WWE’s Sami Zayn on Johnny Knoxville feud, phone prank, surprising Brock Lesnar moment

Sami Zayn is embracing the unconventional.

For the three-time Intercontinental champion in WWE, that’s what made his greater than four-month feud with “Jackass” star Johnny Knoxville – who not too long ago price him the IC belt — so distinctive as they prepare for his or her “anything goes match” on Night 2 of WrestleMania 38 at AT&T Stadium on April 3. The 37-year-old Zayn, who will probably be at Barclays Center on Friday when SmackDown arrives in Brooklyn, is attending to do issues not usually seen in professional wrestling feuds and loving it.    

Ahead of an enormous week, Zayn took time for some Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski.

(Edited for readability and size)

Q: As a performer, what’s it been prefer to get to do some issues which might be outdoors the normal wrestling formulation, whether or not it’s going to the “Jackass Forever” film premiere and getting kicked out, having that enjoyable Royal Rumble moment with Johnny Knoxville?

A: That’s actually been one of many largest positives doing the stuff with him as a result of he’s not a traditional wrestler. He’s not even a traditional celeb in a way. You received to do some very unconventional issues to advertise the match. Going to the pink carpet premiere in Hollywood on the Chinese Theatre after which getting his messages and doing these textual content exchanges, which I posted on-line. Then he turns round and takes it to the following step and he will get my phone quantity and flies it over the town of Los Angles. It’s simply not stuff that’s usually performed to construct a wrestling rivalry.

Q: Was that your actual cellphone quantity?        

A: Yeah. I couldn’t predict what number of calls and texts I used to be gonna get. It’s within the lots of of 1000’s actually. It actually exceeded my expectations.

Q: How lengthy did it go on for and have been there a few of people who actually stood out?

A: It’s nonetheless going on. These isn’t a moment the place if I stroll by my phone it’s not ringing or buzzing or there’s a name. Every second. It solely began to decelerate the final day or two. When I say decelerate, it may be a minute or two between calls. But for that first week it was actually incessant and I’ve guys within the locker room who will again me up on this. It was fairly loopy. The one silver lining is I answered a few of these calls and in some circumstances it actually brightened individuals’s day as a result of I don’t suppose they anticipated it to be an actual quantity or me answering it. Some of the followers have been very, very excited. Even although I’m dangerous [on TV] it did put a bit of spark of pleasure in me seeing a few of the individuals who have been genuinely moved or shocked by me answering the decision.

Q: Were you a fan of “Jackass” rising up?

A: I wasn’t. There’s a few causes for that. One, I used to be very consumed with wrestling and you’d suppose wrestling and “Jackass” is a pure crossover. The factor about me — this going to sound bizarre coming from a wrestler – I don’t truly like watching individuals get damage. I didn’t know what “Jackass” actually was. I simply thought it was a bunch of dudes working round and other people getting damage. And it’s ironic that I might miss the purpose of what “Jackass” is de facto about as a result of I like wrestling and other people always miss the purpose about what wrestling is about.

The approach I type of checked out “Jackass” is a bunch of fellows hurting themselves and I dismissed it and I didn’t perceive it’s probably not about that, it’s in regards to the camaraderie and the friendship and the laughter they share between one another. I see that each one now. In my youthful years, I didn’t see that and I do suppose there’s a little little bit of irony in that as a result of wrestling is among the nice misunderstood artwork kinds and I did the exact same factor when it got here “Jackass.”

Sami Zayn and Johnny Knoxville go at it throughout the 2022 Royal Rumble.

Q: When you might be in an “anything goes match” with Johnny Knoxville, does it really feel like it’s important to be prepared for something whether or not it’s in Brooklyn or WrestleMania?

A: I type of like that folks don’t know what to anticipate. You don’t get that very a lot in wrestling. I believe I type of know what to anticipate [normally]. That’s what I discover very refreshing. It’s a uncommon alternative to provide individuals one thing very refreshing.

Q: How a lot of the true Sami Zayn is within the character we see proper now and do you suppose this model possibly is the one which’s clicked probably the most with the viewers?

A: I undoubtedly suppose there may be quite a lot of the true me in there, lots. I may have predicted that this was going to be me in the future as a result of I used to play foosball in highschool with some guys that have been actually, actually good, like event degree and I used to be OK. I used to be mediocre, possibly get a number of objectives on them, however finally get annihilated. So the quantity of trash speak that I might do and the way in which that I might get beneath these guys’ pores and skin, I do know I used to be onto one thing from a reasonably younger age.

It simply took a very very long time for it to return out as a result of the character that I performed on the independents (El Generico) was not a talker after which coming to WWE and being an excellent man as I used to be for 15 years. I might say you’re a bit of extra constrained as an excellent man. You can’t simply say no matter you need since you type of received to fret about being likable. When you don’t have to fret about that the shackles are type of off.

The purpose I believe the character has type of clicked is since you noticed the unraveling of the character. It’s humorous as a result of as an excellent man I believe it labored rather well in NXT as a result of they received to see the development and so they received to return alongside for the experience and watch this character develop. Then you come to the primary roster from NXT and so they’re simply seeing this completed product. When you’re not alongside for the experience you don’t click on fairly as a lot.

WWE Sami Zayn
Johnny Knoxville (l.) used a cattle prod on Sami Zayn (r.) on WWE “SmackDown” on Jan. 21, 2022.

