Why WWE Was Right to Strip Sami Zayn of Intercontinental Title on SmackDownMay 17, 2020
WWE officially began a tournament to crown a new Intercontinental Championship on Friday's episode of SmackDown after stripping Sami Zayn because of his inability to compete.
Zayn hasn't been on WWE programming since beating Daniel Bryan to retain the IC title at WrestleMania 36 over a month ago, and Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingInc.com's Marc Middleton) reported that it was due to his concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
Meltzer (h/t WrestlingInc.com's Raj Giri) followed up with a report this week regarding how some in WWE are upset over the fact that Zayn was stripped of the title despite the fact that WWE has told employees they don't have to work during the COVID-19 outbreak and won't be punished if they don't.
Regardless of that report, it is difficult to argue with WWE's decision, as allowing Zayn to keep the title without knowing when he's going to come back would have made the Intercontinental Championship an afterthought.
Some may argue that the IC title is already an afterthought, but keeping it off TV and not allowing anyone to compete for it for weeks or even months on end would essentially destroy any remaining prestige.
Instead, WWE is now putting a bigger spotlight on the title than it has in quite some time. WWE is holding an eight-man tournament that will take place over multiple weeks on SmackDown, and it features a ton of star power in the form of Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, Sheamus and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Friday's SmackDown featured first-round matches pitting King Corbin against Elias and Bryan against Drew Gulak. The Bryan vs. Gulak match was especially good, and Bryan's fiery promo about the IC title after his win put the championship on a pedestal.
Bryan pointed to the fact that the holder of the title used to be viewed as the true workhorse of WWE, which was undoubtedly true for the likes of "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Mr. Perfect, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and many others.
The argument that Zayn somehow "lost his spot" by deciding against wrestling during the pandemic is a flimsy one. Roman Reigns was scheduled to be in a top match against Goldberg for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania before he decided to go home for the safety of his family, and he was subsequently replaced by Braun Strowman.
Reigns didn't "lose his spot" to Strowman. Rather, WWE found someone to stand in until Reigns comes back, and one can only assume that Reigns will be right back in the main event scene when he returns.
Zayn was one of the top heels on SmackDown prior to stepping away, and he figures to be in that spot again when he comes back. Plus, Zayn will have a major gripe and reason to be placed right into the IC title scene.
After the championship tournament was announced, Zayn fired off some in-character tweets that seemed to lay the groundwork for him eventually challenging the winner:
By doing that, Zayn is making it known how much the IC title matters to him, and that does far more for the championship than keeping it on him and not making it part of the product would have.
It is far from ideal any time someone has to be stripped of a title in pro wrestling for real-life reasons, but there was no getting around it, especially since fans often complain when someone like Brock Lesnar holds a world title and doesn't defend it for an extended period of time.
Pro wrestling is the ultimate example of "the show must go on," and that has been apparent throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Stripping Zayn of the title is right in line with that philosophy, and it doesn't preclude Zayn from being a significant part of SmackDown whenever he returns.
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