Although WWE reportedly offered its superstars the option to stay home should they have any concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic, the latest rumors suggest that Sami Zayn has gotten himself some backstage heat for being among the performers who chose to sit out.
In this week’s edition of the subscriber-only publication Wrestling Observer Newsletter (via Sportskeeda), Dave Meltzer wrote that there is “a lot of unhappiness” among WWE officials regarding Zayn’s decision to exercise the option to stay away from the ring as the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect most of the world. The new development comes just a few days after it was announced on Fox Sports 1’s WWE Backstage that Zayn was stripped of the Intercontinental Championship due to his inability to compete and defend his title.
Prior to his hiatus, Zayn’s last match took place on the first night of WrestleMania 36 on April 4, when he successfully defended the Intercontinental title against Daniel Bryan. At that point, he and his Artists Collective faction — which also includes Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura — were in the middle of a feud with Bryan and Drew Gulak, though it’s unclear whether that rivalry will resume when Zayn is ready to return to work.
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
Prior to the new update, Sportskeeda also reported that WWE officials reportedly asked Zayn “a few times” whether he was ready to wrestle once again before the company decided to strip him of the Intercontinental Championship. At that point, it was concluded that Zayn wouldn’t be back in the ring “for the foreseeable future,” hence WWE’s decision to declare the title vacant and announce a tournament to declare a new champion. The first matches in this tourney are scheduled to take place on this week’s episode of Friday Night SmackDown, though the official bracket and list of competitors has yet to be confirmed.
Additionally, the outlet noted that Zayn’s decision to continue sitting out forced WWE to rewrite a number of SmackDown storylines in order to take his absence into account.
After being stripped of his championship, Zayn took to Twitter on Wednesday to comment on the issue, saying he disagrees with WWE’s move and insisting that he is “still undefeated” and “still the Intercontinental Champion.” Given his villainous role on television, however, it’s possible that he was posting in character, as opposed to airing a legitimate complaint against the company for stripping him of his first-ever championship in five years as a member of the main roster.