It was announced on WWE Backstage last night that Sami Zayn has been stripped of the Intercontinental Title on the Smackdown brand. Zayn won the IC Title at Elimination Chamber in March (in a 3 on 1 match against Braun Strowman) and then at WrestleMania last month, he beat Daniel Bryan to retain the title. Zayn has not appeared on Smackdown since WrestleMania.
Here’s the official announcement from WWE.com:
With Sami Zayn currently unable to defend the Intercontinental Championship, it was revealed on WWE Backstage on FS1 that the title has been declared vacant.
A tournament will begin this Friday night on SmackDown to crown a new champion. Stay with WWE’s digital and social channels for more on this developing story.
Why is Sami Zayn “currently unable to defend” the IC Title? We don’t know that and WWE isn’t telling us why.
BREAKING NEWS:@SamiZayn is unable to compete and defend the Intercontinental Championship, therefore @WWE has declared the title vacant. A tournament to crown a new Champion will begin on Friday Night Smackdown on FOX. pic.twitter.com/5qZgUyL9rC
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) May 13, 2020
Due to the current health crisis, some wrestlers have chosen not to wrestle due to health concerns. It’s not known why Zayn was okay with appearing at the WWE Performance Center for the first month of shows and why he’s not comfortable appearing now. He could have a family member he’s concerned about or it could just be that he’s worried about the situation, which is understandable. We don’t know the details.
There have also been reports saying that if somebody doesn’t want to wrestle during the current health crisis then that’s okay and it won’t be held against them. This is a difficult situation because WWE put a title on Zayn, he worked the empty arena shows for a month and now he’s not doing that anymore. It doesn’t mean Zayn is punished behind the scenes, but as a character and champion, he is losing his title.
It’s also worth pointing out that WWE doesn’t have a 30-day rule for defending a championship. Some fans might think that exists, but it’s not a real thing and just something the company used in the past in some storylines. Some recent examples would be Andrade being suspended for 30 days and he remained champion. Some titles like the Women’s Tag Team Titles weren’t defended on TV for about three months at one point, so obviously WWE doesn’t have a rule about that.
Zayn commented on the news today. In character or legit feelings? I would say in character, but it’s up to the individual to decide.
I disagree with this decision and no matter what anyone says, I am still undefeated and therefore still the Intercontinental Champion. -SZ https://t.co/SUFsBFeRDB
— Sami Zayn (@SamiZayn) May 13, 2020
Based on the WWE taping schedule that we posted last month, the May 15 and May 22 episodes of Smackdown were taped on Monday and Tuesday this week.
If you’re wondering about Sami Zayn’s WWE contract status, he revealed details of that in an interview last year and apparently the deal is up in late 2021.
TJR Thoughts: This sucks because I’m a huge Zayn fan and I was so happy when he won the IC Title at Elimination Chamber in March even though it was in a very cheap manner. His win over Daniel Bryan at Smackdown was also very cheap. I don’t know if Zayn has a young child at home or an elderly relative at home or what it is that is causing him to not compete at these empty arena shows post WrestleMania because he was there in the past and now he’s staying home. I believe he lives in the Orlando area where the WWE Performance Center is, but he is originally from the Montreal area. I don’t want to sit here and speculate. I’m just saying that WWE is in a tough spot, so I get why they would do this and want somebody else to hold the IC Title since Zayn is unable to compete. Is Sami mad about it? No idea. I’m sure that at some point there will be some info soon.
As for who should be the next IC Champion, I’d love it if WWE finally pulls the trigger on a Cesaro push. Daniel Bryan was Zayn’s opponent at WrestleMania, but I think Bryan is going to take some time off when wife Brie Bella has their second child in July or August or whenever she is due.
I think another possibility is that they have Jeff Hardy and Sheamus meet in the finals as they build up their feud and one of them wins the title. That’s just a guess on my part.