Title: Life on the YoYo for Dolph Ziggler
Date: May 29, 2012
Original Source: PWInsider
Synopsis: My second article for PWInsider Xtra looked at the curious up-and-down booking of Dolph Ziggler, and whether Chris Jericho’s suspension is the happenstance needed for him to break through to the main event permanently.
Dolph Ziggler’s yo-yo push has been going on since the very beginning. Forget his time as Nicky of the Spirit Squad or as Chavo/Kerwin’s caddy Nick Nemeth (his real name). No, since September of 2008 alone when he first (re-)appeared to introduce himself to anyone in sight under his new moniker Dolph Ziggler, The Show Off has been getting yo-yo’d up and down the card. It’s maddening, because he has seemed to be on the cusp of the upper tier several times, only to be jockeyed back down the ladder over and over.
After several months of random appearances just introducing himself, it seemed as if the Ziggler character would be forgotten as quickly as his previous incarnations. Instead, he was given the chance to shine in the character’s debut match against Batista. While he lost the bout, a debuting character giving The Animal a run for his money with an aggressive, hard-hitting style caught people’s attention. Instead of capitalizing on a strong debut and pushing Ziggler as someone to care about, he quickly fell into curtain-jerker territory, though this could be forgiven since, again, he was new at this point. After a couple of months doing the standard “new undercard heel slow-build apprenticeship,” Ziggler had his next yo-yo “up” the card.
After being drafted to SmackDown, Ziggler debuted by beating then-United States Champion MVP. Instead of starting a legitimate feud for the title, Ziggler quickly lost to Porter, ending the rivalry after two weeks, stalling his momentum again. But was it for good reason? Dolph was quickly moved into a program with The Great Khali, which could have been a sign of doom. Instead, Ziggler beat Khali numerous times using cunning, weapons, and interference. While the matches weren’t 5-star, he showed significant promise as a thinking man’s heel, someone calculating enough to pick apart a giant twice his size.
From here, WWE had a chance to push Ziggler further up the card. He had spent nearly a year building himself up in smaller mini-feuds, proving himself a viable personality and in-ring worker.
While the elevator didn’t exactly go down at this point, it didn’t exactly go up, either. He was paired with Maria and lost a few Intercontinental Title feuds, never actually winning the belt. After splitting with Maria, he was again in a bit of a holding pattern despite a run of relatively strong in-ring work.
In June 2010, Ziggler was paired up with Vickie Guerrero, in what was first a romantic relationship and later more of a manager-client relationship that remains to this day. On one hand, the pairing with Vickie was good for Ziggler in terms of exposure and relevant storylines, but it has also impeded his development as a talker. He isn’t bad, he’s just underused as a solo speaker, so it’s unclear just how much potential he has in a stand-alone role. With that said, given his obvious in-ring charisma and his success in smaller speaking roles, I think we can be confident in his ability to handle the stick. But this is a tangent, so allow me to divert back.
The pairing with Vickie helped elevate Dolph, and after a few months with the focus on their relationship more than in-ring events, Ziggler broke through with his first title win, winning the Intercontinental Title from Kofi Kingston in August 2010. Ziggler held the title for five months while feuding intermittently with Kofi, Kaval, and Jack Swagger, eventually losing the title in January 2011 to Kofi. The bright side, however, was that on the same night Ziggler won a #1 Contenders match to earn a title shot against Edge.
It was at this point that it finally looked like Ziggler had arrived – he had done his time on the undercard, proven himself in the ring, and won one of the “elevation” titles. His feud with Edge, however, was a brief hold-over feud to keep Edge working until he was ready for his Wrestlemania feud with Alberto del Rio. The feud was so unmemorable, in fact, that when Michael Cole recently referred to Ziggler as a former World Heavyweight Champ, I had to look it up to see if he was mistaken. In reality, Ziggler held the title on a technicality, defeating Edge when he used the Spear, which Vickie had outlawed. Literally just 11 minutes later, Teddy Long reversed the decision, giving the title back to Edge and ending maybe the worst title reign in the history of the belt.
While it would have been naive to expect WWE to elevate Ziggler during Wrestlemania season into the title picture, this mini-feud did far more to hurt him than help, making him look like Edge’s inferior by a significant degree. Instead, Ziggler was a background player in a Snooki match at ‘Mania, making it just about the most precipitous decrease in importance you could imagine.
Eventually, Ziggler found himself back working with Kingston, another victim of WWE’s yo-yo booking. Ziggler beat him for the U.S. title in June of 2011. While Ziggler held the title through mostly forgettable feuds, Jack Swagger joined with Vickie Guerrero while simultaneously chasing the U.S. title, making for an awkward if not entertaining dynamic. Ziggler lost the title to Santino Marella in December, though hardly anyone noticed or cared.
So since his 11-minute title reign and brief time on the fringe of the upper card, Ziggler has spent a year and a half in WWE Purgatory, stuck in feuds that rarely have Pay Per View blow-offs. This past Monday, it seems, Ziggler had enough, demanding Vickie remove him from his team with Swagger. It was as much of a shoot as you can find in a non-CM Punk storyline these days, with on-screen Ziggler frustrated with his role as a background player when he could be more. I have to agree, as he’s always seemed like someone with the physical tools and charisma to succeed higher on the card.
It now seems that the plan is for Ziggler to fill Chris Jericho’s spot against Randy Orton at No Way Out. This, of course, was not the plan. But thanks to Jericho’s unfortunate suspension, Ziggler has an unlikely opportunity to force the WWE’s hand. The company lacks top tier heels, and Ziggler is the closest thing they have to a prime-time ready heel prospect. However, getting him over the hump, especially after years of jerking him up and down the card, is going to require a leap of faith on WWE’s part.
Ziggler more or less has to beat Orton at No Way Out. Cleanly. While this seems the unlikeliest of outcomes, WWE has to recognize just how thin the top of their roster is, and recognize this Jericho situation as an opportunity to make chicken salad from chicken…y’kno. A clean, competitive match with Orton could finally legitimize Ziggler as a contender and free him from the shackles of inconsistent mid-card booking. Or else it’s back to the mid-card purgatory, possibly for good.