One week he’s carrying a bag. Another time, he’s holding a megaphone, but it’s his most recent work which has him closer to carrying that ball and becoming a leading force in World Wrestling Entertainment.
The egotistical, overly sarcastic Dolph Ziggler continues to elevate his game, surviving prior roles that returned him to developmental (not once but twice) until ultimately charming the right people for his third time in the show. The latest fit is as natural as the talented superstar.
Ziggler briefly spent time in WWE in 2005 as a caddie for the arrogant Kerwin White (Chavo Guerrero Jr.) and later more time as a member of the goofy, fan-hated, male cheerleading Spirit Squad.
Set in some high-profile angles with the Spirit Squad — a group of young hopefuls from developmental — helped cheerleader Nicky (Ziggler) in his quest to find a truer identity.
Ziggler, 31, is not only the U.S. champ in WWE but someone who can work with top talent. The past two weeks on Monday Night Raw (WWE’s top TV show) spotlighted him in the ring with WWE champ CM Punk (Nov. 21) and former world champ Randy Orton (Nov. 28), WWE A-listers.
Battling for top tier status, Ziggler discussed his Raw match with Punk, since the interview was before his Raw match with Orton.
“A lot of people enjoyed the match, and my family and friends liked it,” Ziggler said. “Honestly, since last Monday, I haven’t been able to sleep that well, because I really wanted that match to be one of the best ever, and it wasn’t. So I have something to build toward, and hopefully we’ll get to do it on a big stage, and if we do, I know we will tear the house down. I know it.”
A confident Ziggler has paid his dues during his roller-coaster ride.
With so few spots available in WWE, second chances are difficult in the world’s top sports entertainment company.
A third? Forget about it.
Ziggler didn’t, defying odds.
“It’s a little scary, no matter how good you think you are or no matter how much you’re progressing,” Ziggler said. “Anytime you’re taken off the full-time roster, and you have to kind of start over and work on your craft some more, when you’re off TV, it’s scary.
“I told myself if I got another chance, if, then I would be 100 percent ready to go. I went to two practices a day. I was watching my tapes. I didn’t want to come back and have them say, ‘Hey, let’s give this guy a shot. Oh, he’s OK.’ I wanted, ‘Wow, this guy could be the best ever,’ and that’s what I’m striving for.
“I was lucky enough to come back, and I’ve been lucky enough to prove a bunch of people wrong, and now I go out there and when I walk back to the locker room, and it’s tough [for those wrestling next on the show] to follow my match.”
Ziggler, the U.S. champ, will wrestle social media fav Long Island Iced-Z Zack Ryder, the self-proclaimed Internet champ, when a WWE Raw house show (no TV) is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Bank Atlantic Center in (South Florida) Sunrise. FYI: Sports Illustrated featured Ryder in its list of the 100 most influential social media users in sports. OMG.
“Anytime being in Florida, it’s great,” Ziggler said. “I love the weather. I love the people. I got to train under Steve Keirn and Dusty Rhodes and Dr. Tom Prichard there for a little while.”
After his stint with the Spirit Squad in WWE in 2006, Ziggler returned to Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville for a few months, before being re-assigned to WWE’s newest developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa. That’s where he learned under the tutelage of Keirn, Prichard and Rhodes. Keirn and Rhodes propelled Championship Wrestling from Florida back in the day.
“Steve was an FCW guy himself, and he was a big fan of Dusty,” Ziggler said, “and we all got to learn from both those guys. Anytime we go out there, we’re trying to do as best as we can to do those guys proud. Any chance we can do that when its close to them [in Florida] it’s fun. I’m actually good friends with both of them, and we learned a lot from them.
“You want to go do your best for your teachers to show them what you’ve learned and what you’ve done. In my case, I like to show much better I am than everyone else.”
Ziggler will get that opportunity when WWE Raw makes a Florida trek Dec. 3, 5, 6 and 16.
“Anytime coming back to Florida is a great time,” he continued. “Get to see some old friends, a lot of people who’ve been in the business for a really long time. There’s a lot of wrestling heritage there, a lot of legends, and of course, it’s near my hometown, ut um, Hollywood, Florida, which is great. I always like to show up and steal the show and to do that in one of my backyards, I’m more than happy to oblige.”
An Ohio native, Ziggler is billed from Hollywood, Florida, a city sandwiching Fort Lauderdale and Miami, home of WWE WrestleMania 28. Florida’s Hollywood also housed the sister of WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson.
Speaking of Patterson, he worked a spot with Ziggler and John Morrison during the WWE Breaking Point PPV in Montreal. Jim Ross tweeted that Ziggler reminds him of Patterson and Mr. Perfect in some ways.
Luck has been on Ziggler’s side, too.
“You can be the hardest working guy in the world, and you can be really good at what you do, but if the timing is not right, and the proper channels aren’t there behind you, they say, ‘Hey, thanks a lot. You worked really hard. Thanks, but we don’t need you.’ So I wanted to have every aspect covered. I wanted to look great. I wanted to be the most athletic. I wanted to be a good talker. I want to be able to sell tickets and make people want to see me, and also I want to be the best wrestler, best sports entertainer.
