Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chronicling the History of Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens: The NXT Chapter of A Rivalry That Has Spanned A Decade Unfolds Tonight

Chronicling the History of Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens: The NXT Chapter of A Rivalry That Has Spanned A Decade Unfolds Tonight

I did my best to incorporate the name of tonight's NXT live event into the title of this article however it still rings true. The next chapter of the Steen/Generico story that began in 2003 unfolds tonight on the WWE Network. This chapter began at NXT's last Takeover event in December and prior to that event, I pinned an article on how epic it would be if it DID happen. Well, it ended up going down as you probably already know and we saw the Owens/Zayn chapter of this story begin. Tonight that chapter reaches it's first boiling point as the two collide over the WWE NXT Championship.

Before that happens though, I'd like to take the time to discuss what led us to the match that will take place tonight. I'd like to take you from the humble beginnings of Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens during their time as Kevin Steen & El Generico all the way up to their current NXT personas. From their debuts on the Canadian Independent scene to their partnership & debut in America to the ultimate betrayal that led to a rivalry that revolutioned independent wrestling and crossed over into the two biggest promotions in the US. So let's begin with the first chapter which showcases how they broke into the business.

Chapter 1: IWS & Breaking into the American Independent Scene

Owens & Zayn broke into the business around the same time in the same area where they both made a name for themselves in the Canadian promotion, IWS around 2002-2003. In 2004, Kevin Steen & El Generico got their first big break in America by debuting for Combat Zone Wrestling at their High Stakes event. CZW gave the 4 top talents from IWS a chance to show what they could do in the form of a four way match. This bout featured Steen, Generico, Excess, & Sexy Eddy. The four men wow'd the crowd, particularly Steen & Generico, which led to them being brought back. This match has a big historical significance because not only did it lead to Steen & Generico being brought back to CZW, one of the hottest indie promotions in America, it also led to them heading to Southern California to debut for a company that they would take to the top of the independent scene, PWG.

In a shoot interview with Kevin Steen & PWG founder Excalibur, I learned of this story and now is the perfect time to share it. On that same CZW show in which the IWS talent were given a four-way match to show their stuff, four talents from Southern California were also given that opportunity. Those four men were Super Dragon, Excalibur, B-Boy, & Bobby Quance. All of which were mainstays in PWG at the time. Steen, Generico, & their fellow IWS stalwarts went on first and blew the roof off which ended up rubbing the PWG squad the wrong way. However, the two groups eventually became friends after talking which led to a now iconic encounter in October of 2004.

At PWG's "Free Admission, Just Kidding" event, Kevin Steen and El Generico made their debut for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. They were originally scheduled to compete in a tag team match, but it ended up being turned into a singles encounter at the last minute. Needless to say, the two men put in the same stellar performance that they did at CZW, and as a result, won the fans in So Cal over big time. The two guys put forth the best effort and soon became a permanent part of the PWG roster. Little did the fans in attendance know that the two rookies from Canada that just stole the show would end up making PWG a must-see promotion in the coming years. That's what makes the match so great to look back on. It's not a classic as they were placed on the middle of the card and basically just went out & hit all their stuff, but when you take into consideration what it was the start of, it's one of the most historically significant matches in Independent Wrestling history along with the four-way from CZW's High Stakes event.

After their impressive performances at CZW & PWG, Steen & Generico eventually became two of the hottest young prospects on the scene. This led to the top promotion at the time, Ring of Honor, giving them a chance. Both men made several tryout appearances for the promotion in 2005, most notably against each other at "The Homecoming" event. Once again, Steen & Generico stood out respectively and it led to them being brought back in the coming years.

Chapter 2: Best Tag Team in the World

By the time 2007 rolled around, every Independent Wrestling fan in the land knew who Steen & Generico were. They became embroiled in a classic, brutal feud with the most decorated tag team in ROH history, The Briscoes which ended in a Ladder War that some consider the greatest match in Ring of Honor history.

Meanwhile in PWG, El Generico rose to the top by winning the PWG World Championship which led to the first ever high stakes meeting between the two. At the 2007 DDT4 event, Kevin Steen challenged El Generico for the PWG World Title in a match that saw the two men give everything they had, so much so, that they resorted to using each other's finishing moves on one another. Generico nailed Steen with a package piledriver and Steen hit Generico with a top rope brainbuster. It was certainly a sight to see and it foreshadowed the classics these two would go on to have in the future as the chemistry here was off the charts.

The two men went back to teaming after this though and they certainly hadn't lost a step as they defeated PAC (Adrian Neville) & Roderick Strong for the PWG World Tag Team Titles in June of 2007 which made Generico the first ever person to hold both the PWG World Title & Tag Team titles at the same time. It was certainly a groundbreaking moment despite the fact that Bryan Danielson, now known as Daniel Bryan, would crash the party.

None the less, the two men headed into 2008 with their eyes set on reaching new heights in the tag team world. During this time, fans learned that Steen & Generico would do anything to accomplish their goals as they FINALLY won the ROH World Tag Team Titles by defeating Tyler Black (Seth Rollins) & Jimmy Jacobs despite losing their rivalry against The Briscoes in 2007. They also regained the PWG World Tag Team titles during the year by defeating Joey Ryan & Scott Lost.

In 2009, the duo came into the year as the ROH World Tag Team Champions and held the belts until April. They continued to have outstanding matches across the board, most notably an amazing encounter with The Young Bucks on Night 2 of PWG's Battle of Los Angeles tournament that saw Steen take over 10 superkicks before the Bucks were finally able to put him away. That leads us to the next chapter of this story.

