What happened to Dolph Ziggler that cost him a legendary run with the World Heavyweight Championship?
In 2013, nobody in the WWE was hotter than Dolph Ziggler. While John Cena main evented Wrestlemania 29 against The Rock, CM Punk ran with the WWE Championship for a record 434 days and AJ Lee became the new face of the WWE Women’s Division, The Show Off became one of the most popular men in wrestling and a world champion to boot.
He picked up the biggest win of his career in 2012, when he became Mr Money In The Bank for the first time in his career, and so far only time. When he climbed the ladder and retrieved the briefcase, fans were ecstatic. For a long time he had been a fan-favourite for the Internet Wrestling Community and the “Smarks” (Smart Marks) due to his fantastic matches, endearing promos and an innate ability to sell in the ring like no-one ever before.
He pledged to do something no-one else had done before – cash in his contract during Wrestlemania – although the event came and went without seeing Ziggler as the World Champion. It wouldn’t be until the next night where the former Amateur wrestler saw his moment and pounced upon an injured Alberto Del Rio and finally had his championship match.
Despite suffering from a foot injury, Del Rio had a great match with Ziggler. The Show Off sold each move like it was death and hit every move out of complete desperation, as if it were to be his last. He scratched and clawed (a theme of every one of his promos for about four years) for every inch against the Mexican World Heavyweight Champion, finally hitting the Zig Zag to pin him for his second World Heavyweight Championship with one of the loudest pops of all time.
…Yes, second world title. Many people forget, or may not have known about Dolph Ziggler’s World Heavyweight Championship run in 2011, due to its brevity and lacklustre booking which made him seem even more of a joke than before he won it.
Dolph Ziggler’s World Heavyweight Championship Reign
Dolph Ziggler, for all the love he got from the fans, may be the worst World Heavyweight Champion of all time.
Hear me out.
He was one of the best in-ring talents WWE had at the team. Everyone saw Dolph Ziggler as being one of the future stars of the company, alongside the likes of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. He also had the added bonus of being a home-grown talent, having come through the ranks of the WWE developmental system.
Before he even became “Dolph Ziggler”, he played the part of Nicky in the infamous tag team “The Spirit Squad”. He was part of the villainous varsity quintet that were comprised of five male cheerleaders – not the most imposing faction in history. Despite this, they defeated the formidable duo of Kane and The Big Show to become the World Tag Team Champions and even feuded with D-Generation X for a number of weeks.
However, he turned himself around when he reinvented his character and debuted as Dolph Ziggler. He was now a cocky young show off, determined to show the world that he was the best wrestler in the WWE and would put on his best show each and every night.
For the early 2010s, it was a unique character that set him apart. In recent times, it seems like half the wrestlers in WWE and AEW have the gimmick of “I like wrestling”, but at the time Ziggler was a one of a kind (sorry Rob Van Dam). He was soon paired with uber-heel Vickie Guerrero and put in a feud with World Heavyweight Champion Edge.
Nearing the end of career (before his miraculous return in 2020), Edge was determined to put over the next generation of WWE Superstar, and on Smackdown that was Dolph Ziggler. The Show Off battled The Rated-R Superstar on the 600th episode of SmackDown in February 2011, giving him his first shot at winning the coveted World Championship in WWE.
With Edge’s former wife Vickie Guerrero in his corner (she was also the Smackdown General Manager at the time), Ziggler was feeling confident. It was finally his time to rise to the top and he had the fan support to help him get over as a heel champion should he be successful in the match.
Well, he was not, but that never stopped him. He was pinned by Edge in a short match after being hit (beautifully, thanks to his amazing selling) and lost his shot at the title.
Except he didn’t. Prior to the match, Vickie Guerrero announced that Edge’s spear, the move that helped him win multiple WWE Championships, was banned and that any use of the move would mean that Ziggler would be awarded with the title.
And so, Dolph Ziggler was awarded his first World Heavyweight Championship by losing the match. It’s not WWE’s best booking decision – maybe it’s one of their worst – and made Ziggler look like the biggest loser champion of all time. He didn’t even cheat to win. He didn’t win. He lost, but his girlfriend gave him a title because she felt sorry for him.
Even worse, Teddy Long came out and forced a rematch, which Edge won within minutes to take back his title. To make matters worst, Dolph Ziggler was then kicked off of Smackdown, in what was one of the shortest and definitely the worst World Championship reign in WWE history.
What happened to Dolph Ziggler with this title reign was shocking and frankly not even worth doing, but does not compare with the heartache after he cashed in on Alberto Del Rio for his second reign with the historic belt.
His Second Title Reign Ended In Tragedy
After what happened to Dolph Ziggler on the Raw after Wrestlemania, Dolph Ziggler was on cloud nine. He was finally at the top of Smackdown and finally had the gold to compliment his growing popularity in the ring. He was set for a lengthy run which could have helped him become one of the biggest WWE stars, on the level of Randy Orton or John Cena at the time.
However, his reign would not even last a month. He was scheduled to defend his title at Extreme Rules 2013, in a triple threat ladder match against Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger, but soon tragedy struck. According to WWE.com, he suffered a concussion during Big E’s (his partner at the time) match on Smackdown before the end, getting hit in the face while supporting his friend on the outside of the ring.
This concussion was one of the first injuries he had in WWE but proved to be one of the most costly. Due to the potential severity of head trauma, especially in the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy, WWE had no choice but to take the champ out of action and regretfully strip him of his long-awaited title.
Long praised for his ability in the ring, fans were gutted they could not even see him defend his title just once. It would be the final time he would hold a world title (unless you count his 2022 run as NXT Champion). Reportedly, Vince McMahon did not see him as a world champion and was somewhat vindicated when he was forced to drop the title due to injury.
There were spells of hope for Ziggler’s re-emergence into the main event title scene. His heroics at Survivor Series 2015, where he outlasted three other men to win the match for Team Cena (with the help of the debuting Sting) had fans hoping he would be soon challenging for World Championship gold again.
Alas, what happened was much less exciting, as he never came close to realising his true potential. He was made to lose to the majority of the roster, and by the time WWE decided to push him semi-seriously years down the line, the damage was done and what happened to Dolph Ziggler was irreversible.
He has not had a bad career. I’d argue he’s had a fantastic one, made millions of dollars and earned himself a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. But Dolph Ziggler could, and should, have been much, much more.
What did you think of what happened to Dolph Ziggler in WWE? Let us know in the comments or click below to read about Will Ospreay vs Kenny Omega
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.