Doctor's Orders: How Are We Going to Remember Dolph Ziggler's Career?

Doctor’s Orders: How Are We Going to Remember Dolph Ziggler’s Career?

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”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your perception of Dolph Ziggler’s career?

In pondering the perception of success in WWE today versus the way success was defined throughout most of the WrestleMania Era, the following question was begged: how do fans who have grown up with WWE over the past decade view Dolph Ziggler’s career?

The Show-Off is on the eve of one of the biggest professional wrestling matches of his life against Seth Rollins at Extreme Rules, and it marks the continuation of a trend that has emerged since his bid to become a consistent, Top 5-level player (like his opponent this Sunday) fizzled out in mid-2013. He closed late 2014 on a tear with his second biggest WWE victory to end an absolutely fantastic Survivor Series Elimination Match and followed it with a borderline classic Ladder Match at TLC; he was on the marquee at Summerslam 2016 in a WWE Title bout with Dean Ambrose and followed it with arguably the Intercontinental Championship feud of the decade; now he is the Intercontinental titleholder again, having removed it from The Architect’s waist a few weeks back to set-up the 30-Minute Ironman Match in just a few days time. Yet, rendering these bursts of momentum random have been monstrously lengthy periods of borderline irrelevance.

If you are confident about Ziggler’s next move beyond the Rollins feud, then you are ignoring history. We pretty much know what happens next for him, do we not? He has become the bottle of wine that you have every other anniversary and, while you enjoy the heck out of it and are reminded how good it can be, for reasons other than it being something overly special that you prefer to save for the even year celebration, you just do not prioritize drinking it more often. So, we will likely see him rattle off another 4-star match like he did with Rollins a few weeks ago on Raw, and then he will fade to the background for another lengthy stretch; firmly, a pattern has been established that continually reinforces Ziggler’s role as a spot-duty headliner who will not be a consistently major player. Aside from a hefty pay raise in the new contract he signed earlier this year, have we reason to think otherwise this time around?

Nevertheless, Ziggler has by any measurable criteria been a very successful wrestler for WWE since 2009. As discussed on the special episode of The Doc Says podcast to celebrate and better contextualize the career of The Miz a few months ago, Ziggler is already one of the most decorated champions in WWE lore and he is only in his late-30s. He has also been a headlining-caliber talent on every major event except WrestleMania, owns that huge moment (cashing in on the post-Mania 29 Raw) that can – in this flashbulb period of world history especially – define a career in a single snapshot, and has on his resume quite a few of the kinds of matches that he recently had with The Architect (bouts with Edge, Miz, Luke Harper, John Cena, Randy Orton, and Alberto Del Rio immediately come to mind as performances that have withstood the test of time thus far).

Will fans who were ten when he got his first break wrestling Rey Mysterio for the IC Title and who are about to be sophomores in college discuss, as rookie members of the Internet Wrestling Community, Ziggler in the years to come as more like those of us who were that age 10-20 years ago a middle class Mr. Perfect or a modern day Val Venis?

The answer to that question could largely help shape how fans in the 10-20 year high school reunion category, who basically have seen most if not all of the WrestleMania Era, communicate with the younger generations of fans when grouped together in environments like LOP.

It could be fascinating, really. I would venture to say that my generation generally regards Ziggler’s career as somewhere between a disappointment and an example of WWE creative failing a star who they heavily invested in for the initial twenty percent of the decade for “reasons” thereafter that readily go beyond logic. On the former point, how else would you describe someone who was groomed on the road by Edge for main-event success, classically utilized the mid-card championships as a springboard to the next highest echelon, and wielded the Mr. Money in the Bank moniker as well as anyone not nicknamed The Architect or The Rated R Superstar, only to flame out as a main-event star within three months of his historic cash-in? On the latter point, WWE’s creative handling of him in the spring of 2013 raises a lot of questions in hindsight, among them why the commitment to him was reneged so quickly after he had pulled off the pro wrestling hole-in-one of a double-turn with Del Rio, why John Cena’s opinion of him was apparently so negative when Ziggler gave him a handful of critically-acclaimed matches, and why the “injury prone” narrative arose when one concussion following one kick to the head gone wrong (that was not even Dolph’s fault) was the lone real absence (despite a bumping style that suggested more injuries should have been expected) of his entire half decade on the main roster up until the point when he got hurt.

Speaking as a long-time fan of Ziggler who feels about him similarly to how a massive music fan might feel about a band who released a lot of good tunes that made it seem likely that greatness was coming but who never really cashed in on the upper limits of its potential, I think it is pretty clear that he has had a very respectable career, but that it would require a Miz-like renaissance for me to consider him as anything but a wrestler who either settled for or was forced to settle for a career that was 75% of what it arguably could / should have been to date. When I saw The Show-Off in 2011 and 2012, I felt like I was watching a star with a ceiling of Edge’s main-event career; I would have bet you money in 2013 that it would have been Ziggler becoming the first Mr. Money in the Bank to cash in at WrestleMania and I guarantee you that, if he had done so, the conversations about him would be different right now. Alas, he got kicked in the head at the wrong time and was cast aside and essentially discarded as damaged goods almost immediately after his run as a headliner began.

Maybe it is his fault. Be it shoot interviews in which he admitted to not having cultivated a strong relationship with the master of his fate or in worked promos that seemed to continually confirm that he perhaps failed to understand that stealing the show may have been an ideal goal of the man behind the performer but that it rang hollow when constantly pedaling it as a wrestling character’s primary aim, there was just that extra something that was missing to help push Ziggler over the top; so he never has gotten over the top. Maybe it would be fairer to classify Ziggler as high a profile casualty of old man Vince’s fish-like creative attention span instead.

Whatever the reason, that Ziggler so rarely feels like even one of the twenty most important stars in WWE is the primary storyline working against how my generation will remember his overall body of work. However, to a generation of enthusiasts who do not know anything different from WWE – who only know stop-start pushes and creative tunnel vision dedicated to maybe a handful of wrestlers at the expense of virtually everyone else – perhaps the viewpoint on Ziggler’s career will be far more favorable.

I suppose we will have to wait and see how that conversation plays out someday. In the meantime, as someone who greatly appreciates Ziggler pushes when they happen, I am very much looking forward to the Ironman Match on Sunday. Rollins certainly has the blessing of the “office” as a Top 5 guy in WWE, so perhaps a banner performance against him can be the missing piece of the puzzle that puts Ziggler in position to become more of a mainstay on the upper rungs of the hierarchy. Here’s hoping that it is a perception-altering match (written directly to the chairman) for The Show-Off and, if it does nothing more than renew how he is already perceived, then I will enjoy this push while it lasts and then look forward to the next one in 2020.


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