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Are Sami Zayn’s Personal Politics Prohibiting Him From Grabbing WWE’s Brass Ring?

WWE Superstar Sami Zayn hasn't been afraid to voice his opinions regarding the company's practices when it comes to social and ethical issues. Could that be quietly holding him back behind the scenes?

By 'Trapper' Tom Leturgey - 02.21.2023

Sami Zayn is riding the largest wave in popularity of his career - by far. It was inevitable that the “Honorary Use” would be dispatched by Roman Reigns and the Bloodline. It didn’t take the 'Wise Man', Paul Heyman, to see that one coming.

Reigns’ turn on Zayn happened when Sami stood between the WWE Universal Champion, a steel chair, and a wrapped-in-ropes Kevin Owens. The Zayn/Bloodline storyline has some observers actually wanting Roman Reigns to be nominated for an Emmy Award for excellence in television acting. Heck, the entire rivalry has lasted for months, and for many, it was the best thing on their screen.

Recently, the Television Academy and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences revamped its “Outstanding Reality-Competition Program” category. Might that open a channel for Smackdown? The deadline to nominate a television program or actor was February 21. The 75th Emmy Awards will be presented on FOX on Monday, September 18. Smackdown is on FOX. World Wrestling Entertainment is a multi-billion-dollar monolith.

Some estimates say that Vince K. McMahon would sell the leading brand of televised wrestling for $9 billion. The “televised wrestling” line is specific. Long gone are the days of 300-plus per-year road trips to “make towns” and sell out buildings across the American and Canadian landscape.

On Friday, February 17, one day before the Elimination Chamber, Sami Zayn was welcomed to the former Molson Centre in Montreal to a ground-shaking ovation. The crowd (the current day Bell Centre holds more than 21,000 for hockey…who knows what was roped off for TV, and how many seats were set up on top of the ice) exploded for :20 before Zayn emerged to “Worlds Apart,” a song that should still be paying the mortgage for Dicky Barrett and Joe Gittleman of the Mighty, Mighty, Bosstones for 1997’s “The Impression That I Get.”

Zayn would take it all in, climb the steps, and ascend to the top turnbuckle as fans sang and chanted the once-again familiar theme so loudly that it was nearly muted. He got into the ring, all to more delightfully cathartic cheering.

Zayn, covered in a beard and matching long red hair, was clearly emotional. The fans could sense that and continued to sing louder and longer. At three minutes, he raised the microphone to his mouth. The fans once again got even louder. It was two more minutes before he could get a truncated version of his speech out.

Basically, he had time to say, “I’m gonna win tomorrow, Roman,” and got out of Dodge City before the tightly-timed television program showed trademarks and went to local news.

The very next night, in the match of his life, Zayn lost to Roman Reigns. A graphic later showed on social media that Roman Reigns had defended the WWE Universal Championship 27 times in 900 days. His dominance with the title dates back to 2020.

It’s championed as the 6th longest title reign in WWE history, dating back to when Hulk Hogan traveled 300-plus days a year as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) Champion. Television wrestling is pure business. That’s why a guy like Roman Reigns has the belt. An Emmy-worthy actor with a wrestler’s physique, Leati Joseph “Joe” Anoa’i has the “look” that Vince McMahon has coveted since Hulk Hogan in 1984. Anoa’i has proven to be bankable. Anoa’i, 37, went to a Catholic high school in Florida and went on to play football at Georgia Tech.

Reigns beat cancer twice. He’s Samoan, which makes him among wrestling royalty. Rami Sebei, 38, is from Quebec, Canada, born to Syrian immigrants. He is a proud Muslim and discussed the holiday season with Heyman on Smackdown in December.

It was a nice, inclusive moment for the two when both were heels and members of the Bloodline, albeit with Sami still residing in the purgatory that was “Honorary Uce.” [Muslims make up 4.9% of the population in Canada, while it's the third largest religion in the United States, at 1.1% of the population. The Muslim faith is still a misunderstood mystery for many, particularly in the U.S.]

The build to the Elimination Chamber was titanic. The WWE, under Vince McMahon, is legendary for not allowing hometown heroes to win big in their hometowns.

