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31 Days of Wrestling (12/13/16): Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, Payback 2016

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again when we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling this calendar year produced for us.

Today's entry highlights a grudge match that isn't the first—or the last—in this new-era blood feud.


Yes, this. At this point in the two's history, it no longer matters whether you're a proud ROH-days smark or a young, possibly casual WWE-only fan; you know the bitter ballad of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, ne Kevin Steen and El Generico. We need not take a deep dive into their history, because they've already touched on it on NXT before last year ended.

Sami Zayn's call-up at this year's Royal Rumble match was a signifier that they—and the biggest wrestling company in the world they're now working for—were ready to take this generation's most iconic rivalry (no, you really can't deny it; name something better. We'll wait) to the grandest stage in the game. Upon reaching RAW, their rivalry ceased to be bound by any narrative definition. It just was. All the commentators and the video packages had to say was that they've been feuding with each other long before most of the Monday night crowd had even heard of them, and the same crowd already knew it was coming the moment Kevin Owens ascended to the red show first.

WWE actually did a good job of building up the rivalry on the main roster, going for it right away but not blowing too much of their shot at the same time. They were kept away from each other exclusively, not getting the spot at this year's WrestleMania, and rightfully so; despite the history, that wasn't a thing you were supposed to rush.

Instead, they got their blowoff at Payback, a minor monthly PPV that served as a test whether they did deserve a big stage. It's a silly question if you've followed both men at all, but the higher-ups got the answer they needed in that match anyway. Zayn and Owens fought each other like they were fighting at a WrestleMania, clawing at one another tooth and nail, refusing to stay down until the dastardly Owens was forced to go into new territories he wasn't planning on crossing over into. Until Zayn was forced to dig deep and take extra measures he never intended to take.

After their version of what Matt Striker would now call an "I'm sorry, I love you moment," which was pretty much Zayn giving Owens two Helluva Kicks, the perennial good guy was finally able to beat his archnemesis.


Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens, Payback 2016 โดย eliaswwe

Here's the kicker, though—Sami Zayn would never really use whatever momentum his win was supposed to net him to launch himself into better things. It was Kevin Owens who managed to get booked in the next PPV, and it was Kevin Owens who found himself the new top champion on his brand. Zayn magically ended up doing nothing until he stumbled into a feud with Braun Strowman, and while this David vs. Goliath storyline is designed, like all David vs. Goliath angles in pro wrestling, to get the underdog over, it's not the kind of reception you'd expect someone who earned a blood victory to get.

Then again, as Daniel Bryan would tell you, it rarely ever is the case nowadays in the WWE. If the rumors are true, though, the good karma may finally come back around soon.


*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2016.

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