Most people’s idea of a professional wrestler are the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, and Hulk Hogan, walking action figures with physiques seemingly sculpted out of granite. But while they have become the standard of the sport, other athletes have managed to reach greater heights by going against the norm.
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The Big Show, Dusty Rhodes, Mick Foley, Mark Henry, Vader, Rikishi, and Bam Bam Bigelow are just some who have succeeded in the ring despite not possessing athletic-looking physiques. In the current landscape of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), perhaps the most top-of-mind name that fits this unconventional mold is Kevin Owens.
Owens, whose real name is Kevin Steen, looks shorter than his listed height of six feet, and tips the scale at 266 pounds. His body is undefined: his are arms short, legs are stocky, and abs are nowhere to be found.
But talent and work ethic? The 35-year-old from Quebec, Canada has got it in spades. Owens can effortlessly hang with the best of them in terms of executing flashy acrobatics and highlight-reel maneuvers. “It’s probably a lot easier if you’re ripped and jacked. I went a different way, obviously, and it’s been very rewarding to be me,” he says during a roundtable interview at Marco Polo Ortigas a few hours before WWE’s live event in Manila on September 20.
Owens initially gained a bit of a fanfare in the independent scene, where he wrestled for organizations such as Ring Of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and Combat Zone Wrestling. During that time, he also formed popular rivalries with El Generico and Claudio Castagnoli, now known under the ring names Sami Zayn and Cesaro in WWE, respectively.
His solid work in the indies caught the attention of WWE, causing him to direct his career path to the Stamford, Connecticut-based promotion in 2014. In just a short time, he has held numerous titles in the company, including the coveted NXT Championship and the WWE Universal Championship.
"I don’t know how many people have tried to change me throughout my career, and it was all good advice,” he says. “I don’t know if it was me being hard-headed or what. I just thought I was always going to do it my way, and I really did.”
Much like the rebellious character that he depicts on television every single week, Owens likewise marches to the beat of his own drum outside the WWE ring. Now that he is also using the infamous Stunner as his new finisher, he seems more like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin than ever. “I’m sure there would have been other ways to do it, but what I just decided to do is not let anybody tell me that I couldn’t, so I guess that would be the one advice I have for someone who doesn’t fit the mold, as you say,” he shares. “Hey, but if you’re young, just work out a lot.”
Owens may be an on-screen renegade that beats up people for a living in WWE, but he has a soft spot when it comes to meeting fans around the globe and performing for them live.
Aside from its monthly pay-per-view spectacles and house shows, WWE hosts weekly shows of Raw and SmackDown Live, regularly held in different parts of the United States throughout the year. This means there are some places that get to see a WWE event multiple times in 12 months.
“Places we don’t go to too much tend to be very excited to have us, which is a logical thing. If we go to a town more often than not, eventually it just kind of becomes a thing they get used to,” he explains. “So it’s great to come here and to other countries where we don’t go all the time, because we get to feel the excitement of people that don’t see us as many times as they wish.”
And Manila was thrilled to have him. Owens went up against Mexican extraordinaire Andrade “Cien” Almas as the opening act of Friday’s event. And when he walked out of the locker room and toward the ring, the crowd showered him with adulation.
Throughout the year, WWE hosts weekly shows of Raw and SmackDown Live that is regularly held in different parts of the United States, aside from its monthly pay-per-view spectacles and house shows. It means there are some places that get to see a WWE event multiple times in 12 months.
According to Owens, performing in front of a sold-out crowd who shows such passion makes the trip worth it, especially a country like the Philippines that does not hold a WWE show on a yearly basis.
The wrestler doesn’t get this kind of reception in the US, owing perhaps to the rebellious persona he takes on, and the aforementioned familiarity of WWE events in those locales. “This is just a thing that they see all the time, and I don't want to say that they don't appreciate as much because that's not the case, but the enthusiasm is different," Owens clarifies.
“When we get to places like Manila, we know it’s going to be special. We haven't been here in a while, and we're not here as often as other places, and that always makes for a pretty special night.”