Sami Zayn Forfeits WWE Intercontinental Title; Tournament to Begin FridayMay 13, 2020
The WWE has stripped Sami Zayn of the intercontinental belt and declared the title vacant.
A tournament will be held to determine a new champion, and that competition will begin at the next Friday Night SmackDown.
The news broke during a showing of WWE Backstage. Official wording from Fox Sports' WWE Twitter account declared that Zayn was "unable to compete and defend the Intercontinental Championship," leading to the vacancy.
Zayn last appeared on screen during the first night of WrestleMania 36, when he retained the international title against Daniel Bryan on April 4. He also appeared on Friday Night SmackDown the night before.
He has not appeared on television since.
On May 1, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Alfred Konuwa of Forbes) reported why Zayn was not on SmackDown's previous episode:
"The reason Zayn wasn't on SmackDown this past week with Nakamura and Cesaro is that he made the choice not to come, which everyone was told they had that option to do. He was originally part of the show."
As Konuwa noted in his follow-up analysis, Meltzer's comments were in reference to WWE giving wrestlers the option to sit out in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WWE has been shooting live and taped broadcasts from its performance center in Orlando, Florida, since mid-March.
One week later, Meltzer said in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Lennard Surrao of Sportskeeda) that Zayn "had still not agreed to return to work at last word."
John Pollock of Post Wrestling then reported Monday that the state of the intercontinental belt would be decided this week.
The WWE officially broke the news on its website later Tuesday evening with the following statement.
"With Sami Zayn currently unable to defend the Intercontinental Championship, it was revealed on WWE Backstage on FS1 that the title has been declared vacant.
"A tournament will begin this Friday night on SmackDown to crown a new champion. Stay with WWE's digital and social channels for more on this developing story."
As Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet reported, brackets for the tournament have not yet been revealed.
Zayn won his first-ever intercontinental title in March after pinning Braun Strowman in a three-on-one handicap match at Elimination Chamber. Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro teamed with Zayn, who got the title with the pin.
The ex-NXT champion has occasionally tweeted since his last appearance and has been a vocal critic of the American government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His last tweet contained well-wishes to his followers Tuesday:
Zayn has been on WWE's main roster since 2015.