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#15 - Kevin Steen
Professional Wrestling's Worst Nightmare has been, somewhat ironically, one of the best things for professional wrestling in 2012. His year started by winning back his ROH contract, attacking everyone in charge of the company, and defeating everyone he'd ever been aligned with at one point or another in his Ring of Honor career. Jimmy Jacobs, Steve Corino, El Generico, Eddie Edwards and eventually Davey Richards all fell to Steen on his path to claim the ROH World Heavyweight Championship. His title run has been one of the best in company history, and I rank El Generico's mask being revealed in a gift box at Glory by Honor XI among the best moments of 2012. His past, and somewhat ongoing feud with Jay Lethal has added drama and good storytelling in an independent industry too often lacking both those qualities. The Ladder War at Final Battle this month was incredible; as if to say, "follow that WWE" just hours before their TLC pay-per-view.
Kevin Steen may consider himself the Anti-Christ of Professional Wrestling, but I think a little bit of sacrilege is just what this industry needs.
#14 - AJ Lee
Daniel Bryan. Kane. CM Punk. John Cena. Dolph Ziggler.
No, that's not a list of the most important wrestlers of 2012 - although it's damn close - it's all the people AJ Lee has been romantically involved with in the last twelve months. Knowing that she's a pretty reserved person in real life makes the character all the more entertaining. She plays the "girl next door" routine flawlessly, and was incredibly attractive even before becoming WWE's on-screen tramp.
I mentioned earlier about how active Eve Torres had been this year, bringing a postive note to the Divas division. Well, AJ Lee took that idea and went the extra mile. Girlfriend to the World Champion. Creepy stalker and eventual foil to the WWE Champion. The naughty "affair" of WWE's good-ole-boy John Cena. The Raw general manager. And finally...the Lita to Dolph Ziggler's Edge. The only thing she's missing, believe it or not, is a run with the Divas Championship. Go figure, the hottest women in wrestling for 2012 won her last title in FCW.
#13 - James Storm
When Beer Money disbanded in 2011, sending James Storm and Bobby Roode their seperate ways, there were a lot of people trying to figure out which one of the two would have the bigger year in 2012. I'm not upset to say that Roode broke out just a bit more, but we absolutely cannot discredit the work of The Cowboy, James Storm.
When Storm wasn't busy "losing his smile", he was kicking ass all over the Bound for Glory tournament. And when that didn't work out, his Bound for Glory blood bath with rival Bobby Roode went down as one of the greatest TNA matches in history. He's the kind of wrestler that you want to work with just about everyone, because he can have chemistry and cut good promos no matter who he's working with. His character is simple, but the Impact Zone - and dare I say, wrestling fans in general - connect with it. Storm is also a helluva wrestler, and the superkick has long since been one of my favorite finishing maneuvers.
I tried to think of a clever way to work in his catchphrase, but I couldn't. So I'm just going to throw it out there, because it's one of the best things about James Storm - "Sorry, about your damn luck!"
#12 - Ryback
Who is this guy? That's a question I find myself asking every time Ryback makes his way out and impresses me with how consistently good he is. Isn't this the same guy that, one year ago, we remembered as the "what it do" jock from Nexus? So who is this guy that shows up in interviews and says that he wants to be the next face of professional wrestling? That he wants to be better than John Cena, and carry the company on his shoulders. Bold words, but unfortunately not said enough in today's landscape of underwhelming talent.
I remember seeing the Ryback for the first time at Extreme Rules, live in Chicago. He came out and destroyed not one, but two local guys. The Goldberg chants were just starting to catch on, and I remember the crowd not really caring that night, but I was hooked from that moment on. During the after-party that night, I remember asking Kip (Billy Gunn) what he thought of the Ryback, and while we both agreed that he was damn impressive, neither of us imagined we'd be seeing him wrestle for the WWE Championship within six months time. Say what you will about streaks being broken and creative "dropping the ball", but Ryback's Hell in a Cell match against CM Punk was one of the most anticipated events of 2012. It suddenly became a "must see" pay-per-view, because there appeared to be a very real possibility that our beloved Straight Edge Savoir would lose the WWE Championship. It will be very interesting to see where the Ryback goes in 2013...
#11 - John Cena
This may be a death sentence of a statement, but I like John Cena. I've admitted on several occasions that I cheered for him against the Rock at WrestleMania; I was genuinely disappointed with his loss in that match. I may dispute the long-term decision to give him a win over Brock Lesnar, but I was also there live, and I jumped to my feet just like every other fully grown adult male in that arena when he came back and hit the Attitude Adjustment. I'm a John Cena fan; always have been, and probably always will be.
But here's the facts: he got dumped by AJ Lee and lost a ladder match to Dolph Ziggler, most recently. He lost the most important encounter of his life, on the biggest stage of the year, on the highest selling pay-per-view in history, to the Rock. He wasn't the WWE Champion a single day of 2012, and regardless of his position on each event, the ratings still took a giant hit for a good chunk of the year. Most of his promos with anybody other than CM Punk and the Rock were recycled, tired and at this point...frustrating. In fact, telling CM Punk that he needed to "define his existence" by beating him yet again was total and complete garbage. Even in a fake world, of fake wrestling and fake words, that simply wasn't true.
Bottom line: Cena was good this year. He wrestled some good matches, and in my opinion cut better promos than the Rock in their feud. He remains under-rated by the internet community, but that doesn't mean he deserved to be in the Top 10.