The best rivalry on WWE programming right now is the battle between longtime friends turned enemies Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. These two guys that have spent the last 15 years together came from the province of Quebec in Canada to make it all the way to the big time in WWE. It’s a story that will lead to their first WWE PPV match against each other at Payback on May 1, which will likely be the first of many big matches between them in the years to come.
While WWE doesn’t always delve into the specifics of their wrestler’s paths to WWE, when they talk about how Zayn and Owens have grown up in the business together, it’s true. Owens used his real name Kevin Steen – his son’s name is Owen, so that’s why he is Kevin Owens in WWE. Zayn was known as El Generico, which is a gimmick that saw him wearing a mask for most of his career. When he got to WWE, they took the mask off and it turned out to be a wise move because Zayn has great facial expressions.
Born in the same year (1984) two months apart, Owens started training to wrestle in 2000 while Zayn began in 2002, and they spent their time working for a lot of the same prominent independent wrestling companies. Places like Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla are where they really made names for themselves prior to landing in WWE.
In a WWE.com interview from March 2016, Zayn explained how they first met:
“I met Kevin around December 2002. We never crossed paths early in our careers, because he was exclusive with Jacques Rougeau. Then, I heard of him because a couple of Rougeau’s guys had left and joined the indies. They would always talk about this guy Kevin, how he was the best in Quebec, that he had the most potential out of anyone in Quebec, how if anyone in Quebec was going to make it to WWE, it was going to be Kevin. He was regarded as a prodigy.”
Here is Owens talking about how he met Zayn from the same interview although, obviously, this is in character a bit too:
“I met Sami in 2002 at a wrestling show that I was competing on. He was in the crowd with some of my friends that I had trained with. Honestly, I remember thinking that he was kind of annoying. He was jumping around, being loud and obnoxious. I got to know him and realized that was just who he was. He wasn’t doing it on purpose, putting on a show or trying to get attention. That’s literally who he is. I guess I learned to accept it over the years.”
Prior to their huge NXT Title match in February 2015, WWE aired this amazing video package about their history together. It talked about how they traveled the world together for over a decade, as well as their close bond as friends.
I liked the way they talked about how their lives changed when Owens got married and had two kids. Owens said that he had a lot more worth fighting for since he had a family, while Zayn was only fighting for himself. Was it all just fiction to get over the story? Of course, but there was some truth to it too.
That’s what this feud is more than anything else in WWE right now: Believable.
When Kevin Owens says that he is mad that Zayn got to WWE before him, it works because Zayn was signed by WWE in January 2013 and Owens got there in August 2014. Zayn won the NXT Title first, which was in December 2014, but then it was Owens that took it from him two months later in dominant fashion.
Wrestling fans don’t need complicated storylines. We just want stories that are easy to understand, that provide us with some memorable matches/promos and most importantly of all, stories that make sense.
What’s great about this Owens vs. Zayn rivalry is that it doesn’t have to end after two or three PPV matches. It will go on for years. If they are both healthy and still love the business, they should be huge stars in WWE over the next decade, considering they are in their early 30s.
This can be one of those stories that defines the career of two men who have been on similar paths. Who wins the Money in the Bank briefcase first? Who wins a Royal Rumble first? Who wins the WWE Title first? These are all questions that fans are going to want answers to. Nobody knows right now, but we will enjoy watching it play out on television.
The cool thing about it also is that at some point, Owens is likely to go face, so they’ll have an awesome run as a team as well. The fans will eat it up because by that point, we will have seen them battle dozens of times. It’s inevitable that they will be on the same side at some point. That’s just how wrestling stories always seem to play out.
Owens Is The Best Heel In WWE Today
In Kevin Owens, WWE has the kind of heel performer that they should consider a main event player for years to come. The only thing that may hold him back is that he’s got a bit of a gut, wrestles in a shirt and doesn’t have the look that WWE typically likes. Does it really matter? No. Because if you watch him in the ring or on the microphone, he may be the best all-around performer in the company.
When it comes to promos, Owens is the best of any wrestler in WWE. Paul Heyman is better, but he’s not a wrestler. When Owens talks, he isn’t out there to get cheers from the fans. Nope. He’s a pure heel that wants the crowd to hate him. He also has credibility when he speaks because when he calls himself a prizefighter, he can back it up by pointing out that he’s won the NXT Title and the Intercontinental Title in less than two years of being in WWE. Don’t forget about beating John Cena clean in his first WWE main roster match last year. He likes to remind us of that a lot, doesn’t he?
