Doctor's Orders: January 3-5, 2017 - #AskTheDoc Answers Reader Questions, Dolph Ziggler's Last Chance, Engaging Raw Climax Stimulates Rumble Intrigue
By The Doc
Jan 5, 2017 - 7:15:54 PM
”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
#AskTheDoc Answering Reader Questions From Social Media
And So Begins The Real Last Chance for Dolph Ziggler...
WWE Raw's Climax Generates Rumble Enthusiasm
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Is John Cena still "The Man"? Explain your answer...
”Business has gone thru multiple 'eras,’” Daniel states. He then asks, “Do you think this continues or are we stuck in the current 'reality era' for the longterm?”
You could argue that the Reality Era as we knew it is already over. The kind of storytelling that shaped the career peaks of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan is no longer as prominent; there are still traces of it (i.e. the proliferation of worked shoot promos) and there may still be stories that harken back to that past degree of usage (maybe Stephanie McMahon vs. Bayley?), but if Bryan’s Mania 30 arc and Punk’s Money in the Bank 2011 arc were Reality-based programs dialed up to 10, then what we have seen since has gotten no higher than a 5. Therefore, I am of the opinion that the Reality Era as we previously defined it ended in 2014 and that we are already in a “New Era” led by the former Shield members, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and the like. Eras go as the stars that define them go. Whatever this current era is, we’re in the midst of something different than that which was defined by Punk and Bryan.
Caleb asks, “Which roster members do you see becoming new world champions in 2017?
Interestingly, we have entered a year when no one jumps out as an obvious answer, whereas in the past two years you could have easily said Reigns, Rollins, Ambrose, and Owens. However, Bray Wyatt is one of the top guys of his generation and is the roster member who has accomplished the most in the past few years – headlining WrestleManias with Taker and Cena most notably – to have not yet captured World Championship gold. He downtrended in 2016, but I think he will bounce back with a strong 2017 and possibly be WWE Champion by the end of the year. Comparatively, I’m not quite ready to buy a stock price that high on candidates like Braun Strowman or Baron Corbin but, of the two, Corbin is the more likely. When Shinsuke Nakamura debuts, he will instantly take a seat next to Wyatt on my list.
Brian asks, “Do you think Revival's style will transcend well on the main roster?”
Absolutely! Dash and Dawson shine brightest when afforded the time to tell a complete and thorough tale and to build up heat organically throughout the course of a lengthier story, but the late 1980s provides a template for how they can be successful in 10-12 minute mid-card matches (the current PPV standard on Raw and Smackdown); Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, to whom they are frequently compared, were able to become WWE legends adapting their game to a faster pace. Hopefully, The Revival’s arrival will eventually spark a tweak in philosophy that gives tag team wrestling a greater status on the main roster; in the meantime, their isolation-heavy approach should transcend seamlessly.
Chad asks, “What do you think Braun Strowman's endgame is for Wrestlemania?
The ceiling for it is a Great Khali in 2007-type featured mid-card match; the basement, if you will, is winning (or at least being the focal point of) the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. There is going to continue to be a tendency to predict huge things for him based on his monster push; I think it is setting him up to be the new guy who eliminates the most wrestlers from the Royal Rumble Match rather than a sign that he is headed for a title shot on the grandest stage. As of right now, I’m not buying him as a featured player at Mania this year; winning the Andre is my prediction.
Matt asks, “WWE Hall of Fame wish list this year?
Out of desire to see The Rock serve a more direct purpose this year than just cutting a random promo, I would like to see him headline the Hall of Fame class, come down at Mania, do a few catchphrases, and be cognizant enough of his older classmates standing on the stage to not talk us to death for a half hour again (can you tell I’m over The Rock at WrestleMania?). I would love to see Vader get inducted. “Ravishing” Rick Rude is my ultimate pick now that Savage, Warrior, and Jake “The Snake” have gotten in since 2014. Since we will not get more than one post-humus inductee in all likelihood, Rude is my preference over Owen, Bulldog, Chyna, etc. The Midnight Express or the Rock ‘n Roll Express are my tag team choices.
Rance asks, “What NXT callups do you see happening this year?”
Samoa Joe could show up next week and I would not be surprised, so I’ll start there. I would bring up The Revival right after WrestleMania as either the next feud for American Alpha after the Usos or with the intent to start pushing tag team wrestling toward a level that it could be featured on the WrestleMania main card in a well-hyped two-on-two match should this year offer us a cluster-you-know-what or American Alpha on the pre-show; either way, I see The Revival coming up during the post-Mania call-up season. I say strike while the iron is hot and bring Tye Dillinger to the main roster because his stock will never be higher; I saw someone on social media suggest that he show up #10 in the Rumble this year and I think that is perfect. Conventional wisdom would say that Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka both make the jump this year too, but they are so integral to what NXT does right now that it honestly not shock me if they were not called up until next year; that will be an interesting story to follow throughout 2017.
Alastair asks, “Has the WWE devalued the their PPVs by having so many each year (and given how many of them have seemed like high quality episodes of their respective TV shows, but are often better than big four PPVs such as Summerslam and Survivor Series, what does the plethora of brand-only PPVs mean for the value of, and expectations for, the big four)?
I have a hard time seeing them as having been devalued. If anything, their value has increased because WWE has made a basic admission, through adding so many on the heels of the brand split, that special events are their driving force for new revenue. So long as they maintain a high level of quality, they keep people constantly talking about their product in a positive way, which I will always maintain – in spite of Vince McMahon’s famous adage that “all press is good press” – is better than people talking about their product in a consistently negative way (as has been the case for years with Monday Night Raw). The key distinction right now between the regular PPVs and the Big Four is that the regular ones are now single-branded events featuring half the overall talent base that WWE has at its disposal; Big Four PPVs should be (and are) bigger and more headline worthy, even though that may not always translate to them being better. Expectations should accordingly be higher when the full roster is utilized and WWE absolutely needs to figure out how to consistently create super cards with more talent involved.
Joe asks, “Who do you think will be released or will leave the company by year’s end? And where do they go?”
That might be the toughest question you could ask me because my mind never bothers to travel to “who gets released” during each yearly cycle. Paige is an obvious candidate, but I do not know where might go. If Dolph Ziggler flames out over the next six months and winds up jobbing on pre-shows again, I would not be shocked to see him walk away. Honestly, I have no idea…
Brett asks, “Do you think Dolph Ziggler will ever be relevant and/or change his Twitter tag?
He’s relevant right now, isn’t he? See the column written mid-week, but I think Ziggler has been quite relevant now for six months and that he could be on the cusp of the greatest run of his career in the very near future. The Twitter tag now fits again!
Bradley asks, “Do you think it will be Cena vs. Taker at WM this year?”
It is the most obvious match for both of them and it would have likely been the direction taken last year had Cena not gotten injured in January. I have long thought that Cena will be Taker’s final opponent, so the question to me becomes, “Is this it for Taker?” If it is, then this is the year in my mind to do Cena-Taker; if it isn’t, then maybe this is not the year after all.
As of right now, I am assuming that it will be.
Hitesh writes, “On your podcast you were a bit down on part timers but I remember you saying The Rock is the exception to the rule as he's the top action movie star sort of like what Schwarzenegger once was” and then asks, “Would you like it if there was a star before 2020 who reached Cena's level and Rock put him over in one last Rock match? Do you see any of the current guys reaching that level?”
The Rock being such a big star trumps any negative part-time argument so long as he actually wrestles in the culmination of a huge storyline, so I absolutely would love to see him come back to the ring at least one more time. I still believe Roman Reigns is going to be a huge star and the battle between cousins is the obvious answer to your question. I do think that they will eventually turn him heel to allow him that character development he so badly needs. Cena did the rapping thing; that was what allowed him to find himself as a character. Rock had the run with the Nation of Domination; that was the catalyst for him becoming so great in WWE and becoming a movie star. Reigns needs that too and they will eventually realize that he cannot become Cena 2.0 without it.
Hitesh also asks, “What themes from current pop culture could WWE incorporate into their product, to make it more relevant in the mainstream?
I’m not sure about pop culture, per say, but they could stop being so risk averse with the stories that they tell and stop limiting themselves to such a strict set of basic storylines. WWE has a canvas to tell some deeply affecting tales regarding social issues. For the life of me, I do not understand how they have not managed to build up the gumption to tackle the issue of being gay in today’s society, to concoct a saga using their large platform to help that community gain further acceptance. Talking about not bullying people, in my opinion, is nowhere near as powerful as telling a story about being bullied and overcoming it. I think WWE shackles itself for corporate reasons and unfortunately places a self-imposed ceiling on its creative potential.
Paul asks, “Out of all the Shield guys do you think the only one they have been loyal to in relation to character has been Ambrose (if someone annoys him he will go after them)?
Not necessarily; and I say that based mostly on the stinginess that they have shown with Roman’s push, which has kept him consistently inconsistent as both the hard-charging bad ass and the silly joke-telling, unrelatable Turd Ferguson.
Jacob asks, “Cena is still the most important wrestler in WWE. True or false, and why? If not, who is?
Not one individual does more to expand WWE’s brand than John Cena, but to say he is still the most important? I think that depends on how you view the term. If you base it on how integral to the product he is, then he is not nearly as important as he used to be. That said, we have entered a new time in WWE lore when the old model of this guy or that guy being “The Man” might well be outdated; when instead that responsibility is shared by a plethora of top level talents like Ambrose, Rollins, Reigns, Styles, Owens, etc. Roman probably leads the pack in that conventional mindset, but you would be hard-pressed to convince me that he is a more important part of WWE right now than any of his contemporaries. Ryback recently came out and stated that Triple H told him that they never want another Cena (or Rock or Austin or Hogan)-type top star; that essentially they want WWE itself to be the draw so that the machine can keep rolling independent of one individual’s success. I would say the evidence is there right now to support such a claim. Therefore, Cena probably still is the most important by default because of the clout he is establishing in the mainstream media.
When people started cheering Dolph Ziggler in 2013, it seemed a fine acknowledgment of a talent who had been busting his rear to reach the pinnacle of WWE for several years. Be it stimulated as early as his Intercontinental Championship feud with Rey Mysterio in the summer of 2009 or by a later display during a series of underrated World Heavyweight Championship matches with Edge in 2011, the swell of support for Ziggler's cause by the time he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract the night after WrestleMania 29 was substantial.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but it certainly would not be a stretch to pinpoint the double turn with Alberto Del Rio at Payback '13, as much of a creative achievement as it was, as the night when it all started tumbling downhill for the former amateur wrestling standout; it would also not be inappropriate to call it a big mistake. For a good two years, WWE pushed Ziggler steadily toward his April 2013 climax and, within a month of giving the fans the green light to openly embrace him as a man of the people, the rug was swiftly yanked out from under him and, sans for a brief revitalization leading up to and at Survivor Series 2014, he spent three straight years – WrestleMania and Summerslam cycles included – meandering in the muck with other also-rans while the spot that had once appeared destined to be his was given to others.
Pro wrestling basically operates in dog years with how quickly it generally moves through eras, so four years typically feels like a really long time and it was the better part of four years ago that Ziggler grabbed the brass ring only to have the hand holding it chopped off. Doesn't it seem like even longer than that though? I was at WrestleMania in New York/New Jersey when few in attendance would have been surprised had Ziggler been afforded the chance to do what Seth Rollins did two years later in San Francisco. That doesn't just feel like it was a generation ago, before Bryan's amazing confirmation as elite, before The Shield peaked, split, and gave WWE presumably its three biggest cornerstones for the rest of the decade, before the NXT generation, and before AJ Styles; it feels like a lifetime ago.
That was partly what made Ziggler’s career renaissance in 2016 so surprising, even with the aid of brand split 2.0. Some of our pundits on LOP Radio were predicting at the start of last year that Ziggler would either be fired or quit out of frustration by 2017. He did inexorably seem headed for a divorce from WWE comparable to the situation that emerged with Cody Rhodes; certainly few predicted that he would wind up in Smackdown’s top match at the second biggest PPV of the year or that he would be one half of arguably 2016’s best feud (with The Miz over the Intercontinental Championship). Yet, there he was on the final WWE television broadcast of 2016 last week competing for the WWE Title again, one third of a show-stealing effort on a PPV-lite episode that topped Raw in the ratings for the first time since both shows have been on cable TV; and there he was last night on the first Smackdown of 2017 unleashing several years worth of pent up frustration via a super kick to Kalisto and a backstage brawl with Apollo Crews.
