WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 36: The Depressing Descent of Dolph Ziggler
In March of 2011, I initiated a new column here on Bleacher Report entitled "WWE Pushed to Punished," where I analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who had major potential but somehow lost their way over time due to a variety of reasons.
One individual who has fit that bill to perfection of late has been Dolph Ziggler.
At this time last year, Ziggler was believed to be one of the shining stars in the company with his Money in the Bank briefcase in tow. Mere months later, he went on to cash in that contract and win the World Heavyweight Championship in one of the most memorable Raw moments of 2013.
One year later, Ziggler has been reduced to losing to the likes of Curtis Axel, Damien Sandow and even Fandango. His recent string of bad luck has reportedly stemmed from him having heat backstage, but it remains to be seen as to when Ziggler's career will ever be revived.
For a wrestler having as much talent and charisma as Ziggler, it is a shame to see him in the position that he is at the moment. One can only hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel for the bleached blonde Superstar once his apparent punishment has run its course.
Here, I'll break down every rise and fall in the career of Dolph Ziggler in an attempt to discover where exactly he went wrong.
Debut and Being Drafted to SmackDown
Prior to making his initial appearance on WWE TV as Dolph Ziggler on the September 15, 2008 edition of Raw, Nick Nemeth worked under various gimmicks. From portraying Kerwin White's bodyguard to being a member of the Spirit Squad, Nemeth had already been exposed to the WWE Universe long before bleaching his hair blonde in 2008.
Before he could make his in-ring debut under the new Ziggler moniker, Nemeth was suspended for 30 days after violating the WWE Wellness Policy on October 10. He worked his first televised match on the December 1 episode of Raw, losing to Batista.
Although he came up short against The Animal that night, Ziggler showed that he was more than capable of hanging with the top guys. He even connected with his Zig-Zag finisher on Batista at one point in the matchup and proved to the world that he was here to stay.
In subsequent months, Ziggler contested matches against the likes of R-Truth, Charlie Haas and Jeff Hardy without any real direction. That being said, sending him to SmackDown in the 2009 WWE Draft the following April was the best thing to happen to him up to that point.
Feuding with MVP and The Great Khali
In his first official match as a SmackDown Superstar, Dolph Ziggler defeated then-United States Champion MVP with the use of dirty tactics on the April 17 episode of the Friday night show. This earned him a shot at the star-spangled prize two weeks later, but he ultimately came up short of capturing the gold.
Shortly thereafter, Ziggler immediately attempted to make an impression by targeting The Great Khali. Although he lost to Khali in their first two matches together, he picked up victories over the Punjabi Playboy via disqualification and count-out in subsequent weeks.
The blow-off match to their feud came in the form of a No Holds Barred bout at The Bash pay-per-view. With the help of a returning Kane, Ziggler picked up the scraps and scored the biggest win of his career to date.
With a win over a former world champion and a new entrance theme entitled "I Am Perfection," the future looked bright for Ziggler on the blue brand.
Chasing the Intercontinental Championship
Following his feud with The Great Khali, Dolph Ziggler then shifted his sights to Rey Mysterio and the Intercontinental Championship. He quickly became the No. 1 contender to the title at the Night of Champions event but was unsuccessful in defeating Mysterio for the strap.
Ziggler was granted another shot at the title at SummerSlam but was once again on the losing end. Although he was never successful in winning the strap from Mysterio that summer, he and The Master of the 619 had excellent matches together that put Ziggler over in a big way, even in defeat.
The bleached blonde Superstar continued to chase the Intercontinental title even after Mysterio dropped the gold to John Morrison in early September. Despite that, Ziggler still couldn't capture the prestigious prize from Morrison at Hell in a Cell or on the November 20 edition of SmackDown.
During this time, Ziggler was given a valet in Maria. The two seemed like a natural fit, but since Maria never went full-fledged heel, the couple fizzled out and Ziggler ditched Maria in early October.
Aligning with Vickie Guerrero and Winning the Intercontinental Championship
Dolph Ziggler was taken out of the Intercontinental Championship picture going into 2010 and competed against the likes of Matt Hardy, Kane and R-Truth. He made his debut on The Grandest Stage of Them All at WrestleMania 26 in a Money in the Bank Ladder match but came up short of capturing the contract.
