As the year comes to a close, it is time to begin looking back at the last twelve months. While it has not been a vintage year for the WWE, there was still enough excitement and memorable moments to ensure that 2012 will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Brock Lesnar and The Rock returned to in-ring action, The Shield made an instant impact, Team Hell No rejuvenated the tag team division, Ryback became the company's newest main-event star and, of course, CM Punk became the longest-reigning WWE Champion in 25 years.
A number of new talents have risen to prominence in the last year, and it seems that the company is in good hands for the future when you think of the quality on the roster. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the best contests seen on WWE programming this year.
Here are the top 10 matches of 2012.
Money in the Bank ladder matches are almost always guaranteed to be entertaining, and this one certainly didn't disappoint. Dolph Ziggler, Damien Sandow, Tyson Kidd, Christian, Santino Marella, Tensai, Cody Rhodes and Sin Cara were the competitors in the eleventh edition of the contest.
The blend of different sizes and styles were definitely a benefit to the match, as it allowed for some unique weapon-based offense in a gimmick match, which is becoming increasingly difficult to innovate. The contest was booked exceptionally well, as having eight men in the match kept the high spots coming, allowing each competitor to have their moment to shine.
Despite Sin Cara's now-infamous top rope botch, highlights included Tensai powerbombing Sin Cara onto a ladder before Dolph Ziggler took a suicidal bump over the announcer's table. The real star of the match proved to be Tyson Kidd, who put in a great showing and left us all wondering why he so rarely features on television.
"The Showoff" ultimately claimed the coveted briefcase to a great audience reaction, and the eight competitors deserved the plaudits coming their way after this high-octane match.
Those of us (myself included) who greeted the rivalry between Sheamus and The Big Show with indifference surely received a surprise upon viewing this match.
A classic, old-school brawl, the two big men used their respective limitations to great advantage, as a routine slugfest slowly evolved into a contest stacked with huge power moves. The fact that this was the first-ever match between the two also added a curiosity factor, although most predicted that "The Great White" would retain the World Heavyweight Championship.
The finish was executed perfectly. After Sheamus became the first person to survive Big Show's KO Punch, Show retaliated by kicking out of the Brogue Kick. As "The Celtic Warrior" attempted the move a second time, "The World's Largest Athlete" hit the winning KO Punch out of nowhere to claim the shocking win.
This match earns its place on the list because it achieved the things a world title match should. Despite dropping the belt, Sheamus came out of the contest looking strong, and it left the audience eager to see the feud to continue. It also proved that Sheamus could work a strong match with the The Big Show, and it was the giant's best match in years.
After an unprecedented build-up that saw the match announced a year in advance, The Rock entered the ring to compete in singles competition for the first time in almost a decade against the company's current poster boy John Cena.
The in-ring action was stilted at times by the overuse of rest holds, although it had been a long time since 'The Great One' had worked a full time. The crowd went wild as the two men taunted each other and traded signature moves for over thirty minutes. Although it could be argued that the match went on too long, the intensity was palpable.
"The People's Champion" twice kicked out of the Attitude Adjustment, while Cena was able to survive both a Rock Bottom and People's Elbow, leaving the finish unpredictable to the last moments. When Cena attempted The Rock's signature elbow, "The Great One" caught him with the Rock Bottom for the win.
It was certainly not the greatest technical contest, but the aura surrounding the match gave it that big-fight feel, and both men gave it their all as they pulled out a variety of big moves in an attempt to craft a match fitting of the "Once in a Lifetime" tag.
The culmination of what was arguably the year's best feud came when Daniel Bryan again failed to wrestle the WWE Championship from old foe CM Punk.
Despite the finish, this match was still one of the best seen on WWE programming this year, and it wasn't even the best match they had during 2012—but more on that later.
Despite the worry that guest referee AJ would overshadow the contest, the two former ROH alumni put on a technical display that is seldom seen in the company, with each man making effective use of both their striking and technical skills. Oh, and they went hell for leather with a kendo stick.
Lasting nearly thirty minutes, the two stars went blow-for-blow over the course of the match, and the finish came when both went through a table from the top rope, before referee AJ counted Bryan's shoulders to the mat. Even in defeat, Bryan had put in one hell of an effort, and it speaks volumes for these two that it wasn't the best match that they had this year.
Brock Lesnar received a huge pop when he returned on the post-Wrestlemania episode of Raw, and the crowd went through the roof when he made his intentions clear by hitting John Cena with the F5. The pull-apart brawls between the two only heightened expectations for Lesnar's first WWE match in eight years.
Nobody was quite sure what to expect going into the match, but I don't think anyone could have predicted how it would play out. The contest was unlike anything seen on company television in recent years, with the style being more reminiscent of UFC than WWE in the opening exchanges.
The realistic nature of the match was further enhanced when Lesnar busted Cena open during a flurry of punches. The appearance of blood served as a reminder of how the red stuff can benefit a match when used effectively.
It was clear that Lesnar was working a drastically different style from what we were used to, and he didn't seem to be in peak physical condition. However, the former UFC Champion took some heavy bumps, including a nasty fall over the top rope that could have blown out his knee.
In the end, despite spending the whole match suffering a beating the likes of which he had never seen before, Cena still went over clean after hitting an Attitude Adjustment on the steel steps. Despite the poor finish the match was a unique and engaging contest, with the Extreme Rules stipulation both covering Lesnar's ring rust and allowing for some hard-hitting action.
