Just one year ago, The Miz was embroiled in the build-up for the second straight Wrestlemania Intercontinental title Ladder match. Just like the year prior, it would be a match to open the show with some excitement while also providing spots to the biggest names on the roster left without a singles match. As expected, Miz was surrounded in that match by a similar level of talent, one of which being his long-time contemporary Dolph Ziggler. It was certainly a respectable position, especially for The Miz who for the past two years had only been a part of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Still though, it felt indicative of Miz’s decline from where he had been in 2011, the main event winner of Wrestlemania 27. Since then it had only been multi-mans, pre-shows and battle royals at ‘The Grandest Stage of Them All’ for Miz but nonetheless he still remained as a valuable part of the roster.
Unsurprisingly, the Wrestlemania 32 ladder match would provide great thrills, kicking off the show in ideal fashion. The finish would be a fittingly arrogant Miz nonchalantly attempting to retrieve the belt before the perennial underdog Zack Ryder pushed him off, winning the match to almost everyone’s surprise. Almost five hours later, as Wrestlemania came to an admittedly underwhelming close, the focus shifted to the always highly anticipated post-Wrestlemania RAW. With a traditionally raucous crowd, the show has recently become the home to some genuine surprises and memorable moments. It was indeed an exciting show but bookended by all the drama, a moment in the middle may have flown under the radar that night as Miz’s regained the Intercontinental title, taking the belt from Ryder after just one night. In hindsight though, it was more than just the victory that would become a pivotal moment in Miz’s career trajectory, as his wife Maryse also made her return.
The idea on paper seemed a solid one, Maryse was the perfect addition to Miz’s act as the deluded wannabe ‘A-List’ star. However, with that being said, it’s still hard to have imagined that her return would coincide with the tremendous career revival that we have since witnessed before our very eyes. Once again the Intercontinental champion and now with his wife by his side, Miz was quickly paired with a returning Cesaro before their feud was intertwined with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens’ never-ending rivalry. The quartet’s program would eventually culminate with Miz retaining in a memorable show-stealing fatal four way at Extreme Rules. While he certainly wasn’t being ignored, the focus still seemed to mostly be on Miz’s three counterparts and understandably so, they were and are all great performers but Miz had played his part tremendously and deserved credit for it.
Soon Miz’s career resurgence would be briefly slowed though as he and Maryse left to film The Marine 5 before returning in late June. Just weeks away from the draft, Miz would next enter a short program with Darren Young. The build was minimal and the double disqualification finish was a quite fitting ending to the forgettable feud. Regardless, Miz was drafted to SmackDown, quickly being matched with a struggling Apollo Crews. Once again, it was a quite unremarkable affair and came to an end with Miz retaining at Summerslam, all in under six minutes. Miz’s momentum seemed almost halted but two nights later, everything changed. Guesting on an episode of Talking Smack, Miz became enraged at General Manager Daniel Bryan’s criticisms of him and went off on an impassioned rant.
After insulting Bryan to the point in which he simply left, Miz demanded the camera focus on him. With absolute passion in his voice and fire in his eyes, Miz exclaimed proudly “I’m sick of all of you calling me the coward . . . you’re the cowards! I’m the one in here day in and day out . . . beating people up”. For the longest time, The Miz had been appreciated as a comfortable and natural talker but this was different. It wasn’t flashy or catchphrase filled but instead startlingly real. None of us will ever truly know what was going through Miz’s head as those words so venomously came out of his mouth but in that moment, his anger was believable and almost palpable. As great as that whole segment was, the potential payoff unfortunately seemed limited due to Bryan’s forced in-ring retirement.
Nonetheless, the promo had got people talking and elevated Miz’s importance all on its own. Also needing a new dance partner after unsuccessfully challenging Dean Ambrose at Summerslam, a somewhat stale Dolph Ziggler was inserted as Miz’s next opponent. It had been years of stop-start booking for Ziggler, whose push never seemed to match his once legitimate overness. From my recollection, the original response was generally negative. Interest was low in Ziggler after his match with Ambrose never really caught fire and it seemed a significant downgrade from Bryan. However, while it wasn’t quite the dynamic Miz had with Bryan, from their very first verbal exchange it was clear that the rivalry had serious potential. On the surface Ziggler’s purpose in this position felt very shallow, as he basically just expanded on Bryan’s criticisms but depth would soon develop.
At heart, they were both characters with clear flaws and weak points. Ziggler had become a perennial loser. Miz knew it, the crowd knew it and most importantly he as a character knew it himself. There were subtleties to Ziggler’s responses to Miz that showed his doubts. This wasn’t the standard babyface reaction of laughing off everything the heel says, this was a real person being affected by each word his foe uttered. On the other hand though, Ziggler knew that with just a single mention of the word ‘coward’ he could enrage Miz and that Talking Smack passion would re-emerge every single time. The two would put on a good match at Backlash with Miz cheating to defeat Ziggler before doing it again in a rematch two weeks later, seemingly ending the rivalry.
