SAMI ZAYN: Sami Zayn still climbing the WWE mountain as 'Smackdown' hits Detroit (Detroit News)


Posted on 1/19/123 by Mike Informer



Sami Zayn still climbing the WWE mountain as 'Smackdown'
hits Detroit

Canadian WWE Superstar finds himself in
his biggest storyline ever, which will continue to unfold at
Little Caesars Arena on Friday.


Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Sami Zayn is the odd man in.

The bushy bearded, red-headed World Wrestling Entertainment
Superstar is currently at the top of his game as part of the
sports entertainment company's main storyline. He's featured
alongside the alpha stable known as the Bloodline, headed up
by WWE's Undisputed Universal Champion, Roman Reigns, and
also featuring Reigns' cousins the Usos and Solo Sikoa.
Those performers are all a part of the celebrated Anoa'i
family tree, a legacy of Samoan wrestlers which spans
several generations.

WWE Superstar Sami Zayn appears on "Smackdown."
Zayn is not in any way related to the Anoa'i family, but in
the story he has worked his way into their good graces to
the point where they have granted him the title of "Honorary
Uce" — uce short for uso, or brother. And since April 2022
he has been a part of that Bloodline story, seemingly always
on the verge of being on the outs with the clique for one
reason or another, but perpetually pulled back into the fray
just in time to keep the story going for one more week.

That one more week has now lasted nine months and brings
Zayn to Little Caesars Arena on Friday, where he will appear
as part of WWE's "Smackdown" program. The show, which runs
from 8-10 p.m., will be broadcast live on Fox.

"I'm just rolling with it as far as this story goes," says
Zayn, on the phone from a "Smackdown" taping in Memphis,
Tennessee, earlier this month. "I think with this whole
Bloodline thing, we've kind of stumbled upon something
pretty cool and something that fans enjoy seeing the twists
and turns of every week. What keeps me excited, what keeps
me on my toes, is just knowing the evolution of the story,
and knowing what's going to progress this coming Friday or
Monday or whatever it is. Like, 'ooh, what are we going to
do next?'"

Zayn, a longtime fan favorite, says he had the idea for the
Bloodline story more than a year ago, and he was flattered
when Reigns mentioned wanting to work with him in a 2021
interview with BT Sports' Ariel Helwani. They officially
kicked things off last April when Zayn, whose character was
calling himself the "locker room leader" at the time,
approached Reigns on camera and offered to be his eyes and
ears among the other wrestlers. That was the spark that
ignited the flame that's still burning.


"Things morph very quickly in the world of WWE, and live
television is a very funny thing because it can take you
places you never planned on going," says Zayn, who joined
WWE's developmental brand NXT in 2013. "Sometimes you get
the right plot twist in the right town in front of the right
crowd and it really takes it to the next level."

That's what happened in Zayn's hometown of Montreal last
August, when crowd reaction to Zayn and Reigns' on camera
interaction helped solidify their chemistry as performers:
Reigns the cool but imposing leader, Zayn his jumpy, eager
to please sidekick. The storyline has continued to evolve,
and for Zayn the different elements at play — including the
anxiety of how long it's going to last, and when and how
it's going to end — has made it the gift that keeps on
giving.

"It's quite rare, even in WWE, that you see a storyline last
this long," says Zayn, 38. "A long story in WWE terms is
like three to six months, and we're almost at nine months to
a year here. I definitely feel fulfilled. I feel validated,
I feel very happy to be a part of it, and I also realize
it's kind of a gem because you just don't get these very
often."

Zayn was born Rami Sebei and raised in Laval, Quebec, about
30 minutes outside of Montreal. He was raised Muslim by his
parents, who immigrated to Canada from Syria.

Pro wrestling was one of his earliest memories and "was just
always there," Zayn says. He grew up watching wrestling with
his father and eventually started imitating it, and never
stopped until he became a performer himself.

"There's a whole philosophical rabbit hole you can go down
here, if it's the chicken or the egg, did it speak to me
because of my natural personality, or did it shape me?" Zayn
says. "I really don't know, but I took to it like a fish to
water, and I didn't know when enough was enough. Being a fan
wasn't enough. I just took it too far, and here we are."

