Thursday, January 17, 2013

Top Ten Cases: WWE 2012 Year-End Awards - Breakout Star of the Year

My Pick:  AJ Lee
Despite being a huge AJ Lee fan, I struggled with the decision of who should get this award.  While I did settle on my gut feeling – AJ Lee – strong arguments could be made for Ryback, Antonio Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, and even the Shield.  And, truth be told, the expectations and upside for male Superstars vary greatly from your female Divas.  I mean, it’s difficult to measure AJ’s near year-long placement at the top of the card with Ryback, for example, who spent only a couple months at top – however, they were in highly featured PPV matches for the WWE Championship.  But as 2012 came to a close and you look back at the past 12 months, has any new face been as much of a fixture as AJ Lee? 

When the year began, she was a mere plot device in a relatively underwhelming storyline between Daniel Bryan and the Big Show.  It seemed like she was simply a foil to help progress Bryan’s heel turn.  What ended up happening, however, was the biggest Divas push we’ve seen since the glory days of Trish Stratus and Lita – a level most of us thought would never happen again, in this era of rotating Divas sporadically wrestling in two minute matches.  Her role in Daniel Bryan’s rise to the top is immeasurable, leaving fans angered and confused when they were abruptly broken up following WrestleMania.  However, since then, AJ has taken one story after another and helped make it into a main event storyline.  Her breakup with Daniel Bryan segued into a love triangle with CM Punk (and later square with Kane).  Everybody initially assumed that it would lead to AJ turning on Punk to reunite with Bryan, but instead we got a multi-month WWE Championship feud that focused primarily on each competitor’s relationship with AJ.  That moved onto AJ getting “promoted” to the position of General Manager of Raw (which meant that while she arguably appeared in less segments, the overall presence of her character expanded greatly).  And finally, that progressed to a legitimate main event feud alongside – and then against – the face of the company John Cena.  And there’s no sign of this ship slowing down.

Aside from John Cena and CM Punk, has ANYBODY sustained a longer and more consistent run at the top of the card than AJ Lee?

What You Said – Daniel Bryan
This is our first (but not last) disagreement.  While Daniel Bryan had an awesome year, my issue with giving him this award is that (a) his ascension really happened at the end of 2011, and (b) he was actually higher up on the card a year ago than he is today.  While that second point can be disputed, the fact of the matter is that by the end of 2011, Daniel Bryan was the World Champion who was winning almost all of his matches by nefarious or cheap means.  Now he’s one half of the tag team champions (or THE tag team champions, depending on who you ask) and the one who almost always eats the pin when the team loses.  And while it’s not really focused upon, he does lose nearly every single one of his singles matches.

Having said that, you simply cannot dispute the awesome year that Daniel Bryan had.  This is a guy who made lemonade out of lemons – a guy who VERY EASILY could have taken the same path as Zack Ryder, but forced the company to take notice.  When he dropped the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus at WrestleMania (in an 18 second opening match), it seemed like his tenure in the main event had come to an end, made evident by the fact that they immediately announced that Alberto Del Rio had been named the next challenger to the World Heavyweight Championship.  However, the “YES!” phenomenon forced the company to rethink their plans.  He earned a rematch at Extreme Rules, and was quickly inserted into a multi-month feud for the WWE Championship (a promotion, most would argue).  He’s now a fixture on Raw and Smackdown and pretty much guaranteed a spot on any PPV.  He’s easily become one of the most over and entertaining people on the entire roster.

However, because of the fact that I don’t personally think he’s in a much better position than he was at the end of 2011, I can’t consider him a “breakout” star.

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