Posted in: Doctor's Orders Doctor's Orders: August 20, 2012 - A star is born. A gold medalist crowned. Perfection...Perfection.
By The Doc
Oct 29, 2011 - 9:25:51 AM
August 20, 2012
Eight days ago, millions around the world watched as the closing ceremonies put the finishing touches on the summer Olympiad in Great Britain. Last night, we saw World Wrestling Entertainment wrap up its version of the Olympics in Los Angeles. I will give credit to the WWE where it is due; they made it work. The pageantry and spectacle of Summerslam had been lacking in recent years and the financial success of what is supposed to be their second biggest PPV extravaganza had reflected it. The “WWE Olympics” brought something unique to the table that we had not seen before in sports entertainment, so the buzz that this might’ve been the best drawing Summerslam in quite awhile is likely to be well-founded. Creatively written and very well performed, the idea of crowning “Medalists” every four summers is a winner as long as the financial end backs up the time invested in recent months. It must be commercially successful in addition to being critically acclaimed if it is to stick.
Of course, the future of the concept may also depend on the success, in the present and future, of Dolph Ziggler. Without question, he has been the shining star of the competition. His gold medal-winning moment may very well have solidified him as a star from now until his retirement. He has been treated like a star and presented like a future Wrestlemania main-event player, all the while putting his name on the short list for 2012 Wrestler of the Year amongst critics for his string of Match of the Year contenders, including last night’s fantastic match against CM Punk. In 25-minutes, Ziggler and Punk may have quite possibly overtaken Cena vs. Rock from Mania 28. The Staples Center crowd cannot compare to the Miami stadium audience in terms of the atmosphere, but the wrestlers made sure that they were brought out of their seats on numerous occasions as they kept everyone guessing as to who would emerge victorious. There’s at least one moment in every classic match that I’ve seen where I get a tingle up and down my spine and I nearly come unglued during the false finishes because at that point I’ve become so invested in the story being told, the performers literally have me in the palm of their hands. Ziggler vs. Punk at Summerslam ’12 will be one for the record books.
I think we have to acknowledge that the WWE properly handled the back story, though, as I do not otherwise believe that last night’s “Gold Medal Match” would have been able to hit a home run if the storyline surrounding the Olympics had flopped. Frankly, when they announced in May that they would be having the “WWE Olympics,” culminating at Summerslam, I was like most fans – equal parts excited and skeptical. As the readers know, I have long favored the idea of the WWE capitalizing on the popularity of sport by incorporating more legitimately competitive themes into their product. The World Cup and the Summer Olympics draw hundreds of millions of people. Certainly a company that has had no problem jumping all over a current event and exploiting it to make money could see the value in doing the same thing with a sporting event. The Olympics just happen to be perfect because the summer version falls right during the time of Summerslam. Thus, I was more than intrigued by the WWE’s Olympics. At the same time, though, I’ve seen the WWE turn what seemed like sure fire hits into really bad misses.
Luckily, the WWE kept it simple. I’m not sure what writer it was that wrote the majority of this plot, but I commend them for just doing what they do in the real sports. Training? Check. That was a good way to make use of the new WWE network and it made the whole thing feel more legitimate and important. Qualifying? Check. It actually made the WWE give those fans that clamor for wrestling matches with more meaning on TV what they wanted. It also gave a lot of younger guys like Zack Ryder, Evan Bourne, Kofi Kingston, etc. some higher profile exposure. Tournament? Check. It felt like King of the Ring used to back in the day when it mattered. Since they put a little bit of effort behind hyping it, it actually popped some decent ratings, too. Ziggler vs. John Cena in the semi-finals on Raw four weeks ago drew a rating 0.5 points higher than the summer average. It went to show that a wrestling match taking up the last half of hour #2 wouldn’t lose, but gain viewers. The “Olympic” tournament gave the match significance that fans bought into. The same match without the tournament would’ve drawn the same kind of ratings that have plagued WWE Corporate for years.
The tournament was well spaced out over the summer. They didn’t do too much, too quickly, and then have to scramble to fill time before the payoff. Someone deserves a damn raise in the creative department. Yet, so too do Ziggler and Punk. I praised Punk two months ago for his promo that effectively set the stage for the success of this whole gimmick. Qualifying was done. The tourney was about to start. At that point, though, it didn’t feel epic. Punk’s mic work made it seem like the most important thing in the business. And he was the WWE Champion, at the time.
