7 Moments That Will Define Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is in prime position to have the best year of his career.
Since he made his debut under the Ziggler character back in 2008, wrestling fans have been waiting for him to break out and solidify himself as one of the WWE's top stars.
While it may have taken a little longer than some expected, Ziggler is as close to the top as he's ever been.
In 2012, he had the best year of his career. He flirted with the main event scene for a while and essentially guaranteed that he'd become a World champion by winning the Money in the Bank briefcase.
Now, Ziggler begins 2013 with the realization that this will undoubtedly be the year that makes or breaks "The Showoff."
Here are seven moments that will define Dolph Ziggler in 2013 and beyond.
7. WrestleMania 29
WrestleMania 29 is going to be one of the most star-studded pay-per-views in WWE history.
That's good news for the WWE's bank account, but bad news for some of the company's full-time stars, who will likely get lost in the shuffle at the biggest PPV of the year.
At WrestleMania 28, which was also a very stacked show, Ziggler found himself relegated to a 12-man tag team match that really didn't matter much.
At WrestleMania 29, there's a chance that Ziggler also finds himself in a forgotten match on the card rather than a World title bout or a major singles match.
The key, though, is what Ziggler does with whatever opportunity he's given at 'Mania this year, even if it's not the opportunity he wants.
Does he "steal the show" in a lower-card match? Does he find a way to compete for a World title? Is this the moment where he'll cash in his briefcase?
We don't know yet, but for Ziggler's sake, we can only hope that he's not put on the back burner at WrestleMania 29 like he was at WrestleMania 28.
6. Eventual Split with AJ
Dolph Ziggler's relationship with AJ Lee appears to just be getting started, but judging simply on recent history, it probably won't last too long.
In 2012, AJ was also romantically involved with Daniel Bryan, Kane, CM Punk and John Cena, and most of those "relationships" ended pretty quickly.
At some point in 2013, you have to figure that AJ and Ziggler will go their separate ways, and their breakup will be a huge moment for Ziggler.
Why? Because it could finally allow him to fly solo.
Ziggler has spent most of his career aligned with someone else, having been with either Vickie Guerrero or AJ since back in 2010. But his split with AJ should let him spread his wings and break out on his own.
Many think that Ziggler needs to do this to truly emerge as a top WWE star, and parting ways with AJ may be his first step toward going it alone for the first time in three years.
5. A Babyface Turn (If It Happens)
At least right now, Dolph Ziggler seems destined to remain one of the WWE's top heels going forward.
But there's always the chance that the creative team changes gears down the road and decides to turn Ziggler babyface.
While it doesn't seem that likely now, it didn't seem that likely for Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus or The Miz, either. Yet all three superstars are currently being booked as good guys.
A similar fate could await Ziggler because he's gained the respect of the fans for being so damn good in the ring.
It's easy for the fans to get behind a guy like him because he's one of the WWE's best in-ring performers, so don't be surprised if he ends up turning babyface at some point within the next two or three years.
Ziggler has never been a babyface, and with plenty of heels on the roster, the WWE may eventually decide that it wants him to be a top face rather than a top heel.
If and when that babyface turn does happen for Ziggler, it will be a defining moment for him, one that either catapults him even further up the card or sets him back significantly.
4. His First PPV Feud/Match After Losing the World Title (Assuming He Wins It)
Assuming Dolph Ziggler eventually becomes World champion, how he fares after losing that title will play a huge role in determining his future success.
Mainly, his first pay-per-view feud and match after his World title loss will give us a pretty good indication of how he's going to be booked going forward.
Some stars tend to stick around the main event scene after losing a World title. For example, Sheamus did this in 2012.
Other stars, however, often find themselves getting completely lost in the shuffle once they no longer have a World title around their waist. Jack Swagger's fall from grace in 2010 is a great example of this.
The question for Ziggler, if and when he loses his World title (and fails to regain it in his rematch), will be how the WWE books him afterward.
If his next rivalry is a midcard one that doesn't seem to matter, then odds are that Ziggler will wallow away in the midcard for a while and possibly never recover.
But if his next rivalry is still a main event-caliber one, then odds are that Ziggler's days as a main eventer will continue on.
Which scenario will it be for "The Showoff"?
3. Money in the Bank Cash-in
Dolph Ziggler has never had a real World title reign, but he's now holding the Money in the Bank briefcase, which essentially ensures that he will win one some day.
But before he can hold the World Heavyweight Championship, he has to successfully cash in the briefcase, and that will undoubtedly be the biggest moment of his career up to that point.
Cashing in the MITB briefcase has led to some of the more memorable moments in WWE history, and for guys like CM Punk and Edge, it was their first step toward becoming full-time main eventers.
How Ziggler's Money in the Bank cash-in plays out will be so important for "The Showoff."
In all likelihood, Ziggler will successfully cash in (only John Cena has failed to do so), but how, when and where he does it could set him up for success or failure afterward.
Does he cash in and turn babyface? Does he wait to cash in until a major show like WrestleMania? Does he give advance warning before he cashes in?
We'll just have to wait and see.
But by the way, here's my dream scenario for Ziggler's cash-in, one that could result in a dramatic moment that turns Ziggler into a bona fide star.
2. His First World Title Defense
Again assuming that Dolph Ziggler eventually becomes World champion, his Money in the Bank cash-in may not be as important as the match that comes after it: his first World title defense.
While it will certainly be a great accomplishment for Ziggler if he wins the World Heavyweight Championship, what's going to matter more is how he's booked as champion.
After all, we'll get a pretty good idea of how much faith the WWE has in him by the way he's booked in his first major World title defense.
Especially since Ziggler's a heel, there's always the chance that he weasels his way to victory or, even worse, gets himself intentionally disqualified in his first World title defense, neither of which bode well for his future.
Because the WWE books most of its heels to be cowards, Ziggler might be put in the unfortunate position of constantly cheating to win and looking like a cowardly World champion as a result.
If the WWE wants Ziggler to truly be established as a formidable World champion, though, his first World title reign will be a successful one that, more importantly, is 100 percent clean.
1. His First Real World Title Reign
If and when Dolph Ziggler becomes World Heavyweight champion, it will be his first real World title reign.
How he's booked during that title reign is going to go a long way in determining his success both as a World champion and after he loses the title.
If he's booked like an idiot as World champion (in the mold of Jack Swagger or The Miz), it's going to do absolutely nothing for him, and in fact, it would likely even set him back.
But if Ziggler's booked to be a tough, formidable champion, it's going to do wonders for both his World title reign and his credibility as a top star.
Should "The Showoff" come across as a credible World Heavyweight champion, the fans will buy him as one, and as a result, they'll be much more likely to take him seriously as a main eventer down the road, too.
Bad first World title reigns have done a lot of damage to guys like Swagger, The Miz and Alberto Del Rio, and in the case of someone like Swagger, he's never recovered from it.
The WWE can't afford to have that happen with Ziggler, and in order to avoid doing so, it has to book him to be more than just a cowardly heel champion.
Portray Ziggler as a great champion, and he'll be treated like one. Portray him as a wimp, and his World title reign will be doomed to fail.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!