Lutz's Blog: Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, and the road to nowhere
By Jeffrey Lutz
Fledgling wrestlers can be salvaged. Mark Henry is one of the most believable characters in World Wrestling Entertainment, but injuries and bad gimmicks (Sexual Chocolate, anyone?) threatened to derail his career long before he reached this point. Jack Swagger was a forgotten commodity six months ago, off television two months ago, and now is on the doorstep of a World Heavyweight Championship. Reinventions happen.
Dolph Ziggler and Ryback will most likely be similarly salvaged someday, too. Ziggler is far too talented and Ryback's character and skill set is far too unique to WWE's current environment for them to be stuck in the holding pattern they're simultaneously enduring. At the most important time of the year, WrestleMania season, Ziggler and Ryback appear to have no direction, and the eventual resurrection of their careers doesn't make their recent journeys on the road to nowhere any less frustrating.
Talent being held back is nothing new in professional wrestling, of course. Fans often see more ability and potential in performers than bookers do, and the result is undervalued stars such as Kofi Kingston or Wade Barrett languishing in the middle of the card, rarely rising above secondary championships and second-tier feuds.
Ziggler and Ryback don't fall into that category. They're currently undervalued but they're not stalled, they're going backward. Both were once at the top of the card and poised to break through, possibly as the biggest starts in the company if their respective pushes were managed carefully and correctly. They weren't, though - WWE booked itself into a corner with Ziggler's Money in the Bank Briefcase and through Ryback's ill-timed ascension up the card.
Vince McMahon wasn't the only one who needed crutches to get to the ring on Raw last Monday. Ziggler's crutches were in the form of his MITB briefcase and the stars added to his act, A.J. and Big E Langston, who are supposed to enhance Ziggler's act but only detract from it because he can't win even with their help.
WWE was correct in assuming that fans could looked beyond a Ziggler losing streak to a championship reign once he cashes in MITB, but that is becoming more and more difficult to do. The law of diminishing returns kicked in long ago, and now instead of wondering when Ziggler will cash in, fans are counting down the days until his championship opportunity expires.
Ziggler's ability to make opponents look good and his propensity for losing will make his eventual championship reign more exciting, but that doesn't mean it will do good business. It's fun to root against villains, but not weak ones. The best way to get fans to root against you is to dominate.
We want to see who can beat Mike Tyson, not who can beat Buster Douglas. We want to see who can knock off the New York Yankees, not who can topple the Milwaukee Brewers. We especially want more for Ziggler. His blonde hair and his selling ability and his confident persona remind many of Curt Hennig, but if Ziggler's peak is Mr. Perfect, he has already reached it. It would be upsetting if no upward mobility remained with Ziggler's character, if there was no more momentum for him to achieve.
It's odd that Ryback has no momentum, because he had a similar problem just before WWE opted to vault him into the title picture, when he was squashing nobodies and WWE jobbers. His series of matches involving John Cena and C.M. Punk certainly helped Ryback's positioning, but his constant losses did nothing for his credibility.
WWE was backed into a corner - it had to push him, but it was a lose-lose proposition. Making him champion would disrupt WWE's Royal Rumble and WrestleMania plans, but booking him to lose would damage his character and stifle his popularity. Which it did. Now Ryback is just a guy who wrestles in the first hour of Raw who is forgotten by the end of the show.
Unfortunately, there are probably only two believable spots on the card for Ryback's character, and WWE has used them both. He can be a monster who destroys minor stars or he can be a credible opponent to enhance the championship reigns and pushes of performers who need an impressive victory. He's too limited to be a long-term champion or to threaten Cena's spot as WWE's top babyface.
If only Ziggler and Ryback could wrestle every week, as their match on Raw made both performers look good. Of course, Ziggler looks good every week, and Ryback benefited from Ziggler's athletic bumps. Their match gave fans a glimpse of what they both could be. Ziggler and Ryback will eventually be salvaged and we'll look back incredulously on this time in their careers. But, especially in the case of Ziggler, we've waited long enough.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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