|RAW was the Sami Zayn show, even in defeat|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Yet, Bryan, Punk, and RVD all had the rap sheet of guys who could, would, and should give Cena the business. But Sami Zayn, he whose WWE career was still in infancy? NXT is great and wonderful, but at the same time, no one just hops to the bigs with the credentials to bow up to The Champ one-on-one, at least from a vague, WWE hierarchical perspective. The Shield went right to main event level as a unit preying on wrestlers who didn't know how to be friends with each other, and remain the exceptions to the rule. Add that in with the fact that WWE only lets hometown kids shine in special occasions, and the odds were against Zayn getting a proper debut.
But Cena knew the importance, it seemed. He treated Zayn like he was Punk in Chicago, because that's the best way to make someone. In the grand scheme of how his feuds have treated other NXT alumni in Bray Wyatt and Rusev, it can be maddening, but those guys are in different circumstances and are victims of bad planning for the most part. WWE is atrocious at the medium con, but the short term is something Vince McMahon can excel and has excelled at recently.
And so Zayn was able to debut in his actual hometown, introduced by Bret the goddamn "Hitman" Hart, and not be punked out like he was the Heath Slater ol' Mr. 4/10 decked with a microphone before heralding him. He got to take Cena to the absolute limit despite having a worked shoulder injury figure into the match, one which JBL surprisingly and presciently noted after the match was over. He hit his big signature corner outside tornado DDT, and he kicked out of an Attitude Adjustment. In short, Sami Zayn was covered in gold in a good way, not the Khal-Drogo-murdering-Viserys-Targaryen manner, even with a clean defeat.
The eternal pessimist in me keeps saying to wait for the follow-up, because the follow-up is where Zayn will be further cemented or be allowed to fade. The way Neville, a far lesser prospect if I'm being bluntly honest here, has been treated, and subsequently built and elevated, gives me some hope for the former El Generico, but nothing is quite like having a sterling debut upon which to build. The surreality of WWE doing good by a debuting wrestler will still take awhile to sink in, but then again, RAW goes haywire in Canada anyway. Maybe the stars aligned for a reason.
* - Yes, I know Zayn has had matches on Main Event as a regular roster member, and he even had matches on RAW to promote NXT, but those felt more like "soft debuts" in anticipation for this hard debut he had as a real-live roster member.