It's Been 5 Years Since The Miz and Dolph Ziggler Stole The Show At WWE No Mercy 2016
A match fondly remembered by many
There was a time when The Miz wrestled in a genuine match of the year candidate, and most of us agreed that to be true.
The year was 2016, and professional wrestling was in an odd sort of place.
There was no AEW to speak of, so your choices for mainstream wrestling were WWE, New Japan, or an IMPACT Wrestling that was propped up by Matt Hardy's unique lunacy. New Japan flourished on the merit of Bullet Club's popularity, and more five-plus star matches than you could shake Adam Cole's tainted can of Monster at.
WWE, meanwhile, was in the early stages of its second brand extension, try number two at populating two programs with very different rosters and ideas, cultivating two unique flavors for the fans to choose between. Of course, you ask many WWE fans what their favorite brand in 2016 was, Raw or SmackDown, many would've proudly said NXT. Five years later, that's said with a rueful sigh. Oh, how things change.
Speaking of things changing, that brings us to The Miz. He's come a long way from being the hyperactive "host" of Friday Night SmackDown, and through the many changes to his on-screen attitude and presentation, much of the sentiment toward Miz seems quite evergreen - and not necessarily in the best way.
For 15 years, Mike Mizanin has been a part of main roster WWE, and it's easy to see why. His reality TV background, comfortable speaking ability, and his "company guy" mindset make him an ideal figure for talk show appearances and other media endeavors that boost the company's profile to outside demos.
It's also easy to understand why a fair amount of wrestling fans aren't so keen on The Miz: he's not the most explosive in-ring performer (especially when compared to his more aerodynamic peers), and his embracing of reality TV in all of its vapidness is too "entertainment-y" for fans wanting more "sport" in their "sports entertainment" sandwich.
For wrestling fans that watch WWE but aren't wholly enamored with WWE's core values, Miz can come off a little *too* WWE.
As such, Miz's name doesn't come up often in discussions of the best matches of any period. Hell, the one time he main evented WrestleMania, Miz played third banana to The Rock and John Cena as they hyped a match that wouldn't take place for a whole year. Not that the match was any good anyway - basic action, Miz suffered a concussion, and the tease of a non-finish took the little air remaining out of the already tiny balloon. Austin-Rock soundtracked by "My Way" this wasn't.
Come to think of it, what *was* Miz's best singles match, pre-autumn 2016?
Well, he and John Morrison had a banger of a match on the first Raw of 2011, albeit a forgotten banger at that. There were some excellent multi-man bouts in there, like the triple threat cage match where he dropped the WWE Title to Cena at the 2011 Extreme Rules, as well as the triple threat TLC match won by CM Punk at the end of the year. In recent history, the four-way IC Title match he'd won over Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Cesaro at Extreme Rules in 2016 has to rank highly up there.
You'll note that there aren't many one-on-one bouts listed here. The best one I could personally think of was that match with Morrison that really doesn't get enough mention in retrospectives. Was that really Miz's greatest singles bout?
If it was, the match we're about to discuss easily dethrones it.
At the No Mercy pay-per-view on October 9, Miz would defend his Intercontinental Title against another WWE lifer of comparable age: Dolph Ziggler.
Ziggler's career had followed an interesting trajectory to this point. On so many occasions, Ziggler felt like he was going to break out as a true top guy, with great physical charisma, fine in-ring acumen, and a Slinky-like style of bumping reminiscent of Shawn Michaels and Curt Hennig. Among the wave of talents that hit the main roster in the late noughties and early tens, Ziggler seemed like one of the more promising main event prospects.
And there were moments of would-be ascendance, like the MITB cash-in on Alberto Del Rio after WrestleMania 29 that drew an ungodly crowd reaction (seriously, let's measure that against CM Punk's AEW debut to see the decibel difference - it has to be close). There was also the heroic performance at the 2014 Survivor Series in which he survived the insurmountable Authority gauntlet.
All, however, were mere teases of a main event run that never exactly materialized.
