It’s fair to say that Sami Zayn shocked the WWE universe when he saved Kevin Owens at Hell in a Cell. Shane McMahon was in mid-air, attempting to deliver one of his trademark high-risk maneuvers off the top of the cell to a prone Owens, who had been laid out on a table down below.
It would have connected too, if it wasn’t for the meddling Zayn.
Milliseconds before McMahon crashed down on Owens, Zayn yanked his once bitter rival out of harms way with two outreached hands and a prayer, leaving fans with one question: why, Sami? Why?
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We have those answers now, and wow, is Zayn’s heel turn ringing true. Two weeks ago, he cut a lengthy promo during SmackDown Live that essentially tore up the character that was the Underdog from the Underground. No longer content to play by the rules while watching Owens cut corners en route to championship after championship, Zayn tossed his good guy persona out the window.
But it wasn’t without merit.
This wasn’t a heel turn for the sake of a heel turn. For the sake of giving a idling superstar something to do since creative didn’t have any other ideas. No, this heel turn makes sense on the most basic, guttural of levels. Even if you don’t agree with Zayn and his actions — especially after what he did to Randy Orton this week during the main event of SmackDown Live — his words still resonate in a real and meaningful way.
“I tried and I tried to to be the good guy, and do everything the right way,” Sami told the crowd, wincing as each word came out of his mouth. He continued, passionately addressing the WWE Universe: “To put all your hopes and dreams… your morals, your beliefs and your ideals and your values, and I put it all on my shoulders. And I embarked on a long and arduous journey. And it brought me all the way to… m-mediocrity.” He stammered as he admitted this fact out loud, almost as if it was the first time he’d allowed himself to accept it at all.
Here’s a guy who was a viable Match of the Year candidate in 2016 as he wrestled a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura during NXT TakeOver: Dallas. A man who has gone out of his way to use his considerable platform and reach to spread messages of hope, peace and encouragement. He always fought with dignity and respect. And what good has it done him? He still hasn’t held a belt while on Raw or SmackDown Live.
Who hasn’t felt beat down by those kinds of realizations? Maybe it’s your work life or your home life. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both, but everyone has, at some juncture, grown sick and tired of being strapped down by the rules that govern who is “good” and “bad.” Because those same rules certainly don’t also apply to who is “rich” and who is “poor.” Or who is a “winner” or “loser.”
Saving Owens at Hell in the Cell, that could have been sold as a one-off. A knee-jerk reaction as one former friend tried to save another. And Zayn started to take things in that direction, before admitting, without question, that he was sick and tired of getting nowhere while being The Good Guy. But this wasn’t temporary. This was a man deciding to hit back, tired of being held down by his own belief system that was getting him nowhere in a career he’d spent 15 years cultivating.
Anyone who’s ever been passed over for a big promotion or dumped by the person your significant other told you not to worry about can understand that motivation.
The best angles in wrestling (and any form of storytelling, really) have a nugget of truth in them. Maybe it’s an outward truth and maybe it’s an inward truth, but it’s always there. Zayn’s heel turn contains tons of reality, and there’s no one better in the business to sell this than him.
Go back and watch his eyes after he landed that low blow on Orton this past Tuesday. After the 13-time World Champion crumpled to the mat in a heap, it hit Zayn like a brick to the face: It really can be that easy. I can be a winner.
He took the easy way out, and his reward was getting arguably the biggest pin of his main roster career. The change of mindset was already paying off, after years of scraping to get even a sniff at these kinds of opportunities.
It’s that kind of true-to-life story — even if it’s just implications since no one is going to low blow their boss at the office tomorrow, probably –that the WWE needs more of. They now have the opportunity to turn Zayn into one of the most understood, despicable, honest heels in the business today.