WWE has not only stripped off El Generico's mask, but by repackaging him, the company has devalued him.
Canadian faux-luchador and indy star El Generico (real name: Rami Sabei) is now wrestling for WWE's NXT as Sami Zayn. Zayn as Generico was an explosion of energy in the ring, a performer whose tongue-in-cheek gimmick was one of the more entertaining things in independent wrestling.
WWE has decided to morph him into something else, something more, for a lack of a better term, generic.
Gone is the mask. Gone is the fake Spanish he spoke. Gone, for the most part, are the "Ole!" chants.
Sami Zayn retweeted this photo of himself, revealing his new look.
WWE Publishing @WWEpublishing
Keep an eye on this guy. NXT's latest and greatest @iLikeSamiZayn #Axxess http://t.co/KkuY6U47KP2013-4-6 13:10:04
Zayn is an excellent in-ring performer, but it was the exuberance in which he played his ridiculous gimmick that made him stand out. Taking that away from him is like signing Will Ferrell to a movie and asking him not to do physical humor.
Unless WWE has something brilliant in the works for Zayn, this appears to be a foolish move.
WWE has turned uninteresting wrestlers into memorable stars, but why go in the reverse direction? El Generico was a product that WWE couldn't trademark. It was a gimmick created outside of the WWE and apparently one WWE wasn't committed to continuing.
Several times, WWE has made both excellent and puzzling choices in renaming and rebranding wrestlers.
Claudio Castagnoli is a mouthful. Antonio Cesaro is a major upgrade. Transforming Windham Rotunda into the enigmatic Bray Wyatt is an example of improving a star's value by repackaging him. Going from Bryan Danielson to Daniel Bryan seemed unnecessary, just a sideways move, if any.
How is Kassius Ohno better than Chris Hero? Why mess with that name at all?
Turning El Generico into the unmasked Zayn sucks the fun out of his character and leaves a nondescript athletic wrestler in its stead.
El Generico would have been a great comic wrestler in the tradition of Hurricane Helms. He would have excelled in backstage segments or as an amusing addition to Raw or SmackDown's in-ring action.
What does Sami Zayn offer?
To be fair, the answer for now is, we don't know. Fans haven't seen much of Zayn in his current form. Maybe the switch turns out fantastically. Maybe there's more evolution for him ahead.
It's at least clear from his first tweet that his sense of humor remains intact. Zayn challenged Phil Jackson as having the best first tweet ever.
Sami Zayn @iLikeSamiZayn
Twitter eh? Since I have never ever been on Twitter before, I @hope I'm doing this #right. Hashtag new #to Twitter, hashtag figuring #it out2013-4-4 05:19:25
For now, it appears that this move from masked to unmasked is an act of stubbornness. It punctures holes in the fun that was El Generico. We'll have to see how fans react to the new, more understated version of his gimmick.
Zayn has an entertaining legacy to live up to—his own.