So Kevin Owens (formerly Kevin Steen) made his debut Raw, a debut that was extremely well-received. Among the comments that said appearance precipitated, I saw several that ran along the lines of “WOOO Kevin Steen, fuck you Cornette!” Now Cornette’s stock has fallen quite a bit in recent years; indeed, I recently canned a 1,000 word piece I’d written about him because when I read it back I realised how crushing negative it was. But I actually thought Cornette was largely spot on about Steen: for I too am not a huge Steen fan.
The most frustrating thing about Steen is that there’s no doubt he is talented in the ring. But yet it seems to me he’s succeeded largely in spite of himself. Let’s begin with his weight. We all know the defence for it; “it makes him unique, it sets him apart from everyone else.” The problem with this is that it’s a rationalisation rather than a reason; a post hoc justification for the fact that in 2006 Steen’s weight ballooned and he’s never bothered to shift it. The truth is that on more than one occasion Steen has come out to the ring looking like his waters are about to break. Different, yes – but I’m not sure that it’s an entirely good thing. And when you add the beard that he grew…Cornette’s perfectly right – he looks like a wino that someone found outside the venue that someone clapped a pair of wrestling boots and leotard on.
Another problem Steen has is the amount of time he spends yapping with the crowd. Now of course, interaction with the crowd is an important part of wrestling; but Steen just takes it too far. It’s unsurprising he put out a series of DVD’s called The Kevin Steen Show; as that’s what the majority of his matches are. He gets in the ring, larks about, makes people laugh; and then, if he’s in the mood, he might just start wrestling and have a really good match. And a lot of times he does; but then other times he doesn’t. To use Cornette’s words again; “Kevin Steen is the type of wrestler that would rather appeal to the 10% than the 90%”.
Probably the best example of this would be the match Steen had with Drake Younger in PWG. This was a big match for Younger; he’d just come out of a successful feud with Sami Callihan and was booked to go over here. Yet Steen spent most of the match jawing with one fan in the front row; so long in fact, that I legitimately thought said fan was going to be part of the finish – there was no other reason for Steen to have spent such an inordinate amount of time focused on him. But it was just Steen being Steen. The match was a joke, and what should have been a huge win for Younger turned into a farce that was better best forgotten.
Steen’s grasp of psychology has always been suspect, particularly when it comes to his own character. Whether he’s supposed to be a face or a heel, he always comes across as being fairly obnoxious. When he turned heel on ROH at Final Battle 2009, in his first post-turn match (against Human Tornado) he basically did all the same things he’d done as a face, including making the crowd laugh – which as the companies top heel you really don’t want to do. Three months later, at the Phoenix Rising show, he had a match with Scott Lost where the crowd ended up chanting “Steen is awesome.” Again, Steen was the company’s top heel at this point. However, he did get a bit better for the rest of the year, which I assume Corino had something to do with. Needless to say it didn’t last.
As I said at the start, Steen can get it done in the ring – no doubt about it. The matches he had teaming with and wresting against Generico were amazing; the match he had against Tyler Black in ROH was arguably the match of the year in that promotion in 2010; his matches with Davey Richards in the same promotion were the best thing by a mile there in 2012. I’ve often compared his ring work to that of a brilliant, but lazy student; if you stand over them and make them concentrate and do it, they come out with some amazing stuff. But if you take your eye off them, they lose concentration and start mucking about.
If I had to compare Steen to another wrestling, oddly enough it would be the British Bulldog. Put Davey Boy in there with someone like Shawn or Bret and he wouldn’t have to be carried (unless he was off his head on crack of course); he could keep up with them and have a hell of a match. But he couldn’t carry stiffs; put him in there with someone like the Warlord and they’d have a stinker. Same with Steen – indeed, the major difference between him and Generico would be that Generico could get a great match out of the proverbial broom, whereas Steen couldn’t.
Of course, in spite of all this, Steen is currently on WWE TV working a program with John Cena (although that’s always a poisoned chalice). So is it a case of indeed, fuck Cornette and myself too, as the results speak for themselves? At the risk of getting somewhat high-falutin, the disparate reactions show that wrestling is a bit like either science or history; compelling arguments can be made for both sides of a hypothesis, and people make their own minds up for their own reasons, be they solid ones or not. It may well be that Cornette becomes the JB Priestley of wrestling; still defending phlogiston theory when everyone else has adopted oxygen. Time will tell.