Throughout 2012, the members of the WWE Universe were taken on a ride full of ups and downs. Although the WWE may not provide consistently top-caliber wrestling content as they once did, it cannot be denied that every year still has great moments and great matches.
For those who stuck with WWE’s programming through terrible segments with Cyndi Lauper and disgraceful pay-per-view main events pitting John Cena against John Laurinaitis, there was some quality content to be found.
Brock Lesnar made his return to sports entertainment as Paul Heyman also returned to reinvigorate CM Punk’s title reign as a heel. Raw 1000 saw DX reunited with guest appearances also from APA, Lita and other stars of the past.
The WWE provided its best content, as always, live on its monthly pay-per-view events. Through the good and the bad, what it all comes down to in the end is the wrestling content that the WWE provides. Despite the company’s direction and the questionable storylines of 2012, the WWE will always provide great matches from time to time.
So instead of focusing only on the negatives as we all too often like to do, let us now look at some of 2012’s best. Let us reflect on where the WWE delivered last year. This is my top 10 WWE pay-per-view matches of 2012.
Seeing Brock Lesnar competing in a WWE ring is a very rare occurrence these days, as is seeing the Cerebral Assassin Triple H in action. The 2012 SummerSlam main event saw these two behemoths in the ring together at the same time, facing off for the first time ever.
Following Lesnar's return match against John Cena at Extreme Rules, the anticipation for SummerSlam was high. The build-up was very personal as we saw Lesnar break Triple H’s best friend’s arm in Shawn Michaels, and also witnessed Lesnar’s manager Paul Heyman insulting Triple H’s wife and children.
At first, this contest at SummerSlam did seem a tad disappointing, especially in contrast to Lesnar’s return match, but in retrospect it was a solid bout. Although there was no blood and no extreme rules environment, there was a great balance of brawling and wrestling.
Both Lesnar and The Game are known as fighters and much of the match showcased that personal aspect; but the suplexes and slams were also reminiscent of Lesnar’s amateur wrestling background. With each competitor hitting their finishing maneuvers and several near falls, the match held the audience’s suspense.
In the end, Lesnar’s targeting of The Game’s arm would pay off, seeing Triple H submit to the kimura lock. Perhaps the only real negative of this matchup was the ring-rust evident in Triple H due to inactivity and especially Lesnar due to his time in UFC.
In the earlier half of 2012, both the Big Show and Sheamus were involved in some of the WWE’s worst feuds of the year. The Big Show was a generic pandering face who then pulled off a predictable heel turn to feud with Cena.
As for Sheamus, he and Alberto Del Rio worked an almost unwatchable feud of extremely poor promos and backstage segments. With cancelled matches that were reinstated to pay-per-view cards at the last minute and terrible joyriding Touts in Del Rio’s car, Sheamus may have been World Heavyweight Champion, but he was far from entertaining.
That’s why when Sheamus and the Big Show entered into a rivalry, nobody expected it to quickly become one of the best feuds of the year. With matches at Survivor Series, TLC, weekly programs and house shows, the duo constantly managed to deliver.
However, it was their first match at Hell in a Cell that truly surprised us. While of an excellent standard, none of Sheamus and Big Show’s subsequent bouts quite lived up to the first. Through Brogue Kicks and White Noise the Big Show persevered, and even Chokeslams and the right hand from the Big Show couldn’t keep Sheamus down.
Sheamus became the first to kick out of the Big Show’s “Weapon of Mass Destruction” right hand, but couldn’t do it the second time around. The Big Show would pick up the World Heavyweight Title and not lose it within the minute like in 2011. Sheamus and the Big Show surprised us all with the match of the night at Hell in a Cell.
The main event of WrestleMania XXVIII saw the face of the WWE’s PG-Era, John Cena, facing off against a staple of the Attitude Era in The Rock. It was the modern incarnation of The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan from 10 years earlier at WrestleMania X8.
Although the overall match and audience involvement fell short of Hogan and The Rock’s encounter, it did still provide the most vocal and involved audience we’ve seen in a very long time. Both John Cena and The Rock should be proud for the effort they gave to put on what was promoted as the most anticipated match of all time.
After almost 30 minutes of unnecessary pre-match build-up and entrances, the bout finally began. The two opponents were evenly matched and stuck to the solid basics of wrestling. With Rock Bottoms, Attitude Adjustments, Five-Knuckle Shuffles and People’s Elbows, we never knew which way the match would go.
With plenty of verbal exchanges and mocking gestures for good measure, it was a villainous attempt at the People’s Elbow from John Cena that would end up costing him the match after a second Rock Bottom.
