2012 Pro Wrestling Awards Picks: The Best
Looking Back at 2012 in Pro Wrestling
Pro wrestling is the first thing that I wrote about that was published online. That was many years ago, but one thing I am happy to be returning to is the year-end awards picks that I did for the first couple of years writing at Inside Pulse, but haven’t done for several years. Since it’s been a while since I’ve done my year-end picks, I’m filling in the years that missed (2009-11). I also think this is more important to note than usual: I follow the Wrestling Observer awards voting method meaning the eligibility period for these awards is December 1, 2011 to November 30, 2012 and, as always, it is based on what I've seen at the time this is posted. That also goes for all winners from 2009, 2010 and 2011 in this special circumstance.
This section will go over the best in pro wrestling during the year in the below categories
MOST UNDERRATED WRESTLER: This is the wrestler who hasn’t gotten the attention for their talent, personality, character and match quality, or any combination of the listed factors.
BEST PROMOTIONAL MOVE: This is the best thing a promotion or promoter did to help the promotion, their brand and benefit the business as a whole.
BEST T.V. SHOW: This is the best weekly pro wrestling television show during the year.
BEST ANGLE: This is the best pro wrestling storyline during the year.
BEST FEUD: This is the best feud during the year. No restrictions.
CARD OF THE YEAR: This is the best wrestling card of the year. Match quality is given the most weight. Importance and/or prestige of event is only taken into account if the card itself lives up to the hype.
BEST PROMOTION: This is the best pro wrestling promotion during the year. Note: in 2005 & 2006 I was still using the Wrestling Observer system of having MMA eligible in certain pro wrestling awards. I haven’t done that since.
BEST INTERVIEW: This is the pro wrestler who has done the best on the microphone, in interviews, in promo segments, vignettes or any combination of the just mentioned factors during the year.
BEST BOOKER: This is the best pro wrestling booker during the year.
BEST FACE: This is the best face (good guy) in pro wrestling during the year.
BEST HEEL: This is the best heel (bad guy) in pro wrestling during the year.
BEST BRAWLER: This is the best brawler during the year.
BEST LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: This is the best light heavyweight during the year who wrestles under 225 pounds and wrestles primarily with wrestlers in this weight class.
BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER: This is the best technical wrestler during the year. Wrestlers who use mat wrestling, submission wrestling, shoot-style wrestling and any other mat-based wrestling style are eligible.
TAG-TEAM OF THE YEAR: This is the best tag-team in wrestling during the year.
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: This is the best wrestler in the ring during the year. I guess “Best Worker” would be a better title for this award, but I only take the in-ring work into account when looking at who is the best wrestler during the year. No restrictions, those will come later.
MOST UNDERRATED WRESTLER: Kenny Omega (DDT)
2nd Place: Roderick Strong (ROH)
3rd Place: Kyle O’Reily (ROH)
How Omega hasn’t gotten a tryout or a job with The E, TNA, or ROH by now makes him the most underrated wrestler in the planet by itself. I didn’t see anything, read anything, or hear anything in 2012 about Omega getting a shot in any of those three places. How? I can see one or two of them, but all three? He’s a great light heavyweight talent, is better than most of TNA’s current X-division and would hold up fine in ROH. I’ve always been a fan of Strong’s talent and what got him his spot here is that he wasn’t in the ROH title picture for almost all of 2012. It just seemed weird that a former champion in the promotion wasn’t near the title picture since it’s been almost tradition in ROH that once you win the belt, you’re at the top until you leave. And I see plenty of potential and skill in O’Reily, much more than his usage by the promotion in 2012 would make one believe, though that is already turning around. Hopefully that means at least one man on this list won’t make a repeat visit this time next year.
2005: Alex Shelley
2006: William Regal
2007: Shelton Benjamin
2009: Evan Bourne
2010: Jack Swagger
2011: Daniel Bryan
BEST PROMOTIONAL MOVE: New Japan on iPPV in the U.S.
