The Debut of Dolph Ziggler
On September 15, 2008, Nemeth re-debuted on Raw, introducing himself in a backstage segment under the name “Dolph Ziggler”. On October 10, 2008, Nemeth was suspended for 30 days for a violation of WWE’s Wellness Program policy. He returned to Raw on November 17 in a backstage segment with Rey Mysterio and Shawn Michaels. In his first match on Raw under the Ziggler name, he lost to Batista on the December 1 episode. The following week he got his first victory as Ziggler, by countout, against R-Truth. The next week on Raw, he picked up his first televised pinfall victory, when he defeated Charlie Haas.
On April 15, 2009, Ziggler was drafted to the SmackDown brand as part of the 2009 Supplemental Draft. He made his debut on the April 17 episode of SmackDown, defeating the United States Champion, Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP) in a non-title match, and, as a result, the following week he demanded a match for the championship. On the May 1 episode of SmackDown, however, he failed to win the championship, after he was pinned by MVP. Ziggler then started a rivalry with The Great Khali, losing to him by disqualification after attacking Khali with a steel chair. As a result, Khali began coming out to the ring during and after Ziggler’s matches, in attempt to gain revenge and to stop Ziggler from cheating. Over the next few weeks, Ziggler defeated Khali by countout and disqualification after making it look like Khali had struck him with a steel chair. At The Bash pay-per-view, Ziggler defeated Khali by pinfall, after Kane interfered and attacked Khali.
Ziggler then entered an on-screen relationship with WWE Diva Maria and she became his valet. He simultaneously started a scripted rivalry with Intercontinental Champion Rey Mysterio, who defeated Ziggler at the Night of Champions and SummerSlam pay-per-views to retain the championship. In September, Mysterio lost the Intercontinental Championship to John Morrison, and Ziggler entered a feud with Morrison, losing to him at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. On the episode of SmackDown, following Hell in a Cell, Ziggler ended his on-screen relationship with Maria after she cost him a match against Morrison. On the February 26, 2010 episode of SmackDown, Ziggler defeated John Morrison and R-Truth in a triple threat qualifying match to compete in the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania XXVI, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
In June 2010 he began a romantic storyline with Vickie Guerrero, who began accompanying him to the ring. On the July 9 episode of SmackDown, Ziggler defeated Chavo Guerrero and Montel Vontavious Porter in a triple threat match to qualify for the SmackDown Money in the Bank ladder match at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, where he once again failed to win the match. On July 28 at the tapings of the August 6 episode of SmackDown Ziggler defeated Kofi Kingston to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship for the first time. In his first title defense at SummerSlam, he retained the championship against Kingston when the match ended in a no contest due to interference from The Nexus. Ziggler was able to make a successful title defense against Kingston at the Night of Champions pay-per-view, and against Kaval at Survivor Series. In November 2010, Ziggler was announced as a Pro for the fourth season of NXT, with Jacob Novak as his Rookie. At Tables, Ladders & Chairs, Ziggler successfully retained the Intercontinental Championship in a three-way ladder match against Kingston and Jack Swagger. On the January 4, 2011 episode of NXT, Ziggler won a battle royal to earn the right to choose a new rookie, and chose Byron Saxton. His original rookie, Novak, was the first rookie eliminated later that night.
