The heel turn of Sami Zayn at Hell in a Cell in October was the best turn of any wrestler in WWE this year. Zayn was going nowhere as a babyface on Raw earlier in the year, and it didn’t get much better when he was sent to Smackdown. That feud with Mike Bennett over the Power of Love? That didn’t help either guy.
It isn’t Zayn’s fault that he floundered. With Spandex had long been banging the drum of Sami as pro wrestling’s last remaining good guy. Blame the creative team for never really giving him a chance to show what he can do as one of the best in-ring performers in WWE, and one of the easiest-to-root-for characters of all time, right up there with Daniel Bryan. But the big problem with an underdog — one that WWE seems unable to grasp at times — is that they occasionally need to win the big one. Or any one.
When Zayn helped his best buddy Kevin Owens beat Shane McMahon, it was shocking, but it also opened up a lot of possibilities for Zayn’s future in WWE. There’s a saying in wrestling about how when you are given the ball, you should run with it. That’s exactly what Zayn is doing. Sarcastic skanking? Check. Being a focal point of Smackdown? Double check. But he’s still stuck in an extremely frustrating storyline with Shane McMahon, and while the payoff could be spectacular, we’re all sort of still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It’s very possible that big (or at least bigger) things are in store for Sami Zayn. To that end, I offer a modest proposal: I think Sami Zayn should win the 2018 Royal Rumble to earn a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 34. Here are three reasons why this move would make a lot of sense. Not just for him, but for WWE.
It Would Elevate Zayn To The Next Level
The Royal Rumble match has been too predictable too often this decade. Remember when guys would win it and be elevated to main event status? Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, and Steve Austin’s respective wins in the 1990s helped all three men get that next level. In the 2000s, Rumble wins helped to legitimize Brock Lesnar and Batista, and cement Rey Mysterio as a WWE main event player.
The Royal Rumble should be a night where the winner is seen as a bigger star after the night is over. By contract, let’s take a look at the last 10 Rumble winners, and see how many were truly elevated by their wins.
2017 Randy Orton – Orton didn’t need the win after being a main eventer for 13 year,s and his match at WrestleMania was one of the worst of the year.
2016 Triple H – Triple H’s 14th world title win to set up a poorly-received main event at WrestleMania 32 is nearly the antithesis of someone being “elevated” by being the Royal Rumble winner.
2015 Roman Reigns – Booed more than any Rumble winner ever, and then WWE lost faith in him two months later at WrestleMania by having Seth Rollins leave with WWE title, not him.
2014 Batista – We all know it should have been Daniel Bryan. Batista even said it, yet Bryan wasn’t even in the Rumble. Thankfully, WWE got it right by March.
2013 John Cena – This Rumble win was in service of setting up the obvious “Twice in a Lifetime” rematch with The Rock at WrestleMania 29, which Cena won.
2012 Sheamus – After winning his first WWE world title in 2009, he didn’t need the Rumble win. It’s a shameful thing that he beat Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds at WrestleMania, which opened WrestleMania 28’s main show. That’s what WWE did with its 2012 Royal Rumble winner.
2011 Alberto Del Rio – One of the few instances in the past decade where it could be argued someone was elevated by winning the Rumble, which was the only 40-man affair to date.
2010 Edge – He was a surprise winner after tearing his Achilles Tendon in 2009, and he wasn’t advertised for this show. It was undeniably a cool moment, and one of the last check boxes on his Hall of Fame career, but at that point, he had already been a main eventer for about four years. His win was also largely played as a backdrop to set up Shawn Michaels’ retirement match against the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI.
2009 Randy Orton – There’s that name again. Orton was already a main event player for five years at this point, and this was the FIRST time his Rumble win set up a terrible WrestleMania world title match.
2008 John Cena – One of the greatest surprise returns in history, but again, he was a top guy for about three years before this.
Out of those 10 names, only Roman Reigns and Alberto Del Rio were truly elevated by the Royal Rumble win … although neither of them followed their Rumble victory up with a win in their ensuing WrestleMania match, so even that is debatable. A win by Zayn would give a much-needed opportunity to somebody who hasn’t held a title on the main roster yet. From midcard to main event: that’s what a Royal Rumble win could do for Sami Zayn.
A Smackdown Superstar Is Almost Certainly Winning The Rumble This Year
The Royal Rumble takes place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on January 28, 2018. The pay-per-view event that follows that is Elimination Chamber on February 25, 2018, which is a Raw branded show. In keeping with history and tradition, that means the Chamber will almost certainly determine a challenger to the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 34, which leaves the Royal Rumble free and clear for a Smackdown Superstar to take it.
As most fans know by now, WWE has been planning Lesnar vs. Reigns for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania since March of this year, and nothing we’ve seen for over the past year indicates they’ve wavered on those plans for an instant. Reigns doesn’t need the Rumble win, and while WWE brilliantly had him be the runner-up in 2017 solely so Randy Orton would be cheered for eliminating him last, a 2018 Reigns Rumble win would risk a Philly riot. Have Reigns win Elimination Chamber. Leave the Rumble for somebody else.
While it’s entirely possible that WWE will pull the trigger on the long-rumored and asked-for WWE Championship WrestleMania match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, potential opponents for Styles’ title (if he does indeed hold onto it all the way until Mania) are thin. Which brings us to my final point …
Few Available WWE Championship Matches Would Be Better Than Styles Vs. Zayn
The WWE Championship is the most important championship in WWE, and Styles’ reigns have helped bring glory back to the title. When the WWE Championship is on the line, WWE should try to deliver the best matches possible, especially at WrestleMania. Remember how bad Orton vs. Wyatt was at WrestleMania? 2018 is an excellent opportunity to wash the taste of that match out of people’s mouths.
I think WWE has kept WWE Champion AJ Styles (mostly) away from Zayn and Owens for a reason, because they might have plans for Styles to feud with them. Since Styles has already wrestled Owens dozens of times this year during their long United States Championship feud, Zayn makes for an obvious choice as a big-time opponent for Styles.
There’s not a lot of history between Styles and Zayn, aside from the match above, but these guys could do 20 minutes with no storyline and would likely still have the best match on any card. Luckily, a Zayn Rumble win would give WWE two months of storylines with Zayn as a heel on a roll, taunting Styles from afar, and potentially having Sami’s success be a wedge that gets driven back between him and Owens.
Imagine Zayn and Styles putting on a classic in a title match at WrestleMania, with Zayn winning his first championship as the culmination of his road back to redemption. It would echo his journey to the NXT Championship, where he was finally able to capture the title specifically because he resisted the temptation to claim victory by taking the easy route. Then we could have another perfect underdog moment, and tearfully cap off Sami’s road to the top.
Oh, and one last thing: I can’t wait for Sami’s championship celebration dance.