WWE Year in Review 2012: Ranking the 25 Best Matches of 2012
Throughout the course of 2012, we've bared witness to some of the greatest wrestling in recent years, with a few matches even being considered some of the best of the decade.
Despite some questionable booking at times, there's no doubt that the WWE Superstars have certainly upped the ante when it comes to in-ring action.
From the headlining main events of pay-per-views to the opening contests of Monday Night Raw, intense wrestling could be found on just about any WWE program at one point or another—even the likes of the WWE Superstars and Main Event.
With today being Christmas, I thought it'd be only be appropriate to rank the top 25 matches contested this year. This entire list is based purely off of my opinion, so please be sure to keep an open mind while reading.
With the year of controversy quickly coming to a close, it's that time of the year to reflect back on the highlights of what's being considered one of the better years in terms of fast-paced, suspenseful, solid wrestling.
Although we may come across another potential candidate for match of the year between now and New Year's Eve (which is doubtful), this is just the "rough draft," so-to-speak, of what I believe are the most memorable, entertaining bouts of 2012.
25. Beth Phoenix vs. Natalya (SmackDown, September 28)
I'll be the first to admit that 2012 has been somewhat of a disappointing year for the Divas. After so many talents ranging from the Bella Twins to Kharma had been released from their contract, the scraps had been left behind.
However, the division has taken a turn for the better in recent months with Eve as Divas Champion and producing exceptional matches with Layla and others. That being said, I felt it was only obligatory to place a Divas match on this list, and no Divas match is more worthy of that honor than Beth Phoenix vs. Natalya from the September 28 edition of SmackDown.
Prior to this night, the two Divas had never squared off in singles action despite being in the WWE together for quite a few years. Sure, the match lasted only five minutes, but involved some of the best wrestling we've seen from the women in a long while.
Unfortunately, a rematch is out of the question with Phoenix now gone from WWE, but it's better to have seen it once than not at all.
24. Sheamus vs. Wade Barrett (WWE Main Event, November 7)
Upon his return to the ring in mid-September, Wade Barrett was looking as dominant as ever with his new look, aggression and all. Going back to his underground roots, Barrett was determined on reinventing himself and eventually becoming World Heavyweight Champion.
His first real challenge since his comeback was in the form of Sheamus, who was frustrated after losing his World Heavyweight title to Big Show at Hell in a Cell. The two engaged in a number of matches on both Raw and SmackDown during the month of October, but their brutal battle on the November 7 edition of WWE Main Event was the best of them all.
Occurring in Barrett's home turf of England, the contest was extremely solid and was only enhanced by Big Show on commentary. Their similar styles made for a very intense clash that had me highly anticipating a rematch on the grandest stage of them all for the golden prize.
23. Dolph Ziggler vs. Daniel Bryan (Raw, October 22)
Following their series of fantastic matches in late 2010, many fans were hoping to see Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler cross paths again at some point. It wasn't until this past October that wish had finally been fulfilled when the two amazing athletes locked up on Raw.
For nearly 15 minutes, Ziggler and Bryan gave it their all and provided a very entertaining contest that had the crowd on their feet the entire time. The finish came when Kane went to ringside and accidentally distracted his partner, which allowed Ziggler to connect with the Zig-Zag from the second rope and score the hard-fought victory.
As much as we like to complain about Raw's three hour format, there's no denying it has an upside, and this bout is a prime example.
22. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler (WWE Main Event, November 21)
Only 48 hours removed from his controversial face turn on Raw, The Miz challenged Dolph Ziggler to match on WWE Main Event while working commentary. Their war of the words was pure gold, so I could only imagine what their first ever meeting inside the squared circle was going to be like.
On the November 21 edition of Main Event, the two egotistical maniacs put forth a strong effort during their bout and provided an extremely entertaining contest that was easily pay-per-view worthy. Although Ziggler picked up the victory, I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of these two former United States Champions battling it out.
21. CM Punk vs. Mark Henry for the WWE Championship (Raw, April 16)
In the weeks following WrestleMania 28, Mark Henry targeted WWE Champion CM Punk and was determined on taking his title. He won his first two matches against Punk via count-out and disqualification, so a third and final match was in order for the April 16 edition of Raw.
With the match being contested under extreme rules, both Punk and Henry used every weapon in sight to their ultimate advantage. In front of an electric England crowd, Punk hit a beautiful looking elbow to the heart of Henry and successfully retained his golden prize.
Unfortunately, we haven't seen the World's Strongest Man since that match, but hopefully he returns sooner rather than later.
20. Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton (Night of Champions)
This is one of those matches that we've seen countless times, but it never gets old.
