Dolph Ziggler on Quest for WWE Gold, Rebranding Himself, Drew McIntyre and More

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2020

Dolph Ziggler on Quest for WWE Gold, Rebranding Himself, Drew McIntyre and More

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    Dolph Ziggler remains determined to prove he's the best WWE has to offer regardless of where he's positioned on the show.
    Dolph Ziggler remains determined to prove he's the best WWE has to offer regardless of where he's positioned on the show.Credit:

    Despite falling short of becoming WWE champion at Extreme Rules, Dolph Ziggler will have another crack at Drew McIntyre when they face off in rematch on Monday's Raw. This time, though, the Scot will be picking the stipulation and intends on keeping it secret until right before the bell rings.

    It could wind up being anything from a Hair vs. Hair affair to a Loser Leaves Town match, but either way, the odds aren't exactly in The Showoff's favor. Although that's nothing new for the 40-year-old, it won't stop him from giving it his all and making viewers believe he has a legitimate shot of having his hand raised in victory.

    That's essentially been the story of Ziggler's WWE career.

    He's racked up far more losses than wins these past few years but continues to be put in these high-profile positions for a reason. The two-time world champion never ceases to bring the best out of his opponents and elevate them to the next level while looking credible in defeat himself.

    The Showoff has held almost every active title the company has to offer multiple times over, though the WWE Championship has always alluded him. If he can somehow secure a shock win over McIntyre on Monday, he'll be one step closer to validating his claims of being the greatest entertainer in the entire promotion.

    Until then, Ziggler has had plenty to say about his latest opportunity at the coveted title, receiving an endorsement from The Rock, how he feels about his current spot on the show and more in a phone interview conducted Friday.

Thriving Under Pressure

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    Ziggler is no stranger to the spotlight, especially when it comes to pay-per-view and television main events. He has headlined countless shows in the past and also tried his hand at stand-up comedy, so one would have to assume nerves don't affect him so much.

    He's confident in his abilities and knows he can deliver when it matters most, but the sheer excitement of competing for a prestigious prize such as the WWE Championship never leaves him.

    "It's more of an excitement than a pressure," Ziggler said. "You do get used to it, but every once in a while when you're building up to it or thinking about a match, you remember when you were a kid and wished you were one day fighting for the WWE Championship. Sometimes you lose track of it and have to pinch yourself and say, 'Hey, I'm fighting for the WWE title.'"

    The Showoff has lived up to his nickname more often than not in the last decade by attempting to outperform and outshine as many people as possible. His experience in big-match situations gives him a distinct advantage going into Monday's Raw, despite not having the slightest clue what the stipulation might be.

    "I've made a career out of people trying to follow that and leaving it all out there. You find a way to step it up just a bit more, even though I leave it all out there in any match I'm in," he said.

    "To have it for the WWE title, it's never not surreal, but also the butterflies aren't there. It's just excitement because I'm ready to go do what I believe I'm the best at."

His History with Drew McIntyre

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    The history between Ziggler and Drew McIntyre has been well-documented throughout their recent rivalry over the WWE Championship.

    The Showoff hasn't been shy in acknowledging he was responsible for bringing McIntyre back to the main roster in April 2018 (from a storyline standpoint, of course). He helped make the Scot relevant in the remainder of the year and won the Raw Tag Team Championship with him that fall.

    What fans may not remember is that they went on to feud in the final few weeks of the year, culminating in a grueling Steel Cage match on the New Year's Eve edition of Raw that was won by McIntyre. They worked just as well against each other then as they did during their encounter at Extreme Rules 2020.

    "Even though we've only had a handful of matches against each other, we had several together also," Ziggler said. "Just knowing that mindset, there's no faltering, no 'Eh, I'm not really feeling it tonight, let's see what I can do out there.' You know the laser-focus is there, so I will always respect that.

    "I know that I'm going to get hit hard. I know that I'm going to get hit a lot. I know that I'm going to try to go back to my wrestling from college, and I also know that I'm going to get launched around the ring because he's so strong."

    The Showoff has had so many memorable matches and rivals in WWE that it's difficult to determine where McIntyre falls on the list, but if any one thing is for certain, it's that you can expect nothing less than a fight when these two step in the ring together.

    "I know he goes out to set an example and I'm also someone out to set an example, usually just in a jerkier way," Ziggler said. "With those battles we've had, just throwing me into steel cages or at Extreme Rules, we went all out and beat each other with everything. It's about finding out what the stipulation for the match is and trying to make it, to your best ability, make sense."

Chasing the WWE Championship, the One Title That Has Always Alluded Him

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    For all the titles Ziggler has held throughout his lengthy WWE tenure, it's hard to believe the WWE Championship isn't already among his accolades. In fact, he can't believe it, either.

    The Showoff is a two-time world champion in WWE, but both of those reigns were with the World Heavyweight Championship when it was still active. He's competed for the WWE title on several occasions in the last five years but hasn't been able to seal the deal and take the title home.

