Quickly, think of the last wrestling feud you can recall that blurred the lines between fiction and reality, where the lines didn't seem scripted and hatred was undeniable between the two wrestlers. If you ask this humble wrestling fan, he'd tell you that the last feud he felt that with was the Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels feud of 2008. There was an element of reality with that feud, along with some absolutely incredible matches, as the fans were booing Jericho, even though he was acting as the face at the start of that feud. That seemed to make Jericho lose his mind and take on a new "honest-man" gimmick that drove the feud to some awesome places, including a spot where Jericho accidentally knocked out HBK's wife. Not to dive too deep into that feud, but the hate felt real. It helped that two incredible and seasoned performers were involved, but, in my eyes, that's the benchmark for feuds in the PG-era.
(If you'd to hear some great insight on that feud, I highly recommend listening to the episode of Jericho's podcast that featured The Showstopper. They talk about it at length and the thinking behind it at all).
Let me just say it: I believe that Owens/Cena is shaping into a feud that can rival that one. Wait, before you get your pitchfork and just hear me out.
I'm not gonna breakdown everything that's happened, since you've likely already seen it, but I want to discuss what's making it so refreshing. When Owens came out and cut his first promo on Cena, you can definitely feel the tension in the air. With every single word, you could absolutely feel the rage and fire radiating from Owens. I'll admit that when it was Cena's turn to speak, I was a little worried that it might cool down, but Cena (who's underrated on the mic) did his part and did it well. Sure, plenty of promos have a good back and forth, so what was the important part? It's that they were saying things that were was steeped in reality. When Cena called Owens an up-and-comer and Owens informed him that he's been doing this for a long time, but that he had just never received the break that Cena had, it felt real, it felt raw (no pun intended) and it had me eagerly awaiting their match at Elimination Chamber.
Fast forward to Elimination Chamber and we were (once more, in my humble opinion) treated to an absolute classic. Owens won clean, but it took plenty, so it didn't make Cena look weak either. It was the kind of match we wanted to see Rusev win, but it wouldn't have been as monumental as this one, since this was Owens' first match on the main roster and had him immediately prove his worth.
The following Raw, we got another great confrontation between the two, with Cena being the star of this one. Owens' promo was pure venom, but Cena's showed his true ability on the mic. Here we got the main comparison to the Jericho/HBK feud, which is the inclusion of family. Now, obviously, they can't include family members in each feud, but the inclusion of Owens' son was perfect. How he idolized Cena and how it burned up Owens. How Cena was a false idol and his "Never Give Up" gimmick was bullshit. Not to sound like a broken record, but only to drive home the point, it truly felt real. When Cena took to the mic and pointed out an adorable and courageous girl fighting cancer in the crowd, who was wearing a Cena shirt, it felt like he was genuinely fighting for something; his pride. He wasn't blandly fighting for the United States to get a cheap pop like he did against Rusev, but he was fighting for his identity, for everything that he represents and believes in. It absolutely came across as real.
Going forward, there are a numbers of ways this feud can go and a number of ways it can fail or succeed. However, it has the groundwork to become the feud of the decade. That might seem like a bold statement and it might seem unreasonable to those who don't know Kevin Owens, but I truly believe it. We've been told our whole lives by outsiders that wrestling is fake, but that's nowhere near the truth. When storylines can properly toe the line between fiction and reality, we can live vicariously through our heroes. When Austin fought McMahon, we lived through the anti-hero. When Kane fought The Undertaker, we were either the younger or older brother, standing up or standing firm. When Jericho fought Michaels, we were either with what was right or what we loved. When wrestling toes that line, it becomes emotional and we become invested. In this case, either we'll be with the anti-hero of the underground or behind the polarizing superstar fighting for his legacy, but regardless of which side we choose, it's a feud that's not clear cut and the decision is not being forced onto us, like with the more conventional Rollins/Ambrose/Reigns feud. It's time to believe in Owens and cut some slack to Cena, and just sit back and enjoy the tension.