When you get past the annoying social media trends, infatuation with past stars, and inconsistent booking, WWE produced a number of classic PPV match-ups on the 2012 calendar. Choosing 20 was hard, ranking them was harder. Here is what I came up with for the creme de la creme, the best of the best for the year 2012.
20. World Heavyweight Championship/Elimination Chamber: Daniel Bryan vs. Big Show vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Wade Barrett vs. Santino Marella vs. Great Khali (Elimination Chamber, February 19)
You wouldn’t think this one would make the classics list, and early on in the match, it didn’t seem to be a likely addition. What made this match special was the dramatic finishing sequence, in which comedy player Marella eliminated Rhodes and Barrett, and came within believable inches of upending Bryan for the title. Despite the crowd cheering him on, the Milan Miracle succumbed to the LeBell/Yes/No Lock, and Bryan retained.
One of my favorite dynamics: Mysterio’s plucky air assault against a conniving villain who will bump along with the lucha icon. Really, Miz can be hit-or-miss, and Rey, even broken down, gets the best out of just those kinds of foes. A rapid-fire build to the end, including Miz busting out a Liger Bomb of all moves, ended shockingly cleanly, with Rey eating the turnbuckle after a crash-and-burn, and Miz spiking him with the Skull Crushing Finale.
18. WWE Championship/No Disqualification: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan (Money in the Bank, July 15)
The only detraction from this one was something I never thought I’d criticize, and that’s too much AJ. Miss Lee was the special referee for this blowoff between two honorable rivals, and it was a chaotic 28-minute affair. When you combine MMA-inspired kicks and strikes with WWE Main Event Style weaponry, it can make for a suitably brutal affair. Bryan’s current run as a main eventer came to an end via Punk hitting a back superplex through a table.
17. Ladder Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. John Cena (TLC, December 16)
The final PPV match of 2012 hit on all the notes necessary for a satisfying main event: strong booking for both the winner and loser, exciting in-ring action, a hint of controversy, and as a bonus, acknowledgement of the ascension of a young star. Ziggler’s MITB briefcase was at stake against Cena, who had the match won until AJ (she gets around) knocked him off the ladder, allowing for a Ziggler superkick, and contract-retention for the Show Off.
16. Royal Rumble Match (Royal Rumble, January 29)
Some panned this match for being a tad cartoony, what with the commentators, Jim Duggan, and other non-regulars getting involved, but the silly fun was surrounded by some great action otherwise. Miz and Cody Rhodes had great showings during their respective long durations, Kofi Kingston hand-stood his way into our hearts, and Sheamus and Chris Jericho put together a great extended finish, ending with Jericho being Brogue Kicked into the abyss.
15. World Heavyweight Championship: Sheamus vs. Big Show (Hell in a Cell, October 28)
Even though the Sheamus/Show feud was eventually dragged out like a dead kitten carcass across sun-baked pavement, it at least produced this fun match. In recent years, WWE’s produced a number of epic battles between big men, and this ranks among the best. It’s not often see two devastating moves (WMD Punch, Brogue Kick) kicked out of, but it set the stage for a thrilling finish, in which Show KO’ed Sheamus once and for all to win the gold.
14. WWE Championship: CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler (Royal Rumble, January 29)
This one took relegation to the scrap heap quickly after it happened, and that was due to two reasons. For one, it failed to match the ‘instant classic’ that Punk and Ziggler had on Raw two months prior (Dolph’s “he’s arrived” match), and two, John Laurinaitis’ involvement overshadowed some of the proceedings. Ziggler’s GTS counter into a rocker dropper was sweet, much like the match itself, which Punk won after finally hitting his knee-on-face finish.
13. Randy Orton vs. Dolph Ziggler (Night of Champions, September 16)
The elevation of Ziggler continued, even in defeat. After Orton cost Ziggler a chance to cash in Money in the Bank on Sheamus (before Cena committed the same act), the two were linked together for a non-championship-related match at a show that’s designed to feature all title matches. Minor quibble aside, Ziggler and Orton battled in a heated 20-minute war, with many near falls, and ending when Orton countered Dolph’s sleeper into an RKO.
12. WWE Championship/Chicago Street Fight: CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho (Extreme Rules, April 29)
The blowoff to the insipid “Punk’s really a vicing degenerate with a messed up family” angle was this unfettered fight to the death in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. Both men even wore street clothes for the occasion, giving old school fans some bunkhouse brawl memories. Punk pulled out all the stops, including hitting the Leap of Faith elbow through Spanish announce table. Jericho nearly won with a chair-assisted Codebreaker, but Punk’s GTS would prevail.
11. WWE Championship/Elimination Chamber: CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho vs. The Miz vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. R-Truth (Elimination Chamber, February 19)
This one left many of us wondering just how Jericho and/or Punk would lose, and still set up WrestleMania without either man looking weak. After one of the better Chamber matches in recent years, complete with Jericho resurrecting the Lion Tamer on Kingston, Punk knocked Jericho out with a bump to the floor, eliminating him via TKO. Left with just Miz, Punk polished him off with the GTS, leaving Jericho to have an out leading into WrestleMania.
10. Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler (Summerslam, August 19)
Shaking off the disappointment of a pointless, troll-tastic return in January, an uninspired feud with Punk (the writing, not the matches), and the controversy in Brazil, Jericho was able to have one last classic before adjourning from WWE yet again. Opening an average Summerslam, Jericho and Ziggler ping-ponged and bumped for each other to get the party started. After Y2J shook off a ton of false finishes, he tapped Ziggler to his Wal-er, Lion Tamer.
9. Money in the Bank: Dolph Ziggler vs. Christian vs. Tensai vs. Santino Marella vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Tyson Kidd vs. Damien Sandow vs. Sin Cara (Money in the Bank, July 15)
The more discriminating fan was looking forward to this over, say, the Cena/Show/Kane MITB match, since a number of rising stars and internet favorites were involved. Kidd was the unsung hero, making his name on a series of crazy spots (i.e. the mid air twisting sunset powerbomb), while Ziggler continued his subtle suicide with his usual scary landings. Christian had the match won until Ziggler surged in, threw him off the ladder, and claimed the blue briefcase.
8. World Heavyweight Championship/2 Out Of 3 Falls: Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan (Extreme Rules, April 29)
After infuriating many with the 18-second fiasco at WrestleMania, WWE provided a make-good 4 weeks later by booking Bryan in a role he’s seldom played in WWE: a calculating killer who targets an injury and exploits it. Sacrificing the first fall to a DQ, Bryan forced Sheamus to pass out in the Yes Lock to even it up. Bryan couldn’t get the job done, however, and ate a Brogue Kick in the final act. But at least WWE, to their credit, apologized for Mania in their own way.
7. Hell in a Cell: The Undertaker vs. Triple H (WrestleMania XXVIII, April 1)
Though many have heralded this as the hands-down match of the year, I feel there was too much stalling (understandably) to award it the title. It was well built, but just missing that “extra push over the cliff”, to quote Nigel Tufnel. As it was, I dug much of the drama, but felt the parts with Shawn Michaels weren’t needed. Undertaker turning back Hunter’s last-ditch sledgehammer attack before obliterating him made for a fitting culmination of the 20-0 mark.
6. The Rock vs. John Cena (WrestleMania XXVIII, April 1)
Once the pointless concert beforehand came to a merciful end (which included some pretentious purple-haired diva-something or other), Rock and Cena engaged in the big money match, which was equal parts Austin-Rock and Warrior-Hogan. With a more markish crowd, it may have been even more epic, but as it was, it was a great heavyweight battle that will likely lead to a sequel this year. As for round one, The Great One drew first blood.
5. WWE Championship: CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XXVIII, April 1)
After John Laurinaitis affixed a stipulation minutes beforehand, decreeing that Punk could lose the gold via DQ, one’s spidey sense smelled screwjob. Instead, it was a red herring meant to mislead the audience, and hope that Punk wouldn’t get gutted by injustice. An intense battle that slowly worked into third gear, Jericho’s head games only intensified Punk’s resolve, as he finished the former “Best in the World” with an unrelenting Anaconda Vice.
4. WWE Championship: CM Punk vs. John Cena (Night of Champions, September 16)
Kinda sad that this was Punk’s first “main event” of the 2012 calendar year, and he’d been champion the entire time. This made up for months of Cena navel-gazing, as the two picked up where they left off the previous summer at Money in the Bank and Summerslam, displaying their remarkable chemistry in a seesaw battle. The double-pin finish would have meant more with a one-on-one rematch, but you know WWE will revisit this soon enough.
3. Tables, Ladders, and Chairs: The Shield vs. Kane/Daniel Bryan/Ryback (TLC, December 16)
You wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of positives to come out of Punk tearing his meniscus, but a dangerous spotfest that gave instantly credibility to three newcomers would be one. The Shield has looked strong since their Survivor Series debut, and they were able to notch a huge win over 3 pushed and established players, in a match everyone was talking about for days. Seth Rollins in particular was made after nearly dying via table bump near the entrance way.
With Lesnar’s return the night after WrestleMania came high expectations for the universally-renowned UFC icon. He immediately entered a feud with Cena, and their fight vignettes hyping their forthcoming brawl were great selling points. The match wasn’t even a match, it was a straight-up fight with lots of blood. After Cena took a hellacious beating for the duration of the contest, he used his chain, and an AA on the ring steps, to win, much to the surprise of many.
1. WWE Championship: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan (Over the Limit, May 20)
The two indy darling got to bring their blend of pure wrestling and stiff-shot-laden brawling to the big stage, for the game’s richest prize. Bryan and Punk painted a masterpiece for over 20 minutes, with both men expectedly fighting for the advantage. Bryan worked the arm in a manner similar to Bob Backlund, and ultimately hooked the Yes Lock for a sure win. Punk bridged back into a pinning combo and tapped just after the ref counted 3 on his pin.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer who covers the NFL for FootballNation and professional wrestling on a freelance basis. He can be found at Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh)