Not many people experience the wild ride that Dolph Ziggler experienced in 2013. The two-time World Heavyweight Champion has had a roller coaster ride of a year. He won Money in the Bank, won the World Heavyweight Championship, suffered from a concussion, and lost his belt after returning from his injury. That, and we still have four and a half months left in 2013! We spoke with Dolph about everything from his debut in the WWE to some of his future long-term goals in the business.
Interview by Rafael Canton (@RafelitoC7)
Is there a SummerSlam moment that you remember the most during your career?
My first time actually appearing in a match at SummerSlam was 2010, and I was wrestling against Rey Mysterio in the opening match of the show. I was pretty brand new as Dolph Ziggler and obviously Rey Mysterio was a well known superstar. A couple minutes in, I wasn’t really getting too good of a reaction and eventually the match was going so well that halfway through the match the crowd not only got into it, but was trying to get behind me saying “okay this guy can hold his own in here with Rey Mysterio, I guess we can let him in now.” I just remember being out there and just hearing that crowd going “okay, I can do this and start moving forward.”
As a kid, what was your favorite SummerSlam match to watch ever?
There's a SummerSlam match—I can’t remember which year (1991)—but there's one where Mr. Perfect and Bret Hart wrestled. Those guys are so good at their jobs and they put on this match that, if you saw with two other wrestlers, you would’ve said that this was just an okay match. They just make simple headlock takeovers look so much better than anyone else ever has and that will always be one of my favorite matches.
You talked a little bit about not being the happiest about debuting as a caddy, but what was it like realizing that you hit your goal of being in a WWE ring the first time?
Of course, you work hard. You want to be the best and you hear a lot of good things about yourself and then you find out that you’re going to debut as a caddy, it's a little gut-wrenching and It hurt. Also, you look at the positive. You get your foot in the door, you’re going to be on the WWE’s main roster, on Monday Night Raw, and you think ,“Okay, let’s find a way to make this work, stand out and let them know that I’m good.”
Once I got out there and got in the ring, I believe the first thing I did was hit Shelton Benjamin with a golf club in his back and I said, “Okay, let’s start moving forward, let’s make this work, and I’ll be the best caddy I can be and we’ll parlay this into being the best superstar down the road.”
After being a caddy and a cheerleader, what was your reaction when you found out you’d be a character with more of an elaborate personality?
Finding out that I was going to be a cheerleader was another punch in the stomach and kind of a bummer. On the other hand, I got to be there in matches with DX, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, and I think, “Wow, I’m with these legends, so I have to make this work.” Once I get to step away from the cheerleader role and do something that’s closer to my real persona, I’m going to be ready to go 100%. I’m going to be one of those guys that they need on the roster.
You had a concussion earlier this year where you suffered memory loss. What happened during that stretch?
It was the scariest thing in my life by far. I got kicked in the head and I finished the next couple minutes of the match, but I just don’t remember it. Then, I came to the back and I didn’t know what was going on, where I was. Eventually, the next day I got home and almost kind of woke up. So I lost that whole Monday, half of Tuesday and I just woke up at home wondering what had happened. I got to watch the match on tape that Friday and I sort of remembered the match.
For five straight weeks, 24 hours a day, I had a pounding headache and it wasn’t going away. I was nervous about if I was ever going to come back and wrestle again. Honestly, my thinking back then was if this headache never goes away and this woozy feeling doesn’t start going away soon, I might never set foot in a ring again. It was honestly the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me here. Luckily, I had all the testing that WWE does. They flew me out to Pittsburgh to have me checked out 1-on-1 with a specialist.
My headache started to go away. I was lucky. Everything started to go away and I got back into the ring, took my time, and eased back in. Eventually, the headaches went away, everything became fine, I was medically cleared in every possible aspect of it. Now, looking behind at it, if that’s the worst possible injury I ever get in the WWE I’ll be lucky.
The concussion came around the worst time because of where you were in your career and it played a role in losing the title. Do you think that motivates you to try and get back, work harder and reach an even higher plateau or point in the WWE?
I would say yes and no. Of course, sitting at home was killing me. I hated not being on the road and not being in the ring. Also, I know how hard I already work. There’s a reason that I am where I am and it’s not because I’ve been handed opportunity after opportunity after opportunity. I’ve outworked 95% of the roster in every aspect that there is to get these opportunities. I knew that when I came back, I would be motivated, but I always am and always will be.
It literally did kill me to be sitting on my couch not able to go to the gym, not able to drive my car, watching my associates and other superstars go out there, wishing I was there. Do I count that as motivation? 100%.
You cut your hair and changed it back. What was the thought process behind that?
The thought process was that if everybody has short black hair or wants to be a tough badass, I’ll go out there and purposely have long blonde hair and pink trunks. I want to stand out and let everyone know that it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing because if you’re good like me, you’ll find a way to be the best. It had been a year or two and creatively we decided to try a different look to see possibly if it would give me a little more credibility. They thought a haircut would increase that view of me.
After a couple of weeks they thought it wasn't the same me. They said dye it, grow it back out and go back to being yourself. It was entertaining, and I found a way to be credible, become champion, win matches, and still go out there and have fun. I could have the pink trunks, have the long blonde hair, and have the smile on my face.
With so much time spent on the road during any year in the business, do you ever find time for your personal life?
Yes. We are on the road 250-280 days a year at least and it’s something that if I have a wife and kids at home I don’t know if I could do it. I do have a personal life. I spend half of the week at home. One of those nights, I’ll go out with some friends and have a good time. I have a day and a half at home and love to just sit on my backyard by my pool, read a book or do some writing. That’s my vacation.
You’ve accomplished a lot, but what are some goals that you still have for your career?
Long story short, I don’t want to be a good wrestler, I don’t want to win a certain amount of titles, I don’t want to be a franchise guy. What I told myself from day one is that I want to end my career as one of the best superstars that has ever set foot in that ring. I believe every year I get closer and closer to that and in a few years I think people will start to realize that. I’m on my way to at least being put in an elite group of people who are so good at their job you have to mention them.
Do you ever envision yourself as a Hall of Famer after seeing the inductions every year at Wrestlemania?
Absolutely. If you don’t envision that as a WWE superstar, then what are you even doing here? Of course, you envision yourself being at the main event at Wrestlemania, being the guy the entire crowd is either getting behind or hating. Of course, you envision yourself being the WWE champion, being the world heavyweight champion. I always wonder what would I say at my speech. Who’s going to induct me? That's what you want. Not only do you want to be good at this, you want your peers to recognize you and that's the best compliment you can get.
What is your dream match to have?
1997 Shawn Michaels and 2013 Dolph Ziggler in an Ironman match.