The Goodies ranks the great and the good in the world of professional wrestling for the year 2011 in a series of hotly-contested awards categories, including Superstar of the Year, Match of the Year and Feud of the Year.
Whilst not an all-out classic year in the WWE; 2011 certainly had its fair share of memorable moments. From Rock’s return to RAW and subsequently the ring, to CM Punk’s ‘pipebombs’ and Zack Ryder’s ascension from afterthought to US Champion thanks to his weekly internet show, there’s a strong chance that we will look back at 2011 in years to come as a year in which the wrestling business changed the way it did business, with a stronger focus on interacting with the fan through online means.
Superstar of the Year – CM Punk
1. CM Punk 2. Mark Henry 3. Randy Orton
The WWE do not make a t-shirt proclaiming you to be the ‘Best in the World’ unless you can back it up and CM Punk can back that statement up in abundance. It has been a tremendous year for the reigning WWE Champion, starting with his takeover of Nexus, a move that rejuvenated the flagging faction. Punk was one of the standout performers in the 40-man Royal Rumble and impressed at WrestleMania opposite Randy Orton and Capitol Punishment against Rey Mysterio.
However, it was the lead-up to the Money in the Bank PPV in his hometown of Chicago that turned Punk from a reliable hand in the upper midcard to bonafide main eventer. A promo that launched a scathing attack on the company launched him into the stratosphere and he hasn’t looked back.
A five-star match with Cena at MITB landed him another WWE Title on his ‘last night in the company’ and it was a shame that Punk’s popularity meant WWE were reluctant to keep him off TV, otherwise the kidnapping of the WWE Title storyline could have been one of the most memorable in history.
Victory over Cena at SummerSlam saw Punk transition into the HHH-Nash storyline, whilst also facing off against Alberto Del Rio in a more traditional face-heel collision. Punk’s Survivor Series victory over the latter was his ‘MSG moment’ and firmly put him back at the WWE’s summit. The higher-ups will be hoping that Punk v John Laurinaitis will become the 21st Century version of Steve Austin-Vince McMahon.
Best Wrestler – CM Punk
1. CM Punk 2. Dolph Ziggler 3. Randy Orton
It truly has been CM Punk’s year in and out of the ring, especially in it – garnering the WWE’s first five-star match rating from the vaunted Wrestling Observer in 14 years.
Week-in-week-out, Punk regularly steals the show from an in-ring perspective and outside of his matches with John Cena, the Straight Edge Superstar has had classics with Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Alberto Del Rio, HHH and Dolph Ziggler. With a fresh batch of challengers for the WWE title on the horizon in 2012, his body of work looks set to expand.
Of course it is the series of encounters with Cena that will really stand the test of time. Punk has chemistry with Cena that is unmatched since the WWE’s poster boy feuded with Edge over the WWE Title in 2006.
Best Match – CM Punk v John Cena (WWE Championship; Money in the Bank)
1. CM Punk v John Cena (WWE Championship; Money in the Bank) 2. Undertaker v HHH (Wrestlemania 27) 3. Daniel Bryan v Kane v Cody Rhodes v Sheamus v Wade Barrett v Justin Gabriel v Heath Slater v Sin Cara (Smackdown Money in the Bank Ladder match; Money in the Bank)
There was only one match that had the true unpredictability, drama and anticipation to make an all-time classic in 2011 and that was this WWE Title encounter from the Money in the Bank PPV in July. There was nothing flashy needed, the story wrote itself. Punk had been on a winning streak and was number one contender to the title but his contract was due to expire just an hour after the event finished. Punk wanted to do the unthinkable and take the title held by countless legends away from the company. And just to add some extra spice to the equation, the event took place in Punk’s hometown of Chicago.
Both wrestlers reached deep into their movesets and had the crowd captivated with a series of near-falls. Throw in a Vince McMahon/John Laurinatis run-in, a nod to the Montreal screwjob and a teased Money in the Bank cash in from Alberto Del Rio and this match had everything – the pop when Punk gets the three is spine-tingling, testament to the fact that there wasn’t an inkling from any quarter about who would go over on the night.
Best Show – WWE Money in the Bank
1. WWE Money in the Bank 2. WWE SummerSlam 2011 3. WWE Survivor Series 2011
This year’s Money in the Bank PPV benefited in no small part from a white-hot crowd and a superb main event but it also had so much more to offer. The SmackDown Money in the Bank match ranks up there with the best the genre has to offer and its RAW counterpart was none-too-shabby either.
Add to this the tremendous booking of Mark Henry as a ruthless monster and the continuation of the Christian/Randy Orton feud, complete with a Christian title win and you have a tremendous wrestling event.
Best Face – Randy Orton
1. Randy Orton 2. Zack Ryder 3. CM Punk
After taking some time to find his niche as a top face, Randy Orton is now the most popular wrestler in WWE by a considerable distance. The Viper has perfected his cold, calculating persona into one that fans can get behind with a no-nonsense attitude, over finishing manoeuvre and theme song that has the crowd on its feet before he has even come through the curtain.
His work opposite Christian in their summer-long feud was top notch and he did an excellent job of making Mark Henry look like an absolute monster in winning the World Title at Night of Champions. Orton ended the year opposite Wade Barrett, helping the Englishman become a credible threat again.
