Dolph Ziggler: The Next One? Or the Next Disappointment?

Credit: Bleacher Report

Dolph Ziggler’s got it all: six feet tall, 215 lbs. of muscle with a jaw line that could crack granite. He’s the type of freak athlete that you see playing division 1 soccer or track, not wrestling in WWE. He seemingly has the full support of the company behind him, being pushed into upper echelon feuds against the likes of Randy Orton, John Cena and Chris Jericho, each of which have walked in–and out–of Wrestlemania with the championship strap. Dolph Ziggler has beaten all of those men in the previous twelve months.
However, everything hasn’t fallen into place: despite the main event certification from his employers, big wins over major stars and nightly placement at the top of the card, there’s something that doesn’t quite feel right–or ready–for Ziggler’s ascent to the top. Even the most fervent of Dolph fans would admit that. In the past three years, he’s seen newcomers like Sheamus, Ryback and Alberto del Rio whiz past him on the ladder of success, leaving Ziggs sucking on the heels of their boots as he self-proclaimed Show-Off mires as a second class citizen. It’s ironic that Dolph’s gimmick the last several months has been that of a Money in the Bank Ladder match winner, in which the victor must ascend a ladder and physically grasp a briefcase, beating all comers to the top in a brutal free-for-all; nothing in his actual career has resembled the type of success he had in that particular bout.

Count me under the growing number of Ziggler pessimists. I’ve grown more and more skeptical of him as the months pass, and am surely not afraid to vocalize–or in this case, digitize–it. However, chief MAMBINO wrestling correspondent surely disagrees. The RAW Librarian and I have been going back on e-mail about Dolph, his prospects in the company and if–or when–he’ll ever truly climb the WWE ladder.

KOBEsh: TRL, I’m having a pretty big debate with a few co-workers regarding Dolph Ziggler. I maintain that he smells of “John Morrison” to me, mostly in terms of tremendous physical gifts, a great look, but ultimately unfulfilled potential. How do you feel about his future prospects as a main eventer?

The RAW Librarian: I agree that he certainly has a John Morrison stench to him. It’s entirely possibly that he’ll sizzle out and go the way of my favorite Doors member. However, unlike Morrison, Zigs has a convincing move set. He is adequate on the mic which should continue to improve and he’s the best “seller” since Shawn Michaels. I maintain that with a proper push behind him, he could have a Randy Orton-type career. We just gotta wait and see what they allow him to do when he cashes in his briefcase. Losing to John Cena in basically a 3-on-1 handicap match every week on RAW doesn’t help him much. But I still believe in my Ziggy.

KOBEsh: The problem isn’t that Ziggler doesn’t have a lot of fantastic qualities that should make him into a perennial main eventer. He is a true athlete in a sea full of “performers”. He’s in phenomenal shape, and even though the blonde hair still make him look like a jakked member of A New Found Glory, he’s got a look that’s grown to stand him out from the crowd of dozens of square jawed white guys that look exactly like him. As you mentioned, he’s a bumping machine–no one currently throws their body around the ring with such reckless abandon or convincing energy.

However, my gripes with him are pretty expansive. Let me clarify–I only say that he’s got a “John Morrison” stink on him. I think he’ll have a much better career than the underachieving Morrison. However, it’s his moveset that first and foremost is my biggest concern. As I’ve written on this blog many times before, Stone Cold Steve Austin has said that to main event in the WWE, “you’ve got to look like you can kick someone’s ass”. Quite frankly, Ziggler is imposing enough, but his moveset doesn’t give me any indication of that. True, Dolph uses his athleticism to his advantage, but really only in terms of selling for other guys. Shawn Michaels was always a fantastic athlete, but it was the way in which he’s use his agility and dexterity that he was able to swing his body around the ring that made him look devastating. With a crescent kick, a top rope elbow drop and a elbow block, HBK turned into one of the true GOATs of Pro Wrestling. I’ve watched Ziggler for almost five years now, and he hasn’t conveyed any of that to me in his moveset. I’m not sure how his finisher “hurts”. His other “finisher” is the sleeper hold, the worst submission manuever EVER.

