By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Every year, Barbara Walters gives the public her picks for the 10 most fascinating people of the year. She had a few good names on the list this year: General David Petraus, Ben Affleck and Hilary Clinton. But we also had One Direction, the chick who wrote 50 Shades of Grey, and friggin’ Honey Boo Boo. What the hell is that about?
I can give you 10 people off the top of my head who are all more fascinating than most of the names on that list. And they’re pretty easy to find. You can see them every week on Monday Night Raw. We now present WWE’s most fascinating people of 2012!
1. CM Punk
We kick things off with a no brainer. While John Cena is still WWE’s poster boy, for the better part of 2012 the star of Monday Night Raw has been CM Punk. Turning him heel turned out to be the best decision they could have made. From a creative standpoint, he’s been the lifeblood of every broadcast he’s appeared on. His promos are consistently stellar, his in-ring skills speak for themselves, and his infamous temper always has us waiting for the next “pipe bomb.” What’s more, by keeping the WWE Championship on him for over a year, the title now means something again. As so many challengers have tried and failed to take it, it’s now the prized possession it should be, as opposed to a prop that the wrestlers hand back and forth to one another. When he cut his unforgettable promo in Las Vegas in June of last year, Punk was looking for change in the WWE. One way or another, he’s found it.
2. Paul Heyman
Several months ago, you’d have thought Brock Lesnar would be a shoe-in for this list. But Lesnar’s dates are so limited that it’s been hard not to be disappointed by his comeback, at least on some level. How ironic that the man chosen to represent Lesnar on the mic, Paul Heyman, would turn out to be the more interesting of the two. Heyman’s return to the wrestling industry overjoyed many a longtime fan, as he continues to be one of the best talkers and the most creative minds the business has ever seen. He has a love for the industry that Brock Lesnar is obviously lacking, and as such his partnership with CM Punk is by far the more enjoyable of the two. Heyman obviously doesn’t have to carry Punk on the mic, so it’s been interesting to see just how well he maintains that supporting role without overstepping his bounds. Heyman and Punk are fun to watch together, because it’s obvious they’re enjoying their jobs.
3. Titus O’Neil
I’ve become a huge fan of the Prime Time Players, and much of that is because of what Titus O’Neil brings to the table. No disrespect to Darren Young, but O’Neil has a very natural charisma which commands the spotlight every time he and Young get a chance to talk. At no point has this been more obvious than when the Players joined Cole and King for commentary several weeks ago. He was so funny that Cole and Lawler were cracking up, and it actually started to draw attention away from the match. Obviously that’s not what you want per se, but it left me wanting more. Titus didn’t crack under pressure, he rolled with whatever the announcers threw at him, and he made it entertaining. It made me want to see the Prime Time Players again, so that we could hear Titus O’Neil again. I wouldn’t say Titus is ready for a singles run quite yet, but there’s definitely something there with him. And it’s something worth watching in 2013.
You wouldn’t think it’d be so easy for a guy like Kane to fade into the background, but it is. At various points in his career, Kane’s job has been that of a placeholder, using his name recognition to make him relevant as a third-string babyface or heel, depending on where he was needed at the time. Kane is one of the few wrestlers I’ve ever seen transition from bad to good, and vice versa, for no apparent reason. I imagine his character sometimes makes it difficult to come up with things for him that aren’t too corny or over the top. Heck, half the stuff they do with him is already corny and over the top. But this year, WWE used a tool they rarely use with Kane: Humor. In doing so, Kane has once again become a vital part of WWE programming. He’s not just a nostalgia act they bring out in the middle of the card. As part of Team Hell No (still a stupid name) with Daniel Bryan, Kane has played a vital role in reinvigorating the tag team division, and giving us some of the most genuinely funny stuff we’ve seen on Raw in years. As a fan, it was gratifying to watch this veteran’s career reignite, no pun intended. And speaking of Team Hell No…
5. Daniel Bryan
This was the year that indy superstar Bryan Danielson officially became a sports entertainer. And what’s more? He’s a great one. Who’da thunk it? Bryan’s rise to the top of WWE likely wasn’t the one his fans from Ring of Honor were hoping for. But let’s look at the facts, shall we? The night after Wrestlemania, fans were chanting for Bryan. In 2012, Byran headlined several pay per views with CM Punk, wrestling for the WWE Championship. And now he’s evolved into one of the most entertaining performers the company has. Any doubt as to whether Bryan could be a success in WWE was erased this year, as he fully adapted to wrestling’s biggest stage, and took advantage of every opportunity. With any luck, we’re not even halfway through Bryan’s WWE run. Yes! Yes! Yes!
