As we approach the end of 2012, it's time to take a look back at the past year and name WWE's Top 25 Wrestlers of 2012.
Notice I didn't say best. In my mind, there is a difference between skill and relevance, and this is my list of the 25 top wrestlers.
I based my rankings on several factors, including skill level on the mat, microphone skills, ability to connect with the audience, importance on the card, improvement over the previous year and the impact that each candidate had on WWE TV and PPV shows during the past year.
I'm sure that I've left off some of your favorites, and put some other folks in spots that you think are undeserved. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
With that, here are WWE's top 25 wrestlers of 2012.
At No. 25 is 3MB, the tag team comprised of Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre.
Throughout most of 2012, Mahal and McIntyre did little of note on WWE television. This was somewhat of a surprise, given McIntyre's former status as Vince McMahon's "Chosen One," and Mahal's push in the middle of the year as a dangerous heel. Both men largely disappeared from television.
Slater had a brief and somewhat entertaining run as a goofy foil for a series of WWE Legends. Each week, he'd come out and make fun of something from WWE's past, and one of the all-time greats would then come to the ring and administer a beating. While the skits were entertaining, and gave WWE a way to re-introduce some big names from the past, the exposure did nothing to further Slater's career.
Then came the 3MB. Based off of Slater's persona as the "One Man Band," the group seems to specialize in air guitar and nondescript "world tours." They haven't seen a great deal of ring time as of yet, but there's a chance that this gimmick will catch on.
While I'm not completely sold on the idea of putting three guys who struggle to get over together into a group, I do have hopes that 3MB can make some noise on the suddenly relevant WWE tag team scene. All three men are talented, and WWE might have found a way to get them on the audience's radar.
While I'm not a huge fan of Eve's in-ring skills, I have to admit that she raised her profile in 2012. Mostly for her behind-the-scenes work, Eve Torres comes in at No. 24.
Eve spent a good deal of 2012 as the WWE's Divas Champion. Interestingly, that isn't really the most noteworthy thing she accomplished during the year.
Eve has managed to find a way to attach herself to WWE's storyline power structure, and has garnered a lot of TV time by doing so. At one time, she was a special assistant to Raw General Manager John Laurinaitis.
Once Laurinaitis was fired from his position, Eve found herself out of a job, and not very popular with the rest of the roster. She quickly attached herself to SmackDown GM Booker T. as a special assistant, and basically continued on in her previous role.
She has had brief feuds with Layla and AJ, as well as Beth Phoenix, Kaitlyn and most of the other Divas on WWE's roster, but it's her work off the mat that puts Eve in the Top 25.
It's been something of an up-and-down year for Cody Rhodes, but he was influential enough during the past 12 months to make it to No. 23 on this list.
Rhodes spent a good part of the year as WWE's Intercontinental Champion. In story terms, he was responsible for the return of the old-school belt, and did some good promo work proclaiming that he was going to bring prestige back to the formerly-coveted title.
While there does seem to be a new emphasis on the IC title, it's more because of the current feud between Kofi Kingston and Wade Barrett that the belt has been elevated. Give Rhodes credit for starting the trend.
The most significant thing that Rhodes has done in the past year is to team with Damien Sandow to form the Rhodes Scholars tag team. Through his connection with Sandow, Rhodes has elevated his partner, raised his own status, and helped lend credibility to a resurgent tag team division in WWE.
If Rhodes and Sandow can go on a long run with the WWE Tag Championship, it will only continue both men's rise up the card.
In many ways, R-Truth had a similar year to Cody Rhodes'. He's one step further up the ladder of the Top 25 stars because of his new push in the US title scene.
I'm not a huge fan of R-Truth as a crazy babyface who talks to "Little Jimmy," his imaginary friend and fan. Truth has heel chops, and tying him to this gimmick takes a lot of the credibility out of his act.
Truth had a few minor run-ins with Triple H early in the year, and spent some time as half of the Tag Team Champions with Kofi Kingston. He also implemented both heel and babyface turns during the course of the year. All in all, this might be one of Truth's best years on the WWE roster in terms of exposure.
