With concerns swirling on the main roster about the health of Daniel Bryan, NXT reminded fans this week that his eventual successor may be down in Full Sail right now.
Yes, I'm talking about Sami Zayn, who beat Rhyno in his first televised match since losing to Kevin Owens back in February. This was a classic Zayn match, with him showing his resiliency against the more powerful Rhyno. The broadcast team kept bringing up the fact that Zayn could take punishment and keep going. And while Zayn did take a beating, he also dished one out, including hitting a Blue Thunder Bomb on the near 300-pounder. What struck me most about his match, however, was how much it resembled the work of Daniel Bryan.
To be certain, Bryan's troubling – and troublesome – neck problems have created a void on the main roster, a specialized niche that few can fill: The "white meat" babyface, a wrestler the entire crowd can rally behind. A pure hero who's genuinely over is so rare in the business these days, an time when heels are often the fan favorites. Zayn, of course, is incredibly over at Full Sail, and his NXT Title win in December actually drew some comparisons to Bryan's win at WrestleMania XXX. The fans are passionate about him, despite the fact that his gimmick is essentially nonexistent – he's a normal guy (who really likes ska).
What's helped is that Zayn has been a fantastic face for most of his career, including his time before NXT. He's able to connect with the fans through his character and his moves, and gets the crowd behind him. Having the "Ole" chant, much like Bryan's "Yes" chant, doesn't hurt either. His music instantly identifies him as a face, and is loved by kids and adults alike. Quite frankly, if he turned heel they'd have to change his music entirely.
Zayn's persona is basically where the Bryan comparisons begin and end. While neither man is bland, they're both definitely vanilla – in a good way. While they're both athletic, neither are defined by their athleticism, and both are more or less grounded. It's hard to compare either to, say, Neville. Zayn does some wild stuff, like his leaping DDT from the outside, but overall, there's less reckless abandon to his moveset. Zayn may not be the best guy on the mic, but he puts passion into his promos, and knows what to say to get a reaction from the fans – again, much like Bryan. That connection with the crowd is what WWE looks for, and despite their best efforts, it remains one of the few things they cannot control.
One big difference between Bryan and Zayn is their height: Zayn has three inches on Bryan, which actually works to his advantage. His slender frame allows him to still be the underdog in many matches, but, if needed, he can work the height advantage. There were times against Rhyno on Wednesday night where he looked to be in a dominant position due to his height, something we could never see from Bryan, unless he took on El Torito. While some would point to that as something that hurts him in a babyface run, it also helps him establish his credibility more quickly – after all, no matter how vanilla, we still want out white meat faces to kick some ass.
I'm sure Sami Zayn doesn't want to be compared to Daniel Bryan. He wants to be his own man. But, if WWE is looking for that next great babyface, they might just have found him. El Generico would approve.
- Dana Brooke made her debut on NXT after several weeks of vignettes. Of course I have to mention the obvious – she's very green. The attempted punches that she threw were some of the worst I've seen. That being said, there's potential there. Her finisher was great, and a few of the moves (like the choke with her foot while she's doing a handstand) were creative. She also has a presence in the ring that a lot of Divas don't have. So unlike many people, I'm not willing to write her off after one match. If nothing else though, she needs to fix those punches/forearms.
- Enzo and Cass continue to look more credible as a tag team every week. We always knew they had the charisma, and while they're not great in the ring yet, they're improving each time out. On the other side, we haven't seen much of the Shoot Nation stable – or the specific tag team of Angelo Dawkins and Sawyer Fulton – however, there seems to be something there. The amateur wrestling style can work really well as heels, and I love some of the moves they used, like the abdominal stretch, which gave the match an old-school feel. I'd like to see these guys used legitimately. Also, nice touch with Blake and Murphy coming out to bring flowers to Carmella. It wouldn't shock me if Carmella ends up going with them, since she's still getting bad reactions with Enzo and Cass.
- Solomon Crowe needs to do more to define his gimmick. We're told that he's a hacker, and sure, the lights flash and the board defaults to color bars when he comes out, but what does that mean as a wrestler? Granted, he hasn't had too much time to flesh things out, but there's something missing right now. I did like him debuting a different finisher this week, as I think the stretch muffler he used looks way better than a simple falling headbutt.
- Baron Corbin continues to do the squash matches, and to his credit, the fans are still counting along. If they stop though, there could be issues.