|Zayn transitioned from the indies to NXT cleaner than one of his patented dropkicks|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
4. Sami Zayn/El Generico
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Brandon Spears, Pablo Alva)
Last Year's Placement: 5th Place
TH: I had my doubts as to whether El Generico could lose the mask and succeed in WWE on a character level, but I never for a second thought he would get lost in the shuffle in the ring. A man as innately talented and essentially magnetic as he would find a way to translate his successes as the Generic Luchador into whatever WWE had in store for him. That isn't to say that I knew he would ascend to the heights to which he did in his first year with the company; while projecting abstract streaks or thinking about opponents he might have done well against was an easy task, pinpointing that he and Antonio Cesaro would have as perfect a match as they did in their two-out-of-three falls match in August would have been nigh impossible.
But the beauty of the structure of NXT provided Zayn to jump right from a spotlighted stage, in this case the DDT4 Tournament in PWG that served as his swan song not only to that company, but to an independent scene that had been indebted to him in the last five years, right onto another one. Without needing to carry three hours of prime television, a house show tour, and the scrutiny that comes with headlining major WWE shows, Zayn could show up to Full Sail, get in the ring, and just do his thing like he'd never left the armories and theaters. Aside from gear, the only difference was that he'd have to cut out some of his more risqué moves.
But the beauty of El Generico was never his brainbusters or his dangerous suplexes. Sure, those moves were fun to watch, but even when he was circling the ring, sizing up an opponent to start the match, his ebullience gave the viewer something to watch, something to grasp onto when most wrestlers usually gave nothing. He honed those skills even further, and in the process got to wrestle against a whole new set of wrestlers, whether familiar like Cesaro, or brand new like Bo Dallas and Jack Swagger. Zayn is here to stay, and luckily for us, he is going to be just as good if not better than how he was on the indies. This past year was a fine place for him to start crafting his legend in new environs.
David Kincannon: 2013 started out with the man known as El Generico’s good bye to the independent wrestling scene, as it was reported in early January that he had been signed to WWE’s developmental system. He teamed with longtime friend and foe, Kevin Steen for the DDT Tag Team Tournament in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, in a series of hard fought matches that saw them lose in the finals to the Young Bucks.
He would have a few more independent matches in January, before reporting to NXT, where he showed up in the El Generico mask at a house show in February. It would be another few months before we learned what WWE would do with the masked superstar, and after working a few NXT house shows under his real name, he made his NXT television debut as Sami Zayn. On the May 22 edition of NXT, he defeated Curt Hawkins, and then scored an upset victory over Antonio Cesaro, which would start a feud that led to two of the best matches of 2013.
Via the NXT platform, he has been able to show WWE fans who don’t watch independent wrestling things they’ve never seen. When I think of his matches with Cesaro, the first thing that comes to mind is his dive through the turnbuckles that ended in a Tornado DDT. Hopefully, in 2014, we’ll see him on the main WWE roster, and he can give us those moments every Monday and Friday night.
Martin Bentley: In 2013, El Generico retired to work at his orphanage, saying farewell after a hell of an effort at PWG's DDT4 tournament.
Then later that year, a new wrestler debuted at NXT, who seemed to have a very similar body, and did very similar moves, but whose face we didn't recognize. He even came from the same place in Canada that Generico lived in during his wrestling career. However, Kevin Steen denies knowing this guy.
This Sami Zayn guy proved to be a heck of a wrestler. He proved this on his first appearance on TV, when he knocked off both Curt Hawkins and Antonio Cesaro. This led to a lengthy series with the man later dubbed "The King of Swing", including an all-time classic in August that many felt was the best match on any WWE show all year. Anyone Zayn was put with on NXT TV, he knocked it out of the park with. He even gave Jack Swagger one of his best ever matches.
Zayn would have got a higher spot in my Top 10 if only he had hooked up with Renee Young like we all wanted (that sly dog Dean Ambrose has been rumoured to have beaten him to it). Other than that, he's the reason to watch the damn show, and he should be on the main roster like a year ago. Generico would be proud watching from the orphanage.
