Examining Dolph Ziggler's Rise from Afterthought to Main Event Performer

Ryan DilbertWWE Lead WriterJuly 23, 2013

(Photo: WWE)
(Photo: WWE)

Going from caddy to World Heavyweight Champion, Dolph Ziggler has ridden his swagger and athleticism to the upper rungs of the WWE.

Less than 10 years ago, Ziggler stood just outside the limelight, a sidekick, a cheerleader, a prospect. The night after WrestleMania 29, with the crowd chanting his name, Ziggler charged down to the ring and snatched Alberto Del Rio's world title from off his waist.

His time as world champ was brief, but The Show Off’s talent is sure to have him return to that position.

Ziggler's time as an afterthought is over. He's paid his dues, toiled in the shadows and is now one of WWE's most talented performers.

His career trajectory has sputtered at times, but he's powered through his losses and slowly ascended the WWE hierarchy.

As much as his fans might bemoan him losing the world title at his first defense and his apparent step down to challenge Big E. Langston, his current position is a vast improvement over where he started.



Silly Beginnings

Ziggler's WWE journey began as Kerwin White's caddy.

In 2005, Chavo Guerrero Jr. had taken on a new persona, that of a white golfer. Ziggler, then known as Nick Nemeth, stood at his side, carrying his golf clubs and assisting in his matches.

The controversy of the White gimmick overshadowed his sidekick. Ziggler had little chance to show off his skills, instead playing the role of a clapping, grinning yes man.

When Chavo's uncle Eddie Guerrero passed away later that year, so did the ridiculous gimmick. Chavo became Chavo again and that meant the need for a caddy evaporated. Ziggler went back to WWE's then developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling.

Ziggler's next trip to the main roster came as a cheerleader.

He was Nicky, a member of the five-man Spirit Squad. On the plus side, he could show off his athleticism while flipping and jumping, but it was mighty hard to take him and his partners seriously.

Not only where they dressed in cheerleading outfits and doing choreographed routines, but they lost all the time. They became punching bags in their feud with Shawn Michaels and Triple H. 

When the Spirit Squad disbanded, Ziggler headed back down to OVW.

He was a talented slugger who just didn't get enough at-bats. Before he could gain any momentum or grow as a performer, he kept finding himself back in developmental.



Athlete On The Rise

When Ziggler came back to the main roster in 2008, he created his own stumbling block. WWE suspended him for 30 days for violating the Wellness Program policy.

Following that, Ziggler gave fans consistently thrilling performances in the ring. He slowly learned how to infuse a sense of theater into his ring work.

One of his first feuds was against Great Khali.

In outsmarting Khali several times over and selling the big man's offense like it was killing him, Ziggler showed big-time potential in spite of the limitations of his opponent. Making someone as wooden as Khali look as good as Ziggler did had to grab WWE's attention.

It may be no coincidence that Ziggler captured the Intercontinental Championship from Kofi Kingston soon after. The matches between Kingston and Ziggler were captivating shows.

Ziggler's speed, amateur wrestling skills and showmanship were finally getting properly displayed.

The same was true in his battles against Rey Mysterio, John Morrison and Zack Ryder.

He still had to prove, though, that he was more than just an exciting in-ring performer, but a well-rounded Superstar capable of being a part of the main event.

It was after his 11-minute world title reign and after winning the Money in the Bank briefcase that Ziggler gave us a good look at his main event capabilities.



The Final Miles

Ziggler's feud with John Cena in late 2012 showcased his full range of talents.

Their steel cage match at the 20th anniversary of WWE Raw and their ladder match at TLC: Tables, Ladder & Chairs both felt like main events; they were big, important and thrilling.

It was his verbal assault on AJ Lee that was his true breakthrough moment, though.

The cold, merciless speech he gave was his best promo work yet.

Adding this skill to his history of great matches made Ziggler a valuable asset. He showed off his charisma while hosting WWE Download as well. Ziggler wasn't just a dropkick master and the king of selling other guys' moves, he was multifaceted and ready for the next step up.

The fans recognized that during Alberto Del Rio's battle against Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter on April 8, 2013. They chanted, "We want Ziggler!" When Ziggler prowled toward the ring after Del Rio could barely stand, they exploded.

After pinning Del Rio to become the new world champion, it seemed as if Ziggler's time had finally come. All his momentum soon froze, however.

A concussion had Ziggler out of action for much of his reign. Del Rio would then take back the belt at Payback, a moment that inspired Ziggler to tell S. Wayne Carter Jr. of the Carroll County Times, "I've never been more frustrated in my entire WWE career."

Who could blame him?

After making the trek from joke to world champion, he finds himself having to continue to climb.

It's a climb that he knows how to make and his next goal should be to find a way to dig his claws in when he reaches the top once again.