wrestling / Columns

The Magnificent Seven: The Top 7 Kevin Owens Moments

August 23, 2017 | Posted by Mike Chin
Kevin Owens

It may have taken Kevin Owens some time to make it to WWE, and given his body type and working style, his journey to the big dance may have been an unlikely one. Just the same, he’s emerged as one of WWE’s most valuable players over these past three years and, in a very short period of time, built a legacy for himself. So, this week’s column is dedicated to recalling the man’s best moments.

An important note: this list only concerns work done under the moniker Kevin Owens–work that the same performer did under the name Kevin Steen was not in consideration, both to focus the countdown and out of fairness because I don’t have a thorough basis on which to judge his work with ROH, PWG, or other promotions before he signed with WWE. The countdown does include work from NXT.

My main considerations for this countdown were entertainment value of the moment in a vacuum, quality of Owens’s performance, and positive impact on Owens’s larger career trajectory. As always, my personal opinion weighs heavily.

#7. Debuting on Raw

By May 2015, Kevin Owens was established as an NXT star. He was not the most likely candidate to get called up to the main roster given he was the developmental brand’s reigning champion and there were questions as to whether WWE management ever intended for him to be a main roster guy or just a steady veteran anchor for NXT. As it turned out, John Cena’s US Championship Open Challenge was a perfect vehicle for Owens to show up unannounced on Raw to a great reaction.

Not only did Owens make an awesome surprise appearance, and not only did he flatten the face of the company in the process, but he shed light on his terrific arrogant heel character when he made it clear he hadn’t come to vie for the US title, but rather just to make a statement by laying out Cena. After powerbombing his foe, he lifted the NXT Championship over head and stomped down on the US belt.

In this moment, Owens had arrived on the main event star and was an immediate big deal, at minimum feuding with one of the top faces of all time in his first program.

#6. Winning the Universal Championship

There is a very real argument that this moment should go higher on the list. Winning the Universal Championship is undoubtedly the biggest accomplishment on Owens’s resume to date, and it was quite a surprise in the moment because Owens was in no way a favorite going into this Raw Fatal Fourway for the vacant title.

I couldn’t justify denying the man’s first world title win in WWE a spot on this countdown, but I also had a hard time ranking it above any of the moments to follow in this countdown. While Owens winning the title was a mark of career advancement and management’s faith in him, it was also a suprprisingly passive moment. No, I don’t have a problem with Owens not getting the clean win—he’s a heel and doing something dishonest was completely in character. I just wished he’d had some agency in winning. On the contrary, the finish to Owens’ big title win felt much more about Seth Rollins and Triple H. Helmesley was the one with the most agency, making a surprise return and raining down violence. Rolins made the beginnings of a passive face turn by taking a Pedigree. And then there’s Owens, who didn’t even follow up with a powerbomb of his own, but rather looked shocked, made the pin and collected the title.

#5. Losing To Sami Zayn

Just two months before Owens would win the Universal Championship, he had what I would call his very best match in WWE—his lone true five-star contender—opposite Sami Zayn at the Battleground PPV. The two had been feuding off and on for well over a year across NXT and main roster lines, and this match was unofficially treated as the blow off for that feud.

Sure, the moment really belonged to Zayn here, but Owens more than carried the weight as the villain for this match and the storyline leading up to it, and there may be no greater accolade for a truer villain than to put over the hero in convincing, satisfying fashion.

In retrospect, this match loses a bit of luster purely based on lack of follow up for Zayn. Zayn was rather directionless for a bit following the biggest win of his WWE main roster career. Owens won the title and you’d think this match would make Zayn a world title contender and someone to at least help establish Owens’s reign with a PPV match, but instead, WWE revisited the feud haphazardly and without real consequence on TV in less great matches that risked pushing the amazing Battleground bout out of fans’ memory.

