The current Intercontinental Champion is Sami Zayn. That would make you think that perhaps this man’s career in the WWE has been as smooth as fans had hoped, but instead, you realize this is his first main roster championship since debuting in his home country against “The Franchise.” In this article, we take a dive into Sami Zayn’s main roster stay and why putting the blame only on the WWE could be a wrongful decision.
5 Years Of Sami Zayn On The Main Roster – A Mixed Bag
Introduced By Bret Hart In Canada, Zayn Debuts Against John Cena In The “US Open Challenge”
Is there a better possible way to debut in the WWE these days? Sami Zayn got something special that night in Montreal, his hometown. To sweeten the deal, it was WWE Hall of Famer and Canada native Bret Hart that introduced him to the crowd. And the reaction? Thunderous inside the Bell Centre that night. Zayn had never stepped foot on the main roster before and in doing so, he was going to face the United States Champion John Cena for the championship in the famous “US Open Challenge.”
It was all so perfect. And what Zayn did inside the squared circle that night sure made it seem like his future was as bright as anyone would have hoped. Fans were giving him the name of “The Next Daniel Bryan” in terms of babyface underdog. The WWE ate into that already, dawning him the nickname of “The Underdog from the Underground.”
As it was the best night of his career, it turned out to be the worst. As the jubilant Zayn celebrated and got the crowd pumped for this match, he ended up messing up his shoulder. This injury ultimately left him sidelined until January of 2016. That’s where this dive really starts, from this moment, Zayn was seemingly so close but never given the reigns as fans believed. And unfortunately, he has his body to blame for some of that.
Injury Leads Him Back To Kevin Owens And A Five-Star Classic
An injury for Sami Zayn in the biggest time of his career hurt a bit, as he was being pampered to make the full jump from NXT to the main roster in 2015 before this freak injury took him out of action. When it was finally time for a return, he did so in the Royal Rumble. It was there that he eliminated his former best friend, turned rival Kevin Owens as the arena exploded for his involvement. This was a special time for Zayn, who would participate at both WrestleMania and NXT TakeOver: Dallas that same weekend. That weekend saw him as a part of an incredible ladder match and also have his final NXT match against the debuting Shinsuke Nakamura. His match vs. Nakamura showed the world he was back.
But what was so interesting is that ladder match seemed like the perfect spot to crown Zayn as Intercontinental Champion and have him and Owens feud over the title but instead they did it without the gold. It led to some great TV and matches as expected, but ended up leaving Sami a bit lost afterward, as most of his past two years under the WWE umbrella was feuding with Owens. It left fans hoping to see what was next for Zayn, but that led to almost nothing good in his career.
Mid-Card Dwindles His Career To Irrelevancy And Off Of Television
Sami Zayn being in the mid-card during this time would not have been bad if he wasn’t fed to “The Monster Among Men” Braun Strowman. At the first “Superstar Shake-Up,” Zayn was moved to SmackDown LIVE. It was there that he came oh so close to capturing a WWE Championship match before losing to Jinder Mahal (we know how that went). He continued losing for the most part, with losses coming at the hands of Baron Corbin and Mike Kanellis to leave him on the brink of being lost in the shuffle. That was until he made an epic move to save his best friend.
Saving Kevin: How An Unexpected Heel Run Saved His Career In WWE
Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens were in a heated feud that resulted in Owens destroying Vince McMahon and led to a Hell in a Cell match between the two. As McMahon climbed to the top of the cell with a lifeless Owens on the announce table, it seemed as though we wouldn’t see Kevin for a long time. Mid leap of faith, Owens was pulled off by a hooded man who no one could see in real-time. It was a replay that showed Sami Zayn pulling Owens off of the announce table, saving his career and reconnecting them in a whole new way for the first time in the WWE. They became a team, with Zayn flaunting heel tactics and being one of the most entertaining guys in the company.
They went after the WWE Champion AJ Styles, had chances for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships, but came up short every single time. Their entertaining tenure together ended following WrestleMania, as both men were injured and were “fired” after losing to Shane O’Mac and the returning Daniel Bryan. This was time for Zayn to go under the knife once again and plenty of uncertainty for the rest of his career remained, as no one could have known what would be next for him when he returned. It turned out to be something that was great but a burden all at once.
Managing With One Of WWE’s Best Gimmicks
When Sami Zayn finally returned from injury in 2019, he found something. A gimmick that fits Sami Zayn so perfectly and spoke the truth that the WWE fans did not want to hear. “The Great Liberator” was free and he was going to let the world know he was right and everyone else was completely wrong and toxic. And yet with a phenomenal gimmick still came the bumps along the way. Those bumps were the fact that Zayn wasn’t wrestling, but only managed “The Artist” Shinsuke Nakamura and soon after, Cesaro. The trio made up “The Artist Collective.”
While this group was great and the best part of SmackDown most weeks, Zayn wasn’t wrestling. It wasn’t until the Elimination Chamber PPV in 2020 that things turned around for Zayn after what felt like forever.
Finally… Championship Gold With The Intercontinental Title
As he stands the current Intercontinental Champion, Sami Zayn won his first championship alongside his group of Cesaro and Nakamura. It was a full-circle moment that got a reaction from fans everywhere of “it’s about time” and not a better guy to win. Even Kevin Owens applauded his best friends despite their character differences. It was a long road for a guy that most felt to be one of the best professional wrestlers in the world five years ago and now was lucky to wrestle in a match on TV once a month. But with Zayn, his chase to the championship gold was always what made him the perfect babyface. See NXT for that proof.
Eventually, hopefully, he returns to that role and can reach even higher because most fans would agree, that’s where Zayn belongs. With rumors of his contract expiring, that may never come true.
Who’s To Blame For Zayn’s WWE Career So Far
A story that tells itself seems to not always work in the WWE. Sami Zayn was the ultimate babyface, someone that no one saw going heel, and yet his best work on the main roster has been as that heel fans doubted. He could have been the perfect babyface if used correctly from the start, but injuries derailed his career to the point that he had to serve in different ways and the trust wasn’t fully there.
Now at the age of 35 with injuries hopefully behind him, Zayn can let go of those past misfortunes and show the WWE he is a man to trust. He has been for the year he’s been back despite being in the ring very little. If you look to Daniel Bryan’s WWE career, it took a heel run to make him the company’s biggest babyface in years. Perhaps that is what will happen to Zayn too.
For now, Zayn sits atop the WWE with two men that helped his career immensely while in NXT. The blame game goes towards the man and the company he works for. But that is the past. If Sami Zayn were to stay in the WWE, they could turn these five years around in the next five, making Zayn the perfect underdog once again. It’s a wait-and-see situation for now, but the first five definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouths of his fans. All fans can do is appreciate the fact that he holds a title now and maybe, just maybe that magic from his debut can come back when he becomes a babyface again. Whether that’s in the WWE or somewhere else has to be decided.
More From LWOPW
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.