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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Kevin Owens Has Quietly Ascended to Generational Cornerstone
By The Doc
Oct 13, 2017 - 12:39:38 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: If asked to predict the future for Kevin Owens, who do you think will end up being an appropriate historical parallel (i.e. Edge, Mick Foley, etc.)?

Since his rivalry with the Smackdown Live Commissioner escalated roughly one month ago, Kevin Owens has breathed new life into a floundering brand, the roster positioning of which had sucked away all the momentum it built from its classic run between July 2016 and March 2017. If Smackdown was a human-being, its creative decision making at the top of the card these past six months would be akin to it having suffered a stroke, robbing the once thriving brand of its vitality; KO has been working his butt off to rehabilitate Smackdown and, even though the blue team still has a long road to recovery ahead, Owens has offered hope of a full recovery.

It is not surprising, frankly. Owens has been enhancing, to varying degrees, each product that he has been a part of since debuting in NXT in late 2014. NXT, as a global brand more than a developmental territory, really took a leap forward in its evolution with KO's aggressive heel character at the helm and, though he was only its focal point for a short period of time, there was a noticeable difference in the NXT that he left compared to the one at which he arrived. When he hit the airwaves on Monday Night Raw to confront John Cena, he helped generate further the transition into what has since been loosely termed “The New Era,” engaging in a classic three-bout series with the Golden Boy that, perhaps more than any other in-ring rivalry sans Cena vs. AJ, is responsible for the popularization of the “Epic” match-style. Once Brand Split 2.0 was implemented in 2016, he was thrust into the spotlight as the Universal Champion and, across a six month reign, was the week-in and week-out go-to guy of Raw; the red brand may have initially struggled to find its footing, but he provided it with a rock solid foundation (and he did so by adding comedic timing to his already well-rounded repertoire). Owens, simply, is one of the best in the game.

Many assumed that, after such a successful WrestleMania 33 Season, both in terms of his character output (back to KO at his aggressive best) and in-ring performance (underrated classic at the Rumble and Mania mid-card classic to boot), he would move to Smackdown in the Shake-Up and almost immediately grab the reins of the show. Instead, a trend from the rest of his WWE tenure to date reared its head, and he stalled. Like a lot of his peers of the modern day, KO tends to near-constantly be in third or fourth gear, cruising his career steadily along its path, always relevant and sometimes knocking on the door of something all-time-level special, but then he gets stuck within the vortex of WWE's obsession with the past; when a decade ago he might have been hitting fifth gear, maximizing his worth by way of a sustained main-event stardom that explored the depths of his considerable potential, today he finds pushing the clutch and shifting to fifth gear wrought with creative interference. Such has made identifying KO's place in the over-arching WWE hierarchy difficult, or least more arduous than it ever has been before.

Legacy has always been a fascinating thing to yours truly; I wrote a book attempting to rank and file wrestler legacies for the entire WrestleMania Era, taking all of the relevant parts from all-time greatness discussions and blending them together to more analytically assess that incredibly weighty question, “Who's the greatest ever?” To be frank, I think that the WWE Network Era presents unique challenges in attempting to assess how we define modern wrestler legacies, like that of KO. The last few years have seen the rise of the next generation of top flight stars, but WWE has been resistant to fully embrace them. It has one foot stuck in the past, as evidenced by the proliferation of part-time performers and 2017’s decision to continue relying on the OVW Class of 2002; the other foot has swung into the present, but being caught in between a past and present mentality is confusing, as are decisions like putting the WWE Championship on a jobber with no discernible skill necessary to embrace his unbelievable opportunity – no other long-reigning WWE Champion but Jinder Mahal will be immediately excluded from any relevant conversation about greatness in pro wrestling lore. These are strange times and how we historically digest modern happenings is a still-evolving process.

Ten years ago, the mentality was different. New stars were established through consistency. Transfer that mentality to 2017 and Kevin Owens might have been booked far more similarly to Edge once the Rated R Superstar burst onto the main-event scene. Edge got hot, so they booked him accordingly and he stayed hot for several years. Owens, by the time his first two years had passed on the main roster, had been in a perpetual state of getting hot and then getting cooled down. 6 weeks with Cena was followed by several months of not much, which was followed by revitalizing the Intercontinental Title, but then by a WrestleMania spot shared with a bunch of jabronis; he had the great feud with Sami Zayn, then was en route to several more months of much less before Finn Balor’s injury prompted WWE to give him the ball as Raw’s leading man; most fans and pundits were not high on his title reign, though, due to how he was booked, and many believe that he did not hit his typical KO-stride (less comedy, more attitude) until just weeks before losing the title; the Chris Jericho storyline peaked well and at the right time for WrestleMania, but then he wound up taking a backseat to the Modern Day Mediocrity for several months until the last six weeks clearly moved him ahead of the WWE Champion in the hierarchy in order for us to arrive at this currently hopeful state of Smackdown.

Inconsistency of push aside, as his overall resume has been built, KO has begun to start looking like a formidable historical force in his generation. There are, of course, the kayfabe accolades – he has been a three-time United States Champion, a two-time Intercontinental Champion, and the Universal Champion for half a year; he has also been on the marquee at eleven pay-per-views opposite a Who’s Who of the WrestleMania Era, including but not limited to historical-heavyweights Cena, Goldberg, Jericho, and Shane O’Mac; he moves a fair amount of merchandise, he is one of the most engaging talkers in the industry, and he has one of the most diverse move-sets, the latter evidenced through stellar in-ring performances in a wide variety of match-types; he has delivered a Match of the Year candidate in each of his three calendar years on the roster (vs. Cena in 2015, vs. Zayn at Battleground 2016, and take your pick between what seem destined to be his two underrated classics this year vs. Reigns at the Rumble and vs. Shane last weekend).

More than anything listed on his tangible resume, Kevin Owens has stepped up to a level that very few of his peers can equal when the spotlight has fully shined on him during times that creative has fully invested in him. His efforts leading up to the Hell in a Cell Match with Shane were phenomenal, indeed, and they were reminiscent of his efforts during previous chances of comparable magnitudes from May-to-July 2015 and February-to-April 2017; and, thanks to these efforts, he can no longer be denied as a generational icon. The only thing that remains to be seen now is whether or not WWE will now consistently commit to building on the momentum he has generated from the latest instance of his brilliance; and, for the first time in months, I feel like I have to watch Smackdown Live to find out.

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