Ringside Remembrances — Year-End Awards and Wrap Up, 2012
Jay Shannon draws upon five decades as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of professional wrestling.
“Honor lies in honest toil” — Grover Cleveland
The clock is quickly winding down on 2012. It has been a roller coaster year, to be sure. I always like to throw out my own choices for Best/Worst of… around this time of the year. The categories do change, from year to year, but it’s my own special take on the fun and excitement within something that has been a part of my life for close to 45 years now. This year, I also added a list of those who have passed away. So, on to my awards and recap…
Male Wrestler of the Year: C.M. Punk
Love him or hate him, Punk is the only champion in any major organization to hold his championship for over a year. He is fantastic on the microphone and his actions, in the ring, are beyond equal. After his knee injury heals, Punk is slated to face The Rock for the WWE title at Royal Rumble. I would not be completely surprised to see Punk win this category, next year, and for many years to come. He is a complete and total package. Unless politics get involved, Punk is a lock as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Female Wrestler of the Year: Tara
Tara climbed back to the top of the mountain in the Knockout Division (TNA), this year. She had a good feud with Miss Tessmacher. She has helped to launch the career of Jesse (her boy-toy). She reminds me, quite a bit, of the late, great Sherri Martel. She has pending feuds with Mickie James, Velvet Sky, ODB and others as the new year dawns. Most women wrestlers, these days, are over-the-hill by the age of 30. Tara is a decade beyond that and is still a great mix of beauty and wrestling talent. She is a measuring stick that all aspiring wrestlers, both male and female, should look to for inspiration.
Tag Team of the Year: Christopher Daniels and Kazarian
They held the TNA Tag Team belts for a large part of the year. They were also involved with one of the biggest storylines in TNA. It was Daniels and Kaz that came up with the entire A.J. Styles “romance” angle. WWE directly lifted the hidden cameras and stolen voice mails to create the A.J. Lee/John Cena story. Many fans have written me and said they feel that Daniels and Kazarian should be given credit for injecting new life back into the world of tag team wrestling. I have to agree with that thought.
Best Storyline: C.M. Punk’s year-plus title reign
In recent years, titles change hands faster than most people change their socks. The concept behind the rapid changes has to do with the emergence of Short Attention Span DIsorder in so many people. I think that’s a bunch of baloney. I grew up in a time where title reigns were more fun when they lasted for an extended period. When Hulk Hogan finally dropped the belt to Andre the Giant, it was shocking. Hogan seemed indestructible, but he finally fell. It was the same when Bob Backlund was beaten by The Iron Sheik. C.M. Punk has brought back that anticipation of failure that fans used to love. Will he make it past The Rock? Will John Cena come back to take the belt? Will he move up the ladder to replace another long-term title holder? Punk’s reign actually got me motivated to go to various research locations to find out just who was next on his “hit list” of champions to surpass. As I find it, he’s at number 5 as far as longest reigns behind: Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Pedro Morales and Hulk Hogan. Punk has some time to go before he challegnes the reigns of those ultimate four, but who thought he would pass “Superstar” Billy Graham, The Rock, John Cena or Randy Savage?
Worst Storyline: Team Hell No
I have always disliked “thrown together” teams. Austin and Michaels, Hogan and Edge, and Rock and Foley are just three examples. I prefer teams like The Road Warriors, Rock and Roll Express, The Usos, Generation Me and others that naturally came together. Daniel Bryan and Kane took a serious backwards step to become the tag champs. Kane is nearing the end of his career and will surely end up in the Hall of Fame. Daniel should be in the middle of the hunt for the World or WWE titles. I understand that they are helping to rebuild the tag division but they are being somewhat wasted. Not to mention the fact that their not getting along schtick became boring within a matter of days. I’d rather see either the Usos or Prime Time Players take the gold. Then, Kane and Daniel Bryan can get back to their singles careers.
Best Gimmick: Antonio Cesaro’s Five Languages
I have always loved hearing other languages. When I went to Poland, back in the Fall, I spent a couple of hours just walking around the airport, in Warsaw, listening to all the different languages. Having Antonio coming out and telling everyone five different ways to say “Loser”, “Victory”, “Intelligence” and other assorted words just fascinates me to no end. The gimmick also helps further him as a very intelligent wrestler. The arrogance comes naturally as he brags about his superiority. A good character only works if it has a serious base in reality.
