5-Star Match Reviews: The Usos vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn – WWE WrestleMania 39 Night One
This is the big one. The culmination of a year’s worth of storylines. The final confrontation between Sami Zayn and his former family.
There was so much tension, emotion, and excitement going into this contest. In fact, this match was so important that it was the first tag match to main-event a WrestleMania since Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper at WrestleMania ONE!
Many people were heavily invested in Sami Zayn’s story. In one year he experienced depression, desperation, rejection, acceptance, guilt, remorse, and betrayal. And now it was time for that chain to lead to its logical conclusion: revenge and catharsis.
But did the match live up to the hype? Read on to find out.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Oh boy, this is a long one. A year earlier, Sami Zayn approached the Bloodline because he wanted to join them. After being utterly humiliated by Johnny Knoxville at WrestleMania 38, Zayn was desperate to know what it feels like to be popular and successful. So he wanted to join the cool kids’ club, which happened to be Roman Reigns and his family.
As expected, they rejected him at first since he had nothing in common with them. They were a family that looked out for each other and he was an outsider. But Zayn, desperate to fit in, kept trying. His yearning for acceptance caused him to do things he wouldn’t otherwise do: interfere in the Bloodline’s matches, use their taunts, and copy Paul Heyman by calling Reigns “my tribal chief”.
Over time, the Bloodline started warming up to Zayn and eventually they welcomed him as part of the family. At least, four of them did. Reigns, Heyman, Jimmy, and Solo Sikoa all accepted him but Jey didn’t. He was skeptical, unsure, harder to convince. Then as the months went on, Zayn proved his loyalty to the Bloodline, especially after Survivor Series when Zayn fought alongside his “new family” in a WarGames match against his longtime (and former) best friend Kevin Owens. By beating Owens and his allies, Zayn showed he was committed to the Samoans. Nothing Owens or anyone else said would convince Zayn that he was anything less than an “honorary Uce”.
Fast forward to the 2023 Royal Rumble. Kevin Owens a world title challenge to Reigns and after the match Reigns and his family beat Owens down brutally and meticulously. For the first time in months, Zayn has doubt. He is conflicted, torn between his former best friend and his new family. Eventually, he steps in to stop the beat-down and asks for mercy for Owens. The damage was already done, the point proven. Reigns considered this for a moment…and then made Zayn finish Owens off. he wanted the honorary Uce to deliver the killing blow with a steel chair. And after a masterful display of inner conflict, Zayn hit the steel chair…on Reigns.
In that moment, Zayn’s months long quest to join the Bloodline became undone, but not completely. While Reigns, Jimmy, and Solo all took their time beating Zayn down, Jey refused to take part. Now he too was conflicted, having grown closer to Zayn than anyone else in the Bloodline. He left the ring as the beatdown continued, his loyalty uncertain.
Over the next two months, Zayn tried to get Owens to fight by his side but Owens wanted nothing to do with him. Zayn ignored Owens’ earlier warnings, so why would he listen to Zayn’s apologies and pleading now? But that wasn’t Zayn’s only challenge; he became so white-hot that he received a world title shot against Roman Reigns in his hometown of Montreal. This was one of those incredibly rare moments when the unthinkable and the unrealistic could’ve become reality. Many fans believed that Zayn actually stood a chance of beating Reigns given that this story was the pro-wrestling equivalent of lightning in a bottle. Alas, they were all proven wrong as Reigns’ juggernaut continued forward unchallenged. But that show in Montreal did end with another big twist: Owens joined Zayn.
Then on March 6th, Jey Uso returned after being out of sight for some time. And in his return, he proved his loyalty to the Bloodline by attacking Zayn. Now it was official: the battle lines were drawn: The Usos vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn for the tag team titles. Zayn wasn’t likely to get another shot at Reigns anytime soon, so he settled on the next best thing (which, depending on whom you ask, might’ve actually been his preferred target): the tag team champions.
For Sami Zayn, this was his chance to accomplish multiple goals at once: get his hands on Jey, strengthen his friendship with Kevin Owens, win tag team gold, and undo the humiliation he suffered at least year’s WrestleMania. But there was still a monumental challenge ahead of him. The Usos were the most dominant and successful tag team in WWE history. Going into WrestleMania they held the SmackDown Tag Team Titles for over 620 days and had been dual champions for almost a full year as well. They had gone through countless challengers and had beaten every tag team worth a damn in WWE and left unblemished. They were as dominant as their Tribal Chief in virtually every respect.
Needless to say the anticipation for this match was off the chain. Many people saw this as an even bigger match that Zayn vs. Reigns from Elimination Chamber. There was so much personal history, emotion, tension, and excitement for this match. Most people expected a heroic babyface win to close WrestleMania, but would that still happen? Could Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn end the longest tag team title reign in WWE history? Or would The Usos continue their own forward march and crush the two Canadians underfoot like they had everyone else?
This match originally took place on April 1, 2023.
