Published on August 1st, 2014 | by Gareth Davies0
Can Kevin Steen Become The Next A+ Player?
On May 17th 2014, Ring of Honor staged its “War of The Worlds” Pay Per View, a special event where homegrown RoH talent would tangle with their New Japan Pro Wrestling counterparts. The card was filled with the cream of the crop from both promotions, boasting such performers as Hiroshi Tanahashi, AJ Styles, The Briscoe Brothers, GEDO & JADO, Adam Cole, Kazuchika Okada, and the legendary Jushin Liger.
However despite a talent pool to rival any other ever assembled, at the end of the night there was only one name on everyone’s lips. Having stolen the show with a 12 minute losing effort against Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Steen anounced to the world that he was leaving RoH. Steen, a mainstay of the company over the past couple of years and easily the promotion’s biggest star, cited family reasons and having been booked in back to back loses against Cole and Nakamura as the main reasons for his departure. By the time Silas Young interrupted Steen – setting up one final confrontation for “Mr. Wrestling” in RoH – the rumour mill had already kicked in to overdrive. The general consensus was that Steen was WWE bound.
And while nothing has been officially confirmed as of yet, that does appear to be the case. According to Dave Meltzer in the highly regarded Wrestling Observer newsletter, Steen attended a WWE tryout camp in early March along with several other independent wrestlers such as Roderick Strong and Willie Mack. According to reports, the New York big wigs were impressed by Steen’s ability to cope with punishing cardio drills, as well as his tremendous ability in front of a microphone. Steen himself is apparently keen to join the biggest wrestling organisation in the world, and has talked openly in interviews about his desire to provide a solid financial future for his young family.
It would still be a remarkable turn of events if it were to happen though. Because, despite everything, wrestling is still a cosmetic business. And Kevin Steen has a look and body type that traditionally the WWE has avoided the way Adam Sandler movies avoid critical acclaim. In essence, he’s too short and too out of shape to be a “superstar”.
But there’s no denying that attitudes are… er… adjusting within the WWE. Gone are the days where every new talent added to the roster has to be at least six foot four and a cut 260lbs regardless of if they could work a lick or not. Instead, thanks to the remarkable success of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, the WWE has cast it’s eye to the independent wrestling scene and started to hire performers who previously may have been ignored all together. Ten years ago would Sami Zayn, Dean Ambrose, or Adrain Neville have got a foot in the door? Would Bray Wyatt have been given a second chance after flopping as Husky Harris? Would new arrivals Fergal Devitt or KENTA have even registered on the WWE’s radar?
The answer to these questions is probably a resounding “no”. In fact currently the WWE is the most open and experimental it’s been for decades. In previous times when business has taken a tumble, Vince McMahon’s first port of call has always been to go back to the giants, the freaks, and those with classic body builder physiques. Over the years the company has tried to build around Sid, Deisel, Lex Luger, Mabel, Yokozuna, the returning Warrior, The Great Khali, Zeus, The Giant Gonzales, The Big Show, and the many incarnations of Kane, never with any great success. But time after time a drop in revenue has seen Vinnie Mac push the panic button, and before you can say “What-a-maneuver” the WWE title is around the waist of a big guy with bulging muscles once again.
And yet despite the WWE Network’s anaemic subscription figures and PPV carriers abandoning them like directors ditching the new Ant-Man flick, the top full time stars currently are Bryan, Wyatt, Seth Rollins, Ambrose, and Roman Reigns, with veterans John Cena and Randy Orton in the mix as well. Compare this to just two years ago when the WWE’s headline act was The Big Show and John Laurinaitis versus Cena, a tired repeat of a scenario we’ve seen a thousand times before, and the results are startling. The WWE feels fresh for the first time in a long time, and is actually taking a gamble on performers who don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of jacked up dudes with crew cuts and no personality.
In fact the room to advance, the chance to crack the glass ceiling so often derided by the mid carders of yesteryear, is greater than ever. And it’s tailor made for someone like Steen. With a greater emphasis being put on the ability to talk people in to seats and produce between the ropes, the WWE is now in the business of hiring personnel with star qualities rather than just star looks. Of course there will always be a place for genetic freaks who look like they can bench press E. Honda riding an elephant. But those performers are quietly becoming the exception rather than the rule, as the recent departures of Mason Ryan and Ezekial Jackson will attest to.
Even having said all that, we shouldn’t expect a smooth ride for Steen in Titan Towers. His take no prisoners approach to brawling is highly sought after on the independent scene, but will clash with WWE’s “take a flat back bump after three punches” style. And it will be difficult to stop those looking to preserve their positions from whispering that he “doesn’t know how to work” should he fail to adapt to the new regime immediately. Even his package piledriver finisher would have to be jettisoned, piledrivers of all types having long since been banned in WWE after the career ending injuries suffered by Steve Austin and Darren Drozdov.
However it’s outside the ring that ‘Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare’ might find his biggest challenges. There’s no denying that Steen has that “it” factor when it comes to promos. But, due to the WWE’s insistence on ensuring every verbal exchange is scripted and controlled, it is unlikely the noted zoo enthusiast will be given the same amount of freedom he was afforded in RoH. Of course as long as he can see eye to eye with WWE’s creative team then he should shine behind the mic. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to forget that it was the WWE who took Rob Van Dam’s passionate and compelling interviews in ECW and turned him in to someone who just smiles and says “Dude” a lot. That and Steen has not previously been backwards about coming forwards when publicly criticising storyline directions that he thought were absurd, most notably when Jim Cornette was the booker in RoH.
Then we have the body issue. While it is true that Punk and Bryan aren’t the obvious muscle men casual fans would usually associate with professional grappling, both have lean and – to various degrees – athletic physiques. On the other hand Steen has the type of figure that Vince McMahon is known to despise, and wearing a t-shirt to disguise this is unlikely to appease the boss no matter how hard he goes when in the ring. Instead he will probably be encouraged to dedicate himself to conditioning programs, and failure to do so will almost certainly lead to the same fate as poor Kassius Ohno (the former Chris Hero who was released from NXT after failing to keep his waist line in check).
Still, if Steen can apply himself and gets a break or two along the way, there’s chance he can succeed even against the odds. Realising their current main event crew won’t be around forever has lit a fire under the WWE to find new stars, and Steen could very well have a role to play in that transition. Equally adept as both a dastardly villain and an anti authority hero Kevin Steen brings an infectious sense of controlled chaos with him, one that is pretty difficult not to root for.
Will it be enough to propel him to the top of the WWE? It’s difficult to say, and history would certainly not be in his favour. Although, considering what he’s already accomplished and the fascinating new era we live in, it would take a brave person indeed to bet against Kevin Steen.