The Rock walked tall that night having now gained WrestleMania victories over Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and John Cena—the three poster boys of the company. The only real downside was that Cena did not end up getting put over, but at least fans were provided with a momentary break from Cena’s dominance.
The Rock may have completely vanished from WWE come the next week, but the match was worth it and truly was a “once in a lifetime” experience. Let us just hope that come the end of 2013, it will remain only once in a lifetime.
When you put two of the best wrestlers in the world together in the ring, it’s almost guaranteed to be good, and whenever Daniel Bryan and CM Punk cross paths, it always delivers.
I had the privilege of seeing them wrestle live for the WWE Championship this year at a house show, but when you up the stakes to live on pay-per-view, then it is even better.
In this encounter, there was also a no-disqualification stipulation in effect with AJ Lee serving as the special guest referee. However, with AJ’s impartial officiating, it all came back to the talent of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, which shines with any referee.
AJ or not, this was an excellent mixture of wrestling, counter holds and the extreme. The ring was littered with kendo sticks and chairs; all which made an impact during the contest. Daniel Bryan very nearly gained the victory with a modified LeBell lock that incorporated a kendo stick.
It was a suplex from the top turnbuckle and through a table that earned the three count for the champion CM Punk, and ended a match that we all wished could continue at least just a little bit longer. Other than having to end, the only downside was that this match wasn’t the evening’s main event.
Within my mind I was hoping that this match would be the modern-era equivalent of WrestleMania XIX’s classic between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels. Keeping in mind that older is always better when reflecting nostalgically, this year’s bout between Jericho and CM Punk lived up to my expectations.
Just before the match, a new stipulation was added that if CM Punk got disqualified he would also lose the title. Jericho would brilliantly use this new ruling in the opening of the match to very humorous ends. Through taunting Punk’s family, the challenger tried to get Punk disqualified by driving him to use a steel chair.
Punk overcame his demons; however, and the match continued into a clinic in professional wrestling. What was especially notable was the counter-hold wrestling, such as Jericho’s ability to pull the Walls of Jericho out of an attempted top-turnbuckle huracanrana from Punk.
With the contest focusing on submissions, it was the Walls of Jericho and the Lion Tamer against the Anaconda Vise. Of course Punk and Jericho hit both the GTS and the Code Breaker respectively, but to no avail. It was not big moves, but counter grappling that was the winner in this matchup. The end saw Jericho giving in to Punk’s Anaconda Vise for a submission victory to the champion.
Despite hoping for Jericho to reclaim the WWE title for potentially the last time, it was admirable to see him putting Punk over and giving him a subtle pat on the head afterwards for a match well-done. Both men earned a lot of respect that night and reminded us what wrestling is all about: telling a story and putting on a great match.
Night of Champions was a very mediocre pay-per-view that was saved by its main event between John Cena and CM Punk. In this renewal of their 2011 rivalry, fans had to ask the question of where the two could go now in providing something new.
After a slow start, the match picked up and eventually saw both competitors hit their finishing maneuvers on their opponent, not once but twice each. Punk even added a Rock Bottom on Cena, but the Cenation leader kicked out.
Following 2011’s classics between the two—such as at Money in the Bank—this bout had to be special, and so the WWE made the right decision by making both competitors unable to claim the outright victory.
Although the TNA-esque ending accomplished that very goal, it also left much to be desired. The match ended with a German suplex off the top turnbuckle that lead to a double pinning predicament. The officials ruled the match a draw, and thus CM Punk retained the title by default.
Many remain unsure of what to make of this potentially “cop-out” ending to what was otherwise a classic. Some say that kicking out of two finishing moves each was too excessive, but to me it couldn’t have been any other way between Punk and Cena.
Despite the mixed reactions, it remained a classic until the end and managed to get the WWE Universe talking.
The last pay-per-view of the WWE’s calendar pitted The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns) against Ryback and Team Hell No (Kane and Daniel Bryan) in the classic Tables, Ladders & Chairs match that never disappoints.
This year it was not only the match’s content that made it so great, but just how much new talent there was in this show-stealing contest. With The Shield making their debut and Ryback still earning his keep, this match truly earned the new guys a lot of admiration.
The Shield cemented themselves as the best stable in wrestling today. Their cohesiveness saw them execute their plan of isolating and attacking their opponents.
Together they powerbombed Ryback through the announce table; Roman Reigns speared Kane through the barricade; and Daniel Bryan was powerbombed from the turnbuckle through a table.
