2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: Jan interviews Dolph Ziggler

Editor’s note: As we round out the year, we look back at some of the best interviews of 2013. In August, Jan interviewed WWE superstar Dolph Ziggler, who was fresh off a run as World champion following his cash-in of the Money In The Bank briefcase he won earlier in the year. Dolph is one of the most honest, tell-it-like-it-is talents in WWE, not to mention a great wrestler. Dolph also obliged Jan with his predictions for SummerSlam.

Originally published Aug. 13 in The Kingston Whig-Standard. All rights reserved.

Dolph Ziggler lands and elbow on JTG - Photo Courtesy of WWE.com

Dolph Ziggler lands and elbow on JTG – Photo Courtesy of WWE.com

It’s been an interesting year in the life of WWE superstar Dolph Ziggler. Heck, it’s been an interesting four months, to be specific.

In that short time, Ziggler cashed in his Money In The Bank contract to win the World Heavyweight Championship, suffered a serious concussion that sidelined him for several weeks, then promptly dropped the title upon his return and since has been embroiled in a story line with his former protege Big E. Langston and his ex-girlfriend, AJ Lee.

As he prepares to team with Kaitlyn to face his former friends at SummerSlam, Ziggler is his usual honest self when asked about the last four months of his career.

First came one of the most memorable moments of his life, when he cashed in his Money In the Bank briefcase to defeat Alberto Del Rio for the world title.

“I remember watching the night before even, just watching at WrestleMania … listening to the crowd while Jack Swagger versus Alberto Del Rio happened and everyone in the crowd seemed to be caring about someone who wasn’t even in the match, just chanting my name, and I was like ‘alright, if tonight’s not the night, hopefully it’s tomorrow,” Ziggler said in a telephone interview. “And the next night, from segment one, as soon as Raw started, there were a couple of cheers for me. Then when that match started, it was cheers for me and they got louder and louder and honestly, I go, ‘wow, if I end up cashing in tonight, this is going to be special because this crowd is great.’ ”

Happen it did. With a prone Del Rio lying inside the ring, Ziggler’s music hit. The crowd exploded, to put it mildly. We’re talking glass-shattering Stone Cold Steve Austin crowd explosion.

It’s something, Ziggler admits, he’s relived over and over.

“I’ve watched that back on YouTube a hundred times,” he said, “and it is one of the most mind-blowing things for me. I’ve (seen) it so many times that I’m looking at people in the crowd … I see some guy running up the staircase, cheering … it’s such a special moment because in this day and age, you don’t really get too many of those special moments and, wow, just my music hitting and hearing that raucous crowd, who had been through Axxess all week, who had been through half of a Monday Night Raw, who had been through a four-hour WrestleMania pay-per-view, and these guys were so good and so crazy and so fun — I think they were as relieved as I was to be finally cashing that thing in — and saw an injured Del Rio and said, ‘maybe this is the night, this is the special.’ Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever hear a response like that to anything I ever do again.”

At that moment, as the referee counted 1-2-3 and the crowd exploded even further, it seemed as though David had finally slayed the giant Goliath. Ziggler has long been touted as the future of wrestling. His rise has been slow but steady, seemingly methodical. At that moment, it felt not unlike that magical moment when Mick Foley captured his first WWE title. All the pieces seemed in place, and finally Ziggler’s long and arduous push made sense.

Perhaps that was what was meant to be. We’ll likely never know for sure. Not long after that amazing night, Ziggler suffered a concussion, which sidelined the world champ for a month.

The high of his world title win was matched, and exceeded, Ziggler says, by the low of his month-long battle with a head injury.

“Just not being on the road or at work was hard to deal with,” he said. “For a couple weeks, I couldn’t drive my car, I had pounding headaches, I wasn’t able to do anything, I had to sit in a chair, I couldn’t go to the gym, I couldn’t be at work, I couldn’t be out there defending my title that I had just won … I couldn’t do anything. I felt helpless.

“Weeks had gone by and my headaches were not going away and I was starting to become nervous about, ‘am I ever going to be able to come back, period.’ And finally, after tests and being checked out over and over and the headaches started to go away, I finally felt kind of normal again, (and) it was back to work.”

If a month of headaches, worries and concussion-like symptoms weren’t enough, upon his return, Ziggler dropped the title he so richly deserved and had so vehemently fought for.

“To go out there and lose that title, it was legitimately heartbreaking for me,” Ziggler said. “For all the hard work, for the people who’ve been cheering me for five years knowing that one day something special was going to happen, and (for) myself, being handed that title a couple of years ago that meant nothing and losing it right away, going, ‘ok, this time, this is going to be the real first time, this is where it counts, this is going be the run that shows Vince that I can be WWE champion, I can be the franchise, this shows the fans who weren’t behind me, now it’s time to get behind me’ … so many plans and so many different things that I wanted to achieve … and one match. Once again, two-time world heavyweight champion, zero defences and not a day goes by that I don’t think about that.”

A lesser man might quit. Not Dolph Ziggler. The man has no quit.

“That was pretty much my first match back from the concussion and you never know if there’s going to be some (issues) afterwards,” Ziggler said, “and I see that part of it … (wondering) if I’m going to be able to go full-time. Obviously, I can only do so much. Had I had some weird brain issue or something and they found it … I can only work so hard and then they go, ‘sorry, you’re done.’ ”

Ziggler plans to use this latest setback to his advantage.

