After a brief run as a bad guy necessitated by a Daniel Bryan injury, Kevin Owens turned face last month. Just the fact he did so by defying a McMahon gave everyone Stone Cold Steve Austin vibes, and when he started using Austin’s finisher regularly as his own, much of the fandom logically assumed WWE was using the Attitude Era blueprint which helped create one of the greatest characters in the history of pro wrestling.
Then last night (Aug. 20) on SmackDown, this happened:
It was a set-up, of course, and Shane revealed himself as a secret second referee in KO’s King of the Ring match with Elias. Owens was incensed but didn’t want to risk punishment for putting his hands an official again. It led to a quick count win for McMahon lackey Elias.
Now, the importance of Kevin’s family is something which has followed him across alignment, alliances and brands. And the story obviously isn’t over. KO got a big win over Shane at SummerSlam, and he should get at least one more at some point in the not-too-distant future. There are complaints when WWE does just give us straight rehashes of old angles, so we should give them some leeway when they take a familiar one in a new direction.
Problem is, this isn’t an entirely new direction. Owens contrasting his family’s life to the abundance Shane’s always known is a smart wrinkle, but a rebellious hero caving to the boss’ threats isn’t. We just saw it earlier this year with Becky Lynch and Stephanie McMahon & Triple H.
This made sense, too. Lynch wanted the main event of WrestleMania 35 so badly she was willing to swallow her pride and kiss the ring to get it. But did it help make character of The Man cooler to the WWE Universe? It’s pretty hard to argue that it did.
Which also seems true of KO apologizing, offering a handshake and then getting screwed by Shane on this week’s SmackDown. Consistent with established character motivations? Yes. Bad-ass? Ehhh... no.
And what makes that weird is that bad-ass sells just as much now as it did at the turn of the century. Flipping off and outsmarting your a-hole boss isn’t any less appealing to the 2019 audience then it was to the 1999 one. So why does WWE seem hesitant to give the customer what they want?
Maybe they’re overthinking things. Maybe they’re worried about pissing off Steve Austin, a guy who still draws for the company whenever he comes around (this doesn’t hold much water, though, because he’s given the rub to both Bex and KO on his podcast & social media throughout their anti-hero/edgy face runs). Maybe this is an example of WWE not wanting to have stars who are bigger than the brand.
Whatever the case, it seems pretty clear. WWE is okay with some lite beer versions, but they don’t really want to make a new Stone Cold.