|Zayn may have been knocked down, but he'll get back up|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
In the realm of professional wrestling, it's often said that the optimal role for the babyface is that of the greyhound, rather than the rabbit, the chaser, rather than the Champion. That statement rings mostly true. As frustrating as it was at the time, it was the most true when looking back on Daniel Bryan’s ascent from the summer of 2013 to the glorious, mind-shredding end of WrestleMania XXX. When he put Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista, and the oppressive machine of the Authority down, I stood from my chair and YESed along in my living room. When he surrendered the title, due to injury, I was bummed, but not despondent.
So why did I find myself with tears in my eyes an hour after Wednesday’s amazing NXT special, sad for Sami Zayn, trying to focus on school work? Why did I find my eyes welling with tears again this morning when I thought about the match?
Zayn is an amazing wrestler; any person with eyes and a brain can see that. Heck, anyone missing those things could understand it. He connects on such a visceral level, because he is you and me. He is an everyman who transforms into a superhero in the ring. He can jump, fly, kick, and somehow snake his body through the ropes to do a tornado DDT that I giggle at every single time. More importantly, Zayn is an amazing person. He is kind to interviewers, fans, and respectful to competitors. He is brave, witty, and possessed of a megawatt smile that makes him instantly relatable and recognizable. He is the cool friend we all want and the principled man of action we want to cheer for. He is the best example of all of us.
Kevin Owens, the man who dispatched of Zayn with a seemingly never-ending barrage of powerbombs, is also an amazing wrestler. He also connects with many on a visceral level, and also because he is you and me, in so many ways. He is a chubby dude in basketball shorts and a t-shirt, kicking ass and driven by a singular, seemingly noble purpose - his family. But his purpose has been extended to such a point that he is willing to destroy his best friend to get what he needs, or wants depending on your perspective. When fans scream “Fight, Owens, Fight!” they are letting him be the avatar for those of us who are average in looks and physique, driven by fanatical devotion, possessed of what Les Miles would call “tremendous purpose.”
They are perfect friends and foils for one another, and represent people better than anyone not named Daniel Bryan. I objectively love watching both of them compete, and am praying that they get a WrestleMania classic against one another someday.
So, back to my emotional reaction. Why did Sami Zayn’s destruction make me so deeply sad? Because I am invested. Because I want him to be happy. Because WWE has done something beautiful fantastic over the past couple years, turning NXT into an oasis where characters can live, grow, and flourish, and feud over legitimate things. Characters like Zayn are beloved because they are talented and act like good people, not because we’re told that they’re cool. he doesn’t make “chicks with balls” jokes and engage in Photoshop follies and speak in sassy southern preacher voices that seem a little much given the fact that the person is from Massachusetts. He is a real life Captain America, despite being delightfully Canadian. He's an average guy with a heart of gold and a desire to do what’s right, given super powers (in Zayn’s case, by the fans, rather than a government serum), who becomes a man we all both love and want to be like, a man we would follow into battle.
Seeing Captain America’s shield broken is traumatic. Seeing Zayn broken and unable to continue against Owens is beyond that. It’s like a deep personal wound. I felt like yelling an entirely unfunny “Stop, stop! He’s already dead!” quote at my television as the beating continued. It was far worse than Brock Lesnar’s annihilation of John Cena, because Cena, to cross my comic book brands, is Superman, and apparently Lesnar is his only Kryptonite. We knew Cena would come back as strong as ever after eating a jillion German suplexes. The difference with Zayn is that we believe he will come back. We want him to. But we don’t know how. We want him to be on the level of Daniel Bryan, not Dolph Ziggler, (this kills me) an amazing performer, beloved by the fans, who seems continually frustrated by the machine. Someday, I believe those fears will prove to have been unfounded, when Zayn is standing under the confetti of WrestleMania, holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in his hands, and the world’s most incredible “Olé!” chant going on.
For now, however, I am saddened and heart-broken, as far as my wrestling fandom goes. We’ve seen Sami Zayn spend 18 months getting knocked down the hill, only to get up, grit his teeth, and mount a new charge. Finally, against Adrian Neville, at REvolution, he displaced the king of the mountain (unfortunately Jeff Jarrett remains at-large). Now, a mere two months later, he is the shortest-reigning NXT Champion ever, his title ripped from his hands by his former best friend. And yet, hope endures, because he has made us believe in him unconditionally. The power of hope and belief that he has created is why I’m so sad. He has connected to the fans on an emotional level like few before him ever have. That’s the magic of NXT, but more importantly, the magic of Sami Zayn.