Not doing much to prove their assertion that no one will be punished for not working during the pandemic, WWE has stripped Sami Zayn of the Intercontinental Championship he retained at WrestleMania 36. Zayn has not been working since the WrestleMania tapings due to the quarantine, so WWE announced Tuesday that, since he is unable to defend the title, he'll be stripped of it and a tournament will begin on Smackdown to crown a new Intercontinental Champion.
The move has sparked a divide on social media, with some upset that Zayn is losing the title due to the pandemic, while others believe that WWE needs the title for its show. It's worth noting that NXT Cruiserweight Champion Jordan Devlin has kept his title, with NXT holding an Interim Cruiserweight Championship tournament to fill the gap until Devlin, based in the UK, is able to compete again. Other wrestling promotions have also found a way to deal with quarantine issues without stripping champions of their titles.
In Impact Wrestling, the company has been focusing on introducing new women to the Knockouts division while champion Jordynne Grace is unable to compete, while tag team champions The North has been producing comedy segments from Canada each week. The company even found a way to deal with Impact World Champion Tessa Blanchard's inability to travel by having Moose revive the old TNA World Championship and defend it on Impact. Another point against the argument that WWE needs the Intercontinental Champion on Smackdown is the fact that the belt has been poorly used for decades. If WWE hadn't brought it up, would anyone have even noticed?
Zayn, for the record, has been politically outspoken on Twitter, criticizing President Donald Trump, a WWE Hall-of-Famer and ally of the McMahon family. Responding to Trump's tweets encouraging people to "liberate" their states from quarantine, Zayn tweeted in April, "There is a type of stupidity & privilege that is so distinctly American, encapsulated perfectly by the idea that we are being oppressed & losing some sort of ideological war on freedom if we can't spend our evenings in a packed TGIFridays at the height of a lethal viral outbreak." That got Zayn into a brief dispute with The Road Dogg Jesse James, who tweeted, "I'm American, I like TGI Friday's, especially their app platter, am I stupid? #OUDK (maybe this was heel Sami) (maybe my tweet was "in character")" Zayn replied, "Dogg! Clearly not calling all Americans (or liking TGIFridays) stupid. In short, I'm saying that conflating safeguarding public health through responsible social action with a nonexistent 'war on liberty' is stupid & stems from a hyper-individualism specific to American culture." Could this have anything to do with the fact that Sami Zayn is the only champion in wrestling being stripped of his title during the pandemic?
It's not outside the realm of possibility, but the fact is that WWE simply has no qualms about making cold business decisions during the coronavirus crisis. The company laid off dozens of workers last month as "cost-cutting" measures despite being on track for record profits this year. They've also refused to mention Roman Reigns, a big star who has also chosen to self-quarantine, during any of its weekly TV shows. Stripping the title off Zayn may simply be a decision that's just business, with WWE caring little about the optics as usual.