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Exclusive: Kevin Owens Reflects On WWE Run So Far & WWE Future: 'Better Than It's Ever Been'
While Owens is enjoying the new style of WWE, he's left wondering where he fits in the new scheme of things.
Everything about the WWE from the actual Superstars to the mentality of officials backstage is quickly evolving. In fact, many would argue that the WWE Universe has never witnessed so many changes in such a short time in the history of the company. With a new regime in charge, new Superstars are getting opportunities they never received before and some mainstays are left evaluating where they stand. One of those stars is fan-favorite Kevin Owens.
Owens is a former World Champion in his own right and has been wrestling for more than 20 years now. While he is very much enjoying the new vibes of WWE, he is left wondering where he fits in the new scheme of things. Luckily, USA Insider secured time to sit down exclusively with Owens to get the inside scoop on how he feels about this period in his career, debuting in WWE and NXT, and what it was like to wrestle Stone Cold Steve Austin in the main event of last year’s WrestleMania.
There's a lot of ground to cover with Owens, largely because he's been doing this wrestling thing for almost half his life: Owens had his first match on his 16th birthday in May 2000 before wrestling on the independent scene for almost 14 years.
“It was always my one dream to get to WWE so I spent a lot of time on the independent scene traveling the world just hoping that one day I’d catch somebody’s eye that I needed to catch," Owens said. "But for years and years I didn’t look like a WWE superstar, ya know I heard all those things for so long. But I never let that slow me down and I knew I had a place here. I figured if I worked hard enough it would eventually work out and honestly, that’s kinda exactly what happened. Things changed and Triple H took over the recruiting at one point; his mindset was different than the people before him and he started looking at wrestlers and people who had been doing this for a long time. Like I said, at that point, I had been doing it for 13 years. So once I got my chance, I knew all I needed was an opportunity. I kinda always felt that way so once I got it, I really had no doubt about what was going to happen."
While it took him nearly 15 years to make it to the big leagues, Owens wasted no time when he debuted on both NXT and RAW. First, he entered a feud with his real-life best friend, Sami Zayn, and then went after one of the greatest of all time: John Cena.
The former Universal and NXT Champion has wrestled for nearly every major promotion in the world but says nothing can prepare you for the sheer scope of WWE’s product. The Prizefighter continued, elaborating on how his trainers from NXT got him ready to confront somebody of John Cena's caliber on his first night in WWE.
“Just being in front of the sheer size of the audience. You know, that's something in itself but also knowing that there's millions of people watching on TV when it is televised. That can definitely weigh on your mind. But at the same time ... I really felt like I belonged there. I just was confident in my skills, confident in my craft and, you know, the time I spent in NXT ... it was pretty short. But I had access to some incredible minds there," Owens said.
He continued: “I had access to guys like Robbie Brookside and Terry Taylor and Norman Smiley and Dusty Rhodes, who — Dusty, especially was just so instrumental in getting me ready for the night I showed up on RAW to confront Cena. I remember thinking when I was in the room with John, thinking about like, I can almost hear Dusty’s voice telling me little tricks about how to stand in the ring and a certain way to command more presence and just how the camera will catch you this way if you stand that way. And this and that. And that really helped me ... the fine tuning of what I didn’t necessarily acquire on the independents because like I said, there's nothing like the scope of WWE television. It definitely could be intimidating, but I felt so ready for it all. I've been waiting for this for so long. I felt very much at home from the get-go.”
While Owens did wait a decade and half to receive the call from WWE, he had been wrestling with guys like Sami Zayn for years already. Owens and Zayn traveled the world for years before making it to WWE, wrestling each other for various promotions in hopes their chemistry would catch someone’s eye. Working with Zayn his entire life only helped Owens when he got to WWE as he went right after Zayn on his first night in NXT.
“Well, he's actually unbearable,” Owens joked about Zayn. “No, really it was great. He's the best ... And look, regardless of the experience we had with each other already, it's never bad to be in the ring with someone like him ... Everybody always knew he was pretty good. I don't think anybody really realized just how good he was until just recently ... I've known that for 20 years at this point. He's probably the absolute, in my opinion, he's the best in the world. And I think more and more people are realizing that now. So obviously, regardless of whether he and I have 20 years experience working together or not when I got to WWE, getting to go into something with him, as talented as he is, that always helps as well. So you know, I was very lucky. I started actually with Sami. I started on the main roster with John Cena. I can hardly think of two better guys to start off with.”
And now, the WWE landscape is changing. From a new head of creative in Triple H to Superstars such as Bray Wyatt and Johnny Gargano returning, the company doesn’t look the same this week as it did last week. The quickly changing industry is hard for anyone to navigate, but surprisingly hard for a veteran superstar such as KO. However, while he has been trying to find his footing over the past few weeks, he is enjoying the freshness and change in mentality backstage.
“You know, the landscape has kind of shifted recently. So everybody's kind of figuring out where they stand. And I'm kind of doing the same. I had a few good weeks there where I was able to kind of remind everybody what I can do in the ring. I had a lot of matches with Chad Gable and Drew McIntyre, Jey Uso, Austin Theory, just to name a few of those guys. So we put on some really good matches. And I think I showed everybody what I can still do in the ring because it's easy to forget sometimes," he said.
The drastic changes within WWE can mostly be credited to the aforementioned new regime: Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and President Nick Kahn are now in charge of the company and they’ve already made major changes in the few short months they’ve been in charge. From bringing former Superstars back to WWE and changing the entire presentation of NXT, the new officials of WWE have changed the landscape. When we asked Owens about the changes, he said he thinks it's a good thing.
“I think, honestly, it's a change in mentality really. And there was a shift in how the shows are presented, how the show is viewed. Change like that tends to energize everybody," he explained. "When there's a big shift like that, everybody wants the organization to continue thriving, and everybody wants to do good. So we're all kind of just making sure that we do our part to keep things growing and thriving. And I think that change kind of just brings new energy regardless, no matter how it happens. So now, I think everybody's excited to just do their part, and keep the show going and keep it as good as it can be, or better than it's ever been.”
Even with that positivity, it’s almost impossible for a Superstar to know the direction their career will take next — and Owens is in that boat. One of the reasons, however, that Owens is unsure of his future is because he feels like he already accomplished the biggest achievement in wrestling history. One that nobody else will ever touch.
“I don't know [what’s next]. I've been trying to figure that out myself, to be honest, these past few weeks, and I'm looking at everything. And I don't really know where I stand right now. I don't know why. I should," he said. "But the thing about me is, I always feel like I've managed to make the best of whatever comes my way. So I'm gonna keep doing that. That's the mindset I take everywhere. It's gotten me this far. So I don't see any reason to change it.
"Honestly, main eventing WrestleMania with Stone Cold is pretty much as huge as it's gonna get in terms of a wrestling career, so I don't really know ... I feel like that kind of changed my outlook on things," he continued. "I used to be so goal-oriented, and I want to get to the next big thing, and what's next. But now, I feel like ... I got to live something that nobody else will live. A Main Event of WrestleMania with Steve Austin; I would wager I’m the last guy who is gonna get to do that. So now, I'm really at the stage of my career where I just want to have a blast. And if I have a blast, I think people watching are gonna have a blast."