Some of wrestling’s most iconic and lasting images are built on a twist or a turn. Whether it’s a fallen hero betraying his peer or a reviled villain righting his wrongs, these memorable shifts are littered throughout the industry’s history. Well, that can still be the case to this day and considering Kevin Owens’ status as one of wrestling’s great modern antagonists, his eventual transformation has always appeared intriguing. In reality though, that moment proved fittingly understated. After being introduced with treachery, Owens has now simply adjusted, enlightened by an altered perspective.
In truth, this remains an almost identical character, changing due to natural progression rather than a sudden, wholesale change. Since arriving in NXT, the Kevin Owens persona has been consistently grounded in reality. He’s glaringly human, liable to do whatever it takes for success, a man consciously desperate beyond morality or loyalty. Remember, that’s what this character is built on, unveiling his true colors upon arrival and betraying Sami Zayn in the process. This portion of Owens’ career is well-publicized but even still, it remains fascinating to me.
Owens didn’t explain his decision with passion or rage but instead, remained cerebral and considered. Owens had simply concluded that this decision was the right move for his career and in turn, the best thing for his family’s future. That’s human to a fault and while almost frighteningly emotionless, immediately established Owens as one of the industry’s most captivating characters. This wasn’t even a gray area, with Kevin remaining an undeniable villain but one simply with an alarmingly relatable motive. That didn’t make his actions right, it only added gravity to their meaning.
Since then, the Kevin Owens character has stayed mostly consistent throughout years of WWE TV exposure. Whether it be on RAW or SmackDown Live, Owens has remained the antagonist and while his intentions haven’t always been so consistently focused or featured, his actions often remained in line with this persona’s core approach. Traitorous, ruthless and cold-blooded, Owens faced all of WWE’s biggest names and played a pivotal role along the way, solidifying his spot as one of this generation’s key villains.
All good or in this case, bad things must come to an end though and after being put on the side-line due to injuries, Owens’ next step was obvious. It was time for some evolution and within WWE’s shifting landscape, Kevin’s character now belonged as a hero. The only question was about how that step would be taken, would Owens come to an old foe’s aid or did a more elaborate route await? Well in the end, neither of those would come to fruition.
Instead, Owens simply began to appear via video updates as his recovery reached its final stages. This wasn’t a different person but rather a man that by his own admission, had become reminded of why he fought in the first place. That phrasing feels pivotal as it doesn’t really suggest a new understanding of right and wrong but instead, a reiteration of the approach that led Kevin here to begin with. It’s a phrase that sounds rather familiar when coming from Owens’ mouth, and one that traces back to his roots.
His eventual return only added to that feeling too, as Owens merely took advantage of an opportunity, taking Kofi Kingston’s spot and accepting a WWE Title match in the process. While Kevin conceded that he sympathized with Kingston, his actions remained undeniably human. He wasn’t selflessly heroic or gracious but remained understandable in his actions, simply capitalizing on an unmatched opportunity. Since then, there have been momentary signs of Owens’ recent enlightenment, even subtly accepting the blame for his now severed friendships along the way.
This Sunday at Fastlane, Kevin Owens will challenge Daniel Bryan for his WWE Title. When you cover these performers consistently, the focus inevitably shifts to just that: the performance. Owens’ brilliance in that realm is well-established. An experienced, poised in-ring talent with sublime storytelling skill, Kevin Owens is a tremendous pro wrestler that looks at home just about anywhere on the card. Usually, that would be the topic of this article but in Owens’ case, it’s not.
This is a rare character that’s intricacies are worth discussing and regardless of who’s to credit for that, it’s a wonderfully refreshing layer to his every move. From a distance, this doesn’t seem to be a particularly unique tale. Owens was ‘bad’ before and he’s now returned ‘good.’ That’s pretty common in this world. Further analysis highlights that those alternatives aren’t particularly distant though and in truth, their reality exists as a result of each other. Owens intentions have always been understandable, it’s really just a matter of who he’ll hurt along the way.
It’s telling that while we are only two weeks into Owens’ babyface run, his next move already feels unclear. After all, we’ve seen this refreshed smile before and frankly, it’s rarely ended well. Honestly, that suspense and suspicion is rather refreshing, a credit to everyone involved in establishing this intriguing character. After over four years under the WWE umbrella, Kevin Owens’ place among the elite modern villains feels secure. The question now is, how long can that same man stay the hero?
Even more importantly than that, does he understand the difference? Based on what we’ve seen so far, that answer remains debatable to say the least.