Last night, I tweeted the following:
Kevin Owens' character continues to be the most human/real character WWE has had in years.
— Voices of Wrestling (@voiceswrestling) June 2, 2015
The above tweet generated a lot of buzz and rightfully so, I don’t want to toot my own horn but it’s absolutely, unequivocally true.
Kevin Owens is in rarified air right now, he’s doing something and performing at a level that hasn’t been seen in years. It’s so simple yet so out of place in the current WWE character landscape. In a world filled with over-the-top, motiveless superheroes, Kevin Owens is a humanized breath of fresh air.
To help explain and articulate Owens’ character, let’s jump back to one of his pre-NXT debut vignettes, specifically the one where he explains his motives:
“I realized a long time ago the best way for me to provide for my family wasn’t to work in a warehouse or an office but to fight people. I have fought tough and nail for 14 years to get to the WWE. Now that I’m here, I will fight anyone and everyone, ‘cause that’s what I do best.”
Right there, we have motivation, something that’s lost on most main roster WWE characters. Owens’ motivation is twofold, he likes fighting people and knows he’s good at it. More than that, it’s the best way to provide for his family.
This works on another level, as people who are aware of Owens’ real-life persona know his kids and family mean the world to him. His Twitter is loaded with references to his children, how much he loves them, how taking a job with WWE allowed him to spend more time with them. Again, we’ve linked Kevin Steen the human being to Kevin Owens the wrestler… and they aren’t that much different.
More than that, Owens has a background, a life and a history.
On the history side, it took him 14 years to get here and now he’s here. They didn’t hit us over the head with 14 years, explain it at length. Instead, the vignette left it at that. As if to say, you find out where he’s been for 14 years. If you care, you’ll find out. If you already know, well, then you already know. It’s masterful.
As far as background and a life, it’s all right there. He has a family and he wants to provide for them. It’s ludicrous that this is special or unique but think about it. How many active main roster WWE wrestlers ever allude to their families, to their lives in and out of the ring? Really think about it, you won’t find many answers.
What does Dolph Ziggler do when he’s not wrestling? I know from his Twitter that he enjoys stand-up comedy but there’s no mentions of that on WWE TV. His motivation most nights is to “have a good match.” If you can figure out what the hell is going on between him and Lana, more power to you!
Roman Reigns alluded to his family in promos and it generally garnered a negative reaction, yet when you watch his documentary on WWE Network, his life/family interactions make him seem endearing. Once you actually saw him with his family and saw his commitment to his mother and his daughter, you can’t help but root for the guy.
Daniel Bryan stopped a burglary on his house and participated in the San Francisco Giants World Series parade, yet on TV… he’s a bearded goat man who screams “Yes!” We know some of his behind-the-scenes life because of Total Divas but we’ve only scratched the surface of Bryan Danielson.
Seth Rollins doesn’t have the most interesting of lives but what do we know about the guy? I know he does Crossfit but what else is he passionate about? Why else should I care whether he wins or loses?
Owens is different. Right off the bat, from the moment he appeared on screen, he set the table. He fights, he loves his family, he waited 14 years to get here and now he’s going to make the most of it.
When Owens finally made his debut at NXT Takeover: [R] Evolution, the character didn’t waver or change. When Owens attacked his long-time friend and former tag team partner Sami Zayn minutes after he won the NXT Championship, it was still about one thing for Owens — being the best so he could provide for his family.
When he won the title at the follow NXT Takeover in a brutal destruction of Zayn, he was once again asked questions about his motivations and once again, they were the same: He wanted to win the title to make more money and provide for his family.
Amid constant questions from backstage announcers, commentators and Alex Riley about why Owens attacked his friend, Owens offered nothing more than, “It’s about the title and the money.”
Owens didn’t no-sell the attack on Zayn, but instead garnered heel heat by not being the prototypical “evil for the sake of evil” we’re so used to from WWE heels. Instead, Owens’ justified his perceived evil. He doesn’t really care what “you” think is good or bad, he wants to provide for his family and this is how he’s going to do it.
