Kevin Steen: Ascension to the top
Ring of Honor
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Border wars is now two days away, so don't forget this iPPV....
Because the Ascension of Kevin Steen may hit its peak about that time as well.
For now, though, the 2 Disc DVD Set highlighting the ROH Career of the most current man with the moniker “Mr. Wrestling” is on the plate, and it’s a pretty big plate. With either 19 or 21 matches, this Best of product goes way back to 2005 and Steen’s debut in Ring of Honor, against B-Boy.
Boy, was Kevin Steen a bit younger, a bit slimmer and a bit more baby-face-like then.
That does play into the character of the man now known more as “wrestling’s worst nightmare” than the now subtitled “Mr. Wrestling”. But either way, Steen has earned his reputations, and ironically, his ascension may be coinciding with the notable growth of Ring of Honor on a lot of levels, which definitely leads 2012 as a year in which both ROH and Kevin Steen may break through some walls.
Which is interesting, since Steen makes the somewhat stale “anti-company man” angle altogether more interesting in ROH than anyone else in the past two decades – including Mr. Lesnar.
Steen trumps CM Punk’s rise last year from unappreciated but overly talented wrestler to main event player, using a similar playbook, but decidedly more heelish. While Steen’s mainstream presence hasn’t been the same, he has appeared in quite a few indy promotions, keeping up the anti-ROH rants and leaving a path of destruction wherever he appears.
Of course, Steen’s ROH appearances have upped the ante.
Steen has recently laid waste to Corino, Jacobs, El Generico and others, and slipped by Eddie Edwards. Since his feud with Generico ended well over a year ago, his path of destruction, his threats to ROH and his surly nature have kept him in a unique position.
While Steen hasn’t the outsider status of Lesnar, he has pushed the envelope of violence further. Like Taz of more than a dozen years ago, he has cultivated a following that regards his attitude and anger, and threatens to upend his promotion. Like Punk, he’s a blend of cool, anti-establishment, and a good talker. Like the Outsiders of that previous generation, he has an air of a tweener – but unlike Hall or Nash, Steen wants to be seen purely as a heel, and has no moderation in his brand of ‘evil’.
His feud with Steve Corino and Jimmy Jacobs was violent, destructive and threatening to the promotion. It was also clever, in highlighting the redemption of Corino and the impossibility of the same for Steen. Turns can be passé these days, but this was made meaningful. And the expectations and the tortured nature of Corino throughout heightened the feud.
Steen dethroned the “King of Hardcore”, and made Jacobs his … Zombie Princess. Along the way, he threatened Cornette, ROH and its Champion, and has sought out his opportunity to steal the gold for some months.
His package piledriver is one of the few finishers today that screams FINISHER, but that’s not his only weapon. Over the years, Steen has flashed brilliance as a risk-taker, in terms of submissions, and of course, in terms of violence.
His antics -- on the ROH web site – hacking, blogging and praising PWG – and then appearing here and there, provided another level to the CM Punk storyline where the WWE failed to deliver. Steen’s appearance at Death Before Dishonor last year, where he confronted company brass that shouldn’t be involved in altercations, elicited reactions relatively more intense than Lesnar’s situation.
The buildup of Kevin Steen vs Davey Richards has been steady, but it goes back to his debut, and the Ascension has played out to the enjoyment of wrestling fans.
Over the past six months, the expectations of the eventual collision have grown. Over the past seven years, the evolution of Steen in the ring, from prospect to Tag Team specialist and Champion, to singles force to “wrestling’s worst nightmare” has been notable.
This is well documented on the 2 Disc Set.
El Generico is obviously Steen’s “favorite” opponent and Tag Team Partner, with almost half the matches involving his Canadian friend/foe.
That arrangement was a truly unique one. While Tag Team members turning on each other is a staple of utter nonsense in the business – sure that’s a great pop historically, but when it becomes mundane, no one cares…. Yet with Steen & Generico, the concept of a team that has a heel and a face, it was meant to be broken up from the start, which made the ongoing runs – especially as Champions -- all the more interesting.
These two guys made it more so, by playing up the heel/face dynamics at every opportunity. From the opposite approach to handshakes to finishes, from the in-ring/out-of-ring antics of Steen to the class act of Generico, this was one slow boil to an explosion.
When it happened, it got brutal, but that doesn’t happen yet on this retrospective, which ends in 2008, leaving another chapter of Steen’s life for further review, as we approach what may very well be one more, one more important chapter to open.
Steen is a driving force.
Whether Steen can capture the audience of ROH and take it to another level remains to be seen. Davey Richards remains one of the claimants to “Best in the World” and provides a credible Champion for ROH. It will be interesting to see how (well, really if) a Kevin Steen reign could shake things up, and if it could raise some eyebrows in a jaded industry.
But the big picture question could be, how can ROH handle a wrestler who hates the promotion?
Considering how Steen and ROH have addressed thing so far, that may be more interesting than similar situations. This product alone shows that ROH has a subtle way of showing its disdain for Steen. The first several matches? All losses. And they keep piling up.
Funny how my initial reaction was that ROH producing a “Best of” for a guy with so much antipathy doesn’t make so much sense.
But profiting and subtle jabs might be an interesting thing that happens on both sides of this equation. And as ROH begins to fully hit its stride – the TV Show is gelling into something to watch, the Web Site is state of the art in comparison to even the mainstream promotions, and the talent level (and marketing) and potential of various ROH roster members have been steadily improving.
Steen isn’t pretty, he isn’t in the physical shape that most mainstream fans would appreciate, but he has a level of sureness, confidence and heelishness that goes beyond what is expected these days. Steen is equal parts wrestling talent and wrestling madman. He appears like the archetypical (indy) fan, acts like that fan, and puts on displays of vulgar, wanton acts of snide destructiveness that makes the inner heel fan in me smile.
That’s what makes Kevin Steen interesting
And I’m very much interested in what happens next, and that’s the most important aspect for ROH.