In June 2010, Ziggler caught the attention of Vickie Guerrero. Since Vickie was an official consultant of SmackDown at the time, the former tag team champion recruited her as a manager from that point forward in order to get ahead on the blue brand.
His master plan worked to perfection, as Ziggler was able to secure a shot at the Intercontinental Championship against Kofi Kingston on the August 6 edition of SmackDown. On this night, Ziggler was successful in defeating Kingston to win the prestigious prize, his first taste of singles gold in the company.
Ziggler and Kingston continued to trade victories in the weeks that followed, leading to a no disqualification match at Night of Champions. With some assistance from Vickie at ringside, Ziggler put away Kingston for the three count and retained his title at the event.
For the remainder of the year, the bleached blonde Superstar put his title on the line in matches against Jack Swagger, MVP and Kaval, reigning supreme in them all. Ziggler also proved in matches against Daniel Bryan, Edge and others that he was worthy of a higher spot on the card.
Feuding with Edge for the World Heavyweight Championship
On the premiere episode of SmackDown in 2011, Dolph Ziggler dropped the Intercontinental Championship to longtime rival Kofi Kingston. Ziggler immediately invoked his rematch clause for the title after the contest concluded but came up short in that impromptu matchup as well.
Despite that, Ziggler shocked the world by inserting himself in the No. 1 contender's match for the World Heavyweight Championship later in the night. Following a Zig-Zag to Cody Rhodes, Ziggler picked up the pinfall victory and the biggest win of his career up to that point.
Ziggler then engaged in a feud with Edge over the World Heavyweight Championship going into the Royal Rumble. Although it was pretty predictable that Ziggler wouldn't be winning the title at the event, he still had an excellent opening contest with the Rated-R Superstar and looked strong in defeat.
Ziggler continued to contend for the world title in subsequent weeks but was never able to secure the gold. He caught a lucky break on the 600th episode of SmackDown, as Edge was "fired" for utilizing his banned Spear maneuver in a match against the former caddy.
On this night, Vickie presented Ziggler with his first World Heavyweight Championship. His reign was short-lived, however, as the newly reinstated Edge reclaimed the strap from Ziggler in a matter of minutes.
Technically, Ziggler went down in the history books as a former world champion, but he has gone on record and said that he never counted it as his first world title win. Regardless, fans knew it wouldn't be long before he was wearing the prestigious prize around his waist again, and for good this time.
Moving to Raw and Winning the United States Championship
Upon losing the World Heavyweight Championship to Edge, Teddy Long fired Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero from the SmackDown brand, forcing them to find work elsewhere. It wasn't until the March 7 edition of Raw that Ziggler resurfaced on WWE TV, becoming the newest member of the Raw roster.
He teamed with Lay-Cool to take on John Morrison, Trish Stratus and Snooki in six-person tag team match at WrestleMania 27, but came up short. Ziggler underwent a major makeover on April 18 but ditched the new look weeks later considering it made him look like Evan Bourne's older brother.
Ziggler continued to flounder on Monday nights until reigniting his feud with Kofi Kingston over the United States Championship in June.
At the inaugural (and only) Capitol Punishment pay-per-view, Ziggler once again defeated Kingston, this time to capture the U.S. title for the first time in his career. He went on to have a successful reign as champion, defending the strap against the likes of Alex Riley, John Morrison and Jack Swagger.
In September, Ziggler began feuding with Zack Ryder. The two traded victories for the remainder of the year, culminating in Ryder winning the star-spangled prize from Ziggler at WWE TLC.
By this point, the U.S. Championship was hindering Ziggler's momentum more than it was helping it, so it was a wise decision to take the title off him. As 2011 came to a close, it seemed more and more like Ziggler's time at the top of the card was coming quickly.
Contending for the WWE Championship and Various Feuds
On the December 26 edition of Raw, Dolph Ziggler became the No. 1 contender to the WWE Championship by pinning CM Punk in a Gauntlet match. He received his shot at the title against Punk on the premiere episode of Raw in 2012 but won the match via count-out and didn't capture the gold as a result.
