Happy NFL kickoff day TJR faithful and welcome to a long overdue edition of A Matter Of Character. Not only is today the day that the NFL’s season officially kicks off, it is the day that my favorite hour of WWE programming airs here in Canada. I’m of course talking about NXT. I’m not trying to knock the current product because I love hat the WWE is doing right now with Bryan vs. The Corporation 2013. That said, for me the most palatable and easily digested hour of wrestling each week is NXT. It’s simple, it’s fun, and often has one match that puts 90% of what we see on Raw or Smackdown to shame. I personally also enjoy the experimentation that each superstar does, trying to refine and perfect their characters. NXT for me is fun because it’s imperfect, but the viewer can always feel that those involved are in pursuit of improvement.
When talking about NXT, you have to bring up Sami Zayn. Zayn in the last two months has consistently performed spectacularly in the ring, and has had close to half a dozen matches that were the match of the week the week that they aired. It’s not a shock that Sami Zayn has proven to be so good, as he signed with WWE well seasoned having wrestled in Chikara, Ring of Honor, Japan, Dragon Gate USA, Evolve and a long list of other independent wrestling promotions as the masked wrestler El Generico. That being said I’m a little surprised that he is thriving without the mask and has managed to transition to the WWE seamlessly, bringing the same flare to the ring without the El Generico character. Zayn is a fun, dynamic and energetic performer with charm that endears him to the live audience, despite not having one of the WWE’s best made-up monikers (the WWE is very hit or miss with these names, but Sami Zayn is one of the few that falls in the middle).
In case you haven’t put two and two together, this week’s A Matter Of Character will profile none other than NXT standout Sami Zayn. I will analyze Zayn and pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of the character, while making suggestions for improvement as I see fit. Let’s Do This!
Sami Zayn is a unique individual. The red haired grappler is 6 feet tall, and weighs in at about 200 lbs. The Montreal native may not be the biggest guy in the WWE, but he’s no small fry. With decent size, and bright red hair, Sami Zayn has a look that very few in the WWE have. He stands out in a crowd. He’s also a pretty handsome individual with an expressive face, as evidenced in his matches and during his promos. He says a lot with his facial features, something a lot of superstars who haven’t spent most of their careers behind a mask have trouble with, which earns him extra points with me. Aesthetically, while he doesn’t scream star at first glance, he is memorable, which is the next best thing.
In the ring, Sami Zayn is a dynamo. He is innovative, he is energetic and he makes everything that he or his opponent does look incredible. Much like Luchadors, his offense is fast paced and often includes aerial components. As I mentioned, he is very expressive during his matches and tells a story in the ring, not only with the maneuvers he delivers and takes, but also with his facial expressions. I’m going to go ahead and say that he is the best in-ring performer on NXT. I feel very confident in that proclamation as I think there are very few guys on NXT that you could argue are better in the ring. Zayn also has that special ability that few truly grasp, and that is creating a connection with the fans in attendance, and making them feel involved and invested in your work without having to say a single word. On the main roster Daniel Bryan certainly creates that connection; The Rock was a master at creating such a connection, as is CM Punk. Zayn is definitely in that class of performer, as he makes the live audience feel involved every time he’s in action. It’s a hard connection to create but he does it all the time. I’m interested to see if it translates to the main roster with much larger crowds. I’m guessing it will.
For the longest time I couldn’t figure out how I felt about the Sami Zayn character. His promo work was so unspectacular, yet he had a charm that I couldn’t deny. Then it hit me all at once last week on NXT when he was being interviewed by Renee Young following his loss to Cesaro in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match a week prior. Sami Zayn is just a genuinely good guy. He won’t back down from anybody, and will always stand up and fight for himself if challenged, but is generally a polite, kind, modest, and charming young man. The way he interacts with Renee, flirting with her in such a respectful way, ushering her from the ring when he thought things might come to blows, the fact that he downplays the fans reactions to how stellar his match was the week prior; Sami Zayn’s charm comes from the fact that he is just a good dude, in a landscape of selfish egomaniacs (including several of the babyfaces).
It’s because he is such a good guy that people just like Sami. You don’t watch in awe of how big his personality is like The Rock, or how raw and unfiltered his personality is like CM Punk. You see Sami Zayn, and once you a get a sense of the modest, polite and charming young man he is, everybody and their grandmother would be hard-pressed to say anything other than “I Like That Guy!” Sami Zayn is just a likable dude, and I wouldn’t change that at all.
