NOTE: Originally published in The Kingston Whig-Standard on Sept. 1, 2012. All rights reserved.
Nick Nemeth, better known to wrestling fans worldwide as Dolph Ziggler, wasn’t born into wrestling. He doesn’t hail from a long line of wrestlers. None, in fact. One thing is quite evident, however: the World Wrestling Entertainment superstar was born to wrestle.
These days, you can find Ziggler toting around the much-coveted Money In the Bank briefcase, starring in main-event matches and establishing himself as a beloved bad guy, a very difficult feat in the wrestling business. On Sept. 9, Ziggler will be in the Limestone City as WWE presents Smack- Down at the K-Rock Centre.
At just five years of age, Nemeth fell in love with wrestling after attending his first live WWE event.
“I was hooked from that day on,” Ziggler said over the phone earlier this week. “I asked my dad if I could start wrestling. I think the season was coming around about two months later, and I started and I’ve never stopped since.”
The season to which he refers is amateur wrestling. Google the name Nick Nemeth and amateur wrestling and you may be surprised by what you find. Nemeth is an accomplished — and decorated — amateur wrestler. In fact, he openly admits that he used amateur wrestling as a launching pad for his professional career.
“I love wrestling,” he said. “I’ve used it my whole life and I actually used it just to get my foot in the door because, years ago, when (former WWE superstar and Olympic gold medallist) Kurt Angle was doing so well, it gave people like me who had wanted to become superstars their whole lives a shot. And it actually got my foot in the door.”
Unlike Angle, who built his whole WWE persona around his amateur background, Ziggler prefers to be known for his “well-roundedness.”
“I kind of pride myself as a Renaissance man superstar where I can be entertaining, have fun on the mic, have fun with kids, but also steal the show, be athletic, be a high flyer, a mixture of everything, and a ring general all combined into one. I like that I’m not painted with one brush. ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, he’s a wrestler.’ No, I’m a superstar who can do anything and I pride myself on that. I think we don’t harp on it as much because I have so many other things I can offer at the same time.”
As he wrestled his way through high school and later university, Nemeth never lost sight of his dream to become a WWE Superstar. When that moment came, it was sweet. Really sweet.
“Honestly, it’s hard to believe,” Ziggler said when asked what it was like to sign that first WWE developmental contract. “When you’re in grade school and high school, (you) go ‘Oh, I want to do this, I want to do that,’ and everyone knew I wanted to be a wrestler. Even if people said ‘Yeah I think you can do it,’ ‘You’re going to do it,’ and I wanted to do, you don’t know that it’s going to happen for sure because (pro wrestling) is a business. It’s about timing, it’s about luck, it’s about so many different factors … To find out that you’re actually hired by the WWE as a superstar — even in a developmental talent stage — you go ‘Wow, OK, that’s the first step.’
But Ziggler has never been one to rest on his laurels.
“It wasn’t time to celebrate, but it blew my mind,” he said of the deal. From there, he says, it was “OK, that’s one step down, now let’s go be the best developmental talent; OK, get that down, let’s be the best superstar; OK, let’s go on to become the greatest of all time. It’s constantly achieving goals and using stepping stones to become the best.”
While Ziggler may be on the brink of megastardom, his journey to becoming the best has been anything but easy — or quick.
“Honestly, for years it was frustrating,” Ziggler said of the eight-plus year journey that has been his WWE career. “It just goes along with everything that has happened in my career. I plugged along to make my college wrestling team. I wasn’t recruited. And then when I made it, I became the best on the team to where I could get a scholarship. And I got a scholarship. Nothing has been handed to me no matter what I’ve done, in life or this business.
“As much as I wanted things to happen four and five years ago, I go ‘people have been handed things and it doesn’t always work out.’ No matter what, at the end of the day, I know that I have earned this, and anything that comes to me now, the fans, or the world, or anyone who just has an opinion can’t go ‘oh yeah, he was handed this,’ or ‘yeah, he had a great two months …’ I have been on a constant build, clawing or scratching for every inch I’ve ever gotten in this business and I continue to do it to this day.”
But eight years can teach one a lot about the business, Ziggler said.
“It’s also about timing … maybe someone gets hurt and you’re not expected to be in a role and they put you in and you deliver and they go ‘OK, we can get behind this guy,’ ” he said. Some people are picked from Day One — ‘This is going to be our guy, we’ll see how it goes.’ Some people have to claw and scratch every inch of every mile, and do it every week to prove themselves. I don’t know that in eight years of being here that I’ve ever dropped a ball with anything. I’ve never done anything except deliver above and beyond and that has just got me to here.”
All of the frustration, the hard work and the perseverance have certainly helped Ziggler come to appreciate what he has earned.
“Had I been handed it, it might not have worked out the same. I might not be as grateful for everything that’s slowly but surely coming my way,” he said. “But man, I’ve been chomping at this main event scene for two, three years now, ready to go, and I think it’s going hit right at the peak of my career, right when I’m starting to figure out more and more. I’m learning every day. I think it’s just going to hit at the right time and it’s just going to blow up.”
That’s not to say Ziggler’s work is only now being appreciated. Far from it. He has, for years, been recognized as an up-and-coming talent, one who has few equals when it comes to his in-ring skills.
“When (former WWE superstar) Lance Storm was training me in (Ohio Valley Wrestling), I was the first one there, I was the last one to leave, I was staying after, I’d go ‘I am not even going to just get this down, I’m going to have this so good that there is no reason that not only do they not want me on the main roster, they’re going to be begging me to work with other people on the main roster. That’s what I’ve always prided myself on. I continue to do that to this day. Had I not done that, who knows where I would be right now. I might not even be working here, I might not be on this roster, let alone inches away from the main event scene.”
Anyone familiar with Ziggler’s in-ring work knows that he has few equals, perhaps none when it comes to the art of bumping, which, in wrestling, is selling an opponent’s offence. In fact, Ziggler’s bumping skills, this columnist suggested, are right up there with legends like Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig.
“I want to be different,” Ziggler professed. “I want to stand out. (If) everybody’s got short blonde hair, I’m going to have long blonde hair. (If) people are wearing black tights, trying to be serious, I’m going to out there and have a smile on my face and still have the best damn match on the card. Being compared with those guys a lot is great, but my mindset is to go out there (with the attitude that) ‘oh, people are wrestling these boring matches, I’m going to do something different,’ or ‘everybody’s doing these high-flying moves, I’m going to mix it up.’ I want to stand out every single night and I push myself to do so.
“I’ve tried to make an art form out of being a bad guy who gets beat up, and I go out there and I try to do it better than everyone else. Whether I’m a punching bag for 30 seconds or going out there and having a 30-minute classic, I find a way to stand out and do what I do better than everyone else.”
Ziggler’s most recent success was winning the Money in the Bank briefcase, which gives him a shot, any place, any time, for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The briefcase represents far more than a title shot, however. It signifies a superstar’s arrival at the top.
That fact is not lost on Ziggler.
“I’ve had the Intercontinental Championship, I’ve had the United States Championship … those used to be stepping stones,” he said. “Even though I thought I brought some tradition and pride back to those championships, this is the new stepping in our business. It is ‘this guy is going to be World Heavyweight champion, most likely, at some point, and he’s our next guy.’ ”
After eight years as a pro wrestler and many, many others as an amateur, it’s hard to imagine that one could still get nervous. Not so, says Ziggler.
“Tonight we’re going to be doing a SmackDown show, and I can’t wait to walk out there,” he said. “I don’t even know what I’m doing. I don’t know my opponent, I don’t know what’s going on. I just love doing this job. You get these anxious butterflies, or you have maybe a little bit of doubt in your mind, like ‘Oh, can I do it tonight?’ That’s the exciting part about being a performer.”
It’s at this point in the interview that Ziggler delivers one of the most memorable and perfectly summed up lines this veteran wrestling columnist has ever heard.
“That’s why we travel a five-hour car ride, find a gym, try and find somewhere to eat … just for that 10 minutes of going out there and delivering to the world this product that we’re so great at doing.”
The last time Ziggler wrestled in Kingston, he left behind a Tweet that certainly got my attention. While I don’t remember it verbatim, I do remember it was a swipe at this country and Canadians.
I called him out on it. Why, Dolph, why?
The answer was, quite frankly, honest.
“I’m a bad guy,” he said. “When I’m in the United States, I’ll make fun of wherever we are too. It’s a blast (coming to Canada). My trainer, Lance Storm, is Canadian and I have such huge respect for him — he taught me so much. I was like a teacher’s pet when he was teaching me. It’s fun to mess with Canada because we get messed with going through the border, and it’s fun to have a good joke and a couple of extra boos when you go out there. It’s all in good fun and I think everyone understands that.”
Ziggler, who expects he’ll face Randy Orton at the K-Rock Centre, parted with one promise — that Kingstonians will be calling his match the best one of the night.
Knowing what I now know, that’s pretty much money in the bank.