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The creative team at WWE missed a golden opportunity to shake things up a little bit, and their error was compounded by a glaring problem that has become apparent on Smackdown in recent weeks. The blue brand has a lack of quality babyfaces ready to step in to the main event picture, leaving champion A.J. Styles spinning his wheels and facing retreads of guys he has already beaten or challengers whose win/loss record give the audience no faith they have a shot at taking the title from the Phenomenal One.
The WWE had the chance to interject some immediate heat into the title scene by following through with the teased trade of Sami Zayn from Raw to Smackdown. Ever since the climax of his feud with Kevin Owens, Zayn has floundered on Raw, with the writers failing to give him anything of importance or interest to do. A short-lived feud with Chris Jericho sputtered out before it could gain any traction and, despite teasing Zayn winning the Intercontinental Title from Miz, the Survivor Series showdown just wound up being another chapter in the long running saga of Marsye interfering on her husband’s behalf. Trading Zayn to Smackdown instead of feeding him to Braun Strowman would have injected immediate life into both Zayn’s character and the babyface options on Tuesday nights.
Instead, the WWE decided to present fans with another iteration of Dolph Ziggler failing upward, naming him the no. 1 contender for Styles’s belt after winning a Fatal Four-Way. This match comes after a lackluster showing at Summerslam where Ziggler came up short against then-champ Dean Ambrose and a prolonged feud against Miz for the IC Title. The story of that feud found Ziggler coming up short time and time again, aside from one brief spell with the belt. To be fair, both the Miz and Ziggler did stellar work in the ring and in their promos, and elevated what could have been a middling affair to one of the better programs of the year.
Despite Ziggler’s ability to carry a broomstick to a solid match, at this point audiences have come to expect him to come up just short in whatever program creative involves him in. He seems to be on the constant verge of having a rocket strapped to him and getting that big creative push, only to have the rug pulled out from him and his fans time and time again. It has happened so often that it’s difficult, if not outright impossible, to see him as a main event player at this stage.
That leaves Dean Ambrose as Smackdown’s other top choice for a babyface. While his current feud with Styles has benefitted both performers, and elevated would-be jobber James Ellsworth to household name status, that program has run its course. On top of that, Ambrose’s run with the World Title seemed to be missing that “it” factor that the top draws have. If anything, Ambrose might be the modern day equivalent of Roddy Piper – a charismatic, shoot-from-the-hip wildcard performer that could elevate his character without gold strapped around his waist.
Zayn to Smackdown would give the show an instant boost to the title picture. In Sami Zayn, the WWE has their best clean-cut underdog babyface since Daniel Bryan. When given proper direction by creative, Zayn has the ability to pull fans over to his side and rally the crowd behind him like few other performers right now. For proof of this, just go back and watch his long, torturous climb to the NXT Title in 2014 and his candidacy for best feud of the year with Kevin Owens this past spring and summer.
Zayn is still fresh enough that his underdog scrappiness does not register as corny or outdated with the live audience as, say, Roman Reigns’s “Superman” character does. What Zayn lacks right now is a lack of opportunity to stand out on in a crowded Raw field that includes Seth Rollins, Reigns, The New Day, Cesaro, Bayley, Sasha Banks, the Crusierweights and others jockeying for screen time.
Instead, we ended up Zayn and Raw GM Mick Foley teamed up in a bizarro Rocky/Mickey relationship where Foley said he believed in the Underdog From The Underground and is trying to light a fire under his ass before setting up a scenario where Zayn had to survive, not defeat the part man/part mountain Strowman at Roadblock. Given the dual goal of preserving Strowman’s monster push and protecting Zayn from being damaged too badly, WWE booking had to hedge.
Instead, trading Sami to Smackdown would have given that roster the jolt it needed with a new opponent for Styles fans could get behind, and Strowman could have moved on to an opponent WWE felt more comfortable with him beating soundly.
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