2nd Place: WWE pushes Daniel Bryan after attempting to bury him
3rd Place: TNA pushes Austin Aries to top of the card
Despite the fact that only two iPPV’s from New Japan aired in the U.S. during my designated voting period, this was easily the best move from any one promotion during the year. The E and TNA both have done themselves a long-term service by pushing former ROH champs to the top of the card. But we’re talking about a Japanese promotion that is known better in America than any other Japanese promotion coming to America via the Internet and doing it better in just two attempts than any American promotion that has attempted to go that route. No lagging, no audio issues, no blackouts, no craziness, just crystal clear picture, perfect audio and great action. The only time the audio has cut out thus far on a New Japan iPPV is during most of the wrestler’s entrances due to their music being copyrighted.
2005: TNA signs with Spike TV
2006: TNA gets prime time T.V. slot on Spike TV
2007: Ring of Honor gets on Pay-Per-View
2008: WWE turns Chris Jericho heel
2009: DDT runs first Sumo Hall show
2010: New Japan & Pro Wrestling NOAH continue their work agreement
2011: The WWE brings The Rock back for Wrestlemania
BEST T.V. SHOW: Ring of Honor T.V.
2nd Place: CMLL on Galavision
3rd Place: iMPACT Wrestling
I’ve always been an ROH fan and have always enjoyed the simple, in-ring dominated product that they put out. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve enjoyed their T.V. more than any other promotion’s over the last two years. What I’ve been able to count on from that hour every week that ROH provides is a kind of consistency that I can’t find with any other promotion on television. They all have their good stretches that can last for varying amounts of time, but most of them also have their down time, and that generally has made for some pretty bad T.V. Oh, and the move to three hours per week killed any chance that RAW would be in my top three because it killed that show for the first two months or so after the move.
2006: iMPACT! (2)
2008: RAW (2)
2010: AAA on Galavision
2011: Ring of Honor T.V.
BEST ANGLE: Abyss as Mr. Joseph Park Esq.
2nd Place: Kazuchika Okada’s Money in the Bank inspired briefcase for IWGP title shot after winning G-1 tournament
3rd Place: The formation of S.C.U.M.
I’m a bit shocked myself. Not that the angle wasn’t good, just that it was almost too good for it’s own good, but that’s good. Considering the source (TNA), I didn’t have the highest hopes for this storyline, but Chris Parks (Abyss‘ real name) worked his ass off and the “new character” came off as genuine, lovable, an underdog and all kinds of funny. This has to be the only instance where giving away wrestling terminology and backstage terms made me giggle, such was an example of how much this angle grew on me. I don’t normally use the term “delightful romp” for when I enjoyed viewing something, but that would adequately describe this whole angle, one that is still going on. I do have to tip my hat to New Japan for copying WWE’s idea with the Money in the Bank briefcase, and making it more important in just five months than The E has been able to do in their recent attempts. The G-1 winner usually got a title shot at the next big show. This year, in a smart booking move, New Japan held back Okada’s title shot until their Wrestlemania on Jan. 4 and instead had him put his title shot on the line in any singles match he had during the nearly five months separating the G-1 and New apan’s Wrestlemania. And considering singles match are much rarer in Japan and saved mainly for major shows, it only added another layer to any singles match Okada, already someone young and new and tremendous in the ring, ended up in. As for S.C.U.M., it was the best thing in all of ROH during 2012 with spectacular mic work, personality and heel greatness from Steen, Jimmy Jacobs, and Steve Corino.
2005:Yuji Nagata turning heel and forming Team JAPAN
2006: Homicide/Cornette double turn after Cage of Death Match
2007: Chris Jericho’s return hyped by viral messages on WWE programming
2008: Konnan steals Antonio Pena’s ashes
2009: C.M. Punk wants to save us from Jeff Hardy, and then The Undertaker
2010: HBK costs The Undertaker world title to get WM rematch with him
2011: C.M. Punk spews verbal “pipe bombs” at John Cena and then HHH
BEST FEUD: John Cena Vs. The Rock
2nd Place: Kevin Steen Vs. ROH
3rd Place: Joseph Park Vs. Bully Ray
How could this not be the feud of the year? Possibly the last of the true dream matches in American pro wrestling came to fruition and it lived up to the hype the whole way. Possibly the biggest star of one generation (Rock) against the unquestioned biggest star of his (Cena), and the dynamic worked perfectly. The battles on the mic, the vignettes, the endless hype, even the video package preceding the match itself was all fabulous and created the appropriate anticipation for such an important match. For me, it was a very special experience as a wrestling fan as it doesn’t happen often where a WWE feud involving anyone (even if I like the participants) feels legitimately important. This one did.
