2012 was a banner year for Sheamus. "The Celtic Warrior" won the Royal Rumble match in January, took the World Heavyweight Championship from Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 28 and one month later, defeated Bryan in what may be the finest match of the Irishman's young career.
He led the Smackdown brand for the majority of the year, defending his title against the likes of Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio before dropping in a show-stealing, Match of the Year candidate against the Big Show at October's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view.
For all of his success, however, it was hard to ignore the backlash and criticism that followed him from the most vocal of wrestling fans. The very same fans that supported him prior to his major push up the card turned their backs on him swiftly and without warning. It was no longer cool to root for a guy who had clearly become a company man, especially when it was suggested that he could eventually be the replacement to the highly-controversial John Cena.
There was reason for the backlash and criticism. After all, Sheamus had been portrayed as a tough, fight-loving Irishman who would Brogue Kick any man in the face as he would shake their hand.
Then he became a babyface in 2011 and things changed drastically. He began smiling more and telling old Irish tales. He joked and called everyone "fella" in an attempt to show his lighter side. Fans did not want to see the lighter side, though. They wanted to see the man who stood up to the dominant Mark Henry in the summer of 2011 and did not back down. They wanted to see the performer who ruthlessly tore through competition as he collected two WWE Championships within his first year on the main roster.
No, fans did not like the new Sheamus at all. He was a poor man's John Cena and one John Cena is more than enough.
Unfortunately, the character change Sheamus completed when he captured the World Heavyweight Championship in the spring of 2012—and the subsequent push that resembled that of a certain odds-overcoming superhero who starred on Monday nights—overshadowed the fact that Sheamus had become one of the most consistent performers in the business.
In 2012 alone, Sheamus proved to the world that he could hang with a number of top stars, each with their own completely different style. Randy Orton was the traditional WWE main event star, with his signature series of spots and maneuvers.
Chris Jericho was a well-rounded wrestler who utilized ground combat as well as the Lucha Libre style he learned in Mexico and submission wrestling he discovered in Calgary in the Hart dungeon and in Japan. Alberto Del Rio was a striker who happened to utilize a lethal arm bar that had, for the most part, proved to be unbreakable.
Dolph Ziggler was a flashy performer whose offense was a spectacle and whose bumping made every opponent he wrestled look a million times better than they were. Finally, the Big Show was a giant whose slow pace and brute power was, often times, difficult for even the most talented performer to work around.
Despite the differences each of his opponents exhibited, Sheamus had excellent matches with each and every one of them.
Throughout the summer, Sheamus was engaged in a rivalry with Del Rio that can only be considered boring and stale, though to the fault of neither of the performers involved. The creative team had come up with no real interesting reason for them to have the matches they did but that did not stop them from having three very different, quality title matches on three consecutive pay-per-view events.
The most glaring piece of evidence in support of Sheamus' talents comes in the form of his matches with The Big Show. A participant in some truly awful pay-per-view matches in 2012 (most notably against John Cena at No Way Out), the giant was the last man anyone wanted to see challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Fans were pleasantly surprised, then, when Sheamus and Show worked a match at the Hell in a Cell event that tore the roof off of the Philips Arena in Atlanta. In a spectacular exchange of power moves and high-impact offense, the World Champion and his challenger stole the show and made fans forget about the surging Ryback's title bout later in the evening.
Despite all of the work Sheamus had put in during 2012 as one of the newly-cemented faces of the company and all of the high quality matches he had on both free television and pay-per-view, fans still focused on the fact that his character had been changed to fit the more kid-friendly mold the company likes its top babyfaces to fall into.
The character change, likely born in a creative meeting, was not in Sheamus' control. Today's WWE Superstars do not nearly have the freedom to alter the script handed to them early in the day that those during the Attitude Era had. What was in Sheamus' control, however, was his in-ring performance. And far more often than not, the "Celtic Warrior" delivered.
In an age where the internet and social media are highly prevalent in the sport of professional wrestling, and everyone (including this writer) has a keyboard and an opinion, there will always be aspects of a performer fans simply do not like. "Tyson Kidd is a hell of a wrestler but he cannot talk." "The Rock is entertaining but he never sticks around long enough." "Triple H is awesome but he is only in the main event because he married the boss' daughter."
Whatever the case may be, that singular aspect should never be enough to cloud a fan's judgment. There are very few perfect performers. Sheamus is not one. But he is a hell of a talent whose production and performance in 2012 cannot be denied. He proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that he can perform at the highest level.
There will be some who credit his performances to those he shared the ring with. They will claim he was carried and that he should be nowhere near the main event scene. For those fans, no article or evidence claiming the contrary will ever sway their opinion.
Sheamus should be appreciated for what he accomplished and how much he has improved since arriving to WWE's main roster in 2009, rather than criticized for what was perceived to be wrong with him.
As 2013 continues on, and the "Great White" gains more experience and continues to elevate his performance, more and more of his critics will, hopefully, begin to understand and appreciate the talent of the performer they bare witness to each and every week on WWE programming.