At the SmackDown tapings on January 4, Ziggler lost the Intercontinental Championship to Kingston after a five-month reign. That same night, Ziggler won a four-way match against Cody Rhodes, Drew McIntyre, and The Big Show to become the number one contender to the World Heavyweight Championship. Ziggler received his match for the championship at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view against Edge, but was unsuccessful. On February 4, Ziggler’s girlfriend Vickie Guerrero, who was the acting General Manager of SmackDown, announced that she had banned the spear – Edge’s finishing move – and if Edge used it during the rematch between the two, Ziggler would be automatically awarded the championship. In the interim, Ziggler’s second rookie, Byron Saxton, was also voted off of NXT. On the February 11 episode of SmackDown, Ziggler received a rematch for the championship, only to lose after being speared. On the February 14 episode of Raw, Guerrero announced that Edge had lost the championship due to using the spear and that Ziggler would be crowned the new champion. On SmackDown on February 18, Guerrero fired Edge, claiming that he had attacked SmackDown General Manager Theodore Long several weeks prior, and awarded Ziggler the championship during a coronation ceremony later that night. Long returned during the ceremony however, and Guerrero revealed Ziggler as the attacker after being accused of orchestrating the attack by Long. Long rehired Edge and gave him his rematch, in which Edge regained the championship. Ziggler’s first World Championship reign lasted only 11 minutes and 23 seconds. After the match, Long fired Ziggler in storyline.
On the March 7 episode of Raw, Ziggler was introduced as the newest member of the Raw roster, and defeated John Morrison in a singles match. Ziggler was accompanied by Guerrero, who had also been fired from SmackDown, but she was forced to earn her spot on the Raw roster. Ziggler, along with Guerrero, and LayCool then feuded with Morrison, Trish Stratus and Jersey Shore guest star Snooki, culminating in a mixed tag team match at WrestleMania XXVII which Ziggler and his team lost. On the April 18 episode of Raw, Vickie introduced the “new and improved” Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler came out with his hair cut short and brown and went on to defeat Evan Bourne in a singles match. He had re-bleached his hair by the May 23 episode of Raw.
Ziggler beat United States Champion Kofi Kingston in a non-title match on the May 30 episode of Raw, leading to a championship match at WWE Capitol Punishment which Ziggler won to earn his first United States Championship. The next night on Raw, Kingston invoked his rematch clause in a two out of three falls match and won via disqualification, allowing Ziggler to retain. After Jack Swagger suggested to Guerrero that she should manage him in addition to Ziggler, a jealous Ziggler teased tension with Swagger. This, coupled with Ziggler’s concurrent feud with Alex Riley, led to Ziggler to defend and retain his United States Championship in a fatal four-way match against Swagger, Riley, and John Morrison at Night of Champions. On the September 19 episode of Raw, Ziggler lost a non-title match to Zack Ryder when guest star Hugh Jackman helped Ryder by punching Ziggler in the face. Although Ziggler later claimed to have a broken jaw due to Jackman’s punch, it was reported that the supposed injury was fake. Later that night, Guerrero officially began managing Swagger, and Swagger began interfering in Ziggler’s matches to help him win. Ziggler and Swagger unsuccessfully challenged Air Boom for the WWE Tag Team Championship at Hell in a Cell and at Vengeance, where Ziggler also successfully defended the United States Championship against Ryder. He went on to successfully defend the championship against Morrison at Survivor Series. At Tables, Ladders & Chairs, Ziggler lost the United States Championship to Ryder. On the December 26 episode of Raw, Ziggler defeated WWE Champion CM Punk in a gauntlet match for a championship opportunity following interference from John Laurinaitis.[The following Raw, Ziggler defeated Punk by countout after Laurinaitis interfered again; as a result, Ziggler did not win the championship.
