Kevin Owens loves professional wrestling. That description may seem obvious considering it’s what the 35-year-old does for a living, but it’s the driving force behind everything he does inside a WWE ring.
“I am a fan, that’s the thing,” Owens told Yahoo Sports. “A lot of people use that against me, but I think it’s a great positive. I have always been a fan. I worked as hard as I could to get on this side of the fence and I was successful at it. I get to step into the ring and do what I love, but I still love watching it as a fan.”
That fandom is currently playing a key role in Owens’ ongoing storyline with Shane McMahon. After a five-month hiatus while he recovered from knee surgeries, Owens returned earlier this year, being injected right into the WWE Championship picture with The New Day and eventually a program with arguably the company’s top heel.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster,” Owens said. “I was really excited to come back after five months off and I didn’t make it onto WrestleMania, which was a very tough pill to swallow. Now I’m kind of back to doing what I pictured myself doing when I initially came back. Everything has been a blast except for not being on WrestleMania. It was great to be involved with [Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods] and get to work with some people who I hadn’t gotten the chance to work with.”
Since his return in February, WWE fans have seen a reinvigorated Owens. For the first time since joining the company in 2014, Owens — an absolute workhorse who has held four of the company’s top titles — took significant time off.
“The five months off were as necessary for my knees and recovering from the surgeries I had as they were for my mental state, honestly,” Owens said. “I had been on the road non-stop for four years. It doesn’t seem like that much, but it adds up rather quickly. When you’re as obsessed — I think that’s the best way to describe it — as I am, it’s constantly on my mind, probably even when it shouldn’t be.”
Owens’ renewed energy culminated last month when he opened Smackdown Live with a passionate promo calling out Shane McMahon and his family for not giving stars the television time they deserve.
In many ways, he became a microphone for WWE fans who only have social media to voice their frustrations. Owens all of a sudden was a voice for the people and it caught fire immediately.
“This whole thing came from me speaking my mind, I guess,” Owens said. “It’s blossomed into this whole thing. When I first came out and said those things about Shane, I really did not — you can believe this if you want — but I didn’t expect any of this to happen, it was something I was just doing for one night. It’s been pretty cool to see the movement that has been developing in the arenas and I have a belief of what I can accomplish in WWE still.”
As a self-described fan, Owens recognizes and hears the connection everyone is making. Twenty years after Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon ignited one of the greatest professional wrestling angles of all time, Owens is doing the same with McMahon’s son.
Despite the similarities, Austin recently called the comparisons unfair to Owens, a sentiment the Canadian star agrees with.
“I would never be foolish enough to consider myself in Steve Austin’s league or anyone else for that matter,” Owens said. “Nobody will ever touch what he was or what he accomplished as a WWE superstar. It’s only normal, right? You’re going to compare people to wrestlers of the past. It happens in all walks of life.
“I’m not trying to be Stone Cold Steve Austin, I’m really just trying to be who I am. There’s a lot of the things I do probably seem similar to Steve Austin because that’s who I grew up watching. They’re imprinted on me.”
One of those things is using the Stone Cold Stunner finishing move. Owens adopted the move upon his return to WWE, but it’s actually an idea he has had in his back pocket for a long time.
“A few years ago I had the pop-up power bomb, and I could see people using power bombs all of the time. I started thinking to myself that I needed a new finisher,” Owens said. “When you’re selecting a wrestling finisher, you want something that’s sudden and exciting and that you can do to pretty much everybody which wasn’t the case with the pop-up power bomb either.
“One day Steve Austin was at a show and I realized no one really uses the Stunner as a finisher and it’s one of the best moves. It’s a bit touchy because it’s such an iconic move and I didn’t feel right just using it and calling the Stunner my own so I asked Steve if I could use it. He was more than happy and couldn’t believe nobody had asked him before. It’s a tribute to him. I hope to do right by him and it’s great to be able to use the move.”
Picking up the Stunner is just one example of how Owens continually adapts to his surroundings. Similar to a five-tool player in baseball, Owens does it all in WWE by excelling at all aspects of the business. He’s an excellent performer in the ring, speaks well on the microphone and can operate in essentially any role WWE asks of him.
“The best ones out there, the best wrestlers of all time have been adaptable,” Owens said. “I would never classify myself as one of those, but I’m doing my best. Part of doing your best is trying to adapt to all situations, even those where you’re not exactly comfortable. The key is to step out of your comfort zone and give it your all. That’s something that William Regal told me when I started with WWE.
“I just think it’s very important to be able to do it all and that’s the key to longevity in WWE. I hope to be doing this as long as I possibly can.”
As upset as he was about the WrestleMania snub, Owens is getting a premium match at WWE’s second-biggest show of the year, SummerSlam. Owens is putting his job on the line in a match against McMahon in one of the most fleshed out storylines of the year.
To top it all off, he gets to do it in his home country of Canada.
“Any time we’re in Canada, it’s an incredible experience,” Owens said. “My fellow countrymen are very kind to me and it’s always great. It’s always special to have my family there. My wife and kids are going to be there, my parents are going to be there, my in-laws, that always makes it extra special.”
As a fan, Owens of course understands the historic connotation that comes with a Canadian wrestling a McMahon.
“I feel like it will be even more intense because I am going up against someone whose family has been a thorn in the sides of Canadians for so long,” Owens said. “That will be a pretty interesting dynamic.
“I don’t like to live in the past, but every time I’m in there with McMahon, [the Montreal Screw Job] is on my mind. I was there that night. When it happened I guess I didn’t have the same feelings as everyone else but now, years later, knowing what I know now about the situation, having been around Bret Hart, learning to appreciate how [good he was] — Not that I ever thought he wasn’t great, but I was a Michaels fan and they were feuding. The moment is never lost, the McMahons and Canada never mesh well.”
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