Let’s jump ahead to Owens’ main roster debut when he answered John Cena’s United States Championship Open Challenge.
The key line for me is when Cena offered Owens veteran advice to which Owens replied:
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years. In fact, I’ve been doing this for longer than you. The only difference between you and I is that I didn’t get the break until now.”
Yet again, Owens addresses that he exists (and existed) outside of the WWE Universe — that he has history, meaning and significance outside of the coddled, beige walls of World Wrestling Entertainment. It’s healthy that life exists outside of this bubble.
Finally, last night. Fresh off his victory over Cena at WWE’s Elimination Chamber 2015, Owens addressed something very important to him — his history and his family.
“I spoke to my son who, like pretty much every other kid, is a huge John Cena fan… When we talked all he could say was, how’s John? Daddy is he okay, is John Cena alright? And you know what, I get it. He’s been watching Cena for years. And just because I understand doesn’t mean I think it’s okay. See because, it’s his fault, it’s not my boy’s fault. It’s blind worship… in the past decade, John Cena has been portrayed as a living, breathing, real-life superhero.”
Again, Owens references to his real-life family, his son, his ultimate motivation. More than that, actually talking to other human beings — seriously, when’s the last time Kane had a conversation with anyone that wasn’t in the Universe? Think about it, it doesn’t happen.
This promo in general was a call-back a few weeks prior when he first answered Cena’s call. Kevin’s wife, Karina, shared an Instagram video of his son, Owen Steen (named after Owen Hart) excited about his dad facing John Cena.
You’ll notice in Owen’s hand is a Cena wrestle-buddy. According to Kevin (on last week’s episode of Talk is Jericho), that’s how his son Owen watches wrestling, clutching his John Cena Wrestle Buddy.
“While I traveled the world for over 10 years honing my craft in hopes of one day making it to WWE, my son was being influenced by John Cena. That’s where John Cena became the hero to my son that I never got the chance to be because I wasn’t featured on WWE television every week.”
The content of the promo as far as references to Cena isn’t much different than what we’ve heard from The Rock in prior years or even CM Punk dating back to 2011. Cena wears bright colors, has been around for awhile, wins all the time, has dumb catchphrases, that’s old news. What’s not old is how it upsets Owens.
In The Rock’s case, there was no real motivation for him to be upset at John Cena. He was pissed about comments Cena made years prior regarding Rock’s commitment to wrestling and sure, maybe you believed that The Rock was hurt by that but I don’t. Rock was using that time away from wrestling to become Hollywood’s biggest star. Yeah, wrestling is in his blood and I don’t doubt that he loves it but the motivation just isn’t there.
Punk’s motivation was more justified. Cena was a superstar and he had to scratch and claw to make a dent in the company. It was fun to rally around at the time but when you look deep down, there isn’t much there. Again, Punk’s motives lie squarely in the WWE Universe. Rocks’ motivations were external but the real crux of his issue was internal — his love for WWE and wrestling.
When Owens was traveling the world, honing his craft, trying to provide for his family in the wrestling business he wasn’t home and thus, John Cena became his son’s idol. Not him.
If that doesn’t strike a chord with you, I don’t know what will.
That’s the beauty of Owens and the beauty of a truly human character such as Owens. You can suspend your disbelief and process Owens’ anger.
You understand what he’s fighting for, you understand that he’s a real person with real emotions, who more than that does things outside of the WWE Universe. He has conversations with his kids, he’s wrestled other places before coming to WWE and he’s had other jobs.
No, I’m not advocating WWE go back to the “Work ‘N Wrestling” era of 1994-1995 where the roster was littered with characters representing garbage men, plumbers and race car drivers but would it kill them to have more human beings?
Would more people with motivations, histories, backgrounds and real human emotions like Owens be a bad thing?