2005: Batista Vs. HHH
2006: Samoa Joe Vs. A.J. Styles Vs. Christopher Daniels
2007: The Briscoes Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico
2008: Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Jericho
2009: Jeff Hardy Vs. C.M. Punk
2010: Kevin Steen Vs. El Generico
2011: John Cena Vs. C.M. Punk
CARD OF THE YEAR: New Japan Kings of Pro Wrestling
2nd Place: WWE Extreme Rules
3rd Place: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom VI in Tokyo Dome
New Japan’s first iPPV is still their best, but this one set the bar really high in fairness. The main-event is the match of year on many lists including The Wrestling Observer, the other top two matches would have been match of the night caliber on any other night and two junior matches lower on the card (including Ibushi/Low-Ki) guaranteed a card with great stuff throughout. Extreme Rules came close with possibly the best match of Sheamus‘ career (thanks Daniel Bryan), a good Punk/Chris Jericho match and the talked about Brock Lesnar/John Cena match. New Japan’s and Japanese pro wrestling’s Wrestlemania ended up being a better show than the actual Wrestlemania in 2012, but that has been the case on more than a few occasions in the history of both shows. Wrestlemania XXVIII had some great matches with Hell in a Cell being one I can’t see not making my top five for the year and Rock/Cena delivering, but New Japan had a better up-and-down card of matches than The E did. For those more familiar with my writing, that shouldn’t come as any surprise.
2005: Wrestlemania XXI
2006: ROH Supercard of Honor
2007: ROH Good Times, Great Memories
2008: Wrestlemania XXIV
2009: Dragon Gate USA Open the Historic Gate
2010: ROH Death Before Dishonor VIII
2011: WWE Money in the Bank
BEST PROMOTION: New Japan Pro Wrestling
2nd Place: Dragon Gate
3rd Place: World Wrestling Entertainment
A repeat for a promotion continuing to rise from the ashes. A wrestling renaissance has been going on in the country of Japan for around the last five years and New Japan has been the biggest player in it. I do want to give credit to Dragon Gate for their rise and guaranteed spot in my mind as the fourth big promotion in Japan. But New Japan’s dedication to rebuilding its junior division, of having the deepest roster, the best working heavyweights, the best shows and the smartest booking has all come together beautifully in the last two years. It really appears that this promotion can do no wrong. Any move New Japan made during 2012 that I took issue with didn’t end up hurting them, whether through smart booking or due to there being enough in the works and/or on the cards that could mask it or make sure that it didn’t negatively impact the promotion.
2005: Pro Wrestling NOAH
2007: Ring of Honor
2008: World Wrestling Entertainment
2009: Dragon Gate
2010: Dragon Gate (2)
2011: New Japan Pro Wrestling
BEST INTERVIEW: C.M. Punk (WWE)
2nd Place: Kevin Steen (ROH)
3rd Place: John Cena (WWE)
A pick I thought was for sure going to be Steen’s before Punk made the heel turn work. And that’s because Punk made the heel turn work with his work on the mic. In the ring, he was still a face to a good portion of The E’s audience when he was wrestling, but he was a heel to almost the whole audience when talking. It was amazing to watch this man turn something (him becoming a heel) that wasn’t that logical to begin with into heel magic on the mic. Heyman did help, but Punk himself could have made it work. Steen’s mic work was just as tremendous, especially his post-match bashing of the entire ROH fan base after retaining the title against Richards in June. It’s just that making a heel turn work that wasn’t working is more impressive to me than a heel being turned face by the audience, because that happens more often these days. Cena got on because his mic work has always been good and I believe he got the better of The Rock on just about every exchange they had leading into Wrestlemania XXVIII.