Q: One of the latest enjoyable moments was between you and Brock Lesnar. We are clearly attending to see a unique facet of him. What was it prefer to share that moment with him?

A: I used to be fairly pleased with the viewers’s response to it as a result of I believe it’s simply two individuals you don’t essentially off the highest of your head suppose, “Oh I can’t wait to see these two in the ring with each other.” Then once they noticed it, they’re like, “Oh, OK, what is this gonna be?”

I get pleasure from that indisputable fact that my character was an excellent foil to carry that out or Brock. I can’t take credit score, clearly Brock was Brock. I used to be truly fairly bowled over by his comedic timing and his sharpness and all that. I actually didn’t count on it and I believe only a few individuals did as a result of he’s been this destructor that had [Paul] Heyman speak for him all these years. So I used to be as shocked as anyone.

Q: There simply gave the impression to be this pure chemistry.

A: I get requested about it a good bit and we solely did two weeks collectively, in order that should inform me we hit one thing type of particular. Wrestling, if you happen to’re round lengthy sufficient, I believe ultimately you cross paths with lots of people. So I do hope it planted the seeds to do some extra enjoyable on-screen stuff. It’s been a few 12 months and a half, two years now the place I’m simply having an actual blast. That Brock factor was undoubtedly a spotlight.      

Q: What does it imply to you to begin to actually be related to the Intercontinental championship?

A: Chasing titles, I’ve by no means actually been like that, but when there was one title I had a tender spot for it’s the Intercontinental championship. I’m not the primary to say it. A whole lot of guys of my era have stated the identical factor in regards to the guys who type of shaped this new type, early predecessors of the type that quite a lot of me and my friends type of use now – pioneers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, Mr. Perfect. Those are the blokes once I grew to become much less in love with the spectacle of wrestling as little one and extra in love with the precise in-ring story of wrestling, that’s when the blokes within the Intercontinental championship scene, I actually began to gravitate in direction of them. So there’s a sentimental spot there and I do really feel that not too long ago I’ve began to turn out to be a bit of bit extra synonymous with the championship and that’s a very nice feather in my cap I suppose.

Q: I do know Ricochet took your Intercontinental championship from you, however he’s somebody you haven’t actually labored with in a few decade since your PWG (Pro Wrestling Guerrilla) days. What’s it been prefer to get again within the ring with him and constructing this story across the IC title?

A: The independents and WWE are very totally different. On the independents, if you happen to wrestle somebody 5 or 6 occasions, “Oh yeah, we’ve wrestled loads.” But in WWE, if you happen to wrestle somebody 5 or 6 occasions you’ve barley even began to scratch the floor. I noticed despite the fact that I do know this man, we’ve type of been in one another’s periphery for a few years. We actually haven’t wrestled one another all that a lot. So now I’m tied up with Johnny Knoxville, however I really feel like ultimately it’s a matter of time earlier than I cross paths with both Ricochet or whoever is holding that Intercontinental championship.  

Q: You posted a photograph on Instagram of you profitable the 2 IC belts on high of the ladder in tribute to Scott Hall. What did he imply to you?

A: I haven’t met Scott Hall that many occasions, in all probability only a handful. It’s humorous as a result of once I was within the Performance Center in NXT all these years, his title would come up lots from different individuals, different trainers would drop little nuggets of knowledge that Scott Hall has imparted on them. So it’s actually type of attention-grabbing to see the impact. He had only a very succinct approach of placing issues and so they actually clicked. He had an amazing thoughts for the enterprise. He would say these items that impacted and affected different individuals who have nice minds within the enterprise that at the moment are coaching others and passing that info on to the following era too.

Q: As a detailed pal of Kevin Owens, what do you suppose this moment’s gonna imply for him to get to share it with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at a WrestleMania?

A: I do know, figuring out Kevin from when he was 17, 18. I keep in mind sleeping at his home and he had posters of Austin throughout his wall. He was simply an enormous Stone Cold fan. We met him one time at an airport. There was this image of him [and Austin] from 2005, 2006 and all these years later he’s on the verge of getting Stone Cold’s return to the ring. I don’t know if it’s a match. I don’t realize it’s a combat. I don’t know what it’s. Whatever it’s, it’s been 18 years since we’ve seen Austin on this capability at WrestleMania and now for Kevin Owens of all individuals to be on the opposite facet of the ring from him is fairly, fairly surreal. This is a type of moments the place it’s important to take a step again and go, “Wow, this is nuts.”

Q: You have your Sami for Syria program that gives medical clinics to provide well being care to Syrian households displaced by the struggle. Why was that the way in which you wished to provide again to Syria and the way would you prefer to proceed to develop it?

A: This is a venture that I’ve been doing for nearly 5 years now. It’s grown a bit of bit, on this previous 12 months we now have two cellular clinics which might be in operation and every donation goes a really, very good distance. You can see instantly the place the cash goes. That’s one factor for me personally as a donor and for somebody who needs to do good on this planet, that’s one thing that I believe issues to me and to different individuals is you wish to type of really feel that no matter little cash you’re giving – as a result of not everyone has $40,000 they can provide away in a lump sum — you wish to really feel even in case you are giving 10 bucks, you wish to really feel prefer it’s doing one thing. Because it’s so direct, you’ll be able to actually see how your cash goes a good distance. That’s why the cellular clinic type of jumped out at me is it simply appeared like a direct approach to assist individuals who have been instantly impacted by the struggle.

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