SAMI ZAYN AND THE ZAYNIACS
We’re members of a band, you and I, along with anyone else who wants to believe in professional wrestling. That band has gone by many names: Smart Mark, Mark, Smark, WWE Fan, Pro-Wrestling Fan, The IWC, #WWEFamily, The WWE Universe.
But it’s not until Sami Zayn’s victory promo on the January 8th episode of NXT that the band finally got an appropriate name.
We are members of Sami Zayn And The Zayniacs.
Every week I write two reviews of WWE shows: The Raw Review and The NXT Report. Instead of writing my traditional review of NXT, I’m going to focus solely on the excellence and the significance of Sami Zayn’s opening promo.
In his speech, he not only pushed his story forward, he contributed to the preservation of professional wrestling as well as a great human tradition.
Unconcerned with adhering to a script or a predetermined fantasy-world, in speaking from the heart about what it means to hold the NXT Championship and, more specifically, what it means for us that he holds the NXT Championship Zayn demonstrated exactly what a pro-wrestling hero can and should be. His performance has consistently existed on the NXT card as proof of the emotional power of pro-wrestling performance, proof of the ability of pro-wrestling to strike a very raw, very deep, psychologically powerful nerve in the pop-culture consciousness.
Watching Sami Zayn, you do not feel as though you are watching a performer. You feel like you are watching a man, an honest athlete fighting for a spot in a world that is often at odds with his beliefs. His demeanor elicits immediate empathy. His goodness, his moral righteousness isn’t the least bit alienating because it is not without legitimate, human depth. He is not good for good’s sake. He’s not a babyface because the company needs a top babyface. He is good, because being good is an expression of his soul. That is the kind of face people truly respond to. That is what people want from a champion.
Arbitrarily unwavering benevolence is oftentimes synonymous with inauthenticity. It’s alienating, because it’s inhuman. It’s easy to spot and it’s easy to see right through. We are not all-good. We humans are a crusty, emotionally tortured bunch no matter how superficial we might be, and anyone who speaks to the contrary is posturing and unfortunate. All of us are hurt by this world, by this life. Some of us handle that hurt better than others. Some of us change who we are to deal with this hurt. Some of us use the hurt to create something beautiful.
Sami Zayn, in his struggles to navigate a world that consistently told him that “his way was the wrong way” despite the fact that his way was the moral, honest way, became an understandably bitter, angry character leading into his match with Adrian Neville at NXT Take Over R: Evolution. This actually happens to people in real-life. You know that you’re doing the right thing. You know you're being yourself. You know that you’re doing what is best for you, and you know that, objectively, you're doing what’s best for others. And the world slaps you in the face for believing in something benevolent, and the world calls you a fool for being kind, for doing the right thing, for being honest. The world tells you to “get ahead” to “do whatever it takes” to “make money” to “compromise” to “sell the used car when it’s time to sell the used car”.
As a child your head is filled with hope and moral lessons, a dogmatic separation of good and evil. As you age, the world strips away those lessons, transforming them into unrealistic illusions, and in that process your faith in humanity, and your own sense of self-worth, is shaken. You can feel lost, as though you were lied to, and as though you have no place to thrive.
So frustrated by the fact that, at every turn, “doing the right thing” negated all of his progress in NXT, Sami Zayn questioned his place in the world of professional wrestling. If he could not win on his terms, in his way then he did not belong in NXT. He would be a good man, fighting the hard way in a world that had embraced the easy way. There would be no place for him.
Those were the stakes going into R:Evolution. This story was expertly crafted over the course of six months, and it culminated in the most satisfying championship victory I, personally, have ever seen. When it came time for Sami to potentially compromise his integrity, and smash Adrian Neville over the head with the NXT Championship, the crowd erupted into "No!" chants. The crowd wanted Sami to remain a morally righteous person. The crowd wanted to preserve The Good. Sami has that power.
Sami’s speech puts his victory into greater context. By doing so, he has graciously given his fans, and fans of professional wrestling itself, a sense of purpose. He has united us in a purely positive, uplifting truth.
That truth is summed up best in the following words, “All you gotta do is do you!”
In addition to contextualizing his victory and uniting fans of pro-wrestling under a single, championship banner, in simply talking about the meaning of a championship belt he helps restore the traditions of his art.
The first words of his speech are, referring to the belt itself, “Let’s talk for one second about what this means.”
While Sami’s speech, and any empowering speech about victory in professional wrestling, inevitably nudges the forth wall (because victories are pre-determined, and when wrestlers talk about “earning” a championship, they’re not talking about a legitimate win, they’re talking about the excellence of their performance, the greatness of their craft that they've honed over the course of many years, and how they’ve managed to get over and fight their way through backstage politics to rise to the top), but that nudge makes the speech all the more brilliant.
