We’ve got one of WWE’s biggest events of the year coming our way tomorrow (Jan. 28) with Royal Rumble, and that means they’ve got some big names out doing long-form interviews with their media partners.
BT Sport’s Ariel Helwani got to talk to his fellow Canadian Sami Zayn. There’s a lot of fantasy booking going on with Zayn right now, as he’s at the center of WWE’s best storyline with The Bloodline. Everyone is expecting the program to feature in a major angle or two this weekend in San Antonio, with Roman Reigns defending his WWE & Universal titles against Sami’s long-time friend and oft-times rival Kevin Owens... and that whole 30 man battle royal with a main event spot at WrestleMania on the line.
Helwani asked Zayn if he’s worried about a fan revolt similar to the one that happened back in 2014 with Batista and Daniel Bryan if he doesn’t win, or isn’t even in, the Rumble tomorrow night. It’s a discussion that’s come up a lot online, but Sami is the camp that believes the climate is so different now — and that the other likely winners have well-established reasons to win as opposed to simply being big names — that backlash is unlikely.
“I think there’s a lot of casual fans who are just kind of along for the ride. I don’t think the fans are kind of where they were five or six years ago, where they would revolt. Like, ‘No, Daniel Bryan is the guy! You’re trying to give us Batista? No, we’ll force you!’ I don’t feel that level of borderline contempt from the audience toward the creative direction. I think because the story has been so interesting, there’s a little bit of trust in that it will go where it goes and it’ll still be fine.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who are pulling for me. That’s great. It’s nice to be that guy. But I don’t think it’s at a place where like Daniel Bryan was, I believe in 2014, where it’s like anybody but him is going to be a disaster, and actually it was, so they had to fix it. They had to play cleanup.
“So I don’t think that it’s necessarily the same. Is there’s a possibility of like — whether it’s Cody, whether it’s anybody, if it’s done right, you can do almost anything. It has to be done well, and has to be done just right. If It’s not done right, could there be some kind of backlash to, ‘Man, the story made the most sense. He was the guy the fans liked. Everything was right there, but they went this way.’
“If they don’t do it right, there is the possibility of contempt towards whoever that person is — whether it’s Cody, whether it’s anybody. It could be anybody. If it’s not done right, it could kind of hurt that person.”
He swears he doesn’t know what the plan is, but he trusts the people making it. And thinks he should probably be a part of it:
“But you know, we work with a lot of people who know how to do things right. So if I’m not the guy, and I genuinely as of this exact conversation, one day before the Royal Rumble, I have no idea what the plan is. I don’t know — it just doesn’t feel that way.
“I try to listen to the fans. I try not to pay too much stock in the online kind of thing, but I’m sure there’s a good percentage like, again, if you follow nothing else but the storyline, it’s a layup that I would be in that conversation. What actually ends up happening is, again, it’s not my control.”
If he were to get a title shot, via a Rumble win or some other way, does he think he’d be a believable WWE or Universal champion? Sure, but Zayn delineated a difference between being champ for a while and being, as Ariel put it, the “face of the company”:
“I could win the World Title. I could carry it for a while. I could do talk shows. I could do all that stuff. I don’t know if I’m the guy that you could necessarily hitch your wagon to for the next 5-10 years and be the face of the company. If nothing else, because I’m somewhat realistic about my physical [gestures at his body] ... I’m not as big as Roman [Reigns] or [John] Cena or Brock [Lesnar], and that’s typically the guy who’s at the head of that scene because they want a certain projection.
“I think for the long haul, could I win the World Title? I think especially because of the way the story is done. As I said a moment ago, if you do anything right, fans will buy it, and they’ll get into it. So I think at this point, the way things are built — and I’m not saying this is what’s going to happen — if it was me and Roman at WrestleMania and I beat Roman, and we did it right, the way we’ve been doing it right the last nine months, No one’s going to go ‘Bogus. I’m out. I can’t take that,’ because we’ve done it right.
“I think I could be a guy who could carry that title for six months, go on Jimmy Fallon, make a couple of jokes, have him do that fake laugh that he does — all that good stuff. Sure, I could do that. Sure. I could probably do that in my sleep to be honest.
“It’s just, I understand the company’s projection of what they see as the face of the company. Not being the champion. The champion and the face are almost two different things. I feel like I could be the champion, no problem. As far as being the guy that they like, number one, he’s our guy. He’s the poster boy, He’s the ultimate representation of what our company is. I know physically, I don’t fit that mold. So I don’t know if that’s me, like, being self-deprecating or what it is, but I’m a realist when it comes to that.”
They also covered some of the history of how we got to where Sami is the hottest act in wrestling. A lot of it ground they’ve covered before, but I hadn’t heard Zayn talk about whose trust he felt he had to earn to make the story happen:
“I mean, if I’m being brutally honest here, maybe [Paul] Heyman is the one I felt I had to convince because I think he’s old school. Roman’s his guy, and Brock was his guy, and he is very familiar with the top of the card. For him to be able to buy into me being a part of the act that’s at the top of the card — I don’t want him to be one of those guys that’s grabbing Roman and going like, ‘Look, you can’t work with him. He just did this stuff with Knoxville’, or whatever.
“I know Roman knows I’m pretty good. That’s why he said what he said in that interview with you. I know The Usos think I’m pretty good, and I think all these guys are great. There’s like a mutual respect. We are peers. With Heyman, it’s a bit more like, you know, he’s more strategic about things, things that I wouldn’t think of. Or he looks at the business in different ways, in ways that sometimes I wouldn’t look at. You know what I mean? So if there was anyone that I thought wouldn’t be on board that would have to get convinced, I thought maybe it would be Heyman.”