3.) Sami Zayn
At WWE Elimination Chamber in March 2020, Sami Zayn dethroned Braun Strowman with the help of Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura in a 3-on-1 Handicap Match to become the new Intercontinental Champion. He went on to retain the Intercontinental Championship against Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 36 with help from Cesaro and Nakamura at ringside. However, due to his absence afterwards, he was forced to relinquish the championship, leading to a fraudulent tournament from which a new champion, AJ Styles, was crowned.
At WWE Clash of Champions 2020 in September 2020, Zayn won back the Intercontinental Championship that he never lost in what was a match of the year candidate against AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy in a ladder match, where he handcuffed both men to nefariously win the match. Now that he does not have help from Cesaro and Nakamura at ringside, Zayn then flipped the switch in his second round of his Intercontinental Championship reign by using more creative, crafty, heel-like, nefarious ways to win his title matches against the likes of Apollo Crews and Big E.
Sami Zayn’s miraculous success as Intercontinental Champion also epitomized altruism. When Zayn returned from injury to the WWE in 2019, he brought awareness to WWE’s toxicity during his time on Raw, fought WWE’s toxicity with altruism by reviving Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura’s career during his time with them on SmackDown as the Artist Collective, and used the Intercontinental Championship as a symbol of justice for all of the superstars in the locker room and people around the world who have been overlooked, marginalized, and underrepresented.
Sami Zayn, the Great Liberator, is honestly the modern-day CM Punk. He calls out the WWE for all of its flaws that the fans clearly see on a weekly basis and uses his platform as way to inspire fans to continue doing the right, moral thing even when unscrupulous individuals in the higher-ups are telling them otherwise. While doing this, his in-ring work and promo work have been exemplary. Whether it pertains to his articulate promos or crafty victories (e.g. handcuffs, exposed steel, hiding), he improves and does something new each week, keeping his reign fresh and entertaining.
He still lacks credibility because of how he’s booked. Despite being the Intercontinental Champion, he always eats the pin in tag matches and other multi-man matches. Henceforth, his marketability and potential to elevate the division are minimal. However, it is clear that he gives it his all with what he’s given, turning chicken trash into chicken salad throughout the poorly booked mid card division. Also, his ability to out-smart his opponents both in the ring and on the mic is actually a convoluted way of elevating the division because the superstar who eventually out smarts him will be the distinctive superstar to dethrone Zayn, thereby making the title change meaningful.
Although he does not defend the championship every week as most fans would want for a mid card championship, he defends the hearts of the overlooked, marginalized, and underrepresented groups in the world today through the values he preaches and his fight against the system that is holding him back, just like the societal system does to the people he represents. The theme of his reign definitely makes him more of a fighting champion than any Intercontinental Champion from the past decade, thereby adding insurmountable prestige to the Intercontinental Championship.
In-Ring Work: 5.0/5.0 Stars (A+)
Promo Work: 5.0/5.0 Stars (A+)
Fresh Entertainment: 5.0/5.0 Stars (A+)
Division Elevation: 4.0/5.0 Stars (B+)
Box Office Attraction: 4.0/5.0 Stars (B+)