The first title win often becomes the most memorable for professional wrestlers.
Dolph Ziggler, however, cherishes his fifth time winning the WWE Intercontinental Title. After all, it means he can keep doing what he loves.
“It usually is special for a minute, and then you gotta get back to work,” he said. “This one, I had to put my career on the line for one more chance. So it really was special.”
Ziggler (aka Nicholas Nemeth outside the ring) began clashing with then-Intercontinental champion the Miz earlier this year, challenging him for the title several times. It all came down to the “No Mercy” event in early October, when Ziggler put his career on the line.
If the Miz won, Ziggler would’ve been forced to retire. But he overcame the odds — and interference from Miz’s wife, Maryse, and Spirit Squad members Mikey and Kenny — to become Intercontinental champion.
“It’s bigger than any World Title match, or WrestleMania match, I’ve ever had,” Ziggler said. “I had to put my entire career on the line against the title for one more shot, or leave the WWE. So it definitely is special. More special than any other moment I had. I mean, I could be sitting in a hammock somewhere sipping a pina colada, but working’s cool too.”
Ziggler and the WWE Superstars of “SmackDown Live” — with multi-time WWE and World Heavyweight champion the Undertaker — come to Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, Wilkes-Barre Twp., on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. The event marks the 900th episode of “SmackDown.”
The card, subject to change, includes Dean Ambrose, Becky Lynch, WWE World Champion AJ Styles, Randy Orton, the Miz and Natalya.
Ziggler came to the “SmackDown” brand after the WWE Draft in July, when the company split its lineup between “Smackdown” and “Monday Night Raw.” It let him concentrate more on his character.
“For someone like me to get a chance to revamp, start over and let them know that I put it all on the line — I’m a changed man, I’m a winner now — it’s something that’s really helped me out,” he said. “I’ve gotten some freedom on the microphone. I’m actually playing off someone and investing my time more than ever. It’s such a great show.”
After winning accolades as an amateur wrestler, Ziggler signed a developmental contract with WWE in 2004 and hit the main roster under his current ring name in 2008. The Cleveland native wrestled in high school and at Kent State University, where he graduated in 2003 (with a political science degree) as the university’s career leader in victories and was a three-time Mid-American Conference champion. The university inducted Ziggler to its Varsity “K” Hall of Fame this fall.
Now that he’s an “old-timer” at 36, Ziggler enjoys mentoring up-and-coming wrestlers, such as one-time partner Big E. They worked together a few years ago when Big E was enforcer for Ziggler and then-storyline girlfriend AJ Lee.
“Big E was ready to learn; he works really hard,” Ziggler said. “You can tell right away when you meet somebody that they’re ready to go, to learn and to listen. It was a really fun time. I got to pass down some knowledge to an up-and-coming guy, and no one deserves it more than him.”
Ziggler said he’s never worked with such hardworking people in his life as he does in the WWE. Everyone strives to make “Smackdown” great and outdo each other.
“So when I constantly get told, ‘It looks like you’re giving it your all, above and beyond everybody else,’ it’s a huge compliment, because everybody works so hard,” he said. “That’s what makes this business fun and that’s what makes it great for the fan.”
— kristen gaydos
When: Tuesday, 7:15 p.m.
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Twp.
Details: Tickets are $15 to $100. For more information, visit wwe.com and mohegansunarenapa.com.