McGuire’s Mondays: WWE decided against a Sami Zayn win at Elimination Chamber, but what about what could have been between Zayn and Kevin Owens?

By Colin McGuire, Staffer (@McGMondays)

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve read all there’s been to say about what happened Saturday night between Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn at WWE’s Elimination Chamber. From what I can tell, the consensus for some lands somewhere between “disappointed” and maybe even “mildly angry.” Meanwhile, the consensus for others lands somewhere between “that was really great” and “pretty close to perfect.”

One of the more interesting aspects of that divide came in the form of the chatter both before and after the match, which saw Reigns retain his Undisputed Universal WWE Championship against Zayn. It felt like a good chunk of people who know a lot about this stuff were reluctant to fully throw their weight behind the idea of Zayn winning the match … but once they saw Zayn actually not win the match, that train of thought appeared to quickly be defined as “Zayn should have won the match.” In fact, the further we get away from it, the more it seems like viewers are more willing to say that WWE should have pulled the trigger on a Sami Zayn win, fulfilling the end to a fairytale story via a fairytale ending … which also happened to be in a fairytale city (Zayn’s hometown).

Don’t believe me? Check out some of Zayn’s comments after the show at the post-Chamber press conference:

“It was kind of an unhappy ending tonight,” he told the assembled media. “I’d be lying if I said that didn’t affect me. Of course, it’s unbelievable – this is a dream come true. You ever have a dream, it’s going in a certain direction, and then you wake up right before? That’s kind of what this was. It was like a dream, it’s a dream come true, it’s surreal, it’s everything you could ever want, and a storybook ending obviously has a certain ending to it. That’s not what happened tonight. I can’t act like there’s not a small part of me that is like, ‘Ahhhh, I wish I could have given that ending.’ To the people, to the story, to myself, my family, my friends, to Montreal. I know what this is, we all know what this is, but some of this stuff is real. You just kind of dream of that happy ending. So close, but no cigar.”

So … well, yeah. The ending of the story (if we are to believe this was the ending of the story between Reigns and Zayn) fell a little flat and the level of that flatness varies by consumer. Me? I’m kind of in a camp that includes the worst-possible response: apathetic. I wrote in this space weeks ago that I thought the company should give Zayn the ball and while I maintained that to some degree on last week’s episode of the Pro Wrestling Boom podcast with Jason Powell (find it wherever you listen to podcasts!) I, like most people, was fairly certain we weren’t going to see the happy ending play out. I was resigned to that reality going into the night and therefore my level of disappointment was couched at least a tiny bit by my lack of expectation.

Either way, all of that’s over now and we’ve all said all we have to say about that. There’s no real reason to add to the echo chamber that has become the populous proclaiming Sami Zayn should have beat Roman Reigns Saturday night. We got what we got. WrestleMania was always going to be Cody vs. Roman. Such is the life we live.

Still, there’s one element to Saturday night’s supposed conclusion that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere, really. Yeah, to those who believe Zayn should have won, the night ended in disappointment. And yeah, once Reigns retained, the Montreal crowd went quiet in a hurry as they felt that dream they knew was a long-shot in the first place become an impossibility. The whole thing kind of sucked to those of us who thought the moment called for a triumphant victory for one of Canada’s most beloved modern-day wrestlers. And if something sucks, everything is typically a bit more cut and dry.

Yet while that’s the case in most instances, one of the most ignored pieces of this disappointing puzzle that makes the disappointment less cut and dry comes in the form of one of Canada’s other most beloved modern-day wrestlers: Kevin Owens.

Before we get to that, let’s recount some history. The year was 2007 and Owens, known by his real name, Kevin Steen, hooked up with a masked man named El Generico, known now as Sami Zayn, in Ring of Honor and thus began one of the most compelling sustained stories in all of wrestling throughout the last 15 or so years. They won titles together. They were friends. They were enemies. They were frenemies. They bled together. They cried together. They won together. They lost together. They beat each other up and they were never able to shake either from their own career trajectory.

As a result, we’ve seen them fight in some form or fashion everywhere. They told their story on the independent circuit, they told their story in NXT and they have been telling their story on the WWE main roster. At this point, they’re going to forever be linked, no matter where they are or what they do. Sure, we can count on them to have incredible matches, but the fact that they have this earned, twisting, turning history only adds a layer that few, if any, other stories in pro wrestling have today.

That’s why if there is one thing that actually did let me down Saturday night, it was the interaction between Zayn and Owens. Most of what many thought was going to happen actually did happen – in some way, shape or form, Owens ran out to help Zayn. In this case, it happened after the final bell rang and the Bloodline were just rubbing it in as they beat down Sami in front of his hometown crowd. Before long, Owens’s music hit, the crowd cheered, he scowled his way to the ring and, in essence, he saved the day. But then …

But then …

Well, but then, not much happened. Owens set up Reigns so Zayn could hit his Helluva Kick, which Zayn did, and from there, Owens left ringside and went to the back after he shared a few glancing looks with Zayn. There was no embrace, no pay off, not even an attempt at a second-tier happy ending with Owens and Zayn giving the crowd a feel-good moment. Instead, the sequence felt flat, much like the finish of the main event. There was nothing all that special about Owens stopping the attack on Sami Zayn. He just sort of left the ring and that was it.