This is for the Usos’ Undisputed Tag Team Championships (i.e. both sets of tag titles). After about thirty seconds of trash-talking and soaking in the atmosphere, Jimmy tags Jey in. both men stare daggers at each other and then…they lock up. Jey lands a shoulderblock but on the next exchange Zayn takes Jey down and lands some mounted punches. Shouldn’t the match have started with that? Anyway, Jimmy gets a blind tag and pulls the rope down to send Zayn to the floor off an Irish whip counter. Jimmy hits a clothesline and drives Zayn into a ringpost. Jimmy tags Jey and holds Zayn in place so that his brother can land a suicide dive through the ropes.
Still at ringside, Jey suplexes Zayn on the ringside mats and then pulls him into the ring. Both Usos take turns hitting Zayn as the referee gets distracted with one or the other. Jey applies a leglock to keep Zayn from tagging Owens and then tags Jimmy, who stomps on Zayn and cheap-shots Owens off the apron. The ref keeps Owens at bay as the Usos continue isolating Zayn from his partner. The Usos hit a tandem combo in their corner causing Zayn to stagger wobbly-legged and then collapse, but he still kicks out of a cover at two.
Zayn escapes a rear chinlock and then knocks both Usos down to the floor. Hot tag to Owens. Owens dives off the top rope with a senton bomb to the floor. Clotheslines to both Usos. Frog splash from the apron to the floor and then a second one in the ring. one, two, Jey kicks out. Owens attempts a Stunner. Jey blocks and hits a back suplex into a neckbreaker for a two-count of his own.
Owens blocks a superplex but doesn’t notice Jimmy tag in. He manages to fight them both off for an instant but when he goes for a swanton bomb Jey gets his knees up, which allows Jimmy to land a Superfly splash for another two-count. Jimmy goes for an Umaga-style corner hip attack but Owens dodges and lands two superkicks and a corner cannonball splash. He goes to the top rope but Jey holds him in place. But here comes Zayn, who hits Jey with an apron Brainbuster. Owens connects with the swanton on Jimmy. One, two, Jimmy kicks out.
As Jimmy and Owens recover on the mat, Zayn capitalizes with an Uso Splash onto Jimmy but only manages a two-count. The stadium erupts in “Olé” chants as Zayn tries a Blue Thunder Bomb. Jimmy elbows out and superkicks Owens off the apron. He blocks another Blue Thunder Bomb and tags Jey. Zayn finally lands that move but Jey superkicks Zayn’s head in not once but twice. One, two, Zayn survives.
Jey lands another superkick and tags Jimmy. Both of them hit more superkicks but Owens breaks up the pin. Jey superkicks Owens and then tags in for another superkick combo that yields yet another two-count. The Usos take turns tagging in and out and hitting double superkick combos but Zayn kicks out over and over. The Usos got for their 3D/1D double team finisher but Owens cuts them off. He holds on Usos by the apron as Zayn flips over into a sunset flip. One, two, kick-out. Owens smashes Jimmy into the commentary table and teases a powerbomb through it. Jey saves his brother and the two double chokeslam Owens through the other announce table. Sami Zayn is all alone. 3D/1D connects! The referee counts one…two…and thr – No, Sami Zayn survives! Zayn becomes the first man to kick-out of the Usos’ double-team finisher!
Jey trash-talks and pummels Zayn in a corner and then lands a Helluva Kick. Zayn sinks into his former “brother” which gives Jey another opportunity to talk smack. Suddenly, Zayn erupts and hits an Exploder suplex into a corner. Zayn crawls over and tags Owens. Pop-up powerbombs to both of the Usos. Zayn lands a Helluva Kick on Jimmy. Stunner on Jey. Two-count. All four wrestlers make it to their feet and then a brawl breaks out. More superkick spam. A blind tag to Jimmy allows the Usos to land even more superkicks on both Owens and Zayn. Another tag. Double diving splash. One, two, Owens kicks out.
Jimmy tags in and the two brother yet even more superkicks, to the point that I’ve lost count of how many have been done. Jey tags in and teases a double-team superplex. Zayn pulls Jey out of the ring and throws him over a commentary table. Owens takes advantage with an avalanche fisherman buster. Zayn runs to his corner and begs for a tag. The crowd’s going nuts. Zayn tags in…and hits not one, not two, but three Helluva Kicks. One…two…and THREE! Owens and Zayn win! The Usos’s championship reign ends at 622 days!
Winners and NEW RAW and SmackDown Tag Team Champions after 24:17: Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
There’s an old saying that goes, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”. That saying has been applied to many different aspects of life and different media, including wrestling. Most people will say it’s true; after all, nothing really matters more in a wrestling match than the finish. But if you ask me, that expression isn’t entirely true because the beginning sets the tone for everything else that follows. Without a good start, fans might not get invested enough or they might get the wrong idea about what’s about to unfold. A truly perfect match is consistent from start to finish and is airtight in the opening minutes just as much as during the final seconds.
With that in mind, I want you to follow this logic chain. Sami Zayn was incredibly close to the Bloodline, especially Jey Uso. Jey was the one that was skeptical of Zayn’s inclusion in the group. Jey was the last one to really accept Zayn as a true brother. When Roman Reigns gave the order to have Zayn beaten down at the Royal Rumble, Jey was the one who refused to participate. His arc had come full circle: he was now closer to Zayn than everyone else in the Bloodline. Then on March 6th, Jey turned on Zayn and reaffirmed his allegiance to his family. Zayn was betrayed once again. He must’ve felt a wide range of emotions: frustration, anger, sadness, bloodlust, just to name a few.
