“When you measure your worth based on what other people say about you or on what you can achieve, it’s hard to understand who you really are.”Nick Foles
As of the time of me writing this piece we are only hours away from Sami Zayn having the biggest match of his almost 20-year career in front of his hometown crowd with his family and friends watching on as he faces off against the 900 plus days Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns.
All logic says Sami Zayn has ZERO chance in this contest, but what Sami Zayn has done is made all of us watching him on TV week after week want the underdog from the underground to pull off the absolute impossible upset. We want to believe in the impossible miracle of Sami Zayn defying all the odds and logic that says he cannot possibly beat the unbeatable champion. We want all logic and reason to be wrong here, we want Sami Zayn to pull it off or as Cody Rhodes told Sami Zayn this past Monday on Raw, “finish your story Sami”.
Eleven months ago today, I wrote a piece on Sami Zayn’s incredible work building up his WrestleMania match with Johnny Knoxville. Sami Zayn was able to turn a feud that should have been just a throw away joke celebrity match into something that the fans actually cared about. He made it fun and entertaining for the fans and Sami absolutely shined in his WrestleMania match. Sami Zayn came out of the match the winner despite what the match result was because he connected with the fans.
The truth is what Sami Zayn did at WrestleMania is really nothing new for anyone that has followed his career and been a fan of his for this 20-year journey. For many years Sami was able to connect with an audience despite being under a mask as El Generico on the independent scene and that was the first glimpse we had at just how truly special a performer he would one day become.
You can teach anyone wrestling holds and promos, but you cannot teach charisma, you cannot teach passion and you cannot teach heart. Charisma, passion and heart are the cornerstones of the IT factor that is frequently talked about in wrestling. It is the truly undefinable characteristic that separates those that want to be stars in the business from those that truly will become them. No matter whether you have been following Sami Zayn from his El Generico or since his NXT run in WWE, the one constant truth is that he has always been the ultimate underdog. He is the man that you want to root for no matter the odds.
I know a thing or two about underdogs as the place of my birth, Philadelphia is also the place that defined underdogs whether through its sports teams or cinema’s greatest underdog, “Rocky Balboa”. So, it is no surprise that the first time that I saw Sami Zayn in NXT, I instantly got him and understood his character and was drawn to support him. I could see he had that special IT factor and if the company got behind him, he could be a major star.
Triple H seemed to really like the man that would be considered the heart of NXT for a while, but his initial run on the main roster made it clear Vince McMahon didn’t see him anything more than a good hand. However, Sami did not let that detract him as he continued to grind as he tried to change the way Vince McMahon looked at him as a talent. Changing someone’s perceptions of you is no easy feat, especially when that someone is Vince McMahon. However, Sami would catch Vince’s eye eventually and he would get behind Sami Zayn as a heel as the ultimate conspiracist.
However, it would be Sami’s on-air pairing with the Bloodline that would propel Sami Zayn’s career to a level that many never thought possible. Sami’s pairing of the Bloodline, not only propelled Sami’s career it took the Bloodline to another level as well as his inclusion added an element that just made it the most compelling story in all the professional wrestling and not just WWE. All logic again would make you think, oh this pairing won’t work, or it will not last long, but magic was created each and every week.
In perhaps the greatest segment of 2022 in WWE, what Sami and the Bloodline were able to pull off was literally nothing short of a masterpiece. I wrote about this at the time after this happened, that this segment had everything, and they hit everything perfectly. It took the audience on a absolute rollercoaster of emotions as we all thought this is the moment that the Bloodline finally turns on Sami, but instead they made him the Honorary Uce. The pure joy on Sami’s face being accepted at the cool kids table was evident and as an audience we were happy for Sami, despite knowing this will eventually end in tragedy. On a personal note, this segment helped me a lot as I was going through the hardest time in my life, and this helped me for at least the moment to find some entertainment when I was really struggling.
We would watch week after week, the magic that they would create, and even though that we knew this cannot last forever, we actually wanted it to because it kept getting better and better. The ride that they were able to take us on as Jey Uso didn’t trust Sami and that whole dynamic made it must see TV.
The story told in the buildup and the actual War Games match could easily rival any Hollywood movie, as it had all the elements to get the audience to care to see where it was going next. The whole Sami/Bloodline story has been that way and it has been so special, and it is something that can never be duplicate. It has truly been lightning in a bottle, we all knew it would implode, but the question was when?
Finally, at the 2023 Royal Rumble, Sami Zayn would do the unimaginable he turned on the Bloodline before they could turn on him. Sami showed nothing, but loyalty to the tribal chief despite his loyalty always being questioned and he finally had enough of it as he reached his breaking point. His real-life best friend, Kevin Owens was telling Sami for months that they are just using you and Sami denied it like someone with Stockholm Syndrome. As Sami had chosen the side of the Bloodline over his best friend and of course greatest rival in each other’s careers, Sami watched as the Bloodline beat down Kevin Owens. A perfect storm of his loyalty being questioned and watching his “adopted family” beat down a defenseless man that is more like a brother to Sami than a friend led to Sami finally saying enough is enough.