It's no surprise that Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler are both fantastic athletes, but they had never managed to engage in a one-on-one feud together until just this past fall. They each respectively scored a victory over the other at one point, so the rubber match was scheduled to be held at the Night of Champions pay-per-view.
The action itself was very well-paced and had viewers excited for what was to come next. Of course, Ziggler came up short of putting away the Viper, but at least he looked strong in defeat.
19. Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam)
One night removed from his embarrassing loss to John Cena at Extreme Rules, Brock Lesnar took out his frustrations on Triple H and brutally broke his arm in the process. HHH later challenged Lesnar to a fight at SummerSlam, which Paul Heyman eventually accepted on Lensar's behalf.
Their match at the biggest party of the summer was certainly no mat classic, but it managed to tell a story. Some may go even as far to call it boring, but since it was the first-ever in-ring meeting between the two, no one had any real expectations to begin with.
The finish of the contest came when Lesnar kicked out of HHH's Pedigree and locked in a Kimura lock of his own, forcing the Game to submit and picking up the shocking victory. This brawl certainly had a "big fight" feel to it, and the brilliant booking of the finish only helped enhance it as a whole.
18. Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler for the World Championship (No Way Out)
Much similar to Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler, this is yet another match that's been overdone over the last year, but the action is never less entertaining. Let's face it, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler are just incapable of having a bad match together.
Of all their matches contested against one another in 2012, I found this particular bout to be the most significant and the best of their series. The fact the World Heavyweight Championship opened a pay-per-view didn't give the belt much prestige, but at least it set the tone for the rest of the night and kicked off the show on a high note.
There's just something about the way that Ziggler sells the Brogue Kick that has me looking forward to when they next wrestle.
17. CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler for the WWE Championship (Royal Rumble)
After failing to capture the WWE Championship from CM Punk on the first Raw of 2012, Dolph Ziggler was given another shot at the gold at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. However, this time, then-Interim Raw General Manager would act as the special guest enforcer.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, Punk still managed to find a way to silence Ziggler by hitting him with his finishing maneuver numerous times and walk out of the event with his WWE title intact. These two also have excellent chemistry with each other, which made for a great championship clash prior to the flunky finish involving Laurinaitis.
16. Fatal 4 Way for the World Heavyweight Championship (Over the Limit)
Although the match originally scheduled for Over the Limit was World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio, that changed shortly prior to the event for unknown reasons. Chris Jericho and Randy Orton were also thrown into the mix, making the title contest at the pay-per-view a Fatal 4 Way in the process.
Honestly, I was a bit skeptical of the change at first, but it ended up being for the better. The involvements of Jericho and Orton made the match much more enjoyable and one of the better four-ways we've seen in quite some time.
While it felt anticlimactic, Sheamus was still able to hit White Noise on Jericho to score the three-count and maintain possession of his golden prize.
15. SmackDown Elimination Chamber (Elimination Chamber)
Each year, the focal points of the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view are always the Elimination Chamber matches themselves. Although this year's event was uneventful as a whole, SmackDown's version of Satan's Structure was undoubtedly the highlight of the night.
Defending against the likes of Wade Barrett, Big Show, Great Khali, Cody Rhodes and Santino Marella, no one thought then-World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan had a chance in hell of walking out with his title intact. It wasn't an easy task, either, as all five challengers had their respective breakout moments during the course of the matchup.
Surprisingly enough, Marella was the one to watch here, as he managed to eliminate Barrett and Rhodes before eventually falling victim to Bryan's LaBelle Lock. There was a point in this bout where many fans (myself included) thought that there was a slight chance of the Milan Miracle walking out as World Champion, but thankfully, that didn't end up being the case.
14. SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank)
Not only did SmackDown shine at Elimination Chamber, but they also had the better bout over Raw at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view as well. The blue brand has always seemed to shine at the event each year, and this year's installment was no exception.
Every competitor in this bout had their respective role, as Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes were the odds-on favorites, Damien Sandow was the dark horse, Tyson Kidd was the underdog, Christian was the veteran, Santino Marella was the comedy relief, Tensai was the powerhouse, and Sin Cara was the spot monkey.
Having this match kick off the show was also a brilliant move, as it set the tone (as well as the bar) for the rest of the night. Everyone seemed to have a notable moment or two, from Ziggler being thrown into the commentators at the hands of Tensai to Christian hitting a spear on Sandow off the ladder.
It also had the right winner, too, as Ziggler was the one to ascend the ladder and retrieve the Money in the Bank briefcase, guaranteeing him a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship at any place and time of his choosing.
13. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship (WrestleMania 28)
Upon Chris Jericho's shocking return to WWE on the first Raw of 2012, everyone automatically assumed the first person he'd be targeting would be WWE Champion CM Punk. The accusations were proven correct, as Jericho ambushed Punk the night following the Royal Rumble to jump start their feud going into WrestleMania 28.
These two "best in the world" icons had a strong build-up heading into the show, so everyone was expecting one of the greatest wrestling classics at the show of shows. Sadly, this match was contested following the Hell in a Cell bout, the crowd was essentially dead for most of it, but the wrestling was still great regardless.
The last minute stipulation that Punk would've lost the title had he been disqualified hindered the match in a way, but these two long-time rivals still managed to have one of the better WWE title matches in recent Mania history.
12. Sheamus vs. Big Show for the World Heavyweight Championship (Hell in a Cell)
Once this feud began in late September, I didn't have high hopes for their eventual in-ring confrontation, mostly because the build-up to the match was horrendously bad. However, Big Show and Sheamus shocked the world at Hell in a Cell by having the match of the night and one of the most pleasantly surprising bouts of the year.
After capturing the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 28, it seemed virtually impossible to defeat Sheamus cleanly. However, Show somehow managed to do just that following two swift punches to the jaw of the Celtic Warrior and win his second World Heavyweight Championship in the process.
Their subsequent matches were also pretty great, but nowhere near as entertaining as their initial clash on pay-per-view.
11. Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan in a 2-of-3 Count Falls Match (Extreme Rules)
Following their initial match together in October 2010, it became a well-known fact that Sheamus and Daniel Bryan simply have excellent chemistry with one another. However, the only problem was that they were never given a substantial amount of time to shine during their many confrontations.
After the disappointment that was their 18-second match at WrestleMania 28, many fans were hoping for an instant classic between Sheamus and Bryan at Extreme Rules, where they'd be competing for the World Heavyweight Championship in a 2-of-3 Count Falls Match.
Unsurprisingly, the match itself was nothing short of amazing, but they told quite a story during the course of the contest as well. With one fall apiece, Sheamus battled back and secured the victory to successfully retain his golden prize.
10. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan in a No Disqualification Match (Money in the Bank)
After their various matches contested against one another earlier in the year, it seemed to be an arduous task for CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to have any more amazing matches. Nonetheless, they achieved the impossible at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view where they fought one final time over the WWE Championship in a No Disqualification match.
With AJ Lee as the special guest referee, the sense of unpredictability was at its highest, and both guys had an equal chance of walking out as champion. They used the extreme environment to their full advantage and sadistically blasted each other with weapons to no end.
Despite suffering an injury earlier in the match, AJ re-emerged from the back for the finish and counted the three count for Punk after he sent Bryan spiraling through a table from the top rope. This would be the final time Punk and Bryan lock up in singles action to date, but I'm pretty positive no one would object to a rematch between the two down the line.
9. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho in a Chicago Street Fight (Extreme Rules)
As good as their WWE Championship match was at WrestleMania 28, I couldn't help but feel a bit underwhelmed by it. That being said, I was highly anticipating their title rematch at Extreme Rules with hopes that it would exceed expectations.
Since the event occurred in CM Punk's hometown of Chicago, the crowd was hot for everything he and Chris Jericho did during their Chicago Street Fight. At one point in the bout, Punk landed a fantastic flying elbow onto the chest of Jericho as they both crashed through the commentating table at ringside.
They journeyed all around the arena before eventually making their way back to the ring, where Punk dodged Y2J numerous times before ultimately connecting with his patented GTS finishing maneuver for the valiant victory.
8. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan (Raw, January 30th)
On one of the greatest episodes of Raw this year, it was announced early on that WWE Champion CM Punk would go one-on-one with then-World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan for the first time ever. Sure, I was a bit disappointed their first matchup with each other in WWE wasn't on pay-per-view where it belonged, but I was still excited for it regardless.
A near-15 minute match on Raw was practically unthinkable at the time, but thankfully, Bryan and Punk were granted enough to make their match feel meaningful. The fact these two shook hands prior to the contest (an honorable tradition before most matches in Ring of Honor) was also a very nice touch.
Before either guy could close in on the victory, Chris Jericho emerged and laid out Punk with a catastrophic Codebreaker. However, because Jericho made contact with Bryan before attacking Punk, the American Dragon was deemed the victor by disqualification.
This memorable matchup between these two former Ring of Honor stars would set the stage for their unforgettable feud a few months later.
7. CM Punk vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship (Night of Champions)
Following his shocking heel turn on Raw 1000, new life was injected into the CM Punk character as well as his WWE Championship reign. He entered a feud with John Cena shortly thereafter, which lead to a one-on-one match between the two at Night of Champions.
