Analysing the Top 5 WWE Rivalries of 2012
As another calendar year draws to an end, I think even the most optimistic of WWE fans would have to argue that this has been quite a turbulent 12 months of programming.
While there has certainly been enough to keep us watching, the phrase "forced down our throats" feels an applicable description of 2012, whether it be rivalries nobody wants to see, squash matches, atrocious storylines or the use of social media in more or less every other segment.
Fortunately, there have been some rivalries that will live long in the memory once the year is over, and here are the five I believe have been the pick of the bunch.
Let's first take a look at those feuds that just didn't quite cut the mustard to break into the top five, and where better to start off with than the longest running feud of 2012?
Sheamus vs. Alberto Del Rio
I was in Miami for the Raw after WrestleMania 28 and to this day I remember cringing when Alberto Del Rio returned to interrupt Sheamus talking in the ring. My friend tried to assuage my fears by telling me "Don't worry, Jack; I'm sure it'll be a solid feud."
My friend was wrong. This on-off feud lasted nearly seven months and I challenge anyone to fondly recall one interaction that these two had.
Fair enough, the matches they had were solid, well told stories but aside from the action, there was literally no story to this feud other than Del Rio believing he was better than Sheamus because he had more money.
However, seeing as this feud was so prominent throughout the year and did a fairly good job of establishing Sheamus as a fighting champion, it makes the "Notable Mentions" column.
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
This should have been one of the greatest feuds in years, but right from the beginning it seemed destined to fail. When Sheamus won the Royal Rumble ahead of Y2J, many fans were perplexed.
After all the hype of Jericho's return, featuring the incredibly intriguing "This is the end of the World as you know it" promos, having Jericho fall flat on his face (literally) from a Sheamus Brogue Kick seemed a deliberate swerve to those simply hoping to buy into that piece of marketing.
What followed was a fairly solid build, where Jericho bested Punk on the microphone for the majority of February. Things all got rather stupid, though, when a feud that could have actually been based about who was the "Best in the World" became far too personal when Y2J verbally attacked Punk's family.
It was needless, but thankfully their match was WrestleMania was an instant classic. Sadly, though, the feud remained based on Punk and his family's issues, which did nothing for Punk when he finally bested Jericho, as his edge he had built during 2011 was lessened thanks to WWE's insistence of taking advantage of real-life events (Punk and Paul Heyman mocking Jerry Lawler's heart attack anyone?).
While their Chicago Street Fight at Extreme Rules was also a thrilling match, the path this feud took diminished its potential and therefore its impact on the fans.
5. Ryback vs. CM Punk
With WWE TLC looming in less than two weeks, the biggest feud of the winter, CM Punk vs. Ryback, will be contested in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match for the WWE Championship at the final PPV of the year.
While the interactions between Punk and Ryback have been largely one-sided in terms of physical momentum, the twists and turns this feud has taken more than justifies its place in any list such as this.
When John Cena underwent elbow surgery in September just as his feud with Punk was spicing up, Ryback was the man WWE plucked out for greatness in his place.
Since that night on Raw where Punk attacked Mick Foley, only for Ryback to eventually protect the "Hardcore Legend" and engage in a staredown with the WWE Champion, it's hard to deny that we have been presented with some fantastic viewing.
In Punk vs. Vince McMahon, we were treated to one of the best matches of the year, as well as Ryback's biggest ovation to date when he came out to attack the "Best in the World."
At Hell in a Cell, we saw referee Brad Maddox screw over Ryback, keeping the star's reputation intact and the title on Punk, while at Survivor Series we finally saw a humanising of "Big Hungry," with the Shield displaying how Ryback can be stopped in numbers.
This seems to have made the former Nexus member even more popular than before, as he is now faced with a long overdue challenge.
This really has been one of the best-written feuds of the year, and with TLC around the corner; let’s hope it is a fitting ending to the saga as Punk prepares for what could be a monumental feud with The Rock in January.
4. Undertaker vs. Triple H
Having bought my WrestleMania 28 tickets in November, I was incredibly excited heading into January pondering who would face the mighty Undertaker and try to end his streak this year.
I was initially somewhat disappointed that Triple H was given the nod for the third time against the "Phenom," but disappointment soon turned to excitement as an intelligent, thoughtful feud was crafted that focused around the tagline, "The End of an Era."
When the Undertaker returned after the Royal Rumble to confront "The Game," Triple H's refusal to accept his WrestleMania challenge was superb.
With Undertaker having to find ways to get under Triple's skin, this feud became personal quickly, and was only improved when Shawn Michaels found his way on to WWE programming again.
"HBK" could really do no wrong in this feud. His acting was top drawer, and the promos the three men exchanged heading into WrestleMania were fantastically gripping.
As soon as the Hell in a Cell stipulation was added, the butterflies were building in my stomach sitting inside Sun Life Stadium as we all prepared for what would be one of the greatest matches in WWE history.
While the Hell in a Cell was a nice, nostalgic notch in the belt of both men's historic careers, it was the sheer drama of their WrestleMania match that sucked the life out of the fans in attendance. It was like an episode of The Wire unfolding before your eyes in a wrestling ring.
The acting from all three, especially Michaels, was outstanding, and who honestly didn't become an emotional mess when Undertaker took a Pedigree and a Sweet Chin Music and still kicked out?
Undertaker went on to go 20-0 at WrestleMania, and to add a heart-warming touch, all three men left the ring together, with the "Deadman" and "HBK" propping Triple H up to ensure the legacy of all three men remained in the grandest of lights.
3. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan
In May 2011, envisaging CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan as a feud for the WWE title was unbelievable. Could two of the best performers in WWE finally be paired off and compete in a feud for the company's greatest prize? Surely not.
Fast forward a year and Bryan beats Jerry Lawler (for some reason) and becomes the No. 1 contender to Punk's championship, and he will get his match at the Over The Limit PPV.
It should have been the main event, but in that spot we were treated to John Cena vs. John Laurinaitis in a travesty of a match concluding with a predictable Big Show heel turn. Moving on though.
What we did get was one of the best wrestling matches of the year, with both men looking incredible as they exchanged momentum in a wonderful encounter that saw Punk continue his reign.
While many fans would have predicted this feud be based on their Ring of Honor days together, the company instead choose to interject AJ Lee into this feud. Bryan's ex-girlfriend was taking a shine to Punk and it made for an intriguing angle.
Unfortunately, Kane became involved, and while being included for one match at No Way Out led to the storyline of the summer when he feuded and then teamed with Bryan, it was largely unnecessary at the time.
AJ struggled with her feelings for all three men, and this would finally end at Money in the Bank where Bryan and Punk (again relegated behind John Cena in the main event) would battle in a No Disqualification match with AJ as the special referee.
The match itself was fantastic, but one couldn't help feel disappointed that AJ counted Bryan's shoulders to the mat with virtually no hesitation. A swerve of sorts would have been a dramatic ending to a wonderful rivalry, but in spite of that, the two men more than did enough to earn a spot in anyone's list.
2. John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar
Again, this feud was only one match, but John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar was so unlike anything we have seen for years in WWE that surely its spot at No. 2 is merited.
Following his loss to The Rock at WrestleMania, Cena came out to congratulate the "Great One" on Raw. What Cena got instead was the return of Lesnar, marking one of the most memorable moments of the year when the American Airlines Arena came unglued for the return of the former WWE champion.
Lesnar went straight for Cena with a dramatic and thunderous F5, but it was the week after where things got mesmerising when Lesnar bloodied Cena as a huge brawl broke out between the two superstars. It was remarkable viewing and instantly the main event of Extreme Rules was penciled in.
Talking has never been one of Lesnar's strong points, and while we were sadly witness to a horribly awkward segment where Lesnar plagued John Laurinaitis for demands that seemed to go on for an eternity, we were also given a wonderfully produced promo where Lesnar's achievements at the UFC were highlighted to make him look like a war machine.
This promo really made Cena appear to be in trouble, but with the WWE's poster boy suffering a clean loss one month previously, surely Lesnar wasn't going to come straight in and hand him a second?
No, he wasn't. Cena won at Extreme Rules, but it didn't matter to an extent, as both men put a beating on each other unlike anything in recent history.
Lesnar again bloodied Cena with an elbow quite early on into the match. Incredibly, the domination of Cena continued as blood continued to pour from his head, something WWE has famously not allowed since the beloved PG Era was introduced in 2008.
With Lesnar nearly ending his career with an incredible dive through the ropes, things became even more engrossing when Cena then bloodied Lesnar with a chain, a lovely throw back to his "Doctor of Thuganomics" days.
Cena got the grueling win, and despite going off-script with a needless promo about a minor injury he'd suffered, the effect this match left on fans was a much-needed reminder that nobody does drama better than the WWE.
1. The Rock vs. John Cena
I hope I'm not alone in thinking this, but I would not just argue that The Rock vs. John Cena was the best feud of the year, but truly one of the best of all time.
You have to go all the way back to February 2011 when Rock returned to Raw announcing he would be the Special Guest Host of WrestleMania 27, headlined by The Miz vs. John Cena, to see where this feud began with one of the greatest ever promos from the "Great One."
Rock completely laid into Cena on his return to Raw, with his "Fruity Pebbles" quip still chanted back to him by fans today. After screwing Cena at WrestleMania, the challenge was issued by Rock the next night on Raw to a match at WrestleMania 28 (not by Cena mind, who surely should have been irate after being cost the WWE title? He wasn't, surprisingly enough).
As the months rolled on, Cena endured a mixed year before Rock would return to team with him at Survivor Series against The Miz and R-Truth. There was only going to be one winner in that one, but with Rock again getting the last word with a Rock Bottom on Cena after the match, all the momentum in this feud was lying with the "People's Champion."
Fortunately, it didn't take long for Cena to get it back. When Rock returned in 2012, he relied heavily on fan interaction and mentioning Twitter to get fans on his side.
Cena really endeared himself to long-time haters of his during this time with some of the best promos of his career. He constantly noted The Rock's absence for all these years, with Rock often struggling to find a witty retort to match Cena's words.
Cena then took things to a whole new level when he called Rock up on the fact that there were promo notes on his wrist. Was this scripted? Because Rock's nervous, overcompensating remarks suggested it wasn't, and all of a sudden it was Cena who was in the driving seat of this feud.
With the tagline of "Once in a Lifetime", we were treated to a brilliant match at WrestleMania that will probably end up stealing the "Match of the Year" tag from WWE headquarters.
It was frenetic, dramatic and in many people's eyes produced a shock when Rock cleanly beat Cena before the wild celebrations began in his hometown of Miami.
The greatest feuds are normally the ones where it appears that two men truly despise each other. In this case, it certainly appeared personal, with every showdown between the two looking as if they genuinely wanted to rip each other to pieces.
With every vile word spewed during this feud, it has to be the No. 1 rivalry of the year, and from some accounts we could yet see it renewed in 2013 with a rematch at WrestleMania 29.
Thanks for reading and if you feel I have left out a rivalry that should have been included, please mention it in the comments section below.
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