As we older wrestling fans bitterly walk into our thirties and forties, we have this tendency to slip on rose-tinted sunglasses. This is done in an attempt to view today’s wrestling world through old lens, as much of a chore it is to try and build parallels to the two.
[adinserter block=”1″]In particular, we sometimes champion a wrestler in today’s field by dressing them in the repurposed shell of a wrestler we heralded about an era or two back. Daniel Bryan became the bearded, jovial reincarnate of Chris Benoit, one that nobody would feel guilty about enjoying. Bray Wyatt’s manner of speech invoked memories of Jake Roberts and Kevin Sullivan, the calm savage. CM Punk at one time had seanced the spirit of Stone Cold Steve Austin, through profanity, blunt honesty, and defiance. When Punk’s walkout in 2014 too eerily matched Austin’s 2002 vacancy, Dean Ambrose stepped in to be the unconventional, office-scorning rebel.
What about Dolph Ziggler? Before, Ziggler was a more convincing offspring of Curt Hennig than Curtis Axel is, flailing like a fish out of water off the simplest of offensive strikes, curly blonde locks scattering like the frills of a pom-pom. Salesmanship aside, Ziggler’s legitimate athletic background, like Hennig’s, was oh-so-perfectly melded with a willingness to portray the preening-douche-turned-punching-bag for so many. Imbued with these traits, Ziggler is indispensable.
Ziggler also shares similarities with other Hennig fashioner, Shawn Michaels. In the 1990s (hell, up until his 2010 retirement), Michaels could steal the show as either a face (drawing sympathy for the comeback, telling a story equally through emotion and athletics) or a heel (for the same qualities as Hennig and Ziggler). Michaels will forever have tenancy in wrestling’s penthouse suite for his ability to take the most jaded know-it-all, the ‘I wouldn’t have written the story THIS way’ grouch, and reduce him to a bright-eyed believer through sheer will. It’s a skill nobody can duplicate.
This isn’t to say Ziggler is scraping insulation in Michaels’ ceiling at present time, but after Survivor Series, there’s a new inkling of just how sky-high Ziggler’s ceiling may be.
It’s a role Michaels nailed eleven years ago, the hopeless hero. Michaels needed to survive against Chris Jericho, Christian, and a less-inked Randy Orton in order to save Steve Austin’s job. The fact that Michaels had lost enough blood to fill a fish-tank only upped the drama several rungs. Looking like Carrie White, Michaels lucked his way into eliminating Christian and Jericho before Orton ended the miracle run after Batista interfered. Anyone who watched that match will tell you while catching their breath that it’s typical, by-the-book HBK, while exhaling, “And it’s f–king incredible.”
Sunday night, Ziggler was in the same predicament, with some wholly moving twists.
In the match to determine whether The Authority would be vanquished or whether some upper-midcard babyfaces would be fired instead, Ziggler, once canon fodder so far wedged into the sole-grooves of WWE’s shoe, was the last hope for the good guys. This was especially shocking, given that the usual Superman, John Cena, had been disposed of through Big Show’s annual heel turn midway through the bout. Across from a weary (but not bloody, per Mattel’s humble invective) Ziggler were Seth Rollins, Kane, and Luke Harper. Alas, it’s a parallel.
Knowing that only Cena could take out the 82nd Airborne without assistance, the St. Louis crowd began looking for the run-in. Given that Randy Orton was recently spurned by the heels, and that the Gateway City is Orton’s home, the natives earnestly chanted for him while Ziggler was bounced around by the corporate ladder. Not a good sign when you’re so far down the caste, fans believe more in the savior than the worker.
Then it happened: Ziggler won over the crowd. Repeated kickouts, subtle appeals through relaying of agony and exhaustion, and the fans were pulling for Ziggler to complete the comeback. If Daniel Bryan didn’t belong in Ziggler’s generation, I’d say that Dolph usurped the underdog schtick from him.
There weren’t any YES chants, but the fans popped fierce when Ziggler downed Kane cleanly with the Zig Zag. The cheers were louder when Dolph managed to roll up Harper and rid him from the bout. JBL was angrily stunned. Michael Cole, in a rare moment of intense focus, sold Ziggler as a warrior, running on empty for the sake of his job. Ziggler and Rollins engaged in a tremendous series of near falls in the lead-up to the Sports Entertainment Finish, well-executed and welcome for all of its convolution.
‘Holy crap, it’s Sting!’ will trump ‘holy crap, Dolph pulled it off!’ when panning for website clicks, but Ziggler’s story is needed long-term. The match has absolutely made Ziggler, Sting’s deus ex machina help or not. WWE has needed organic heroes more than it’s needed accurate dates on its WWE Network content. Punk said see ya, Bryan’s out long-term, Ambrose is there if they truly want him, and Roman Reigns’ biggest feud may be the one he’s having with the teleprompter.
[adinserter block=”2″]Ziggler was dead, an afterthought. His outspokenness had cancelled out his world-class athleticism, and if a PPV in 2013 or 2014 passed by without him, nobody blinked. His demotion was accepted; his scripted wins these days more startling than appreciated. Whoever shook their head in the office and said, ‘wait, why aren’t we doing MORE with Dolph?’ may be a one-eyed-prophet in the land of the blind, but that one eye understands the man’s value.
I’d argue that Ziggler’s survival trumps Bryan’s WrestleMania wins. We all knew that Bryan was getting those victories as an apology for a winter’s worth of short-sighted booking, and angry fans weren’t to be denied. Ziggler’s rise from fodder is more notable because in less than 20 minutes, he won over the crowd that wanted Orton, and busted his ass for each ounce of renewed appreciation.
Writing out of Hunter and Stephanie aside, this is why we all loved last night’s match. We all believed because Dolph Ziggler made us believe. Shawn Michaels chuckles knowingly.
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