Aug 30, 2016

Kevin Steen's 16-Year Journey Culminates In WWE Gold

"I don't think that scouts would necessarily say that I don't have a future. They might say I don't have a future like this."

-Kevin Steen, The Art of Wrestling (Podcast, June 5, 2013)

Kevin Steen's talent was never doubted by wrestling fans. Though he has never been the most muscular or in-shape athlete, his mic work, in-ring prowess, and close emotional connection with audiences all over the world cannot be questioned. But traditionally in the mainstream wrestling world, physique is often noticed before technical skill-sets. It was this underlying principle that may have contributed to the doubt Steen held in his own mind that he'd ever make it to the largest professional wrestling company in the world, World Wrestling Entertainment.

While wrestling on the independent circuit, Steen earned the respect of fans and colleagues alike through his rugged style of brawling combined with a fine-tuned foundation of mechanical mastery. Though he was not in incredible physical shape and didn't quite look like the prototypical pro wrestler, fans related to him, as he was not a mammoth bodybuilder like most recognizable wrestling stars. He represented the average guy, though this was not Steen's design in developing his in-ring persona. Steen was a major contributor to independent promotions such as Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring of Honor.

In ROH, Steen's character and wrestling style evolved throughout the years. Early during his time in the promotion, Steen earned the moniker of "Mr. Wrestling," solidifying himself as one of the most sound workers, wearing a typical wrestler singlet and displaying his excellent in-ring skills. Fans could see that he truly loved what he was doing and an appreciation grew toward him.  He believed in what he was doing and the fans, in turn, believed in him.

Over time, Steen would undergo a major change in character. ROH's booker during this period was wrestling legend, Jim Cornette, a man critical of Steen's work style and physique. The two would have a real life falling out, which resulted in Cornette attempting to eliminate Steen from the ROH roster. Steen would begin to appear on shows in what is now his now trademark shorts and cut-off shirt, playing the part as the man that was looking for a fight, whether he was on the card or not. Steen explained in out-of-character interviews that he felt more comfortable in his new ring gear and that the outfit meshed well with the person he truly was.

Steen persevered during this time. Although aware that his body type was not sought after by WWE, he continued to wrestle his style, his way. He eventually caught the attention of wrestling icons "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Both expressed their support of Steen and against all odds, he was eventually hired by WWE and assigned to their developmental territory, NXT in 2014.

"When I first got [to WWE] I didn't know if I should be who I am," Steen said in an interview with Chris Jericho in 2015.

Steen explained that he had a singlet ready to wear for his first WWE promotional pictures and videos. The pressure of trying to look the part of a wrestler had gotten to him. Steen went on to explain to Jericho that a conversation with fellow NXT wrestler, Enzo Amore, changed his mind on the outfit right before the promotional shoot.

Steen said that Amore told him, "Bro, just cut the sleeves off that Guns N' Roses shirt, put your shorts on and go down there."

Amore helped remind Steen that he should continue to be himself, no matter the perceived notion of what a WWE wrestler should look like. Steen would later be asked to change his wrestling name, to which he accepted. Steen would become Kevin Owens, Owen being the name of his son and the last name of one of his favorite wrestlers as a kid, Owen Hart. The name was dear to his heart and the change was welcomed by Steen.

Steen would debut in NXT in December and then would quickly move up to the WWE's main roster the following May. In his first main roster match, Steen shocked the WWE Universe by defeating one of the decade's biggest stars, John Cena, at the 2015 Elimination Chamber event.

Finally, in August of 2016, Steen won the biggest prize on WWE's Raw brand, the Universal Championship, by defeating three men in a four-way elimination match. In storyline, Steen was the antagonist that was enabled to win the title due to the interference that WWE COO, Triple H provided. But in real life, Steen is the family man that bet on himself and realized his dream on the flagship show of the biggest professional wrestling company in the world.

Although Kevin Steen portrays the "bad guy" Kevin Owens on television, he has earned the respect of the audience through his hard work and well-developed character. He has a deep connection with the fans that watch him wrestle, whether they cheer or boo him. Upon winning the title, the fans in attendance chanted "you deserve it" out of respect for the real person underneath the villainous character. Though Cornette and many of his critics said he couldn't be successful outside the independent circuit, here he is, the WWE Universal Champion.

Kevin Steen is proof that if a person believes strongly in who they are and what they're doing, the critics can be proven wrong. Anyone can overcome their own doubts that may arise in times of hardship and sacrifice.