Worst Gimmick: Natalya’s flatulence
Nattie Neidhart has never been properly used in the WWE. She got stuck with her cousin and boyfriend for the Hart Dynasty group. When that unit fell apart, Natalya got lost in the shuffle of the Divas division. So when Creative came to Natalya and said they had a good idea for her, she had to be ready to jump at it. So, they gave her a massive case of gas. Seriously? They took a third-generation star and turned her into the biggest joke since Eugene. Thank the stars they dropped the dumb storyline and let her get romantically linked to Great Khali. It’s not perfect but it beats Tummy Rumbling.
Inspirational Wrestler of the Year: Jerry “The King” Lawler
When Lawler suddenly went silent on Monday Night Raw, the fans didn’t immediately know what had happened. Within a few minutes, the internet exploded with talk of Lawler’s heart attack. My e-mail was packed with notes asking how Lawler was doing. I was on the phone with Bill Apter and Jimmy Hart, daily, to find out how Lawler was doing. Lawler, himself, talked about all the e-mails, texts and phone calls that he had received. Getting daily updates to let us know that The King was going to make it brightened up so many lives. Seeing Lawler make his dramatic return and sharing his love with his adoring fans would make a statue cry. Being a former heart patient, I have a bit of a clue what he went through. To see him rebound to sit at that desk was the best thing that Raw broadcast all year.
Match of the Year: Triple H vs Undertaker, Hell in a Cell, Wrestlemania
This was not an easy choice. There were so many great matches, this year. Having Triple H, Undertaker and Shawn MIchaels all involved took the match to another level. Seeing Undertaker reach 20-0 was amazing. The bruises on Undertaker’s back were tough to look at. While the two didn’t end up on top of the cage, they really didn’t need to. The brutality inside the cage was off the charts. The near falls and swerves kept everyone on the edge of their seats. I still have this year’s Wrestlemania on my DVR. I have watched the HHH vs Taker match over a dozen times since it first happened. Every time I see it, it still takes my breath away. That final scene of the trio walking out of the arena, together, got the reaction it deserved…a standing ovation.
Heartbreak of the Year: The Death of PWD
I worked with this wonderful group of people for more than two years. I got to ring announce, work on a television show and meet some of the best people in this business (Pat Tanaka, Abyss, Winter, Greg Valentine, Sean “Val Venis” Morley, Generation Me, etc…). I learned to put together and break down a ring, do an internet show…on the fly…, and book shows. I even got my backside kicked (literally) a couple of times. I found myself trapped in a Boston Crab as another wrestler stomped me in the head and neck. So much fun. I have made friends that will last a lifetime. Rick, Marvin, Don, Scooter, Charlie, Tony, Dustin, Doyle, Monica, Ryan, and a few others will always be family. Sadly, the economy was just too big an opponent to defeat and Pro Wrestling Destination closed its doors during the summer of 2012. While I may move forward and have success with Rivalry Championship Wrestling, PWD will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first venture inside the ropes and behind the announce microphone for a good wrestling company with great people. RIP (Gone but never forgotten).
Legend of the Year: Jimmy Hart
I remember the first phone call that I made to Jimmy. I rarely get nervous but this was one time that my fingers were on the verge of shaking as I pressed the digits on my cell phone. WIthin seconds of the phone call connecting, Jimmy put my nerves at ease. He talked to me as if we were life-long friends. Sitting at dinner with him, Kevin Sullivan, Bill Apter and a few others, Jimmy was a fountain of great information and ideas. Later that night, I joined Jimmy and Bill for a soda at the hotel bar (none of us were doing alcohol). We talked about southern food and various experiences. The next day, we had a great time at the Rivalry Championship Wrestling press conference. Jimmy was like a cheerleader crossed with a counselor. He kept everyone calm as technical issues with the sound system threatened the press conference. He bubbled as he made a point to say hello to everyone in sight. He even signed my copy of Monster Brawl, a recent movie he did. I still owe him a viewing. Maybe in the near future. Hart is one of the most professional people that I’ve ever met in this business and I am honored to add him to my short list of real friends. Anyone who brings Hart on board can expect an A+ performance from a fantastic man.
