 Votes
Kevin Steens Title Run – 1 Vote
CHIKARA’s Poor Booking Of The Grand Championship – 1 Vote
ROH/CHIKARA Crossover Fails To Delivery All It Could Have – 1 Vote
I’ve already written lots about Brock Lesnar in the Comeback of the Year section, so if you’ll indulge me I’m going to rant about this category’s runner-up; the 18 Second Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan debacle at Wrestlemania. Incidents like this one are the reason I will quite happily illegally view a WWE show, while simultaneously getting annoyed if someone decides to do the same with, say, a Chikara DVD. Sheamus’ lightning quick victory over Bryan was a slap in the face to it’s fanbase; only the most casual of casual fans purchase PPVs in the hope of seeing an 18 second match, yet the company still force fed it to them, and in doing so sacrificed one of the more anticipated matches on the card, especially among hardcore fans. Buy a Chikara, PWG, or NJPW show, and you know that though you’ll find a few underwhelming matches or questionable booking decision, you can at least know that everyone in the company is attempting to deliver high quality entertainment catered to the tastes of their viewers. Matches like Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan make me feel like I can’t purchase a WWE PPV safe in the knowledge that the company will pull together to put on a great show instead of essentially masturbating in my face by trying to break their own meaningless ‘shortest World Title match ever’ record. So, boo to WWE, and next time you feel a little bad about pirating one of their TV shows or PPVs look back on this match and remind yourself what they’ve done to deserve it.
Not Lesnar’s actual debut of course, that was a thing of genius, but overall so far this five million dollar investment really hasn’t paid off. The thing about the biggest disappointment of the year is that it is all about the expectation that went along with it, and after Lesnar’s surprise appearance on the first Raw after Wrestlemania a lot of fans were claiming that this could be the start of a revolution in the WWE. Instead it led to one brutal match that Lesnar lost, a whole lot of talk, and then another match with Triple H that was good, but nothing amazing, and then Lesnar quit. Now of course Brock will be back for Wrestlemania, but honestly I think everyone was expecting a little more from the former WWE and UFC champion’s return. So far he has put over a guy who doesn’t need it, and won against a guy who is no longer even an active wrestler, it is not exactly the revolution and legitimization that we were promised.
Now while the same could be said of Punk’s title reign or the reveal of Devon at Bound For Glory, no one paid five million dollars for these events to occur! Sorry to focus on the monetary side of things but seriously, you’d think with Linda’s senate campaign draining funds so much that if they were going to invest in someone like Brock Lesnar that they would at least use him better, or sign him to a contract with more dates. Of course we may all have to eat our words by the time that Wrestlemania rolls around, but if we get Lesnar-HHH 2 then nothing will redeem the blunder of booking that the WWE has made with the Beast; Brock Lesnar.
Personally I was more disappointed with the travesty that was the Bryan-Sheamus match at Wrestlemania, but at least they made up for it at the next PPV. So far the WWE has deprived us of several possible run-in spots by Brock Lesnar to save his precious dates for around ‘Mania and generally tried to play it safe in a year where they really should be taking risks what with the ever declining ratings. Now there is nothing wrong with the WWE operating on a system where they build their rising stars and have a couple of older established guys come in to wrestle a couple of major matches per year, even if they are only against other older established guys, but I just think they could be doing so much more, and that is why Brock’s return was the biggest disappointment of the year, because of the potential of the return, compared to the actual result.
I missed Brock Lesnar the first time around. I stopped watching wrestling around late 2001/early 2002 and didn’t start again until the fall of 2007. During that time, I missed a lot, but the only thing I seemed to have missed completely was Lesnar. He debuted, rose to the main event, and departed in such a short time that I was left with only vague stories of his skill and ability. His limited appearances on WWE compliation DVDs made it hard to see what everyone was talking about. Not being a UFC fan, I didn’t see him perform much in that realm either. In many ways, he was a legend — a supreme asskicker that I never got to see kick ass. Then, rumors began to pop up as we approached WrestleMania weekend about Lesnar resigning with the WWE — maybe just for media likeness rights, maybe for a return to the ring. By the time he returned on the post-‘Mania Raw, it was a poorly kept secret that Lesnar had signed a deal. I was excited to see what he would do after his years away. Apparently it was walk to the ring, blandly attack John Cena, make ridiculous demands, and then lose his first pay per view match. This was the legendary Brock Lesnar? Oh well. At least his return meant Paul Heyman came back, too.