On television, the bad guy won. But in reality, the good guy was vindicated.

Brady Sauvageau
The Heater

Aug 22, 2016

Biggest Stories Coming Out of WWE SummerSlam

WWE SummerSlam is in the books for 2016 and there are a lot of stories coming out of this six-hour show. From title wins, title changes, to injuries and beyond, the biggest PPV outside of WrestleMania definitely created buzz within the WWE bubble. Let's get to it.

Sasha Banks lost the WWE Women's Championship to Charlotte last night. The match was what it was. To the credit of both women, they set out to top previous Women's Title matches, though they did not succeed. After losing the belt, the internet exploded with rumors that Banks had failed a wellness test, thus resulting in the title change. As it stands right now, there has been no indication from WWE that Banks violated the policy. I'm leaning more toward an injury at this point. Hopefully there will be more information on this situation as the week moves forward.

AJ Styles and John Cena had a very good match early on the SummerSlam card. Many have criticized the bout on the grounds that there were too many near falls and too many simplistic sequences capped by finishers. While I agree that some of the match was simplistic, the fact of the matter is that this match accomplished its goal to the fullest. John Cena passed the torch. I realize that AJ is not young by any means, but he is now set up to be the number one heel on SmackDown Live as it can be presumed that his next program will be with Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship. Cena made AJ look very strong through notable kickouts such as one from an Attitude Adjustment from the second rope. After the match, Cena left his "never give up" armband in the ring and left to a standing ovation. Symbolic in that Cena will certainly be taking a lesser role moving forward as many outside-WWE ventures are on the horizon. This may have been the best match on the card.

In maybe the biggest story coming out of SummerSlam, Finn Balor beat Seth Rollins for the new Universal Championship. The sad news coming out of this is that Balor will be forced to vacate the title due to a shoulder injury he suffered in that same match. This is a huge blow to WWE as Balor has quickly become one of the company's brightest rising stars. The title match itself was great when you get past the fans' extreme displeasure of the look of the newly created championship. Balor will be out for six months. After an excellent debut and many good showings, it's a real shame to see a great performer out after the start he's had on the main roster. This might be an indication that WWE needs to reevaluate who stays in NXT for extended periods of time. Balor is one of many wrestlers that have a decade or more of experience that should probably move through NXT at a faster rate. Like Daniel Bryan, some of these guys and girls don't have a long shelf life arriving at WWE at this point in their careers. It might be time to give a serious look at shorter NXT runs, if not bypassing the developmental brand altogether.

Finally, Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton had a pretty good match in the main event. The match itself wasn't blow away by any means, but the finish really made it special. Orton took a legitimate elbow smash to the head and gushed a pool of blood in the middle of the ring. This forced the referee to stop the match due to Orton not being able to continue. From everything I've heard and read, this was an agreed upon spot between Orton and Lesnar (Dave Meltzer, Wrestling Observer). I enjoyed this match for one reason. There's a certain realism that comes with Lesnar that no one else in the company can equal. When Brock wrestles, you know you're going to get something special, something that blurs the lines of a work and a shoot. This match was a perfect example of it. It's tough one for Orton, though. It's hard to see where he goes from here as a top performer on the SmackDown. 

SummerSlam was definitely a solid show despite it's long length that hurt it in many respects. The PPV at the very least created some buzz. Again, injuries have come to haunt WWE and it will be interesting to see how they handle their plans and title runs being completely derailed as a result. More answers to come on tonight's episode of Monday Night Raw.

Aug 20, 2016

The Good Brother's Corner w/ Esai Saldana: SummerSlam Predictions

WWE SummerSlam is now the second biggest PPV in the company and this year's card is stacked. I expect this card to deliver a very entertaining albeit, long show. I am very excited for this event so let's get right down to business.

WWE Universal Championship Match: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor

In the battle for the milky way galaxy championship, my prediction is that the "Demon King" Finn Balor takes it. He's a new character, he's exciting, and he's fresh. You can't build him up to lose. WWE has a chance to make another star or make another geek. It has to be the Demon King going over.

WWE Championship Match: Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler

In this match you have two guys who may not have always been booked as stars. But one is taking his chance and running with it. That's Dean Ambrose. He isn't going to the standard, “I've been wronged behind the scenes," approach. He's coming off as cool and realistic in this angle. Ambrose is really stepping up his game and will walk out of SummerSlam with the WWE Title.