Ziggler continued to headline the flagship show in subsequent weeks as he boasted about his victories over Punk and John Cena (from the January 9 episode). He received a rematch for the championship at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view but was unsuccessful in defeating The Second City Saint.
The former Intercontinental Champion continued to pursue the title in the month that followed, being named a participant in the WWE Championship Elimination Chamber match. Unfortunately for Ziggler, he was the second Superstar eliminated from the contest.
He and his tag team partner Jack Swagger were left without a storyline going into WrestleMania 28. They were recruited by Team Johnny and emerged victorious in a 12-man tag team match at The Show of Shows.
Ziggler went from coming close to beating Punk for the WWE title at the Royal Rumble to jobbing Brodus Clay at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view. It was mind boggling as to why he was being utilized as an enhancement talent in the spring of 2012, but many fans knew that it was only a matter of time before he would bounce back.
Becoming Mr. Money in the Bank and Feuding with John Cena
On the July 3 edition of SmackDown, Dolph Ziggler defeated Alex Riley to qualify for his third Money in the Bank Ladder match. At the annual event of the same name, Ziggler defeated seven other valiant competitors to capture the contract for a World Heavyweight Championship match at any time of his choosing.
Ziggler even attempted to cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase later that night against then-World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus, but an attack from Alberto Del Rio prevented him from doing so. This proved to be the norm in coming months, as Ziggler would tease cashing in on an almost weekly basis.
Immediately following the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, Ziggler entered a feud with Chris Jericho. The two faced off at SummerSlam in an awesome matchup, which was won by Jericho.
However, Ziggler gained retribution the next night on Raw by successfully defending his Money in the Bank contract against Y2J and forcing him to "retire" in the process. This was yet another feather in the cap of Ziggler that he could brag about going forward.
The former United States Champion briefly feuded with Randy Orton that fall, losing to him at Night of Champions. He scored a measure of revenge over Orton at Survivor Series, eliminating him in a five-on-five tag match to pick up the win for his team.
Also during this time, Ziggler was involved in a rivalry with John Cena, who was accused of being romantically linked to AJ Lee by Vickie Guerrero. A Ladder match was made between the two at the TLC pay-per-view, where the winner would earn the right to call themselves Mr. Money in the Bank.
Before the former multi-time WWE champion could grab possession of the briefcase, AJ interfered and sent Cena crashing down to the canvas. This allowed Ziggler to capitalize and secure the victory and the blue briefcase.
On this unforgettable night, Ziggler defeated the face of the company in the main event of a pay-per-view. This moment marked one of the biggest crowning achievements in Ziggler's career, and the moment that the WWE Universe knew they were looking at a future world champion.
Winning His Second World Heavyweight Championship
Despite his monumental victory over John Cena in the main event of WWE TLC, Dolph Ziggler went on to lose to Cena on the first two episodes of Raw in 2013. He had an impressive showing in the Royal Rumble match, lasting a whopping 50 minutes, but was ultimately eliminated by Sheamus.
Coming off one of the biggest matches of his career, one would think that WWE would have had more in mind for Ziggler on the Road to WrestleMania. He defeated Kofi Kingston in a meaningless match at Elimination Chamber before unsuccessfully challenging Team Hell No for the WWE Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 29.
Many fans expected Ziggler to cash in his contract either before or at The Show of Shows, but it wasn't meant to be. Instead, he waited until his opportune moment the night after 'Mania, capitalizing on an injured Alberto Del Rio who had just competed in a 2-on-1 Handicap match.
In what was one of the biggest ovations in recent Raw history, the Izod Center came unglued when Ziggler's music hit that unforgettable evening. In a matter of minutes, Ziggler soundly defeated Del Rio to capture his second World Heavyweight Championship.
After scratching and clawing for five years to get to the top, Ziggler finally realized a dream of winning a world title in grandiose fashion. He went from an unknown enhancement talent, to a solid mid-card act, to being on the cusp of the main event, to being a world champion.
