To close out the year I thought I'd take a leaf out of Booker T's... book, I guess, and nominate my favourite five wrestlers of 2011. Or Fave Five, if you will.
I haven't ranked them, so the five are in no particular order. They are also not necessarily my favourite wrestlers in the company either but these are the guys who I think had a great year and as of right now are the wrestlers I look forward to seeing the most when I turn on the show.
1) CM Punk
No surprise to anyone. The reason why I even put him first is because it was too obvious to hold back. Punk turned a lot of heads earlier in the year with his shoot shenanigans and there is a reason why he's the WWE champion right now.
He's always interesting on the mic. You genuinely don't know what he's going to say from one week to the next. In a time when the WWE is struggling to sell their Par Per Views, this guy is getting people excited again.
If I was to level one criticism, it's that he often poorly connects with his moves and thus weakens a match with a limp looking kick to the shoulder. But considering how much he works to get the crowd involved in a match, it somehow evens out by the end.
2) Dolph Ziggler
I got a little bit over excited this past Monday when Dolph won a shot at the WWE title. Not because I think he will win (there is no chance he will) but because it is the culmination of what has been a year of endlessly good performances from him.
After pulling two matches at most PPVs and successfully managing to make everyone on the roster look good by losing a match to someone every second week, Dolph had put more than enough work in to deserve a shot at the main events.
He has been selling every move like one of the best and even makes an Irish Whip look like a killer blow as he throws himself into turnbuckles like nobody I've ever seen. If you haven't noticed how hard this guy works, watch his matches carefully. Nobody gets beat up as convincingly as this guy and nobody consistently hits their moves like him either.
Despite the fact that he has been lumbered with a manager (usually a tactic to help out guys who are bad on the mic) he's one of the most quotable characters on the show, "no offence". And this would almost go by un-noticed if it wasn't for some of the great cameos he's had on Zack Ryder's YouTube show. The Zig-Zag man needs some more mic time in 2012, hopefully this upcoming run against Punk will allow this.
3) Mark Henry
Mark Henry's World Championship title reign was one of the few things the WWE creative team did right this year. They built him up as a violent juggernaut and didn't back down from that. In fact, despite the fact that he's lost the belt now, he's still seen as the toughest guy to beat on the roster thanks to the injury to his ankle which offers the excuse for this temporary loss of momentum.
I'd rather not see him in matches with the likes of the Big Show as two big slow guys beating on eachother isn't as interesting as when there is a miss-match. Which is why I hope we see a full strength Henry take on Daniel Bryan in 2012 as their cage match on Smackdown this year was a highlight.
He's not great on the mic but he has utilised that by turning his character into a man of few words, one of which is PAIN. So it works to not only save embarrassment but also back up his mean attitude.
It's nice to see a guy who has been a journeyman for so much of his career get given a shot and taking it so well.
4) Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan has had a weird year. Was doing very little until he won the Money In The Bank briefcase. Then did very little afterwards. His statement to wait until Wrestlemania to cash the case seemed interesting but was such a long time away it also felt like an instant loss of whatever momentum he might have built up from winning it.
And now the guy is the World Heavyweight Champion. Go figure.
I've always liked Bryan but felt like he was often being ignored by the WWE. His mid-card wallowing was frustrating to see for many reasons. He's funnier than he often gets a chance to show. He's a great wrestler but is usually consigned to short matches. The crowd always seemed to naturally shine to him, even though he was rarely seen. He should have been a big hit but was just never used right.
Now hopefully he'll get that chance to shine going into 2012. He's a great under-dog style of character to watch but with the skills to back up his new found success, we could be in for a great ride.
It's hard not to write this while using one of the 101 R-Truth catchphrases but this year Ron Killings has been a goooooood R-Truth. Constantly cracking me up every week.
For a guy who is supposedly "crazy", he has one of the few story arcs this year that makes sense.
Sure, all his conspiracy stuff is silly but it works. He hasn't had to change his tune for a long time because his character fits in to almost every situation. "Why did he turn on his friend?" dude's crazy. "Why is he attacking that guy?" dude's crazy. You could drop him into any ludicrous situation that the WWE writers come up with and he'll make it plausable by blaming little Jimmy.
Combine his good mic work with some solid in ring performing and I can find very little to complain about. He even made Miz more watchable. Seriously, I just wrote that sentence.
AND COMPETING FOR A PLACE...
This list was tough to make as there were 4 other guys who almost made the cut. But I think they all could have a big year next year so I'd like to name-check them now as guys I like, but need a little something to improve.
Sheamus: By all means, Sheamus has had a good year. The WWE obviously like him as he barely loses a match and the crowd are definitely on his side. Unfortunately though, he hasn't had any consistent feuds this year and I think he needs a real juicy rival, or at least a run at the title to elevate him to the next level. Judging by this past Smackdown he might get that after the Royal Rumble.
Cody Rhodes: This kid has it all. The looks, the skills, the title. The only thing that's holding him back is a similar problem to Sheamus in that he hasn't had a great feud this year. Sure, he has had plenty of matches but so many forgettable ones. Hopefully they'll figure out what to do with him in 2012.
Booker T: The man who inspired this list. I know he's semi-retired but his recent back-and-forth with Cody (a genuine highlight of the last couple months for both Cody and I, as a viewer) showed that he still has what it takes to tell a damn fine story in the ring. I don't know how his body is holding up at his age, but hopefully 2012 will see him wrestle on a more full-time basis. If not? Sure, he's not the greatest announcer of all time but he seems to be genuinely having fun at the desk and makes me laugh. And just think, every time Booker talks is time Michael Cole isn't and I think we can all be grateful of that.
Zack Ryder: Most people might be surprised he didn't make the list but it's for a very valid reason. He just hasn't performed in the ring. He's great fun and a guy I route for but not once have I watched one of his matches and thought "wow". He needs to up his game inside the ropes but now that he's the US Champion he should get plenty of opportunities to do just that.