Oddly, Pittsburgh’s Kurt Angle is one of the other wrestlers (there, I wrote “wrestlers”), to receive a pass. He won the WCW belt from Booker T here before the loudest wrestling pop ever recorded on television in Steel City. (Bruno Sammartino’s Studio Wrestling match footage doesn’t exist.)

It’s meaningful to wonder why Zayn didn’t win. He won’t have that momentum again, what with Cody Rhodes standing in his Wrestlemania way. Was the decision all about business? It wasn’t wrestling or Zayn would have won, and they would have figured out Wrestlemania from there. Whereas the 6’3”, 280-pound Reigns came from a football background, the 6’1,” 212 pound Zane came from an Independent wrestling and Ring of Honor background. Vince McMahon is back in charge of the WWE and he has to answer to public shareholders. He has never “really” believed in the Independent scene, from where Zayn and the much more accomplished Kevin Owens once sprang. On President’s day, the WWE stock ticker was at $87.85 a share, down $.13 since Friday. For a year, the Class A Common Stock gradually rose from around $50 a share to $80 in December. It plunged to about $68 a share in January, before dancing around $90 ever since. Its 52-week high was at $93.63. [Full transparency: I sold my handful of shares in May 2022, well before significant movement at the time.]

Zayn is a quiet guy, by all accounts a good guy and a family man. He’s a talented athlete and a favorite among wrestling fans, especially now. However, in corporate America, that doesn’t always make a $9 billion acquisition happen. Zayn traded in his “Honorary Uce” t-shirt after being gifted an “Honorary “Hab” t-shirt (a nickname for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens).

Social media love was everywhere north of the border. Zayn still maintains an unruly beard and hair. Before campaigning to be a member of the Bloodline, he deliberately appeared to be the missing Castro Brother from Cuba, with a hat and drab attire.

Was that a political statement designed to charm the Bernie Sanders voting block?

A Canadian citizen, Zayn reportedly did endorse the Democratic Socialist in voting primaries. McMahon wasn’t openly accepting buyout chatter at that time and it came before the Chairman’s own (temporary) fall from grace for anti-corporate behavior. He paid millions out of his own pocket, but investigators continually search his business practices with a fine-toothed comb for wrongdoing. The Wrestling audience today is vastly more “left” today than in previous generations. From CM Punk’s AEW t-shirts and Mick Foley tweets to flashy intergender matches and more ambiguous talent on the independent scene, professional wrestling today is not the Vince McMahon, Sr., Bill Watts, and NWA days of yore.

There isn’t anything wrong with any of that, people can choose what they want to watch or spend their money. For some, it’s about pleasing everyone, but for an equal number of fans, it continues to widen the line of social and geopolitical division in the United States.

Do religion and politics have any significance when it comes to a billion-dollar push on television? Many respected observers say it’s ludicrous to have such an idea. Television wrestling is corporate television. It should be about escapism, but even comic book movies are being shelved over fiscal concerns. Vincent Kennedy McMahon is 77. His mother just passed away last year at 101. “Vince” isn’t going anywhere, any time soon. He can wait for that nearly $10 million payday. One of those prospective buyers is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the group responsible for the pricy Crown Jewel events.

The last PPV there has been touted as the most-viewed international event of all time for the WWE. There’s zero chance that the entity would get along with Zayn as the standard bearer, even if they are players in the sale months from now. It’s been reported that the Saudi government has forbidden Zayn from wrestling for the WWE in their country because of religious tattoos and/or his Syrian heritage. He has set up philanthropic endeavors for his ancestral homeland, but the politics in the Middle East are far more complicated than anything in the–by comparison–sedate United States or Canada.

Vince McMahon inducted former President Donald Trump into the WWE Hall of Fame after a long working relationship. Linda McMahon had a position in the administration. They presumably remain friends. None of them care for Bernie Sanders. All of them are more concerned with the bottom line than they were with making the fans in Montreal happy.

In the end, one of two things will happen. Zayn will win the WWE Universal championship somehow and rather quickly, to diminished excitement, or be relegated to “defense number 28.” It seems like Worlds Apart.

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