All wrestlers have to start somewhere on the path to making their dreams a reality, whether it be a wrestling school, church basement, bingo hall, etc. From there, those wrestlers work their way up to the pinnacle of their dreams. For many, that’s a career in WWE. But sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. In LWOPW’s newest feature, “Before They Were Famous,” we take a look at the pre-WWE careers of some of the company’s top current stars, following along on their road to superstardom. In this edition, we take a look at the early days of the prizefighter himself, Kevin Owens.
During his time in World Wrestling Entertainment, Kevin Owens has become one of the company’s top stars. The prizefighter of the largest wrestling company in the world stands as a former two-time world champion, once on NXT and once on the main roster. He has also expertly played the role of despicable villain and working class hero alike. As “KO” approaches his 36th birthday next month, let’s look back on his days prior to WWE.
Born in Quebec, Canada, Kevin Owens was an avid professional wrestling fan. Idolizing the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin during his youth, the French-speaking Owens learned English largely through WWE programming. He was also active in different sports, but despite his multiple athletic endeavors, he decided on wrestling as his career path. Owens was 14 when he began training. He learned under multiple minds, including Terry Taylor, who currently works as a trainer for WWE.
Kevin Owens wrestled under his real name, Kevin Steen, up until signing with WWE. He made his official wrestling debut in mid-2000 for Lutte International 2000; this Canadian promotion was owned by Jacques Rougeau, one of the men that helped to trained Steen. In the years that followed, Steen worked for other Canadian promotions, including CPW International, Elite Wrestling Revolution, and International Wrestling Syndicate. The latter was where Steen truly began to make a name for himself. In October of 2003, at Blood, Sweat and Beers, Steen worked a three-way match with Pierre Carl Ouellet and El Generico, the latter of whom Steen would compete alongside and against in the many years that followed.
In January of 2004, Steen participated in an EWR Championship tournament. Defeating the likes of El Generico and eXceSs 69, Steen made it through the finals, winning his first title in the process. The following June, at IWS V, Steen defeated eXceSs 69 to become the number one contender for the IWS Heavyweight Championship. Later that night, Steen cashed in his new opportunity on El Generico, who just won the IWS Heavyweight Championship from Ouellet. In under a minute, Steen defeated a weakened El Generico for the aforementioned title. They would only become more strongly linked.
As IWS Heavyweight Champion, Steen defended the strap in Canada and abroad. Case and point, in October of 2004, Roderick Strong challenged Steen for the title at Jersey All Pro Wrestling‘s Halloween Hell event. Steen’s run with the title came to an end the following November, when he lost it to Franky the Mobster at Born to Bleed. The autumn also saw Steen debut for Combat Zone Wrestling, where he would work with the likes of Mike Quackenbush and Chris Hero. In addition, Steen began to appear for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, another promotion that the future Kevin Owens became associated with.
Though Steen and El Generico started as rivals, they would develop a partnership. One of the earliest examples of this was the CHIKARA Tag World Grand Prix in February of 2005. As Team IWS, Steen and El Generico made it to the finals, where they ultimately lost to Quackenbush and Hero, The Superfriends. In PWG, Steen entered a feud with Super Dragon, who was PWG Champion at the time. Though Steen wouldn’t win it off Super Dragon, he eventually became PWG Champion the following August by besting AJ Styles. That same month, Steen won gold in CZW by becoming Iron Man Champion. Simply put, the young Steen was on a roll.
By 2006, Steen’s focus shifted. He had seen modest success as a singles champion in different promotions, but it was during his year that he teamed with El Generico on a more regular basis. Additionally, in October, Steen worked his first Japan tour with Dragon Gate. During said tour, Steen worked with such names as Jack Evans, CIMA, and Jushin Thunder Liger. In February of 2007, alongside El Generico, Steen worked shows for Ring of Honor, where he worked in the past. With Steen as the heel and El Generico as the face, they were one of the most unique tandems in wrestling. Their popularity couldn’t be denied, though, as they routinely stepped up to the likes of The Briscoe Brothers.
Not only were Steen and El Generico thriving in ROH, but other promotions as well. In July of 2007, they bested the duo of Strong and PAC for the PWG World Tag Team Championship. They would remain champions until October, when they dropped the straps to Davey Richards and Super Dragon. Not long after, Steen departed PWG and wouldn’t be back until the following year. In March of 2008, Steen and El Generico returned to the company to win the PWG World Tag Team Championship once more. They would drop the straps to Strong and Evans, which was followed by Steen’s second PWG departure. This allowed him to place more focus on ROH.
The aforementioned emphasis on ROH proved advantageous for Steen early on. In June of 2008, Steen and El Generico participated in a tournament for the vacant World Tag Team Championship. Though they made it to the finals, they ultimately lost to Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black, the latter of whom would attain WWE fame as Seth Rollins. The following September, however, Steen and El Generico won the ROH World Tag Team Championship from Jacobs and Black. They would successfully defend the titles through until the end of the year.
