It’s not often the WWE hires a guy who stands out quite like Kevin Owens has in his short time with the company. In less than a year, Owens has claimed the NXT Championship, split two matches against John Cena (with a third to come), and gained genuine heat on the back of his character’s disrespectful and brash approach to winning championships.
However, it’s the finer details that have led to Owens’ whirlwind success in WWE.
It’s often easier for the good guys to come in and win a WWE title, given they are more likely to sell merchandise and set a positive example to the younger members of the WWE Universe. Only when a heel character ticks every box can they enter the company and have considerable success, a feat that is rare in the modern era of WWE – but that’s exactly what Kevin Owens has done.
Funnily enough, it takes more than just being able to cut promos and put on great matches to achieve success in professional wrestling. As a heel, it’s easy for the fans to not buy into what you’re selling so to speak, giving the impression of a lame ‘character’ rather than someone who genuinely practices what they preach.
As he says, Kevin Owens has done exactly what he has said he’d do since signing a WWE contract back in August of 2014, and that’s one of the reasons he has quickly established himself as the best modern heel WWE has ever seen.
This list details the top 15 reasons why Kevin Owens is arguably the greatest and realest heel the WWE has ever had on its hands, and how the company has done a magnificent job in setting him up to be the top bad guy for the next five to 10 years.
15. Short time in NXT
After a few aired promos on NXT beginning on November 20th, 2014, Kevin Owens made his debut at TakeOver: R Evolution on December 11 in a winning effort against CJ Parker. By May 18th of 2015, Owens made his first WWE main roster appearance and has been a regular on both Raw and Smackdown since. Whether it is his high stature in Triple H’s eyes, the pair’s good relationship or another reason, spending only five months before participating in a high profile feud on the main roster means that WWE figures clearly see what the fans are seeing: a captivating, talented and genuine heel.
14. Destined for bigger things
It’s easy for upcoming talent to get lost in the crowd when they make the main roster – check out how Neville is doing these days – but Kevin Owens has been established as a true contender for the US Championship. After winning the NXT Championship and heading for an epic third encounter with John Cena, there are a number of directions Owens can go whether he wins or loses the title match. If he wins the title, he’s got an avenue to continue gaining heat, likely losing the NXT titantron and minitron displays and becoming a true WWE guy. If he loses, the path has been paved for a feud with Cesaro or even an Intercontinental Championship challenge. If he spends time with either belt around his waist, chances are it will only be a matter of time until he’s in the WWE Championship hunt.
13. NXT Champion within two months
In fact, it was exactly two months to the day after his debut that Kevin Owens captured the NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: Rival against close friend and fierce on-screen rival Sami Zayn. The feud was developed brilliantly in the lead-up to the event, as Owens manipulated his way into a title match despite NXT general manager William Regal attempting to deny him of the opportunity. Winning the title by result of a referee stoppage, Owens cemented the idea of what kind of champion he would be into the minds of fans right from the get go, using a combination of manipulation and relentlessness to claim NXT’s top prize, which almost guarantees him greatness at a higher level.
12. Microphone skills
Unlike other heels in WWE – Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins for example – Owens has relied solely on his own microphone ability to get himself over. While Lesnar has Paul Heyman do the lion’s share of his vocal work and Rollins feeds off The Authority, Owens established who he was, why he was in NXT and what he wanted to accomplish on the back of his promos in the lead-up to the title match with Sami Zayn. His abilities on the microphone have only been further proven in his feud with John Cena which, much like with Zayn, Owens has presented himself as a ‘real guy’ who just wants to be seen as the best.
11. Willing to put guys over
It’s no secret that professional wrestling is driven by egos and when you’ve received a big push from the WWE as a heel and have the likes of Triple H personally backing you, it’s easy to get carried away as ‘the top guy’ ala everyone in nWo. Despite being inserted straight into a WWE title picture, Kevin Owens is well and truly sticking to one of the key roles of a heel by getting fellow competitors over. Although Owens won the NXT title early in his WWE contract, the title reign itself was a little under five months and ended in Owens spectacularly losing to Finn Balor, a move that completely serves his opponent. During Owens’ time on the main roster, John Cena has regained momentum after overcoming a guy portrayed as being a wrestler Cena can’t beat. Even Cesaro appears to finally be breaking out after appearing as though he was headed to a US Title Open Challenge victory before Owens broke up the contest, leaving the door open for the thought: was Cesaro about to beat Super Cena?
10. Attacked his best friend
Having come up through Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring of Honor together, it was a touching moment when Kevin Owens came down the ramp to celebrate Sami Zayn’s NXT Championship victory at TakeOver: R Evolution. When he attacked his former best friend and temporarily put Zayn on the shelf, you knew as a fan of the theatrical side that this Owens guy was an ass. The angle worked perfectly as a means of getting Owens over, who could have very easily just debuted as a heel. The attack boosted Owens’ position on the card and painted him as one of the top bad guys right from the outset.