If R-Truth can somehow win the US Title from Antonio Cesaro on the TLC PPV, it might give WWE an excuse to solidify his character and give him some of his edge back. If that happens, he might climb a few more spots on this list in 2013.
Interestingly, the placement of Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara on this list as a team represents different things for each wrestler. Neither made much impact as a singles performer in 2012, so it's as a tag team that the Mexican legends make the list at No. 21.
For Mysterio, this is a dramatic comedown from his usual year. Rey spent much of 2012 injured and out of action. When he was on television, he seemed to be used as fodder for up-and-coming heels instead of being a legitimate contender for any WWE gold.
For Sin Cara, who was rumored to be close to getting the dreaded "future endeavors" letter at one point in the year, his inclusion on this list as half of a tag team represents a reprieve.
Rey seems to be flourishing in his mentor's role, and working in a tag team limits his exposure to injury. Sin Cara's in-ring abilities have flourished in his time with Mysterio, and a run in the tag division might be the start of something bigger for the luchador.
Currently, the pair is slotted as the No. 1 contender for the WWE Tag Team championship belts, and will face Rhodes Scholars at TLC for the right to a match with Team Hell No at a future date. As the second-rated face tag team in the company, Rey and Sin Cara appear to be on the right track.
It's possible that the two will continue as a tag team, helping to elevate the division. It's also possible that this is the beginning of a feud between the two, as tag teams inevitably break up. Could we see Rey vs. Sin Cara at WrestleMania? Only time will tell.
Much like Rey Mysterio, Kane spent his most visible time in 2012 on the tag team scene. While this is a bit of a comedown for the longest-tenured wrestler on the WWE roster, his work with Daniel Bryan as a member of Team Hell No earned Kane the No. 20 spot on my list.
Over the course of his career, Kane's biggest impact may have come either right at the beginning of his WWE career, when he was first introduced as a masked monster, or when he unmasked and embarked on a few runs as the World Heavyweight Champion a year or two ago.
This year, Kane's biggest contributions have come as part of the comedy team that he formed with Daniel Bryan. The two manage to mesh in the ring, and in backstage skits, and have had a fairly long run as WWE's Tag Team Champions.
One of the best things about Kane's 2012 run is that he's had a chance to show off some surprisingly apt comedic skills. As a deadpan foil to Bryan's over-the-top character, Kane has shown a deft touch at some pretty broad humor.
It's a near certainty that Team Hell No will break up at some point in the near future. When that happens, look for a feud with Bryan to be the first thing on Kane's docket.
Darren Young and Titus O'Neil each started their WWE careers on the NXT show. Unfortunately for both men, it seemed for a long time that their appearances on the rookie showcase might be the high point of their WWE tenures.
Thankfully for both men, WWE decided to revamp its tag team division. Suddenly, O'Neil and Young were the Prime Time Players, and their exploits in 2012 got them to No. 19 on my list.
This is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. As singles performers, both Young and O'Neil are still very green. Both have potential, but neither is ready for a significant singles push.
At first, the team was linked with Abraham Washington, who did all of the talking. When Washington was released by WWE, the team stayed intact, and managed to keep its status in the WWE tag division.
Though the pair hasn't been featured as much just lately on WWE TV, things look to be on the upswing for O'Neil and Young, as long as the tag division continues to be a focus of the WWE creative team.
At the beginning of the year, I'd have been surprised if you told me that by the time Christmas rolled around, Alberto Del Rio would only be No. 18 on my list this year. I've made the list, and checked it twice, and I can't see pushing the Mexican aristocrat any higher.
Del Rio started the year at the top of the card, feuding with the likes of John Cena and other top stars on a week-in, week-out basis. His feud with Randy Orton showed promise, but nothing really came of it in the long run.
That seems to be Del Rio's WWE legacy thus far. He has a lot of feuds that seem promising at first, only to fizzle out with no gold around his waist.
Del Rio's act could use an upgrade. It's almost become formulaic. He starts a feud with someone, dominates them on Raw and SmackDown, and then loses the blow-off match on the subsequent PPV.
Del Rio has a ton of potential, and with proper booking, he could finish 2013 a lot higher on this list. It might even be a good idea to have him start a feud with his ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez, who actually seems more over with crowds than Alberto does.