We all know what Sami is talking about when he talks about his victory. But you still find yourself believing that he is a champion who has legitimately won a fight, and you believe that you are a part of that victory. This is what sets pro-wrestling apart from other forms of performance. Pro-wrestling has the benefit of being live and coming closer to approximating the reality it is trying to approximate than a film, a play, a painting, or a novel. The structure of pro-wrestling performance is so close to a legitimate sporting event that the illusion of pro-wrestling is oftentimes difficult to even perceive. Even the most jaded smark occasionally wonders, “Is this real?” And in The Moment of Pop everyone is a believer. A skilled orator, an honest orator like Sami who is able to seamlessly blend reality and fiction from one sentence to the next is able cast the spell of professional wrestling over you. You can do nothing but believe he is your champion and that you’re a member of his band.
“Now in anybody else’s hands this means you’re the best. In my hands, it means something entirely different. It means you can do it your way.”
This is where the speech transcends professional wrestling, becoming a culturally beneficial mantra.
Sami does not espouse, “Do it your way!” in the insincere manner a grade school teacher or a motivational speaker might. His words carry the meaning of his journey toward victory.
It’s important to remember the context of his words.
“Do it your way!” is a defiant battlecry against immorality.
“Do it your way!” from Sami Zayn, means you can be a good person in a bad world, you can defeat the wrong and the evil, you can do the right thing because it’s the right thing. You just have to be strong. You just have to believe. You just have to be the absolute best at whatever it is you do.
The ethos Sami Zayn espouses is one our culture, and especially any artist, should aspire to.
“It means you don’t gotta listen to what they tell you you have to be! It means you don’t have to listen to what they want you to do, what they think you need to do, to do it. All you gotta do is do you! Do it better than anyone else and the proof is right here!”
Sami then raises the NXT Championship, returning the focus back on the professional wrestling fiction and his power as the new champion. His speech is like an incantation, infusing that belt (considered a prop by some) with the spirit of dedication, hard work, morality, honesty, and being an individual. The belt now stands for everything the belt should stand for. It is an extension of Sami Zayn. Every time you see it, you believe in that belt, you associate that belt with legitimate athletic prowess and strong moral fiber.
“Now here’s the cheesy part. I’m gonna hate myself for saying this, but I have to get it off my chest. This is not mine. This is ours. You see, hey, I’m not just a wrestler, and I’m not just a WWE Superstar. I’m in a band. And that band is Sami Zayn and the Zayniacs.”
Suddenly, the belt doesn’t just stand for Sami’s victory or Sami’s benevolence or Sami’s place at the top. The belt now stands for you. The belt represents your love of professional wrestling. The NXT Championship is your championship because, “everydbody here plays an instrument, everybody here makes the music with us. We make the music! We do! We make the songs that make the whole world sing!”
Sami's Twitter timeline reveals that people were moved to tears by his words. Such is understandable, for the world can often seem bleak and hopeless. Life itself can occasionally feel like a relentless stream of mishaps and accidents devoid of deeper meaning. And when you’re a good person, when you strive toward morality despite your own, natural flaws, it can be hard to exist in a world that seems to regard kindness as weakness.
Hearing Sami embrace the "Ole Chant", a world-wide song of union, joy, hope, and power, reminds you that you are not alone. You are reminded that there are good people in this world and that good things do happen. You are reminded by that uplifting, universally beloved refrain that life can have meaning and that there are others who desperately want to find that meaning too. In a world that seems to be getting worse day after day, we need to know that things can get better if we just try to make them better.
All of us who are engaged in life strive to know that we are not alone. The experience of realizing your oneness with others is the reason we retreat into fiction. In that retreat, in enjoying our stories, we find commonality, we find catharsis and we become better people. Despite our distrusting, fearful, and occasionally angry nature, our instinct as a species is to rise up together, to find happiness, to find the light glimmering in the overwhelming dark. We sit in dark theaters to watch fictions together, to laugh together, to cry together, to cheer together. We build a culture that revolves around communal activities. We build massive arenas, monuments to our need to fit in. This desire dictates much of our daily lives - from our obsession with finding a good mate to our need to binge-watch the latest season of Mad Men. This desire to be a part of something is so strong that it is also moves us to do terrible things, sometimes unknowingly. We can fall under the spell of people who manipulate this desire.
And that is why we need a Sami Zayn in our lives.
We need good, strong people to remind us that we are not alone.
This is the most powerful, timelessly beneficial lesson any artist can pass on.
And Sami didn’t just remind you that you were a part of something. He made you feel powerful and good about yourself for choosing to participate in the greater good. He made you feel like a champion. He made you feel like you were victorious and that so long as you embraced exactly who you are, you will succeed.
And you believed it, because it’s the truth. Contrary to popular opinion, it is the truth that if you’re good, honest, gracious, and a hard worker, that you can find your place in this life.
The existence of this website is a testament to that truth.
Sami Zayn is testament to that truth.
We are the music makers. We are the ones who can change the world. And we can do it by embracing who we really are.
We are Sami Zayn and the Zayniacs.
Thank you for reading. Share this with anyone, pro-wrestling fan or non-pro-wrestling fan, and have a nice day.