MONTREAL – Friday night was a celebration of one of ours, the WWE debut of Montreal’s Sami Zayn. And the Quebec wrestling scene, including yours truly, couldn’t have been prouder.
“Who is he going to wrestle?” and Where is match going to be on the card?” were the questions many were asking before the show. Well, it turned out it was Zayn against Antonio Cesaro, with whom he’s been having this series of great matches in NXT, and it was right after the intermission, to get people into it just before the two main-events.
Announced from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the former El Generico received a warm welcome from the 8.000 or so fans on hand. Throughout the match, you could hear many “Ole!” chants, but many “Let’s go Sami” chants, as not everyone was familiar with his former generic luchador gimmick. By the end of the match though, everybody agreed and fans were chanting “This is awesome” in unison.
You have to consider how rare this is; WWE brought a prospect that has been with the company only seven months (four on NXT) on the road, to his hometown, to make his official debut with the company — with a win yet.
But Zayn has shown some real good upside since his NXT debut, scoring wins against Curt Hawkins and Antonio Cesaro on the same night, and then having those great matches with the latter, including one on the opening night of the new training facilities that was raved about by many WWE Superstars. He’s shown that he can talk, something many people didn’t really know since El Generico never cut promos. His charisma is undeniable and he immediately had a connection with the crowd, whether they knew of his past or not.
After taking a beating from Cesaro most of the match, Zayn came back with some successful offense: a leg lariat, a sunset flip turn into a power bomb, a dive over the top rope to the outside and a crossbody from the third rope. None of that was enough to end the match and at the very end, as he was countering another strong offense by Cesaro, Zayn caught his opponent with a small package for the three-count and his very first win in the WWE.
The crowd exploded and Zayn sold the win as if it was the biggest win of his career, which is, when you stop and think about it, not that far from the truth.
But the first WWE show in 12 months in Montreal — actually, since the night of Jerry Lawler’s heart attack — wasn’t all about the debut of Sami Zayn. It was in fact almost like a Night of the Champions show a week before the actual PPV.
The first bout of the evening saw Bo Dallas defends his NXT title against the returning Tyson Kidd. On the disabled list since January after a knee surgery, Kidd was making his big WWE return in Montreal. Although he lost against the champion, he looked good in the ring and his knee didn’t seem to bother him.
On his Facebook page, Kidd had this to say: “Thank you everyone for the messages. Tonight was 9 months of frustration and hard work coming to fruition. Montreal was a great crowd.”
The second match was for the U.S. title as Dean Ambrose kept his title against another returnee, Rob Van Dam. If Kidd was coming back after nine months, it has been nine years since Van Dam has wrestled in Montreal and the fans made sure he felt welcomed, as he received one of the biggest pops of the evening.
Even though he was cleared by the doctors, Mark Henry didn’t wrestle last night. So the scheduled six-man tag was changed into a single and a tag team match, therefore the announced card wasn’t only subject to, but was actually changed.
The Shield successfully defended their WWE tag team titles against The Usos and WWE champion Randy Orton lost by DQ against Daniel Bryan when The Shield interfered in favour of the champion. The only champion who didn’t put his title on the line was Curtis Axel, who decided to change the announced championship match to a non-title match. In other words, CM Punk won the match!
The main-event between Orton and Bryan was the most heated match. The crowd reacted to everything and anything, even for the post-match. After The Shield came in, The Usos came to Bryan’s rescue, and then RVD did the same. As the heels were on top again, Big Show, who was asked by Vickie Guerrero earlier in the show to not intervene in the match and who was sitting ringside thanks to Raw GM Brad Maddox, stepped in the ring and beat the heck out of The Shield. This lead to RVD’s frog splash on Seth Rollins, sending everyone home on a happy note.
Besides the Zayn and Cesaro match, the only other non-championship match pitted another Canadian, Natalya, against Brie Bella. The Calgary native scored the win with the sharp shooter.
All in all, it was a very good show that the crowd seemed to enjoy a lot. It felt like the house show in March 2012, where the crowd was really hot and in a way sending the message that Montreal wanted a televised event. Again, the same message was sent last night.
Most of the crowd enjoyed the show because of their favourites like Daniel Bryan or CM Punk.
For me, it was different, and all about Sami Zayn.
I first saw Rami Sebei wrestle in 2002 for Paul Leduc’s promotion. It was his second match ever. Then, a few months after, I witnessed his first match as El Generico. In 2005, I was there when he made his Ring of Honor debut. I’ve rode with him and Kevin Steen when they came back to ROH as a tag team in 2007. I witnessed live some of the great angles and matches they had with each other, including Rami’s last match for ROH and his very last match on the Montreal indy scene last January for Battlewar.
Watching him live on his first official WWE match was something I never thought would happen. Many local wrestlers, promoters and fans decided to come to the show at the last minute following the announcement on Friday morning that Zayn was going to wrestle.
Usually house shows are for fans, especially kids who love to see their favourites WWE Superstars. Last night, the show was dedicated to all the local indy scene, to everybody who saw this young red-hair kid start more than 10 years ago and make it all the way to the top. Friday night was about commitment, hard work and dedication. It was about Montreal being proud of Sami Zayn.
To learn more about Sami Zayn and many other great Quebec native wrestlers, Pat Laprade co-wrote a book on the history of Quebec wrestling, called Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs. Make sure to check that one out on Amazon, ECWPress.com or at your local book store. Pat can be reached at [email protected], on his Facebook page and on Twitter.