Sami Zayn's first steps in his new heel skin were encouraging but still awkward.
The WWE SmackDown star is a natural babyface, an endearing underdog with aw-shucks charisma. As he embraced his blood rival Kevin Owens, called him his brother and moved firmly toward the dark side, it was clear there will be growing pains in his transformation into a villain on the blue brand.
In one of the most shocking moments of the year, Zayn yanked Owens off a table to save him from getting crushed by a leaping Shane McMahon at Sunday's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view.
He and KO had been enemies ever since the powerhouse celebrated Zayn's NXT title win by smashing him against a ring apron. Zayn was the pure-of-heart warrior; Owens was the vindictive evildoer. The roles fit both men perfectly.
And now, there's been a major shift. Zayn explained himself on Tuesday's SmackDown, expressing his frustrations with McMahon and pledging his allegiance to the man he has long traded haymakers with.
Zayn did well here. Given a logical story, he didn't come across as a cartoon villain.
Although, as Wrestleview.com noted, Zayn still has some lingering babyface mannerisms:
That's not surprising. It's going to take some serious time for The Underdog from the Underground to go from beloved to booed.
Few guys were born to be babyfaces the way Zayn is. He looks like a good guy. He's the guy at the party you know you can ask for a ride home even though you only just met.
This is the dude who founded a mobile medical clinic in Syria. Zayn often speaks out on social issues on Twitter. By all accounts, he's a certified nice guy.
And as a smaller, less chiseled wrestler who has been wrestling around the globe chasing his dream for years, he's an underdog one can't help but root for.
Former WCW manager Missy Hyatt compared Zayn to Daniel Bryan as a babyface back in January:
That path would be the more natural one for him. Being a heel will have him go against the grain. And while he's talented enough to pull it off, it will be a tough transition.
WWE can help him out with the small details of his total presentation.
His change in his look would help. Perhaps he shaves his head.
And as PWTorch columnist Wade Keller noted, Zayn entrance's theme needs to be retooled: "Sami's music shouldn't be allowed to be used for him as a heel, though. It's just too damn uplifting and positive sounding. Just slow it down or something so it sounds dark and ominous instead."
After WWE gives him the cosmetic changes he needs, it will then be up to the Canadian high-flyer to grow into his villain character.
Switching sides proved to be a huge boost for Neville, The Usos and Alexa Bliss. It's now Zayn's turn to prove he can thrive in this new role, one that has been far from his forte to this point. And that's going to take time.
Zayn is too good and pure to be the second coming of Owens at a moment's notice.
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