For the first few months of the 2023 calendar year, especially before the 2023 Royal Rumble, it looked like Sami Zayn was going to be the guy in WWE.
He had the on-mic skills, was a walking catchphrase, and was feuding with arguably the most over act in the entire promotion in The Bloodline, who were in the middle of arguably their most exciting chapter in the WWE Universe. Factor in his very solid in-ring efforts and the positive equity he's forged with everyone from Kevin Owens to the little KOs in the crowd who want to see an “Underdog from the Underground” come out on top, and it looked like the future was incredibly bright for the pride of Quebec.
… but then his signature event, the 2023 Elimination Chamber, came and went, and Zayn, like so many other performers before and after him, left the ring with a loss in front of his friends and family.
Sitting down with Ryan Satin as the latest guest on his show Out of Character, Zayn reflected on this boom period in his career and how he came to terms with the fact that he just wasn't WWE's “chosen guy.”
“It was a little hard, you know, if you want the truth. It was a little hard because it's, and I don't think I'm being controversial when saying this, but I'm not the chosen guy, obviously. I've been handed a lot of opportunities, and I've delivered on a lot of those opportunities throughout my time in the company, and I'm grateful for all of it, but clearly, I mean, I don't think anyone would say like, ‘Oh, clearly he was being positioned to be the top guy or to be the most popular guy on the show.' Obviously, that's not the case, and that's fine,” Sami Zayn said via Wrestling News.
“I guess in the back of your head, you're always banking on your ability to get there, and somehow or another, you just feel like you'll get there, and then it is hard to get there. It's almost miraculous to get there, or to get one of these organic runs that the audience sort of wills into existence. You could probably count them on one hand in the last 10 years with Daniel Bryan, Becky Lynch, Kofi Kingston, and myself, and who knows what's happening with LA Knight, I feel like he's starting to get a little bit of that right now at the moment, and good for him. But all this to say, it's like a lightning-in-the-bottle type of thing. You don't get it very often, and then you kind of get it, and you're like, the story, the audience, your performance, all of it has like almost it's just gotten you to the exact right place that you dreamed you'd be, and then when you get there, it's like, you just kind of fall short and you don't know if you'll ever get it back. So for sure that's hard, and you don't know if you can do it again. Like I said, it's only happened a handful of times in the last 10 years.”
In a way, that's sort of heartbreaking, right? Zayn worked his behind off, delivered above and beyond expectations over and over again, and was still overlooked for a guy like Cody Rhodes, who is a more “traditional” WWE Superstar? That's enough to make you want to hang up your boots, throw back on the mask – if you know, you know – and move down to a chicken farm south of the border. Fortunately, Zayn opted to take things in another direction and opted to focus on the positives of his run instead of drowning in disappointment.
Sami Zayn is still happy with his ‘touching' match at the Elimination Chamber.
Further discussing his feelings around his Elimination Chamber loss, Sami Zayn noted that, while he wishes he'd gone over, in the end, he touched a lot of people and was able to make plenty of fans feel something, which, in the end, is all a wrestler without booking power can ask for.
“I still think the investment and the equity that I have with the audience from that storyline, I think I've penetrated a lot of hearts to where I'll stick around there for a while because I've made them feel all these feelings that I was just talking about a moment ago. I took them on that ride, and when somebody takes you on that ride, and they penetrate your heart, they're in there, and they got to do a lot to get out of there, you know, so now you're probably going to cheer for him for years to come. So I got a lot out of that story. Don't get me wrong, it goes without saying,” Zayn said.
“If and when I do get to that mountain top again, or I get in the title picture, and I'm the big challenger, or trying to fulfill my destiny, or whatever it is, it might still get there, but it'll just have a different feel. It'll still be part of the overarching story of the character. But it just felt like one of those things like man, I forced their hand as much as humanly possible, but still just a buck short, you know, and it was it was a hard pill to swallow, for sure it was, even though you kind of know what the plan is or where things are headed or this and that. There's kind of this hope that you hold on to like, ‘Yeah, but if the crowd is loud enough, and the story is good enough, like, it's kind of right there', and it kind of felt like we got right there, about as close as any human being on Earth can get without actually getting there. Like, that's as close as anyone on Earth has ever come without getting there. But it's fine because getting there on its own is an amazing feat. I mean, what I mean by getting there is not beating Roman, but getting to that match everyone wants you to beat Roman and getting an audience in that frenzy, and experiencing an audience like that, again, being a part of a story like that, very few people on Earth can say that ever done that.”
Should Sami Zayn have gone over at the Elimination Chamber? If it was ever going to happen in a surprising way, that certainly would have been the moment to do it, but hey, in the end, the “Underdog from the Underground” got his big moment in the final match of Night 1 of WrestleMania 39 and in the end, he can take solace in the fact that he made a lot of folks happy along the way.