Dolph Ziggler Is Biggest Dark Horse in 2015 Royal Rumble

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2014

Credit: WWE.com

Every once in a while, a push comes from out of nowhere and leads to a change in booking plans, thanks in large part to the reception it receives from the audience.

Since the build to Survivor Series, Dolph Ziggler has broken out of WWE's crowded midcard to become a featured player on both Raw and SmackDown. At the annual November event, he was the sole survivor of the Team Cena vs. Team Authority match—the man as responsible for ousting Triple H and Stephanie McMahon from power as the debuting Sting.

He followed that performance up by capturing the WWE Intercontinental Championship from Luke Harper in a show-stealing Ladder match at the TLC pay-per-view. Raw and SmackDown main events and a huge victory over Seth Rollins on a recent episode of the Friday-night program have cemented Ziggler's status as one of the top stars on today's sports-entertainment landscape.

With the Royal Rumble coming up, the smart money is on Roman Reigns to win the annual battle royal and begin his climb to the top of the industry.

But what happens if the fans turn on the supposed "chosen one" in the same way they did to Batista just a year ago? What if they reject Reigns like they have rejected the company's current franchise player, John Cena?

Rather than force-feeding Reigns to an audience that prefers to pick and choose who makes it to the top and is not afraid to hijack any given show to get their point across, why not go with the most obvious dark-horse candidate to emerge from this year's Rumble match victoriously: Dolph Ziggler?

The Showoff has emerged as one of the most over babyfaces on the roster thanks to his ability to generate sympathy from the audience through his facial expressions and bumping, not to mention his consistently great performances.

Like Bret Hart experienced in the early 1990s, Ziggler overcame poor booking and remained over with the audience because they believed in him, trusted in his ability to deliver a great match and appreciated just how much work he put into ensuring they got their money's worth.

That is an organic connection—the likes of which cannot be manufactured. Daniel Bryan experienced something similar throughout the second half of 2013 and into WrestleMania XXX, an event at which he captured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the greatest moment of his career.

Whether WWE sustains Ziggler's push may prove to be irrelevant. With the performer gaining considerable momentum entering the new year and emerging as the dark horse to overcome the great Reigns experiment, do not be surprised if the WWE Universe again forces the hand of management, insisting that they push the two-time world champion back into the main event scene.

This time for good, beginning with the Royal Rumble.