Top Picks to Win IC Title Tournament on WWE SmackDown After Sami Zayn Vacates

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2020

TOKYO,JAPAN - JUNE 29: Baron Corbin enters the ring during the WWE Live Tokyo at Ryogoku Kokugikan on June 29, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Sami Zayn has not appeared on SmackDown since retaining the Intercontinental Championship against Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 36, which prompted WWE to announce it was having him vacate the title and holding a tournament to crown a new champion on SmackDown.

According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingInc.com's Marc Middleton), Zayn has remained away from WWE in recent weeks because of his concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

Since it is unclear when he will make his return to WWE programming, another Superstar will get the opportunity to ascend to his spot and attempt to put the spotlight on the IC title.

Ahead of Friday's episode of SmackDown, here is a look at some of the top candidates who are worthy of winning the Intercontinental Championship tournament.


Daniel Bryan

Bryan fell just short of beating Zayn for the title at WrestleMania, which makes him a legitimate threat to win the tournament provided he is included.

While Bryan is a key figure on SmackDown, he has been unable to win the big one recently. Prior to his loss to Zayn at The Show of Shows, he was unable to take the Universal Championship from "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt. Even more recently, he fell short in the men's Money in the Bank ladder match.

Bryan could use something that he can truly sink his teeth into, and winning the Intercontinental Championship would qualify.

Although Bryan is a one-time IC champion, he never truly got a chance to do something special with the title. He was forced to vacate the title just over one month after winning it at WrestleMania 31 in 2015 because of injury.

Before vacating the title, Bryan made it abundantly clear that he wanted to make the Intercontinental Championship feel like a big deal again, and while it didn't happen then, he may have a chance to make good on his wish now.

The IC title is a prestigious championship held by many of the biggest legends in WWE history, but there is no question that there has been a lack of emphasis on it over the past several months and even the past couple of years.

Bryan is a legitimate top star who can help change that, as he will undoubtedly go to bat for the title and try to make it as big of a part of SmackDown as possible if he wins it.


King Corbin

King Corbin knows a thing or two about winning tournaments, and he could take another step toward eventually being one of WWE's top stars by winning the IC title.

Last summer, he outlasted several other highly touted Superstars to win the King of the Ring tournament. He beat Chad Gable in the finals, and he has heralded himself as a king ever since.

Winning that tournament has worked wonders for Corbin's heel character, as it gave him a massive accomplishment to hang his hat (or crown) on. He has been scuffling as of late, though, with a loss to Elias at WrestleMania and a defeat in the men's Money in the Bank ladder match after the musician interfered.

Huge victories have remained just out of reach for The Lone Wolf lately, but winning the Intercontinental Championship would render all of that moot, and it would give him additional bragging rights with two big tournament wins to his credit in less than one year.

Corbin has won the United States Championship before, but the IC title and all other titles continue to elude him. He is a much bigger star and better all-around performer now than he was when he held the U.S. title, so now would be the perfect time to give him a championship and see what he can do with it.

It has long been assumed that WWE's ultimate goal with Corbin is for him to become WWE or universal champion, and while the time for that to happen isn't yet upon us, he can prove he is deserving of the honor by having a quality run with the intercontinental title.


Drew Gulak

As Bryan's de facto coach and friend, Drew Gulak has gotten more exposure than ever before over the past several weeks, and he has developed into one of SmackDown's most consistent in-ring performers.

He is about as good as it gets from a technical perspective, and he has already shown that he can go with the best, after pushing Bryan to the limit in a match before they became an on-screen tandem.

The Intercontinental Championship was once viewed as the title held by the best workers in the company. If that is still the case today, then it would make sense to put it on Gulak and see what he can do with it.

Gulak is a former WWE Cruiserweight champion, but he has never really sniffed a main roster title otherwise. If the goal is to make a new star for the IC title tournament, though, he stands out as a strong candidate to win.

Gulak going all the way would be considered a Cinderella run that would be fun for fans to follow, and the possibility of a rematch between Gulak and Bryan at some point during the tournament would be quite appealing.

If WWE wants to use the tournament as a vehicle to make a new star, then Gulak is one of the top options to emerge as champion and take the next big step in his career.


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