Like Del Rio, Orton's place on my final list is a surprise to me. WWE's Apex Predator seldom finishes a year outside of the top 10, but 2012 saw Orton missing in action almost as much as he was available. He simply didn't do enough to go any higher than No. 17.
Orton's babyface act is starting to wear thin on some viewers, and apparently with Orton himself. He has said on numerous occasions that he'd rather be a heel than a face, and maybe someone on the creative team should listen.
Even when active, Orton frequently appears disinterested in the ring. Given the fact that WWE lacks a dominant heel at the moment, a turn by Orton could be beneficial in a couple of ways. Randy might become more engaged if he got his wish, and he would certainly provide a credible foe for any number of WWE's babyfaces.
I expect that Orton's 2013 will be a lot busier, and thus more successful, than his 2012 has been. Look for the Apex Predator to regain his status in WWE's top 10 in the coming year.
While Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio's spots on this year's list seem like comedowns, Damien Sandow's placement at No. 16 represents a very good year for the "Intellectual Savior" of the WWE.
Sandow got the typical new-guy treatment from the WWE creative team as he readied for his debut. Vignettes aired on SmackDown and Raw, and Sandow was portrayed as a snobbish heel, something like Lanny Poffo was in his days as The Genius.
Sandow got some high-profile spots early in his run, including an appearance with DX on the 1,000th episode of Raw. He ate a Pedigree and a Superkick, but just being in the ring with the WWE legends raised his visibility.
Sandow really took off when paired with Cody Rhodes as a member of Rhodes Scholars. It seemed to be only a matter of time before he was half of the WWE Tag Team Champions. Then, Rhodes got hurt, and I feared that Sandow's push would be sidelined, along with his tag team partner.
Instead, WWE put Sandow in a match with John Cena on Main Event, and also tweaked his gimmick so that he was searching the crowd for an apprentice every time he appeared on camera. It was a creative and unexpected way to keep Sandow on the rise.
Now, with Rhodes back, and Rhodes Scholars set for a high-profile tag match at TLC, it seems that Sandow is still on track to make a lasting impact.
Kofi Kingston remains one of the more popular babyfaces on the WWE roster. He had a profitable year in 2012, spending a good deal of time with gold around his waist. Kingston was half of the tag team champions a couple of times during the past year, and he has also had a few runs with the Intercontinental title.
In fact, Kingston is currently the IC champ, and will face Wade Barrett for the belt on Sunday's TLC PPV. For his efforts as a high flyer in 2012, Kingston makes it to No. 15 on the list.
The only problem with Kingston is that WWE's creative team seems to see him more as a complimentary player than a legitimate main event star. He was the equal to Evan Bourne when the two held the tag team belts as Air Boom.
However, Kingston took a back seat to R-Truth when those two held the titles. He also seemed to be the second fiddle in his feud with The Miz over the IC belt, and is the lesser star in his current feud with Wade Barrett.
In order for Kingston to move up the list, he'll need to show that he's capable of taking over the lead on a team or in a feud. It would help tremendously if the WWE writers would give his character something of an edge.
Speaking of Wade Barrett, the former bare-knuckle fighter makes my list at No. 14 this year.
Although Barrett spent a good part of 2012 on the shelf with injuries, he made a big impact upon his return to the active roster.
Barrett is good in the ring, and excellent on the microphone. He's capable of being a dominant heel, but he can still sell for the right opponent, thus his matches are generally very good.
Barrett has star quality, and his presence in the Intercontinental title picture lends cachet to the belt. I predict that Barrett will take the title from Kofi Kingston at TLC, and have a good long run with the championship.
Hopefully, he'll have matches with some high-profile WWE stars in order to boost both his and the IC belt's status.
I'd be very surprised if Barrett wasn't in the World Heavyweight and/or WWE Championship pictures in 2013.
Antonio Cesaro has made a significant splash on the WWE scene in 2012. He was originally paired with Aksana, and had a storyline with Teddy Long. After extricating himself from both the girl and the boss, Cesaro managed to raise his visibility. He's had a nice long run with the United States title, and has earned the No. 13 spot on my list for the year.
