x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Catching up with Canadian-Syrian WWE wrestler Sami Zayn

WWE wrestler Sami Zayn is the new Arab face of WWE wrestling, and the Canadian-Syrian speaks about life as a professional wrestler and performing in the Gulf.

The Canadian-Syrian pro wrestler Sami Zayn in WWE action. He's hoping to perform in the UAE again soon. Courtesy WWE
The Canadian-Syrian pro wrestler Sami Zayn in WWE action. He's hoping to perform in the UAE again soon. Courtesy WWE

You were in Abu Dhabi last year for three shows with the WWE. As an Arab wrestler, did it feel like playing at home?

It was honestly a dream come true. I was always a wrestling fan and, being an Arab kid who grew up in Canada, there was no representation for people like me. I think it was just amazing to come here to the amazing fans and represent Arabs in a positive light.

While you were in the UAE, you also went to Dubai to conduct some trials for the WWE. How did our candidates fare in terms of quality?

That was a great experience. There is not a big professional wrestling scene in the Gulf, so there weren’t any professional wrestlers. But many had backgrounds in boxing, mixed martial arts and athletics. I was not involved in decisions in who made it or not, but all I know is that the organisers were very pleased to come here and they do plan to come back. Hopefully that means more representation for the Arab market.

Talking about training, you’re speaking to us from the WWE Performance Centre in Florida, United States. What is that exactly?

Not many people realise this, but when WWE signs new talent, they all must report to the performance centre here in Orlando. It can take between one to two years to get acclimatised to the style of the WWE and how they want to do things. I got signed only a year and a half ago and I am training daily. I still do some television — I am on a show called NXT — and I travel, but only within the state of Florida. After leaving the centre, one can go to bigger shows such as Raw and SmackDown. There are also international events and a lot of travelling involved.

So NXT is the best place to see the future stars of the WWE?

Absolutely. This is the place to see the stars of tomorrow. If you look at Raw right now, more than half of them came through NXT, such as The Shield and Damien Sandow. If you see the show, you will find these interesting wrestlers and tag teams that, in a year or two, will become really big stars.

How did your love of wrestling begin?

I have always loved wrestling and grew up watching it — my earliest memories include watching Hulk Hogan. I always wanted to be a wrestler when I grew up. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine got a job on a wrestling radio show in Montreal and he found a local professional wrestler who was able to train us. I had just turned 17 and I started training, but it was nowhere near the state-of-the-art, world-class facilities here at the Performance Centre. It was literally in the backyard with no mats and I was trained by a wrestler who, to be honest, wasn’t very good himself.

But you eventually succeeded by graduating from the Canadian independent wrestling scene to the WWE. What was it that the crowds and the wrestling execs liked about you?

I can’t really explain it 100 per cent, but I think it was the energy level and a likeability. I always felt connected to the audience and I think people can tell when something is fake or contrived. I think fans always felt that I try real hard and I am passionate about what I do.

Finally, are there any plans for you and the WWE to return to the UAE any time soon?

Any time I get the chance to go out there, I am ready to go. Right now, I don’t know what the plans are, but I would assume that the WWE — like myself — are pleased to have an ambassador to the Arab countries. So I would assume they would want me to be on the next set of events that come to the Middle East — which is perfect for me, as I would like to be there as much as possible.

Catch Sami Zayn on WWE NXT, Thursdays at 8pm, OSN Sports 2 HD. For more details, visit www.osn.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae