I had not seen Kevin Owens wrestle – ever – until just 11 days ago. While I have seen some NXT shows (not nearly enough), none have featured Kevin Owens. Nor did I follow him as Kevin Steen; I did not know his history, other than by reputation as a badass in the ring. It has been purely due to lack of time, and for that I hang my head.
But am I worse off for never having seen him before this? Am I losing out on the depth of what’s happening – Kill Steen Kill facing off against John Cena! – because I failed to bear witness to his entire journey to get here? I know the answer to that, because in the short time that I have been watching Kevin Owens, I know that he’s a phenomenon. What true wrestling fan wouldn’t want to have seen this man’s career evolve to present day?
But rather than scramble to watch old footage (for now at least), I’ll just jump on and enjoy the ride. I was on the edge of my seat from the moment Owens came down that aisle on Raw. I knew enough to expect something different, but that was all. I wanted to share with you MY very particular take on “main roster WWE Kevin Owens”, without the trappings of history or expectations.
The Next Level of Legitimacy
When Brock Lesnar came back, Paul Heyman crowed that he brought legitimacy to WWE. I interpreted that as Brock presenting a genuine threat to people, as both a proven pro wrestler but also as a UFC fighter. Brock was also legit in terms of his promos: clear, concise, and most importantly TRUE. Brock did everything he said he would do. He conducted himself exactly as he wanted to, and never gave the impression that he was a company puppet.
Kevin Owens brings legitimacy in a completely different way than Brock Lesnar. He’s more human. Grittier. Hairier. Far more believable than the shiny, muscular animals coming off the assembly line, because his dull physique masks a ridiculous, nimble knowledge of the game. And in a way, he’s more terrifying than Lesnar, because it seems far more plausible that you’ll run into Kevin Owens (hell, half the dudes in the arena look like Kevin Owens already, it doesn’t help that they all have access to his merch). And because I have no plans to summer in the plains of Minnesota amongst the rutting elk, I have no rational fear of Brock Lesnar. (That said, expressing my irrational fear of him is one of my favorite things to do while watching wrestling.) Kevin Owens is legit because he’s real.
Without having seen him in action before, it doesn’t take much to believe in Kevin Owens. He carries himself with the same air of confidence as Lesnar, but without the wild-eyed showmanship. He speaks with clarity, and he backs it up.
I am Canadian, and I think that I have “no accent,” as in a generic Hollywood actor speaking American English. I recognize that many parts of Canada put varying twists on the English language, but nothing gave me pause like the Canadian version of the Food Network show “Chopped”. I had been watching the American version for years, and was pumped for the Canadian version to come out. It didn’t take long for me to realize a glaring difference between the two shows: every contestant on the Canadian version, no matter what part of this vast nation they were from, SOUNDED LIKE BRET HART. Does that mean *I* sound like Bret Hart?
Kevin Owens does not sound like Bret Hart. Being from the Canadian province of Quebec, I assume he is a native French speaker (and that’s Quebecois French, distinctively more raunchy-sounding than Parisian French, trust me). You might not actually guess at his heritage, but his accent – coupled with his giving promos longer than some John Cena fans have been alive – rescues him from relying on the WWE-style of intonation and enunciation. Every person who’s been spit out the end of the WWE machine gives promos with the same lilt, pace, and vocabulary. Unfortunately, that format is ripe for the crowd to yell “WHAT?!” and also lull us into a state of hypnosis. It’s calculated and predictable.
Because Owens is not accustomed to it, and his being a non-native English speaker provides him with a completely different lilt and pace, we are treated to far more engaging promos. It doesn’t sound like he’s reciting a list of bullet points, leaving room after each one for the fans to chime in. It doesn’t sound like we’re about to be blessed with the label “each and every one of you” anytime soon, and thank God. Because when a WWE Superstar “couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you,” it has so little meaning, because it’s what all of them say. We are more likely to buy into what Owens is saying because we are paying more attention. He says words in a different way than we have become accustomed to hearing on Raw. That alone is a hook, and then you add the fact that he speaks with conviction because he is putting thought into what he wants to say and not memorizing it. Take Sheamus – who also has one helluva an accent fella but who speaks in mechanical bursts. There is no mold for Kevin Owens.
An Indy Darling Who Knows Himself
We’ve had enough wrestlers with indy cred come through WWE to see the hallmark of lives lived before Vince: they know themselves, and it shines through. They speak and wrestle differently, for better (it’s refreshing) and for worse (it can work against them). I already mentioned Kevin Owens’ poise when I talked about his air of legitimacy. The wrestlers who’ve been recruited after years of honing their craft will naturally stand out against those who came armed with only a desire to be in WWE. There is a comfort in watching a wrestler who could run the ropes with his eyes closed, whose risks appear more mad than calculated. They know themselves, because of the years they’ve spent running the roads. And when you understand what makes you tick, and the abilities and limitations of your body, you can channel that into something special as needed. CM Punk. Daniel Bryan. Seth Rollins. Kevin Owens. They have all demonstrated that to know thyself is to be a better wrestler.
Owens looks believable against Cena not (just) because they’re booking him that way, but because he comes off as a guy who understands exactly what he needs to do.
That Shirt is a Mark of Pride
Val Venis has been wrestling at my local. He goes by Vic Venis now, his towel doesn’t quite wrap all the way around, and he wrestles in a shirt. It’s depressing as hell, not because he needs to be covering himself up, but because he feels he has to. It’s a mark of embarrassment that needn’t be, especially in light of the other local wrestlers’ physiques. But we’ve been programmed to value the perfect, and to deem the impossible perfect. Remember when Rey Mysterio started wrestling in a shirt, and we thought it a sign of the apocalypse? Well, guess what? The newest, hottest wrestler in WWE, the man who has distinguished himself by beating John Cena clean, wears a big ol’ trademarked damn shirt full time. And that shirt means more than Vic’s or Rey’s, because he’s not bearing a mark of shame. It’s a mark of pride, because it’s a shirt that he has always worn. He doesn’t trade on his physique, and yet here he is. World Wrestling Entertainment is not normally in the business of shirt-wearing fellows (see: Chris Hero) and yet here one is. That speaks volumes about Kevin Owens.
In my preview for Elimination Chamber, I said that “Owens has the cool hand of someone far scarier than the spitty sledgehammer type.” It was both an estimation of his effect on me, and an indication of him being the new guard – in every possible way. He’s shown up with the NXT belt on his shoulder, causing worlds to collide. He’s shown up in his t-shirt, with his accent, and pinned John Cena. I haven’t spent years hoping that one day a world could exist in which Kevin Owens does all these things, because I barely knew he existed. Et maintenant les jeux commencent!