WINNER: Threemendous III – 24 Votes
1st RUNNER-UP: Ring Of Wax – 22 Votes
2nd RUNNER-UP: Battle of Los Angelas Night 2 – 14 Votes
Cibernetico Rises (CHIKARA) – 5 Votes
Battle of Los Angeles: NIGHT 1 (PWG) – 3 Votes
The Great Escape (CHIKARA) – 3 Votes
Caged Hostility (ROH) – 3 Votes
Hot Off The Griddle (CHIKARA) – 2 Votes
King Of Trios Night 2 (CHIKARA)- 2 Votes
DDT4 (PWG) – 1 Vote
While Threemendous III from Pro Wrestling Guerrilla is a worthy winner of this award (despite my distaste for the beloved Drake Younger vs. B-Boy match on that show), I am really excited that Chikara’s Ring of Wax placed so high on the list. Threemendous III obviously had the classic main event, the previously discussed Younger/B-Boy
Chikara likes to promote how much “fun” they are, and the semi-main event perfectly illustrates that. Chuck Taylor, Icarus, Ophidian, and Sugar Dunkerton vs. Fire Ant, Green Ant, Shane Matthews, & Scott Parker was one of the most fun matches of the year. It had great action, hilarious comedy, and it managed to further along several storylines as Chikara headed into King of Trios and the homestretch of their eleventh season. This match was somehow topped by the main even though.
ACH vs. Mr. Touchdown was the main event, and the winner was to be crowned the new Young Lions Cup Champion. They went out there and delivered arguably the best Chikara match of the year, and they certainly delivered one of the most exciting matches in all of wrestling for 2012. This wasn’t some mindless spotfest. They spent a ton of time establishing their characters for the live crowd, and then they took the crowd on a wild ride. This is a must-watch match for all wrestling. These two are going to be a big part of the future of pro wrestling, and their match was a big reason why I consider Chikara’s Ring of Wax the best independent wrestling show of the year.
Yes, you’ve heard a lot of ballyhoo about the insane three team ladder match in the main event slot. You’ve heard a lot of good stuff about the PWG World Title match between champion Kevin Steen and Willie Mack. You’ve also heard a lot of unfortunate over-analyzing about a great match between Drake Younger and B-Boy. You’ve probably heard a lot of really good things about PWG’s ninth anniversary show, Threemendous III.
Let me tell you; it’s worth the hype.
I’ve not seen CHIKARA’s Ring of Wax, so I unfortunately can’t comment on what seems like a fantastic show, but PWG’s phenomenal 2012 peaked at Threemendous. The polarizing (but still fantastic) Joey Ryan had a decent enough opener against newbie (kinda) Famous B, and it was onwards and upwards from there. Chuck Taylor made a good return as a part of the Fightin’ Taylor Boys, but at three stars that was the second worst match of the night. Everything else ranges from really good to Match of the Year type stuff. I told you it was a good show. TJ Perkins almost earned a fan in me after a good performance against Roderick Strong (he’s since slumped back into mediocrity) in a very underrated match, while Brian Cage had a match of similar caliber against Eddie Edwards. And it gets FANTASTIC from there: Kevin Steen and SoCal prospect Willie Mack exceeded expectations and put on an immensely wild match, with a Brian Cage interference (and its aftermath) actually providing the best part of the match. Drake Younger and B-Boy–despite what some may tell you–was a fantastic knockdown, drag-out fight between two wrestlers that the crowd didn’t particularly care about at first, but Reseda quickly started coming alive when the two tore into each other and left it all out in the ring. Unfortunately, some people fail to recognize the effort and excitement in the match, but that’s their opinion. To me, it’s a phenomenal match to lead into the mental three-team ladder match. It’s probably what you’ve heard about most from this show and all the hype is absolutely true. For almost thirty minutes, the Super Smash Brothers, Future Shock, and the Young Bucks ripped into each other while putting on one of the best ladder matches in wrestling history.
Threemendous III is my runaway (well, BOLA Night 2 comes close) show of the year. I even called it PWG’s best show ever, although people tell me that Mystery Vortex tops it. You can call it hyperbole, but I’m easily amused and it’s my opinion. Deal with it.
2012 marked the year where I didn’t get to watch Indy shows like I used to — most of my viewing efforts went away from wrestling and into TV. That’s when I made the choice: I get one. One Indy company to watch every show, and that was Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Chikara was a close second, and looking at the list, these are the two companies that ran rampant on putting on quality shows. It was no surprise to me that Threemendous 3 won, but it bums me out a bit because I actually could have gone (and it’d have been my first PWG show). Instead, I chose to be a well-adjusted, social human being (the antithesis of us wrestling fans) and go to an end-of-the-semester beach party to celebrate graduation. I had to wait until late October’s “Failure to Communicate” to see PWG live and that was actually my favorite Indy show this year (I also made it to December’s “Mystery Vortex” and I’m hoping to go to their annual DDT4 as well). All that aside, I missed a fantastic show, because when I watched my DVD of Threemendous III, I was treated to an awesome card (that doesn’t need repeating given that it’s been mentioned already by the other writers). I just want to say that if you’re NOT watching PWG, they’ve been hot for about three years straight, and you’re really missing out. There’s no better time than now to dive in.