Seth Rollins earned the spot of the night after getting tossed off a ladder and through a stack of tables on the concrete-floored stage, courtesy of Ryback. Rollins put his body on the line like a true superstar of old and was lucky to get away injury-free having hit his head in the fall.
The match was fast paced and flowed through perfectly without any boring moments. There was always action, both in the ring and outside. The new talents proved that they belong, while Kane and Daniel Bryan yet again proved that they have always belonged.
At WrestleMania, Chris Jericho and CM Punk put together a fantastic wrestling match, but come the fallout the next month at Extreme Rules and the two put on an even better Chicago Street Fight. This time it wasn’t about seamless wrestling, but rather an all-out brawl.
The two ditched their wrestling gear and stuck with street clothes because this was simply a fight in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. Punk’s sister sat ringside, which was used during the match, with Jericho taunting her so that she eventually threw her cup in Jericho’s face.
The match went back and forth in and out of the ring involving chairs, kendo sticks and even a fire extinguisher. Jericho hit a Code Breaker with a steel chair and Punk hit his signature elbow drop from the top turnbuckle to the announce table on the outside.
There was also some alcohol brought into the matchup by Jericho in his quest to taunt Punk’s straight-edge lifestyle. Through it all, Punk managed to keep the advantage and retain the title, getting put over once again by Jericho.
Brock Lesnar returned to the WWE the night after WrestleMania and come the next pay-per-view at Extreme Rules, he found himself against John Cena in the main event. We all knew Lesnar was a dominant and vicious destroying machine, but no-one expected what we got.
Within the opening seconds, Lesnar had Cena grounded and with several elbows to the head, Cena was busted open. Later in the matchup, Cena returned the favor, cutting Lesnar open with a steel chain to the cranium.
Wrestling fans watched on in shock, unsure of whether this was supposed to be happening. Cena refused medical treatment to stop the bleeding and continued the vicious match that saw the most blood featured in the WWE since turning PG.
It was an extremely edgy match that blurred the lines of reality and put Lesnar over as a beast, especially as he licked Cena’s blood off himself. Lesnar focused his attack on Cena’s arm with the kimura lock, but the Cenation leader made one of his typical comebacks to hit an Attitude Adjustment on the steel steps.
The match was reminiscent of an era gone by and perhaps fooled some people into thinking that a change was coming. Unfortunately, change never came, but this match-up gave us a taste of blood and a viciousness long missing in the WWE. We were left wanting more.
Strong cases can be made both for and against WrestleMania’s Hell in a Cell bout for being match of the year. While many consider it a no-brainer and an obvious winner, there is much to be said negatively about the match, and let’s address the cons first.
With the classic ‘90s Metallica song “The Memory Remains” as its theme, the match was promoted as “the end of an era,” and yet it was the end of nothing. The Hell in a Cell match has not been retired; Triple H has wrestled since, and The Undertaker will likely wrestle again. The era defined by The Phenom, The Game, Shawn Michaels and the Cell match has already long passed.
Additionally, a close look at this WrestleMania match will reveal that the Cell itself was mostly unneeded and another mere No Holds Barred stipulation would have sufficed.
Compared to the Hell in a Cell anthology, the lack of any blood more than Triple H’s minor cut did make the match not live up to the Cell’s rich history, but it did not put the Cell to shame as recent Hell in a Cell bouts have.
Nevertheless, even with these issues, the match itself was still awesome. It may not have been a perfect contest, but I wanted to highlight these downsides as the match is not the “infallible match of the year” as some have proclaimed. It is; however, still the best match of 2012 when we strip it back and focus on the action and emotion in the ring.
Storytelling and wrestling were masterfully executed, with Michaels bearing the burden of officiating while the legacy of the streak was in the balance. After Tombstones, chokeslams, Pedigrees and even Sweet Chin Music, the Undertaker prevailed to achieve the momentous milestone of 20-0 at WrestleMania.
We may rarely see Triple H, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, but matches like this make it worth the once-a-year appearance. Especially in the case of The Undertaker, whose back took a more savage beating than anyone would take for the remainder of the year.
Following the historic conclusion of the match came a WrestleMania moment that will long be remembered. Triple H was helped out of the arena by Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, and while no apparent “era” was actually ending, the sentiment was enough to bring a tear to many long-time wrestling fan’s eyes.
There we have it. Are you nodding your head in agreement or shaking it with disapproval? To me, 2012 was a stronger year for the more extreme style of match over the classic wrestling contest, but do you think the same?
Be sure to let us know in the comments what your favorite WWE pay-per-view matches of 2012 were. Thanks for reading.