Cesaro's in-ring style is physical. He borders on brutal at times, and has ended a number of matches by hitting an airborne opponent with a vicious uppercut. His feats of strength in the ring make him a credible opponent for both bigger and smaller opponents.
Cesaro is playing a typical WWE foreign heel. Somehow, his rants against the United States seem fresher than most, and his disdain for all things American seems somewhat genuine.
Cesaro has a lot of indy experience, and his ring skills could take him a long way in WWE. He also has legitimate mic skills, and his personality is perfect for his current heel role.
I predict Cesaro will retain his US title against R-Truth at the TLC PPV, and that he will elevate both himself and the US belt in a series of feuds in 2013.
AJ Lee has come from nearly total obscurity to take over as the top female performer in WWE. Her sudden rise in visibility has the former Raw GM at No. 12 on this year's list.
AJ was just a happy-go-lucky diva heading into 2012. Suddenly, she became a femme fatale, hooking up with such high profile stars as Daniel Bryan, Kane, CM Punk and eventually John Cena. Her proximity to these top draws thrust Lee into the spotlight, and she's flourished there, for the most part.
The next step for AJ is for her to make a mark on her own, without being tied to a bigger male star. Currently, she's embroiled in a feud with Vickie Guerrero, which seems to lack a point, and most importantly, a legitimate foe.
Since Vickie has no desire to be in the ring, and Lee is no longer a candidate for a managerial position, it would seem logical that both women would be satisfied to leave the other alone. Sadly, the WWE creative team has other ideas.
Lee might get her chance to make her own name in the Divas division in 2013, but for now, she's gone about as high as she can by riding the coattails of bigger stars.
It's hard to justify that a guy who has been in a main event angle with the Raw GM, held the Heavyweight Championship for more than a month, and has spent time in the ring with CM Punk, John Cena and Sheamus is only No. 11 on this year's list, but somehow the Big Show hasn't made as big an impact as one would think in 2012.
Show has done a legitimate job of playing the monster heel. His explanation for turning heel was good, and his matches have been of a surprisingly high quality for most of the year. Somehow, all of these good things haven't added up for the World's Largest Athlete.
Show generally seems like the "other half" of most of his feuds. That's odd considering the length of his tenure in WWE, and the number of high-profile feuds he's been in. His latest storyline with Sheamus feels like a way to move the big man out of the top spot, and in some ways that would be a shame.
To me, Big Show is doing some of the very best work of his career. His matches have been solid to very good, and his heel persona has just the right mix of arrogance and disdain. Maybe he's just been around too long for me to buy into him as an absolute top-of-the-card draw.
If he retains the WHC at the TLC PPV, Big Show might benefit from some new feuds. Especially if John Cena manages to wrest the Money in the Bank briefcase from Dolph Ziggler and then decides to cash in against Show.
After a couple of years on the fringes of WWE main events, Mike "The Miz" Mizanin started to really hit his stride in 2012. He comes in at No. 10 on my list.
Miz has the ability to play either a babyface or a heel. His mic skills are so strong that WWE has made him the regular color commentator on its Wednesday night Main Event show, and he frequently hosts episodes of Miz TV on both Raw and SmackDown.
Miz had a run with the Intercontinental Championship early in the year, and did the belt proud. However, it seems like he's reached the next level of stardom in WWE. He's become one of those guys that doesn't need a belt in order to legitimize his spot on the card.
Miz has had verbal duels with CM Punk, Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler and John Cena over the past 12 months. He's held these exchanges in both babyface and heel modes.
One of the good things about Miz is that his babyface persona isn't that far away from his heel character. This gives him legitimacy with the audience, and makes his promos seem credible.
His in-ring skills have improved a lot over the last two years, and it feels like Miz is just about to break back into the main event scene. Here's hoping that Miz starts wearing tights more often than suits.
The Internet Wrestling Community waited forever for Daniel Bryan to make it to the WWE. When he finally did, his initial stay was a short one. Bryan debuted on NXT, took part in the famous Nexus invasion of Monday Night Raw, and was fired shortly thereafter. It's been Bryan's second run with WWE that has cemented him at No. 9 on my list for the year.
