By John Benson
At some point in the mid-’80s, a then 4-year-old Nicholas Nemeth attended his first WWE match at the old Richfield Coliseum. Now over a quarter of a century later, the Cleveland native returns to Northeast Ohio as WWE superstar Dolph Ziggler in the Raw and Smackdown Supershow on Saturday at Covelli Centre in Youngstown.
Despite his success in the ring, the kid in Ziggler is evident when he talks about that magical experience decades ago.
“I remember Hulk Hogan was there, The British Bulldog and The Hart Foundation,” said Ziggler, calling from his Arizona home.
“It was pretty neat. For me to remember that, it must have been a pretty cool experience. I knew this is what I wanted to do from 5 years old on. Within two months of seeing that Richfield Coliseum show, I started wrestling in hopes of being a WWE superstar.”
For anyone even loosely associated with high school or collegiate wrestling, the WWE — or back then WWF — wasn’t looked upon too kindly. Ziggler tells a funny story about when he started wrestling.
“It’s kind of a dying sport, so they’re happy to have people no matter what, but I walked in my first day and go, ‘Where are the ropes?,’” Ziggler said, laughing. “The coach was not pleased with that.”
Eventually, Ziggler made all of his coaches smile with a successful wrestling career at St. Edward High School in Lakewood.
In fact, the 31-year-old athlete credits his high school coaches for instilling in him a discipline and focus that he still maintains today.
As far as achieving his dream of becoming a professional, Ziggler figured his best route was to become an NCAA Division I wrestler. So he attended Kent State University for four years, broke a few records and turned a few heads.
“Once I graduated college, I had a tryout with WWE, [but] they didn’t like my size,” Ziggler said. “I was too small. I had just come off my senior year of college and I was wrestling 165. So I bulked up as big as I possibly could and worked even harder, came back and got a tryout, and then in 2005 I got hired by them.”
From there he worked his way up the ranks, eventually taking the name Dolph Ziggler and touring the nation doing what he loves. Currently with a WWE ranking of United States Champion, the wrestler should be living a dream come true, right?
“Honestly, I set hundreds of goals, and I’ve achieved a lot of them so far, but I’m not happy with being United States Champion,” Ziggler said. “My goals go above and beyond that, where I want to get better every day. I want to become WWE Champion. I want to become one of the greatest champions of all time. So I’m not surprised by any of this. It’s just one more step towards what I’m trying to achieve.”
Thinking about Ziggler’s story, there’s a good chance that maybe an elementary-age boy attending the upcoming show will be following the same path and eventually end up being a WWE superstar because they were inspired by Ziggler. You get the sense that nothing would make this Northeast Ohio native happier.
“I would love that,” Ziggler said. “People who ask me, I say no matter what you do in life, as long as you work harder than anyone else, you’ve got a shot at doing whatever it is you love. And in my case, I’ve never coasted no matter what. I won titles and kept working, and then all of a sudden things come easier to you. So no matter what you do, work harder than everyone else and you can at least say at the end of the day you put everything towards that dream.”