And now here we are, at the start of the New Year, looking at Dolph Ziggler as a potential major player again.
Interestingly, Ziggler was always far more Miz than he was CM Punk; not the independent darling who worked in high school gyms, but the type to be recruited by WWE during what is proving to be its far less successful talent acquisition period and to then spend his entire career plying his trade on the Mother Ship void of the non-WWE experience that prompts such respect among enthusiasts today. A cocky, brash product of the WWE system against the likes of Punk and Bryan, then later Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and AJ Styles? Forget his comparable aesthetic, Ziggler would have arguably been one of the best foils for the majority of the wrestlers that the diehard audience has consistently gravitated toward throughout the decade. He would have gotten his fair share of kudos, as evidenced by actual history; so what? His character in 2011 and 2012 was perhaps the natural extension of the guy behind the camera, most of what he did during his ascent up the hierarchy exuding a career jock-type arrogance.
WWE seemed to want to lump him into the indy darling category despite the fact that he had been with them since 2004. If your claim, then, is that Ziggler was wasted the past three-and-a-half years as a character molded to play a role that he did not fit, far be it for me to dispute you. The Show Off’s career is one that I developed a vested personal interest in long ago. I saw him not as a replica of Curt Hennig or Shawn Michaels, as the narrative written about him during his decline has frequently stated, but as reminiscent of Mr. Perfect or The Heartbreak Kid, a bumping machine that would make everyone he worked with look better. In a short-story series I wrote years ago, Ziggler was one of the most prominent figures, winning WWE’s version of the Olympic gold medal, parlaying such success into World Championship glory, and cashing in with a match against The Rock at WrestleMania. Back then, it did not seem delusional to think that Ziggler could achieve great things on that level.
The Ziggler bandwagon thinned out considerably from mid-2013 onward, but for those of us who still harbored even an ounce of hope that he might one day turn it around, mid-2016 onward has been therapeutic. And the best may yet still be to come…
“Finally” has been attached as a qualifier to many a Ziggler heel turn headline yesterday and today and, to an extent, that is true; he was always better off playing the more organic antagonistic version of his persona on TV. Many were clamoring, after the draft breathed new life into his career, for The Show Off to turn heel then. When he did not, there was a renewal of the same sentiment after he failed to win the title in August, the thought process being that he had climbed as high as he could as a protagonist and that, given how poorly received the match with Ambrose was at Summerslam in many circles, the timing was perfect for a shift to a different dynamic.
I am of the opinion that last night was actually the perfect time to execute the turn, though that stance is subject to change dependent on what happens in the future. Had he turned heel during the feud with Ambrose, he would have had very little momentum, taking into consideration the three year exercise of chasing his tail that preceded the late summer of 2016. If he had turned shortly after Summerslam, he still would have had very little momentum because the apathy generated by the title match with Ambrose largely seemed to undo much of the goodwill he had gained back in the lead-up. Neither situation would have been as good a recipe for future success as his heel turn last night may prove to be, seeing as how it came at the end of a six month return to respectability (and beyond). His feud with The Miz postponed a return to the dark side, some might say. I would counter that the feud with Miz catapulted Ziggler back to a position in which his turn would mean something. Instead of being a mid-carder going nowhere who turned heel, now he is a borderline headliner who just turned at the exact time of the year when creative attention can pay off most.
This heel Ziggler may be just as much a candidate to win the Royal Rumble Match (or at least face AJ Styles for the title in April) as The Miz; this heel Ziggler could be poised to earn his first one-on-one match in eight WrestleManias; and this heel Ziggler might finally fulfill the promise that became so presumably far out of reach starting in mid-2013. This seems a more appropriate year to label as “Ziggler’s last stand.”
It would be fair to state that recent Royal Rumbles have often telegraphed the result of the 30-man over-the-top-rope Battle Royal well in advance and that the predictability therein of what have frequently proven to be unpopular victors has tarnished the vast majority of January Classics for much of the decade.
