Exclusive interview: Is Sami Zayn ready to become NXT Champion?

Exclusive interview: Is Sami Zayn ready to become NXT Champion?

Sami Zayn has made it clear since his arrival in WWE that he wants the NXT Championship. However, despite several opportunities at the title the fiery upstart has remained empty-handed.

That’s why he’s set an ultimatum for himself at TakeOver: R Evolution, where he challenges NXT Champion Adrian Neville once again—win the title or leave NXT. Zayn’s do-or-die promise has left many questioning whether he has the killer instinct necessary to defeat his wily friend. To get an idea of where Zayn’s head is at, WWE.com called the challenger up for a candid conversation before the biggest night of his career.

Watch NXT TakeOver: R Evolution on WWE Network

WWE.COM: What’s your mindset like going into TakeOver: R Evolution?

SAMI ZAYN: There’s a lot going on. I reached a point in my life where I realized it’s do or die. A lot of people think I reacted a little too emotionally when I said, “If I can’t beat Adrian Neville, I’m done.” But the truth is, my whole life, I’ve always followed my heart and my emotions. It’s worked out pretty well for me, up until now. It’s how I feel right now. I feel that if I can’t beat this guy, who I’ve known forever, who I know I can beat and have beat, then I really need to start asking myself if I belong here or not. What that means as far as being done, I’m not 100 percent sure. I just know that maybe NXT is not the place for me right now if I can’t do this. I’m going on a feeling.

WWE.COM: What does the NXT Championship mean to you?

ZAYN: When I signed with WWE, a lot of people, even close friends, told me that this place was going to chew me up and spit me out, just because of the way my personality is. It’s been an adjustment for me as a human being. I’m learning things about myself at age 30 about how to conduct myself in ways I never had to before. Based on the person that I am, a lot of people told me that I wouldn’t make it in WWE, that I wouldn’t make it this far, let alone perform on Raw or do any of the things I’ve done. People like me don’t survive here. For me, winning the NXT Championship is symbolic of, not only did this place not chew me up and spit me out, but I conquered it. I beat the system, the system didn’t beat me. That’s really important to me, to do it my way, and still win the NXT Title, that would be the ultimate feather in my cap. 

PREVIEW: Neville vs. Zayn for the NXT Championship

Exclusive interview: Is Sami Zayn ready to become NXT Champion?

WWE.COM: Since TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way, you’ve been on this “road to redemption.” What were you out to prove by taking on everyone who’s beaten you?

ZAYN: Everyone’s the hero in their own story. You’ve lived your life, you’re the good guy of your life, the protagonist of your own movie. Everyone knows that they have more in them to offer than they sometimes show. By losing to guys like Titus O’Neil, Tyson Kidd and Tyler Breeze, who are all great competitors, I had this feeling in me that I was better than that. I knew that not only could I hang with them, but I could beat them. They’re losses I endured, that’s the way it goes. You’re going to lose matches in any athletic career. It’s part of life. There are times you know you’re better, that you can win.

The “road to redemption,” that’s all it’s been about, proving that I’m better than these losses. I just got tired of going out there and having these matches that were regarded as really good, but coming up short. I knew I was better than that. I deserved better. The result was not in line with the effort being put out. The road to redemption has been about making the result match the effort and passion I put into it. Going into TakeOver, it’s that same principle, but with a lot more on the line, to say the least.

WWE.COM: The road to redemption came to a head with your first title match against Adrian Neville, which ended in controversial fashion. What did you take away from that?

ZAYN: Losing that match did a lot to me. I never believed it when they told me that you had to be a certain way to be a champion, because I never wanted to believe it. I’m an idealist. You do things your way well enough, for long enough, you’ll get rewarded. Seeing it time and time again where it didn’t go that way made me ask a few questions. That’s where my head’s at now. Are these people right? Is that what I’m missing? Is that what I have to do to get ahead? I really, really want to believe that it’s not true, but I’m starting to think about it. I don’t know. 

Watch the controversial ending to Zayn's bout with Neville

Exclusive interview: Is Sami Zayn ready to become NXT Champion?

WWE.COM: Last week on NXT, tensions reached a new high between you and Adrian, and you slapped him. What motivated you to do that?

ZAYN: It was a boiling point for me. Maybe these people were right. Maybe you do need to have that killer instinct, instead of being a nice guy. I found myself falling into the same trap, the same pattern of wanting to do the right thing, wanting to shake my friend’s hand. My friend extended his hand, but that’s where I get caught every time, trying to do the right thing. It’s funny, because Neville’s one of the people who said it the most. I had to hear it from William Regal, too, my boss at NXT. I had to listen to him go on WWE.com and say that Sami needs that killer instinct to be a champion.

Hearing it from every angle, it finally reached a boiling point. I almost fell into that trap again. For the first time in my career, I realized it. No, that’s not what I need right now. I need for him to understand what I’m going through and that I’m not going to lay down and die here. People need to understand this: When I say “if I don’t win this, I’m done,” it’s not because I plan on being done, it’s because I plan on sticking around. It’s not an excuse to leave, it’s so everyone understands the severity, the importance of this match to me. I have no intention of losing and Neville needed to find that out. If I needed to slap him in the face for him to understand that he’s not dealing with nice guy Sami, that’s what I needed to do.

WWE.COM: You mentioned that internal battle. Is that why you looked so conflicted afterward? It looked like you were having an argument with yourself.

ZAYN: I’m an idealist. I believe very much in being true to yourself. I wanted to shake my friend’s hand. I really did. He’s my friend, I don’t like this situation. It’s altered our friendship. I’d like to think we’re still friends, and it’s not all gone, but this has put a strain on our friendship. I don’t like that. I’m wrestling with a lot of emotions. My belief system is being questioned. That’s heavy. It’s not just a matter of a win or a loss, it’s my belief system as a human being. Be yourself, do it your way and you’ll be rewarded. For the first time, that’s being questioned. Not even by others, but by the results. I don’t want that to be true. I hate the idea of that. I wasn’t proud of that moment, but that’s what’s going on inside me right now.

WWE.COM: When it comes down to it, are you ready to do whatever it takes to win the title at TakeOver: R Evolution?

ZAYN: I don’t know. Maybe it’s one of those things you don’t know until you’re in that situation. You don’t know what you’re capable of, what you’re willing to do, until you’re in that moment. It would be real easy for me to sit here and say, “Yeah, when the time comes, I’ll do this or that,” but you don’t know until you’re there. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that.

Sami Zayn challenges NXT Champion Adrian Neville tonight at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution, LIVE on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. You can get WWE Network for $9.99 per month by clicking  here. No commitment. Cancel any time.

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