Over the next several days, I’ll be revealing my top five most-likely Royal Rumble winners. Today we’ll look at my number four most-likely Rumble winner, “The Show-Off” Dolph Ziggler. –Scott Strandberg
For nearly an entire year — from SummerSlam 2013 until Money in the Bank 2014 — Dolph Ziggler tumbled down the WWE’s metaphorical ladder faster than just about anyone in recent memory. Following a start-and-stop push that saw him claim the World Heavyweight Title in 2013 — only to suffer a concussion and lose it almost immediately — Ziggler also lost his faction. At SummerSlam, Ziggler teamed with Kaitlyn to defeat his former partners, Big E and AJ Lee.
From there, Ziggler floundered with nearly zero direction. Throughout the remainder of 2013, he unsuccessfully challenged for the United States and Intercontinental championships, and had an extended stretch of extremely specific gimmick matches with Damien Sandow.
The first half of 2014 got even worse. Ziggler suffered another concussion, albeit a very mild one. What was really troubling was that Creative simply had nothing for him. He participated in the Royal Rumble and the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania XXX, but did not have memorable performances in either event. He also unsuccessfully challenged for the Intercontinental Championship again.
Finally, in mid-summer, Ziggler started to regain his momentum. A stellar performance in the Money in the Bank contract match got the crowd firmly behind The Show-Off once again, and WWE pushed him accordingly. At SummerSlam 2014 — exactly one year after losing his entourage in a mixed tag match — Ziggler captured the Intercontinental Championship from The Miz.
Over the next several months, Ziggler lost his title twice, only to gain it back very quickly. (Luke Harper held the title for about a month, due to heavy interference from The Authority; The Miz won it back for one measly day.) In that stretch, Ziggler had many memorable title matches against the likes of Harper, Miz, Cesaro and Tyson Kidd.
Of course, the high point of Ziggler’s 2014 — and likely the most over he’s been in his career — came at Survivor Series. With a little help from Sting, Dolph took out Kane, Harper and Seth Rollins to remove The Authority from power, in one of the most memorable Survivor Series performances in history.
Ziggler wasn’t finished yet, as he pinned Rollins cleanly on the December 16 episode of Super SmackDown Live. When The Authority returned to power, they put in the fix for Ziggler to lose his title to new Authority member Bad News Barrett, then fired Dolph along with Ryback and Erick Rowan.
That is one hell of a rollercoaster ride over the course of the last two years. From World Heavyweight Champion, to directionless lower-midcard act, to Intercontinental Champion and Sole Survivor, Ziggler’s back on the top of a journey that included some very low valleys.
Once again thanks to an assist from Sting, Dolph has been reinstated to WWE. While it is extremely unlikely that he will win the Rumble, WWE knows that he’s one of the few guys that fans would accept as a winner. After all, Ziggler was the one man left standing just two pay-per-views ago, and he got a stellar reception.
However, the truth of the matter is that WWE is unlikely to ever push Ziggler to the top of the main-event scene. As much as I personally love Dolph as a wrestler and performer, I don’t think WWE sees him as a future face of the company. It still wouldn’t shock me to see Ziggler capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at some point in his career, I just don’t think it’ll be on the grand stage of WrestleMania XXXI.
Even with all that in mind, Dolph slots in at number four for two reasons: 1) He’s arguably even hotter right now than he was when he won the WHC in 2013, and 2) WWE knows that fans would not turn on him, like they did on Batista last year.
If WWE truly wants to pull a shocker — while still not infuriating and/or confusing fans — Ziggler’s the guy. I just don’t think it’s a very likely scenario.