I’ve always loved pro wrestling. I love the stories they tell, how matches build to a crescendo with all the near falls and false finishes. I love the big moments.
So to see a guy like Kevin Owens – who is a guy that is not the prototypical bodybuilder type – win the WWE Universal Championship on Monday Night Raw was huge. I can kind of relate to Owens because we’re both bigger guys who became champions. Seeing guys like us become world champions gives the everyday man the idea that you can do anything, regardless of your stature.
I didn’t follow Owens on the indie scene but I saw that he was well liked when he got to the WWE and I wanted to know what was up with this Owens dude. I just started liking him, but my son hated him because he was fighting John Cena. I think he’s crazy but a very good wrestler. That guy can really work a match and that’s what I come to see.
Guys like that are special.
If you go back to the days of guys like Dusty Rhodes and Mankind, they were the champions that you didn’t expect. When Mankind was champion in WWE (then WWF), that was kind of when Monday Night Wars switched. When Eric Bischoff went on WCW’s Monday Nitro and said that Mankind was going to win the WWF championship, he really thought that he was going to ruin it. But it made people go wow Cactus Jack is actually going to get his chance? People are interested in seeing something different and people see something different in Kevin Owens. He’s a guy that is not the super muscular type but he wrestles well, he’s great on the microphone and he’s agile and athletic.
It’s funny because pro wrestling was my gateway into wrestling (which eventually led me to where I am today). Back in the day we’d go to the Blackham Coliseum and the Heymann Performing Arts Center in Lafayette and see guys like Ernie Ladd, Kamala, The Junkyard Dog and The Fabulous Freebirds pass through the territory. I would see guys who ended up wrestling at the highest-level get their start in these little gymnasiums in Lafayette.
So you can imagine what it was like when I signed up for wrestling in high school, I thought I was going to be doing WWE style moves. I went out the first day and I started in what is called the referee’s position. It felt like I was making myself lose by dropping down to my hands and knees and then having to get up again I didn’t quite understand. I actually wanted to quit but once I started doing it I loved it. I learned at a very young age that wrestling was an individual sport and I was responsible for my results.
People ask if I ever considered becoming a pro wrestler. There was a time, right after the 2004 Olympics. The WWE was in Tulsa and I got the opportunity to sit right behind the commentators at a Monday Night Raw. I got to go backstage and talk to everyone. They were seeing if I was interested in doing some of the training and eventually trying out. But Kurt Angle looked me dead in the face and said, “Look, you’ve been in the top 5 two years in a row, once you leave the wrestling world, there’s no going back. This will be here. If I was you, I would continue to wrestle and see if you can accomplish your ultimate goal.” That was pushed me to keep wrestling on the Olympic level instead of trying out for the WWE.
I’m 37 years old and once I’m done with MMA, this is it for me. People will try to convince me now to consider a career in pro wrestling because of the level of success I’ve had in fighting. If I was a middle of the road fighter who had some passion for the pro wrestling business, maybe I would consider it. But with the level of success that I’ve had along with how busy I am with my TV career, it’s just not going to happen.
Anyway, I love that Kevin Owens won the title. After Finn Balor got hurt, it felt good to see the WWE do something different with Kevin Owens instead of sticking the title right back on Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins. (Even though I’m a die-hard Seth Rollins fan!)
We have to see how long they stick with Kevin Owens. They have to find out how he does. He is overly popular with the fans but at the end of the day this is a business and he has to sell merchandise and sell out arenas. When you put Kevin Owens in the main event on a house show, you have to know the people will show up. I think this will be a test drive.
But, rest assured, this may be his first, but it certainly won’t be his last reign as champion.