Former NXT champion Sami Zayn left from the TakeOver: Rival event last Wednesday, February 11th to immediately fly to the United Arab Emirates as part of the WWE Live shows the main roster was working over the weekend in Abu Dhabi.
Part of the reason for that is that Zayn is a rapidly rising star in the Developmental system. Another part is the fact that he is of Syrian descent and has featured prominently in WWE's expansion plans into the Middle East market.
Sami spoke to Sport360 about that role for the company, which used the trip to announce the expansion of WWE Network in the region, saying that he's proud to present a positive image of his ethnicity to a pop culture world that typically only gets portrayed as villains by wrestling and the entertainment industry in general:
It's something that I've always wanted to do in terms of being an Arab presence in an Arab market as I don't think a lot of people have been able to do it in wrestling. Certainly in the WWE there has never been a positive Arab image so if I can contribute to that then I feel great about that. Not just for myself but the whole Arab market.
He's also aware that he has so far been the exception to the rule from a company famous for giving us the Iron Sheik (and infamous for giving us Muhammed Hassan):
I'm very proud that I can be myself. I'm not trying to be Arabic, I'm just being me and I happen to be Arabic. I think that might be refreshing to some people and it's a bit more realistic than these pantomime villains we've seen before. Hopefully I can change some people's perceptions being a down-to-earth human being that happens to be Arabic. Whether you're Arabic or Portuguese it doesn't really matter. A dude's a dude!
Will the Likeable One continue to be just a dude who happens to be Arabic when he gets called up to the main roster, or will he be handed a turban when he gets the call to Raw full-time?
NXT is proving to have a different approach to women and minorities - treating them as wrestlers first and everything else second. Will that transfer over to the travelling brands, where Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods are the latest example that African-Americans can have one of two characters, angry black person or happy black person?
Check out a portion of the Sport360 chat in the embedded video below, and let us know what you think.