Dolph Ziggler: The New Heartbreak Kid
As the Road to Wrestlemania is set to kick off and my wife and I begin planning our road trip to Santa Clara in April, there’s a lot of buzz around Dolph Ziggler. Some say he’s a dark horse in the Royal Rumble match who could steal the whole show. Some say he’s ready for a push to be the face of the WWE Universe pretty soon. Some, my wife among them, doubt that a guy like Ziggler has what it takes to carry the fed on his tanned shoulders. I, on the other hand, could see it happening. Why? Because I’ve seen it happen before.
In 1994, if you were to tell me that Shawn Michaels would be the Heavyweight Champion, I’d say “You’re crazy, man. Let me guess: Hogan turns heel, too?” But it happened. That strutting, preening little boy toy, with one of the dumbest entrance songs ever, was on top of the heap! What’s more, he went on to become one of the greatest superstars of all time!
Could Dolph follow his example? It makes sense, considering how his career has mirrored that of The Heartbreak Kid’s thus far.
Dolph Ziggler was introduced to the WWE universe in 2008 after cutting his teeth in development for over four years. He came off as a cocky, self-possessed pretty boy who, although sometimes playing the fool in order to get over some of WWE’s biggest faces at the time, he nonetheless impressed fans and critics alike with his agility, quickness and dramatic flare. Sound familiar? Like Michaels, Ziggler possesses superb wrestling fundamentals, takes bumps like a boss, sells like he’s going for the Oscar, and has a sublime understanding of ring psychology. Simply put, he is exciting to watch – even when he’s losing the match! It is those qualities which made Michaels a great mid-card heel, and Mr Perfect before him, and Ric Flair before them.
Both Ziggler and Michaels were great workers, participating in somewhat heated but ultimately shallow story-lines involving romantic entanglements and jealousy over “the spot-light”. They both gave credibility to the Intercontinental Championship Belt, making it seem like not just a stepping stone title but an end in and of itself. They would also make the occasional run for the World Championship, coming up short of course, but doing so in a fashion that made them seem like credible future contenders. Michaels had generous champions like Randy Savage and Bret Hart to make this possible. Ziggler had John Cena, who appears to continue to pull for him even today.
When Ziggler won the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio in 2013 only to suffer a concussion and be side-lined immediately afterwards, it got the fans rooting for him. They saw Dolph as not just a cocky show-off, but a man willing to risk his neck in order to entertain the people. When he returned and was beaten mercilessly by Del Rio, losing his hard-earned title, he was cemented as a baby-face in the eyes of the people. This was not unlike Shawn Michaels’ face turn of 1995, when he was betrayed and injured by his bodyguard. When he returned to action, he was cheered. That support turned to pathos, as Shawn came back after a concussion which nearly ended his career.
What made Shawn’s victory over Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 12 so endearing, and ultimately satisfying, was the brilliantly spun angle of “the boyhood dream come true.” It’s the same force that propelled Daniel Bryan to become champion in 2013, and then for real in 2014. The support of the fans is something that isn’t created out of thin air. It’s earned. Shawn Michaels earned it in 1996. Daniel Bryan earned it last year. Dolph Ziggler is in the process of earning it now.
But could it happen this year?