    However, capturing the championship isn't on his mind as much as doing as exceptional a job as he can is.

    "I'll do interviews like this and, no joke, you'll remind me that's one of the only things I haven't won," Ziggler said. "If I sat back and thought about it, maybe, but I look at it as a sport and see who I'm playing, this is who I'm fighting, what are their strengths and weaknesses, what can I do to make this work out best for me, how can I come out on top one way or the other.

    "The emotion and excitement is there because when the title is on the line—knowing you're a part of it, knowing it's a bigger match than normal—I feel like Bill Belichick. I'm just planning and plotting and, sure, if you go along the way and win six championships, you did it, but you're also just going out to be the best in the business and set an example for other people who watch."

    Ziggler didn't elaborate on what goals he does hope to attain in the remainder of his career, but continuing to steal the show every night likely leads the list.

Getting an Endorsement from The Rock

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    Not many fans may have picked Ziggler to win the WWE Championship at Extreme Rules because of his less-than-stellar track record in world title matches, but he did get one important endorsement from The Rock prior to the pay-per-view.

    WWE posted a photo of The Showoff wearing the WWE belt over his shoulder on its Instagram page on July 17, to which Rock replied: "I'd co-sign this decision. Talented dude and always has a spark in his presentations."

    Ziggler has been praised by plenty of people over the course of his career, but a compliment from The Brahma Bull just hits different.

    "I don't see how it couldn't [resonate with you]," he said. "He's the biggest star in the world, no matter what he does and no matter how you see him. The cool thing was I've seen him as someone who's studying wrestling when he was wrestling and I go, 'This guy makes moves here, he does things here, he captures everyone's eye no matter what whenever he can.'

    "He could be a famous movie star right now and say he was bad at wrestling at some point. I'd think, 'Well, it's cool he's a big star and sees something in me. But, you know what, I don't think he knows what the hell he's talking about wrestling-wise.' But that is not the case. He knows what it takes. He knows how to be great. He's The Great One."

    On the subject of endorsements, Ziggler gave one of his own to Zack Ryder, now known as Matt Cardona, albeit in an unconventional way.

    When asked whether he has since returned the HDMI cable he allegedly stole from him several years back, the two-time world champion didn't hold back in giving his thoughts on his longtime friend.

    "I hate him so much! I hate all of his old, dumb toys. I hate his old Princess Leia," Ziggler said jokingly. "I'm not going to say that I have it, I'll just say I do have an extra one and I'm not going to say anything other than that. I can't believe people would support this clown and especially go onto Pro Wrestling Tees at Matt Cardona and try to purchase anything that he sells. It's an embarrassment to the wrestling business and anyone who follows it."

    It may not have been the same ringing endorsement Rock gave Ziggler, but it was the type of response one could only expect from WWE's resident heel.

Money in the Bank Cash-in vs. Winning the Main Event of Survivor Series 2014

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    You don't have to be a die-hard Ziggler fan to agree he has had his fair share of highlights and momentous moments over the span of his stint in WWE.

    Two of his grandest triumphs that come to mind are the Money in the Bank cash-in from April 2013 and the heavily touted Survivor Series 2014 main event.

    The Showoff used his MITB briefcase to take the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio seven years ago, and he followed that up by claiming the win for Team Cena over Team Authority at Survivor Series 19 months later.

    Both were very special for Ziggler because of the reactions he received. When asked to choose which he would keep and which he would erase between the two moments, he had a tough time deciding what victory meant more to his career and him personally (and professionally).

    "The worker and psychologist in me who likes calling the shots, likes directing and likes storytelling really enjoyed that Survivor Series and the moments that it had and the beats and the deep down selling mixed with being knocked out, me being down five to me or whatever it was," he said.

    "Having all those options taken away from you and putting it all solely on you to make this real and believable and overcome it, that's awesome and I love it, but that's the worker in me."

    That was the night he vanquished The Authority all on his own to a thunderous pop from the fans in attendance. That should've been what took him to the next level, but a lousy followup prevented that from happening.

    Putting that aside, his World Heavyweight Championship one night removed from WrestleMania 29 on Raw was not only equally exciting but will also be what the masses remember most about Ziggler's roller-coaster career, if only for the goosebumps it still gives fans to this day.

    "The moments of watching wrestling since I was five years old and not hearing any noises like that since "Stone Cold" Steve Austin came out and saved the day in the Attitude Era, I got to go with the world title cash-in because it was a special night," Ziggler said.

    "I won't even harp on it, but I was a guy who lost all the time. I didn't speak for myself, someone spoke for me and it was rare when I talked. I would lose almost all the time, and the WWE Universe go, 'This guy's awesome at his job. He's doing something special and the company is almost going out of their way to tell us not to care about him and, you know what, we're going to do the opposite.'