2005: Eddie Guerrero
2006: Ric Flair
2007: Christian Cage
2008: Chris Jericho
2009: C.M. Punk
2010: C.M. Punk (2)
2011: C.M. Punk (3)
BEST BOOKER: Jado & Gedo (NJPW)
2nd Place: Bruce Prichard (TNA)
3rd Place: Jim Cornette & Delirious (ROH)
By now I think you got the idea that New Japan had an awesome year in 2012, and if you want to single out people that made it possible, here are two of the biggest. From the moment these two got onto the booking team, they have been dynamite, and have only gotten better since becoming the sole bookers for the promotion. Booking highlights from the year include the Okada superpush turning out great thanks to the young guy coming through big time, Tanahashi as champ for most of the year working out just fine, the junior division having possibly it’s best year and definitely its best title chase in years, Karl Anderson getting a singles push after Giant Bernard (Lord Tensai in WWE) left and it working out great for Anderson and New Japan, and the arrival of Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata to the promotion was booked very well right from the beginning with no mistakes that used to be associated with New Japan’s use of MMA fighters.
2005: Mitsuharu Misawa
2006: Gabe Sapolsky
2007: Gabe Sapolsky (2)
2008: Gabe Sapolsky (3)
2009: Jado, Gedo, & Jushin Liger
2010: Jado & Gedo
2011: Jado & Gedo (2)
BEST FACE: John Cena (WWE)
2nd Place: Joseph Park (TNA)
3rd Place: Sting (TNA)
For the PG-dominated product of today’s E, there is no better face than Cena. Yes, he gets tons of boos, but always just as many cheers and is able to play the role to perfection, having plenty of experience at being a top face and having done it well year after year. Park got such a high mark from me not only because of how much I loved the angle and the character, but because of how quickly and how over the character got almost right out of the gate with TNA’s audience.
2005: John Cena
2006: Rey Mysterio
2007: John Cena (2)
2008: Shawn Michaels
2009: John Cena (3)
2010: John Cena (4)
2011: John Cena (5)
BEST HEEL: C.M. Punk (WWE)
2nd Place: Kevin Steen (ROH)
3rd Place: Paul Heyman (WWE)
I’m still torn about this one. I really, really wanted to give Steen the proper due for the tremendous year that he had and right up until September I thought it was a given that he would end up with this pick from me. Then Punk just had to go and actually make The E’s nonsensical turn work by getting over as a heel with The E’s audience. Both Steen and Punk were still getting cheers during their respective heel turns, but Punk’s were much lower and Steen practically turned face just from audience approval. Heyman got on because his ability to attract heel heat was almost magical in 2012, and he’s had so much experience playing a heel on T.V. and being one in real life that it’s second nature to him now.
2005: Jeff Jarrett
2006: Jeff Jarrett (2)
2007: The Voodoo Murderers
2008: Randy Orton
2009: Chris Jericho
2010: C.M. Punk
2011: C.M. Punk (2)
BEST BRAWLER: Kevin Steen (ROH)
2nd Place: Bully Ray (TNA)
3rd Place: Michael Elgin (ROH)
This would have been a three-peat for Steen with me if he hadn’t literally been out of Ring of Honor during all of 2011 and thus I didn’t get to see much of his work. Steen’s chase to the ROH title and eventual title reign provided some tremendous matches against Davey Richards (twice for the ROH title), Michael Elgin, El Generico (not including Ladder War IV because of my designated time period) and Eddie Edwards. Ray had another very nice year and continued to make good out of his singles push in TNA. Elgin was possibly the breakout star of 2012 in all of wrestling, but definitely was in ROH. While his push had been beginning near the end of last year, his match quality in important situations turned out better than expected and the instant classic with Richards the day before Wrestlemania is proof of that.
