Dolph Ziggler, Zack Ryder, and WWE Fans' Frustrations with the Mid-Card

Tom ClarkFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2012

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We fans are an impatient bunch.

Anytime a WWE Superstar catches our eye, we often latch onto him, following and analyzing his every move.  We study him, we critique him, and ultimately we decide if he deserves a shot at the top. Once the decision is made, then it’s game on.

He has to be pushed.  As in, right now.  Yesterday, in fact.

A great example of this is Dolph Ziggler, who has supposedly been on his way to main-event relevancy for quite some time now.

For many fans, he is the next big guy, a great top heel who has a good look, great mic skills, and who continues to impress every time he’s in the ring.  For Dolph fans, it’s only a matter of time until he cashes in the Money in the Bank briefcase and becomes the new World Heavyweight Champion.

Other fans are still holding out hope for Zack Ryder, whose shot at the big time came courtesy of his YouTube show.  Ryder did an exceptional job promoting himself, getting his character out there when WWE would do neither for him.  

The buzz he generated, combined with his personality, his ring ability, as well as his look, have his fans convinced that he could take the ball and run with it.

These are just two examples of WWE talent who have worked hard, paid their dues to get a chance and now have the endorsement of fans who believe that their time has come.  And though I happen to agree in both cases, I for one can see the impatience that we as fans tend to have.

And it seems to be getting worse.  But it wasn’t always this way.

Cue the flashback.

Anyone who knows me knows that I grew up on Jim Crockett Promotions.  For me, the old-school NWA was, and still is, the best example of what a pro wrestling promotion should be.  They just did so many things right.  One area that they excelled at was the booking of talent to their fullest potential.

It’s no mystery to anyone familiar with the Crockett product that for the most part, their top stars made their living on TV by working squash matches.  Each week, we would see The Road Warriors decimate two bump boys in under five minutes.  

Hawk and Animal showed their dominance in what basically amounted to a workout match against a tag team that most fans had never heard of, and would probably lose the next week to someone else, perhaps to either the Midnight Express or the Rock & Roll Express.

But these two jobbers had an essential role to play in the company.  There’s no shame for a professional to lose a match to a top talent.  If the guy does his part, then the main-event worker looks just as good, or even better, than when they entered the match.  His image would not be tarnished, only enhanced, due to his ability to show off in the ring.

The second part of the card is of course where Dolph and Zack now work, the mid-card.

The mid-card talent today, as it was back during the NWA era, were stars who were just on the cusp of making it to the main event.  They were hard-working guys, who had at one time been lower on the card and had likely worked their way up.  And for many of them, the mid-card was the most success they enjoyed in their career.

Two good examples of this are Sam Houston and Manny Fernandez.  

Sam Houston came from a wrestling family.  His brother was legendary WWE Superstar Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and their father was longtime wrestler Grizzly Smith.  Sam had the pedigree and had a promising career in the NWA.  And much of that career was given a boost by "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.

By being around Dusty as well as Magnum TA on TV, Sam received the rub he needed to have a good run as a mid-card talent that fans followed and appreciated every step of the way.  

When Sam Houston was in the ring, it was not a guaranteed victory, but it was not a guaranteed loss, either.  Fans wanted to see him and he strengthened the mid-card with his work.

The same could be said of "The Raging Bull" Manny Fernandez.  

Manny is one of those old-school wrestlers who was smash mouth before the term was even used.  He was a rough-and-tumble kind of guy, who was legitimately tough in the ring and it showed to fans who loved to watch him.  

Like Houston, Fernandez also initially rubbed shoulders with Dusty and a few other top workers in the company.  And from that point on, at least in the eyes of fans, he was a made man.

Manny’s star rose even higher when he turned heel and began tagging with Rick Rude.  Managed by another legend, Paul Jones, Fernandez and Rude became the most physically dominant tag team in the NWA, second only to Hawk and Animal.  

Manny’s spot transitioned to main event at times, but for the most part he stayed at mid-card for the duration of his career.

Two different types of workers, who followed two different paths, yet both were valuable assets to the company they wrestled in.  They were two very good talents who turned in one solid performance after another, strengthening the card and entertaining from bell to bell.

So, what is the theme here?  Am I saying that Dolph Ziggler and Zack Ryder are similar to Manny Fernandez and Sam Houston?  Do I believe that while Dolph and Zack are both equally good in their own right, that perhaps they are just not meant to go any higher on the card in WWE?  Not at all.  But if they were to stay in the same place, is that really such a death sentence for them?

As fans we simply cannot seem to be satisfied with just enjoying a Superstar’s work anymore without worrying about why he is not higher up on the WWE food chain.  

With each win comes validation that we must be right in our assessment that our favorite mid-card talents are on their way up.  And with every loss, we are back to debating why they’re just not being given a chance to succeed, that perhaps they are being held down.

The reality is that while I do believe we tend to be pretty impatient at times, a lot of the fault lies with WWE itself.

Vince McMahon creates stars.  That’s what he does.  He’s done it for years.  WWE is built on, and thrives on, the Superstars that they produce and push to the masses.  

We as fans are used to seeing them in action and have watched the most average middle-of-the-card talent brought up, sometimes rather quickly, to the heights of stardom.  We have seen it so much in fact that at this point we expect it.

We just are not content with seeing a worker who we feel deserves his big break, toiling away at mid-card.  It‘s as if there is no coming back from that spot.  The truth is, that place is the proving ground for Superstars to show what they can do and how they can handle the spotlight.  It’s a system that works, and really always has.

So, when are Dolph Ziggler and Zack Ryder going to hit the big time?  Your guess is as good as mine. Until that time comes, I will be content to just sit back and be entertained by their work.

As patiently as possible.