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"Eck's Factor": Eck's Best of 2011
Instead of doing the usual notes column this week, I decided to make my selections for the best of WWE in 2011 in seven categories.
I welcome your comments and picks at facebook.com/wwe.
SUPERSTAR OF THE YEAR: CM PUNK
Whether he was competing in the ring, cutting a promo or even doing commentary, Punk excelled in 2011. He shook up the WWE in June when he cut a scathing "shoot" promo on Raw in which he made vitriolic remarks about the McMahon family and announced his intention to win the WWE Title on the night his contract expired and leave the company with it. That's exactly what he did, as Punk defeated John Cena for the championship in a fantastic match at Money in the Bank in July in his hometown of Chicago. He returned with a new contract just a week later, however. The angle transformed the villainous Punk into an anti-authority fan favorite. During his brief absence, a new WWE Champion was crowned (Rey Mysterio won a tournament but then lost the title to Cena), but Punk became the undisputed WWE Champion by defeating Cena again at SummerSlam in August. Although he dropped the title moments later to Alberto Del Rio, who cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, Punk went on to regain the championship from Del Rio at Survivor Series in November. At TLC earlier this month, Punk successfully defended the title against Del Rio and The Miz in thrilling Triple Threat TLC Match. In addition to his rivalry with Cena, Punk also feuded with top Superstars Triple H and Randy Orton during 2011, and he remains a thorn in the side of Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and Interim General Manager of Raw John Laurinaitis.
MATCH OF THE YEAR: JOHN CENA VS. CM PUNK (Money in the
Bank, July 17)
To steal a phrase from Michael Cole, the atmosphere in Chicago was electric as Punk and Cena engaged in a compelling back-and-forth match for nearly 35 minutes before a raucous pro-Punk, anti-Cena crowd in Chicago. Punk kicked out of two Attitude Adjustments before finally hitting the GTS for the victory. Punk then took the WWE Championship and exited through the crowd, blowing a goodbye kiss to WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon before leaving.
RIVALRY OF THE YEAR: RANDY ORTON VS. CHRISTIAN
It wasn't one of the most even rivalries in WWE history as far as wins and losses (Orton almost always came out on top), but Orton and Christian proved time and again that they are simply incapable of having a bad match together. The rivalry began after Christian finally achieved his dream of becoming a World Champion by defeating Alberto Del Rio in a Ladder Match for the vacant World Heavyweight Championship at Extreme Rules in May. Edge, Christian's longtime best friend, had been forced to relinquish the championship due to a career-ending injury, which made Christian's break-through victory even more emotional. Christian's story-book journey to the World Heavyweight Championship ended abruptly just days later, however, as he lost the title to Orton on SmackDown. Orton and Christian would go on to face each other on four consecutive pay-per-views, with Christian - who turned heel in June over his inability to immediately regain the title from Orton - beating Orton for the title at Money in the Bank in July, and Orton winning it back in a No Holds Barred Match at SummerSlam the following month. The rivalry climaxed with Orton successfully defending the title against Christian in an outstanding Steel Cage Match on SmackDown at the end of August.
TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR: AIR BOOM
It wasn't a great year for tag teams in the WWE, but when Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne joined forces as Air Boom, the division got a needed shot in the arm. The popular high-flying duo captured the WWE Tag Team Title from David Otunga and Michael McGillicutty in August and remained champions for the rest of the year. They successfully defended the title against The Miz and R-Truth at Night of Champions in September and Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger at both Hell in Cell and Vengeance the following month.
DIVA OF THE YEAR: KELLY KELLY
It was a breakthrough year for Kelly Kelly, who captured her first Divas Championship when she defeated Brie Bella for the title during the "Power to the People" episode of Raw in June. The blonde bombshell went on to successfully defend the championship against Beth Phoenix at SummerSlam in August and Night of Champions in September before dropping the title to Phoenix at Hell in a Cell in October. Earlier in the year, Kelly Kelly aided Edge in his rivalry with Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero. On an episode of SmackDown in February, Kelly Kelly teamed with Edge to defeat Ziggler and Lay-Cool in a Mixed Handicap Tag Match with Edge's World Heavyweight Title on the line. Outside the ring, Kelly Kelly continued to be WWE's "it girl," as she appeared on the cover of Maxim and also was named to Maxim's Hot 100 list.
MOST IMPROVED SUPERSTAR OF THE YEAR: MARK HENRY
It seems strange to give Most Improved honors to a 15-year veteran, but Henry raised his game to a level in 2011 - both in the ring and on the microphone - that few believed he could attain. After being drafted from Raw to SmackDown in April, The World's Strongest Man immediately went from happy-go-lucky babyface to no-nonsense monster heel. Over the next several months, Henry displayed his sadistic nature by inducting The Big Show, Kane, The Great Khali and Vladimir Kozlov into his Hall of Pain. Henry solidified his newfound status as a money player when he defeated Randy Orton for the World Heavyweight Title at Night of Champions in September. Henry retained the title in pay-per-view matches against Orton and Big Show before dropping it to Big Show at TLC earlier this month.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: SIN CARA
The masked Mexican star experienced his share of ups and downs in his debut year in the WWE, but he definitely stuck a chord with the WWE Universe through his spectacular high-flying style. During the summer and fall, he engaged in a rivalry with an imposter (Sin Cara Negro) that culminated with Cara winning a Mask vs. Mask Match on an October episode of SmackDown in Mexico City. During the SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder Match in July, Cara took one of the biggest bumps of the year when Sheamus power-bombed him off the apron and through a ladder. Cara's year came to a premature end last month at Survivor Series when he suffered a serious knee injury that required surgery. He is expected to be out of action for six to nine months.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in "Eck's Factor" are those of Kevin Eck alone and do not necessarily reflect those of WWE.
WHO IS KEVIN ECK?
For those who are unfamiliar with me, I come to WWE from The Baltimore Sun, where I was an assistant sports editor and the author of a pro wrestling blog titled Ring Posts. In between two stints with The Sun, I worked as the editor of WCW Magazine from 2000 to 2001.
Follow Kevin Eck on Twitter at Twitter.com/KevinEck_WWE. I will be live tweeting during Raw on most Mondays.