This time last year, Kevin Owens was in a very different position. With SummerSlam on the horizon, Owens was on the fast-track to a dismantling from Braun Strowman. That moment was the culmination of an admittedly aimless time in Owens’ career, a steady decline following his initial success upon arriving on the main roster. He certainly remained relevant and was still featured regularly but in truth, that once unique spark had left Owens’ presence. Unfortunately, he’d soon be sidelined also, departing for double knee surgery in October 2018.
Physically, an injury can never be a positive thing but as a character, this absence would finally give Owens an opportunity to reset. For well over three years, his presentation had gone basically unchanged, for better or worse. Since debuting opposite John Cena, Owens had firmly established himself as one of the product’s strongest, most captivating villains. That trait kept Owens consistently central but at the same time, halted any potential shift too. As a character, Owens had stalled and naturally, he’d gradually lost importance as a result.
Owens had actually become a victim of his own versatility. As a villain, he’d been often spotlighted in prominent positions and while that was a credit to his performance, it had also overexposed Owens well beyond his suddenly shallow character’s portrayal. In truth, some subtlety had been taken from Owens’ identity, his motivation muted and his personality muddled. He usually remained entertaining nonetheless but very little mystery or anticipation surrounded Owens’ next move. Instead, the former Universal Champion was now just another villain. A very good one, but not a unique one all the same.
In early 2019 though, Owens’ new direction emerged. As his in-ring return loomed, Owens appeared in multiple misty vignettes, a refocused figure armed with the almost unassertive charisma that had previously catapulted him to super-stardom. Owens’ charm was different to most of the wrestling stars that had come before him, his chaos was composed and outside of the odd outburst, often more witty than wild as well. His personality had its own distinctive feel, more grounded and gritty than the larger than life norm.
That element of Owens’ appeal was suddenly in focus too, with ‘The Prizefighter’ receiving a fresh presentation, appearing as an understated, relatable babyface at last. He’d be back inside the ropes soon also and in fact, even appeared a likely candidate for Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania opposition. Kofi-Mania took center stage instead though and in one fell swoop, Owens was without a spot on “the grandest stage of them all.” That admission came just six weeks after Owens’ in-ring return but his overall presentation had still been encouraging, even if timing had hindered him on this particular occasion.
For better or worse though, no character exists in a vacuum and as the landscape shifts, everyone is affected by the ensuing domino effect. Depending on your perception, that results in new opportunities or collateral damage but in Owens’ case it meant that unfortunately, his reset button would be well, reset. The babyface shift had been revitalizing for Owens but Kofi Kingston needed a heel challenger and with a swift betrayal, Owens would now serve as exactly that. That direction was short-lived though, with Owens then focusing on Big E and Xavier Woods while having Sami Zayn back by his side.
The matches themselves were unsurprisingly impressive but in truth, Owens felt aimless yet again. Just months after being refreshed by a new presentation, Owens was suddenly back to square one: featuring as an effective, prominent heel that just needed a new lick of paint. Thankfully though, that flashback would soon be jolted into motion, with Owens next appearing as the rebellious opposition to Shane McMahon’s presence on WWE TV. After years of residing in an at times, thankless role, Owens was now the audience’s on-screen voice, capitalizing on the moment and finally taking center stage.
Owens looked immediately at home in the scenario too, reminding fans of the passionate, articulate promos that initially made him one of WWE’s most revered talkers. It was like someone had flipped a switch, with immense energy and fire suddenly surrounding Owens’ every move. It was reminiscent of the man that so defiantly stomped on the United States Title, the mutinous figure that had climbed the ranks in almost unprecedented fashion. This time though, Owens’ lone approach made him the hero of far more than just his own story, giving the fans a voice in fashion only he could.
With that programme developing, Owens now returns to the scene of his most pronounced lull, taking to the SummerSlam stage yet again. His opponent: Shane McMahon, with Owens’ WWE career on the line in one of the event’s marquee matches. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that within the current WWE landscape, few wrestlers truly feel at the peak of their powers but Owens is certainly one of them. As far as momentum, Owens is riding a wave that he’s not experienced in three years, everything is clicking and seemingly at the perfect time too.
In truth though, that’s all for nought if SummerSlam halts Owens’ recent resurgence. It’s been quite some time since this level of anticipation surrounded Owens’ next move but at SummerSlam, that could very well change. As of late, Owens has achieved the hardest feat of all in modern WWE, he’s broken out from the pack and created his own unique place within the roster. Whether he can maintain that though, well that may very much depend on how this captivating character is handled opposite McMahon.
For now though, it’s hard not to just admire Owens’ flair for capturing the imagination. Since signing for WWE, Owens has been an incredible success story and that tale very much warrants its own place in history. However, it’s an even greater credit to Owens that after seemingly stalling, the former Universal Champion now feels as crucial as ever. In just one month, Owens has used this fresh direction to skyrocket his momentum and relevance. It’s worth pondering though, what if this is only just the start?