Best Heel – The Miz
1. The Miz 2. Mark Henry 3. Alberto Del Rio
After being 2010’s break out star, The Miz now gets under people’s skins for the right reason. Starting the year as WWE Champion, Miz made life Miz-erable for John Cena all the way through WrestleMania and beyond, capitalising on the return of the Rock in a brilliant segment where he dressed up as the Great One.
A turn on sidekick Alex Riley turned A-Ri into one of the top faces on RAW for a brief period before Miz hooked up with another disgruntled heel in the shape of R-Truth. The duo, dubbed Awesome Truth, made life hell for new WWE COO Triple H, gaining a victory over the Cerebral Assassin and his partner CM Punk at Vengeance.
Awesome Truth then faced off against Rock and Cena at Survivor Series before Miz turned on his partner the night after. A feud with R-Truth looks set to run between now and WrestleMania XXVII but after that the former reality TV star should find himself back in the title hunt once more.
Breakout Star – Zack Ryder
1. Zack Ryder 2. Mark Henry 3. Cody Rhodes
Reigning US Champion Zack Ryder is a self-made man. Less than a year ago he was being overlooked for positions on WWE Superstars, never made the top shows. His Jersey Shore-inspired character had shown promise in the latter days of the ECW brand but had become a footnote in WWE history and you would not have been surprised to see the future endeavoured notice on wwe.com for Ryder.
Cue Z: True Long Island Stories, a YouTube series that catapulted the former Edgehead from internet sensation to US Champion by the end of 2011.
Although watered down when the series became WWE-endorsed, its original run with segments such as ‘This is Zack Ryder, this is the WWE’ and ‘The Ultimate Broski’, Z: TLIS was a must-watch part of wrestling programming each week.
It’s served plenty of benefits as well. The Ryder-Ziggler feud was built better on these shows than actual WWE programming and characters such as Zack’s Dad, the Big O and Mike Chiappetta are now getting reactions from the WWE Universe.
Best Comeback – The Rock
1. The Rock 2. Kevin Nash 3. Booker T
The Rock’s comeback to WWE in 2011 was the undoubted highlight of the year. There have been countless memorable moments on RAW in its 19-year span and Rock being revealed as the WrestleMania guest host ranks amongst the top ones.
The former WWE Champion showed he’d lost none of his sparkle either with a scathing promo on John Cena and the Miz. The announcement that Rock would face Cena in the main event of WrestleMania 28, the night after WrestleMania 27, sent the WWE Universe into euphoria and Rock’s appearances throughout the year have furthered that feud, which has simmered in the background nicely.
Then came the moment that so many fans had been waiting for, when the Great One returned to the ring in Madison Square Garden, scene of some of his greatest triumphs, as Cena’s surprise tag team partner against Awesome Truth at the Survivor Series.
Most Charismatic – The Rock
1. The Rock 2. CM Punk 3. Zack Ryder
From the moment the lights dimmed as Rock made his return to RAW with a scintillating promo and you soon realised how much the current crop of stars pale in comparison to the Great One.
Rock didn’t even need to be in the same timezone as the show, often holding the crowd in the palm of his hand via satellite. Not even the constraints of the PG era could harm the Rock as he took his skills to the latest craze of social networking with such new trending quips as ‘Fruity Pebbles’ and ‘Ladies Parts’, both directed at Cena.
Rock’s awesome promo before his comeback match at MSG showed that the early-2012 build to his WrestleMania 28 showdown with Cena should be absolute gold.
Diva of the Year – Beth Phoenix
1. Beth Phoenix 2. Kelly Kelly 3. Eve Torres
It has been another successful year for the Glamazon and she ended it deservedly as the Divas Champion, turning back the challenge of all-comers. After Kharma’s WWE career was halted early, Beth really stepped up to the plate alongside Pin-up Strong partner Natalya.
Phoenix continues to be the best woman wrestler in the WWE and her top-rope Glam Slam on Eve Torres at the Survivor Series was yet another replay moment on her WWE CV.
If the bookers are smart then they’ll build to the inevitable Beth-Natalya showdown ready for WrestleMania, before throwing Kharma back into the mix. Unfortunately with Natalya’s recent treatment, that hope looks a distant dream.
Feud of the Year – CM Punk v John Cena
1. CM Punk v John Cena 2. Randy Orton v Christian 3. Mark Henry v Big Show
The CM Punk-John Cena feud produced the best matches and drama of 2011. With all the talk surrounding the Money in the Bank match and its aftermath, it’s easy to forget that Punk and Cena started the year in a feud with the former ROH star as the leader of the New Nexus, a streamlined version of the 2010 upstarts who were beginning to gain some momentum after seeing Cena sweep through them in nonchalant fashion.
Punk got the better of that feud before Cena moved on to different things with a title shot against the Miz and the constant barracking of the Rock to contend with.
That wasn’t the last we heard of Punk though and after earning the number one contender slot to the WWE Title and revealing he intended to walk out of the company with the belt when his contract expired, directly after the big match with Cena at Money in the Bank, which just happened to be in Punk’s hometown of Chicago.
As previously stated, the match was a five-star classic and when Punk was coaxed back, they produced another great match at SummerSlam, where the current WWE Champion again came out on top (although he lost his belt through Alberto Del Rio’s Money in the Bank cash-in directly after a Kevin Nash run-in).
You wouldn’t bet against the two crossing horns in the future either, although on opposite sides of the face-heel divide.