On Sami Zayn’s Montreal Shoulder Job (or Wrestling Is Real Again)

Sami Zayn’s shoulder injury will be for us one of those memorable heartbreaking moments in WWE history. Perhaps the best everyman underdog of all time, on an iconic RAW debut against John Cena (that very much echoed Cena’s own iconic debut against Kurt Angle a decade ago), dislocated his shoulder before he even entered the ring as he swung his arms to rouse the crowd. He wrestled the entire excellent match on a bum shoulder nonetheless, and didn’t hold back on his flashy signature moves — even did the crazy turnbuckle dive DDT — for the privilege of losing to John Cena. In Montreal. What an amazing set of circumstances. Perhaps we will remember this as The Montreal Shoulder Job.

I am pretty well convinced this was a real injury. I have a hard time believing the ref would falsify the X-arms injury signal for the sake of crafty storytelling. But imagine if it was all a work! The backstory for such a triumph of kayfabe is all there. Sami’s narrative has been about the discernment of injury from ruse for some time now. His feud with Adrian Neville was full of moments in which Sami had to learn not to be so naive about honesty and trickery in wrestling, including a spot in which Neville lured his sympathy with a knee injury, then rolled him up for a pin. Then, I was legitimately concerned for his welfare when Kevin Owens threw his neck against the ring apron after the copyright notice at NXT Takeover Revolution. He later lost his title to Kevin Owens when the ref stopped the beating out of concern for Sami’s welfare, and in the rematch Sami hit his head on the metal ramp and was cartoonishly concussed for the rest of the match. This is really a perfectly crafted story for Sami Zayn’s character, except that I’m pretty sure it’s for real. Even John Cena couldn’t conceal his concern for Sami’s tragic heroic position. I suspect Cena was disappointed to have won the match.

Now that it’s the next day I can see that everything will be okay, but I had a lump in my throat much of last night. I was worried that Sami had exacerbated his shoulder problem by wrestling hard on it, and I was worried that this might ruin his upcoming match with Kevin Owens. Ultimately, though, what Sami did here was to live his art. He hurt himself so poignantly he broke my heart. Isn’t that what the Sami Zayn character is all about? Sami has been on a mission to re-emotionalize wrestling in this jaded era (I called this the NXT kayfabe renaissance a couple months ago), and now last night he finally made wrestling real again. And in Montreal again! In an entrance introduced by Bret Hart himself! What an achievement! Did this really even happen?

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