Kevin Owens’ time on SmackDown Live was rather unique. He had a programme with AJ Styles, head-butted Vince McMahon and even shared the WrestleMania ring with Daniel Bryan. With that being said, it all still felt a little underwhelming. For whatever reason, very few chapters of that story seemed to catch fire. That aforementioned segment opposite Vince was undeniably strong, but the follow-up failed to further its momentum and more than that, Owens’ series of matches opposite AJ just didn't reach the heights that many had hoped for.
Nonetheless, KO’s versatility meant that he was featured throughout, playing a pivotal role on SmackDown for better or worse. As is often the case though, the Superstar Shake-up represented the chance for a fresh slate and things got off to a good start for Owens, prominently featuring in a memorable segment alongside his cohort Sami Zayn as well as the Miz. Since then, Owens has been almost exclusively paired with Braun Strowman, a programme that’s subtly reminded the wrestling world of his capabilities across the board.
Owens has showed it all along the way: playing comedy coward at times, unhinged wild man at others and even stunt-bumping lunatic when necessary. For all of Braun’s genuine talent and popularity, his booking somewhat limits the direction a programme of his can take. However, that’s allowed Owens to really show the range of his game, creating a multi-month series of matches which has for the most part, been highly entertaining. I think in some ways though, this recent resurgence of sorts has probably flown slightly under the radar.
Owens has been visibly working hard, both in-ring and out. His bumping for Strowman is legitimately frightening at times and his promos have been filled with a fire we’ve not consistently seen in quite some time. In fact, the depth of Owens’ work only really became obvious to me after his return promo following Extreme Rules. Following a horrific fall off the steel cage and through the announce table, Owens stood atop the ramp and in 2 minutes, performed one of his finest promos yet.
Owens covered it all with a frustrated ramble, the physical pain and more importantly, it’s impact on his personal life. He was no longer “unbreakable” in the eyes of his children and all because of Braun, a man he now wanted to take everything from. The content of that promo could easily be the start of a babyface’s redemption run, a hero returning from physical and emotional pain in the hunt for revenge. It was delivered with immense sincerity and passion too, yet Owens found himself as the obvious villain, a reminder of the original Owens character that connected so strongly.
The original ‘KO’ was unique in that sense, his message was often understandable and his intentions even sometimes admirable. That was a character that managed to reside in shades of gray whilst still acting just repulsive enough to be the clear antagonist at all times. In his time on the main roster though, that blurred line seemingly lost its subtlety. The natural transition from violent opportunist to more traditional cheat was probably to be expected, but it may have limited some of Owens’ tools in the process.
Moreover, the follow-up ‘New Face of America’ approach only furthered that trend. Owens’ promos remained good but they’d lost some fire, instead falling into the much more common category of standard heel insults and such. On the other hand, whilst this period of Owens’ career was slightly frustrating for me at times, its lasting impact is increasingly being proven as a positive in my view. By hook or by crook, Owens’ consistent positive crowd reactions quickly faded, instead being greeted by boos more and more often regardless of the location.
A combination of KO’s constant cowardice, his betrayal of Chris Jericho and a whole lot of crowd insults had allowed for Owens to move well past the ‘cool heel’ phase, for better or worse. Now fast forward a few months later though and this process seems rather worthwhile. After almost re-training the live crowds to truly dislike him, Owens is now free to return to what once made him one of the most captivating characters on WWE TV. So much so in fact that Owens can mention Braun’s impact on his children without even a concern of them suddenly being on his side.
This Sunday night, Owens’ on-screen hunt for revenge reaches a storyline climax of sorts, as KO looks to take the Money in the Bank briefcase from Strowman. If that’s indeed the chosen direction at SummerSlam, it’ll be a well-deserved ticket back to the top for KO, a shortcut to the title picture. Even if not though, this last 4 months have been successful for Owens. Slowly but surely, the former Universal Champion is edging back towards his prior creative heights, showing again that at his core, this is an immensely talented and versatile performer.
Owens’ time may not be now and frankly, there’s no guarantee that it’ll ever come again. With that being said, he’ll almost certainly remain prominently featured. Why? Well because frankly, that’s just what his skill-set deserves right now. It’s really that simple.