“It’s another chance for me to even make the chip on my shoulder that much bigger, to have to go out there and prove myself, again, and find a way to get back in that world heavyweight title picture. Even though I’m not in it right now, I’m lucky to be in a story, in a feud, something that makes sense, something that’s actually been engraved and happened organically. My entourage is now against me and there’s a story there and people can get behind one or two of the people and choose their sides and while that’s happening, we can get through this, build myself up, get some mic time, show the boss and show the world that I’m good at this, not just in the ring but on the mic, and then maybe, in the next month or two, get back to showing (everyone), ‘hey, wait a second, I’m the workhorse champion around here, I deserve to be in that match.’ ”

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The Showoff’s SummerSlam predictions

Dolph Ziggler was asked to break down the SummerSlam matches that were announced at the time of this interview. Below are his answers:

Kane vs. Bray Wyatt

“As much as I see Kane as, and he is this awesome utility player who’s been here for 15, 20 years and still moves the same as he did when he first got here, which is great — that guy is a leader and a star player and he’s going to be in the hall of fame one day and he’s awesome — I feel like Bray Wyatt, with his crew behind him, even though though this is an inferno match, which in this day and age I don’t even know the rules to … I’m just assuming it’s flames around the rings like there were when Kane used to do those. I feel like they’re up and coming, hungry guys who don’t care about anything, and they’ll injure people and they don’t even care, as much as I like Kane and don’t really care for these backwoods guys, I feel like even though this is Kane’s kind of match, those guys are going to find a way to come out on top.”

Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow

“First and foremost, watching that Money In The Bank pay-per-view, and watching that match, I go ‘wow.’ That was probably the moment of Cody’s career, I think.  He’s been in title matches, he’s been in programs with Randy (Orton), he’s been in Legacy, all that stuff, and I went, ‘wow, he made himself; well him and everyone else in that match made him a star that night.’ And then you had Sandow win that briefcase. Great. Two guys with more potential to be put into a bigger spot, that’s fantastic. So now, looking ahead those two guys going head to head, it’s great, it’s win-win for everybody. It’s two young up and comers trying to make a name for themselves and those two are going to go out there and try to outdo each other, which is the best. When you have two young guys trying to prove to the world and fans that, ‘we’re the next guys,’ ‘I should have his briefcase,’ or what it represents. That’s really cool. I’m going to have to say, I think Cody wins the match and Sandow has the briefcase for a later date.”

Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk

“In the world of WWE where anything can happen, I’ve gotta say, me being one of the, I guess when Daniel Bryan and Rey Mysterio isn’t around, being the smallest guy in the sometimes main-event picture, I’ve got to go with the smaller guy, who has that love for this sport, this love for this business in him. And he still has that chip on his shoulder no matter what. He’s become champion several times, he’s made the big bucks, he’s been in the premiere matches and he still has that anger to him, which I appreciate because that’s what fuels me to keep going. Man, Lesnar … I remember my freshman year at college was his senior year at the national tournament and I was on deck on a mat to wrestle and I saw him and I went, ‘man, this guy is tough.’ Little did I know years later we’d be working together. He is a beast. He is the most credible beast that I can ever imagine being in our company and beating people up for real. I feel like that is going to be a fun, very real, possibly bloody, busted-open match and through the match against WWE, I hope Punk pulls it off.”

John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship

“Once again, I’m going to go with the guy who has a chip on his shoulder, something to prove. He’s a smaller guy, he’s not just a wrestler. Cena, personally I’m sick of him. Ten years, doing the same thing, same five moves, the crowd loves him, the crowd hates him, either way, he does the same thing … I’m sick of it. I understand the awesome charity work he does, I understand what he represents, he makes a great face for our company … I’d rather see his face on a WWE dollar bill than Daniel Bryan’s. But I feel like we need a change, and as much as I feel like I’m that change, Daniel Bryan is in the position to actually beat John Cena. Not to go out there and go, ‘oh, hey, he had a really good match, great, let’s move on.’ I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope he wins.”

Dolph Ziggler/Kaitlyn vs. Big E. Langston/AJ Lee

“One way or another, I’ve actually got to be in the ring with him. Here’s the part that kills me. For about five months, on the road, whether I was in singles matches with him outside my corner, or in tag matches, tagging with him, I was literally taking him under my wing. And how great it is to have me as the guy helping out on the road, going, ‘hey, no, you’ve got to think about this, you’ve got to do this.’ Someone who loves it and is good at it actually passing knowledge down to a younger guy instead of giving him the wrong advice or trying to screw him over or whatever. Of course, it comes back to bite me. Now he’s the strongest guy in the WWE I think, literally pound for pound. And now he’s got some my knowledge in his and head and I have to go out there and face him. Although if you check his win-loss record and mine, it might be a laughable 150-2 to 2-150, but I would have to say at the end of the day, I would think that in my position, and being in my position in the WWE and what I’ve done here, it would be my time to overcome, beat him. It’s not going to end his career, it’s not going to end his run … he’s just getting going and he’s going to be great. Right now, I feel like I’m the much better performer, he’s still the young up and comer.”