And as far as I was concerned, that was every bit as disappointing as the fact that Sami Zayn didn’t get the win against Roman Reigns.

The common pushback for why Zayn wasn’t set to become a champion Saturday night is that the story isn’t over. WWE took the better part of a year to set up a Sami Zayn turn on Reigns and it would be illogical to think that after all that time building that foundation, only three weeks of separation between the turn and the match wouldn’t be enough. Let the long-term storytelling play out, is something I’ve both read and heard from others. This isn’t the end of Sami’s story with The Bloodline.

OK, but viewing the saga through that lens would also suggest that the value of long-term storytelling is at an all-time high and the most successful tales in pro wrestling come complete only if they involve intricacies, details and time. Coming from that side of the aisle, I’m not so sure you can find a longer story than the one that’s been told between Zayn and Owens over multiple companies and multiple years. And if that’s the case, could there have ever been a better setting or a better time than Montreal on Saturday to have Zayn and Owens reunite stronger than ever?

We all know the thought process that’s floating out there: Things are set up for the Usos to drop their tag-team titles to Zayn and Owens at WrestleMania. That will be Owens’s and Zayn’s crowning moment. It’s the wrestling world’s biggest stage. The duo will earn gold. Fireworks will light up the sky. And a story that began a decade and a half ago in front of merely hundreds of people will come full circle for the masses to see.

After Saturday, however, I’d argue that it’d be more intriguing if Owens and Zayn actually don’t win those tag belts in April. The moment, as they say, is gone. Los Angeles isn’t Montreal. The tag-team titles are not the Undisputed Universal belt. And if the point wasn’t to give viewers what they wanted in a title win for Zayn on Saturday, the least WWE could have done was give those fans in that city (plus all of us at home, of course) a heartwarming reunion for two guys that we’ve seen walk up and down so many roads together.

The whole thing felt like being let down twice. Yeah, in reality, deep down, a lot of us didn’t expect Zayn’s moment to be capped off with a title win at the Chamber, but at least we thought we’d get Zayn and Owens putting smiles on people’s faces as the show went off air. Instead, all we got was a run-in, a weird half-stare-down and a deflated crowd that wasn’t nearly as hot as it was all night, still wondering – hoping, praying for – one last beat to the night in which something redeeming would occur.

Making things more frustrating is the reality that for the life of me, I simply can’t think of a better time or a better situation in which Zayn and Owens could, should or will ever come together. While the latter has been to the top of mountain and held the most prestigious gold in the company, Zayn’s rise over the last year has been entirely organic and mostly unexpected. There’s as good a chance as any that after his chapter of the Bloodline story is concluded, he finds himself working with Theory for the U.S. Title or hosting some talk show in the middle of Smackdown that is only occasionally interesting. This was Zayn’s time to touch the top of the sky and instead, he only came back to earth with a handful of clouds.

Worse yet, this was the storied history of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn on display at the absolute highest level and those two didn’t even get the chance to revel in it publicly, like so many who’ve followed them through the years hoped to see. Unless if there’s a WrestleMania coming to Canada in the next five years and the plan is to somehow get Owens and Zayn in the ring one on one for the Undisputed Universal Title (or whatever the top belt will be called by then), the most rewarding time to see those two come together would have been Saturday.

Alas, it was not to be. And I’m not so sure either Zayn or the Owens/Zayn dynamic will be able to come back from it. They both might hold titles and Owens might still touch a top prize someday, but Saturday night felt like 15 years worth of air being let out of a balloon that felt ready to take flight. It might be long(er)-term storytelling, but at what cost? What else do we have to see and how many more turns do these things have to take in order for the pay-off to be just right? Is it logical to sacrifice a moment in favor of what you think might be a bigger one? How big of a chance is it worth?

Those are the hardest questions in the lore of booking professional wrestling. And for more reasons than one, after Saturday, I’m not so sure the minds behind WWE’s creative team answered them in the best possible ways. Time can prove me wrong – and I hope it does – but for now, as Zayn himself said, it’s close, but no cigar.


Readers Comments (2)

  1. Man, I loved the way the Kevin/Sammy interaction post-match worked. Treating it as a big buddy-buddy reunion would have been so stereotypical that it would not have felt special in the least. The way it happened though? This was Owens coming out like a protective big brother who knew that his little brother had to own his own moment; and also as the friend who’s making it clear that while he’s not going to help him claim the victory, in a 100% “I-told-you-so” moment, he’s still going to have his back at the end, regardless of past differences.

    For me, it was an amazing way to wind the night up.

  2. To be honest, I was still too annoyed at the ref bump-ludicrousness to be that happy or sad about the rest of it.

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