With the prestigious prize secured around his waist, there was nothing that would stop the bleached blonde Superstar's red-hot momentum from reaching an all-time high. He was on top of the world as its heavyweight champion and had finally secured his spot as one the company's top-tier main event players.
Turning Face and Feuding with AJ Lee and Big E Langston
One month into his reign as World Heavyweight champion, Dolph Ziggler was sidelined with a concussion he suffered on the May 10 edition of SmackDown. The injury ended up being much more serious than anyone thought it would be, as it kept him out of action for over a month.
Ziggler returned to the ring at June's WWE Payback pay-per-view, where he was set to defend his world title against former champion Alberto Del Rio. During the course of the contest, Del Rio relentlessly targeted the head of Ziggler and took advantage of his injury to take the golden belt from him.
The bleached blonde Superstar didn't go down without a fight, though, as he showed a tremendous amount of resilliance and won over the WWE Universe in the process. Sure, Ziggler's reign was cut short after only two months, but he had since turned face for the first time in his career and his feud with Del Rio was more interesting than ever before.
At Money in the Bank, Ziggler invoked his rematch clause for the title but came up short after AJ Lee interfered and inadvertently cost him the gold. Due to this, Ziggler severed all ties with AJ the next night on Raw.
During Ziggler's rematch against Del Rio later that night, AJ distracted Ziggler from ringside and ensured Del Rio walked away with the win. Ziggler feuded with AJ as well as his former heavy, Big E Lagnston, from that point forward.
At SummerSlam, Ziggler teamed with Kaitlyn to defeat AJ and Langston in mixed tag team action, effectively putting an end to the rivalry. Although a win on the grand pay-per-view stage would usually signal big things for a wrestler, it was actually the turning point in Ziggler's career, and not for the better.
Feuding with Dean Ambrose, Damien Sandow and Fandango
Dolph Ziggler began feuding with The Authority after SummerSlam after not speaking fondly of Triple H in a backstage interview. He was unsuccessful in winning the United States Championship at Night of Champions, the Sept. 27 edition of SmackDown and the Oct. 16 edition of WWE Main Event.
At Battleground, Ziggler defeated Sandow on the Kickoff show, initiating a feud between the two. They traded victories in various types of matches in the month that followed, ending on the Dec. 2 edition of Raw when Sandow defeated Ziggler to become the No. 1 contender to the Intercontinental Championship.
Ziggler then moved into a mini-feud with Fandango, losing to him on the WWE TLC Kickoff show and on the Dec. 23 edition of Raw, where the winner would earn a future shot at the Intercontinental Championship.
Basically, Ziggler went from headlining 2012's WWE TLC pay-per-view and defeating the face of the company in the main event to losing to a ballroom dancer on the Kickoff show one year later. If that doesn't stress how far he has fallen in such a short a amount of time, I don't know what would.
Following a recent win over Fandango, Dolph Ziggler made mention of how he hasn't been "stealing the show" in the last few months, and how he wished to change his ways in the new year. He ended 2013 on a high note by defeating Curtis Axel on the Dec. 30 edition of Raw, but only time will tell if 2014 will be any better for him.
Personally, I find Ziggler to be a fine babyface, as he has a crazy amount of charisma and can connect with the crowds. The only issue is how badly he has been booked in the last four months, and the fans may no longer see him as a main event player.
That being said, I wouldn't mind seeing Ziggler turn back heel at this point. He works better in that role and may be able to find more success if he turns, so here's hoping WWE considers doing that sometime soon.
Over the course of his five year career in WWE, Ziggler has experienced a number of pushes only to be demoted to the bottom of the card. However, it may be different this time given that he apparently has heat on him for saying he was "sick" of WWE always backing Randy Orton in an interview at the end of August.
Whether Ziggler will rebound from this lengthy losing streak remains to be seen, but I surely hope so. He has the full package to be a top guy and deserves an actual run with a world title, but it is up to WWE to stop punishing him for something he said many months ago.
Thanks for reading and be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how Dolph Ziggler has been utilized over the course of his career. Also, include any potential Superstars or Divas you would like to see featured in upcoming editions of Pushed to Punished.
Read every archived edition of Pushed to Punished here.
Graham Mirmina, a.k.a. Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.