CM Punk had already cornered the market on being the anti-John Cena character, but with Punk gone, isn't that person now Dolph Ziggler? Unlike Cena, Ziggler is one of the best workers not just in the company, but in the world. Unlike Cena, Ziggler is almost always interesting on the microphone and his promos are very unpredictable. And most importantly, unlike Cena, Ziggler never seems to get the proper endorsement from WWE that would enable him to become a huge star.
On paper, Ziggler has many of the tools that would qualify someone as being an elite wrestler. He is excellent in the ring, combining solid technical and mat skills with a ton of speed and athleticism. His true calling card is bump taking, and not only does he take a lot of bumps, but he takes them so perfectly. I have watched a lot of wrestling, new and old, and I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone sell moves like Ziggler does. There is no one who makes getting the stuffing beat out of him more entertaining than Ziggler. On the microphone, he is very good, even if he is often underutilized. Some may doubt it, but look back on some of his promos where he has really been allowed to speak, and it is some of the best promos WWE has done in the last few years. Physically he isn't the biggest guy, but he is obviously in great physical shape, is a great athlete, and his amateur background more than offset what he lacks in the height department.
I didn't always feel this way about Ziggler. When he first went solo, like many of you, I wasn't enthusiastic about him. This was Nicky from the Spirit Squad, and he wasn't even the leader of that group, Kenny Dykstra was. He worked in some mid-card feuds on Smackdown and not a lot of people cared. Then he began to feud with Edge over the World Heavyweight Championship. I had tickets to the Royal Rumble in Boston that year and I was disappointed that out of all the guys Edge could have faced, it ended up being Ziggler. However, he blew me away in that match against Edge, really showcasing how he was one of the best workers in the company.
Even after that performance, I still doubted his future as a big star. Sure he was a great worker, but he didn't have any personality. Then he started appearing in Zack Ryder's web series Z! True Long Island Story and began playing the perpetrator in the feuds that took place there. He would always pop up in his "Ask the Heel" segment and cut a classic heel promo. He would eventually end up beating Zack's friend Mike Chiapetta into a comatose state to further their feud. After seeing all of that, I was all in on Ziggler, whatever he was going to do in the future I was going to support because the guy clearly had talent that what above and beyond what WWE typically required of its top talents.
Slowly, things began to come together for Ziggler. He won the MITB match, pretty much guaranteeing him a future world title run. With AJ Lee at his side now, he had a prolific run while holding onto the briefcase. He was the sole survivor at Survivor Series 2012, pinning Randy Orton to win the match for his team. He then went onto feud with John Cena, retaining his briefcase in a ladder match, getting a victory over Cena. Sure, AJ helped him win, but it was still a huge moment for him when you consider the fact that Cena was 164-14 in 2012.
His feud with Cena also marked the turning point for Ziggler as a character. He had cut good promos on Z!TLIS, but that was still only known to a limited audience. On Raw, he cut perhaps the meanest promo of 2012 on AJ Lee, then promptly beat up John Cena in a bathroom:
Whatever it was about him, it was time to start believing in Ziggler. He quickly became one of the company's most popular performers, and it all culminated in him cashing in his MITB contract and winning the WHC on the night after WrestleMania, which was easily my favorite WWE moment of 2013.
After that moment, it seemed like Ziggler was on his way, but unfortunately, that night in Newark is still the pinnacle of his career. Ziggler would get a concussion after Jack Swagger botched a boot to the face and then he would drop his title to Del Rio. He would never get it back, and now, only a little bit more than a year removed from that title victory, he has been thrown into a god-awful feud with Fandango, Layla and Summer Rae. Despite how hard he worked to shed the Spirit Squad image and to solidify himself as a potential main event caliber guy, Ziggler is more or less back to where he started. He is a mid-carder, bouncing around between not having a feud to being a feud with no real potential.
It isn't like Ziggler has gotten worse over the past year. He is still just as good in the ring and just as talented on the microphone, it just seems that WWE has moved away from him. He is still only 33, and wrestling can be an abstract industry, so the last pages of his book are far from written. However, Ziggler has still been held back by reasons that remain unclear. Rumors have circulated that WWE management he is unreliable because he has trouble staying healthy, but can you really blame him for getting hurt while he was the WHC? I have also heard that WWE management has asked him to not go so hard in the ring, that not everything needs to be sold to the maximum, and he hasn't done that at all.
But those are all just rumors, and nobody outside of the industry really knows for sure what happened to Dolph Ziggler. What we do know is that he is still one of the top workers in WWE, and he still gets good reactions from the crowd. Anything could happen for Ziggler in the future, a year from now he could be the world champion, or he could be unemployed. Personally, I hope it's the former, because god knows the guy deserves it.