Breaking Down Dolph Ziggler's Elite Ability to Sell His Opponents' Offense

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2014

Credit: WWE.com

Dolph Ziggler can make a love tap look like a death blow.

Nobody on the WWE roster exaggerates the violence he suffers in the ring like The Showoff. The theatrical side of pro wrestling is an art form that he has long since mastered.

Taking apart his matches and digging through photos of his in-ring work offers a look into just how he pulls off selling his opponents' offense so tremendously.

It's a recipe that requires one part athletic skill, one part body language expertise and one part gung-ho approach to the discipline. It's clear that he watched Shawn Michaels in action. Like Michaels, he maximizes the dramatic impact of every move.

Every clothesline, every kick to the ribs is a chance to reach out and seize the audience's attention.

Finding examples of that doesn't take long.

Take his recent match with Seth Rollins, for example. Ziggler tried to bring his foe down with a DDT, but Rollins caught him. He then sent Ziggler crashing into the turnbuckle with a powerbomb: 

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As soon as Ziggler made contact with the turnbuckle, his body went limp. His arms flopped as he fell forward. He then fully committed to making the move as good as possible, his face hitting the mat much like Ric Flair did so many times in his career.

Flat on the canvas, it was hard to tell whether Ziggler was legitimately knocked out.

Being such a fluid athlete helped him pull that whole sequence off, but so did commitment to the craft. He consistently works to make his opponent look good, which in turn makes his matches more engaging.

When taking a superkick, one could just move one's head and fall to the mat. That's clearly not good enough for Ziggler.

He showed that back in March, when he took on Alberto Del Rio on Raw. With Ziggler on his knees, stunned, Del Rio rushed out of the corner. He hit Ziggler with a superkick that was far from one of his best.

It made little impact. It didn't matter.

Ziggler made it look like it was as powerful as a blow from Thor's hammer:

The Showoff's head snapped backward. He then fell hard to the mat, his arms unmoving at his side. 

Not many wrestlers can act like that. Being as convincing as that requires some fusion of natural ability and effort.

Even in an unimportant, midcard match against a ballroom dancer, Ziggler is trying to hit a home run with every swing. Every move gets the Ziggler treatment.

Here, Fandango took advantage of a distraction from Layla and hit with a spinning kick:

The result was him not only tumbling to the mat but flopping his legs over to one side. That nuance added so much to that move. As a result, Ziggler kicking out at two a few seconds later was that much more meaningful.

Ziggler also looks to use every bit of his body when an enemy applies a hold. It's as if his face, hands, back and legs are all instruments, and he's trying to compose a symphony at every turn. 

Watch him suffer in The Miz's grip:

The Miz grabs hold of Dolph Ziggler.
The Miz grabs hold of Dolph Ziggler.Credit: WWE.com

He just has him in a reverse chinlock, a commonplace, filler move. Most wrestlers would have winced a bit, but Ziggler went beyond that. He looked as if he was going to fade from consciousness, and his arms flailed in desperation.

It's no rest hold when Ziggler is involved; it's a chance to enhance the story.

Last year at Payback, the story centered around Del Rio taking advantage of his concussion. It was the impetus for Ziggler becoming a babyface and Del Rio reverting back to heeldom. It wouldn't have worked as well as it did had Ziggler not shared his pain with the audience so effectively.

After taking a match's worth of punishment, Ziggler crawled up to Del Rio's legs. It was a moment similar to ones played out in the past. Few have ever nailed it like Ziggler did, though.

Alberto Del Rio stands over Dolph Ziggler.
Alberto Del Rio stands over Dolph Ziggler.Credit: WWE.com

Slithering along the mat, clutching Del Rio's legs was plenty powerful, but it was his facial expression that truly punctuated the drama. He didn't look like he was acting; he looked like he was passing a kidney stone.

That's how a wrestler can make fans stop thinking about wrestling's scripted nature and start buying into the narrative between the ropes.

Punches should leave a wrestler foggy. Suplexes should have one reaching for his back, worrying the crowd. Ziggler has long established himself as the current king of that aspect of the business.

One example that really captured his selling mastery was his reaction to The Miz's figure-four leglock:

Miz was terrible at applying the hold. It looked as if it was barely on Ziggler. It was sloppy and unconvincing.

No one told that to Ziggler, though.

His face reddened from the pain. He screamed in desperation. He clawed at The Miz's knee pads. The sum of all that was that one stopped looking at Miz's poor application of the hold and instead on the man suffering.

It's performances like this one that have helped him create empathy during his matches. He forces fans to care about how much he's getting hurt and whether he'll be able to escape the hold.

Tell a lie convincingly enough, and it just feels real. Ziggler continues to do that at an elite level, making even Miz's figure-four leglock seem like the truth.


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