WWE Women’s Championship Match: Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte (Dana Brooke banned from ringside)

This is an easy one. It'll be the boss taking it. There is no reason for her not to and I feel everyone knows that.

WWE Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz vs. Apollo Crews

This one is interesting. Apollo, while being extremely talented, is definitely floundering a bit since being called up. The Miz and Maryse are doing their job as heels really well thought Miz is not the one who should hold the Intercontinental strap. A title switch would be a great way to get Apollo over and give him a plan going forward as the new IC champion.

WWE Tag Team Championship Match: The New Day (Xavier Woods & Kofi Kingston) vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

While this feud has been built off of Big E’s groin injury, I expect this match to be fun. People that are complaining of Gallows and Gun being too comedic clearly never watched their post-match interviews in Japan or know how they are. You can be smash mouth in the ring and still down the "b double l." I expect the good brothers to take the titles.

WWE United States Championship Match: Rusev vs. Roman Reigns

They gave this match away for free on Monday which was preposterous. But they did it and Roman won. With WWE’s 50/50 booking mentality, I expect Rusev to retain via some heel tactics to keep this program going.

First In Best of Seven Series: Cesaro vs. Sheamus

This match a few months ago would have bored me to tears. But the last few weeks they've had some great interactions. I like that it's an old school match, with two hard hitting guys. Cesaro will win the first match here at SummerSlam in what could be a real sleeper pick of a great match.

Randy Orton vs. Brock Lesnar

A match 15 years in the making and one that before two weeks ago, no one wanted to see. Paul E. being back to sell this match really helps. Any Brock match is interesting because he is still that special attraction. I expect him to suplex Randy to hell and get the win.

John Cena vs. AJ Styles

This match will be a great as their first encounter was epic. In usual John Cena programs, he usually ends up on top. But with him going away very soon and working a lighter schedule, he needs to be beat. AJ Styles is the guy to do it. I expect AJ to take this match and then challenge for the WWE Championship.

Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass

A thrown together team vs. an established team. Enzo will surely take the heat. Jericho will take the pin from Big Cass, whom you can tell Vince McMahon is smitten with. And you can't teach that.

Esai Saldana
The Heater

Aug 16, 2016

WWE Must Go With Finn Balor at SummerSlam

Finn Balor's WWE Raw debut was one of the most memorable, well handled pieces of booking in many years. In one night, Balor won two matches, most notably a clean victory over Roman Reigns to set up the first ever Universal Championship match at SummerSlam. Balor's opponent at that event: Seth Rollins.

As this feud has progressed, we've seen a face off between the two, Rollins delivering a promo dissing the "Demon King," Balor explaining the origins of his name, and finally the Demon emerging to bounce Rollins out of the ring on the go-home edition of Monday Night Raw. Before we dive into the finish of their SummerSlam match, let's briefly go over the unveiling of the Demon persona on free television.

A lot of people were shocked and disappointed that WWE gave away the Demon entrance for free this past Monday. I completely see that point and agree with it to an extent. I'll defend WWE's decision in this respect: Why not introduce this persona on Raw as opposed to throwing the two out there in separate singles matches or in a tag on opposite sides? I like the fact the both men haven't been in the ring wrestling much leading into this match. They've had a couple very brief exchanges and haven't over exposed either guy. The fact is that the main roster audience doesn't know Balor well. They've done a solid job of introducing his character to this fan base without relegating him to the pack of 50/50 mid-card Superstars. Instead of shooting the typical contract signing or promo battle, WWE opted for the Demon King to confront Rollins. The fans took to this persona and it got over easily with the go-home crowd. I would argue that this made the match more intriguing going into SummerSlam and the now the fans that may have been skeptical of Balor now see him in a completely different light.

Alright, time to discuss the Universal Title match finish.

WWE has no choice but to put Finn Balor over Seth Rollins at SummerSlam. There are no other options. It can be assumed that if this match is designed to crown the first Universal Champion, then there has to be a decisive finish. If there has to be a winner, then Balor must beat Rollins. Since the draft, WWE has pushed Balor to the moon and back. It would be completely nonsensical to invest this much time and energy into Balor to beat him in his first big match on the main roster. Also, the Demon persona cannot be beat this early. A major part of Balor's appeal and character comes from his transformation into his alter ego for big matches. If Rollins were to win this Sunday, all of the momentum and mystique Balor has right now will disappear. WWE would eliminate their investment and Balor would fall into the pack of wrestlers that are all positioned to stay in the mid-card. WWE's track record in these situations is not all positive, though.