#4. Turning on Sami Zayn

From the supposed end of Zayn-Owens, we press the rewind button all the way to the start of their issue in WWE. NXT TakeOver: R Evolution in December 2014 shaped up to be a great night for the duo of Zayn and Owens, as Owens made his NXT debut and Zayn challenged for the NXT Championship in the main event. NXT played up their real life friendship and it all paid off in the two of them standing victorious and celebrating to close out the special—until Owens brutally powerbombed Zayn into the ring apron.

While you could argue that NXT could have taken more time to build Zayn-Owens, they instead opted to go with the purest version of each of these performers. Owens is a magnificent jerk heel. Zayn is a wonderful victim and pure face. Having Zayn’s moment of glory immediately turn into a moment of betrayal worked beautifully to maintain momentum, cement Owens’s place as a major player and immediately start the build to the next TakeOver special.

#3. Beating John Cena

It’s one thing to debut by feuding with and holding one’s own against John Cena. It’s another to beat The Champ, and to do so in clean, decisive fashion in an extended PPV bout.

At Elimination Chamber 2015, that’s exactly what Owens did by pounding Cena relentlessly until he couldn’t kick out of a pin. In doing so, Owens vaulted himself to fringe main event status immediately upon joining the main roster. All the more pleasing to hardcore fans, he more than held his own in putting on an excellent match.

Unfortunately, this moment would lose some standing given that Cena beat him in back to back rematches at Money in the Bank and Battleground. Owens would move on to more decisively take up residence in the mid-card for the months to follow. Just the same, one could argue that this big win so early in his run foreshadowed what Owens would accomplish down the road.

#2. Winning the NXT Championship

While the match between Owens and Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Rival was not of the same level as their bout at Battleground a year and a half later, it was a rock solid four star outing. The psychology going into the match was sound—that Zayn wanted to get his hands on his former friend to get revenge, and that Owens slimily would only agree to fight if it were in the context of a title shot. So, we got the match, Zayn played the never-say-die hero perfectly, and Owens showed signs of the vicious monster he was capable of playing as a perfect complement to his jerk heel shtick.

The result was a memorable match with an awesome finish—Owens destroying Zayn, Zayn refusing to stay down, and the ref finally having to stop the match before Owens murdered the champ with a sixth powerbomb. Owens became NXT’s greatest villain that night and kickstarted one of its greatest world title reigns.

#1. The Festival of Friendship

You might notice that so much of this countdown is wrapped up in Owens’s work opposite Sami Zayn and John Cena. That pattern should not suggest that Owens hasn’t succeeded elsewhere, and should in no way imply that these dance partners carried him to great moments. On the contrary, the pattern speaks to one of the great strengths of Owens as a performer and how he’s been booked. The storytelling surrounding Owens has, at its best, focused on meaningful, heated rivalries. Owens makes that dynamic work because he’s great enough in the ring to produce quality matches over and over again with the same opponent without them feeling redundant.

Owens has had other solid feuds with Finn Balor, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns. The story that can’t, however, go overlooked in this countdown—or list–is Owens vs. Chris Jericho.

In a great example of WWE playing the long game, Owens and Jericho started their story the summer of 2016, working as allies and only occasional frenemies for three-quarters of a year to follow. Then, as their friendship began to feel a little played, but before fans could definitively see the writing on the wall, we arrived at The Festival of Friendship.

Jericho played his over-the-top, pandering, too sincere friend role to a tee in orchestrating a totally excessive celebration for the two of them on Raw. After a brief consultation with Triple H, Owens responded in magnificent fashion by annihilating Jericho on live TV in one of the most violent one-sided beatdowns Raw had seen in years.

This moment officially launched the Owens-Jericho feud, yes, but of no less importance it reintroduced fans to vicious, brutal side of Owens that arguably brought him to the main event dance in the first place. The Festival segment set in motion Jericho helping Goldberg beat Owens for the Universal Championship weeks later, and Owens in turn beating Jericho for the US title in a rock solid match at WrestleMania.

What Kevin Owens moments would you add and how would you rank them? Beating Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 33 (and particularly the one-finger rope break) was my nearest miss for the countdown. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Read more from Mike Chin at his website and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.