    "When I cashed in that Money in the Bank contract, when I became world champion against an injured guy who was barely limping around and was barely fighting me off and almost beat me in that match after just finishing wrestling, the crowd erupted and people erupted at home.

    "People will bring it up to me now and I'm well aware that it was an after-WrestleMania crowd and they were already hyped up, but the reason for the rejoicing and the emotion was purely because I was in that position because of the fan support and it had absolutely nothing to do with what I was doing on the show character-wise."

Why He Decided to Stay Whenever He Contemplated Leaving

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    Fans have often wondered why Ziggler never followed guys like Cody and Jon Moxley out the door and into other promotions where he'd presumably be a bigger deal and get a fresh start.

    He admitted that all of the bad booking he's endured has gotten to him before and almost led him to not re-signing when contracts were due.

    "There would be months or years that went by that I went, 'OK, when this contract runs out, no matter what they offer me, I'm going to get out of here and go make a name for myself and see if they want me back or if they're begging to have me back or maybe I don't want to come back,'" he said.

    "There's been different points where I go, 'Well, I'm now working with X person, Y person, and Z person and I know I can make them better. I'm going to stay this time and figure things out.' In the old days, you used to bounce around territories and found out about yourself, and that's how you made things work."

    The prospect of seeing Ziggler in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling or All Elite Wrestling would be interesting, but he's shown he would rather stick with what is widely perceived to be the biggest wrestling company in the world and make the most of what he's given.

    He always has fresh faces to work with and has done his part in getting them over (for example, Otis, Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura). His most recent outing against Drew McIntyre proved that even in defeat, he can convince viewers he could steal the title at any time, no matter how many fans are banking on him getting beat again.

    "I also very much do embrace that guy who is one win and 99 losses this year, coming off of a loss to Otis, shows up and is fighting for a title. I go, 'Man, this doesn't make sense to me, but I'm going to make you believe one way or another,'" Ziggler said.

    "I have 10-year-old kids telling me on social media, 'We know you're not winning this match.' You go, 'You know what, there's a reason I'm here. There's a reason I do this. There's a reason I get put in these positions.' It's because somehow, good or bad, I can make you believe and possibly this could be the time or day where lightning strikes and it happens. I feel like I've made an entire career out of that."

    "Sometimes it gets a little taxing when you have the entire world telling you your Vegas odds are 10 million to one that you're going to win this match and you go, 'OK, I'm going to make this match awesome,'" Ziggler added.

    "Even the biggest haters of myself or my position came away from the match we had at Extreme Rules saying, 'Damn, that was badass.' I say to myself, 'I need to step it up and make it happen again.'"

Constantly Making Tweaks to His Character

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    Having been with WWE for over a decade, Ziggler is always looking to reinvent himself any way he can. He's aware of fans criticizing his character in recent years but strongly believes he has made more attempts to switch up his act than he's given credit for.

    Look no further than his feuds with Kofi Kingston and Drew McIntyre for proof of that. Both involved him gunning for the WWE Championship against two tremendously talented competitors with whom he has history, but that's where the similarities stopped.

    "When I was going back and forth with Kofi for the title, I didn't want to say the same stuff I had been saying for 10 years like 'I deserve it,'" Ziggler said. "I went out there and said, 'I've had opportunities. This is different. I'm jealous of you being in this spot and I feel like this should be my spot.' This wasn't the usual thing.

    "Even when I got to get a little crazier and little more psycho with another wrinkle into the character, everyone still says at the end of the day, 'You've been saying the same thing for 15 years.' No, I'm not, but if you see it that way, that's on you, that's fine.

    "When it came to Drew, I wasn't out there saying I should be 1,000,000-0, beating everyone to death, but I go, 'There is history here and I took you under my wing. If you watched the show, I brought you in and jumped on the grenades. I'm not saying I'm better than you, I'm not saying I deserve this. All I'm saying is you owe me one, so do the right thing for once.' There are different ways and loopholes to make the character a bit different."

    As far as being referred to as a "gatekeeper" in WWE in regards to where he's currently slotted on the card, Ziggler admitted he hates it and that it makes him miserable. He knows that with the skill set he has, he could be doing so much more but feels his frustration is justified because everyone should be chasing the op spot as well.

    "I know how good I am, I know the position I should be in," he said. "But I also think, 'How can I make this business better when I leave it than when I got here?' I have that integrity part to it and no matter the situation or how mad I am.

    "Everybody should be mad they're not the champion and fighting to make that happen every day. It's just not going to happen, but if you don't have that mindset, then you shouldn't even be here."

    A win over McIntyre on Raw would be enough to earn him another opportunity to compete for the WWE Championship sometime soon and give him the momentum boost he has long been looking for.


    Watch Dolph Ziggler challenge Drew McIntyre this Monday on Raw at 8/7c, only on USA Network.


    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.