For Dolph Ziggler, 2014 is a chance to redefine himself, to leap toward the proverbial brass ring that he missed so often last year.
He is too talented and too athletic to wander around the midcard as he did for much of the second half of 2013. There are a number of other wrestlers who can serve as stepping stones to midcard titles contenders.
How can WWE best use his abilities? What stories can he be the star of?
As a man obsessed with mirroring a legend's career, a David to WWE's Goliaths or man who makes a victory over him a long, arduous task, Ziggler would thrive.
If WWE doesn't believe that Ziggler is capable of carrying the world title for a sustained period, then it needs to find some other viable option for him. Each of the following scenarios gives him a story that compels fans and allows him to do what he does best—produce great ring work.
Matching a Legend
Fans have often compared Ziggler to Billy Gunn, Curt Hennig and Shawn Michaels. The last of those offers a chance for "The Show Off" to engage in a story that would elevate him.
Ziggler could begin to be obsessed with the idea of matching and surpassing what Michaels did in his Hall of Fame career. With Ziggler using the superkick and having a similarly dramatic style of selling, there's a natural parallelism to take advantage of.
In the Undertaker portion of the Road to WrestleMania mode in the WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 video game, the player must match some of Undertaker's feats in order to earn the right to face him at WrestleMania. One has to defeat Jimmy Snuka and Jake Roberts, both of whom Undertaker overpowered at WrestleMania, for example.
WWE would be wise to compose a similar narrative for Ziggler as he seeks to equal Michaels' legend.
Ziggler would attempt to defeat Triple H in a Street Fight just as Michaels did at SummerSlam 2002, pin Kane as Michaels did at Unforgiven 2004 and take on names from the past like Shelton Benjamin and Vladimir Kozlov who Michaels once bested. Success at each stage would give Ziggler something to brag about while failures would make him crazy.
Ziggler would be driven toward a goal that is ultimately unattainable.
He could learn something about himself in at least partially walking in Michaels' footsteps or else he could become angry and frustrated to the point of a mental breakdown. Either way, Ziggler's character would benefit from change and attention.
Having Michaels come in and give Ziggler his approval much in the way that Ric Flair did to The Miz is a beneficial option as is Michaels telling Ziggler he'll never be him resulting in "The Show Off" knocking him out with the Zig Zag.
Bret Hart once earned a reputation for knocking off larger opponents. "The Hitman" garnered wins over Yokozuna, Diesel, Bam Bam Bigelow and Kane, who was then Isaac Yankem. Ziggler can follow a similar path.
He has the speed and skill to believably be able to evade and outwork bigger men.
WWE could have him utilize the heart he showed in his championship loss to Alberto Del Rio at Payback. A win against Kane could begin the story. After beating Luke Harper, Ziggler's reputation as a man able to fell giants would grow.
He could spend several months in battles with WWE's biggest Superstars, each time winning despite his size disadvantage. Should Ziggler topple a heel Big Show a few times in a row or best The Great Khali in friendly competition, the legend of his David-like ways would grow.
It's easy to imagine the audience beginning to increasingly get behind Ziggler, a more believable underdog than Rey Mysterio. Along the way, The Show Off would likely get better matches than folks are used to seeing from guys like Khali.
The Toughest Out
If WWE is going to have Ziggler lose as often as he has (per North American Wrestling Rankings, he's the only Superstar with over 100 televised losses), then the company might as well make him look good in the process.
All losses aren't equal. Getting clobbered by Santino Marella in less than two minutes hurts a wrestler's perception. Refusing to tap out to the Sharpshooter while blood drips from your forehead until you pass out a la Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 is a beneficial defeat.
Ziggler needs more losses like Austin's.
WWE can have Ziggler fall to Randy Orton or Del Rio, but it would be wise to make Ziggler look resilient in the process. Have him kick out of signature moves, last extremely long in every match and leave the man who beats him gasping for air afterward.
That would not only make those victories more meaningful, but allow Ziggler a longer time to impress in the ring.
Of the numerous Match of the Year awards that Michaels earned over his career, several of those resulted in him losing. Along the way, though, he made his foes work hard for their victories and showed the kind of heart that turns wrestlers into heroes in fans' minds.
Should Ziggler put up a desperate fight each night and provide the kind of thrilling matches he has in the past, his win-loss record won't matter as much.
Ziggler doesn't need the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to succeed. He's an exciting in-ring worker who just needs some creative storytelling to provide a stage for him to steal the show.
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