At the 2012 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Ziggler failed to capture the WWE Championship from CM Punk. At the Elimination Chamber, Ziggler failed again to capture the WWE Championship after being eliminated second by Chris Jericho.Nemeth noted to Arda Ocal in an interview for The Score Television Network that the Elimination Chamber left him with multiple minor injuries and it is a match he least looks forward to working. On the February 27 Raw, Ziggler and Swagger unsuccessfully challenged Primo & Epico for the WWE Tag Team Championship in a Triple Threat tag team match, also involving Kofi Kingston and R-Truth. On the March 19 Raw, Ziggler and Swagger were announced as the newest members of Team Johnny for the 12 man tag team match at WrestleMania XXVIII. On the April 2 Raw, Ziggler and Swagger unsuccessfully challenged Santino Marella for the United States Championship in a triple threat match. After the match, Ziggler began a feud with Brodus Clay, who headbutted Ziggler after he and Swagger tried to attack Marella. On the following episode of Raw, Ziggler and Swagger were defeated by Clay and Marella in a tag team match. In the following weeks, Ziggler and Swagger lost to Clay and Hornswoggle in singles and tag matches. At Extreme Rules, Ziggler was again defeated by Clay. In May, Ziggler and Swagger unsuccessfully challenged Kofi Kingston and R-Truth for WWE Tag Team Championship, first at Over the Limit and second on the May 28 episode of Raw, resulting in Ziggler showing signs of wanting to break away from Guerrero and Swagger. On the June 11 episode of Raw, Ziggler pinned The Great Khali, Swagger and Christian in a fatal four way elimination match to become the number one contender to the World Heavyweight Championship, but at No Way Out, Ziggler lost the title match to champion Sheamus. On the following Raw, Guerrero, finally tired of the bickering between Ziggler and Swagger, arranged for a match between them; Ziggler won the match and Guerrero’s affections. Ziggler received another shot at the World title on the June 29 SmackDown, but was again defeated by Sheamus in a triple threat match, also involving Alberto Del Rio.
On the July 3 SmackDown, Ziggler defeated Alex Riley to qualify for a spot in the World Heavyweight Championship Money in the Bank ladder match. On July 13, Ziggler, Zack Ryder and Justin Roberts were involved in a car accident in San Diego while driving from Comic-Con; none of them suffered severe injuries. Two days later at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, Ziggler won the Money in The Bank ladder match to guarantee him the opportunity to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at a time of his choosing within the next year. Later that night, Ziggler attempted to cash in the briefcase on Sheamus after Alberto Del Rio attacked him after their match, but Del Rio stopped Ziggler from cashing in. On the following episode of SmackDown, Ziggler again attempted to cash in the briefcase on Sheamus following a tag team match with Alberto Del Rio, but was laid out by Rey Mysterio and Sheamus before he could do so. During this time, Ziggler began a feud with Chris Jericho after claiming he had lost his touch, which resulted in Jericho attacking him on two occasions, and defeating him in a singles match at SummerSlam. The night after SummerSlam, Ziggler defeated Jericho in a rematch; as a result Ziggler retained his Money in the Bank contract and Jericho’s WWE contract was terminated. Following this, Ziggler began feuding with Randy Orton on SmackDown four days later, after Orton RKOd him when trying to cash his Money in the Bank contract on a vulnerable Sheamus. The following week on SmackDown, Ziggler faced Orton in a match that was won by Orton. Three days later on Raw, Ziggler defeated Orton in a rematch, pinning him while holding his tights. Ziggler faced Orton again at Night of Champions where he lost again, ending the feud. On November 18 at Survivor Series, Ziggler captained the traditional 5-on-5 elimination tag team match opposite Mick Foley. Ziggler won the match by last pinning Orton, making him the sole survivor of the match.
Ziggler then began feuding with John Cena after he sided with Vickie Guerrero to help defame Cena and AJ Lee by alleging they had a romantic relationship. On December 16 at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, Ziggler retained his Money in the Bank briefcase in a ladder match after AJ interfered and turned on Cena. The following night on Raw, while trying to diffuse an argument between Vickie and AJ, AJ unexpectedly kissed Ziggler, leaving him confused. Ziggler then attempted to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Big Show after Show was assaulted by Sheamus, but he was attacked by Cena before the match could start. Later, Ziggler teamed with AJ to face Cena and Vickie Guerrero, however, the match ended in a disqualification after the debuting Big E Langston attacked Cena, also starting an on-screen relationship between Dolph and AJ. Ziggler ended 2012 having wrestled the second most TV/PPV matches that year with 90; however, he had the most TV/PPV losses with 57.