As we close the book on 2011, we are reminded of the top stories from the past 12 months, and not surprisingly, one story in particular drew in our readers – and the general public – more than any other: the passing of one of the true legends of the sport.

Look across national publications and media and you’ll see one name from wrestling more often than any other amidst the headlines. The same sentiment was echoed by SLAM! Wrestling’s Facebook group members.

But 2011 was also a highlighted year for other reasons. We saw the emergence of stars who finally were given the ball, television moves that may have been expected but were still surprising.

Here now are the top stories of 2011.

Top Story – RIP Randy Savage: It’s a story far too often told on our site – losing a wrestler far ahead of their time. Savage, however, was a different story than most we see. The heart attack that claimed his life was almost invariably brought on by the years of abuse and drugs he took, but he had all but left the wrestling world behind. What made the death even more sad was that he had seemingly made amends with WWE – he even did a promo for their new All-Stars video game – and likely was destined to be properly honoured by the company in their Hall of Fame. Hulk Hogan also later revealed that he and Savage were back on speaking terms after a bitter, public feud that raged on.

Savage is well remembered as one of the truly best wrestlers of his era as well as being a crossover success with appearances in the first Spider-Man movie and many a memorable Slim Jim commercial. – Jon Waldman

Punk reaches new heights: Nobody knew what was going to happen at Money in the Bank 2011 – the final day of CM Punk’s employ with WWE. For months we had heard rumours that the Second City Saint would be leaving, and his now-classic shoot on WWE TV was seemingly a calling card for his departure. In the end, Punk did re-sign with the Fed and in the process became a new cult hero for WWE to raise to the top of the ranks. We’re still waiting for the return of ice cream bars though… – Jon Waldman

Edge retires: The week after WrestleMania, Edge (Adam Copeland) announced that injuries would force him to hang up his boots. In this limited space, it’s not possible to document Edge’s Hall-of-Fame worthy career that took him from Orangeville, Ontario, to the top of the wrestling world. Or to adequately comment on the legacy he’s leaving on the business. Or to convey the sentiments of his legions of fans who have seen him perform. All we can do is to sum it all up by saying: Thank you, Edge. – Bob Kapur

Rock vs. Cena: Almost as soon as The Rock was announced as being the host of WrestleMania, everyone awaited the inevitable confrontation with John Cena. Following ‘Mania, WWE put into motion the latest generational battle, pitting Cena and Rock against one another. The long-term booking was widely applauded and now stands as one of the most anticipated stories of 2012. – Jon Waldman

RoH purchased by Sinclair: When word sprung that HDNet was dumping Ring of Honor, fans began to wonder about the company’s future. The answer came in a new investor, Sinclair Broadcasting, which purchased the company and also used its powerful syndication to give RoH, arguably, more reach than it has ever had. The company now stands on solid ground as it now steadily competes with TNA for the title of #2 company in wrestling. – Jon Waldman

The BFG series and the ascent – of Robert Roode: TNA held this summer-long 12-man tournament to find the contender for the belt at the company’s annual Bound For Glory PPV. Though the scoring was a bit complicated, and the overall structure somewhat bizarre (e.g. a tournament where some people had more matches than others, and there was no “finals” match to crown the winner), the fans ultimately bought into it. It elevated mid-carders into stars, gave meaning to wins and losses, and ultimately rallied the fans around the ultimate winner, Bobby Roode, finally turning him into a legit main eventer. – Bob Kapur

Mark Henry finally gets his shot: After 15 years, “The World’s Strongest Man” was finally used effectively, dominating everyone that he faced en route to capturing his first major WWE title. It was a banner year for Henry, as he convincingly beat and/or injured several top tier superstars, including clean wins over Randy Orton to win the belt. In addition, the Hall of Pain may be the best gimmick of 2011. Due to age and injuries, this could be Henry’s last major run, and if so, it was certainly one to remember. – Bob Kapur

The Year of the #: Even if WWE and TNA hadn’t made Twitter such a large part of their broadcasts, wrestlers themselves ensured that the hot-as-heck social media platform was well talked about, both for good and bad reasons. Some wrestlers used it to their advantage, as you’ll see below, while others practically Tweeted themselves out of their jobs. – Jon Waldman

Zack Ryder goes viral: As alluded to above, some wrestlers used Twitter and other social media to their advantage in 2011. None were more successful than Zack Ryder, whose YouTube channel, Twitter feed and Facebook became hits, to the point where the Superstars-bound sensation gained a cult following impossible to ignore. By year’s end, Ryder was United States champ. – Jon Waldman

The year of Michael Cole: For every good thing about wresting in 2011, there was a bad thing. And most of those bad things were Michael Cole. If he were a manager, Cole’s antagonistic personality could have worked. But in his role as the lead commentator, he was simply an epic fail. Whether it was his constant self-promotion, his arguing with the other commentators, or his criticism of just about every wrestler, everything he did diminished the importance of the in-ring product. What’s worse, is even after he got beaten up for it, and apologized for his actions, they let him keep doing it. To what end? If the objective is to turn off viewers, mission accomplished. Otherwise, this alienating experiment should end immediately. – Bob Kapur

Two letters for Chyna: In 2011, Chyna literally went from TNA to T-and-A. In May, she returned to the national stage, wrestling on a TNA Wrestling PPV. A few months later she returned to the back rooms of video stores, appearing in an adult movie for Vivid Entertainment. Both appearances made viewers ask themselves why, and possibly even throw up a little in their mouth. Chyna’s descent continues, as she has promised (threatened?) to do another movie, and if rumours are true, is now offering escort services. Sad. – Bob Kapur

SLAM! Wrestling wishes all its readers a happy new year.