Let me ask you a few questions dear reader; are you happy with how Kevin Owens’ Universal Title reign has gone? If you’re not, why not? If you are, tell me why. I’m a displeased fan when it comes to the handling of this reign, and I’ll tell you why.
I am a huge Kevin Owens fan, as many of you are. I know that watching over the last few weeks and months during his Universal Title reign he (along with Chris Jericho) have produced some of the most entertaining content that WWE has had to offer on either of their flagship programs. During his reign however, RAW has been plagued by plunging ratings, frustrating storylines and just a general malaise that doesn’t seem to have bogged down the Smackdown! brand in the same way. I’m not a huge believer in ratings. I think they’re antiquated, but they are still the best measuring stick we have. So when I see Owens “blamed” for the sagging ratings on RAW it becomes extremely frustrating. The fact of the matter is, it’s nearly impossible to blame Owens for failing as a champion when he’s been booked to fail.
Here’s a stat you probably weren’t aware of. By the time RAW hits the airwaves next Monday on 1/9/17 it will have been over a month since Kevin Owens has been on the winning side of a televised match. The last was his 12/5/16 appearance against Sami Zayn. How is someone supposed to draw ratings when they aren’t established as an actual legitimate threat? Now I understand that he’s a heel, but when did “Fight Owens Fight” become “Lose Owens Lose”? The character is entertaining as hell still, but not only is he not being presented as a legitimate champion, he’s not being presented even as a true contender for the title he already has.
I was fearful after his run-in with John Cena where he was on the losing end of the series that he’d be irreparably damaged in the way that we saw with Rusev and Bray Wyatt and others who had their legs cut out from under them by running into Cena at the wrong time in their career. Instead Owens thrived. He won the Intercontinental Title, and defended it in a multi-man ladder match last WrestleMania. The loss in that bout led to the culmination of the blood feud between he and Zayn that produced some of the better matches of 2016. Owens was a logical choice, while also a pleasant surprise for Universal Champion to replace the injured Finn Balor. But as much as Balor was handed exceptional booking upon his main roster debut leading to the title with wins over some of the biggest names in the business…Owens has been grossly mishandled. Balor showed up on the scene and landed huge win after huge win after huge win all in clean fashion. Owens as Champion has been handed loss after loss after loss even in retaining the title.
Again, I understand that there are differences between heel and face. I get that a face champion needs to have different booking that paints them in a different light. But since arriving in NXT I’ve seen Owens as someone who would fight anyone at any time. They called him the “prizefighter” for a reason. Every time he lost a title he was a “prizefighter without a prize” and it seemed only to make him more dangerous. But now that he has RAW’s ultimate prize he’s morphed into something different, something entertaining but harder to appreciate. WWE has done Owens no favors. The presentation of the champion is of the utmost importance. Seth Rollins was a solid act as a cowardly heel champion, but even he managed to still win cleanly from time to time in big matches. The character made sense for him. Brock Lesnar was a tremendous wrecking ball of a heel champion, and that too made sense for him. I’d like to see Kevin Owens as more Lesnar and less Rollins.
The other half of Jeri-KO should have a pretty firm grasp on what it is to have your legs cut out from under you as Champion. Many of us remember that Chris Jericho won the first Undisputed Championship. He was then quickly placed as Stephanie McMahon’s sidekick in her feud with Triple H leading to Jericho’s loss at WrestleMania. Owens feels like a placeholder until Balor’s shoulder is healthy enough for him to take back what he never lost. I know that many were excited to see where WWE would go with Owens after he won the Universal Title. I was excited to see how Owens would follow up on the help from HHH. I thought that they’d make a story out of it. Instead here we are months later and Owens has barely mentioned HHH’s interference, and it’s been used to instead build towards another feud that will overshadow Owens on RAW with Rollins and HHH. Instead of leading the charge on RAW, he’s in danger of having a C.M. Punk-esque reign.
That’s not a knock on Punk; his lengthy reign at the top was entertaining and well-deserved. Sound familiar? It's more a realization that Kevin Owens is the champion on a brand that he’s not the top dog of, and sadly he's not even close. Punk dealt with much of the same. There’s no question that RAW’s premier storyline is the one between the Beast Incarnate and Goldberg. Soon we’ll be seeing the aforementioned Rollins/HHH storyline take center stage. So if RAW’s ratings are dwindling, shouldn’t the blame be placed upon the part time stars that are being handed the biggest part of the spotlight? Owens, Jericho, Roman Reigns and Rollins are more than capable of giving WWE an interesting and compelling dynamic around the Universal Championship. But in order for that to happen the Champion needs to be the lynchpin. They’ve taken a nuanced character, someone who fought for his family so hard that he tossed away his friendship with his best friend to win the NXT Title…and they’ve quickly turned him into something cookie cutter that has lost the very characteristics that made him worthy of the title in the first place.
I’d like to see Owens used in the vein of Randy Savage. This isn’t to say in style, that’s ludicrous, only in terms of usage and presentation. Savage was painted as a dangerous champion. He wasn’t unbeatable, but he was dangerous, he was a man ready to fight. Whether it was over his title, over Miss Elizabeth, or anything else Randy Savage would fight. Fighting is the essence of Kevin Owens. As a heel champion you weren’t supposed to like Randy Savage. You were supposed to loathe him, but he still commanded your respect. That’s what I want from Owens. I don't want to see him always win cleanly, I just want to see him win, and without all the copious amounts of Jericho help. I’d like to see him come off as important, useful, and an actual focus of the program he’s supposedly the standard bearer for.
The focus of RAW is so far away from its champion that it’s almost mind-boggling. When looking at Smackdown! say what you will about James Ellsworth (and I hated him being near the Main Event) but A.J. Styles has been routinely showcased and routinely painted as one of the biggest stars of his brand. Owens hasn’t had that same luxury. Put the blame for a flailing RAW on its extended run-time. Put the blame on a crop of writers that have used lazy booking tropes to create stories rather than actually cultivate tales. Don’t put the blame on the man who should be steering the RAW vessel but has instead been submarined. Kevin Owens doesn’t deserve blame; he deserves praise for taking what he’s been given and fighting to be one of the most entertaining parts of RAW. But if there’s any hope for this reign to have real, lasting meaning they need to let him do what he does best.