Who can forget Kevin Owen's shocking win over John Cena in his first main roster match over John Cena? No one, really. But after the huge victory, Owens was defeated by Cena at two straight PPV's. Looking back on that, it's obvious that Owens should've won the best of three. Why not create a star with the first match and continue his momentum? Luckily for Owens, he's extremely talented and survived the mediocre booking. Another example is CM Punk's loss to Triple H just months after his famous "Pipe Bomb" promo. Why halt Punk's momentum? No one can really explain it.

The point of this is that Seth Rollins will not fall into obscurity by losing to Balor at SummerSlam. If the plan is for Rollins to eventually beat Triple H after a strong program, then losing to Balor is not a negative. Balor needs the win for his future, as well as WWE's. The Universal Championship will lend credibility to Finn while at the same time Finn will give credibility to the new title. It's pretty simple, really.

Considering everything that's in play here, it's obvious that Balor must beat Rollins for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam. If WWE wants to establish a new star that will help the company for years to come, the finish must be that. Balor has a win over Reigns already and has proven to be a force on the main roster. Sunday will be very interesting as we will find out if the company has its head on straight for the future. If Balor loses, the repercussions could be felt for years to come.

Brady Sauvageau
The Heater

Aug 8, 2016

RAW Trying To Continue Post-Draft Momentum (8/8/16)

This week's episode of Monday Night Raw was a somewhat forgettable one in many aspects. At the same time, we saw some decent segments and matches. Booking was here and there with positives and negatives both arising. I'm going to skip over a lot of minor happenings because like I said, there were many forgettable moments on this show. Also, I legitimately can't remember some of the segments that happened. I'm just being honest. With that being said, let's get right to it.

To start off, Cesaro and Sheamus had an awesome match. When they walked out to the ring I thought, "Dear god, they're doing this match again?" Well, these dudes beat the hell out of each other and entertained me to the fullest. Cesaro is over, but he was even more over as a result of this bout. He gave us new reversals and transitions which prompted the crowd to stand and clap for efforts in a great ovation. Cesaro is underutilized, but more on that later.

In a long segment, we saw Rusev and Lana attempt to reenact their recent wedding. There were flowers and cakes and everything. Roman Reigns interrupted, challenging Rusev to a United States Championship match at Summerslam. Rusev did not accept and a brawl ensued. The result of this was Lana being bumped by Rusev right into a cake. Mick Foley later made the US Title match official for the PPV. Vince's fingerprints were all over this one, but honestly, it was a pretty decent segment. WWE is again trying anything to get Reigns over as a babyface. It might work here, but the Brooklyn crowd for Summerslam will not be as accepting as the crowd at this show. Reigns was definitely more comfortable than usual in this segment, delivering his lines much more smoothly and genuinely than in segments past. He did a good job here and it'll be interesting to see how the latest Reigns experiment plays out.

Gallows and Anderson. Wow. I gotta say, I'm so glad that WWE seems to be realizing what they have with the two. In a comedy segment sent from heaven, Gallows and Anderson claimed to be doctors describing Big E's injury as a case of "Ringpostitus." The even had lab coats on. I can't recap this segment and do it justice, so you'll have to go back and watch it yourselves. The fact is that it was great, they're hilarious, and should do this more going forward. Not sure why Kofi basically did a job in the match after this, but hey, the booking is the booking and I really don't want to get into it.

Seth Rollins came out to do a long promo about how he's the best and he's going to beat Finn Balor for the new Universal Championship at Summerslam. The promo isn't the point of this paragraph, though. The positive coming out of this is that both guys aren't wrestling each week. WWE is holding them off thus creating more excitement to see the two wrestle. I don't want to see each guy wrestle each Monday leading up to the PPV. Keep it fresh, get the most out of the title match. Balor's appearance came in the form of a video, describing the demon persona and the folklore behind it. It was informative and another phase of the build to Summerslam. 

