Kevin Owens NXT Journey From Debut To Championship

Hamish Woodward

Kevin Owens as NXT Champion

If the WWE create an NXT Hall of Fame, Kevin Owens is the first inductee. He revolutionised the promotion when he debuted in 2015 and turned the whole thing on his head.

Kevin Owens is regarded by many as the greatest NXT Champion of all time, holding the belt once during his short but memorable run in the company. Owens since moved to the main roster, winning numerous titles and even wrestling Steve Austin at Wrestlemania.

Kevin Owens Made His NXT Debut At NXT Takeover: R Evolution

Kevin Owens made his NXT debut in the opening match of NXT Takeover: R Evolution. The Canadian had been hyped up for weeks in video packages and vignettes heralding his entry in NXT. The news of his signing had been reported weeks prior, so it was not a shock to see him debut in NXT.

At this time, WWE had just started the process of signing some of the biggest independent talent in the world. Previously, they had worked to train their own stars in their own image, but after the success of the likes of CM Punk, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, Triple H was given carte blance to sign whichever indie wrestlers he wanted.

While the likes of Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville had already made a splash in NXT, it was Kevin Steen’s signing that made headlines. He was a top star in ROH and PWG and was considered the premier unsigned wrestler in North America. Getting him into the promotion was a huge get, and he was soon christened as Kevin Owens – the name taken from his idol Owen Hart (who he also named his son Owen after).

After weeks of vignettes, the newly-named Kevin Owens made his NXT debut. Kevin Owens’ first NXT match was against CJ Parker in the opening match at NXT Takeover: R Evolution. Parker at the time was a jobber, brought into the company mainly to lose his matches. He also had an “eco-warrior” gimmick, which led to him lecturing fans about climate change and holding up signs proclaiming his message. It was seemingly a prototype for Daniel Bryan’s “Planet’s Champion” gimmick.

The match was a short one and saw Owens get the majority of the offence. He did suffer a broken nose during his NXT debut, a palm strike by Parker hitting it’s mark perfectly and drawing blood from the Canadian brawler. Owens managed to pick up the win by hitting his new finisher, the Pop-Up Powerbomb. His finisher outside of WWE, the Package Piledriver, was banned by the WWE so he had to come up with something new.

He would admit that the broken nose, while painful, helped forge a lifelong friendship with CJ Parker which remains to this day.

Later that night, he would congratulate his long-time friend Sami Zayn for winning the NXT Championship from Adrian Neville. However, he turned heel the same night he debuted, attacking him and powerbombing him into the ring apron. This started one of the greatest rivalries in WWE history and gave us two of the best NXT matches the promotion has ever seen.

Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn For The NXT Championship

kevin owens sami zayn
Kevin Owens wants to see him and Sami Zayn win the WWE Tag Team Championships

Kevin Owens fought Sami Zayn twice for the NXT Championship. The first was at NXT Takeover Rival, the PPV following Owens’ electric debut in NXT. He had turned on Zayn at the event and in the weeks following, goaded him into giving him a title shot. Ever the fighting champion, Zayn accepted and the match was set to Takeover Rival.

Their first match was iconic. Both men made it feel like a real fight. They let out a decade of pent-up aggression to inflict as much damage as they could against one another. Owens was sadistic in his moves while Zayn showed the heart and soul that made him the top star in NXT. However, he could not withstand a constant barrage of powerbombs by Owens. He hit him repeatedly with deadly looking powerbombs until he was passed out and the referee awarded Kevin Owens the NXT Championship.

Their rematch came on the next show, although Zayn was injured for that match. He suffered an injury on Raw when he wrestled John Cena and spent months out rehabbing after losing the rematch against Owens, once again due to referee stoppage.

During the time he was regularly defending his NXT Championship, Kevin Owens made his debut on the WWE main roster. He shocked the world when he appeared on Monday Night Raw to interrupt John Cena and set his sights on fighting the United States Champion.

Kevin Owens vs Finn Balor For The NXT Championship

Two of NXT’s biggest stars during this time were Finn Balor and Kevin Owens. Both won the NXT Championship and led the brand during some of it’s best times, clashing three times in title matches during the “Golden Age” of NXT.

Finn Balor was Owens first title defence as NXT Champion. While many think it was Sami Zayn who was the first, it was in fact the Irishmen who had just joined NXT. Balor defeated Adrian Neville at NXT TakeOver: Rival in the final of a number one contender tournament to earn a shot at the NXT title, which Owens won later that night.

Their first match took place on the March 25th, 2015 episode of NXT. Balor looked to have the win in the bag late on when he hit a Coup De Grace onto Owens, with the Irishman wrestling as himself and not “The Demon”. However, a foot injury stopped him from getting the win and he soon ate a pop-up powerbomb and was pinned by the Canadian Champion.

Their second match in the trilogy came during the Beast in the East event in 2015, in Japan. The show was titled that due to it being a rare appearance at house shows for Brock Lesnar, who defeated Kofi Kingston. The show was televised because Lesnar was appearing, with the title match added later on.

They wrestled in a fantastic match that saw excellent heel work from Kevin Owens. Both men were presented with flowers before the match, which Owens threw into the crowd with an irrepressible rage. He also mocked John Cena, who he was feuding with on the main roster, during the match by mimicking his classic comeback moves. Despite all of this (and kicking out of a Coup De Grace), Balor pinned Owens to become the new NXT Champion.

In a recent interview with Rob Armstrong from BT Sport, Finn Balor talked about when he won the NXT Championship in an iconic match during a WWE event in Japan.

That was one of the most full-circle moments that I’ve had in my career because not only it wasn’t in Japan, but it was in Ryogoku, which was Sumo Arena, where we wrestled for New Japan quite a lot. I actually had my final match for New Japan, in that arena, in the paint also, against Taguchi. When I left that night, I figured, ‘I may never return here ever again.’ I think it was maybe almost a year to the day that I returned. I was in the ring against Kevin Owens, someone I didn’t know very well going into NXT apart from, like, on the indie circuit, and we bonded over the journey we were making, adapting to life in NXT, in WWE, in the USA; to get the share the ring with him that night was very cool.

Kevin Owens vs Finn Balor only happened once on an NXT Takeover event, which would be Owens final appearance in NXT for many years. The Canadian attempted to regain the title in a match at NXT Takeover Brooklyn in Finn Balor’s first title defence in his legendary reign.

Kevin Owens lost the legendary ladder match in his contractual title rematch. It was one of the best NXT matches of all time and a top ladder match which saw both men put their bodies on the line in pursuit of championship victory. Finn Balor hit Kevin Owens with a Coup De Grace off the ladder before winning the match, kicking The Prize-fighter out of the company with one of the most painful moves in wrestling.

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