Bryan held the WWE's World Heavyweight Championship for a good part of 2012. He's been half of the tag team champions with Kane as Team Hell No for quite a while. He's been linked to AJ Lee, feuded with Big Show and CM Punk...both of the WWE's current major title holders, and appeared in more comedic skits than anyone on the roster.
All in all, Bryan has had a great year. His bouts with CM Punk were the stuff of legend, and it only seems a matter of time before he's back in singles competition and fighting for WWE gold.
The only caveat that I'd offer is that Bryan, while adept at comedy, is better off as a more serious character. His reputation as a submission specialist allows him to credibly match up with just about anyone on the WWE roster, and he can play a babyface or heel with equal ability. Hopefully, 2013 sees his character get a harder edge.
2012 was the Year of the Guest Star on WWE TV and at many pay-per-view events. HHH has made some appearances. So has the Undertaker. Then, Brock Lesnar made a wildly anticipated return to Raw, only to leave again about a month later. Though these guys aren't on TV every week, their contributions in 2012 were enough to make them No. 8 on my list.
Part of the reason that I didn't consider any of these guys individually as to do with their long absences from TV. Another part is that they mainly matched up with each other. Lesnar had a feud with John Cena, but it was his match with HHH at SummerSlam that marked the high point of his involvement with WWE this year.
Hunter had a pretty good year, considering he doesn't wrestle regularly. He had a classic match with Undertaker at WrestleMania. He starred in the 1,000th episode of Raw with his buddy Shawn Michaels, and as a solo act. He clashed with Lesnar on several occasions, and he was the head of the company on television for a good part of the year.
Undertaker had only one significant match, his bout with HHH, but the speculation about his reappearance and his next WM foe is enough to make him a significant contributor.
Of the three, only Lesnar is likely to have as much impact in 2013 as in 2012. Here's hoping that Brock comes back soon, and that he stays a little longer this time.
Sheamus has been in the World Heavyweight Championship scene for most of 2012. He's had matches with many of the biggest faces and heels in the company, and is the closest thing that WWE has right now when it comes to dominant babyfaces. For all of this, he makes it to No. 7 on my list for the year.
Sheamus was WWE's World Heavyweight Champion for seven months, prior to dropping his belt to the Big Show roughly two months ago. When he wasn't the champion, he was chasing the champion. He's poised for another run with the belt if he is able to emerge victorious from Sunday's Tables, Ladders and Chairs event.
Sheamus has become a crowd favorite and his rough-and-tumble style appeals to a wide variety of viewers. He's able to credibly match up with giants like the Big Show, and smaller mat-oriented grapplers like Daniel Bryan. He could use a bit of work on his babyface promos, but that will probably come with time.
Sheamus is young, and he's been durable thus far in his WWE run. If he can stay on this track, he'll move even further up the card in years to come.
This might be the last year for a long time that WWE's Show Off finishes outside the top five of any wrestler ranking. Ziggler had a remarkable year, feuding with John Cena, The Miz and other top stars.
He was the sole survivor at Survivor Series and won the SmackDown version of Money in the Bank. These achievements make him No. 6 on my list for 2012.
Ziggler's mic skills have improved dramatically in the last 12 months. On Monday night's Raw show, he led off the program with a sound promo, and finished the show on color commentary for the main event match.
His mat skills are among the best in the company. His offense could pack a bit more punch, but he sells like no one in WWE since Mr. Perfect.
If, as many expect, Ziggler is able to successfully cash in his MITB briefcase, a run with the World Heavyweight Championship might just be the start of another climb up the card. If only he could somehow end his association with Vickie Guerrero.
Though this faction just hit the WWE scene, The Shield has already made a huge impact on WWE television. The group has interacted with John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Kane and Ryback, among others, during their short run.
They've interrupted Miz TV, a PPV main event, and the final match on Raw at least twice. For making a big splash, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns are No. 5 on my list for 2012.
The sky should be the limit for these three newcomers. Ambrose and Rollins are excellent talkers and their years of indy work show through in their mat work. Reigns is a bit less accomplished than the other two, but has acquitted himself well thus far.
The group could continue their random attacks on the rest of the roster, settle into traditional feuds, or disband and become singles competitors. All avenues remain open for this new faction.