He's been joined on his journey by his friend Kevin Steen,
who wrestles as Kevin Owens, whom he's been either partnered
with or feuding against for a good chunk of the last two
decades. Both came up through the independent ranks together
and joined WWE around the same time — Owens landed in NXT in
2014 — and they continue to be inseparable.

In 2017 at Little Caesars Arena, Owens fought Shane McMahon,
son of WWE CEO Vince McMahon, in a pumped up steel cage
match known as Hell in a Cell. One of the match's high risk
spots saw McMahon leaping from the top of the 20-foot cage
and attempting to drop an elbow on Owens, a move interrupted
when Zayn pulled Owens off the table in a last second save.

Yes, the moment was scripted, but that didn't make it any
less real, Zayn says.

"I was terrified," he says. "You're talking about micro
split-second timing. I almost felt like this is beyond the
scope of what we should be qualified to do as pro wrestlers,
but it's one of the many hats we wear. We're not just
performing wrestling maneuvers, on this level there's also
storytelling and stunt work and sometimes you're your own
travel agent, your own booking agent, your own manager, your
own stylist and your own everything else. And sometimes
you're also your own stunt coordinator."

In order to make the save on camera and make it look good,
Zayn had to grab Owens and yank him off the table while
McMahon was falling through the air but before he made
contact. He could only guess the moment of impact,
calculating McMahon's mass times his rate of speed as he
rapidly descended, and he only had one chance to get it
right, and that was live in front of more than 16,000 fans,
as well as hundreds of thousands watching at home.

"It was something that was barely rehearsed — how could you
rehearse it? — and it was just like, 'go out there and do
it.' Whereas if this was on a movie set, this would be
something that was carefully planned and plotted and there
would be zero room for error and you'd have 100 shots at
it," Zayn says. "And it just kind of reinforced how unique
and insane what we do actually is. And when I stop to think
about it, it's kind of insulting that we don't get the
respect we deserve when it comes to this sort of thing in
the world of entertainment. What we do is beyond just flying
without a safety net. There's nothing that even compares."

Zayn, for his part, wouldn't have it any other way. He's
worked his way up through WWE, earning three
Intercontinental Championships, and fighting "Jackass" star
Johnny Knoxville at last year's WrestleMania. (Zayn lost the
contest, which saw interference by several of Knoxville's
"Jackass" co-stars.)

The way Zayn can sell a feud with Johnny Knoxville and make
it credible is part of his appeal as a performer, says Kenny
Herzog, a longtime wrestling journalist who has contributed
to Bleacher Report and Rolling Stone.

"What people have always been drawn to about Sami Zayn is he
seems to honor both the real work ethic of the sport but
also the wink-nudge meta awareness that everyone has about
the sport as entertainment now, without teetering into
parody or self-parody. That's the key," Herzog says. "Even
in this Bloodline storyline, which could have very easily,
in the wrong hands, become a bit too much of a comedy
gimmick, or he could have been a complete jester. But
there's something about him as a character where even when
he's at his most irksome, he's still lovable and you want to
root for him and you know he means well, but he's just sort
of desperate for attention and validation. And you know, the
guy's put in the work over the years."

Zayn's current storyline with the Bloodline is the closest
he has ever come to the tip of the mountaintop in WWE, and
he's not ready to start coming down.

"When you get this close and you're in the in the periphery
of the WWE title, it makes you think, well, I'm already
here, maybe winning it's not totally unrealistic," he says.
"That would for sure be like a cherry on top of everything
else. If it happens, awesome. If it doesn't happen, it still
would have all been awesome.

"I mean really, since I can't even tell you how early into
my career, probably three years in, I remember thinking,
'well, this is it, it can't get better than this.' And then
somehow each year, it just kept getting bigger and bigger,"
Zayn says. "You would think I would learn at this point to
stop saying it, but I am also content with everything I've
done. I don't want to be the type of person who feels like,
oh, there's a void unless I get this next thing, and if I
don't accomplish this, I'm a failure or my career was a
failure. Whatever happens, I'm good. It could end tomorrow,
and knock on wood, I really hope it doesn't, but I would
feel very complete and very satisfied with everything I've
ever done. At this point, everything's gravy."

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

WWE Smackdown
7:45 p.m. Friday

Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit

Tickets $20 and up

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