Some kids were practically born knowing exactly what they want to be when they grow up. With his rare combo of raw athleticism and pure showmanship, Nick Nemeth never could have imagined spending his life anywhere but inside the ring. We caught up with the man better known as Dolph Ziggler, one of WWE's most popular heels, to talk hockey, leaving Cleveland before LeBron, and having his love life discussed on The Howard Stern Show.
First things first: what do you prefer to be called? Dolph? Nick? Mr. Ziggler?
DOLPH ZIGGLER: Dolph is just fine.
We've polled the players a few times to find out what nicknames they would choose for themselves if they could. How did you come up with Dolph Ziggler?
DZ: I think it's a combination of several different things. My goal when I first started in the WWE was to stand out. Dolph Ziggler is a name you'll remember. It will stand out, and you'll know it before you even meet me. And when you meet me, I go out there and I steal the show and do it better than anyone else out there: put on a great match, have a great look, a fancy outfit - something you'll always remember.
You've had a few nicknames in your career - which one is your favorite?
DZ: I've got to go with the Show Stealer or the Showoff, either way. It just totally backs up everything I've put into my entire career. I go out there to steal the show every night. I go out there to put on a wrestling clinic; I go out there to entertain more than anyone else on our roster. All those different factors lead up to me stealing the show.
We hear you're a hockey fan. Do you have a favorite team? If not, we have a suggestion…
DZ: I am a hockey fan. I'm not up to date with everything and I'm not in a fantasy league like a few of the guys like Christian, but I'm a huge fan of the Lake Erie Monsters, which is the Colorado Avalanche's farm team in the AHL. When I was growing up in Cleveland, we didn't have a pro hockey team. At the time, I had to adopt the Detroit Red Wings to root for during the playoffs and everything. I have a really close relationship with the Monsters; whenever I'm in town I go out of my way to actually fly in and out of there just to make it to a couple games a year.
Any chance we could convince you to rock the bleu-blanc-rouge in your next match?
DZ: Well you guys do have cool colors, and I am one for standing out, but I like to do my own thing. Unless you guys put a little more pink in your uniform pretty soon I would have to stick with my own.
Did you ever play growing up? Were you more of an enforcer or a sniper?
DZ: I did. Of course, being the wrestler that I was, I was only playing intramurals in the gym. Believe it or not, I was the goalie! It was hard enough doing wrestling at the time and playing other full-time sports so I only played one season. Our high school hockey team has been state champion several times, but our wrestling team - which I was part of - was national champion, no big deal! (laughs)
Wrestling is pretty athletic, but how well would those skills translate to the ice? Which WWE wrestler would do the best in the NHL?
DZ: It depends what you're looking for. If you're looking for an enforcer, someone like a John Cena or Sheamus would be good. If you're looking for a pretty boy captain, I could see someone like Cody Rhodes or Alex Riley. They're versatile, they're quick and they get the job done back and forth, playing both sides. Like I said, I was goalie for one season in intramural and I loved it. I'm not the best but I loved it. Someone who knows hockey and was actually also a goalie is Christian. I've talked hockey with him several different times. I bet he would be a great, great goalie.
What do you think leaves a bigger mark: an NHL body check or your finishing move, the "Zig Zag"?
DZ: You know what; my move is like the opposite of a body check. On the ice, you build up speed and you drive a guy into the boards. In the WWE, for a "Zig Zag" I jump up in the air and bring him down. In hockey, it would be like if I'd be jumping up off the ice before bringing him down. They both have two totally different impacts. With the body check you can actually build some speed, but being such an athlete like I am, when I jump up, I can bring that speed down to the ground.
WWE is quite progressive when creating original programming exclusively for YouTube. You host "WWE Download", which highlights random Web videos and consistently draws 100,000+ views per episode. Cut us a promo on why your show OWNS "Tosh.O".
DZ: (laughs) I'm the Showoff, I'm great at what I do and WWE Download is an awesome show. Unfortunately it goes over a lot of people's heads because it's a little too smart. Tosh has a great show. He does a lot of great jokes; he's got a lot of great writers that help him out. Now, I like to host the show, write the show and do what I do better than everybody else and that's stealing the show. When you watch WWE Download, you know you're getting a bona fide star hosting a show, having a good time, putting it all out there. Also, and that's the key point; it's a family-friendly, PG-oriented show. And I can still make them laugh, I can still tear it down, I can still steal the show, I can still make it interesting and I can make it fun for the whole family. That's the edge that WWE Download has. I do it better than anyone else.
