Sami Zayn And The Art Of The Brave Loser

Losing in wrestling is just as important sometimes as winning. It makes the victories that much sweeter, something Sami Zayn knows.

Looking over forums and such, it seems a lot of people weren’t happy with the short duration of the Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn match at Fastlane. But, really, had it gone much longer, it wouldn’t have established Joe as a monster heel going into Wrestlemania.

Another frequent complaint was that Zayn was becoming the guy who gets destroyed by tough guys. After all, back in December and early January, he faced Braun Strowman and was pretty much obliterated both times. Like most people, I don’t like watching a great wrestler like Zayn get used like this. But if there’s anyone who can get destroyed by monster heels and look courageous doing it, that’s Sami Zayn. I want to see more competitive matches from Zayn as much as anyone else, and he will give us plenty of great matches in the future, but these not-quite-squash matches have a clear narrative purpose.

Back in December, at the Roadblock pay-per-view, Zayn took on Braun Strowman in a match where he only had to last ten minutes to “win” the match. So we went into the match knowing it was impossible for Sami to pin Strowman. Like ol’ Rocky Balboa, all he had to do was last the full amount of time to be a winner.

Zayn gives it his all, of course, but his punches and kicks don’t do a bit of damage. He looks like a ballet performer picking a fight with a tank, and that’s the intention. Zayn’s speed makes the match tolerable, a touch better than the kind of thing you might expect from a giant guy who’s still pretty green.

The climax of the match comes when Mick Foley walks down to the ring carrying a towel. Because Zayn isn’t going to give up, Mick is going to end the brutality for him. Zayn beggs Foley not to throw in the towel while Strowman yells at Foley that if he doesn’t throw it, whatever happens next will be on his head. I mean, it makes sense that Mick Foley would want to throw in the towel. Sure, he was a hardcore guy who sacrificed his well-being against much bigger guys, but he paid a huge physical price for it later in life. Wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to young Sami. Ultimately, he decides not to throw in the towel, because it’s Sami’s head, after all, and he’s an adult. Sami survives the ten minutes and ultimately “wins” the match, but Strowman is still the victor, in a way, because he kicked Zayn’s ass the whole time. Zayn looks good, Strowman looks good. Everyone’s a winner, folks.

The rematch, of sorts, on the January 2nd episode of Raw is another story, though. It’s a last man standing match, which means a guy has to lay on the ground for a full ten count before he’s lost the thing. Someone who knows about numerology needs to let me know what the significance of the number ten is in these two guys’ lives, because it keeps popping up everywhere.

The match is a dud. We saw this story already, and this version was even more one-sided. The way Zayn gets pummeled edges the match toward sadism. It’s really not fun sitting there watching some poor schmuck getting destroyed without giving him much of a chance. But that’s what happened. The crowd was mild, too. Strowman got the win, of course, in a rather miserable looking affair.

That match might have proved that lightning couldn’t strike twice between those two, but the series of matches between Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn that started in NXT have all been good. A nice triple threat match on the January 27, 2016 episode of NXT proved that the two could really work well together. The third guy in the ring that night was Baron Corbin, and he ended up being, somehow, the only loser of the match. In a rather silly finish, more humorous than WWE would have perhaps liked, both Zayn and Joe simultaneously force Corbin to submit. Zayn twists at Corbin’s legs, while Joe puts him in the chinlock. NXT general manager William Regal couldn’t figure out who got the submission, so he set up a match for a later NXT episode where Joe and Zayn would face each other to determine the number one contender for the NXT championship.

That match took place on the February 17th episode of NXT last year. It’s a two out of three falls and lasts 45 wonderful minutes. The match is well paced. Zayn and Joe start out with some nice chain wrestling that makes them look evenly matched. In fact, Zayn doesn’t really start to struggle until the middle of the match. This is going to be an epic encounter that tests both men. But Zayn does eventually come off as the underdog when Joe starts to kill him toward the middle of the match. At one point he rallies to try to suplex Joe, and commentator Corey Graves says there’s no way he can rally and make that suplex.

I guess Graves forgot about a few minutes previous, when Zayn came back from the dead and gave Joe a moonsault from the ring apron when both men were outside. Small detail, I suppose.

Very good match, this one. Although Joe scores two falls for the win, Zayn actually makes the guy submit to get the second fall, and Joe only wins when Zayn passes out in his submission without tapping out. This felt like an epic match simply because of the sheer amount of time Zayn was able to survive against the big man.

Fast forward to Fastlane earlier this month. After Zayn’s entrance, we cut to an interview with Joe where he says, “I’m not some Sami Zayn who’s just happy to be on Raw.” Ouch. Samoa Joe attacking the very idea of happiness itself. Huge heel move!

The match starts and Michael Cole mentions the two out of three falls match between Joe and Zayn on NXT. It’s never talked about again. Better to make it seem like this is their first time meeting and kinda sweep under the rug the fact that these two have gone 45 minutes with each other before. After all, we must make Samoa Joe look like a complete beast. As was the case in the Strowman match, Zayn’s moves look light against a very solid-looking chubby man, which, of course establishes that Joe is one tough, tough, dude.

Zayn gets a little offense in, including a very nice looking head scissors, before being put to pasture. Zayn doesn’t look very good here, falling to the mat with punches and even a few goddamn chops, for god’s sake. But, like the Strowman match at Roadblock, Zayn loses with dignity, fighting until the last. Sure, it was a shadow of their NXT match, but it really had to be done this way. Couldn’t have Joe struggle too much in his first pay-per-view match, especially one leading to WrestleMania. And yet it wasn’t a complete act of sadism like the last man standing match against Strowman on Raw.

Sami is good, maybe great, at ragdolling, making himself look completely defeated. But he’s not a jobber. He fights back with everything he has. That’s why we still root for the guy, even after a squash match like this. The one misstep these matches have in common is when Zayn attempts high risk moves, especially moonsaults, after looking like he’s been on the edge of death for so long. Offense, sure, but something like a moonsault really pushes the boundaries of believability.

And so Sami Zayn gets destroyed by monsters every now and then, and we don’t like it very much, but these stories need to be told sometimes. We need to experience unwinnable situations every once in awhile because they’re a reminder that there are some things we simply can’t overcome: death, terminal disease, the loss of loved ones. But it doesn’t matter that we can’t beat these things. What matters is how we face them. Will we wilt, or put up a hell of a fight before we go down?

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