The WWE‘s Dolph Ziggler is a great worker. There aren’t many wrestling fans who’ll dispute such a claim. He’s in constant motion, sells like a champ and understands the importance of fiery comebacks. If you put two and two together, Ziggler is a tailor-made babyface.
This is where the waters get murky. Ziggler isn’t exactly a heel, but he’s not a full-blown babyface, either. Indeed, the “show-off” is a Vince Russo-esque late ’90s tweener.
There are fans who vocally support the idea that wrestling needn’t be a black-and-white affair. They believe wrestlers should toe the line between babyface and heel, never telling the audience where they really stand. The fans ultimately decide who they like or hate, so promotions shouldn’t waste their energy telling paying customers how to react. I refer to this as, “the tweener theory.”
There have been successful tweeners in the past, but not for the reasons that “tweener theory” supporters would have you believe. Bret Hart in 1997 is a perfect example. Bret was a red-hot heel in the United States, but was an overwhelming babyface in Canada. Bret drew the ire of U.S. wrestling fans by running down American values, all the while championing the greatness of his homeland. Naturally, fans in the Great White North loved him for it and reacted accordingly.
Fans in America hated Hart’s diatribes against the supposed land of the free, but people in Canada considered him a patriot of the highest order. This was exactly what WWE wanted to accomplish, and they were successful because wrestling fans knew exactly where he stood. Bret walked a fine line between heel and babyface, but there was never any confusion as to which role he was playing. This is where “the tweener theory” falls apart.
The fans want to cheer for Ziggler. He has an indefinable “it” factor that draws people towards him. He meets all the criteria for a successful babyface – why not run with the idea? What is the WWE trying to accomplish by keeping Ziggler’s true persona a mystery?
It’s painful watching Dolph cut these horrible promos about being a show-off. The last time I checked, egomaniacs aren’t a highly-valued niche in our society. The WWE tells their fans that Dolph isn’t a likeable person, then puts him in matches where he can work like a babyface. It makes no sense, and it hurts Ziggler more than it helps him.
The fans need to know where Ziggler stands, and his beliefs and attitudes need to jive with his in-ring performances. As long as there is a dissonance between those variables, Dolph will forever languish in no-man’s land.