I remember a conversation about a year ago with a maniac wrestling fan who told me Dolph Ziggler would be the next Shawn Michaels, take over the WWE and rule professional wrestling – taking that title from John Cena.
For all the talent Ziggler has, and the idea that had been thrown about to make him a “Michaels-like” character in the WWE, he is going nowhere. His fall, which was preceded by a short title reign, reminds me a lot of former NWA World Champion Tommy Rich and his short-lived title hold (four days) and subsequent fall into regional status followed by mid-card wrestler.
The two wrestlers may not be each other in terms of talent (Ziggler the better of the two), but the paths are similar.
Rich started wrestling in 1974 in the regional promotions in Tennessee after training with Jerry Jarrett. Throughout the 1980s, he alternated his time between Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama territories of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). He won dozens of NWA regional titles during this time. He is best known as one of the original stars of the TBS wrestling shows from the 1970s and 1980s. His bloody feuds with “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer, Ole Anderson, Ivan Koloff, the Fabulous Freebirds, and every other major heel to come through the Georgia territory made Rich one of the most popular wrestling stars of the period.
In April of 1981, in Augusta, Georgia, he won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. He dropped the belt back to former champion Harley Race four days later in Marietta.
According to lore, Race stated in a shoot interview with RF Video that the title switch was to ensure a power struggle in the Georgia territory ended with promoter Jim Barnett victorious (Barnett was a minority holder in Georgia and the booker of the NWA title, and the title switch, with the fan interest and boosted live gates, shored up his position).
He had a feud in Georgia Championship Wrestling with “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer for the NWA Georgia National Title. The feud lasted close to two years, culminating in the “Last Battle of Atlanta,” in 1983, which featured Sawyer and Rich in a fully enclosed, Last Man Standing cage match. It is still talked about today as one of the greatest feuds in NWA and wrestling history – nearly destroying both wrestler’s careers.
Ziggler has had many decent feuds, but not one that is a defining moment. John Cena, Kofi Kingston and Alberto Del Rio to name a few, but none that has defined him. His relationships with Vickie Guerrero and AJ Lee have been decent programs, but they did not set the screen on fire. He was supposedly getting a push around the time of WrestleMania. That has never materialized.
All wonton promise and no success – much like Rich, who was a tag team specialist in Jerry Lawler’s Memphis territory before fading out as a wrestler and manager (at one point).
Maybe the fans are to blame to some extent for Ziggler’s failures in that we want wrestlers of the past to reinvent themselves or for the contemporary ones to take the place of the old guard. No one is going to replace Michaels or Randy Savage or Harley Race, It’s a fact. Rich and Ziggler were in the wrong place at the wrong time in this industry. Ziggler can still salvage his career. Oh, and by the way, he and Rich both spoke their minds about the unfair business of the business.
Follow David on Twitter @davidlevin71
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