2006: Samoa Joe
2007: Takeshi Morishima
2008: Masato Tanaka
2009: Necro Butcher
2010: Kevin Steen
2011: Bully Ray
BEST LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Kota Ibushi (DDT)
2nd Place: Prince Devitt (NJPW)
3rd Place: Kenny Omega (DDT)
Ibushi benefited more from his time and opponents in New Japan during the year (Devitt in particular), but his loyalty to DDT produced several tremendous matches as well, including one of the more talked about matches of the year in Japan against Omega in the main-event of DDT’s 15th anniversary show. Devitt split his time between New Japan and CMLL during the year, and it produced another tremendous year from the best gaijin light heavyweight of 2012. Omega’s year was more than just the match with Ibushi as he made use of Japan’s Indy scene, wrestling at least once for several different promotions and providing good stuff for all.
2006: KENTA (2)
2007: Rysuke Taguchi
2008: Katsuhiko Nakajima
2009: Kota Ibushi
2010: Prince Devitt
2011: Evan Bourne
BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER: Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW)
2nd Place: Austin Aries (TNA)
3rd Place: Kurt Angle (TNA)
For the first time since I started writing on pro wrestling, Bryan isn’t in my top three technical wrestlers of the year. Just like with the wrestler of the year category, Danielson had a tremendous year and even in tag matches got to show how good of a mat and submission wrestler he is. However, once again the man with the most main-event mojo of any wrestler on the planet must be rewarded for the best year of his career. Tanahashi has come close to getting my pick in this category and as wrestler of the year, and this year he rightly got both. Aries excelled in TNA from the moment 2012 began and never looked back while Angle had a greater than usual year in TNA in 2012. Both men benefited from a deep and talented roster, as well as a desire by TNA for most of the year to put on a better wrestling product than The E.
2005: Kurt Angle
2006: Bryan Danielson
2007: Bryan Danielson (2)
2008: Bryan Danielson (3)
2009: Bryan Danielson (4)
2010: Bryan Danielson (5)
2011: Daniel Bryan (6)
TAG-TEAM OF THE YEAR: Christopher Daniels & Kazarian (TNA)
2nd Place: The Briscoe Brothers (ROH)
3rd Place: Kane & Daniel Bryan (WWE)
Tag-team wrestling doesn’t seem to be much of a priority in American pro wrestling anymore, but this year at least gave American wrestling fans some tag-teams that stuck together for most of the year, if not the whole year. Daniels & Kazarian were a great heel combination in TNA despite the horrible storylines that they were put into. Their in-ring work as a team more than made up for that and when it came down to it, the choice was easy. The Briscoes nearly repeated in this category with me as they continue to impress with their longevity, already being in the business for nearly 15 years, but only now reaching their physical prime (or at least what it should be).
2005: Naomichi Marufuji & KENTA
2006: Ikuto Hidaka & Minoru Fujita
2007: The Briscoe Brothers
2008: Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley
2009: Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards
2010: Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli
2011: The Briscoe Brothers (2)
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR 2012: Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW)
2nd Place: Kazuchika Okada (NJPW)
3rd Place: C.M. Punk (WWE)
Proving once again that he is worthy of the distinction, the ace of New Japan came through huge inside the ring in 2012. Tanahashi had one of the best years of main-event matches by one man in Japan and in all of wrestling possibly since Steve Austin & Keiji Mutoh in 2001. A main-event fixture for the entire year, Tanahashi’s matches consistently provided a great ending to a New Japan show and continued to elevate the IWGP title with many of those great main-events being for the belt. Okada nearly won my pick with the superman push that New Japan gave him upon returning from a long learning excursion in the U.S. and Mexico. Okada’s year was just as impressive as Tanahashi’s, but Tana did his work in the main-event, of which Okada spent some time, but not as much as Tana. In the end, it may have been Tana’s match with Minoru Suzuki on Oct. 8 (the match of the year in many opinions) wowing more than Okada’s great match with Karl Anderson on the same card that provided the difference. As for third place, it was either going to be Punk or Daniel Bryan. Both men had great years in the ring, but Punk had more opportunities to excel in the ring once Bryan was moved to the tag division with Kane as his partner.
2005: A.J. Styles
2006: Bryan Danielson
2007: John Cena
2008: Shawn Michaels
2010: Bryan Danielson (2)
2011: Davey Richards