In less than a month, a lifetime of dreams become a reality for another Canadian-born professional wrestler.
Quebec native Kevin Owens will walk into Dallas, Texas, for World Wrestling Entertainment’s WrestleMania 32.
Born Kevin Steen in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu to Suzanne and Terry Steen, Owens fell in love with the pomp and pageantry of pro wrestling as a youngster when he and his father watched a VHS tape of WrestleMania 11.
“That’s what made me decide that I wanted to be a WWE superstar one day,” Owens said during a telephone interview with international media promoting the April 3rd show. “Now here I am, 20 years later, and I’m about to take part in my first WrestleMania, which is shaping up to be the biggest WrestleMania yet, so it’s a pretty incredible feeling, for sure.”
Now 31, the road to climbing that mountain was a long and arduous one for Owens, for sure. After breaking into the business in 2000, having trained under the tutelage Jacques Rougeau Jr., among others, Owens spent nearly 15 years honing his craft on wrestling’s rigorous independent scene, where wrestlers work often for nothing more than gas money or just a chance to work at their craft. As Kevin Steen, the burly Owens would become one of the top indy workers in the world, eventually getting his chance with WWE when he signed with its developmental brand, NXT, in 2014.
After dominating NXT, Owens got the call to the WWE’s main roster, the stuff of dreams for anyone who ever pulls on a pair of wrestling boots, last spring.
Since then, he’s been a constant on WWE’s flagship programming, Monday Night Raw, SmackDown and on many of its monthly pay-per-views, including a very memorable feud with the company’s top talent, John Cena. Owens has also twice won the Intercontinental title on the main roster, following a run as NXT champion.
“It’s been a pretty crazy ride,” said Owens, who maintains a hint of his Quebec accent despite his strong English speaking skills. “I feel like in less than a year, I’ve lived what some WWE superstars live over five or six or seven years, or even an entire career. I’ve been part of so many pay-per-views and I’ve been in the ring with John Cena and Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton and Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns … all the top names. And I’ve been Intercontinental champion twice already.”
Owens, 31, acknowledged that while he’s been able to fulfil many of his childhood dreams already, including what lies in store in Texas, there’s much still to be done.
“It’s all very exciting and I’m pretty proud of everything I’ve done so far and I’m really looking forward to the next five, six, 10 years, who knows how long I’ll be doing this for, but I’m really enjoying the ride.”
The Intercontinental title, which Owens will probably be defending in front of more than 100,000 fans at AT&T Stadium (easily an attendance record for WWE), holds special meaning for Owens.
“When I was a kid, I would have replica belts, the foam belts, and the one that I always liked the most was the Intercontinental title. Every time that I would beat my pillow in one of our matches, I would win the Intercontinental title,” Owens said, his mind wandering back to his youth. “So the fact that I get to be the Intercontinental champion today if anything is pretty cool for that kid I was — imagining, fantasizing about being Intercontinental champion one day.”
Fittingly, the mock title he possessed as a boy is the same one now holds as a man.
“The coolest part is that the design of the Intercontinental title now, the title I have in my possession right now, is very close to the design that I had when I was wrestling in my basement against my pillows when I was a kid,” Owens revealed. “That foam replica that I had, it looks almost exactly the same. That’s just a pretty cool thing.”
It was just two years ago, with WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans, that Owens bought himself a ticket to watch the event live. He was in the area working independent shows.
“I went by myself because that’s how huge WrestleMania is as a wrestling fan. I was already down in New Orleans and I wanted to go to WrestleMania because it’s WrestleMania and I couldn’t miss it.”
Now, just 24 short months later, he walks into wrestling’s Super Bowl as the IC champ.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Owens acknowledged. “I remember sitting in the stands at WrestleMania 30 thinking, ‘I have to be a part of this one day.’ And now it’s only two years later and I’m going to defend the Intercontinental title there. There’s really no way to put that into words. It’s something I’m really proud of obviously.”
You quickly learn that the only thing Owens is as passionate about as wrestling is his family. His superior wrestling skills are matched only by his strong family values. So it’s no surprise that the stands in Texas will be stacked with Owens’ relatives.
“My whole family is going to be there,” he said, proudly. “My parents, my uncle, my aunt, my in-laws, my wife obviously, my kids are coming, but also my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law and their significant others as well. Everybody is very excited. It’s a huge show.”
Even though some family members don’t fall into the wrestling fan category, Owens said, the significance of WrestleMania is not lost on anyone.
“No matter how much wrestling you’ve watched throughout your life, whether you’re a diehard fan or somebody who’s only watched it here and there, you know what WrestleMania is and you understand how momentous WrestleMania is as an event. For example, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend aren’t exactly diehard WWE fans, but they’re fans of WrestleMania just because of how huge the event is and now that I’m going to be a part of it, they’re driving from Montreal, Canada, all the way to Dallas, Texas, because they want to be a part of it. That speaks volumes about how much WrestleMania means.”
Owens, who has spoken publicly many times about how supportive his parents were of his passion for wrestling, also credits his wife, Karina, for her role in his success.
“My parents and my wife have been incredible supportive,” Owens said. “I think it’s a tie between the entire family honestly, but if I had to give the edge to anybody, it might have to be my wife because she sacrifices a lot so that I get to do this. Obviously I provide for my family by doing this, but she goes above and beyond as a mother, taking care of our children (they have a son and a daughter) when I’m on the road five days a week. So just for that, she’s probably my biggest fan. But everybody deserves credit, from my parents to my kids to my wife.”
With the biggest match of his life just weeks away (the match and opponent have not yet been specified), Owens was asked if he expects he’ll be nervous in front of by far the biggest crowd he’ll have ever performed.
“You know, I don’t get nervous anymore, no matter how big the crowd is, because I feel very confident in my abilities and my skills,” he answered. “I can’t say whether or not I’ll be nervous for WrestleMania. One thing that doesn’t change is there’s always a level of excitement obviously that I guess could count as some sort of weird nervous energy just because of how excited you are to get out there and do your thing. Obviously, WrestleMania being the biggest show I’ve ever been a part of by far, I’m sure that excitement level is going to be through the roof so I’ll be dealing with that for sure. I don’t know if that’s necessarily being nervous, but I’m definitely going to be very excited to get out there and put on the best show possible.”
Fifteen years a long time to wait for anything, but ask Kevin Owens if he’d do it all over again and you probably know the answer.
“I don’t know what I imagined honestly,” he said when asked if his time with WWE has been what he dreamed of. “I just wanted to be a part of it. I know that every time I come to work, I’m happy to be there and it’s a dream come true. The travel is obviously hard on everyone, but it’s just part of the sacrifice you make to be a WWE superstar. It’s always been my dream to do this, and while I didn’t know what to expect, it’s definitely been an incredible ride and I’m just starting. It sounds corny to say it’s a dream come true, but it really is.”
As far as what fans in Texas and around the world can expect from KO come his match at WrestleMania, Owens wants to cement his place in WrestleMania lore.
“I want to be remembered,” he said, adding that he’s been tweeting and saying during media interviews that he wants to make it KO Mania. “I mean that. I want whatever I do at WrestleMania to be something people talk about at the end of the night. Everybody is going out there trying to steal the show. Everyone is going out there hoping that they’re going to be the thing that people talk about at the end of the night. I want to be in the discussion. That’s what matters to me. I want my part to stand out and I’m sure it will because that’s what I thrive on.”
When: Sunday, April 3, 8 p.m.
Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas, Texas.
Tickets and information: wwe.com
How to watch it: WrestleMania 32 is available on the WWE Network and on pay-per-view. The show is free to new subscribers to the WWE Network.