Friends or foes? Neville, Zayn prepare to lay it all on the line
NXT photographers snapped the above picture of NXT Champion Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn at a recent NXT Live Event in Citrus Springs, Fla. The photo was to serve as a visual aid for this article, which was scheduled to be a face-to-face debate between champion and challenger. However, in light of their tense confrontation this past week on NXT, Zayn and Neville both opted out of the debate, citing a lack of desire to spend extended time around each other just days before their NXT Title match at NXT Takeover: R Evolution.
As two men whose careers have closely mirrored each other for roughly a decade, Zayn and Neville have a longstanding friendship that, stressed though it may be, only adds to the gravity of Thursday’s career-altering matchup.
“Sami and I have been friends for eight years,” Neville told WWE.com shortly after the photo was taken. “We'd run into each other on international tours or working different independent shows and we just struck it off immediately.”
Neville joined NXT’s ranks in summer 2012, and Zayn followed suit less than a year later, leading to their friendship being rekindled. More recently, however, their bond has come under strain. In what some would describe as acts of desperation, Neville has employed questionable tactics to keep hold of the NXT Championship and prevent Zayn's from winning the coveted title.
The result? A match in which Zayn has promised to walk away from NXT if he is unable to win the big one.
“I never wanted Sami to put his career on the line,” Neville revealed in a somber tone. “It’s an unnecessary move from him, which I still struggle to understand. In fact, part of me resents him for it. Sami has had tons of big matches in NXT but now when he faces his close friend, he decides to put a stipulation on himself?”
Perhaps the elephant in the room is the question of whether Neville and Zayn truly are still friends. The normally verbose Zayn kept his comments short and to the point.
“This isn't about competing against my friend anymore,” Zayn stated. “Just like I said on NXT, I'm going to end Neville's story on Thursday and I'm going to take the NXT Championship.”
One WWE Superstar who has known both Zayn and Neville throughout the last decade, and who requested to remain anonymous, shed light on the challenger’s comments.
“Sami can be an obsessive freak at times, but I mean that in a good way,” the Superstar said. “When he had those classic matches against Cesaro, those were the only things on his mind. He doesn't know how to turn off his focus once he's found something to target. He and Neville have been the best of friends for so long, and I find it hard to believe that this will permanently destroy their friendship. At the same time, I worry how much Zayn is going to put his body on the line Thursday because of how big this match is. I get his personal stipulation and all, but I honestly feel like he's treating this as a do-or-die moment of his career and not thinking about the big picture. The big picture is both those guys have the talent to be major players in WWE for years to come.”
After competing in 13 different countries together, it seems a fitting culmination to such a competitive rivalry that both Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville will now compete live on WWE Network for the NXT Championship. As the longest-reigning champion in NXT history, Neville — who captured the title Feb. 27 at NXT ArRival — must prove his worth as one of the greats, while Zayn must prove the underdog can deliver on the biggest stage of his career.
“This is going to be like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals,” NXT commentator Rich Brennan said. “Each Superstar has so much riding on this one match and I'm just excited to see how it unfolds.”
As exciting as the match is expected to be, it was Neville's closing remarks that provided a cryptic touch to the biggest NXT Championship Match in history.
“This is all business,” Neville said. “I will approach Thursday like I would approach anyone gunning for my title. Hopefully Sami and I can remain friends afterwards ... even when he doesn't work for NXT anymore.”