When one thinks of great NXT Champions, you can’t look any further than Kevin Owens. Signed as an indie talent with everything to prove, he took to the WWE like a duck to water. In his first year in the company, he debuted, turned heel, won the NXT Championship and debuted on the main roster against John Cena.
Few wrestlers can match his early success. He has proved to the WWE that they were right to put their faith in him. He has put on countless legendary matches since then and has been trusted in some of the biggest matches in company history. The most notable of them being the Wrestlemania 38 main event match against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The fact he was trusted for The Texas Rattlesnakes first match in nearly 20 years speaks volumes.
However, the humble beginnings of The Prizefighter began in NXT, with a short match against a now familiar face.
Kevin Owen’s NXT Debut
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 indepedent 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.
And if you think CJ Parker looks familiar, he later left the company to become AEW & NJPW Star Juice Robinson.
His Last Match Before Moving To The Main Roster
Kevin Owens’ last match in NXT was a ladder match for the NXT Championship against Finn Balor. He had lost the title to Balor the month prior at the special Japanese WWE Network event “The Beast in the East“. He was out for revenge, hoping to regain the title he had beaten Sami Zayn for in their first encounter in the company.
His final NXT bout came at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, in the main event of the show. The match was an astounding ladder match, with saw Owens battling with Finn Balor’s alter-eg known as The Demon.
Despite his best efforts, he was unable to put away The Demon. Only two men in WWE have beaten this demonic entity thus far (Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe), so there was no shame in Owens failure. After the bout, he elected to leave NXT, given that he had just been in a high-profile feud with John Cena, the top star in the company. This left Balor to endure a never ending feud with Samoa Joe which spanned three pay per view main events.
He Returned To NXT For War Games
Years after leaving the promotion, Kevin Owens made a shock return to NXT to participate in the 2020 War Games event. The titular War Games match between The Undisputed Era and Team Ciampa was due to take place in the main event, but with one key issue – Ciampa was a man down.
This meant that a surprise entrant was going to be revealed at the event. While the likes of Johnny Gargano and other NXT stars were paraded around as options, the real choice was more shocking and exciting.
Entering last into the match, Kevin Owens was revealed as the final member of Team Ciampa, wrestling in the first war games match of his career. His participation was invaluable, as he helped his team to victory after Ciampa hit an Air Raid Crash on Adam Cole through two tables for the victory.