Moreover, for all his physical gifts and the other great workers he’s been in the ring with, Ziggler just hasn’t delivered the goods. Can you remember the last time he had a GREAT match where he carried the other wrestler? Watching Tables, Ladders and Chairs PPV live, I felt as though it was actually Cena that narrated that match. Throughout short programs with Orton and Jericho, Dolph never threw out a good enough bout to warrant anything beyond a Smackdown feud. Ziggler has been consistently good, but rarely great. For every gripe anyone has about the Miz or Del Rio, those men have had months-long runs of greatness. You’re watching it right this second with Alberto, and watched a fantastic run a year ago by Mr. Mizanin. I’m still waiting on Dolph to put together a string of matches that show me the goods.

Is there anything about Ziggler that suggests to you that he’ll be better in the ring? Or are we just going to keep on hoping and praying with him because of his natural gifts?

TRL: I liked the Spirit Squad. Wow…never thought I’d start off a column that way. Kenny Doane and the former Squad member Nicky managed to stand out in the group of five male cheerleaders (Doane has been released and blackballed from the WWE after calling out “Golden Boy” John Cena for having extra marital affairs, including with Micky James, who was married at the time). After the Spirit Squad was disassembled and sent back down to OVW, “Nicky” was repackaged as Dolph Ziggler and the others were never heard of again.

Fast forward to current day. Dolph Ziggler is holding the WWE Money in the Bank contract and seems poised to cash it in this Sunday at Elimination Chamber, resulting in him becoming the new World Champion. Ziggler has been on the WWE roster since September 15, 2008. Let’s take a look at his accomplishments:

  • One-time tag team champion (with 4 other members of the Spirit Squad).
  • One-time United States champion
  • One-time Intercontinental champion
  • Appointed the World Champion by Vicky Guerrero and held that title for about 10 minutes before Edge recaptured it. He never even got to wear the belt.

That’s it. Optimists would suggest that he has brighter days ahead. Pessimists would say he has already peaked.

To quote A Bronx Tale, “the saddest thing in life is wasted talent”. Certainly not all of the blame can be placed on Ziggler. The WWE’s creative team has to give him the chance to succeed. Sure, on the outside it looks like Dolph is finally receiving a well deserved push. However, under closer inspection, I would argue that this is not the case. Just take a look at his recent feud with John Cena. In the cage match alone, we saw Ziggler hitting 3 potential finishers (super kick, Zig-zag, jumping DDT) with Cena kicking out of every one of them. How did that match end? With John Cena hitting one Attitude Adjustment and getting the clean pin in what was basically a 3-on-1 handicap cage match. The one victory achieved by Ziggler in the feud was the result of AJ Lee turning heel and pushing John Cena off the ladder (to the delight of the Brooklyn crowd). How many times have we seen Sheamus’ hand raised after a match with Ziggler? Orton’s? Del Rio’s? Chris Jericho was on a multi-year PPV losing streak before he made Ziggler tap out at Summer Slam. I’m not arguing that Dolph Ziggler should be pinning John Cena and Sheamus, the WWE’s two biggest faces, every week. All that I’m suggesting, is that if Vince McMahon expects the audience to believe that Dolph Ziggler is a credible threat and a viable contender, he has to steal a victory every now and then against a main eventer.

Dolph Ziggler is trapped under the same class ceiling that constrained Chris Jericho, Edge, and CM Punk before they forced their way into the main event scene. Given the chance, all three took the ball and never looked back. I don’t know what else the man has to prove. He routinely puts on 5-star matches regardless of who he is in the ring with. He gets an undeniable reaction from the crowd, often eliciting more cheers from the crowd than his “face” opponent. He’s not exactly Paul Heyman on the mic, but he’s shown enough to prove that he can handle himself. And he should continue to improve with time. He wouldn’t be the worst World Champion on the microphone–that distinction belongs to Jeff Hardy or Chris Benoit. Ziggy is at least capable of conducting a 10 minute promo without sending the crowd to the bathroom.

Don’t think he can handle it? Give him a mouth piece. They already shot their Ric Flair wad on the Miz, but there are still plenty of veterans out there capable of doing the job. Terry Funk, Jake the Snake, Ted DiBiase, Jim Cornette, Paul Heyman could all push him to the next level. Hell, put Mick Foley in a program similar to the one he had with Edge that really cemented his spot as a top guy. Rick Rude would have been perfect (R.I.P.).