I know this has been a hotly debated topic amongst fans and although there are clear parallels between Sami Zayn’s organic rise in popularity to that of Daniel Bryan in 2014, this is not the same. The popularity is the same and the look of his appearance is, but the audience is not turning on the Royal Rumble winner here. As Cody Rhodes is currently beloved by the fans as well as the audience continuing to shower Cody with “you deserve it” chants weeks after the Rumble, which honestly is rare. He continues to sell merchandise out show after show.
In 2014, the Rumble was a situation where the fans wanted Bryan to enter at #30 and he wasn’t in the match which actually resulted in the crowd booing a beloved babyface legend, Rey Mysterio. The winner was the returning Batista, who Vince McMahon insisted on booking as a babyface. Batista has said that he didn’t want to return as a face and the crowd agreed and didn’t want him to win the title at WrestleMania 30. The audience forced WWE to change plans and give them the WM moment they wanted with Bryan finally winning the WWE Championship. I don’t see this happening this year with WrestleMania especially with Cody’s reason for returning being to win the title his legendary beloved father, Dusty Rhodes was denied.
Cody Rhodes & Sami Zayn On Raw:
All conventual wisdom said to not put Cody Rhodes and Sami Zayn in the same ring together if they were afraid of the audience turning on Cody Rhodes. Triple H not only booked it, but he also booked it in one of the toughest crowds in all of wrestling, New York City. The audience responded by showing absolute love for both men as they received an immediate “this is awesome” chant before a single word was said to each other. It is incredibly rare for a chant like that to happen outside of an actual match.
Sami showed heart and passion in this promo, but it wasn’t all bravado like a typical challenger for the world title. No, it was realistic as Sami showed doubt that he could overcome the odds. This vulnerability and the expressions Sami gave especially with the beard reminded me of another underdog that defied the odds and reached the top of the mountain when he was also not looked at as the man. No, I’m not talking about Daniel Bryan although as I said there are parallels there, but instead I’m talking about WWE HOFamer, Mick Foley.
The crowd rallied behind Foley, in a lot of the same ways that this audience is getting behind Sami Zayn. The delivery during this promo by Sami made me instantly think of Foley. The look on Cody’s face when Sami essentially asked do you really think I can beat Roman Reigns at Elimination Chamber like you said in your promo last week? Cody had the look of confusion, like Sami why don’t you believe in yourself. This reminded me of the stories that Ric Flair doubting himself when he returned to WWE and Triple H told him “Everyone knows you’re Ric Flair, except you”.
Cody delivered a pep talk that was reminiscent of his father, Dusty Rhodes, that not only fired up Sami, but the audience as well. Cody telling Sami, I don’t want to see you on Raw next week, I want to see you at WrestleMania. I’m finishing my story at WrestleMania, finish your story at Elimination Chamber. It was such a poetic moment and statement that we both need to fulfill our destinies. The crowd both in attendance and at home watching ate it up and I truly believe they want both men to finish their stories and although they may have to choose sides at WrestleMania, for now both men have the backing of the audience.
Smackdown – Welcome Home:
What we witnessed last night was a truly unforgettable moment as Sami’s hometown crowd, welcomed him home. You could see the emotion from Sami was real and genuine, which is a huge reason why the audience loves him. Cody Rhodes is the same way; they know what they are seeing is genuine and real and that is why the audience connects with both of these men because they know that they are getting something authentic.
Cody’s message to Sami clearly got through to him and the support of his hometown crowd as the passion from Raw was still there, but now he had confidence that he will do what all logic says he cannot do and that is to defeat Roman Reigns.
“Underdog Mentality: When all odds, all statistics and all mouths around you say you have no chance, you don’t even blink, the fire inside you just burns even brighter.” – Unknown
This quote defines Sami Zayn’s mentality going into this match tonight. It is easily the most anticipated match on the card and no matter what happens I expect an absolute classic being delivered by both men and the story to continue to evolve and unfold bringing more anticipation for WrestleMania.
WWE is in an incredibly unique position where they have two unbelievable stories that the audience is engrossed in and wants to see them both get finished, however they are stories that do conflict. WWE has booked all of this perfectly up until this point, but they are getting very close to the razors edge so the booking decisions on the road to WrestleMania could not be more important than now. I would recommend you check out the Wrestling Republic Daily Broadcast from yesterday where Clark Taylor and I outline a possible option that could give everyone what they want at WrestleMania.
Logic says Sami won’t win, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I would love for Sami to finish his story tonight and raise those titles high.
Photo Credits – WWE, ROH, Instagram’s Chaoticolor2.0, Nolanium, and KupyWrestlingWallpapers