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#5 - Austin Aries
There were three TNA World Champions in 2012, and we've already talked about Jeff Hardy. Austin Aries won his title by knocking off the longest reigning World Champ in TNA history (who we'll get to in a bit), after essentially "cashing in" the longest X-Division Championship reign in TNA history. The kid's got numbers... You can debate whether or not Aries should have remained in the X-Division until the cows come home, but the fact remains that he was one of the most entertaining professional wrestlers of the year. His feud with Jeff Hardy has helped to cement both of them in TNA's crowded main event picture, and their aforementioned ladder match was brilliant.
People talk about Austin Aries as "TNA's CM Punk". There are definitely similarities: they both paid dues in Ring of Honor, have overcome their size to win World titles, and currently exist at the top of their respective companies. They also both trip over words when they get too heated in promos; Hulk Hogan does it too, and he's the biggest draw of all time. But Aries and Punk aren't the same, and its their unique qualities that make them both entertaining to watch. Aries is one of my favorite heels, simply because he's a great wrestler and finds crafty ways to upset his opponents. Moving the title as Jeff Hardy reached atop a ladder to grab his belt was priceless, and just a sample of the type of character Aries plays on a full-time basis. It took some time, but Austin Aries has finally arrived in TNA Wrestling.
#4 - Sheamus
The Celtic Warrior gets way too much heat from internet fans for being "generic" and "boring". Hilariously enough, it's generally from the same people that hate on John Cena for exactly the same reason. The irony? The one thing Cena-haters complain about most - his "inability" to wrestle - Sheamus has in spades.
Big Show and Sheamus shocked the world with a fantastic World Title match at Hell in a Cell. After a 2012 Royal Rumble win, he helped put Daniel Bryan on the map with an 18-second title match at WrestleMania. Their Extreme Rules 2-out-of-3 Falls match is still, in my opinion, the best match of the year. People hate on his summer feud with Alberto del Rio - are there two more under-rated guys in WWE? - but it yielded several quality contests.
I don't really pay mind to what the vast majority of internet fans say about Sheamus; he's one of the best wrestlers in WWE, and gets "John-Cena-like" reactions from the WWE Universe. He was a damn good World Heavyweight Champion, and he's earned every bit of his spot on this list. Welcome to the club, fella!
#3 - Daniel Bryan
CM Punk may claim to be the "best in the world", but if actually pressed to decide on the true "best pure wrestler" in WWE, I'd have to give it to Daniel Bryan.
Before Team Hell No even made its way onto the scene in mid-2012, Daniel Bryan had already wrestled Sheamus in the year-stealing 2-out-of-3 Falls match at Extreme Rules. He had already successfully defended the World Title in one of the best Elimination Chamber matches ever. And, perhaps most entertaining, he had involved himself in the drama between CM Punk and his would-be partner, Kane. If you were to put together a Top 10 list of WWE's best matches, I'd put money that Daniel Bryan is in at least half of them. Most recently, he and Kane teamed up with the Ryback to face The Shield in a TLC match people are still talking about.
Daniel Bryan is one of the best wrestlers on the planet; we already knew this. What evolved more than anything in 2012, other than his already legendary in-ring ability, is his out-of-ring entertainment factor. Who knew that anger management classes and "hugging it out" with Kane would become some of the more hilarious moments of the year? I remember sitting down to eat lunch in the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Illinois earlier this year, surrounded by tens of thousands of my closest friends. It was Anime Central, just two days before Extreme Rules; an event that had absolutely NOTHING to do with professional wrestling. All the sudden, what sounded like 5,000 people broke out in a resounding "YES!" chant. These chants continued the entire weekend in hotel lobbies, convention centers, and even into the streets. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen as a wrestling fan of 14+ years.
YES!, NO!, "Goatface" or the best wrestler in the world... No matter what you call him, Daniel Bryan has "made it" in professional wrestling.
#2 - Bobby Roode
Or, as Borash introduces him, Bobby....Roooooooooooooooooo!
Bobby Roode broke out of Beer Money and transformed - as if out of nowhere - into who I consider the greatest TNA World Heavyweight Champion in the company's ten year history. When you look at Roode, you see a guy who just looks every bit the role of World Champion. I think back to the days of Triple H as head of Evolution. The suits, the cocky attitude and the bravado that said "I'm better than you, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Roode is a classic heel. He doesn't play the role of a bad guy while simultaneously getting a pop from his tweener-loving fans. He's bad right down to the core, and like the villains of old he isn't trying to get love from anyone. I'd use the word "vintage" if every wrestling fan on the planet didn't think Michael Cole when they heard it. Never once during his reign did I have to think about who held the belt; he dominated every moment of screen time he was given, whether it was through great in-ring ability, or his promos as the "leader of the selfish generation".
Outside of holding and retaining the World Heavyweight Championship, Roode also wrestled a blood bath with James Storm at Bound for Glory, which is easily in contention for match of the year. He's the all-around perfect star that TNA needs - not should, needs - to build their program around for the foreseeable future. For several months Impact Wrestling was "must see" television in 2012, putting me permanently on their bandwagon. I will say with 100% confidence that the biggest reason my eyes were glued to Spike TV every Thursday night was, and remains to be, Bobby Rooooooo....