In 2011, Alberto Del Rio was just about the only wrestler pushed toward a goal of winning the Rumble, whereas everyone else merely implied their desire by confirming their participancy (a common theme this decade); the response to his victory was not met with enthusiasm then and it does not reflect particularly well now. A year later, Sheamus borderline came out of nowhere to win when most thought that, given his impending rivalry with CM Punk, Chris Jericho was going to add “Rumble winner” to his long list of career accomplishments; the reaction to The Celtic Warrior winning instead was similar to 2011. In 2013, John Cena was the prohibitive favorite to win and earn a rematch with The Rock that elicited a collective groan from a very vocal part of the fanbase; there was little surprise to the apathy that his actual victory generated. Who could forget 2014? Daniel Bryan, though not scheduled to participate, seemed destined to win the Rumble and confirm his ascent to an all-time level position in WWE lore; Batista, the only superstar to really get any creative attention ahead of time that might have suggested a Rumble victory, won a Bryan-less Battle Royal to thunderous waves of negativity. It was no better the next year, when WWE anointed Roman Reigns, creating a backlash that has never ceased. 2016, though a considerable improvement overall, still left many wanting, as Triple H winning did little to spark momentum for The Show of Shows.
The Rumble is largely considered to be WrestleMania’s only rival to the collective fan-favorite special event; so mostly telegraphed winners who receive a lukewarm response at best has been a major problem since 2011, as they have gone onto stunt the excitement for the Road to WrestleMania.
The closing segment of the first Monday Night Raw of 2017, then, was a breath of fresh air. When, earlier in the night, Kevin Owens had been announced to host his first talk show segment featuring Goldberg, it seemed to suggest to those who have studied the product for many years that perhaps the Owens-Goldberg interaction would be the initial shot fired in a feud culminating in-between the Rumble and Mania, given the strong odds of a Lesnar-Goldberg rematch on the grandest stage.
During said segment, in a moment about which diehard fans around the world ought to be rejoicing, Owens showed absolutely no intimidation when going face-to-face with the legendary former WCW and WWE Heavyweight Champion, but shortly after the aforementioned tease was confirmed and accentuated by Paul Heyman’s presence and advocacy of the Beast, Roman Reigns showed up and went face-to-face with Goldberg too. Then Braun Strowman made his presence felt and received a double Spear from Reigns and Goldberg for his troubles, preceded by a photo op-worthy shot of the Georgia Tech and Georgia products a foot apart with WWE’s newest giant prominently featured in the background. Lest we not forget that “The Kevin Owens Show” began with Chris Jericho announcing that he would be in the Rumble Match, acknowledging the distinct possibility that KO and Y2J will break-up and do battle at Mania.
What once may have appeared little more than foreshadowing of a fairly obvious route to take of Owens defeating Reigns at the Rumble, Lesnar winning the Rumble to earn a shot at the Universal title at Mania, and Goldberg taking the championship off of Owens at the Fast Lane pay-per-view in early March turned into a dynamite ten minutes of television that watched as a highlight tape of all the various different exits that might be traveled en route to Orlando’s yearly Wrestling Super Bowl. We could indeed see the previously mentioned scenario come to fruition, but we were also shown clear paths for WWE to follow with Reigns vs. Goldberg and Strowman vs. Goldberg or Reigns in addition to the nods toward already established possibilities.
It was the kind of final ten minutes of Raw that backed up WWE’s continual assertion over the last nine months that we have entered a “New Era.” You could forgive anyone who followed Raw closely these past few years for thinking that WWE might again develop tunnel vision when it came time to creatively insert someone of Goldberg’s stature back into the fray with regular roster members, downplaying the faces that run the place 365 days a year for this era’s version of yesteryear’s celebrities in the form of dozen-date-a-year part-timer wrestlers whose names were made last century. The fact is that both elements – the day in, day-out grinders and the icons from the past – are vital to the modern product, especially during WrestleMania Season, but there has been a tendency in recent years to, either through TV presentation or wins/losses or hierarchical positioning on the major cards, backburner the new in favor of the tried and true; and it was nice to see a segment that appeared consciously aware that the time for such booking tactics is up and the time for better integration of the present with the past is now.
Watching like the closing moments of a go-home show three weeks in advance of the actual go-home show, Raw's climax successfully built intrigue for the Royal Rumble Match and beyond while also creating more excitement for the next few weeks of Monday Night Raw. As a fan starved for a coherent, well-formulated Road to WrestleMania, I'm feeling a wave of optimism that the New Year might possibly bring me that which I told my daughter I asked for at Christmas – a WrestleMania Season that feels like WrestleMania Season from beginning to end.