Dolph Ziggler is the kind of wrestler you want to see live. Syracuse-area WWE fans will get their chance Oct. 4.
Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton and more superstars will come to Oncenter in Syracuse that Friday night for a live show. (Click the link for tickets and more information.)
I recently had a chance to speak to Ziggler about why he loves live events, WWE's new major storyline featuring the McMahon family against much of the roster, and the concussion he suffered in May:
Q. With all the programming WWE puts out nowadays, fans might be reluctant about house shows. What do you think makes them worthwhile still?
A. The live experience, as an entertainer, is my favorite because it's not live with commercial breaks and needing to get sponsors in. You go out and it's our chance to give back to fans, and give the whole family a great experience. And I pride myself on that. I have more time to be more in-depth and have more fan interaction, which is what this is all about.
Q. Right now you're part of the big story of the McMahons going on this power trip, and them kind of playing into the way they're perceived by wrestling fans. What do you think of the story so far?
A. Honestly, if you don't find it interesting as a fan, then it's on you. Some of us hardcore fans have wanted something different, and now you're getting this blurred reality. Are these real behind-the-scenes things taking place or part of the story? And it makes it much more fun. That's what it's all about: suspending reality. We give you a three-hour movie. And with the Internet and people being hardcore fans and knowing what's going on behind the scenes, you're not sure where the story stops and real life begins.
Q. One of the common criticisms I see is that the McMahons are doing too much without any kind of comeuppance. In your case, you've been put in handicap matches with The Shield and getting attacked by Dean Ambrose, and also frozen into not fighting back because then you'd be fired. But obviously you can't fight back immediately, because it should mean something when that comeuppance happens. Do you think WWE is doing a good job striking that balance?
A. Yeah. I'm not killing it right now, but it is setting that tone. There's a gray area; you get to a point where they're begging for something and someone steps up, but you also have to get there. As much as it seems to be hurting my career, personally, I hope we have sold-out arenas where people go, "Tonight's the night." You can't go flat-out where the bad guys win for six months — you need a nibble every now and then. In my head, I'm begging — "Gosh, is this my chance? Is tonight the night where I say, 'Enough of this crap?'" I think it's going great, it's totally different, getting a point across, telling a story. And it is setting the tone, I'm assuming, for something big, whether I'm involved or not. I think it's an important turn, like Batista when he was in Evolution, getting pushed around by Triple H. You'd go, "Is he going to get him? Oh, not tonight." Then it blows the roof off. Hopefully, that's the story we're telling.
Q. Speaking of Ambrose, there's a possibility you'll face him at Night of Champions Sept. 15. What are your thoughts on him as an opponent?
A. He's one of the few young guys I haven't really been in the ring with, except for a few seconds, but if you're basing it on the Internet and people who know how good he is and how good I am, they know we can tear it up. People have said to me, "That could be the match that steals the show." I go, "Of course it can — if I'm in it."
Q. You faced Bray Wyatt last night for the first time. What's your take on first-time matches like that happening without any kind of notice or context?
A. That's the nature of the business, that's WWE: spur-of-the-moment. It's not three hours of continuing stories. That's what sometimes sparks new stories. You find chemistry, a new angle, a new story. I think it's exciting. I found out and went, "These guys are coming out?" And I don't know what to expect. But that's what I've prepared myself for, for eight years.
Q. Matches like that seem to fill every show, now, with marquee guys facing marquee guys. It seems like it's tough to gain momentum that way. Do you think so-called squash match should come back?
A. In this day and age, with so many up-and-coming guys trying to make a name for themselves, we have short attention spans. I don't know that that's the way to go, but I've seen a place for that with a case like the Wyatts, and you just want to see him showcased. But we also have such talented superstars we can have competitive matches and get the point across.
Q. You're one of the more active WWE wrestlers on Twitter. It's made wrestlers seem more accessible, and some wrestlers play into that by letting fans into their personal lives. What do you think of the way Twitter has changed the business?
A. The cool thing about it is, when I was a kid and you wanted to send a letter to a wrestling magazine, hoping they'd pass on — now, I know there's no way they could have. And today, you can literally send a text and in the right moment, the wrestler could theoretically text you right back. That blows my mind. Because of that technology, and people being more accessible, it's awesome. You're mixing real social life into storylines we have — it makes it that much better. If you have the Internet you can take advantage of it and continue feuds, and if you're not an important part of the shows you can advance things on Twitter like me and Zach Ryder did a year ago.
Q. You recently suffered a concussion and stayed out of action for several weeks. Now that it's been a little while since then, what did you think of the process? Overprotective, not protective enough? And how does it compare to when you started in WWE?
A. You can never be too careful when it comes to any kind of serious injury. It's your brain. And now that we're realizing the long-term problems with the NFL, WWE is so proactive about protecting us. Even when I was cleared after all these tests, we still slowly dipped back in. It was an unfortunate time for me, my first time as World Heavyweight Champion, and then that happened. No matter how bad I wanted to be back, we needed to be sure. I was told by physicians, "If you hit your head again, it could be so damaging." So at the end of the day, it's about being safe. WWE went above and beyond to bring me back. It's about safety and health, and continuing a long career here.
Q. After winning that championship and having a pretty great act going with AJ and Big E. Langston, now you're on your own as a fan favorite, and I think that's a first for you. How have you found that transition?
A. I study different aspects of entertainment and every day I watch a movie and see how to apply something from it, and why comedians get certain reactions on certain jokes. Because now it's a gray area. You can be cool, and be kind of a jerk, and fans organically want to get behind you anyway. They see I work hard at my job. When it's organic, it's about what the WWE Universe wants. You don't change who you are, and that's what's cool. I'm still me, but as someone who works hard and has to adjust, I have to think differently. It's a great challenge; I love it.