|Zayn, here shown fighting forever with Kevin Owens at the Rumble, is number three|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Number of Ballots: 60
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Chicken Parm, Bob Godfrey, Scott Holland)
Last Year’s Ranking: 14th Place
TH: It’s hard to quantify Sami Zayn’s 2016 because he was in two of the best matches of the year with a quite a bit of forgettable chatter in week to week WWE programming. Saying that despite the lack of marquee matches that Zayn was a top worker in WWE feels right though because a good wrestling match needs two game performers, but also it may feel wrong because it’s supposed to be a collaboration and not two guys dancing in competition with each other. Who’s to say that matches in which Zayn felt head and shoulders above his opponent were all on the other guy and not Zayn being out of place? Or maybe the Zayn that showed up at Takeover: Dallas and Battleground and against Braun Strowman was the one that showed up every week when the tendency of guys in WWE in 2016 seemed that they were taking some weeks off here and there.
WWE as a company was down in terms of overall match quality in 2016. Guys like Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens and basically everyone not named AJ Styles, at least on the main roster, had weeks where they were out to lunch, and the match quality showed across the board. But with Zayn, well, he never gave me that impression. Any match he was in felt like something he was trying to make watchable, good even, regardless of what his opponent was going to do. When he was in there vs. guys like Baron Corbin, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura at Takeover, Owens at Battleground, or Strowman, their combustible elements were lit on fire by his spark. It was enough for him to crack my top ten along with Styles, The Revival, and my bevy of indie grapplers who caught my fancy.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Ryan Neely: His match against Shinsuke Nakamura was my personal favorite of the year, and seeing a main roster Zayn/Kevin Owens feud was amazing. Through the first seven months of the year, he made a hell of case to be my wrestler of the year.
Joey O.: After tearing the roof off the place with Nakamura last March, Zayn carved out a very respectable year on the RAW roster, while facing his mortal enemy Kevin Owens another 21,140 more times.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|
Bob Godfrey: I kind of have a vision of myself watching some indie show in 10 years, and hearing a crowd of 200 people chant "Fight Forever" at two guys because they've chosen to stop selling for a couple minutes and thinking about how much I hate that damn chant now and wondering why people need to chant something so dumb. But I think I'll remember about the first time it was chanted. Zayn vs. Nakamura WrestleMania weekend. Nakamura's NXT debut, Zayn's NXT farewell and why it was so perfect in the moment. The match was thrilling. The crowd really didn't want it to end. They didn't want it to end because we all knew it was goodbye to NXT Zayn. Sami Zayn was NXT, the NXT we loved. Not whatever it was before he came or whatever it will come to be. Zyan was an era where NXT was the wrestling show, and he was the hero it deserved. He gave you this perfect feeling you can only get from wrestling when a perfect babyface, and Zayn is definitely the perfect face, has the crowd behind him against some great challenge. All due respect to Shinsuke Nakamura who would quickly become the next face of NXT and more then held up his end of that match, but the best match I saw last year was about Sami Zayn and saying goodbye to his NXT run. We watched Sami Zayn grow from a complete rookie who had never wrestled anywhere else but NXT ever into a guy who looked like he could carry WWE if they'd let him. He had a lot of very good matches in 2016, like he does every year but I think in the future we'll look back and think about his match with Nakamura as the one that really defined him in 2016. Wrestling is above all other things about these small moments that stand the test of time, and I think the moment the crowd started chanting "Fight Forever" will be one of those.
Frank McCormick: No one makes losing look as artistic as Sami Zayn. The man gets his ass whupped in the ring daily, but never phones it in. He is beloved, because though all he does is lose, he wrestles with his whole heart. Zayn is earnest in such a genuine way that even the coal-hearted cynics that are wrestling fans cannot help but cheer him on. His genius is communicating that earnestness through physicality. His never-say-die-never-give-up underdog attitude is fully expressed in the ring. That is a genuine and rare talent in an era where in-ring style and character do not always go seamlessly together.
|Photo Credit: WWE.com|