The rematch in particular was really just a background aspect of Miz’s ongoing feud with Bryan, but it was afterwards that things really escalated when the following week we would find out that the pair’s story was far from over. In both men’s home state of Ohio, Miz would show a video package detailing his rise to greatness, which while obscenely heelish was also well deserved in all honesty. Miz’s career has been an admirable one and that shouldn’t be ignored. Miz would quickly turn the crowd against him anyway, insulting them as he celebrated his ‘never-ending’ Intercontinental title reign. Soon Miz would direct his focus at Ziggler’s parents, lambasting their son as a “world-class loser”, which led to the man himself making an appearance.
Clearly uninterested in arguing, Ziggler tried to leave but Miz stopped him, further insulting his career in brutal fashion before leaving himself. There was a saddening truth to Miz’s vitriolic words and it showed in Ziggler’s face as he reacted to every last comment. A brief moment that still sticks with me almost six months later is the crowd’s response to Miz leaving. As the Intercontinental champion strutted off proudly following one last remark directed at Ziggler’s parents, the crowd booed but the camera simply panned to Dolph who was almost frozen in his thoughts. After a second of thinking, Ziggler retorted passionately, conceding the truth to Miz’s words. I like to consider myself quite descriptive but as was the case earlier with Miz’s Talking Smack rant, I have to simply use the exact words as any attempt I make at summing them up just wouldn’t capture their meaning.
“You’re right man, this is all I have. This couple minutes a night, 300 nights a year, this is my everything. I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone when they know that I live for this. This is what I love but . . . sometimes the things you love don’t always love you back. And you can give and you can give . . . and sometimes you get nothing in return, you get nothing. And you have friends and family and fans come up to you and tell you ‘why do you still do it? Why are you still here? Why do you subject yourself to this every night?!” As Ziggler stopped for just a moment after his explosive verbal outpouring, the crowd responded with genuine cheers and support, almost thankful for everything he had done.
As the drama heightened Ziggler continued, “It’s because I can’t stop, I can’t. It’s a sickness, I can’t stop. And maybe my career didn’t always turn out the way I thought it would . . . I thought it would’ve been better. I thought I earned something, I thought I would be a bigger star but . . . I just can’t stop myself, I can’t but you…you put that title up one more time . . . you put that title up one more time.” As the crowd chanted ‘one more time’ at the uninterested Miz, Ziggler was deep in thought, he hadn’t finished speaking just yet. “Put that title up one more time, and I’ll put up my entire career.” The crowd’s gasp contrasted beautifully with Miz’s immediate excitement and intrigue. With the chance to end Ziggler’s career suddenly in his hands, Miz accepted the match without hesitation.
With pain etched across his face Ziggler simply said, “Your title, my career. I either walk out champion or I’m done. Either way I’ll be out of my misery.” What I recapped there was just ten minutes of television but I can honestly say that for my money, it’s one of the most engaging wrestling segments in recent memory. It was dramatic but more than that, relatable and real. Both men seemed to believe every word and that’s what made it special. The payoff at No Mercy would be just as special. As fun as the common split crowd dynamic is, there’s something to be said for those rare occurrences in which the audience simply cheers the babyface and that’s what we had here. After every bell and whistle and some excellent story-telling, Ziggler eventually came out the victor to the absolute delight of almost everyone in attendance.
People were legitimately invested as it felt like there was a chance that this really was Ziggler’s swansong in WWE, and that made the finish all the more satisfying. The feud would continue with an admittedly lessened hype as Miz regained the belt just a month later. The blow-off match would come at TLC in the form of a ladder match. As much as I’d enjoyed the whole feud, it was only as I watched the pre-match video package that I truly appreciated the work the two men had put in. They had elevated each other and more importantly elevated the belt in a throwback Intercontinental title rivalry. Just like the feud itself, the ladder match was also a throwback, as both men went back and forth for 25 well thought out and considered minutes. After three months of exchanges, Miz ended as he had started: the Intercontinental champion.
Fast forward three months later and Miz and Maryse are now engrossed in a feud with John Cena and Nikki Bella. Along the way Miz dropped his title to Dean Ambrose but honestly, he hasn’t missed a beat. Just like six years ago, Miz is set for a major Wrestlemania match opposite John Cena. I think as much as many of us have respected Miz for quite some time, we all had a similar experience at some point since the brand split. At some point we all sat back, looked at Miz and came to the realization that now more than ever, he truly looks and acts like a legitimate main-event superstar. There’s always an element of luck and timing when it comes to getting a good spot at Wrestlemania but the truth is, Miz and Maryse have earned their position in this major match.
Miz has broken out of the monotony of multi-mans and pre-shows and absolutely looked like he belonged in his Miz TV segment opposing Cena this week on SmackDown. For all of Miz’s own personal progression though, I can’t help but feel that his feud with Ziggler was a real pivotal factor. Many point to that unforgettable Talking Smack promo and understandably so but there needed to be more and Ziggler gave him that chance. Without his Talking Smack rant, Miz probably wouldn’t be in this spot but in that same way, without his three months opposite Ziggler, would his momentum have really continued? while as of right now Ziggler has been unable to continue that success since the rivalries end, the fact remains that both men took what seemed to be a throwaway, nothing feud and created something truly memorable. It was that time that really solidified Miz as a memorable Intercontinental champion and more than that, cemented him as one SmackDown’s greatest assets.