Tuesday 26 May 2015

Fight, Owens, Fight

Takeover: Unstoppable was a great show. Anyone who's read my review (cheap plug, yeah: read it here) of the show will already know I feel that way. But a strength of the show I didn't touch on in the review was the way it built up Kevin Owens. The show ended with him backing away from the newly debuted Samoa Joe while brandishing his NXT championship belt and screaming about how it was his show.

The thing is, he's not wrong. Owens debuted at December's Takeover: R Evolution and in the five months since NXT has been transformed, with Owens being one of the most heavily featured names on the show. It's not surprising that a high profile newcomer like Owens is being featured in a significant role but it's surprising at how quickly it's happened and just how significant his role is. His rapid ascent, winning the NXT title two months (to the day) after debuting and interacting with top names immediately, is very much not something pulled from the usual WWE playbook.

NXT would not fall apart or become unwatchable without Owens. Just like it wouldn't without Finn Bálor and won't without Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami. Just like it's surviving fine without Adrian Neville. But his departure would be noticeable because he's such a major focus of the show and storylines. Just as a champion should be.

You need look no further than the number of programmes Owens has set up coming out of Unstoppable for evidence of how key Owens is to NXT and WWE's plans for the future. By my count he has five programmes ready to launch into. That's a number Seth Rollins, who supposedly holds wrestling's (and WWE's) greatest prize, doesn't come close to.

This man is not a Cena victim.
Owens versus Cena will happen for the first time at Sunday's Elimination Chamber Network special. This is obviously a big deal for Owens. With or without the world title and pay-per-view main events Cena is the face of the company. Getting to wrestle him in what is essentially a pay-per-view environment is a vote of confidence in Owens' abilities and a sign that WWE wants him to be viewed as a standout performer. Whether he wins or loses the match Owens will come out of it looking stronger1.

Takeover: Unstoppable established Finn Bálor as the new number one contender to Owens' championship and Samoa Joe's appearance at the end of the show left no doubt that he'd be up for a crack at Owens and the belt too. So that's two guys Owens has gunning for him in NXT. Plus there are his unresolved issues with Sami Zayn, who will presumably continue chasing Zayn upon his return from his current injury layoff, and the heavy implication that Owens was the one who attacked Hideo Itami before Unstoppable (see their interactions on Twitter in the days before the show). It's not a stretch to imagine Owens attacking Itami because he was worried about having to defend his title against him.

And in addition to the number of potential rivalries Owens has he's possibly the most interesting character in all of WWE right now (only Sami Zayn, Sasha Banks and possibly Triple H are competition in that regard). He's an unpleasant, opportunistic thug who's happy to attack people from behind but he also has a relatable motive for his get-to-the-top-no-matter-the-cist approach: earning more money to provide as good a life for his family as possible. The nuances in his performances, such as the hypocrisy of him being so vicious while talking of being a role model and the twinge of remorse before he battered his one time pal Zayn with a steel chair, only serve to make his character that bit more interesting. If this is indicative of the future, not just for Owens but for NXT and WWE as a whole, then we have plenty to look forward to.


1 Usually there'd be the issue of Cena doing something questionable to upstage a foe lower down the pecking order2 but I don't think that's a concern here. For one thing WWE seems intent of having Owens look like a big deal, as mentioned above. For another Owens has been around long enough to know how to counteract someone attempting to show him up.

2 See his repeated pulling down of Rusev's trunks to reveal a plump gut during their series for the most recent example of Cena's ability to subtly undermine people.

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