In one of the biggest surprises in WWE championship history, Kevin Owens, the frumpy everyday, average man who bills himself as a "prize fighter," became the second Universal Champion ever on Monday night, pinning Seth Rollins in the process.
With help from Triple H, Owens won a fatal-four-way to capture the crown. The details of the match, however, are less important than why Owens is now the king of the mountain.
Owens' story is remarkable in that he doesn't look like your typical world champion. The Canadian Owens more resembles Roy Nelson from UFC fame than John Cena, who has held the WWE Championship 15 times.
But Owens caught fire with WWE fans two years ago when he took NXT by storm. NXT, the WWE's development territory, embraced Owens for his incredible work ability, hilarious comedy on the mic, and as something of an anti-WWE superstar. Owens typically wrestles in all black, covering his portly physique. But unlike a lot of "big guys" in wrestling, Owens moves like a lightweight. He typically flips through the air, is quick with his transitions, and puts his body on the line.
Then Owens debuted in the WWE and challenged Cena. No one expected Owens to win, nor did anyone expect the fans to fully embrace the character, cheering him over Cena. Owens, with his straight-talk and unrefined, unpolished demeanor, was a throwback to the WWE Attitude era.
You get a good sense of Owens' personality here:
In this PG-era of WWE wrestling, Owens can't swill beer or drown his opponents in Budweiser showers, but you could almost imagine him doing that with ease, shades of the old Stone Cold Steve Austin character.
Owens also has capitalized on the popularity of the UFC, with his catchphrases being "FIGHT, OWENS FIGHT," and "I am prizefighter." When Owens wrestles, the crowd typically chants "FIGHT, OWENS, FIGHT."
His T-shirts are among the highest-selling in the WWE.
Ironically, as the WWE was passionately, almost fanatically pushing Roman Reigns over the last year-and-a-half, it was Owens who was getting cheered by the fans. The WWE rarely shifts gears from the guy that it eyes as champion, but in the last year things have changed. AJ Styles debuted at The Royal Rumble, and was envisioned to be a mid-card guy, but the huge response by the fans forced them to push the TNA veteran to main event status. The same goes Finn Balor, who was wildly popular in New Japan Pro Wrestling, then NXT, before becoming the first Universal WWE Championp at SummerSlam.
Balor, however, was injured by Seth Rollins and is out for six months, forcing him to give up the title. This led to Monday night's match, where Owens defeated Big Cass, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns to win the title that Balor relinquished.
The WWE appears to be transitioning into a "reality era," with the recent Brock Lesnar beat-down of Randy Orton and The Miz's rant against Daniel Bryan. Shinsuke Nakamura, probably the best wrestler in North America right now, promotes his reality "strong style," where his moves are stiff and often legitimate.
The reality is that Kevin Owens should be the WWE champion. He's a great worker, he's a great talker and he has a dynamic presence.
After the match, Owens celebrated in the ring with the belt as the fans shouted, "You deserve it," repeatedly. That chant is the ultimate compliment to a wrestler. It's acknowledgement that in this fantastic world where reality and script sometimes collide, Owens is the best in the world right now at what he does. It's not Roman Reigns. It's Kevin Owens. Welcome to the Kevin Owens Show.