We knew that these two were capable of marvelous matches following their feud from last summer, but with Punk adapting a new edgier character going into the fall, no one knew what to expect in his WWE title clash. For nearly a half hour, Punk and Cena wrestled like there was no tomorrow with the momentum going back and forth between the two over the course of the contest.
Although it was initially believed that Cena was the new WWE Champion, it was later revealed that the shoulders of both men were pinned down to the mat, meaning that the match was officially declared a draw. While there was a vocal minority who didn't agree with how the finish was handled, the important thing is that Punk was (and is) still your reigning, defending WWE Champion.
6. John Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler in a Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WWE TLC)
Dolph Ziggler embarked on such a successful streak after capturing the Money in the Bank briefcase in July that it seemed nobody could put a stop to it. From retiring Chris Jericho to being the "sole survivor" of his team at Survivor Series, Ziggler has been simply unstoppable.
However, if there's one man who's notorious for putting an end to strong pushes, it's John Cena. Many feared that pairing him with Ziggler would do nothing to benefit anyone involved, but obviously, they spoke too soon.
At WWE TLC, Cena challenged for Ziggler's Money in the Bank briefcase in a Ladder match, but the bout essentially became a TLC match once the tables and chairs were introduced. Both guys put up one hell of a fight, but it was AJ's interference that cost Cena the match and any hopes of becoming World Champion once again.
If the fact that Ziggler defeated Cena in the main event of a pay-per-view isn't enough to warrant this in the top six matches of the year, then I don't know what does.
5. The Rock vs. John Cena (WrestleMania 28)
Even before The Rock returned to WWE in February 2011, fans had always dreamed of him going one-on-one with John Cena. Once he did finally return to the company, it was announced the night following WrestleMania 27 that dream would finally become a reality a year later at WrestleMania 28.
I understand that the year build-up to this remarkable match was a bit obnoxious at times, but it's safe to say it all paid off when they finally squared off in Miami on April Fools Day 2012. Of course, the match was no wrestling classic, but there's denying that Rocky looked extremely impressive for someone who hadn't wrestled a singles match in nearly a decade.
Not only that, but the crowd was absolutely electric for everything each of them did, especially since they were hailing from Rock's billed hometown of Miami. Within an instant, the Great One hit Cena with a Rock Bottom out of nowhere for the monumental victory that solidified him as the greatest Superstar in WWE history.
4. John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar in an Extreme Rules Match (Extreme Rules)
On the subsequent edition of Raw following WrestleMania 28, John Cena was set to speak on his historic loss to The Rock on the grandest stage of them all. However, instead of The Great One, Cena got the returning Brock Lesnar instead, who proceeded to lay out Cena with an emphatic F-5 moments later.
This would lead to a No Holds Barred match between the two at Extreme Rules, which would mark Lesnar's first WWE match in nearly eight years. Regardless, Lesnar showed absolutely no signs of ring rust, as he decimated Cena for nearly the entire match.
Somehow or another, Cena hit Lesnar with an Attitude Adjustment on the steel steps out of nowhere to score the shocking victory. As you imagine, a majority of the audience was not pleased with the finish, but since it came after such a brutal bout, I choose to disregard it.
3. The Shield vs. Ryback and Team Hell No in a TLC Match (WWE TLC)
Just as Ryback was closing in on the WWE Championship in the main event of Survivor Series, three NXT vigilantes emerged from the crowd and cost him the match. The trio was eventually revealed to be Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns (later known as The Shield) and have been feuding with Ryback since that historic night.
Although Ryback was originally scheduled to challenge for CM Punk's WWE title at WWE TLC, the match was later changed to Ryback and Team Hell No vs. The Shield in a six-man TLC match due to Punk's untimely injury. Nonetheless, the change resulted in a better match than expected, with every aspect of the bout being booked brilliantly.
The Shield had a lot to prove with this being their first official match in WWE, and they undoubtedly impressed the WWE Universe with their performance in this catastrophic contest. Ryback and Team Hello No had a strong showing as well, with each of them hitting their signature spots at one point or another.
Seth Rollins' fateful fall from the top of the ladder and through two tables near the stage area was unquestionably the highlight of the night, and Ambrose and Rollins picking up the victory moments later only sweetened the deal. The amazing action in this match was incredibly insane, which is rare this day and age given the PG rating and whatnot.
2. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship (Over the Limit)
Before you read any further, may I mind you that these final two picks were definitely difficult to rank, as I extremely enjoyed both bouts. However, I came to an ultimate conclusion that this specific match should be ranked second instead, and I'll explain my reasoning in just a few moments.