Steen and El Generico entered 2009 as ROH World Tag Team Champions, but would drop the titles to The American Wolves in April. This led to a series of matches between the two teams in the months that followed. Though Steen and El Generico continued to team throughout the year, their partnership came to a shocking end in December. At Final Battle 2009, they faced The Young Bucks in a losing effort. Post-match, Steen cut an emotional promo, giving his thanks to not only his partner but the fans that supported them. After sharing an embrace with El Generico, Steen proceeded to low blow and punish him with a steel chair. This team, which was beloved by fans in ROH and elsewhere, collapsed.
Moving into 2010, the more nefarious Steen joined forces with Steve Corino. More importantly, Steen entered a year-long feud with El Generico, which was one of the highlights of the year in wrestling. It was even awarded Feud of the Year by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. The former partners had heated matches at such events as Death before Dishonor VIII in June. Ultimately, this program came to a head in December at Final Battle 2010. In this unsanctioned match, if El Generico lost, he would have to unmask. However, if Steen lost, he would be forced to leave ROH. In this encounter, which lasted over a half-hour, Steen fell to his former partner. His ROH departure, at the time, was legitimate. Though he had a strong initial run with ROH, financial concerns and his poor relationship with Jim Cornette, ROH’s booker at the time, resulted in Steen’s departure.
2011 saw Steen ply his craft across the independent circuit, including PWG. Since Steen returned the previous December with a win over Akira Tozawa, the door was open to work more matches. He would even work the DDT4 2011 tournament in March, teaming with Tozawa. They made it to the finals before losing to The Young Bucks. The following July, Steen won his second PWG World Championship from the future Cesaro, Claudio Castagnoli. In August, Steen participated in the 2011 Battle of Los Angeles, which was ultimately won by Steen’s former rival, El Generico.
In October, Steen defended the PWG World Championship against El Generico in a ladder match; El Generico would win this encounter. Post-match, Steen was attacked by The Young Bucks, which prompted the return of Super Dragon. From there, Steen and Super Dragon joined forces as Appetite for Destruction. At December’s PWG FEAR, they faced The Young Bucks in a Guerrilla Warfare Match for the PWG World Tag Team Championship. Appetite for Destruction would win this heated encounter, Steen claiming his third PWG World Tag Team Championship.
While Steen was having the aforementioned run in PWG, he was reintegrating himself in ROH as well. He returned at Best in the World 2011 in June. On-camera, Steen was involved in a program with Cornette, who was none too happy with the star’s return. On multiple occasions, Steen, who was growing in popularity, was dragged out of ROH venues. Ultimately, Steen was given a match with Corino at Final Battle 2011 in December. Steen won the encounter; per the stipulation, he was brought back into the company as a talent.
Heading into 2012, Steen had singles gold in his sights. In March, at PWG World’s Finest, Steen won the promotion’s world championship. Only two months later, he bested Davey Richards for the ROH World Championship, becoming the first Canadian star to hold the title. From there, Steen formed SCUM alongside Jacobs and Corino. Steen saw incredible success as ROH World Champion, successfully defending against the likes of Eddie Kingston and Rhino. Steen capped off the year with a successful title defense against El Generico in a ladder match at Final Battle 2012.
Steen entered 2013 as a dominant ROH World Champion. Wins against Mark Briscoe and Jay Lethal only elevated his stock. In April, however, he dropped the title to Jay Briscoe at Supercard of Honor VII. Following the loss, Steen was betrayed by SCUM, leading to his face turn. After suffering multiple losses at the hands of SCUM, Steen was able to pick up a sizable victory against Jacobs in a Steel Cage Warfare Match, disbanding the stable in the process. From there, Steen entered a tournament for the ROH World Championship. He made it to the semifinals, where he fell to Michael Elgin. Meanwhile, in PWG, Steen had formed a stable with PWG World and Tag Team Champions, Adam Cole and The Young Bucks. Together, they were known as The Mount Rushmore of Wrestling.
2014 proved to be the biggest year for the man who would become Kevin Owens. Steen remained in the ROH World Championship hunt and even faced future fellow WWE star Shinsuke Nakamura at War of the Worlds in May. That same month, he announced he would be leaving ROH, wrestling his final match for the promotion against Corino in July. In PWG, his farewell match against Trevor Lee, the future Cameron Grimes of WWE, took place. The following month, WWE announced that Steen signed with them. Following multiple vignettes, he debuted as Kevin Owens at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution in December.
Since his WWE debut, Kevin Owens has achieved undeniable success. Two months after TakeOver: R Evolution, Owens defeated longtime friend Sami Zayn for the NXT Championship. The following May, he made his main roster debut against John Cena, who he scored a huge victory against at that month’s Elimination Chamber event. On the main roster, Owens became a three-time United States Champion, two-time Intercontinental Champion, and the second-ever Universal Champion. For the grind he put in throughout various promotions in the preceding years, it’s difficult to deny that his success is well-deserved.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.