No one in WWE has had a ride quite like Sami Zayn did in 2017. From promising rising midcarder, to a general feeling of “everyone is annoyed by you,” to having his career on the line in a feud with a McMahon at Clash of Champions this past Sunday, Sami Zayn has had the weirdest, wildest trip in 2017. Let’s start at the beginning of the yellow brick road and skank our way to the present and how we got here.
The Royal Rumble – January 29th, 2017
Sami ended 2016 on a quasi-positive note by lasting 10 minutes in the ring with The Monster Among Men, Braun Strowman. Two days into 2017, he lost a Last Man Standing match with Strowman to end their feud. It wasn’t really fair to have a Last Man Standing match with only one man in the match (and one monster among him), but I digress.
Sami went on to defeat Seth Rollins on Raw for an opportunity to be in the Royal Rumble, and he was feeling pretty good about himself.
Sami Zayn enters the Rumble at No. 8, lasts a little over 47 minutes, and gets eliminated by The Undertaker. That’s good! Not great, but still pretty good. Getting a non-title win against United States Champion Chris Jericho the next night on Raw made it seem like Mr. Zayn is at least in somebody’s plans at this time.
RAW – February 13th, 2017
On this Monday night, Sami got the pin on Rusev, and made it seem as if the two Superstars are on separate trajectories in the company. To be honest, there is a whole other article waiting to be written about the year Rusev has had, but I’m not remotely the most qualified member of the UPROXX staff to tackle that subject.
Samoa Joe’s music hit following the match against Rusev, Joe blindsides Zayn, and we’re on our way in an important feud with the new baddest man in the company. The next week, Sami is in a match against Fight Forever Frenemy Kevin Owens, and Joe strikes again. This is great!
You’ve got three of the best working, most beloved Ring of Honor guys in history working the premier show in WWE together. Sit back, crack the champagne and let these dudes make you money. Everything’s coming up roses in the early part of the New Year for Mr. Zayn. Yessiree. The sky is the limit!
Fastlane – March 5th, 2017
Sami loses to Joe at Fastlane, and loses to him again later in the month.
This is okay! Someone has to lose these matches and Joe is the New Hotness, so it stands to reason Sami would be the one to put him over. This also leads to a great No Disqualification match against Kevin Owens, plus some in-ring promo time with Stephanie McMahon. Since no one is more important than the McMahons, according to the USA Network and the McMahons, this is good!
A brutal Stephanie McMahon Challenge match against Sami’s longest-standing rival earns him a slot in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Sami’s Road to WrestleMania (and his future in the company) is looking pretty secure here. Hell, some of us out there were thinking he might win the whole dang thing!
WrestleMania – April 2nd, 2017
[Ron Howard voice] He did not.
But it’s okay! Sami Zayn was still a part of The Ultimate Thrill Ride (™), and he got paid the same amount of DVD sales bonus that Austin Aries did, while still being in the company. Net gain, I say.
Nine days later, Sami is traded to Smackdown in the Superstar Shake-Up. This is good! Sami is a great worker and Smackdown is the traditional spotlight show for in-ring talent. A week after that trade, he loses a Six-Pack Challenge to be the No. 1 Contender for the WWE Championship … taking the pin for Jinder Mahal. That’s bad!
This wasn’t going to be an updated Smackdown Six to build the brand around or anything, but of all the folks in that match, Sami looks like he’s in the Top 3. That’s good!
Backlash – May 21st, 2017
Sami finds himself in a feud with New Big Guy Vince Likes — in this case, Baron Corbin. He takes the beating in the video above, but wins with his finisher at Backlash. That’s very good!
Money In The Bank – June 18th, 2018
THIS should have been the New Smackdown Six. God, I was salivating during the build-up to this match. Zayn, Owens, Ziggler, Corbin, Styles and Nakamura is a dream line-up for any promoter. I could fantasy book two dozen feuds out of those six guys. Even Corbin, with the right pairing, could go 20 minutes and make you buy a false finish or three.
I yelled at my TV screen when Sami went for the big move instead of grabbing the briefcase, which is good, because that means I care.
Sami doesn’t win the briefcase (that’s bad), but neither did anyone else that we wanted to win here (that’s good), so let’s call it a push. Fitting for the middle of 2017 to be a “break-even” point for Sami Zayn. (And possibly best for Zayn in the long run, since Corbin ended up losing that Money in the Bank cash-in in the most humiliating fashion in history. That could have been Sami!
Smackdown – The Independence Day Battle Royale – July 4th, 2017
I wrote this so long ago that I need to point out that even then Mojo turning heel was obvious, and we’ve only just gotten that actual match at Clash of Champions, so who says WWE can’t do long-form storytelling anymore?
This is where the cracks started to show for Mr. Zayn. On one hand, he is the last person eliminated in this pretty sweet battle royal that came down to him, AJ Styles and Tye Dillinger.
That’s pretty good! On the other hand, the Kanellises debuted, and Sami starts his slow decline into the “oh, I’m sorry, am I bothering you” gimmick that I’m still trying to understand here in December. That’s pretty bad.
SummerSlam – August 20th, 2017
WWE returned to the Barclays Center and welcomes another Machine Gun Kelly theme song, because apparently he knows where all the bodies are buried.
Sami spent the month of August NOT being the special referee in an Owens/Styles match for the U.S. title, NOT being in one of the Big Four PPVs, and losing to Aiden English. Woof. What happened here? This is bad.
Smackdown – September 26th, 2017
Sami spent the beginning of September losing to Aiden English again. That’s bad. He spent the middle of September treading water. That’s bad. He spent the end of September losing to Kevin Owens like February through September never happened. That’s so very bad.
Surely, there’s no way Zayn’s 2017 could rebound this late in the game, was there?
Hell In A Cell – October 8th, 2017
OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG
For the first time EVER, Sami Zayn turned heel. And not only did he turn heel, he turned heel with a gusto! He’s bad! Which is good!
If there was any doubt on whether Sami Zayn is one of the very best wrestlers in the world, overnight he became one of the best characters in the company, while doing something he had never done before in his career. Every single permutation of Zayn and Owens’ rich history had never featured Sami as a heel, and he pulled it off flawlessly.
It takes a lot to legitimately get me to bolt upright, grab my head and say “whoa” during a WWE PPV, but this was it. Sami was on a bullet train to Nowheresville prior to this moment. They set him up for a feud with The Kanellii, and we haven’t seen them in the company since then. That’s how bad it was before this heel turn.
Survivor Series – November 19th, 2017
What a difference a month makes! Look at this strutting and skanking peacock right here! Squashing Breezango, bro-hugging his French Canadian Life Mate, and interfering in the main event to attack the boss. This is very good!
I never thought in a million years that I would want Zayn/Owens on the dark side together. Look at this amazing Abbott and Costello routine they had going on just two days after Survivor Series.
How damn good is their timing? Gosh, it’s almost as if when you take two best friends, ask them to share mannerisms and riff on everybody in their own words, it works in professional wrestling! I’m looking forward to adding this to my list of examples for Character Driven Scenes when I teach improv at The Pack.
(Quick side note: Going into business for yourself against The New Day and getting sent home from Europe? That’s bad, guy. You came real close to screwing this up, pal.)
Clash Of Champions – December 17th, 2017
Whew! What a match. This was about as good as tag team wrestling can get, storytelling wise. This was arguably the best match on a better-than-average PPV. I mean, at one point the crowd starting singing “Ole” by The Bouncing Souls so I guess they just ran out of things to chant? Who knows?
When universally-beloved Daniel Bryan is taking your side and you’re a heel in a feud with a McMahon, you’re ending the year on a high note. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to what Sami Zayn has in store for us in 2018. I only hope nothing happens between him and Owens to break up their friendship. That would be bad.
… Nah. That’ll never happen.