Joe Roche: If El Generico had just gone to Mexico after DDT4 he'd still be on this list because his work over the course of that tournament was just that good. However, from the ashes of the Generic Luchador came Sami Zayn who is so great that he turned Antonio Cesaro from a guy some people were talking about being released, to a guy with a legitimate huge spot at WrestleMania XXX. If you don't think Zayn's work selling for Cesaro (and vice versa) in NXT led directly to Cesaro's explosion than you weren't paying attention. Pre-Sami Zayn Cesaro was yodeling to the ring on Smackdown -- that is a THING THAT WAS HAPPENING. Post Swiss Death to Sami Zayn Cesaro is one of the shoot five most popular guys in the company.
Joey O. "Match Of The Year! Match Of The Year!"
Tristan Wolfe: If you don't watch NXT, watch it now. Seriously. It's the best product that the WWE produces. Sorry, Raw. I don't know WHERE they found this Sami Zayn guy (there are some conflicting reports that claim he's from Canada and Mexico), but I think this kid might have a future in the business. I'm personally still trying to figure out why the fans keep chanting for Los Matadores when he comes out...even months before Los Matadores debuted...but I digress. In a very short amount of time, Sami Zayn debuted and became the top guy in NXT, even if he didn't have a belt around his waist. I don't even know why I'm writing this explanation right now. Just go watch the match with Antonio Cesaro on NXT. If you've already watched it, just do it again.
Mike Pankowski: I was a terrible person and did not watch a lot of the former El Generico’s work prior to his turn in the WWE. Seeing him in action now shows me that I have missed out a lot. He is one of the best sellers in wrestling today. His moves, from his Blue Thunder Bomb to his dives to the floor, all look so smooth. I look forward to him getting the call up to the main roster this year and putting out 20 minutes matches on Raw.
Brandon Spears: For my money, there isn't a better "babyface in peril" able to captivate a crowd with every move and facial expression in any company, which is saying something considering Daniel Bryan's amazing nine month storyline with The Authority. Still can't believe he spent the majority of his career wearing a mask.
De O'Brien: From the minute it was announced that WWE had made a new acquisition in the form of one Mr. Sami Zayn, the hearts and minds of wrestling fans even remotely in the know caught fire. Zayn – rumored to have performed under another name for years, although nothing has ever been corroborated – came to the WWE as part of NXT in January of 2013, although it seems like he’s been one of the guys forever; during his debut on the May 22nd, 2013, NXT show, Zayn made his indelible mark by beating not one, but two former champions in WWE: Curt Hawkins, and then Cesaro. Zayn and Cesaro would continue to face one another throughout the year, but no matter who you put Sami in the ring with throughout 2013 (Bo Dallas, Leo Kruger, Jack Swagger), he proved he was more than just some generic guy with a slight knowledge of cool-looking lucha moves. That Helluva kick is no joke, and his through-the-ropes-tornado DDT is the stuff dreams – and aches and pains for his opponents – are made of.
Brandon Bosh: A tip for all incumbent NXT performers (or, for that matter, all aspiring wrestlers ever): wear a mask. As a human being, your face is your most dynamic and versatile tool in articulating any emotion, be it happiness or rage, impatience or dread. When you conceal your face, your only course of action is to train your body to speak in the same universal language. Every movement must be louder, more vivid, in order to compensate. A masked wrestler is not unlike a performer in a silent film, forced to overcome a handicap by accentuating his remaining assets. The reward for enduring this trial is a deeper connection to the pro wrestling Oversoul, a personal relationship with every wrestling fan who will ever watch you perform. No wrestler has proven this truth more emphatically than the man formerly known as El Generico.
Sami Zayn is the best pure wrestler on the WWE roster despite technically not being on the WWE roster. His in-ring dexterity is seemingly limitless, his athleticism unrivaled, his moveset dazzlingly unorthodox. He averages less than one botched maneuver per calendar year. He can do that spot where he dives through the ropes on the outside of the corner of the ring and comes out the other side and does a tornado DDT. Why? Because he’s fucking awesome.
And yet, the most amazing thing about Sami Zayn is his ability to project for an audience of any size. As a brand, WWE prides itself on close-quarters, psychology-inflected ring work, but it still has to cater to the people in the cheap seats. That’s why you need a wrestler like Sami Zayn, who emotes in grand, exaggerated gestures that resonate from a thousand yards away. He’s the Buster Keaton of pro wrestling, a fearless performer who transcends the perceived limitations of an outmoded medium – and insists on doing all his own stunts.