Chapter 3: A Friendship Goes Sour, A Blood Feud Begins in ROH

At ROH's Final Battle Event in 2009, Kevin Steen & El Generico went to battle with The Young Bucks once again and unfortunately, came up short. It wasn't that simple for Mr. Steen though. Frustrated with the loss, Steen viciously attacked Generico which shocked many fans as they saw the top tag team in ROH fall apart before their eyes. This act began a feud that would dominate Ring of Honor for the entire calendar year of 2010 and provide many epic & brutal encounters. From Steel Cage Matches to Double Chains Matches also involving Colt Cabana & Steve Corino, their was only one way to settle this feud - A Fight Without Honor with the stipulation of the loser leaving Ring of Honor for good.

Just one year after the betrayal that shocked the ROH fanbase, Steen & Generico beat each other to hell and back in the aformentioned Fight Without Honor at Final Battle 2010. The PPV name certainly foreshadowed the result of this match as it was the final battle between the two after a year of taking each other to the limit. The fan favorite El Generico would come out on top on this occasion thus sending Kevin Steen packing per the stipulation of the match. Steen's time in Ring of Honor came to a violent close.

Chapter 4: The War Is Brought To Pro Wrestling Guerrilla

Heading into 2011, independent wrestling fans figured they had the seen last of the Steen/Generico rivalry as Steen was released from ROH. This led to Steen making his return to PWG where El Generico was still a mainstay. For the first few months, the two men didn't cross paths, however, when Steen defeated Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro) to become the PWG World Champion, the two men who provided fans with an unforgettable feud in 2010 were officially set on a collision course to clash once again. At the 2011 Battle of Los Angeles, this inevitable battle came to fruition as both Steen & Generico advance to the finals of the tournament. The two men battled it out for one of the most prestigious tournaments in wrestling and Generico once again came out on top over Steen which earned him a shot at Steen's World Title. Not just a regular match though, a Ladder match.

Due to the history between the two, this became one of the most highly anticipated matches in PWG and Independent Wrestling history. It certainly lived up to the hype as the two men destroyed each other throughout the legion hall in Reseda at PWG's "Steen Wolf" event in October of 2011. This bout saw Generico bleed from his back from all the violent ladder bumps he took and Steen take a powerbomb off one ladder through another as well as a backbody drop from in the ring to the outside through a ladder. In the end, Generico would once again be victorious thus becoming the PWG World Champion.

This would end their rivalry in PWG for a short period of time however they would soon cross paths again as Steen got his rematch for the World Title in a match also involving Eddie Edwards. Steen finally was able to come out victorious here and regain the PWG World Championship for the third time.

Chapter 5: One More Battle in Ring of Honor

Just as the PWG chapter of their rivalry cooled down, it heated back up as Steen made his return to ROH and became the World Champion. After some time away, Generico made his return in the form of a box containing mask that was delivered to Kevin Steen after his sucessful title defense against Michael Elgin. This led to ANOTHER battle between Steen & Generico in the form of a Ladder War at Final Battle in December of 2012. Steen came out on top here thus rectifying his loss from two years prior and retaining the ROH World Championship.

Chapter 6: Teaming Together One Last Time

In early 2013, news broke that El Generico had signed a contract with WWE which led to him making his final appearances for promotions that he called home over the years. Most notably, PWG. Over the years, Generico had countless classic matches in the promotion and is to this day the most successful competitor in the company as he has won every title & tournament that they hold. That being said, his final night in the company was extremely emotional however it had tendencies to be a disaster as Steen & Generico were teaming up for the first time in four years. As the night went on the two began clicking again, Steen's hostility slowly went away and as a result, they advanced to the finals against long time rivals, The Young Bucks. Unfortunately, they weren't able to pick up the win due to some miscommunication and cheap tactics by The Bucks.

After the match, Generico held his hand out to Steen for a handshake. Although the two were seemingly getting along again, Steen brushed it off and left the ring. Or so we thought! Steen instead runs back in the ring and hugs Generico in one of the most chilling moments I've ever seen in wrestling period. Streamers rain down as Steen tells Generico that he would be nothing without him. After all they went through, from teaming to being bitter rivals, they are parting on high note which warmed everyone's hearts and reminded all the fans of why they love pro wrestling.

Chapter 7: WWE NXT

While Generico rode off into the sunset and joined WWE as Sami Zayn where he soon became a fan favorite in NXT. Steen took a vicious turn for the worst in PWG where he aligned with the most hated men in the company, The Young Bucks & Adam Cole and proceeded to cut a hateful promo in which he disparaged the fans who disrespect him by booing him despite the fact that he's still here whereas Generico left. He also mentions the fact that no one even acknowledged that he was in the ring on the night of Generico's farewell despite him burying the hatchet. It's a passionate promo that foreshadowed what would happen when Steen finally got within walking distance of Sami Zayn once again.

On December 11th, 2014, Kevin Steen made his debut in WWE under his new ring name, Kevin Owens. He defeated CJ Parker in an impressive effort early in the night however Steen was not done. Long time friend/rival Sami Zayn gained the biggest victory of his career later on that evening which led to the whole locker room joining him, including Kevin. He hugged Zayn in yet another unforgettable moment that signified how far the two men have came. However, the frustration that was shown by his actions in PWG prior to coming to WWE as well as in his pre-debut vignettes came to reality as Owens attacked Zayn and powerbombed him on the ring apron.

That leads us to now. The rest of this Chapter will be written tonight and I'd say it's a must see for any fan of pro wrestling. This could very well become one of the greatest rivalries/stories of all time considering they already have a decade of history together. What's next on this rollercoaster ride? I'm not going to even try to predict it because Owens & Zayn never cease to amaze me!

Thanks for reading & be sure to follow me on Twitter @EthanPWT and this blog @ThePWTruth!

Disclaimer: I do not claim rights/ownership of any of the photos/gifs used in this blog post.

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