In May 2015, Sami Zayn debuted on RAW by challenging John Cena for the US Championship at Montreal, having been introduced to the crowd by Bret Hart. It was a moment that got the crowd rocking and a lot of people were excited with the appearance of Zayn. However, not everyone was too ecstatic about it.
Now, this may all seem a bit dated as this was a few months ago. However, I wanted to write about it for a few reasons. Firstly, I never wrote about it at the time, due to university commitments. Secondly, because yesterday I listen to a lot of shoot interviews from Vince Russo. Vince Russo, love him or hate him, was writing for the WWF during it’s peak in the Attitude Era. He’s made a lot of great decisions and a lot of bad decisions. Whether he’s saying what’s on the mind of everyone or saying something that everyone disagrees with, a lot of people listen to Vince Russo. I listened to an entire speech of Vince Russo on Sami Zayn and it got me thinking about something else I’m going to be writing about soon. Something on WWE television right now.
Vince Russo talked about the RAW that Sami Zayn debuted and that particular RAW did a pretty low number. While the episode itself was critically acclaimed, Vince was not a fan of how Sami Zayn debuted on the main roster.
Vince said: “Everybody is running to the defense of the WWE, claiming that RAW was a great show on Monday night. WHY was it great in their opinion? Simply because an NXT wrestler that they all mark out for, Sami Zayn, made his surprise appearance on the WWE’s premiere show. I can only imagine when Sami got introduced by Bret Hart and came out as a surprise through the RAW entrance—to the Internet Wrestling Community is was the equivalent of Jesus himself showing up unannounced at the Sea of Galilee. But to the casual wrestling fan—nobody cared—to them this was a jobber and nothing more–so they indeed turned back to hoops.
“RAW is a television show and Sami Zayn is NOT a television star—nor—will he be anytime soon. Sami is an exceptional wrestler on a wrestling show, and the only people who care about him are those die hard wrestling fans who are looking for 5-star matches that the massive don’t give a !@#$% about.”
Shortly after he said all out that, Vince came out on his podcast for The Brand to elaborate on what he wrote on the blog. It’s 25 minutes long so if you’ve got 25 minutes to spare, it’s worth listening to the entire thing. Be sure you do too, because it’s important when understanding his entire argument.
As a wrestling writer, Vince Russo’s main concerns were ratings. He believes that even with the WWE Network and everything else, the WWE’s biggest concerns should be ratings as that will lead people to taking an interest in their other products. He believed that while Sami Zayn is an incredible wrestler, he is not going to be a draw as he lacks the character to make casual fans care about him.
Now obviously, you can see why Vince Russo would think the way that he does. Sami didn’t really have any vignettes before he came onto the show. He was never advertised like the Ascension or Fandango was. He was a total surprise. He believed when he came out, the casual audience at home would be scratching their heads thinking “Who the hell is this guy?” However, this was probably not done with the intention that Sami Zayn would shortly be coming onto the main roster. He might be when he’s all healed up again, but it was really just a surprise to get the Montreal crowd popping. Montreal always has crazy crowds when it comes to the WWE. They’ll pop for all sorts. So it helps Sami Zayn’s cause when he comes out to a huge reaction, especially when he is introduced by Bret “The Hitman” Hart of all people. The audience at home won’t be scratching their heads thinking “Who the hell is this guy?”, they’ll be thinking “This crowd is very excited for this kid. I can’t wait to see why”.
Therefore, when the crowd at home see Sami put on a terrific match with John Cena, they’ll be caught off guard. Sure, casual wrestling fans might not really care for all the technical chain grapples and stuff. However, when they see this kid fly like he does, they’ll be caught off guard. They’ll look up “Sami Zayn” on the internet, which will lead them to NXT. NXT is exclusive to the WWE Network, so the fans might think “Well I might give this a try for $9.99,” which gets the audience hooked on the whole WWE experience.
Vince does argue that when they used vignettes for the likes of Goldust and Val Venis back in the attitude era, they were over before they were even on television. Chris Jericho was helped TREMENDOUSLY by those millennium promos when he first debuted. If you pick the right venues and put them against the right guys, you can make someone a star on their first night as people will want to keep watching to see them again. Vignettes sometimes do help when it comes to stars with over-the-top characters like Fandango, but you don’t necessarily need them to debut a star. To be honest, you sometimes don’t even need the crowd! When Brock Lesnar debuted on WWE television, he let his actions do all the speaking for him. He came in and beat four people up that were fighting in a hardcore match. Brock Lesnar did not get an incredible pop when he first debuted.
You know who else debuted like this… John Cena. Cena debuted on SmackDown! in 2002 and challenged Kurt Angle to a match. He faced the right guy to kick-off his career and he was able to put on a decent match with Kurt. Of course, Cena’s rise to the top did not happen in one night. It takes time and it’ll take time with Sami.
If Sami Zayn is promoted up to the full roster full-time when he comes back, then they pulled his debut off the right way. Being endorsed by a hall-of-famer, getting an incredible reaction from the crowd and pulling off a great performance by John Cena, there’s little that went wrong for Zayn to come to the conclusion that he will not be a draw in WWE. One bad rating does not change that.