Justin Barrasso
Monday October 24th, 2016

Dolph Ziggler has been with WWE for 11 years but he’s never been more proud of a storyline than his current feud with The Miz. 

“I am very proud of it, purely based on having some freedom in the ring and on the microphone,” said Ziggler. “We need to keep adding these pieces of real life into our characters.”

In addition to fighting over the Intercontinental title, the feud between Ziggler and The Miz—two 36 year-old veterans in WWE who grew up in Ohio—felt personal, real, and genuine. It also involved both sets of parents, Miz’s wife Maryse, and the evolution of Ziggler’s career with the return of former Spirit Squad members.

“The world has seen Miz and myself sixteen different times over a period of time,” said Ziggler. “He’s always very solid and puts the time in to work, which allowed him to revolutionize his career with his wife, Maryse, coming back. We had that freedom on the mic to mix our real life selves in with the television show and make it as real as possible. It’s great to feed off someone you’ve known for years, and just kind of play back-and-forth and just feel it, and that’s something I really haven’t been able to do in about ten years.”

Ziggler captured the Intercontinental championship over Miz at No Mercy on October 9. He also confirmed that The Miz is as much of a handful behind the scenes as he is on Smackdown.

“The Miz is our annoying little brother, but he’s also the one who also got all the money in the will,” laughed Ziggler. “He’s the annoying little brother who has his sunglasses on with his $10,000 suit backstage just waiting to get a touch-up done so he can go eat in catering. At the end of the day, the core is I appreciate the part where he works as hard as anyone else, or harder, at being that douche.”

Now a five-time Intercontinental champion, Ziggler is set on making the encore as memorable as the original act with Miz.

“We need a little more time to continue making everything as real and connected to ourselves,” said Ziggler. “The emotion of that [No Mercy] match – with my career on the line – was, in all seriousness, very real. When I learned it was a career versus title match, it literally hit me in the chest, and I thought, ‘Woah, this is huge for me.’ The reason we were in that match was because of all the hard work we put in.”

Ziggler’s focus is to continue to restore meaning to the Intercontinental title, but that does not change the fact that his ultimate goal is to return to the world title picture and recapture the WWE championship.

“That’s always the goal,” admitted Ziggler. “If you don’t want to be the best or have the company on your back with everyone relying on you, then you shouldn’t be here. But this is my chance along the way to make that IC title mean that much more. This is the chance to make people about more than just the title scenario on a show, which I think is already a great show. It helps the business, it helps the superstars who can’t wait to get in that IC title picture. It’s a circle of life where you make it that much bigger, then when you go on to the top, it’s that much more important.”

Ziggler is also highly active outside the ring, and is an integral part of WWE’s “More Than Pink” campaign with Susan G. Komen. The work with Komen represents Ziggler’s opportunity to raise awareness and battle for those who are fighting cancer, but also for those who fought and have since passed away.

“We take a segment of our show [in October] to introduce some survivors and people involved with Susan G. Komen, and it’s such a special moment,” explained Ziggler, noting WWE’s five-year anniversary with Komen. “Just for a small second, they’re in front of our fans and in our ring. When our fans hear their stories, they give them this standing ovation, and we do the same thing in the back. It’s such a special moment, and it’s the least we can do. It’s the circle of life, and you just keep paying it forward.”

People respect the black-and-white nature of professional wrestling with winners and losers. Cancer is a very unique opponent, but just because a person succumbed to the vicious disease does not equal defeat.

“In wrestling, the story comes down to wins and losses,” said Ziggler. “We’re getting the word out, and that’s why we’re calling it ‘More Than Pink’—because we have a chance to get the word out about Susan G. Komen that people maybe otherwise wouldn’t hear.

“There are fans out there all over the world that look up to the superstars, and there are so many stories of relatives, family members, and friends that have succumbed to cancer. I just did a photo shoot with a couple kids who are cancer survivors, and it’s such an honor to be a part of that. It really does hit home. I don’t have a close family member who has succumbed to cancer, but there are so many friends, relatives, and people backstage, and all these great survivors that come to our TV show, and it’s amazing to hear their stories. It’s amazing to get this word out because of these great survivors.”

Regardless of the stresses of pro wrestling, including travel, sacrifice, and backstage politics, Ziggler expressed gratitude that he is able to make his living in the WWE, which is a gift he does not take for granted.

“This is my dream, and not everyone gets to do that,” said Ziggler. “Some people are fighting much, much more important battles, and much bigger battles, and if we get the chance to put a smile on their face for ten seconds, it’s so worth it. This entire job, most of the time, is traveling. We travel non-stop, and we’ll see a little kid at a Cracker Barrel before a show, and you give him a high-five, and that’s the best part of this job.

“I live for it. I live to leave somebody with a positive experience when they’ve met me, and make someone smile for the day.”

Ziggler donned pink tights and channeled Bret “The Hitman” Hart at No Mercy. Hart is a famous Intercontinental champion as well as a prostate cancer survivor, and Miz and Ziggler did their best to create their own version of Hart and Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig’s classic encounter for the IC title at the 1991 SummerSlam.

“These last couple weeks and months, it’s been really easy to channel into the past,” said Ziggler. “We’re really lucky to be in this position. We’re fighting for the guys backstage who we think deserve a better shot, or a guy like Bret Hart. We’re always fighting for a cause, so to be able to bring the real emotion in it makes it that much more special.”

Ziggler is also an aspiring comedian, though commitments with WWE have not allowed for many opportunities to perform over the past six months.

“I haven’t had a show in a while because, 300 days a year, I have WWE live events,” said Ziggler. “I’m kind of a nerd about doing it. If I can’t get the 5,000 open mic reps, then there is no reason I should be headlining at the end of the night.”

Ziggler did reveal plans to return to comedy on a more consistent basis in 2017.

“Right after the New Year, there will be a whole new loop of shows,” said Ziggler. “Instead of going home, I’ll end up going to LA or New York to put on a show, and we’ll donate a lot of the money to charity.”

Overcoming doubt and continuing to flourish has been Ziggler’s calling card for the duration of his career, and he is hopeful that he inspires someone along the way.

“It’s really easy to get down,” said Ziggler. “If you’re not the focal point and your role is helping out other people, then you’re not doing what you want to do, but you can never give up on it. Go to work every day, be the first one in and the last one to leave, and you’ll know that you’ve done everything in your power to make your life better. If it goes on from that, then you’ve done your part. And if it doesn’t, you’ve still lived a great life with a positive attitude.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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