After more than one month away from televised WWE events, Sami Zayn has been stripped of the Intercontinental Championship, on account of being “unable to compete.” The news was confirmed on Tuesday night’s edition of WWE Backstage on Fox Sports 1, as reported by Pro Wrestling Sheet.
WWE Backstage did not elaborate on why Zayn was forced to vacate his title or why he hasn’t been on recent episodes of Friday Night SmackDown. WrestlingNews.co noted that he has reportedly opted to stay home due to coronavirus-related concerns, despite not actually testing positive for COVID-19.
Zayn was last seen on television during the first part of WrestleMania 36 on April 4, where he defeated Daniel Bryan to retain the Intercontinental Championship. The event was taped a week and a half in advance of the event at WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
As of now, there’s no word when Zayn will return to televised WWE events. However, panelist Renee Young announced on WWE Backstage that a tournament will be held to crown a new Intercontinental Champion. The first set of matches are scheduled to take place on this Friday’s episode of SmackDown. No specific brackets or competitors have been announced for the upcoming tourney.
BREAKING NEWS:@SamiZayn is unable to compete and defend the Intercontinental Championship, therefore @WWE has declared the title vacant. A tournament to crown a new Champion will begin on Friday Night Smackdown on FOX. pic.twitter.com/5qZgUyL9rC
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) May 13, 2020
After close to five years on the main roster as a mostly mid-card performer, Zayn won his first-ever main-roster title in March. He defeated Braun Strowman for the Intercontinental Championship in a three-on-one handicap match that also featured Zayn’s Artists Collective stablemates, Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura. Zayn then moved on to a rivalry with Bryan, which, as explained by Sportskeeda, was supposed to continue right after Sunday’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view. The outlet noted that this feud was expected to be a “lengthy” one, though it could potentially resume once the former NXT Champion is able to wrestle again.
Aside from his purported concerns regarding the novel coronavirus, Zayn also recently had his wisdom teeth removed. Per Sportskeeda, this could be another reason why he has decided to stay away from the Performance Center in the weeks following WrestleMania 36 tapings.
Zayn is not the only WWE superstar who is believed — or confirmed — to be on hiatus from competition due to coronavirus concerns. Former four-time world champion Roman Reigns missed WrestleMania — and his originally scheduled Universal Championship match against then-champion Goldberg — as his past battle with leukemia had compromised his immune system, putting him at greater risk of coming down with COVID-19. Like Zayn, Reigns does not have a definite return date at the moment.