Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The NXT Process: Sami Zayn

Sami Zayn may not have needed NXT to learn, but he sure needs it to stay sharp until his call to the bigs
Photo Credit: WWE.com
For all intents and purposes, El Generico could have leaped right from Les Foufounes Electriques in Montreal, QC on January 13, 2013 to the Toyota Center in Houston, TX for RAW the next night and fit right into the WWE narrative. Few wrestlers exuded pure likeability like the Generic Luchador. While many independent wrestlers get rousing cheers at every arena where they work, Generico was one of the few who did so by being an elemental babyface. While so many workers garnered rave reviews for their resume of matches, even fewer were versatile enough to head right into a WWE ring without a thorough reprogramming in a NXT ring. Only one other recent signee could have boasted his same bona fides. Then again, if that Bryan Danielson had to spend time in developmental, then so did Generico.

When he reemerged as Sami Zayn, however, he didn't take a long time at all to establish that he was a ripe fit for the biggest wrestling company in America. He dove headfirst into a marquee feud with fellow indie expat Antonio Cesaro, and all their beef did was produce a series of critically acclaimed matches that may have been better than better on the whole than any feud on the big roster in the same time span. He's become the surest thing on any Thursday night where he's booked, and perhaps most shockingly of all, his charm and natural oratory ability may at least be on par with his legend in the ring. So, why is he still in developmental?

Or furthermore, if he's in developmental, then why is his role eternally mired in putting everyone else over?

Two other indie darlings who were scooped up by WWE at the same time as each other were in a similar situation. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins spent what seemed like an eternity in Florida Championship Wrestling and then NXT in marquee programs much to the dismay of fans who were intimate with their work in the indies. Ambrose, as Jon Moxley, was more ready for the jump than Rollins, as Tyler Black. Even though neither probably was as ready as Generico was, they spent an awful lot of time spinning wheels while the main roster seemed to need an injection of fresh blood in the under- and midcards.

But then Survivor Series 2012 rolled along, and the two standouts, buttressed by Roman "Leakee" Reigns, debuted clad in SWAT team gear, injected right into the main event by attacking both John Cena and Ryback. The Shield was barely ever in danger of losing its main event mojo, and the fates seemed to dictate that Rollins and Ambrose were being held back for the right opportunity. In that particular case, patience paid off. Both guys appear to be in the long term future of WWE going forward.

The question remains though, if Zayn is in WWE's far-future plans, then when is the right time to debut him, and why is he in an eternal holding pattern in NXT? The former question is hard to answer, because wrestling success depends not only on talent but on immense strokes of luck as well. The time could seem right for Zayn to debut when he finally makes the big roster, and he could get hurt, or someone else could catch fire, or he could want to quit to do something else entirely.

The latter, however, isn't much of a concern to me. As El Generico, Zayn has already proven he can carry the emotional weight of a big feud, which is something that seems to be innate rather than taught. The fans love him at Full Sail. His indie fans around the world will cheer for him as soon as he gets to the big roster. What could he accomplish by winning the NXT Championship? What would he prove that he hadn't already in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla or Ring of Honor? I'm not entirely arguing against him getting a run at the top of the developmental territory, mind you. NXT needs him more than he needs to be a Guy Who Wins in NXT, especially now that the top options aside from him seem to be limited once you get past the oasis of Tyler Breeze.

The main thing to take away from his run in NXT is that he's getting reps, or more simply, the chance to wrestle every week in a WWE environment against capable opponents of varying providence. As noted last week, everyone can get stand to keep doing what they're doing in order to either get better or stay sharp if they're at a plateau in ability. Whether you're Charlotte or Daniel freaking Bryan, you need reps in the ring.

So while everyone plays the waiting game for Zayn finally to make his big show debut, he will continue to keep Full Sail and the Performance Center as his personal flint to keep himself sharp. While fans have a reason for some trepidation going forward, and while Zayn certainly IS ready to inject some life into a WWE that is dull and lifeless save for, ironically enough, the story between Rollins and Ambrose, his role in NXT was never anything but a way to keep him ready for when he was to get his call. He more than anyone has revealed that NXT's worth is not just tied to being an academy.