“You know, I usually don’t do this, but I’m going to thank the WWE. I’m actually thanking you for coming up with a good idea. What you’ve essentially done is give me a chance to prove how much better I am at wrestling than everybody else. I’m the best in the world and I’ve been saying it for a long time, but I look at this tournament bracket and I see all these guys that have been put ahead of me over the years and been afforded opportunities long before I was. I don’t see it as a tough road ahead, but rather a glorious path to victory.”
I just assumed that Punk would be in the gold medal match from that point on, but I figured it would be Cena that would wind up standing in the opposite corner come Summerslam. Quietly, though, Dolph made his move. I am extremely curious to know if the original plan was to have Ziggler win the gold. He had been pushed to the back burner during Mania season after headlining the Rumble again and was really just starting to build some momentum back when the whole thing started. He wasn’t one of the mid-card guys featured on the Network’s training specials, though. For all intents and purposes, Dolph was the personification of “flying under the radar.” In fact, I sort of wondered for a short time if he wouldn’t be put in the “high flyers” bracket. But then he breezed through qualifying in the heavyweight division. Every win was dominant; a nice combination of submission and pinfall victories. They started giving him the microphone again and he picked right up where he left off during his brief run in the main-event.
Immediately after he shocked Randy Orton to reach the quarter finals (an Orton-Cena semi-final seemed logical prior to), I thought Dolph cut the best promo of his career. Dubbing himself “The Showstealer” was smart. I had wondered why he hadn’t already started calling himself that consistently after flirting with it in 2011. It’s a flattering tribute to HBK, but it’s also true. You give Ziggler a chance; he steals the show. Wrestling history provides young stars with little tidbits that they can turn into character defining traits. HBK notoriously used to walk backstage after a big match performance and yell a particularly cocky jab at his peers. Ziggler turned it into a catchphrase, punctuating what may have been a career-defining moment in that post-match interview by telling all the boys in the back to “Follow that!”
Despite the great promo and the excellent match and win over Orton, I still didn’t see him as a guy that could win the tourney. Some of my colleagues wrote about how they felt Ziggler was destined to win the gold, but there was some missing intangible that prevented me from getting on board. Even after besting Wade Barrett in the round of eight to set-up the semi-final with Cena, I still wasn’t buying it. Cena was feuding with Barrett and had been trading verbal jabs with Punk for weeks. So, it wasn’t until Ziggler had Cena pinned for the 1-2-3 that it hit me, “Wow, this Olympic thing is going to end up MAKING Dolph Ziggler.” Last night was the icing on the cake. With both men selling exhaustion, Ziggler reversed Punk’s desperation attempt at the GTS in mid-air and latched on the Sleeper Hold right in the center of the ring, forcing the spent former five-time world champ to pass out. Four matches in the tournament; three matches that will likely get votes at year’s end for MOTY.
If we’re lucky, this was the first match in a long series for Punk and Ziggler in the years to come. The proceeding ceremony that gave Ziggler the gold saw what may have been an unscripted, but telling moment likely to be replayed for years to come in the minds of anyone watching the events unfold. After an emotional Dolph had the gold placed around his neck on the makeshift podium, Punk re-appeared and shook Ziggler’s hand. Time will tell, as soon as tonight’s Raw, if the WWE will choose to highlight that moment, but it was a nice gesture from a man that now has some legitimate competition for the claim of “best in the world.”
Only time will tell if the WWE’s alpha Gold Medalist (props to Show and Kofi, but the heavyweight medal match was the centerpiece of the entire concept) will turn this experience into a long and fruitful career as a headliner, but he certainly seems on his way. Considering the caliber of performance that he has shown himself capable in the last two months, you almost get the feeling that we’ve got the next Shawn Michaels on our hands. Dare I suggest that Dolph Ziggler might one day be remembered in the same light as HBK, Bret Hart, and Ricky Steamboat? I think if the opportunities keep coming his way and he can repeat his Summerslam ’12 success at future Wrestlemanias, then we’re dealing with a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.
Again, I applaud the WWE. Whether it was the original intent to use the Olympic model to build Ziggler into a superstar or whether he wowed them into it and they just ran with it, I don’t care. The Olympics were a smash hit and I hope that we get to see it again four years from now. I also hope that they don’t choose to do it every year; that would take away some of the spectacle. All we need to ensure the long-term success of this angle is a strong buyrate and the continued success of Dolph Ziggler. As it would seem that those two things are likely, I think we’ve got something to look forward to in the summer of 2016. With Ziggler in the spotlight, we’ve got something to look forward to at every major event in between.