Straight away, I loved the final segments of this show. Mick Foley called out Daniel Bryan to discuss the Randy Orton/Brock Lesnar brand invasion situation. What really came out of this segment was to the benefit of Cesaro. Rusev came out to tell them that he was already a champion on Raw and that they didn't need another. Cesaro came out to say he deserved a shot. This is where things got great. Bryan announced his support of Cesaro by saying that he felt he was underutilized on the Raw brand. It was very smart to do this because it gives Cesaro a rub from Bryan. The fans got behind Bryan because he was a great performer. Cesaro is also a great performer. If the fans are getting behind Cesaro now, they may get into him even more if Bryan says he's underutilized. This may create the same type of situation for Cesaro as Bryan had with the fans. Cesaro ended up getting an impromptu United States Championship match, but lost due to interference from Sheamus. It was great booking in the fact that everyone was even more behind Cesaro, but didn't get to see him really win due to the screw job. WWE could be setting up a solid angle to shoot Cesaro to the moon and believe me, he'll deliver if given a real opportunity.

To wrap it up, Raw felt like a pre-draft era episode in many regards, but did some great things to build for the future. With Summerslam approaching we can expect a hot show next week for the go-home. The momentum of the first post-draft show is still visible and it'll be interesting to see how WWE continues to build on it.

Brady Sauvageau
The Heater

Aug 2, 2016

RAW Misses Early, But Recovers Late (8/1/16)

We can all probably agree that the second Raw of the supposed "New Era" largely wasn't very good. The show had some low moments that seemed to revert back to the pre-draft era. For awhile it seemed that maybe last week was a dream and it didn't really happen. But luckily for all, the show picked up in a massive way in the final hour. Let's hit the biggest takeaways from Monday's episode.

The biggest story of the "New Era" thus far has been the immediate rise of Finn Balor. After winning two matches last week (one over former champion, Roman Reigns), Balor was set to be interviewed by Michael Cole in the ring. Balor began his promo but was quickly interrupted by his Summerslam opponent, Seth Rollins. They had a very strong back and forth and solidified their roles and the angle. Balor dissed Seth saying that he had everything handed to him every step of the way in WWE, while he himself fought for what he had and took the spots of all the people that previously outranked him no matter where he was wrestling. The crowd really came alive for this as it was apparent that they began to realize the excellent match the two seemed destined to have for the new, Universal Championship.  This was a fantastic promo segment and a continuation of great booking for the two wrestlers. Last week, Balor immediately made an impact and was able to get over over the course of one night. On tonight's Raw, Balor didn't wrestle but rather was just featured. It was a smart move in that it preserves the allure of Balor and keeps him from being overexposed for the time being. Seth was saved last week, but was featured in an in-ring role on this show.

Skipping ahead, Rollins had an excellent match with Sami Zayn to cap off the wrestling portion of Raw. It was certainly the best match of the show. Rollins won, but Zayn fought valiantly and wasn't hurt by the loss. Rollins proved he could beat one Raw's best competitors, strengthening him for his upcoming match with Balor. So far, the build for this feud has been fresh and exciting as the anticipation for the Universal Championship match grows.

The beat down that The Club laid on The New Day was brutal. I don't agree with the finish of the match as it seemed nonsensical to have a pinfall if the angle was going to be the focal point. I would've rather seen a DQ, but hey, that's just me. Anyway, after The New Day's victory, The Club destroyed them. And when I say destroyed, I mean damn near killed. After the segment, Big E appeared to be injured in the backstage area. The Club got some heat and The New Day looks as vulnerable to lose their championships as they ever have.

The final segment of the show saw the return of Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. Heyman delivered another classic promo hyping the Lesnar vs. Randy Orton match at Summerslam. When it comes to textbook ticket selling promos, Paul Heyman probably can't be topped. Personally, Heyman completely sold me on this match even though I wasn't too excited for it when it was announced. He did an epic job of selling Orton's RKO as a dangerous equalizer without underselling Lesnar's perceived invincibility. The promo was really flowing as Heyman had entered his promo zone. Then, all of a sudden, Orton appeared in a flash and hit an RKO legitimately out of nowhere on Lesnar. The crowd went wild for this as we were given clear cut proof that Orton could strike with his finisher from any angle. Orton bailed into the crowd, just as Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon rushed out from the back to confront the SmackDown Live invader. Through Heyman's hype and Orton's brilliant flash-RKO, the Summerslam match received an incredible shot of life.

To wrap it up here, Raw missed its mark for much of the night, but was highlighted with a few very strong segments. It couldn't live up to last week's hot-shot booking, but still accomplished its goal of building for Summerslam. WWE will have to continue to search for the middle ground between last week's show and this one. Regardless, what was worth while on this week's Raw elevated Summerslam, and that's all we can really ask for.

Brady Sauvageau
The Heater