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Canadian-Syrian WWE star Sami Zayn ‘proud to represent Arabs’

Zayn, real name Rami Sebei, performed in Dubai and says he representing Arabs is a ‘badge of honor’

Ismaeel Naar

Published: Updated:

From Montreal via Homs, Sami Zayn makes no secret of his Syrian ancestry, as he takes the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) industry by storm.

The Canadian-Syrian wrestler wowed Arab crowds in Dubai on Thursday night with his over-the-rope flip dives and killer headlocks during WWE Live Dune Bash event. He took on Intercontinental title champion The Miz but lost narrowly. Going by the applause of the crowd chanting his name, it didn’t matter.

“It’s a great source of pride for me to be representing Arabs on such a global platform and I consider it as a badge of honor,” he told Al Arabiya English.

Zayn, real name Rami Sebei, was born to Syrian parents, who migrated from Homs in Western Syria to Canada in the 1970s.

The wrestler said he knows a thing or two about why he garners huge audiences in the Arab world and is conscious about the pressures placed on him.

“Growing up I loved watching wrestling on the WWE and finding an Arab wrestler to look up to was impossible,” he said.

“If you were in Arab you had mothers who wanted you to become a doctor or an engineer and it was the same with me. I perform so that kids watching television can see themselves represented and that their dreams and goals are attainable,” Zayn told Al Arabiya English before his title match in Dubai.

Finding Arab talent

WWE’s President Gerrit Meier told Al Arabiya English that the company is proud of Zayn’s achievements and are always on the lookout for talent in the region but says more work needs to be done first.

“It is difficult not only for the Middle East but for any region because everyone likes to see a local hero and we understand that. But before you actually think about local talent you have to think about the quality from characteristics and athleticism and whether they’re representative enough for the brand,” Meier said.

“But we are scouring the entire world for new talents. We had tryouts in Dubai a few years ago and we also went to Brazil and Europe. We were fortunate to find a few in Dubai but unfortunately not from the UAE specifically but that’s a function of time.

Searching for future talents is not the only reason the WWE visits the region. Since the launch of the WWE Facebook page in Arabic, nearly three million people have liked and followed the page in 14 months.

“We’ve been coming to the region regularly since 2012. We’ve been to Abu Dhabi three times, to Doha once and Jeddah. The establishment of the Middle East office in Dubai is to primarily service our partners OSN and MBC and the distribution of the other licensees. We wanted to be close to the ecosystem that makes up the commercial side of the WWE and that’s why we came to Dubai,” WWE VP General Manager Carlo Nohra told Al Arabiya English.

Perception of Arabs

Speaking of representing Arab nationals on an international scale, Zayn said he does not go out of his way to fight the stereotypes and misconceptiosn, but that he simply stays true to himself.

“In North America, perceptions of Arabs are misunderstood and to be 100% honest, it’s not really favorable. I try not to put pressure on myself to be seen as ‘the good Arab guy’ but really I’m just being myself,” he said.

“And if I’m ever asked about it, I have no problem telling it. In fact, you’ll always see my name written in Arabic on my tights right in front for everyone to see it.

Zayn also took time to talk to Al Arabiya English on the situation in Syria which he called a “disaster.”

“I went once to Syria when I was really young, the last time when I was 14 so it’s been 18 years since I’ve last visited. Obviously I’m from Homs so it’s a disaster now unfortunately and it breaks my heart. My whole family is from there a lot of them have been displaced.”

“I haven’t been back there but I never forget where I came from,” he added.