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Born Rivals: Examining the Storied History Between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens

It's time to look at one of the longest-standing rivalries in WWE history!

By Chris Phelan
Wwe Kevin Owens Roman Reigns Royal Rumble

Throughout the annals of WWE history, some Superstars are irrevocably linked together. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. Steve Austin and The Rock. Some feuds become so intense, so personal, that they wind up defining an entire era in the world of professional wrestling

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Today, USA Insider is placing the rivalry between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens under the microscope.

Two Different Superstars, Two Very Different Journeys

It's eye-opening to think about how much fate played a part in creating one of the most intense rivalries in WWE history. To the typical member of the WWE Universe, Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens would seem like their paths would never cross – after all, their debuts in WWE couldn't be less similar. 

Debuting on the main roster in 2012 – after a short stint in NXT – as part of the legendary faction known as The Shield, fans and critics alike correctly pointed at Roman Reigns as the eventual "future" of WWE. While Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are arguably just as capable stars, Reigns was being seen as the next great WWE Superstar by management and fans alike. The Shield were given high-profile matches against some of the top talent in the industry, and their collective star power was so impactful that all three men rose up the ranks in WWE at lightning speed. However, for Roman Reigns, his ascension to the top of the company wasn't a matter of "if," but "when."

RELATED: Hall Of Famer Kurt Angle Thinks Roman Reigns’ Dominance Is Hurting WWE

Wwe Kevin Owens Roman Reigns Royal Rumble 2023 3

On the other hand, Kevin Owens wasn't exactly anointed as the company's future upon arrival. After years of honing his craft as an independent wrestler, Owens made his NXT debut in late 2014 and quickly captured the NXT Championship. His grit, toughness, and jaw-dropping moves catapulted him quickly to the Monday Night RAW roster, capturing the Intercontinental title in 2015. 

In fact, in the eyes of many members of the WWE Universe, 2015 was when the Reigns/Owens rivalry was first ignited.

2015: A Precursor To Something Bigger

Like Bret versus Shawn in 1992, sometimes the most classic rivalries in history begin innocuously over a bout featuring the WWE Intercontinental Championship. SmackDown hosted a match featuring the two men going head-to-head for a championship for the first time. In 2015, the stakes were relatively low – the two Superstars hadn't yet engaged in the bitter grudges that would define their relationship later in their careers.

In what was typical for Kevin Owens in 2015, the Prize Fighter saw the writing on the wall during this Intercontinental Championship bout – he realized he was no match physically for the larger and more imposing Reigns. So he walked away, taking a count-out loss but keeping his newfound title. This first championship meeting did not indicate the future fights they would have inside the ring, but it served as a precursor to something greater.

As fate would have it, both Superstars found themselves at the top of the WWE pecking order by 2017, where they would once again repeatedly butt heads.

2017: The Initial Clash Over the Universal Championship

What a difference a few years makes. While just two years earlier, Reigns and Owens were competing in a low-stakes match for the Intercontinental Championship – it's a stark contrast to 2017 when they found themselves suddenly competing for one of the top titles in all of professional wrestling. Although their desire to be the best of the best fueled their aspirations, their battle over Kevin Owens' Universal Championship still seemed to be missing the inner bitterness that turns feuds legendary. In the ring, however, they never disappointed the WWE Universe. 

In the end, Kevin Owens enjoyed a lengthy Universal Title reign that spanned nearly 200 days, and Roman Reigns constantly found himself coming up short of dethroning his rival. It took a returning WWE Hall of Famer – the legendary Goldberg – stepping up and doing what Roman Reigns couldn't: Take the Universal Championship away from Owens.

At this point in their careers, the two men drifted apart. Kevin Owens became embroiled in feuds with Chris Jericho and his long-time best friend/enemy Sami Zayn, while Roman Reigns collided with the biggest and best names WWE had to offer on his way to reaching the pinnacle of his career.

2020: The Rivalry Becomes Exceedingly Personal

In a way, fans can argue that Roman Reigns used his failures against Kevin Owens to motivate him for greatness. After all, he attained his most tremendous success in WWE after consistently failing to wrest the Universal Title away from Owens.

As is typical for any elite WWE Superstar, major title shots always seem to come your way. Once again, Kevin Owens found himself as the top challenge for the Universal Championship – a title that, by 2020, was held by Roman Reigns – who won the title in his first match back since being diagnosed with leukemia. However, as Kevin Owens soon learned, Roman Reigns was a completely different beast. This time, The Bloodline had his back, and his flesh and blood proved they would do anything to keep the Universal Championship around Reigns' waist. After falling short against Reigns at TLC 2020 (thanks to timely interference by Jey Uso), the rivalry between the two men went to another level.

For the first time in WWE, their feud wasn't based on who was the better man. Instead, the WWE Universe realized it was Kevin Owens against the entire Anoa'i family. It wasn't a fair fight – but Owens never stopped fighting.

By Royal Rumble 2021, the war of words reached a boiling point. After weeks of Owens' passionately raging against the machine known as The Bloodline, only to be met by the cool, calm, and deflective demeanor of The Tribal Chief, the two men had a showdown at the Royal Rumble in the form of a Last Man Standing Match.

Of course, savvy fans know the drill by now: Roman Reigns has been untouchable. So while Kevin Owens looked to have the upper hand multiple times in the Last Man Standing Match, the writing was on the wall: Roman Reigns had already completed his transformation into a WWE version of Thanos. Owens had no chance. 

But even if he knew he had no chance, Kevin Owens never let Roman Reigns get too far out of his sight.

2023: The Battle Lines Are Drawn Over Blood and Friendship

Wwe Kevin Owens Roman Reigns Royal Rumble 2023 2

It's fitting that the only way for Kevin Owens to properly even the odds against Roman Reigns is to recruit some family of his own – although it took some time. 

At Royal Rumble 2023, Kevin Owens found himself in a familiar position. Once again, he was looking to usurp the mighty Roman Reigns, the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. In the weeks leading up to this match, Owens let bygones be bygones and was constantly in the ear of Sami Zayn, who had found himself embraced by The Bloodline for the past year. However, Owens knew something that Sami Zayn didn't – thanks to his endless rivalry with Reigns; he was privy to information that Zayn didn't. Roman Reigns couldn't be trusted, and Owens dedicated himself to educating his former friend about the true colors of The Tribal Chief. Unfortunately, Sami found out too late, and Kevin Owens once again found himself unable to defeat Reigns – in addition to being handcuffed to the ropes and brutalized.

We all know what happened at the 2023 Royal Rumble: Sami Zayn finally saw the light, and for the first time in years, he and Kevin Owens were brothers again, but this time they had one common goal – revenge. Roman Reigns and The Bloodline drove them apart, but they were brought back together by the same forces.

Today, the rivalry between Reigns and Owens can be defined by family. Whether you're blood or not, family is the only thing that matters – and it's the only thing more important than championships. While Owens is enjoying a much-deserved Undisputed WWE Tag Team title reign, the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship is still around Roman Reigns' waist. 

If history has told us anything, it's that these two Superstars will find themselves squaring off once again in the future. Although we can't imagine the rivalry getting more intense than it has been, if anyone can find another reason to hate each other, it's Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens.

Catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock.

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