As a big Dolph Ziggler mark, it pains me to watch one of WWE's most talented performers flounder in his new role as a babyface.
Ziggler's segments have been cringe-inducing, to say the least, during the last few weeks since he and Alberto Del Rio completed a double-turn at the Payback pay-per-view. If something doesn't change soon, the turn will totally flop and negatively impact Ziggler's career.
WWE has struggled in the last few years when it comes to identifying effective heel talents and turning their innate charisma into a bankable babyface star. Last year, WWE suddenly and anti-climactically turned the Miz during a backstage segment. This winter, we saw Del Rio turn face during a non-wrestling segment on PPV, then run over Santa Claus on Raw as a heel, then suddenly be a smiling good guy again a week later.
To compare Ziggler to those two would be unfair. Nobody was clamoring for either Miz nor Del Rio to turn. The crowd had been red-hot for Ziggler for months, reaching a fever pitch the night after WrestleMania, when he cashed in his briefcase to capture the World Heavyweight Championship.
Since returning from a concussion and turning at Payback, Ziggler hasn't been the same. He looks awkward when trying to stir up support from the fans. His promos have felt forced, and his ringwork hasn't changed at all since flipping his side of the script.
One person Ziggler could learn from during this troubled time for his character is Randy Orton. It was, after all, Orton who was expected to be the breakout babyface of the Evolution stable, not Batista. And if the 24-year-old babyface Orton had succeeded, we may not have to live through tiresome John Cena promos and main events each month.
To categorize Orton's first run as a babyface and a flop is an understatement. While Ziggler's turn does involve a top title, it's in no way close to the manner in which Vince McMahon was prepared to strap his company to Orton's back and see how far it could fly.
Within just a few short months, though, Orton had dropped the belt and was back to the dark side. He was relegated to the midcard, became Edge's lackey and required a few years to reestablish himself as a top dog in the WWE, culminating in a WrestleMania main event against Triple H.
Today, Orton pops the crowd as big as any fan favorite in the company. He's retained his killer instinct, his sudden offense and brooding demeanor. All of these attributes fit well in a heel's repertoire, but Orton makes them work, as he sells T-shirts, merchandise and tickets around the world.
Ziggler must find his voice on the mic. He must develop several signature offensive spots that fans can react to during a match. He must explore his character's motivations and mannerisms to the point that they play out in all interactions—in and out of the ring. While fans pop for surprises, they truly crave familiarity.
Ziggler has time to find his footing in his new role, but it can't wait too long. WWE has an exciting group of talented, young stars making their way up the ranks at the moment.
Daniel Bryan passed Ziggler in the last year. Punk has cemented his status as a cornerstone of the company. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins all have main event potential, as do the newly debuted Wyatt Family members.
The good news for Ziggler, though, is at least he's not Cody Rhodes right now.