Pro Wrestling isn't a sport that everyone likes, but it's also a notably hard career choice. In the pro wrestling world, it's tough to get ahead unless — like the WWE's Dolph Ziggler — you're acutely tied into the online world.
I sat down with the WWE's Dolph Ziggler to discuss how the Internet has changed professional wrestling, how you can use social media to enhance your career and what kind of smartphone he uses.
It's inevitable that somebody's going to make a snarky comment about my choices in entertainment — this is still Gizmodo, right? — so I'll get this out there; I utterly adore Professional Wrestling.
That's an oddity in itself; I'm not that big on sports generally (you may insert your "Un-Australian" jibes here), and more physical sports such as boxing or MMA leave me impressed with the skill but concerned about the physical impact, because the point is incapacitation. Wrestling is, by its own admission, staged, and there's a craft in creating larger than life characters and staging often-physics-defying combat between them. It's one of those things that you either get or you don't, and the very best practitioners of the craft are at their best when they're larger than life characters with plenty of skill.
That definition fits the WWE's Dolph Ziggler to a tee; he's not only one of the most exaggerated "sellers" of moves — which is the wrestling way of looking at how the impact of a move is presented — but he's also a supremely charismatic and slimy heel character on screen. He is, by his own admission a jerk on TV, inspired by the antics of the wrestlers he watched growing up; he cites Ric Flair specifically.
"At a very young age I got into Ric Flair, and that got me into thinking 'this guy is the man'. Some people are happy with "Oh, I want to be a WWE Superstar, happy being the opening match, work here a couple of years.". I wanted to be Ric Flair — the guy who could go out there with anybody at any point on the card, and it's the best match on the card."
Ziggler was in Sydney last week for a very quick promotional tour prior to Monday's Royal Rumble, and I had the chance to sit down with him and discuss the WWE's shift towards a more online world. I'd last done that a year ago with WWE Superstar (that's their term) Sheamus, who, despite his IT background, wasn't that keen on the online world.
Ziggler's almost the entire reverse, and, it should be noted, outside the ring he's a quietly spoken and quite engaging interview. He doesn't see the impact of social media and the internet as an intrusion into the mystique of wrestling; instead, it's a challenge.
"The mystique is spoiled, because of the Internet. It's gone. If we do a show on Tuesday night, such as a Smackdown, before that show is over, it's already on the Internet, what's happened even though it airs on Friday. That mystique is long gone, I think. With all the channels, and with all the things people can do in the world, you have to keep people's attention even more, because people go 'well, i could watch the show, or instead read a quick report instead of watching the two hour show'. We have to be great at our jobs, we have to be better entertainers to keep people's attention."
Ziggler puts a lot of credit into social media and its impact particularly on the interaction between entertainers and fans.
"When i was a fan and I used to read wrestling magazines, maybe you could send a letter to the offices, and maybe six months later somebody would see it, but now you can basically send a message to twitter, and seconds later a superstar can write you right back. I think that's amazing for fans, and we're just getting into it. Basically, the really fun thing is; Zack Ryder started the social media presence for WWE, and we started piggybacking off of his; he started a YouTube channel on his own, he got a Twitter account, and it's become, over the last year and a half, a monumental part of the WWE. Getting your live tweets across the screen, sending a tout out, I think it's great. Also on another side, someone like me, who doesn't get to talk on the microphone a lot, I get to show half a million or a million people my character, or make some jokes, or let them know who I am through social media, so they start to know a character whether it's introduced on TV or just through social media."
WWE's particularly embraced YouTube, and not just in the typical big-corporation-takes-down-clips fashion, although that does happen. Ziggler's been hosting a comedy clips show called WWE Download over the past year, although that contract has just concluded. "I did my very last one on Monday, just before I flew here, and it'll air this coming Monday. It's great — I tear apart everybody at work. We'll see what stays in. It absolutely is a legitimate roast of almost every good guy at work. I'm into comedy and writing, and that full year of writing jokes on the weekend and then performing them, getting a lot of positive feedback has been really fun for me. That's one of the coolest things I've done with the company. They would send me a blueprint, and some clips. Really bad. REALLY BAD cheesy clips, that you'd have seen on America's Funniest Home Videos 20 years ago. The clips sucked, but it was my job to make up funny lines. Greg Adkins would send me a script with some jokes in it and then I would take the parameters of the script and write a couple of my own jokes. I loved it. Loved it. I'm sad that it's done. "
Ziggler uses his Twitter account very solidly in character, tweeting as @HeelZiggler — there is a @FaceZiggler, but it's not verified as him. Before heading to Australia, he tweeted: "Would you wrestle a broom?” -i have and will again. PS, i lost." And when asked by a fan if he liked the Rocky movies, quipping that: " i root for drago" Or when asked what the most awesome thing he's done was: "once got an onion ring in my fries (& made it look like @johncena was good)"
Despite all that, he's also willing to let the character have its softer side; while in Sydney he took time to visit WWE fans at Westmead Children's Hospital, even though his TV character is, technically speaking, a bad guy.
"It's fine, because at work I can be a jerk to John Cena all I want, and at the end of the day, we're all superstars who are entertainers, so my job is to entertain. So any time I do any kind of appearance I'm an ambassador for WWE one way or another. So I can be a jerk at work, I can be a jerk to you guys, and it's fine. Talking to kids who are looking to have fun for five minutes, no matter what, we had a good talk, it's fun, it doesn't change anything about TV, that doesn't change me giving someone a dirty look in the street. I'm still (in character) a jerk, but it's fun to go represent WWE and say Hi and put a smile on someone's face for 5m. Sometimes you do (get a bad reaction from kids), and that's fine. But it's true, they go "hey, I know you as the jerk on tv" and I go, OK, I'm a jerk, but we find some common ground, whether it was Spongebob or The Simpsons."
Ziggler is a character that Nicholas Nemeth plays, but he's also keenly aware of the benefits of social media for him personally.
"I use social media for everything; I'm constantly travelling, so even my friends, relatives, using something like FB or twitter; college friends I haven't heard from in ten years; I get a tweet from them and I can just stay in contact; even if you've got a new phone and don't have people's numbers, you can stay in contact. It's great."
He's not a huge gadget geek, however, noting a preference for paperbacks over Kindle eBooks, due to having to turn the Kindle off on his frequent flights. His phone of choice?
"iPhone. I had a Blackberry forever, because I love those clicking keys; the first couple of weeks with the iPhone I hated touchscreens, but now it doesn't leave my hand."
Image: WWE publicity department