9. Crowd interaction
Every top heel needs some sort of crowd interaction and chanting during their matches and promos, and Kevin Owens has that well and truly covered. During his time with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring of Honor as Kevin Steen, Owens’ real name, Owens benefited from positive crowd interactions, most notoriously the “Kill, Steen, kill” chant. Despite ‘Steen’ not surviving the transition to WWE, thankfully the chant did as the “Fight, Owens, fight” chant is roared out during NXT and now WWE shows. Along with merchandise sales, it gives the fans of heel characters something to own rather than generic chants about the opposing face character sucking, as well as creates a really cool atmosphere when Owens is doing what he does in the ring.
8. Unexpected athleticism
It’s no shock that Kevin Owens is a bruising competitor given his larger body, but Owens doesn’t solely rely on power in his matches. You expect Owens to cause devastation with the Pop-Up Powerbomb and predictable crushing blows, but it’s almost puzzling when the 266-pound frame of Owens delivers athletic dropkicks and has a somersault leg drop, moonsault, senton bomb and the patented Cannonball in his arsenal. It’s easy for big guys to get stale in the eyes of fans in the ring; there is no risk of that with Owens, who regularly performs high-risk manoeuvres to the crowd’s delight.
Rather than solely speaking through his actions in the ring, Kevin Owens’ clear lack of respect for his fellow competitors establishes him as a truly hateable guy. Whether it’s taking out Sami Zayn for getting to WWE before him, powerbombing Machine Gun Kelly off the stage, attacking John Cena numerous times when offered a sign of respect or tossing the customary bouquet of flowers presented before his title match with Finn Balor at Beast in the East down the aisle, Owens is easy to despise for those who see wrestling as entertainment rather than ‘a business’. It’s not uncommon for heels to disrespect those around them, but Owens goes above and beyond to draw as much heat as possible.
6. He’s easy to hate
Although it’s frustrating for fans when a character constantly harps on about how good they are and how they deserve better without having any backbone to their statements – which is basically the blueprint for heels these days – it creates genuine anger for the kayfabe fans when someone walks in and backs up his words with actions. While the likes of Seth Rollins play on the notion that they are the greatest of all time despite constantly needing assistance, Kevin Owens gets the job done on his own. There are no excuses when it comes to Owens succeeding, which is a testament to the WWE not throwing the boring ‘realizes he won’t be able to win fairly, gets intentionally disqualified or cheats’ act into Owens’ near-flawless routine.
5. Powerful WWE debut
During Kevin Owens’ debut on Raw, he made it impossible to forget who he is. Standing up John Cena’s United States Championship Open Challenge was good enough; delivering a Pop-Up Powerbomb before hoisting the NXT Championship over his head was the icing on the cake. The disrespectful and somewhat controversial stomping on the US Championship was merely the cherry that made the cake truly perfect, and cemented Owens as someone you should be hating.
4. Feud with John Cena
Although he may not be in the WWE Championship picture, John Cena is still undeniably the company’s top face – just check out the merchandise sales and legions of young faces wearing Cena gear at every show. The decision to have Owens feud with US Champion Cena right off the bat proves that he matches Cena’s calibre and the fact that he also defeated Cena in his first WWE match further accents that fact. Not only did he best the 15-time champion at Elimination Chamber, the pair have gone on to produce excellent promos and a further match at Money in the Bank, with the third match scheduled for Battleground.
3. Taken out the top faces
On his first night in NXT at TakeOver: R Evolution, Owens took out the top baby face in NXT, Sami Zayn, by Pop-Up Powerbombing his long-time friend and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla/Ring of Honor tag team partner onto the ring apron after Zayn’s successful NXT Championship match against long-time champion Adrian Neville. It’s interesting to note that during Owens’ match with CJ Parker earlier in the night, Owens had his nose broken and still went ahead with the angle. On his first night on Raw, Owens again used the Pop-Up Powerbomb to make an impact, this time on WWE stalwart, John Cena.
2. “I fight for a prize”
It’s quite common for bad guys with big personalities to pick and choose their battles, but the reason behind it is often due to the bad guy fearing the passionate, determined face coming after him. With Kevin Owens, the reasoning behind him frustratingly picking and choosing his fights is made clear with five words: “I fight for a prize.” In the lead-up to his NXT title match with Sami Zayn, Owens smartly worked his way into a title shot. In his promos with John Cena, Owens used the quote to delay a clash with Cena and setup the chance to attack him. Although the line hasn’t been used as prominently on the main roster, it gives some backbone to Owens picking and choosing his battles – most recently with Samoa Joe on NXT – something the vast majority of top heels don’t have.
1. Real character
As well as being the company’s best modern heel, Kevin Owens is arguably also the realest character WWE has ever seen. During his NXT stint, Owens was established as just a guy who is here to win titles to make more money to give his family a better life. Some perfect marketing also saw Owens portrayed as a great guy away from the ring, despite his attacks on Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville, with interactions between Owens and his wife and two children documented on Twitter and Instagram during the time. It’s easy for dads in particular to relate to Owens, who deep down just wants to give his family a better life, no matter the consequences.
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