Kevin Owens challenges Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship on Sunday night at WWE’s TLC pay per view.
They have met before on pay per view, and one of the best matches of their careers took place against one another at the Royal Rumble in 2017. That match, which Owens won, was also for the Universal title, but the roles have reversed—Reigns is now a heel and has the belt, while Owens is the babyface looking to overcome the champ.
One of the best wrestlers in the world, Owens—who is 36-year-old Kevin Steen—has consistently proven he belongs in the main event picture. Reigns is in the midst of the most captivating stretch of his career, and benefits greatly from working with a talent like Owens. In only a few weeks, he has helped further amplify Reigns during this program, which has also included Jey Uso and Paul Heyman, leading to some incredibly gripping promos. Now Owens and Reigns have the chance to bring their story to the next level in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at TLC.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Owens discussed his current program with Reigns, the chance to return to NXT last month for commentary, and his long-term goals in WWE.
Justin Barrasso: Even though you have worked with Roman Reigns before, this current story feels so fresh. The dueling promos have added a lot, especially considering it has given you a chance to go one-on-one on the microphone against Paul Heyman. It’s also allowed you to work with Jey Uso. What is your take on the program? And would you like it to extend beyond TLC?
Kevin Owens: I’ve enjoyed all of it, especially getting to do stuff with Paul. I’ve worked with Roman before, but there is a different attitude and feel to the entire story. It’s great to do it in this setting now with the roles reversed. I’ve never done anything with Paul before, so getting to have a verbal joust with him on Talking Smack, and that’s really fun. Paul is unlike anybody on the mic, so it’s really fun and he keeps you on your toes. I hope this keeps going.
Also having Jey Uso involved, who is somebody else I’ve never really had the chance to do much with at all, has added a lot. We’ve never done anything together before this, and it’s nice to get to do stuff with new people, and we’re giving everyone watching something they haven’t seen before. As far as I’m concerned, this could certainly extend beyond TLC. We’ll see how all that works out.
Barrasso: Jey Uso has been fantastic in a singles role. He and his brother Jimmy are so well established as a tag team, but clearly he also has a lot to offer as a singles star, too. Are you impressed with what he’s been able to accomplish over the past few months?
Owens: I’m not surprised at all. I’ve always known how talented he and Jimmy Uso are. I actually got to have a one-on-one match years ago with Jimmy on Main Event while Jey was out with an injury. Like you said, those guys are so talented together as a tag team, so that’s how we think of them, as a tag team. They’ve been around for so long, and they’re top talent. So I’m not surprised at all to see Jey doing great.
Once Jimmy returns, and he’s given the same type of opportunity, he’ll show everybody his greatness, as well. These guys are a lot more than just tag-team wrestlers. They’re tremendous performers all around. It’s been great to see Jey get this opportunity. He’s also a really good guy behind the scenes, so any time something good happens for a good guy, it makes it even more special.
Barrasso: Creating a meaningful story is what leads to lasting moments in wrestling, and this story has been extremely entertaining. As you enter this Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match at TLC, is the goal to enhance Roman’s current story arc while staying authentic to your character?
Owens: Obviously we have to make sure that we end up where we need to end up in terms of the story. We also have to do that by giving a hell of a match that people are going to enjoy watching. For me, since we started the ThunderDome, and even before that in the Performance Center, with no actual live crowd to feed off of or take feedback from after hearing their reactions, my thing has been recognizing the production crew. They’ve been here for a long time, and they’ve seen it all. So when I do something and hear some of our camera guys, or some of our guys from production say, "Hey, that was really good," it’s been really rewarding. I’m using them as a barometer for what I’m doing now. If they like what I’m doing, after seeing everything they’ve seen, then I’m doing something good.
The immediate response you usually get from a crowd is not there, but I can get a pretty immediate response from those guys now, and they’re great at letting talent know if they’re doing well or what they can do better. Their experience is unparalleled, so I’m going into this match hoping to give them and everybody at home an entertaining night.
Barrasso: You also did a guest spot of commentary for NXT on their broadcast the night before Thanksgiving. Adding your voice to the show, especially with your history in NXT, brought authenticity and some extra electricity to the show. I know you still have a lot of unfinished business in the ring, but would you ever consider a more permanent commentary role?
Owens: I’ll go whenever they want me. I love doing commentary. I had the chance to do it for one match here and there for many years on Raw or SmackDown, but doing it for two hours is a whole different story. Everyone that does commentary, they have a real skill for it, and I really admire the people that do it.
My job was to basically look at the ring and talk about what was happening. But the men and women who do this all the time have so much more on their plate. They need to know when and how to go to break, they need to know what to promote in the next segment, and they have to be perfect in terms of timing, especially on a live show. They’re all so good at it, too.
I enjoy doing it. They’re well aware that any time they need a commentator, I am happy to step in and do it. And I’m still a fan at heart, so to just get to sit there and watch the show, and share my thoughts about it, it’s really fun all around.
Barrasso: You are in a great spot right now. There is the program with Roman Reigns, the back-and-forth on the mic with Paul Heyman, and your new WWE Chronicle. But a blessing and curse throughout your career is that rarely are you ever satisfied. That mindset has helped bring you to otherwise unthinkable heights, but it also makes it difficult to enjoy the moment. I know you’re still dripping with ambition, and you are hungry for another lengthy, sustained run as champ. But overall, are you currently happy with your position in the company? And what comes next?
Owens: I’m happy with where I am now. People that have followed my career the way you have understand that it’s a curse and a blessing for me to never be satisfied and always want more. I don’t think that will ever change, but I’ve gotten a lot better at taking things as they come and trying to enjoy the moment. When I was Universal Champion, I really didn’t take the time to enjoy that as much as I should have. I was always worried about what was happening next, or what was happening next week, or how we could make next week great. It’s a good mindset to have, but when you take it home and you’re constantly thinking about it, there is a point where it becomes a bit of a problem.
I’ve gotten a lot better at trying to not let things consume me the way they used to, but of course, I always want more. I want to be WWE Champion or become Universal Champion again, and there are WrestleMania moments and ones at the Royal Rumble that exist, and I want to do all those things. My ultimate goal is to pay back the up-and-comers the way certain veterans in WWE helped me when I first showed up. In order to do that, you’ve got to get to a level where just working with someone helps because of how you’re viewed as a superstar. Use John Cena as an example. John Cena was the face of the company for so long. If you worked with John Cena, you got something out of it just by being associated with him. It’s kind of the same with Roman and Randy Orton, as well. I’d love to get to the point where I can help somebody’s position in the company and how they’re viewed by the fans just by working with me.
Also, I want to be in a position where I can help others. Mark Henry did really cool things for me when I was in my first few years in WWE. I would love to get to a point where I could do that for other guys. In order to get to that level, you need the WWE Championship, the Universal Championship, the big matches, and the main event spots on the pay per views. That all needs to come with it so that people see you that way, it’s all attached together. So you ask me what I want to do, and my ultimate goal is to be put in a position where I can help everybody else before I hang up my boots. In order to do that, there is still a lot for me to accomplish.