Owens backs up everything he says in the ring. There aren’t too many guys his size who can hit a Frog Splash that looks as pretty as he does. The cannonball attack in the corner is impressive looking as well. When he hits the Popup Powerbomb, it looks like a credible finishing move that nobody is going to kick out of. He’s not just out there throwing clotheslines every match or doing basic things that any wrestler can do. He’s standing out from the pack in a big way.
He’s also really good at selling, which is so important in wrestling. Whether it’s a big guy or a little guy, Owens is able to keep up with anybody and almost always has a good match. That’s why he’s typically put in 10 to 15 matches on Raw and Smackdown – the bosses know he can always deliver in the ring.
As good as he is as heel, he has “Stone Cold” potential as well. By that, I mean he could easily morph into a cool babyface who is there to kick people’s ass like Steve Austin did. Owens could talk about how long it took him to get to WWE, how he doesn’t have the look that the bosses like and how he’s going to overcome it all for his family. The man is fighting for his wife and two kids. It’s easy to support a guy like that. My only issue with him as a face is that he’s so good as a heel that they need to keep him as a bad guy. I just think one day he’ll succeed as a face too.
Zayn Can Be The Biggest Babyface In WWE
Zayn has all the tools to be a huge star in WWE… if they let him. It’s going to be tough because he doesn’t have the body of Roman Reigns or John Cena. They are the chosen ones, so to speak. Somebody like Zayn has to follow the path of a cult hero like Daniel Bryan, who earned a push that was definitely not given to him. Zayn’s a few inches taller than Bryan, so at least he has that going for him.
In terms of performance in the ring, Zayn has been one of the best wrestlers during the past decade. There’s nothing he can’t do in the ring. He can work a technical style, he can hit the aerial moves as well as anybody (that somersault flip over the top is beautiful) and he shows emotion really well when he’s in there with a bitter rival like Owens.
What really stands out with him is his selling. Bret Hart has talked for years about how the most important aspect of working a match is selling moves. That’s because you have to be able to draw the audience, to make them believe you are in pain and then when you make that big comeback, the crowd will have your back. Zayn’s excellent at selling everything, which leads to those amazing comebacks of his. It’s that “fighting spirit” that makes him so likable. An upbeat theme song probably helps too!
Don’t forget that Zayn has already competed in WWE’s best match of the year. That was the April NXT Dallas Takeover event, in which he lost a classic match to the debuting Shinsuke Nakamura. That was Zayn’s NXT farewell match too. He’s moving on, but don’t be shocked if Nakamura’s on the main roster facing him again because those two are great together.
In terms of promos, Zayn is pretty good. He’s not an elite talker right now, but he’s better today than what he was a year ago and much better than he was two years ago. It’s a process. It’s also not something that is going to slow him down. He has all the tools to be a long-term main event performer.
Zayn represents the prototypical babyface wrestler that is liked by the adult males, the females and the kids in the crowd. He’s a guy that should never go heel. I know “never” is a bad word to say, but it’s true. He has that underdog attribute which makes him so likable that it would be a waste to make him a bad guy. Let others do that. Keep him in a face role for the majority of his career.
They Will Make History Together
When their careers are all over, who will have had the better career? I’m not sure if there’s a right answer to that, but I think that these guys are always going to be linked together in a way that few wrestlers are. They have that special bond which is very real because of where they started, wrestling in front of 100 people at high school gyms to make their WrestleMania debuts in Dallas in front of 100,000 people.
The next stop for them is May 1 at Payback in Chicago. It’s their first singles match at a pay-per-view event. There might be another one at Extreme Rules three weeks later too. After that, they both might be in June’s Money in the Bank match with both of them considered favorites to win the coveted briefcase. Then the story continues for them, as they will be forever linked — just as they should be.
There are a lot of great performers on the WWE roster right now with bright futures. It could be argued that no two men have more potential than Owens and Zayn because of what they’ve been through together, what they’ve done elsewhere and what they can do in WWE together. There’s nothing these two kids from Quebec can’t do and the best part is, they are on this journey together.
It’s an amazing story that, lucky for us, is only just beginning. Enjoy the ride, because we know they will.