The catalyst for WWE deciding to execute another version of the brand extension came when USA Network executives complained to WWE officials about low Smackdown ratings. Once the brands were split, a prevailing notion inside the WWE locker room was that it would present more opportunities to the superstars, especially to those who weren’t getting them before this new era.
The brand extension thins out both brands, and as a result, elevates many of the talent that were previously mired in mid-card mediocrity. Two of the biggest up-and-coming stars on the RAW brand are Finn Balor and Sami Zayn. There are already expectations for Balor, immediately being thrust into a marquee match against Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam.
For Sami Zayn, however, it’s difficult to tell how the company views him presently. There are minor connections between Zayn and Balor in the current storyline, but only one of them is benefiting from it. Last week, Zayn went one-on-one with Rollins with the announcers putting over the fact that Sami wrestles a similar style to Balor, giving Rollins a scouting session of sorts in the ring. This week, though, neither Zayn nor Balor appeared in front of the live crowd in a peculiar decision by WWE officials.
The goal behind Balor’s angle was clear. WWE wanted to introduce the demon side to the Balor character to a broader audience that may or may not have seen it on NXT programming. Doing it in a pre-produced segment with editing and effects enhanced the delivery and saved the demon unveiling so that fans would be left wanting more. But not having Zayn appear on RAW doesn’t make a whole of sense.
It should be noted that Zayn competed in a match taped for Superstars prior to RAW against Curtis Axel, but the bigger story is Sami not wrestling on the flagship show. Forbes goes as far as to say that the fans in Anaheim were cheated by not having either Balor or Zayn appear on RAW.
Zayn is coming off a program with Kevin Owens in what was billed as a grudge match between the long-time rivals, but few actually believed that it would be the final time the two met in the ring. It did, however, seem odd that they would both be drafted to RAW when the brand split gave them an easy opportunity to separate them and potentially build a more high-profile match further down the line.
The Zayn-Owens match at Battleground was widely viewed as the best match on the card that night, despite a nasty botch on the apron that nearly left Sami hurt again. Zayn actually won the match, but it’s Owens who is entered into a significant feud heading into SummerSlam. Kevin is teaming with Chris Jericho to face Enzo & Big Cass on a crowded card that has little room for much else.
It’s odd that WWE officials could not find a spot for Sami Zayn on a RAW that featured segments or matches with the likes of the Golden Truth, Neville, Sin Cara, The Dudley Boyz, Darren Young and Titus O’Neil. Zayn is clearly more over than all those superstars, but the feeling must be that if he isn’t already booked in a major program for the second-biggest show of the year, then it’s not necessary to use him.
WWE could certainly always add a last-minute match or two to SummerSlam, but it would almost definitely be a time-filler on the kickoff show. Considering there are nine confirmed matches as of now with the potential to add Cesaro vs Sheamus and Young vs O’Neil again, Zayn appears to be the odd man out. Whether it’s due to a nagging injury or backstage heat remains to be seen, but his omission from the biggest party of the summer looks to be a glaring one.
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