Rookie of the Year: Taeler Hendrix
Women’s wrestling has really suffered, this year. Beth Phoenix, Kharma/Awesome Kong, and others have stepped out of the picture. What’s left, for the most part, are substandard Barbies that can barely wrestle out of their pantyhose. Enter Taeler Hendrix. The lovely young lady worked up through the developmental system to get to Gut Check. With a touching story and above average talent, Taeler won herself a contract with TNA. She then returned to OVW to further her training. She has already made a major impact there (pun unintentional) and is poised to explode on the Impact Zone. She reminds me of classic wrestlers like Joyce Grable, Madusa, Akira Hokuto, etc… She has a bright future ahead of her.
Best Entrance: Alberto Del Rio and his rides
While I can’t drive (lousy vision), I can appreciate a good car or truck. Del Rio arrives, most weeks, in new six-figure automobiles. As soon as Del Rio’s music hits, two of my three grandsons come rushing in to my office to see what ride Del Rio is using. The third grandson, Dave, has bad vision, like me, and doesn’t care about cars. Eric and Tim, on the other hand, just drool as Mercedeses, Astin Martins, etc… roll out. If they could just get rid of Ricardo Rodriguez, his entrance would be perfect…
Worst Entrance: Vickie Guerrero’s Excuse Me shriek
Prior to Vickie, there were two entrances that seriously grated on my nerves. Both were siren based. Scott Steiner’s WWE entrance and Right to Censor’s arrival made me hit mute on my television at warp speed. Vickie’s screeching “Excuse Me!” tops them both. I enjoy watching Vickie. She can work a crowd as good, if not better, than anyone in the business. Heck, the whole “Excuse Me” thing came about because crowds were so loud in their booing of her. Vickie’s bellowing is definitely unique. I just wish they would give her some catchy music and get rid of the whole “Excuse Me!” thing. But it is her catchphrase, so not likely to happen.
Transformance of the Year: Skip Sheffield into Ryback
Skip Sheffield was a decent wrestler that was seriously getting lost in the mid-card Hell of WWE. He disappeared for a short while and what returned was the biggest thing since Goldberg. “Big Hungry” has torn through the competition like a buzzsaw. He’s won singles match, handicap matches (with up to three opponents), and tag matches. He entered the title hunt at a rate that hasn’t happened in a long time. He might well have won the WWE title belt, were it not for the devious actions of Brad Maddox and The Shield. He’s still set to go after C.M. Punk, once Punk recovers from his knee surgery. Skip Sheffield would have been lucky to get a shot at Antonio Cesaro’s US title. Ryback is looking to be seriously involved with the WWE title picture and may well end up at Wrestlemania in a high-profile spot. If Ryback ends up in the Royal Rumble, he’d be my pick to win the thing.
Who to watch in 2013: Tamina Snuka
To say women’s wrestling is in trouble would get its own award as Understatement of the Year. As I mentioned above, a lot of women have left the business. Tamina Snuka is someone that could very easily inject some life back into the dying art of female wrestling. She is a great combination of beauty and brutality. Her Superfly Splash rivals her famous father’s. If she avoids the buffoonish personas that so many females have been stuck with, she should have the Divas title within a few months. She might well end up the second-longest women champion in history, behind the legendary Fabulous Moolah.
Those who have left us, in 2012:
MS-1, Savannah Jack, Rick Lancaster, Johnny Diamond, The Dominoes, Sonny Meyers, Woody Farmer, Doug Furnas, Tommy Weathers, Dick Woehrle, Joe McCarthy, Joe Blanchard, Chief Jay Strongbow, Buddy Diaomnd, Del Skinner, Gorgeous George, Jr., Lumberjack #1, Hans Schmidt, Dara Singh, Goldie Rogers, Don Savage, Eddie Lopez, Black Jack Daniels, Rita Cortez, Red Bastien, Don Fields, Stan Pulaski, Bobby Jaggers, Mike Graham, Thuderfoot #2, Chief Thundercloud, Brad Armstong, Doug Hansen, (The Original) Awesome Kong, “Freebird” Buddy (Jack) Roberts, “Hippie” Mike Boyette
I will do a more in-depth profile of those who have died, this year, in a few days. People may or may not agree with my various choices but that’s actually ok. I hate mindless sheep that just accept what is presented to them. I am fortunate that the good ladies and gentlemen that have read my thoughs and rants are intelligent people that agree with some things and disagree with others.