6. AJ Lee
Last year at this time, WWE fans were just starting to get to know AJ. We knew her face, but she hadn’t really had an chance to shine as a performer yet. Fast forward a year, and everybody knows who she is. What’s more, this little 100 lb Puerto Rican girl is on the fast track to becoming WWE’s next marquee female talent. She’s not quite there yet, but she’s close. While the material she’s given is sometimes corny (remember when she proposed to CM Punk?), her delivery is always interesting to watch. Her character seems vulnerable, but there’s a madness lurking underneath the surface that she’s playing with very well. The right people are obviously noticing her, as she’s been in stories with names like CM Punk, John Cena, Kane and Daniel Bryan all year. Life is good for AJ right now. And she’s not exactly becoming less relevant, is she?
7. Chris Jericho
At this stage in his career, and with as many outside interests as he has, Chris Jericho is wise to come and go as he does. Fans are always excited to see him after he’s been gone for awhile, and what he brings to the table really can’t be duplicated. His “trolling” on WWE fans, i.e. not speaking, during the first few weeks of his comeback was interesting. But things didn’t really kick into high gear until he started his program with CM Punk, cutting a series of intense promos on Punk’s family life. To a extent, that angle was ill timed, as it had so much to compete with between the Rock/Cena story, and what The Undertaker and Triple H were doing. But the quality of Jericho’s work can’t be denied either way. What’s great about him is that he’s not content to do the same thing year after year. He’s constantly reinventing himself, and expanding his creative scope. This begs the question: What kind of Chris Jericho will we see next?
8. Heath Slater
Slater’s inclusion here might be a surprise to some, especially when you consider how much time he spent looking up at the lights in 2012. But in terms of establishing a character for himself, and letting WWE fans get to know him a little bit better, Slater had a great year. He had a weekly spotlight placed on him when he worked with the various legends leading up to Raw 1000. That spotlight grew a bit brighter when he formed 3MB with Drew McIntyre and Jinder Mahal. The downside there is that, even with these three hour Raw broadcasts, the group has lately been relegated to the third string shows. But seeing Slater expand his annoying, southern rocker character has been entertaining. How 3MB will fare now that another three-man faction, the Shield, has entered the picture, remains to be seen. But Slater is doing a nice job running with the ball in the meantime.
9. Dolph Ziggler
At this point, is there doubt in anyone’s mind that Ziggler is ready? In truth, he’s probably been ready for about a year now. But patience proved to be a wise choice on WWE’s part. We’ve seen what happens when they pull the trigger on someone too early. WWE has done well continuing to put Ziggler in high profile situations that usually don’t involve either of the Heavyweight Titles. He’s been consistently awesome in matches with John Cena, Sheamus, Chris Jericho, and others. He could cash that Money in the Bank briefcase in anytime now, but we still needn’t be in a hurry. Considering everything that’s about to happen between now and Wrestlemania, it might even be best to hold off on making Ziggler a Heavyweight Champion until the spring. He’s still got plenty of time…
Well what do you know? It actually worked. Fans are chanting “Feed Me More!” Ryback is getting pops that are up there with the likes of Sheamus or Randy Orton. We still have to get past some of the “Goldberg” chants, but for my money, Ryback may be on his way to doing something many might have thought impossible: Taking John Cena’s spot. Is it going to happen tomorrow? No. But Cena can’t carry the company on his shoulders forever. Eventually, someone is going to have to step up and take the torch from him. For years, Randy Orton seemed to be the likely torchbearer, but his two wellness policy strikes have landed him the doghouse. Sheamus isn’t quite there, though he’s still chugging away. Punk was a hit with the older fans, but he makes a much better villain than a hero. But Ryback, with his Herculean physique and his giant feats of strength, may have a shot. WWE has struggled these past few months, however, as Ryback has had to lose on three consecutive pay per views. With any luck, Ryback can start racking up some major victories, and continue to take steps closer to becoming WWE’s new franchise player.
Images courtesy of WWE.com.
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