“Some people may be good at a few of those, but I want to be the best in each and every one of those categories. The more you do that. The harder you work, and the more you deliver. The more the naysayers start to drop off, and it becomes people saying, ‘Oh, I knew all along he had it.’”
Working with Rey Mysterio helped Ziggler get noticed.
“When I was working by myself, I got a good chance to get in the ring with Rey Mysterio, when I was virtually an unknown. I got a good chance to get in there and learn from him and actually got a chance to steal the show, even if it was mostly Rey Mysterio and everyone knowing him. I said, ‘From here on out, I want that reaction every single time.’ So every time I went back out, I couldn’t wait to out-do myself, until one day I was the main star in the ring and someone’s trying to hang with me.”
Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked Ziggler No.17 of its Top 500 wrestlers.
Changing times, Ziggler is not your average sports entertainer. College educated, Nemeth majored in political science at Kent State University with a pre-lawminor.
“I told myself I would graduate college before I started training for wrestling,” he said, “and I did.”
Prior to his WWE tryout, Nemeth lived in Phoenix readying for his first semester at Arizona State University’s Law School.
“While I was waiting for a tryout with WWE, I was waiting to go to Law School,” he noted. “Luckily I got the tryout, and it worked out with WWE, because I wouldn’t be able to do both [simultaneously]. I would’ve had to choose, and I would have chose wrestling and sports entertainment, because that was my dream.
“I’m still very interested in law. I stay up-to-date on some topics, but that was my school thing to fall back on, if things didn’t work out. Being in WWE, this is my true dream.
He is also educated in American Sign Language.
“I took six semesters of Sign Language at Kent State,” Ziggler said. “We have fans from the deaf community who have come up to me, and instead of them having to write a note or nod yes or no, we were able to have a conversation through signing. I think that’s pretty cool to reach out to people like that.”
Athletically, Ziggler (Nick Nemeth) starred as a top amateur wrestler for St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio where he holds the school record for most pins in a career with 82. He was teammates with Gray Maynard, who later competed successfully in the UFC.
“When I was in high school, I was interested in that stuff — UFC 1, 2, 3 and 4 — before it got as mainstream as it is now,” Ziggler said. “I was really into [amateur] wrestling and boxing because I wanted to be the best athlete that I could. I never really had an interest in it, except in high school.”
Ziggler became a three-time All-Mid-American Conference champion at 165 pounds for Kent State University, setting a school record for career wins (121 from 2000-03). His record was passed in 2006, and as of 2010, he stands second all-time. Mixed martial arts was an option, but Ziggler wanted to live his boyhood dream, professional wrestling.
“Since I was 5-years-old, I wanted to be a WWE superstar,” he said, “and luckily, so far, I get to keep doing what I love.”
Ziggler is managed by Vickie Guerrero in WWE. She also manages Jack Swagger, a former All-American wrestler for the University of Oklahoma.
Second best amateur wrestler: Maynard or Swagger?
“I would say Swagger, because I never really went toe-to-toe with Swagger, and I know he’s good and big [6-7, 260],” said the 6-0, 214-pound Ziggler. “Maynard, I used to beat in the practice room all the time.”
Vickie Guerrero was married to the late, great Eddy Guerrero, and Chavo Guerrero Jr. is another Guerrero who worked with Ziggler on his pro game.
“Being with Chavo, I actually got a chance to know Eddy and Chavo and Vickie,” Ziggler said. “Besides the lineage of that family and how respected and great they were at wrestling, I got, 1-on-1, to watch them in the ring and take notes and have them pull me aside. Eddy and Chavo were awesome at that.
“Chavo was great. He kind of took me under his wing, and I got to learn from both of them. You couldn’t ask for a better teacher, full-time on the road with you. To have someone who had been around for so long and knows their craft so well, it’s a great way to speed up the learning process, when I was brand new.”
• Former WWE diva/wrestler Victoria, an All-American high school cheerleader, believed Mitch had the most cheerleading potential of the Spirit Squad.
Ziggler said: “[Chuckle] Mitch enjoyed what he was doing. Mikey was really into it, too. Those two guys loved the cheerleading aspects of it and embraced it more than anybody.
“Mitch, I think, ended up having a couple of injuries which kept him from the ring; so he did more of the cheering in the match.”
• Ziggler, The Miz and LeBron are Ohio natives.
Who is Ohio’s second favorite son?
“Man, everybody hates Miz,” Ziggler said. “We’re buddies, and I hate him.
“LeBron and Miz are both as beloved as the other one is.”
• Being billed from Hollywood, Florida, what did Ziggler want to discuss?
What’s better in Hollywood, Florida:
Gino’s or Mimi’s?
Dave & Buster’s or Boomers?
CSI Miami or Miami Vice?
“Miami Vice, no question” Ziggler said quickly and confidently, “just purely for the white, cream-colored suites, the rolled up sleeves and Don Johnson with the shades on. That blows away that red-haired guy [David Caruso] or anybody else.”