Hits & Misses 2012 WWE Hits of the Year: Ziggler, Punk's Title Reign, Sheamus vs. Big Show, The Shield
Dec 31, 2012 - 12:47:40 PM
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By Jon Mezzera, Torch Specialist
Here is Part 1 of my Hits & Misses of the year, a special look at the very best of WWE in 2012. As in the past, I will not be looking at individual matches or moments from this past year. Instead, I will be focusing on the wrestlers who had good years, the top feuds and storylines, and other good trends from WWE's 2012 (in somewhat chronological order). I realize there is still one Raw to go this year, but I'm guessing nothing will happen to change what I have to say about the year as a whole. And be sure to watch out for the 2012 Misses of the year coming soon.
Jericho's Initial Return: I was a big fan of Chris Jericho's initial return to WWE. After a series of interesting and somewhat creepy videos, Jericho made his return without saying a word for several weeks. I loved the enthusiasm he showed at times and acting like he was overcome with emotion at others. Eventually he talked and was able to turn the audience against him in an effective way claiming that everyone had stolen from him like CM Punk calling himself the best in the world. WWE seemed to drop the ball with making him feel like a big deal when he failed to win the Royal Rumble and again failed to win in the Elimination Chamber. Also, his subsequent feud with Punk over the WWE Title was disappointing. However, his first few appearances were a definite highlight of the year.
Dolph Ziggler: 2012 was a great year for Dolph Ziggler. He started out early in a main event slot. However he did move quickly back to the middle of the pack, but had good matches against multiple opponents including Sheamus. After hanging around the mid card for much of the year, he finally broke away from a stagnant team with Jack Swagger in the early summer. He then went on to feud with Sheamus over the World Title. This push eventually would lead to Ziggler winning Money in the Bank. He also had a good series of matches in the late summer against Randy Orton and plenty of other good matches along the way with guys like Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan. At the end of the year, he feuded with John Cena, started a new relationship with AJ, and is poised for a huge 2013.
Daniel Bryan: Daniel Bryan also had a very good 2012. It started with an early heel turn as the World Champion. I enjoyed his work with The Big Show and Mark Henry. He had a great match on Raw after the Royal Rumble against CM Punk. Despite being a heel, he had a growing popularity with his Yes chants, which he turned into No chants after WrestleMania. Bryan did good work in his relationship with AJ. He had multiple good matches with Sheamus. He had multiple great matches with Punk. He also had good matches with guys like Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler. The love square with him, Punk, Kane and AJ had some fun moments and eventually lead to the formation of Team Hell No. I can see him really breaking out as a top babyface star in 2013.
Punk's Title Reign: One of the main things that 2012 will be remembered for is the fact that C.M. Punk was the WWE Champion for the entire calendar year. Despite some early issues and a lack of main events in the first half of the year, Punk's reign was a huge deal this year. WWE really started to make a big deal about the length of the reign in June. I felt that Punk's turn on The Rock was great, but the follow up was too wishy-washy with Punk playing a tweener for too long. Eventually, his heel character really got good after SummerSlam. I also have thoroughly enjoyed the addition of Paul Heyman to Punk's act. I commend WWE for doing this storyline and keeping the Title on a wrestler for now over 400 days. Unfortunately, an injury to John Cena hurt what would have been a huge main event at Hell in a Cell and a late year injury to Punk himself has him on crutches heading into the New Year.
Big Show: 2012 was a good year for The Big Show. He did some nice work early on as a babyface. I loved the build to his WrestleMania moment vs. Cody Rhodes. Rhodes was great taking the fans down memory lane to Show's embarrassing WrestleMania moments, before Show finally got revenge. His heel turn with John Laurinaitis wasn't great initially, but worked out in the end with plenty of strong mic work from Show afterwards. Show also ended the year in a very strong manner with a feud against Sheamus where he became the World Champion.
Tag Teams: 2012 was one of the best recent years in WWE for tag teams. The tag team division started to get going with Kofi Kingston & R-Truth vs. Primo & Epico. Kingston & Truth had a nice run as Tag Champs. I like the fact that when their team came to an end, WWE didn't do the usual route of having them break up. Instead, they remained friends, occasionally teamed up together, but focused on their singles careers. WWE actually built several legit teams during the year with Team Hell No, the Prime Time Players, the Usos, Justin Gabriel & Tyson Kidd, Team Rhodes Scholars, and Rey Mysterio & Sin Cara. In the fall, they put on a tag team tournament to name new #1 contenders for the Tag Team Titles, which started off poorly, but turned good in the end. When was the last time they had enough established teams to field a legit tournament like this? More can be done, but I am hopeful this is the start of a new renewed focus on tag team wrestling in WWE.
Return of Paul Heyman: When Brock Lesnar returned the night after WrestleMania, many of us were hoping that Paul Heyman would not be far behind. Our hopes came true when he came back to act as Lesnar's spokesman. After Lesnar eventually quit WWE, Heyman then moved on to working with C.M. Punk, which I mentioned above. Heyman has done a great job on the mic and in just reacting to the things that Punk is talking about. He has been very enjoyable to watch. I am curious to see how long he sticks around, whether The Shield or Brad Maddox end up as part of a Heyman run stable, what role he has in Lesnar's return, and what the future holds in general for Heyman and other Heyman guys.