The Shield were under immense pressure going into their match with Ryback and Team Hell No at TLC. The three newcomers were making their in-ring WWE debuts against three high-profile opponents in one of the company's greatest gimmick matches.
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns proved they could back up their words with actions, and scored the massive victory. This was one of the rare occasions where the creative team got it dead right. The Shield kept their momentum going and looked impressive doing so, and new main-event star Ryback was protected in the finish.
All six competitors made great use of the stipulations, including an impressive double superplex by The Shield on Bryan. Ryback, once again, went through the announcer's table, and the decision to give "Big Hungry" a breather before the finish was the right one, as he tossed Rollins from a ladder and through the tables waiting below.
Kane was taken out after being tackled through the barricade by Reigns and with Ryback otherwise occupied, Bryan was the man to be pinned. Proving themselves as the newest major threat to the WWE, The Shield more than matched their opponents and gave us one of the best-ever TLC matches in the process.
In what became an increasingly personal feud, CM Punk and Chris Jericho sought to settle their differences, once and for all, in a Chicago Street Fight.
It was a nice touch for both stars to compete in street clothes, as it made it clear to the audience that this would be an all-out war. And with the title of "Best in the World" up for debate, both men gave everything in a match filled with action from start to finish.
Tables, kendo sticks, chairs—and even a fire extinguisher—made their way into the match at some point, and the immense skills of Punk and Jericho led to some great weapon-based spots. Most notably, Jericho executed a dangerous-looking Codebreaker onto a chair, while "The Voice of the Voiceless" used his signature flying elbow to put Y2J through the announcer's table.
Punk finally hit Jericho with the Go To Sleep for the feud-ending pinfall. Once again Jericho selflessly put his opponent over, but both stars deserve credit for what was the most entertaining Street Fight seen in the WWE for some time.
After dropping the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus in a humiliating 18 seconds at Wrestlemania, Daniel Bryan invoked his rematch clause four weeks later in a 2-out-of-3 falls match. What followed was a gripping contest—stacked with drama and near falls—that turned out to be one of the year's best.
The match showed that the two had great chemistry in the ring together, and the powerful style of the "Celtic Warrior" meshed well with the technically proficient Bryan. The stipulation also ensured that the match would be a lengthy one, and the quality of in-ring action almost made up for the Wrestlemania disappointment.
Bryan intentionally conceded the first fall via disqualification when he exceeded the referee's five count. The score was soon leveled as "The Great White" passed out in his weakened state when trapped in the Yes Lock. Ultimately, Sheamus would score the decisive pinfall just shy of the 23 minute mark when he connected with the Brogue Kick.
It is a wonder why these two were only given 18 seconds in the ring at Wrestlemania when they were capable of putting on a show like this. Bryan's popularity was reaching fever pitch and the loss did nothing to harm his momentum, while Sheamus proved himself a credible World Heavyweight Champion with his spirited effort, more than holding his own against a supremely talented opponent.
Fans around the world rejoiced when Daniel Bryan became the No. 1 contender to the WWE Championship, setting him on a collision course with old foe CM Punk. Expectations were incredibly high going into the match, and the two former ROH stalwarts more than delivered, giving us one of the best technical contests seen in the WWE in recent years.
Both men used moves from their repertoire rarely seen in today's WWE, and the momentum went back and forth as the action spilled to ringside. And in the squared circle, we were treated to a wrestling clinic featuring great technical spots.
The audience knew they were seeing something special, and were vocally appreciative of the match. "The Voice of the Voiceless" picked up the hard-fought victory when he pinned Bryan's shoulders to the mat, moments before tapping out to the Yes Lock.
Despite failing, yet again, to capture world title gold, Daniel Bryan looked highly competitive in defeat and remained incredibly over. This excellent contest added another chapter to the storied history between the two stars, and CM Punk proved himself once again as "The Best in the World" by retaining the belt.
For the second consecutive year, The Undertaker clashed with Triple H at Wrestlemania. The stakes were raised this year, as the match would take place inside Hell in a Cell with none other than Shawn Michaels as special guest referee.
Billed as "The End of an Era," the two old foes faced each other for the third time on "The Grandest Stage of Them All," 11 years after their first Wrestlemania match. The addition of "The Heartbreak Kid," who has a long and complicated history with both competitors, was a great touch.
What followed was an epic clash between two legends of the business, and a masterclass in ring psychology. The action slowly rose to a crescendo, with the use of both the steel steps and chairs ensuring that the contest was as brutal as anything seen during the PG era. HBK played his role to perfection, creating an emotional involvement in the match.
Booked to perfection, many thought "The Streak" was in real danger, as Triple H scored some of the closest near-falls you're ever likely to see. However, "The Deadman" would not be denied, and he finally manged to put down the "King of Kings" with the Tombstone to extend his winning run to 20-0.
One of the all-time great Wrestlemania matches, The Undertaker and Triple H crafted both a physically and emotionally gripping contest, and the sight of the three legends embracing at the top of the ramp was the perfect way to end the best match of the year.
So there are my picks for the top 10 matches of 2012.
Unsurprisingly, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan both feature heavily on the list. Both men have been incredibly consistent this year and have put in a number of exceptional performances in the ring. Meanwhile, Sheamus has come on in leaps and bounds as a main-event talent and features twice in matches against very different opponents.
But let's hear your opinion.
Do you agree with the rankings?
Are there any matches not listed here that you would include?
I'm sure everyone has an opinion on this one so, as always, sign off in the comments below!