The one area I wholeheartedly agree with my writing companion is in regards to Dolph Ziggler’s move set. It is my biggest gripe with his character as well. I feel like he has moves that are impactful enough, the problem for me lies in his finisher. As in, he doesn’t have one. The Zig-Zag? A complimentary move at best. Sure it’s visually appealing, but I think even I would kick out at 2 and 7/8’s. The thing is, he has a potential finisher in his repertoire, and it’s a thing of beauty. I’m talking about Zig’s super kick. It’s not quite as extended as HBK’s Sweet Chin Music, providing a bigger impact. The only issue is that main eventers kick out of the move like it’s a fisherman’s suplex. The super kick; good enough to be number 6 on the Top 50 Greatest Finishers of All Time (check out the full list of finishers reviewed here) but only good for a 2 count when Dolph Ziggler does it. Maybe Dolph needs to find Jesus in order to get a 3 count. Two options: sell the super kick as a legitimate finisher that is good enough to put away top guys or introduce a new move. For example, the top rope DDT he hit on Cena during their cage match was fantastic–I would just start using that.

It is of my opinion that the next two months will determine Dolph Ziggler’s professional wrestling career. Will he grab one of Vincent K. McMahon’s brass rings? Or will he whisk away into nothingness like so many before him? Chris Jericho became the first ever undisputed champion. Edge defeated Mick Foley in the best hardcore match in Wrestlemania history. CM Punk revolutionized the industry sitting Indian style at the top of a ramp in Las Vegas. At one point, each of these three men were at the exact same place Dolph Ziggler finds himself today. Each man realized his potential and cemented his spot as a main eventer for life. Dolph Ziggler will go where the Money in the Bank contract takes him. A successful cash in and lengthy title reign will allow Ziggler to break through the vaunted glass ceiling. All he needs is the chance.

KOBEsh: You’ve got a really strong point about who Ziggler’s gone over–it hasn’t been a lot of guys. But on the flipside, I’d argue that Alberto del Rio hadn’t exactly been destroying other competitors either–but there was something in him that when turned face, really connected with the crowd.

It’s not that the crowd doesn’t care about Dolph–they absolutely do. However, going to several wrestling events over the past year, I can tell you first hand that it’s more of a conditioned response to someone who’s on the TV a lot–like Big Show, Antonio Cesaro or Wade Barrett. Now, I’m not saying that Dolph doesn’t have his fans; of course he does. However, he never gets that visceral response that Daniel Bryan gets with his legions of fans even when they’re not chanting “Yes!” Given a run where Ziggler destroyed a few guys over a couple month span, would he benefit? Absolutely. But my gripe is that in the WWE, it isn’t just about momentum but rather what people remember. For me, I’m remembering that Ziggler can’t cut a decent promo by himself. I’m remembering that even in defeat, he never comes off as well as Chris Benoit or Shawn Michaels did. I’m remembering that these 5-star matches you speak of aren’t 5-star matches–having watched every PPV in the past two years, I can name a handful of great Dolph matches. That’s it.

At a certain point, sheer talent only takes you so far. Regardless of whether you like these fellows or not, there’s little doubt that Sheamus, Ryback and CM Punk have what it takes to hang with the main eventers. Guys like John Morrison, Shelton Benjamin and other truly gifted athletes were stuck in the same spot that Ziggler was for years and years; kept towards the top of the mid-card, hoping in vain that their tantalizing mix of talent and promise would eventually pay off. For all their faults, the WWE does a good job of identifying main event talent out of their middle guys they’ve developed and then exploiting them for every penny their worth. After all, when was the last time that a mid-carder left the WWE to go to TNA and become a star there? Christian?

I trust in Vince McMahon to know what he’s got; it doesn’t bode well for Dolph that he’s been on the scene for nearly five years and has such minute accomplishments to show for it. As for what you said, yes, there’s a strong chance that Ziggler cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase after the Del Rio/Big Show fight on Sunday at the Elimination Chamber PPV. Everything we’ve talked about won’t just be conjecture–Dolph will get his shot at the big time. But everything I’ve learned about wrestling suggests to me that he just doesn’t have what it takes.

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