After their mini-series of matches earlier in the year, members of the WWE Universe were anxiously anticipating a full-on feud between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan at some point. Thankfully, that feud came to fruition the night after Extreme Rules, where Bryan was named the new number one contender to the WWE Championship.
Unfortunately, the build-up (or lack thereof) to their title match at Over the Limit was basically nonexistent, but as expected, the match itself made up for it. Like only they could, Punk and Bryan battled one another for a near half hour, whereas it only felt like five minutes.
Their chemistry among the best in WWE today, as apparent by how well-wrestled their match was. To say it was an instant classic is an understatement, and to describe just how phenomenal it was would be virtually impossible.
When the smoke cleared, Punk maintained possession of his precious prize after rolling Bryan up for a three count. The only thing that prevented this from being the match of the year was the fact it hardly had a story behind it, but their subsequent matches were able to right that wrong.
1. Triple H vs. Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell Match (WrestleMania 28)
Quite frankly, I was not looking forward to a third match between Triple H and Undertaker on the grandest stage of them all at WrestleMania 28. I enjoyed their brutal brawl at WrestleMania 27, but I groaned when I heard HHH challenging Taker to another match at last year's Slammy Awards.
However, the hype for this monumental match couldn't have been executed better, as the inclusion of Shawn Michaels helped breathe fresh air into a stagnant storyline. Not only was the build-up very well done, but the match itself was nothing short of epic.
With the bout being contested within Hell in a Cell, it allowed for some awesome spots and cinematic story telling. It may not have been the wrestling classic that CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan was, but just the way everything seemed to fall into place so perfectly made this the match of the year in my personal opinion.
I'm positive I wasn't the only one that was convinced that Taker's streak at the show of the shows was on the verge of being snapped following the finishing combination from DX. Furthermore, the sight of Taker, HHH and HBK hugging it out at the top of the stage left me simply speechless.
Honestly, I would be content if the Deadman were to never wrestle another match, as I personally believe that was the perfect way to go out. He scored his historic 20th victory at WrestleMania that night, so I see no reason to go beyond that.
CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Kane for the WWE Championship at No Way Out—I found No Way Out to be a lackluster event as a whole, but the WWE Championship Triple Threat match was the highlight of the night. The added interference of AJ made this match both extremely entertaining and suspenseful.
Christian vs. Cody Rhodes for the Intercontinental Championship—At that same event, Cody Rhodes invoked his rematch clause for the Intercontinental Championship against Christian. The match itself was great, but sadly, the crowd was rather dead for it.
Randy Orton vs. Kane in a Falls Count Anywhere Match at Extreme Rules—Personally, I found this feud to be quite underrated. They had a series of solid matches in the spring, but their entertaining opening Falls Count Anywhere match at Extreme Rules was certainly the best of them.
Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan on SmackDown—They've had a total of three matches on SmackDown this year, and I've enjoyed every single one of them. Here's hoping we see a legitimate feud between the two in 2013.
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton on SmackDown—They teased tension between the two going into Over the Limit, which lead to a one-on-one meeting on the May 18 edition of SmackDown. Surprisingly enough, Sheamus scored the clean victory and continued his major momentum as World Heavyweight Champion.
Randy Orton vs. Alberto Del Rio in a Falls Count Anywhere Match on Super SmackDown—Orton and Del Rio also had a fun feud while it lasted that involved some solid matches. Their Falls Count Anywhere match on the November 6 edition of Super SmackDown was given great time and executed excellently.
WWE Championship Elimination Chamber at Elimination Chamber—It had the star power, but the finish with Jericho being supposedly "knocked out" was rather weak. Still, all participants put forth a strong effort to kick off the event on a high note.
Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam - Prior to their rivalry this past summer, we hadn't seen Chris Jericho work as a babyface in nearly five years, so it was a refreshing change of pace for sure. His initial meeting with Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam made for an awesome opener and gave Jericho his first "big win" since returning to WWE in January.
With my personal candidates now in the books, now it's time for you to voice your opinions for early candidates for the best WWE matches of 2012!
Don't agree with my list? Think I forgot to include a match? Think I should remove a specific contest?
Drop a comment below with your thoughts on the best matches of 2012 as well as any additional notes that should also be considered. Make sure to take the match's wrestling, drama, build-up, storytelling, star power, anticipation and aftermath into consideration before placing your vote.
Thanks for reading, Bleachers, and have a very Merry Christmas!
Visit my website at Next Era Wrestling, like me on Facebook and listen to my SAVE US GSM radio show every Wednesday night at 10/9c for more of my thoughts and writings, along with WWE/TNA news, reviews, recaps and more.