Some would argue that The Shield has made as big an impact as Nexus did when it burst onto the scene. Here's hoping that that impact lasts a good long while.
Not since Goldberg first appeared in WCW has a bald, musclebound babyface torn through the ranks of pro wrestling like Ryback has in 2012. His rapid rise up the WWE ladder puts him at No. 4 on this year's list.
Ryback first appeared on WWE TV on the first season of NXT as Skip Sheffield, a somewhat goofy, cowboy-like babyface. Though he wasn't one of the featured players in that first crop of rookies, it was evident that he had a lot of potential. His original run with the company was cut short by an injury.
When Sheffield came back, he was Ryback. His catchphrase, "Feed Me More," resonates with the WWE Universe, and few other superstars trigger the kind of crowd response that Ryback gets every time he appears at the top of the ramp.
If Ryback wants to stay at the top of this list, he'll need to improve both his mic and ring skills. Most of his best utterances are delivered either to himself or no one in particular. His work in the ring is powerful and effective-looking but limited. If he's willing to do the work, Ryback could climb even higher in 2013.
Though he's only a part-time performer, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson had more impact on the WWE this year than almost anyone else. His match with John Cena at WrestleMania led to a company record for viewership.
His upcoming match with CM Punk at Royal Rumble is one of the most anticipated bouts in recent memory. Even on a part-time basis, The Rock did enough to be No. 3 on the list.
For a guy who hasn't wrestled full-time in about seven years, Rock doesn't show a ton of rust. He still connects immediately to the fans, and his abilities in the ring don't appear to have suffered from the layoff.
The best thing that Rock can bring to WWE is instant credibility for anyone he faces. While John Cena was already at the pinnacle of the WWE roster, his verbal and physical confrontations with "The Great One" pushed him even further up the ranks. CM Punk can only benefit from his upcoming association with "The People's Champion."
In many sports, it's said that the very best players make those around them better. That's the most important contribution The Rock made to WWE in 2012.
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that John Cena is the current face of the WWE. When the company needs someone to make an appearance, Cena is there. When a new wrestler hits the roster, and the creative team wants to rocket them to the top, interaction with Cena is the answer.
Cena faced off with The Rock and Brock Lesnar over the last year, and only increased his value by doing so. Even though he didn't wear individual gold in 2012, John Cena is still No. 2 on my list.
Cena can come off as corny at times, and his appeal seems to be seated mostly with young fans and women. However, he delivers good matches just about every time he hits the ring, and he acts in a professional manner that even his critics have to envy.
Cena's involvement with Dolph Ziggler should help push Ziggler up the card. His feud with CM Punk helped to establish the current WWE Champion as a legitimate main event talent. Though he suffers an injury from time to time, Cena doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
The company still depends on him. So much so that he may be in line for a rematch with Rock at WrestleMania. All in all, Cena remains the most valuable commodity in the WWE.
CM Punk loves to proclaim that he is "The Best in the World." In 2012, it would be hard to argue with the WWE Champion. He held the title throughout the year, and had great matches with the likes of John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho and Ryback along the way. For consistently delivering on the mic and in the ring, CM Punk has earned the top spot on this year's Top 25 list.
Punk was legitimately one of the top performers in WWE last year. His shoot promo in June 2011 took him from star status to the top of the heap. Punk has a unique ability on the mic. While his delivery doesn't really change much whether he's a babyface or a heel, the crowd reacts just the way he wants them to. His ability to tell the truth while still remaining in character makes him a favorite of casual and hardcore fans alike.
In the ring, Punk is a master. His offense looks like it would hurt, and he knows how to sell. Just about any foe can be a viable opponent for Punk, who could carry a chair to a four-star match.
His upcoming bout with The Rock is hotly anticipated by WWE fans. It should be a treat to watch the two of them duke it out on the mic and in the ring. While many suspect that Punk's title reign, the longest in WWE in the last 25 years, will come to an end at Royal Rumble, no one expects that his run at the top of the WWE is anywhere near over.
That's the list for this year. Did I miss anyone? Did I put someone in the wrong place? Feel free to speak your mind in the comments section.