The WWE Universe is crowded with underdeveloped characters. Television personalities are thrust into our living rooms without a clear idea of who they are, why they are here, or where they are going. Names such as Alex Riley, Tyson Kidd, and Justin Gabriel—all of whom exhibit the potential to be special—are perfect examples of the creative team's inability to develop its characters into legitimate draws.
There is one man who stands out in this glut of rough drafts and undefined roles: the number one contender to the WWE Championship and the man who will square off with CM Punk at the Royal Rumble this Sunday, Dolph Ziggler.
Wrestling fans sing Ziggler's praises these days for several well-founded reasons; his in-ring ability is superb; he has charisma in droves; he is in spectacular physical shape; his appearance befits a world-class wrestling champion. In short, he has all the tools to be a central character on Monday nights.
Despite all of this, there exists a predilection that Dolph Ziggler is not ready to be WWE Champion, a title meant to designate its holder as the best wrestler in the world, hands down. This lingering sentiment is in no way Ziggler's fault; he has played his role to the best of his vast ability for the last few years. Rather, the blame should fall on WWE's creative team for assigning a leading man to a supporting role until now.
A look back at Dolph Ziggler's tenure on WWE television shows an ongoing under-utilization of his talents.
He first appeared in 2005 under his real name, Nick Nemeth, playing the role of caddy and wrestling protege to golfer Kerwin White (might I add, the lowest point in Chavo Guerrero's career). Thankfully, this did not last long; the Kerwin White character was scrapped altogether, and Nemeth returned to WWE's main developmental promotion at the time, Ohio Valley Wrestling.
The Spirit Squad debuted on WWE Raw in January of 2006. The group consisted of five top prospects from Ohio Valley Wrestling playing male cheerleaders, each dubbed with a nickname. Nemeth was known simply as Nicky, and—like the other members—was not developed much past this point. Each member displayed remarkable in-ring ability, particularly Nemeth, but despite a communal reign as WWE Tag Team Champions and a feud with DX, the group eventually disappeared altogether from Monday night telecasts.
Nemeth would resurface on Raw in the summer of 2008 with his current persona, Dolph Ziggler. He was placed in various feuds for a while and managed a lengthy run as Intercontinental champion, but throughout this time, the character of Dolph Ziggler was rather one-dimensional. Nemeth was not allowed much dialogue, and he seemed uncomfortable on the rare occasion that he spoke, as if he did not exactly know who Dolph Ziggler was supposed to be.
This problem still lingers today, largely because the creative team never had a clear understanding of Dolph Ziggler from his inception. For much of his career, Nick Nemeth's on-air persona has been a victim of authorial laziness, specifically the writers' insistence on placing unfinished characters into their television program as simply a way of getting talented wrestlers in front of the ring cameras—throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, if you will.
To this point, there has been no real plan for Dolph Ziggler. In June 2010, Vickie Guerrero was cast as his on-screen girlfriend and manager. The rationale behind this creative decision was simple: fans would associate Ziggler with Edge, Guerrero's former flame and undoubtedly one of the most popular characters in the WWE Universe. While this pairing with Guerrero certainly did not hurt Ziggler's status as a character, it did not elevate him to Edge's level in the fans' eyes.
Edge became a popular character long before he began an on-screen relationship with Vickie Guerrero. One could argue that he did much more for her career than she ever did for his.
The dynamic between Ziggler and Guerrero is the exact opposite, and the relationship will do more harm than good from now on. Guerrero has served as an excellent mouthpiece for Ziggler while he has proven his wrestling ability to the audience, but it is now time for him to branch out and stand on his own. If the creative team does not allow this, then the WWE audience will never truly respect or support the character.
The best wrestling characters do not need others to speak for them, to generate controversy on their behalf. Ric Flair was an independent character, as were Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena—all of whom were hated villains before ever stepping into their roles as protagonists.
Surely, there are exceptions. Brock Lesnar had Paul Heyman as a mouthpiece, but only to accent his character, not drive it. Lesnar would have succeeded without Heyman as a silent, monstrous villain unlike Heyman's later protege, Jon Heidenreich (whom I've affectionately dubbed Brock Lesser). Triple H also rose to prominence beside another powerful character in Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, but he always spoke for himself and was portrayed as the more powerful of the two despite his wife's stake in the WWE Universe.
Television viewers can only judge what they see on the screen before them. Just as the casual viewer only saw Nicky as a male cheerleader who wrestled well, displayed a healthy amount of spirit and rarely spoke, today's viewers see Dolph Ziggler as a talented wrestler who hardly says anything substantial and only follows the path that Vickie Guerrero clears for him.
While those in the Internet wrestling community see a wealth of potential in Dolph Ziggler—as they rightly should—the casual fan only sees Vickie Guerrero's subservient boyfriend who will always follow two steps behind her. He is only entertaining while wrestling, a fact that is acceptable for existing wrestling fans but not helpful towards generating new wrestling fans.
This is simply how Ziggler has been portrayed.
Everyone can see that he is a great wrestler, but so was Nick Dinsmore. Let's face it—the Eugene character would never have been a marketable champion. If Dolph Ziggler is to become WWE Champion in his current state, his credibility will only rise marginally in relation to the huge dip in prestige the title will endure. WWE cannot afford to place the title on a character that has not been fleshed out enough to be the central character of its flagship television program.
Remember when Alberto Del Rio had that great title run? Me neither.
There really is no limit for a man of Nick Nemeth's skill. Let's just hope the creative team allows him to be a leading man, not a stand-in for the diva's shadow.