Fast forward to 2016, and Ziggler was on SmackDown, duking it out with Miz for the Intercontinental Title. If this sounded familiar, that's because the same two men feuded over the same belt just two years earlier, wrestling at SummerSlam 2014 in LA for the gold.
Only difference this time is that instead of Los Angeles, the match would take place six hours north in Sacramento.
Actually, there was another difference: whereas the 2014 match was reasonably good, this one was freaking awesome.
This was, of course, less than two months after Miz's tooth-gnashing, highly-defensive tirade toward Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack. Clearly, the man was in some kind of zone in this time period.
It began with Miz holding off Ziggler at Backlash the previous month, aided by wife Maryse blinding Ziggler with mace (the aerosol spray, not the former Retribution member). In a TV match weeks later, Miz won again, after utilizing the mace himself. Like any determined babyface, Ziggler wanted one more match, and was willing to put up some serious collateral: his career, should he fall short. Miz happily accepted those terms, and the two set a date for Sacramento.
To twist the knife a little, champion Miz brought back Spirit Squad members Kenny and Mikey to taunt Ziggler (himself former Squad'er Nicky). Understandably, the reminder of a painful past only made Ziggler more resolute about finishing the job at No Mercy, and fans ached to see it happen.
And No Mercy, it was a rather odd event. You know WWE's changed when they're putting the pay-per-view world title match on first so as to not compete directly with the presidential debate airing that same night. Usually, John Cena, AJ Styles, and Dean Ambrose wouldn't be jerking the curtain, but 2016 was a weird time for us all.
As expected, that triple threat was quite good, living up to the expectations of fans that probably viewed it as match of the night going in.
Following some assorted mid-card fare that ranged from "forgettable" to "solid", Miz and Ziggler took their places for the IC Title vs. career match.
The structure of this match was counting on heavy audience participation, and required two performers worth caring about to astutely execute. Miz was highly contemptible and Ziggler was a properly valiant underdog, so Sacramento had no problem losing their heads emotionally over their battle.
A ton of near falls transpired, prompting loud relief when Ziggler kicked out, and palpable frustration when Miz did the same. The hook was firmly in the audience's collective mouth when Ziggler fought to the ropes after a long period trapped in Miz's figure four, as everybody began catching on to the fact that this was no ordinary mid-card title bout.
Maryse and the Squad ringers all got involved as the near falls grew more tense, and it was a mighty roar when the referee finally kicked all the interlopers out of the ringside area. Easy pop, but this match earned it.
It also has to be noted the great job done here on commentary by Mauro Ranallo, who was in full "gargling fire" shout mode here. WWE matches feel so much less life-and-death without his unique narration, certainly.
Finally, after so many kickouts, teases, and drama, Ziggler felled Miz with a superkick to capture the IC Title, saving his career in the process.
In the aftermath, we bore witness to the ecstasy (Dolph at his most relieved and triumphant) and the agony (Miz lying sad and stone-faced across the bottom rope, silently coming to terms with loss).
Dave Meltzer awarded the match four and a half stars, writing, "You can’t have a match of this caliber without both guys being at the top of their games."
It's true. Ziggler and Miz have both demonstrated much value in their respective WWE careers, but perhaps neither was ever better than they were on this night.
We fans sometimes get wrapped up in tempering our expectations, mentally forecasting how good a match will or won't be long before it happens. As a result, we question minutiae that's out of our hands, like booking trajectories, a pay-per-view's match order, specific finishes, et al, all of which is a byproduct of our need to forecast ideal circumstances in advance. With a rampant news cycle that informs us of how booking will look months down the line, we get caught up in looking ahead instead of at what's in front of us. We're sometimes far more interested in what will eventually be and how *that* could be shaped, instead of concentrating on what's about to be. We turn the present into "old news" because of this tendency to use our expectations to make quick studies.
That's why a match like Miz vs. Ziggler was so honestly refreshing, so surprisingly welcome, especially for those caught up in the side roads of being a diehard, follow-the-underlying-news fan.
Nobody tuning into this match from No Mercy 2016 thought it was going to be anything stratospheric. As it was, it could easily be classified as the best match of each man's long career.