Sami Zayn’s performance at Battleground was a long time coming. He had a chance to debut last year in his hometown of Montreal, against John Cena. That debut was immediately cut short by a shoulder injury that kept him out the rest of the year.
On the WWE Network show “Proving Ground,” Zayn talked about not knowing if he would return to the main roster or to NXT. In a sense, he did both. He returned to NXT action in London, then a month later was in the Royal Rumble. He was floating in between rosters as he was ending his legacy in NXT and creating a new one on the main roster.
This unique set of circumstances for Zayn allowed him to build a 2016 resume filled with numerous Match of the Year candidates. No one in WWE is close to Zayn in this regard, and internationally Will Ospreay may be the only other person to be in the conversation. What Zayn is doing in 2016 is nothing short of amazing.
At NXT TakeOver: Dallas, Zayn’s match with Shinsuke Nakamura was an unbelievable contest. It was the perfect way for Zayn to leave as the heart and soul of NXT. Then at WrestleMania, he was in a great ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship. At Payback, he and Kevin Owens had a fantastic match that Owens won, continuing the rivalry. Three weeks later at Extreme Rules, Zayn took part in a fatal-four-way match for the IC title that was fast-paced and incredible. And then again at Money in the Bank, he was in a ladder match that was very entertaining.
That’s five straight big shows where Zayn has been in what was arguably the best match on its respective card.
But at Battleground, not only was Owens vs. Zayn the best match on the card, it could very well be the best match of the entire year. The phrase “match of the year candidate” gets thrown around the Internet far too often these days, but this match is deserving of the honor. With respect to the two matches AJ Styles and Roman Reigns had, this match has been the best in WWE so far this year.
What this match had over most other candidates is the fact that this rivalry has been taking place for years. Just in WWE/NXT, this rivalry has been going on since 2014, but was alive for years before that in different promotions. That shared history between Owens and Zayn took this match over the top. The only other competition this match has is Tanahashi vs. Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January. That rivalry had been going on since 2012.
Zayn has reached a point now where his stock is at an all-time high. He rose to prominence in NXT slowly but surely, never winning the big match until he finally overcame Neville at TakeOver: R-Evolution. On the main roster, he has grown in that same way, never winning the big one until Battleground.
The win was big for Zayn because in storyline, it represents the chance to finally get past Owens. It seems that his feud with Kevin Owens is done for now. They are on the same brand, but it may be wise for WWE to keep them apart to capitalize on Zayn’s momentum. Even though Zayn’s stock is the highest it’s ever been, there is still room for it to go higher. Owens vs. Zayn was a midcard feud. There was no title involved, because it didn’t really need one. But now, with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins occupying the top spots on Raw, Zayn still has room to grow.
Whatever the case, Sami Zayn has shown that he is one of the most capable wrestlers in the company, and he should be a featured performer on Raw.