From SummerSlam onwards Ziggler wrestled pointless matches on RAW and SmackDown and appeared only on pay-per-view pre-shows if he appeared at all on Sundays. It was very disappointing to watch a man who'd been one of the hottest guys in the company for the first six months of the year completely wasted like that.
But, as I say, the Royal Rumble showed that things weren't lost to 'The Show Off'. He got a rousing response when he sprinted to the ring and got similarly loud cheers when he performed his first sequence of moves. That his elimination was met with boos was a promising sign too. It all showed that people cared about Ziggler and wanted to see him do well.
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It's not just crowd support that demonstrates Ziggler could be doing more. A recent promo on the WWE app regarding a SmackDown loss to Antonio Cesaro revealed a passion that's rarely seen on WWE screens. 'The Show Off' talked about being the best on the roster and working hard to outdo everybody. It was clear how much success, or a lack of it, means to Ziggler and the buzz it created once again showed that fans remain interested in him and prepared to rally behind him. Had something similar been said in the ring, in front of a crowd, I'm convinced it would have had a great reaction. There's a lot to be said for letting wrestlers speak candidly in front of audiences. The realism can be sensed and it generates a better response.
The support for Ziggler stems from the same place as the support for Daniel Bryan. Fans desire new stars in top spots. The current list of top names in WWE is quite small but they've all been around for a long time (even Punk had been on top for going on three years when he walked out). People want new guys at the top because it will mean new matches, new scenarios and a new direction for the company, and because they want to see hard work rewarded. Bryan and Ziggler, as athletic men who have worked for years to become incredibly good at what they do, have understandably been singled out as men fans want to see succeed.
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Why WWE isn't listening to its audience is anyone's guess. The situation is similar to the one that was faced in the early nineties. Then Vince McMahon launched his New Generation campaign and structured events around smaller, more athletic wrestlers Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. While business didn’t pick up until Hart left and Michaels took lengthy time off they were the men who helped the company stay afloat, and they were picked to succeed by fans.
Perhaps Vince is part of the trouble now. Or rather the lack of him might be. Triple H has become an increasingly important figure in the backstage working of WWE and while Vince will retain the final say on everything company related until the day he dies it's possible he's giving 'The Game' as close to a free rein as he'll allow anyone to test him out as a successor. It would explain the increased focus on Randy Orton, who seems to fit the mould of ‘The Game’s’ preferred headliner figure, and the lack of significant roles for men chosen by the fans. The pushes of Hart and Michaels, and later Austin, all show that Vince listens to fans after a while. We've no precedent for Triple H doing the same.
Last year should have been Ziggler's year. For that matter this year should be Daniel Bryan's. As I keep writing, and will almost certainly write again, sooner or later WWE will have to start creating new stars because a reliance on part-timers cannot go on forever: the returnees in question will retire sooner than later and the comebacks they make before they do will suffer from diminishing returns. There's still support for the Zigglers and Bryans of the roster. I remain hopeful WWE will act on it before WrestleMania so that the new guys are exposed to as many viewers as possible. Give people a reason to keep watching in May and beyond.