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#35 - The Miz
Yes, really. The Awesome One didn't have a great start to 2012, but he bounced back by the end of the year. It seemed WWE didn't really know what to do with him after taking the WWE Championship from around his waist, and so he began floating around the mid-card, waiting for something to do. Same old promos, same old catchphrase, same old Miz.
However, post-WrestleMania the former reality TV star captured the Intercontinental Championship and starred in upcoming WWE Studios film, "The Marine: Homefront". After that, they switched gears with him and did something quite unexpected; he joined Team Foley for Survivor Series, began hosting his own in-ring talk show, and made the full transition to the good guy table. It's funny, face Miz was never something I had any interest in seeing, but since he's already one of WWE's most active characters outside of the ring - interviews, charity, etc. - the transition actually felt pretty normal. The only real problem continues to be that nobody let the WWE Universe in on the shift.
#34 - Mike Bennett
At the start of the year, Mike Bennett was getting boo'd out of Ring of Honor shows and scolded for some perceived lack of wrestling ability. I guess that's what happens when you're an Indy guy with a big league look and a charismatic personality. I'm happy to say that the Prodigy, while still getting a lot of heat from ROH faithful, doesn't get the infamous "you can't wrestle" B.S. near as much these days. He's proven himself among the fans, and in my eyes is probably the second most improved star in Ring of Honor for 2012 (we'll get to the #1 later).
While Bennett unsuccessful challenged Jay Lethal for the World TV title in January, he made a name for himself outside of any title picture. ROH decided that Bennett, likely because of his look and ability to draw heat, needed to be the guy to take on all outside veteran challenges. He defeated the returning Lance Storm in two out of three of their encounters, and would also best Jerry Lynn during his final match at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Rumors have been circulating recently that WWE may have reached out to Bennett for a possible tryout; if that's the case, it's very possible 2013 could hold BIG things for the young prized stallion from South Boston. And if that means we get to see Maria back on WWE television, and even more in favor of the idea.
#33 - Johnny Gargano
It's very possible you haven't heard of Johnny Gargano...yet. Take a look at some of his stats from 2012:
-AIW 30-man Guantlet for the Gold winner
Those are just a few of his more notable achievements this year. We're talking about a remarkable wrestler that's currently working for anywhere between 3-5 wrestling promotions at the same time. And better yet, he's thriving in each of them. It's a shame TNA almost exclusively draws from OVW these days, because if there were ever a wrestler worthy of the Gut Check segment, it'd be Johnny Gargano.
#32 - The Shield
You might be asking why such a great group of gentlemen are so low on this year's list. Well, because despite two of them doing well in NXT, they've only been a collective in the WWE for a little over a month. And technically - house shows don't count - they've only wrestled a single match. The fact that they've made such a lasting impression already, and that their TLC might have been Match of the Year, is why they've broken into the list at all.
If even one of the Shield members manages to break out like Daniel Bryan, CM Punk or the up-and-coming Antonio Cesaro, it will mean big things for them in 2013. Some think it'll be the odd Dean Ambrose, while Ring of Honor faithful still believe in Seth Rollins. Roman Reigns continues to be the wild card in all of this, as he's relatively unknown but shows promise. These guys will definitely be one to keep your eye on moving forward.
#31 - Jay Lethal
Lethal has said in several interviews that one of the main reasons he likes to work with Ring of Honor, is that they allow him to be himself. No Ric Flair or "Macho Man" Randy Savage impressions, just raw Jay Lethal in and out of the ring. That's an admirable sentiment, but until 2012 I hadn't seen him do anything without those gimmicks that merited my time or money. I'm proud to say he changed that around this year, in some pretty big ways.
It started with a run as World TV Champion. It then progressed into an attempt to win his first ROH World Heavyweight Championship. Once Kevin Steen captured the gold, things got very personal, very fast. There was spitting on mothers, brawls that blurred kayfabe and demands made that the World Champion never have to face Jay Lethal again, so long as he wears the gold. All this because Jim Cornette wanted to see a more viscous side from Lethal? At the December Final Battle iPPV, he would actually dominate a large chunk of the card. It was a twisted, slightly convoluted tale that involved S.C.U.M. and RHINO being paid to keep Lethal out of the main event World title ladder war, his violent reaction against the man in charge, Nigel McGuinness, and a bit more. Lethal has become the star around which ROH is building their show, and for once it's giving the company a legitimate story to tell.