Wrestling fans were stunned last week when it was revealed that Sami Zayn would be stripped of the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Fans were elated when the former star won his first gold on the main roster back in March at Elimination Chamber, but the title reign ultimately would not play out as expected due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rumors of Zayn's absence have swirled ever since he stopped working WWE tapings following WrestleMania 36 (where he defended the title against Daniel Bryan), but the constant seems to be that Zayn does not want to travel for health concerns during the pandemic.
WWE's initial announcement about the stripping of the title noted that Zayn would be "unable to compete," leaving them to make the decision. A championship tournament involving eight men was then revealed, with the opening two matches of the tournament occurring last week on SmackDown. The next two first round matches will take place tonight.
However, WWE then expanded on the reason for Zayn's absence, giving an actual storyline reason by saying that Zayn is "injured" in the tournament preview article. Previously, they did not say why he was unable to compete. However, in an update, that line about Zayn being injured has now been changed as of Friday morning. The language did read "with Sami Zayn out due to injury, the title will be held in abeyance until the end of the tournament." That has now been changed to "with Sami Zayn unable to compete, the title will be held in abeyance until the end of the tournament." Curious indeed.
Here is the Intercontinental Title tournament bracket as it stands heading into tonight's SmackDown on FOX.
As you can see, Jeff Hardy will take on Sheamus and Shinsuke Nakamura will take on AJ Styles (the RAW brand's competitor in the tournament) on tonight's show. Whomever wins the Sheamus/Hardy match will take on Bryan, while the winner of Nakamura/Styles will face Elias. The date of the next round's matches has not yet been revealed.
WWE's preview for Styles/Nakamura:
The announcement of AJ Styles in the Intercontinental Championship Tournament shook up the bracket, and Shinsuke Nakamura will have to deal with the fallout.
The Phenomenal One will face the former Intercontinental Champion in the First Round of the Intercontinental Championship Tournament. The title is currently being held in abeyance due to Sami Zayn being unable to compete. Now the in-ring poet Nakamura will look to defend his friend’s honor and bring the championship into The Artist Collective.
The winner of the first-round showdown will face Elias in the semifinals.
Will Styles become a regular fixture on the blue brand, or can Nakamura discourage The Phenomenal One’s journey onto SmackDown?
WWE's preview for Hardy/Sheamus:
Jeff Hardy has won fans for years with his extreme style and iconic matches, but don’t dare count Sheamus as one of them. The two rivals will battle in the first round of the Intercontinental Championship Tournament on Friday Night SmackDown.
The Celtic Warrior has taken exception with the fanfare over The Charismatic Enigma’s latest comeback. Hardy announced his presence in a big way with a Swanton Bomb on the Irish Superstar and a gritty win over Cesaro in WWE Money In The Bank Kickoff action.
The winner of the match will draw Daniel Bryan in the semifinals of the tournament.
Can Hardy put his comeback on the fast track, or is Sheamus destined for Grand Slam glory by getting a step closer to the coveted title?
Who do you want to see emerge from the tournament as champion? Let us know in the comments section below, and give me a follow on Twitter @ryandroste for all things WWE!