So when this match started, it was Zayn and Jimmy in the ring, but then seconds later Jimmy tagged Jey instead. He knew how personal this was and decided it would be better for the champions if Zayn attacked Jey and risked getting himself disqualified or otherwise fought like a blind madman and made rash decisions.
So when Zayn finally got his hands on Jey after everything Jey put him through, the two of them…locked up. He and Jey began wrestling and trading holds. They started this final confrontation with…bog standard grappling holds.
Excuse me, what?
There was such intense hatred and personal edge in this feud. And yet if one were to watch this match in a vacuum without watching the pre-match hype video or knowing the story, one wouldn’t get that impression based on how the match started. There was a disconnect between the story they were telling and the action in the ring. The latter didn’t express the emotions of the former until much later into the match. Because of that, the match felt off at several points and as a result didn’t have the emotional payoff until the finish. That, in turn, made it a bit of a slog to get through. And even though the finale and post-match celebration were both great, the journey that led there was filled with too many detours and departures from the clear path ahead to make this into a genuine and worthy classic.
As a comparison, watch the first minute of this other match. This one is far less personal in terms of story, yet that first minute or so of action makes it look more personal and intense than the first minute in this conclusion to a year-long blood feud. In this other match, both wrestlers are itching to attack one another. Their body language clearly shows how ready and impatient they are. Within thirty seconds, both men run into each other, hit big strikes, and then land finishers on each other but neither gets the three-count. A stalemate ensues and within those early moments these tow set the tone for the rest of the match.
Watching this tag match between the Usos and Owens & Zayn made me think that there was an unnecessary sub-story of Zayn controlling himself at the beginning. It was as if the emotional payoff was being saved exclusively for the finish so that it would be bigger and more cathartic, instead of having that payoff spread throughout the match. The match would’ve been much better from a story perspective if Zayn rushed Jey, took him down, and had a catfight-like exchange with him at the beginning. The story would’ve been more complete if Zayn actually got to get his revenge right away instead of having to “keep it together” during the opening minutes. The fans were already in the seats watching so why limit their catharsis to only the finish and the post-match celebration? Why not give them a tease of what was to come with an early brawl or strike exchange so that they can feel the intensity with which Zayn was fighting his former comrades?
But the story of the match wasn’t the only inconsistent part of the match; the officiating was a problem also. One minute the referee is keeping Owens from getting into the ring after a cheap-shot, the next he’s letting double-team moves and random interference happen without issue. It wasn’t clear what was allowed and what wasn’t. Corey Graves reminded viewers of the very real threat of a disqualification should the illegal man attack the legal man, yet that rule wasn’t really enforced. With all the combo moves and double-teams, that threat came across as hollow and the strict rules turned into rough guidelines.
Finally, there was the constant superkick spam. Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, or maybe it’s a sign of a lack of creativity. Either way, all that kicking came across as overkill and repetition. It was the perfect example of diminishing returns: hitting more of them didn’t make the move any more believable and actually made the move more inconsequential. A lot of more critical fans go after other wrestlers like The Young Bucks, Adam Cole, and other “indy darlings” for having this problem, but WWE guys are just as guilty. That move is so overdone it has become a wrestling cliché and an annoying one at that. I get that the move is easy to land and does a lot of damage; but spamming it to the point of excess doesn’t help with building a match. Just because fans make noise after each kick doesn’t mean that the match is generating more heat. It’s too bad that so many matches these days are built on the false premise that noise = heat when that isn’t the case.
Final Rating: ****
I’m sure Owens, Zayn, and the tens of thousands in the arena all had a great 5-10 minutes of excitement and celebration during the final two minutes of this match and during the post-match. It’s too bad that most of what led to that elation failed to deliver.
This was a solid match but nowhere near the 5-Star level. The match suffered from a lack of identity: it was trying to be a brawl, a wrestling match, an indy finisher exchange, and a dramatic story all at once, instead of choosing one gimmick and sticking with it from start to finish. As a result, the match ends up describing another adage: jack of all trades, master of none.
I truly think this match failed to deliver what was promised until the very end. It didn’t hit those high notes for the most part, which caused most of the match to come across as average and underwhelming. These wrestlers had the perfect story, but the way the match was structured minimized the final payoff. The closing pop at the finish could’ve been even bigger. The catharsis from the fans and from Owens & Zayn could’ve been stronger. The heat for The Usos could’ve been more intense. All in all, this match could’ve been so much more.
Some might argue that much of the excitement for this match was gone because the audience was already trained from the historic great that was Charlotte vs. Rhea Ripley. I disagree. WWE specifically put in a bring-down segment between that match and this one to give fans time to recover and prepare for this one. Ultimately, these four wrestlers had all the tools they needed to put on a true classic. Sadly, given how they used those tools, the end result was solid and impressive but nothing game-changing or truly outstanding.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.