WORDS AND ACTIONS
It’s because Sami is such a good guy, so modest and charming in his interactions without ever seeming like a pushover, that his unspectacular promo delivery works. He’s not a showman like The Rock, and that’s okay. He’s not the kind of guy to yell and scream and get really intense, and that’s okay too. He is who he is, and is very comfortable being the understated good guy with charm for days. He’s like a younger, more delightful and charming version of Christian. I am a huge Christian fan, and I can definitely see Sami Zayn’s career mirroring Christian’s to some degree because they have very similar on-screen babyface personalities and methods of performing. Both are not showy or flashy, but both are very charismatic minimalist performers by design. At the end of the day, I’d just tell Sami to keep doing what he’s doing, because he does understated so well.
As far as his actions are concerned, he is as good a guy as babyfaces can be this day and age and still get over. He plays by the rules, he’s respectful of his peers and opponents even when he hates them, and he never cheats himself or the fans. He gives every match his all and never gives up. If there is one thing he does that slightly annoys me, it is his pleading with the ref after every near fall he gets. It’s a little whiney and doesn’t jive with the rest of the character he has put out there. It’s a small criticism that most people likely don’t read too much into and I honestly don’t hate the fact that he does it, it just doesn’t match the modest good guy persona he is portraying if you ask me.
Motivation is the single most important aspect of every character in any narrative. In the WWE’s narrative, everyone has to have the same basic motivation, to be Champion. What makes a WWE character compelling is going beyond the basic motivation to be a champion, seeing what else drives them forward, and keeps them competing. For Sami, I believe his motivation is to prove that he can go toe to toe with anyone, and that he isn’t afraid of anybody.
Sami has likely always been a very respectful and kind person, and in many respects was probably taken advantage of because of it. People may have manipulated him, played on his sympathies or even targeted and bullied him because he looked different and always seemed unassuming and kind. He learned to defend himself and how to fight and as an adult now wants to show himself and anyone else that he’s not afraid of anyone and will never back down to a bully. He’s still that kind guy he always was, but now he has something to prove to anybody who views that as weakness.
Most conflict in the WWE is interpersonal, between WWE Superstars with personal grudges or dueling goals (such as being champion). Most of Sami’s conflict in the WWE will come in this form but he will be a more compelling and relatable character if he has to face some inner conflict. For Sami Zayn, his inner conflict would derive from him being a genuinely good person. People will take advantage of that and his aversion to doing the wrong or immoral thing will hinder him at times within the WWE narrative. Watching him figure out how to succeed while trying to stay true to himself is an interesting journey to keep track of.
If you ask me, I’d say that Sami Zayn was ready for the main roster two months ago. He should be on Raw or Smackdown in some capacity every week, and every week that he isn’t is a little bit disappointing. I’d definitely call him up to the big leagues but the question is how would I do it? Here’s an idea:
This upcoming Monday night Raw is airing live from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (a show I’ll be attending). Sami Zayn happens to be a Canadian (albeit from Montreal) and I couldn’t think of a better night to introduce him to the WWE Universe.
I’d have Triple H and Stephanie McMahon meet Zayn in their office, to discuss calling him up to the main roster. They’d talk about how they have been told he’s impressing people in developmental and that they are thinking about putting him on TV. Zayn will be his usual polite, modest, and respectful self, impressing the bosses with his charm until he takes off his jacket (exclaiming it’s unseasonably warm in Toronto) to reveal a Daniel Bryan shirt. Hunter and Steph will be noticeably annoyed by the shirt and will ask him about it, and Sami will explain him and Bryan have been friends for years. Hunter and Steph will excuse him so they can look over some of his information and he’ll be free to roam the halls of the ACC and meet the other superstars.
Later on in the night Ryback the bully will approach him aggressively telling him to take off his shirt. Zayn will protest, and Ryback will try to bully him, telling him the higher ups don’t like that he’s wearing that shirt. Ryback will grab Zayn but Sami unlike all Ryback’s other victims will fight back, before ultimately being taken down by a cheap shot. Ryback will tear the shirt off and throw it in the trash.
The next week on Raw Zayn will arrive in the building to get his hands on Ryback, but will be told by Hunter that he can’t wrestle tonight, as they’re having problems with his work visa. He says he doesn’t need to wrestle, he can fight Ryback anywhere, anytime, but Hunter tells him if he puts his hands on Ryback tonight, it’ll severely affect Hunter’s view on his readiness to join the main roster. Hunter will tell him he’ll be in developmental a long time if he doesn’t leave the building right now. Zayn will turn to leave but be laid out by Ryback.
From there I’d have Zayn feud with Ryback for a month or two before moving him on to other things (like a feud with Antonio Cesaro) I’d also develop his on screen flirt-mance with Renee Young, to make them a newer and much more adorable version of The Rock and Lillian Garcia.
There you have it, but as always I want to know what you think! Are you a fan of Sami Zayn? Have you been as impressed with his work in and out of the ring in recent months? Do you find him as charming as I do? And what do you think his ceiling is in the WWE (I personally think he can be a World Champion down the line à la Christian)?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL! Have a great weekend everybody!