Damien Sandow: My pick for Rookie of the Year in WWE is definitely Damien Sandow. I liked his introductory vignettes. I liked his refusal to wrestle during his first few in person appearances. This is a case where everything has come together to create such a great character from the writing and delivery of his promos, to his Hallelujah Chorus intro music, to his great character portrayal including the way he holds the mic like a fine glass of wine, to the use of Latin names for his signature moves, to his good wrestling ability. I also enjoyed his eventual team with Cody Rhodes. On an early October Raw, Sandow had a very good match against Sheamus which showed off how good he can be if given a chance to shine in longer matches and I hope for more of that in the upcoming year.
Sheamus: Sheamus grew into the top babyface on Smackdown (if Raw - Smackdown distinctions even exist any more which they really don't) in 2012. Sheamus did some very good work early in the year with Daniel Bryan especially after their 18-second WrestleMania match. He proved himself to be a good worker throughout the year with several good to great matches with a variety of opponents including Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio, and Cody Rhodes. His feud against Big Show at the end of the year also helped to elevate Show in the process and they had some surprisingly good matches against each other on multiple PPVs.
Team Hell No: I have already briefly mentioned Team Hell No in my Hits for Daniel Bryan and for the tag team division. I also want to give the Tag Team Champions their own Hit. The team had its roots in the feud between Bryan, Kane, and C.M. Punk over A.J., including A.J. being the referee in their triple threat WWE Title match at No Way Out. Eventually, A.J. forced them into anger management which included my favorite moment of the year when Kane gave a recap of his life including the line "and for reasons that have never been clear, I have an unhealthy obsession with torturing Pete Rose." Bryan and Kane have a very good chemistry together. The fans have responded positively to them. I particularly liked when they were forced to hug it out. There have been a few missteps along the way like their anger management session at the diner which was terrible, but it has been a much more positive than negative run for Team Hell No.
A.J.'s Performances: A.J. wasn't always used well, but she performed well doing whatever was asked of her. The love square angle with her and Bryan, Kane, and Punk was a lot of fun. She did a nice job of acting crazy at times and skipping around the ring. You never knew what she was going to do next like when she pushed Punk through a table. Once it settled into her marrying Bryan, I enjoyed the video of the two of them planning the wedding. I was not as big a fan of her role as Raw GM. I was also not a big fan of the Cena love angle after she quit her job as GM. But, those were problems with the writing, not her performance. Her character does seem back on track at the end of the year with her turning on Cena and going with Ziggler.
Kingston Breaks Out: In September, Kofi Kingston had a great match against Dolph Ziggler on Raw which reminded us of his talent as a wrestler. Starting with a very good episode of MizTV, Kingston started to break out of his mid-carder for life status with his feud against The Miz over the Intercontinental Title. The Wildcat bit is silly, but WWE did a good job of showing how Kingston had finally found whatever was missing and is now poised to become a top star like he appeared to be several years ago during his feud with Randy Orton. The end of the year was also strong for Kingston in his good feud against Wade Barrett.
Sheamus vs. Show: In talking about Sheamus's good year and Big Show's good year, I mentioned their feud which really deserves a Hit itself. It started in October and ran through the end of the year and as I said above, produced some very good PPV matches and some nice moments between them.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month: WWE formed a nice partnership in October with the Susan G Komen for the Cure Foundation to raise money during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They did a nice job with the pink ropes, the logo on the stage, Cena's ring gear, and the welcoming of breast cancer survivors to shows throughout the month. It all culminated in a $1 million donation. It is a reminder that for all of its faults (and there are many), WWE does have a strong history of working with special causes like Make a Wish, Be a Star, the USO with Tribute to the Troops, and now the breast cancer awareness campaign as well.
The Shield: I'm having trouble remembering when a wrestler or group of wrestlers has had such a strong impact upon making their debut. I'm not going to count The Nexus since while they did have a strong debut as a group, they had all been on NXT for several months together before that memorable Raw when they destroyed the set. After The Shield's surprise debut at Survivor Series, they had a great sit down interview with Michael Cole. I also love their hand held videos back stage. They bring an intensity and a level of physicality that greatly added to the quality of WWE shows over the last month of the year. They had a breakout performance in the ring in their TLC Match against Ryback and Team Hell No. They have been used effectively to put legitimately injured wrestlers on the shelf like Randy Orton and Sin Cara. It is exciting to see WWE doing something like this with a group of totally new wrestlers. I can't wait to see them continue to rise in prominence in the New Year.
Introducing New Heels: All in all, WWE was quite successful in 2012 in introducing new heels to the WWE Universe. I already praised the work of Damian Sandow. While I am not giving Antonio Cesaro his own Hit for the year, he has been impressive. It was not a great start for him with Aksana, and things didn't even get better in his early United States Title run. But, things definitely started getting better with his displays of power, multiple good matches, his wicked European upper cut, and a solid feud against R-Truth. I have also already talked about how excited I am about The Shield. I even like what WWE has done with the former rogue referee Brad Maddox and am impressed with how he has improved in a short amount of time in terms of his mic work. There is some definite cocky star power there and I want to see where they go with him ultimately becoming an official WWE Superstar. At the very end of the year, so to a much lesser extent, they also introduced Big E. Langston. We haven't seen enough of him to really judge how he will perform, but he has the look WWE likes and word out of NXT is that he has quite a bit of skill and I look forward to seeing more of him (and hope that he gets a better finisher). Throw in the rise to the top of Dolph Ziggler and the promise shown by Wade Barrett after his return from injury and the future looks bright for young up and coming heels.
Jon Mezzera is PWTorch.com's WWE TV Hits & Misses Specialist, providing his point of view for Raw and Smackdown each week. Email him at email@example.com.
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