Let’s call it the heel turn heard around the world.
Sami Zayn, arguably the WWE’s only remaining inscrutable good guy—of course, until Hell in a Cell 2017 happened—crossed over to the dark side. It was a shocking moment that thankfully got bolstered by a well-made explanation on this week’s episode of SmackDown Live, in which Zayn gave a reason done to death, but potent with the right words: nice guys finish last.
You would think that Zayn would be the last person to get corrupted. He’s inscrutable as a babyface, after all, and he spent the better part of his wrestling career in the spotlight in a blood feud with Kevin Owens. But people are human, and Zayn is human too, which is why all the shock that came with the heel turn also brings along with it a level of human understanding. All or most of us have been there, we suppose—we’ve all wanted to do the right thing all the time, to make an honest person out of us, but sometimes we just can’t get by being ourselves.
It’s sad that Zayn can’t be that guy after being touted as the only real good guy left, but in many ways it’s a breakthrough for him and for someone else. Whether we’re invested enough to like the fact that he’s heroic or not, this is still evolution, and it’s better than running in place—even if it pretty much justifies the essence of his decision in a meta way. It opens up the pure babyface role for someone else, someone up-and-coming who may need it.
In a way, being able to pull the trigger on something like this shows a kind of maturity that goes beyond what a lot of wrestling fans see. It’s a reminder that things don’t always go the way they do in life, but we’re always faced with choices in every scenario. While it’s important to always try and stick to the straight and narrow, it’s equally as important to show fans, especially the young ones, that we’re not all the best we can be. For all of Hulk Hogan’s grandstanding as a role model, we all know that the mindset just isn’t sustainable (especially considering the controversy he would later get into). People have to know that heroes fall, too, and it’s part of life. Sami Zayn was just another victim, but that also doesn’t mean he’s beyond redemption.
The Jinder Mahal train isn’t stopping
Jinder Mahal and Shinsuke Nakamura had a much better WWE Championship match at Hell in a Cell than they did at SummerSlam, but Mahal is already wearing down on viewers despite showing signs of improvement.
While those who never got behind him to begin with will likely never do so no matter how much better he does, it’s probably a mistake to stick someone so beloved as Nakamura and position him in such a lukewarm feud. Few like Mahal, but had this entire rivalry been different—that is, going beyond cheap racist rants and sophomoric bullying—I’ve got no doubt more would have been able to tolerate a Mahal win.
Despite everything including Mahal’s average skill, the real problem here is that creative has never been able to disguise the weaknesses and emphasize the strengths, for some reason. What should’ve been a blood feud never materialized, instead portraying Nakamura as someone aloof and lacking the urgency he once had. I’m baffled because I can see a Nakamura who could do well when told to, but nobody seems to want to put in the effort to highlight that guy.
I’m not sure what’s next here as Nakamura teamed up with Randy Orton once more to take on Rusev and Aiden English on SmackDown while Mahal was away to promote their India tour. But after two losses, it’s pretty much time for a soft reset for his SmackDown run—there’s no point in having him chase the WWE Championship so soon after a convincingly clean loss at Hell in a Cell. Nakamura needs a real starmaking program with someone who could make both him and the fans care. I’d love to see a hard-hitting feud with Orton.
Rehabilitation is possible
And one last point: Baron Corbin’s United States Championship win at Hell in a Cell proves that anyone can be fixed, if WWE wants to fix you.
They’ve already proven that earlier this year with Mahal, but Corbin may be a better example—after going through a rough summer where he lost his Money in the Bank briefcase and got put down by John Cena in a lackluster match, Corbin’s back on top as United States Champion. It means that whatever issues he may have had backstage are moot at the moment, and Vince McMahon is pulling for him.
For all the flak I give McMahon, that’s how I still have faith for guys like Nakamura. As long as you could give him one reason to make him care about you and give you opportunities, you’re not dead in the water. You’ve still got a shot as long as you’re employed. Shoot your shot, Corbin.
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! This week, stand-up comedian, writer, and mentalist Kel Fabie joins the boys to review PWR Live: Oktoberplex! Listen to it here!