WWE Superstars Dolph Ziggler and Natalya Neidhart feel rejuvenated since fans have been able to return to live events.
“It’s fricking great,” says Ziggler, who lives in Phoenix. “Finally having fans back after 15 months is amazing. I don’t take it for granted. I was kind of becoming complacent when the fans weren’t there.”
Fans are returning indeed. Formerly known as Phoenix Suns Arena, the Footprint Center is hosting “Friday Night SmackDown” on Friday, August 20. “SummerSlam” follows on Saturday, August 21, at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.
“It’s been surreal,” Neidhart says. “For the last year and a half, the WWE has been making it work. We’ve been doing whatever it takes. We’ve been doing shows at the Thunderdome to keep everyone safe.
“Last week (mid-July) we performed in Houston and Dallas to a sold-out crowd every night. The rush of the audience was amazing. To have the audience yelling and engaging with a live crowd was such a rush.”
Ziggler is excited for the WWE and its fans to see Allegiant Stadium, which hosted the Raiders last year without fans.
“Leave it up to us to deliver the show,” he says. “We haven’t been performing for them for some time. The table is set for them to be hot, no matter what. It’s pretty fricking exciting to perform at a new stadium in Vegas. Raiders fans haven’t even been there.
“We’re going to beat them to it. I love it for so many reasons. One is Vegas is cool. Two, we have to do it big, so we have to come out and deliver. We’re going to give them an action-packed freaking show.”
That energy is what drew Ziggler to wrestling. At age 5, his father took him to a show in his hometown of Cleveland. He was so into it that his father signed him up for amateur wrestling. That love continued through high school and college. Ziggler, 40, jokes that he’ll wrestle another 20 years.
“My whole dream was to do this,” says Ziggler, who loves the restaurant Oregano’s.
“I’ve been very lucky career wise. I haven’t been forced to stop. I’m a key person who can be put into any role at any time. I am constantly doing something with the company.”
When he’s not with the WWE, he’s working as a stand-up comedian under his real name, Nick Nemeth. He said comedy pales in comparison to wrestling.
“With wrestling, someone else is out there. You’re fighting someone else. Someone else is punching you back. The nerve-wracking thing is walking on the stage. You have 300 sets of eyes on you. Your hands are shaking. There’s no one else to punch. It is on you to deliver.
“If you don’t get them in the first minute, they’ll say, ‘Eh, I’ll wait for the next one.’ That part is nerve wracking. I performed in front of 70,000 people at a WWE event. Two weeks later was my first-ever stand-up show in a back room of a coffee shop in LA. The stage was two apple carts.”
He ran through his set all day. Ziggler tried to cancel but didn’t.
“I got one laugh from someone who wasn’t paying attention,” he says with a laugh himself.
He hopes to garner more laughs than that after “SummerSlam” when he and a slate of special guests bring comedy to The Space in Las Vegas for “DZ & Friends Slamtacular” at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, August 21.
Natalya Neidhart celebrates women
Neidhart calls August 20 and August 21 one of the WWE’s most important weekends.
“It’s a huge weekend for us,” says Neidhart, whose father was professional wrestler Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. “‘SummerSlam’ is one of our biggest events of the year, if not as big as WrestleMania.”
Equally as exciting, she says, is performing in Phoenix at the newly christened Footprint Center, formerly known as Phoenix Suns Arena.
“Phoenix is one of my favorite places to perform,” she says. “It could be because I’m a Canadian girl who’s looking for a hot summer day.”
The 39-year-old Superstar is a longtime favorite among men and women alike. She and Tamina Snuka—whose family is also wrestling royalty—are the Women’s Tag Team champions. She enjoys working with new women wrestlers.
“I love working with new women,” says Neidhart, who was recently injured, leaving her appearance TBD. “I’m going for different goals. I’m one half of the tag team champion. It’s the first time I’ve been in a tag team. I’m rediscovering the WWE Universe in this role. (Welsh wrestler) Tegan Nox, (‘Raw’ wrestler) Nia Jax and I, we’re willing to take on any challenges that come our way.
“Being in a tag team is a passport to every single corner of the WWE, NXT, NXT UK. At ‘SummerSlam,’ we’re defending our championship.”
Neidhart says she was well prepared to tackle a tag team assignment.
“I think, in the WWE, you have to be ready for every single opportunity, every single competition, whether it’s ‘Raw’ or ‘SmackDown,’” she says.
“Being a part of a tag team is a different pace. You can’t be as selfish. I like the opportunity it presents. Tamina Snuka and I are excited about all the different opportunities we have.”
Neidhart is just excited to still wrestle in the WWE, given the circumstances of the last 15 months.
“After the last year and a half, we are all more motivated than ever,” she explains. “I’m doing something I love, something I appreciate. One of the best parts of the job is engaging and being around people. I love introducing new women to the WWE. Toni Storm is debuting tonight (July 23). I’ve been here for so many people’s debuts, like Charlotte Flair for example.”
Neidhart is looking forward to performing in Phoenix and Las Vegas — both of which house her guilty pleasure.
“I love myself a good In-N-Out Burger,” she says with a laugh. “And a good Starbucks. Whenever I’m in a state with an In-N-Out, I’m definitely there.”
“Friday Night Smackdown”
WHEN: 4:45 p.m. Friday, August 20
WHERE: Footprint Center, formerly known as Phoenix Suns Arena, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix
COST: Tickets start at $20
INFO: 602.379.2000, footprintcenter.com
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, August 21
WHERE: Allegiant Stadium, 3333 Al Davis Way, Las Vegas
COST: Tickets start at $25
INFO: 725.780.2000, allegiantstadium.com
WWE “SummerSlam” at Harkins
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday, August 21
WHERE: Valley and Tucson Harkins locations
DZ & Friends Slamtacular
WHEN: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, August 21
WHERE: The Space, 3460 Cavaretta Court, Las Vegas
COST: Tickets start at $25