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New Ziggler same as the old Ziggler

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In 2012 and 2013, no one outside of the main event (and the Shield) had more consistent fan support than Dolph Ziggler. In 2016, we're still waiting for that guy to return, and it's getting tiresome.

A superkick.

A freaking superkick.

That's what Dolph Ziggler used to pin AJ Styles on the first split-brand SmackDown show, and it's what beat Bray Wyatt two days ago. After a fiery promo that was interesting, to say the least, we saw a little of the best and a two-ton dump truck of the worst from the Kent State Hall of Famer.

But, have we actually even met Dolph Ziggler in 2016? Have we ever said hello to him? And, if we have, is this the guy for whom WWE has been looking to assist in the growth of its new brand?

The problem for Dolph is he's a guy I now watch in much the same way I absorb a noon kickoff Big Ten football game between Northwestern and Indiana. I wake up, still in a bit of a haze, and it's on, but I'm not invested. I'm thinking about the rest of the day's slate, and I'm hoping Pam Ward shuts up before I mute the sound.

In the case of Dolph Ziggler, the emergence of a superkick as his finish is the latest in a never-ending cavalcade of things that continually confuse his identity for someone far better. He may idolize Shawn Michaels, but that 2012 guy didn't FEEL like Shawn Michaels. That dude didn't LOOK like Shawn Michaels. He just had energy to burn inside the squared circle and was putting forth tremendous effort in every match he was in. Thus, some people compared him to HBK-lite, but he still existed as someone outside that description.

Over the past 18 months or so, the Show Off has decided he figuratively wants to give himself a nickname. Rather than be his own man, he's content to try and be Michaels, and in the process he's lost all of what many of us loved about him. That may not be you, you may love the guy, and more power to you, but what I see today is different. I can't help but observe that the things that have increasingly irritated me about Dolph are actually expanding, rather than contracting.

The glass ceiling comments and the desire to steal the show, rather than win the match helped me down the ambivalence to Ziggler path, but it's just an annoying character at that point. Considering the opportunities he's had, I fail to sympathize with his perceived plight. Fancying himself a comedian, he told terrible jokes and ruined innumerable promo segments that might otherwise have been tolerable.

He became obnoxious, and because he was a babyface throughout virtually all of that time, it was nearly disastrous. The last reaction a fan favorite wants is an eye roll, and that's what his segments consistently were. Sadly, it hasn't improved.

But, it's in the ring, the place so many gravitate to him, where he now also falls short for me. His comeback has long been rushed and reckless, and the overselling during the heat would evaporate when he started fighting back. Half-dead, but here's five spots in a row, done so quickly that none registers with the audience, and then back to half-dead. That's not how it's supposed to work, but the most egregious issue is the speed of the moves. He's always moving half a step too fast, and despite being told to slow down, he's never actually done it. Every issue and bad habit he has could be fixed, and it wouldn't be difficult.

Tuesday night, after a beating, he hit Bray Wyatt with several spots, including a hangman's noose neckbreaker. I say "several" because the only other one I remember is the crazy splash in the corner, where he's always about a half-inch away from an inadvertent headbutt. There's no nuance to his performances these days, and perhaps there never was, but until the character became a whiner, I could overlook much of it.

The current angle with Dean Ambrose is an opportunity for Dolph to evolve, and it's not the decibel-level or intensity of his interviews that needs the change. Ziggler's side of that opening promo was a microcosm of everything that's wrong with him, and showed almost a conscious willingness to ignore the obvious. With every word the Champion spoke, the challenger looked smaller and smaller. It was basically a shoot, even if unintended.

At some point, this talented, bright young man has to decide who he wants to be, and then actually shoot for that goal. If that hope is to continue being an in-ring loser who has entertaining wrestling matches, he's on his way. But, if he wants to have some kind of legacy of his own, he has to alter course. He must start reaching for his ideal self.

But, he can't be Shawn Michaels, and someone needs to tell him that. It's okay just to be Dolph Ziggler. Also, stop trying to be Deadpool. The fourth wall thing doesn't work well in pro wrestling, nor does the toilet humor or the ill-timed zingers that helped to wreck him two years ago.

I can't recall how many guys I told not to use WWE or WCW theme music back when I was working in professional wrestling. Some listened, and many did not. I remember one man came out to Lita's first singles theme, and he wondered why people laughed at him. It wasn't sexist. It was that reality that everyone in the locker room knew he was a mark.

LeBron James doesn't need to be Michael Jordan or a mixture of MJ and Magic, he just needs to be great at being LeBron James. Coincidentally, that guy is also an Ohio native.

Dolph Ziggler still has time to get "there" and stay "there," but not until he starts being a fan in private, and a performer in public. Take the intangible, subtle traits that made Shawn's work what it was, and let it end there. The gear needs to change, and the boots definitely need to change. He may not even be doing it intentionally, but as long as I look at Dolph and think about HBK, he has lost.

Plus, he has forgotten what made Michaels such a special talent. Every showstopping spot was with purpose. He did those moves, because in the confines of the story, he had to do those moves in order to win a match. He threw a little bit of style with it, but substance was the lead ingredient. He couldn't have picked a better wrestler to emulate, but I want to meet a confident, unique persona on Tuesday nights. I also want to meet a self-aware Dolph Ziggler, not someone clueless as to his card positioning or brain dead about how the professional wrestling industry should work on television.

I still root for his success. He's worked extremely hard and no one wins if he falters. There's too much potential inside him, and hopefully this latest push will convince him of what he's missing. Tuesday was a misstep, and he has to learn from it, or this will be another source for on-camera tears in the future.

I already met Shawn, and he might have been the greatest of all-time. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but with it comes the inescapable conclusion that the current guy wants to be HIS hero more than he seems to want to be THE hero.