You and rising comedienne Amy Schumer had been an item for a while, yet she made some headlines when she discussed your breakup on The Howard Stern Show. What was your reaction to having your love life discussed before an audience of millions? Did you get much ribbing about it from the boys backstage?
DZ: To be fair at the time, we kind of had a deal with each other that we wouldn't really talk about our relationship. We're still friends. Of course it caught me by surprise to hear about it on the radio. I even got a phone call from my mom asking me what was going on. It's over with. She mostly had good things to say. It wasn't completely accurate but it was pretty close. Of course, she's a comedian and she made some jokes. I definitely got some ribbing backstage but it's all good.
LeBron wasn't the first athlete to leave Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach.
You're originally from Ohio but you're billed as being from Hollywood, FL. So you're the original athlete who deserted Cleveland to take your talents to South Beach… do you have a little soft spot for the Heat?
DZ: I don't think you could ever, ever compare the two of us. First of all, I still can walk into Cleveland and not have burning bags of garbage thrown at me. And second, and it's not from me not doing my job or being good enough at what I do, but I'm a bad guy and they respect that. When you're a bad guy and you get respect for what you do, and someone like LeBron James "takes his talents" elsewhere, it just shows that there's two completely different ways to do things. If I had the chance to play for Cleveland, that would be awesome. It would be a dream come true, growing up as a kid that's what you do. But if at some point, it came down to where it just doesn't make sense and you had to move on, I would do it just like a Showoff would. I'd put on a great show, I'd thank everyone for their time, but I'm going to make it elsewhere on my own. Not just on some other team with a bunch of other All-Stars and kind of being one of the guys. I want to be "The Man". I would love to be the man in Cleveland forever and become the guy that people come there to play with and become a champion.
Being a Cleveland sports fan is a tough life - the last pro team to win was the Browns in 1964. How loyal were you to all the Ohio-based teams as a kid?
DZ: Still am to this day even though it's hard sometimes. When every new football season starts, we get all excited about the Browns. But no matter how bad they do, no matter how much they say they're rebuilding, they always have the support of that town behind them. No matter what, Cleveland is always behind the Browns and we always root for them. One of these days, it's going to pay off! (laughs)
Before making his WWE debut, Ziggler set records and won a national championship at Kent State.
You were a three-time All-Mid-American conference champion at Kent State; what do your old "traditional" wrestling buddies think of your new life in the ring?
DZ: If I had been someone who had just wrestled in college and got an agent, and that agent would've told me to come and check out wrestling and give it a try, they might think differently. But they've known me for a while - a lot of my teammates from Kent State I wrestled with in grade school and high school. They knew what I wanted to do. They knew since I was a kid that I wanted to become a WWE superstar. That's why I did the best I could, I got great records at Kent State, won every championship possible, tried to beat every champion I could so I could get my foot in the door of the WWE. They were rooting for me the whole way.
You were actually accepted to law school just before you decided to turn pro. How tough was it to sell your parents on that decision?
DZ: I love politics and I love the law. I wanted to be a court attorney, but my dream since I was five was to be in the WWE. WWE didn't want me after my original tryout. That's why I wanted to go back to college to get my degree. But right before going back, I got a second tryout and I killed it, obviously, and the rest is history. My parents knew I was a born entertainer and that I was great at athletics and that it was a perfect fit for me.
One of your earlier gigs was with the "Spirit Squad", where you had to take some lessons from actual cheerleaders to nail the characters. Did that give you a newfound respect for cheerleading?
DZ: During my college days, I never mocked cheerleading. When we found out that we were going to be cheerleaders and that we would have to take gymnastics and cheerleading lessons non-stop, we wanted to knock it out of the park. We had lessons five days a week, twice a day, to try to nail every aspect of gymnastics and cheerleading. I realized it wasn't easy. It was a pain.
In hockey you have the Triple Gold Club when a player wins gold at the Olympics, the World Championships and a Stanley Cup. You on the other hand, are part of the Triple Crown Championship after winning the World Heavyweight, the World Tag Team and the Intercontinental belts. In your opinion, which one is the hardest club to get in?
DZ: Oh man, I'm not going to pick between the two! But I will say that there are different aspects to get to that level. In hockey when you have to go to the Olympics and get that medal and then come prove yourself at the pro level, that's constantly proving yourself. Both sides are really difficult to get into. To have your name in either of those clubs is really difficult. I look at a guy like Kurt Angle who won gold at the Olympics and then moved on to try to win another championship. Both are tricky, but in hockey, that's the place to be.