Back in the mix: Q&A with former NXT Champion Sami Zayn
After a shoulder injury sidelined Sami Zayn for seven months, the popular former NXT Champion finally returned to action last month, much to the delight of the NXT Universe. If Zayn’s arduous rehabilitation took a toll on the popular Superstar, though, you’d never know it by watching him in the ring. Since his return, Zayn has picked up right where he left off, earning himself a place in next week’s No. 1 Contender’s Triple Threat Match against Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin.
With that huge match looming, Zayn sat down with WWE.com to discuss how his time away from the ring changed him as a competitor, as well as to play name association with several of NXT’s top talents. Who does Zayn think has the most raw potential in NXT? Who has become NXT’s “all-star”? Find out below!
WWE.COM: Sami, now that you’ve had a few weeks for it all to register, how does it feel to finally be competing back on NXT?
SAMI ZAYN: It feels great. I think the landscape here has changed so much since the time I got hurt, and that means a whole new set of challengers and opponents. It’s also exciting to think about the prospects of what NXT can become. I almost feel like a proud papa to see what NXT has done in my absence and the potential for where it’s going to go. I’m just loving the ride.
WWE.COM: I understand you were on the shelf a little longer than you expected after you suffered your shoulder injury.
ZAYN: When I initially saw the surgeon, I was told I would be out of action four to six months. In my warped wrestler brain, I figured that meant four. But I was wrong and it ended up being six months by the time I was cleared, and seven by the time I had my return match.
WWE.COM: How challenging was it for you mentally to watch so many NXT Superstars work their way up the ladder while you could only watch from the sidelines?
ZAYN: I think the answer is in the question you just asked. Sitting on the sidelines is so painful because it’s very difficult for me to watch wrestling and not be a participant in the ring, since that’s just where I belong. I had the same feeling watching WrestleMania last year from the stands in California and the year before that. I felt like it just ripped apart the very fiber of my being because, in my head, I don’t belong on the sidelines. I belong in the ring.
WWE.COM: Do you feel there was any benefit to having time off?
ZAYN: You know, oddly enough, as hard as it is to just watch, there was some good. Because I was forced to be on the sidelines for so long, I was forced to look at things from a different perspective, and through that I developed a new perspective. I had the chance to sit back and see what everyone else was doing in the ring, which allowed me to come up with ideas of how to differentiate myself. So, it was kind of a blessing in disguise, I’d like to think.
WWE.COM: To that point, what’s the difference between present-day Sami Zayn and Sami Zayn before the injury?
ZAYN: Well, besides the fact that my head is shaved now and I wear a jacket to the ring, it’s mostly mental. The way I approach things is a little different now. When you are on the sidelines and you get that new perspective, which is what happened to me, it changed my game plan. I don’t know how tangible the difference will be to the fans, but I feel like this version of Sami Zayn will definitely offer something different than what you are seeing in the other matches of our shows.
WWE.COM: Let’s play some name association. We name the Superstar and you give us your first thought. Samoa Joe.
ZAYN: Tough and legit.
WWE.COM: Finn Bálor.
ZAYN: The champ and all-star who is carrying the load for NXT.
WWE.COM: Apollo Crews.
ZAYN: More raw potential than anyone else.
WWE.COM: Baron Corbin.
ZAYN: Easily unlikeable but puts in the work and has a willingness to succeed.
WWE.COM: Finally, what’s the most immediate goal for you?
ZAYN: I want to do something that has never been done, and that’s become the first two-time NXT Champion. In a sense, that’s a strange distinction to want, but that has to be my goal while I’m in NXT. In the interest of full disclosure, while I was looking forward to returning to NXT, part of me wanted to continue where I left off on Raw the night I got hurt and capitalize on that.
The opportunity didn’t present itself, so I’m making the most of my time on NXT. I feel like I helped get NXT to where it is now, so while I’m here, I just want to make it the best it can be. This could come off as arrogant, but I honestly feel every show that I’m on is better because I’m on it. I feel I have a lot to offer NXT, and I’m happy to be here as it grows. I want to leave a legacy behind that is undeniable.
Follow Sami Zayn on Twitter @iLikeSamiZayn