One of the amazing things about last night's Raw and the segment that has everyone buzzing still today is that WWE managed to keep it a secret. Mid-afternoon spoilers about appearances and debuts have become the norm, but the wrestling community seemed universally surprised when Kevin Owens' music hit in response to John Cena's United States championship open challenge.
At least one man knew something was up, as Rolling Stone's Kenny Herzog got a chance to interview KO backstage before the show in Virginia.
Owens spends much of the interview talking about the family he's spent the last five months telling NXT watchers he fights for, and how his settling in the Orlando area has effected them. Surprisingly though for someone who's only been under contract with WWE for a year, he says that nothing we've seen was planned in advance - that his meteoric rise to the title and now a match with Cena has happened organically:
I was never promised anything but an opportunity to make my time here count. I got the tryouts, and when I was offered the contract, it wasn't like, "Oh, we can't wait to have you. Please sign with us." They offered me a deal, and all the fanfare and the name I'd garnered by my independent work, it obviously helped me get the tryout, but they didn't offer me anything with a promise attached that I would ever go to the main roster or be featured on NXT even. With that said, I think I've done pretty good so far.
When you see, as many fans probably did for the first time last night, his seemingly innate understanding of how to get a reaction in a wrestling ring, it's hard to imagine that William Regal and the NXT scouts didn't know they could do big things with him immediately. But KO is quick to point out how much he's learning at the Performance Center.
And although he doesn tow the company line about being happy in Developmental and how they're turning NXT into something special on its own, he is clear that his mission is a permanent home on Raw and Smackdown.
Everything I do here's gonna help me once it's time to move up. I don't even like that term by the way, move up. NXT's become such a phenomenon, and I like to say I'm just gonna move somewhere else. Obviously, everybody's aspirations are to go to Raw or SmackDown, but NXT's so special, and I experienced it [at recent live events] in Philly and Albany. Those are special moments we're creating, and fans would tell you the same. With that said, when the time [comes] to move to the main roster, everything here is gonna help me, from TV to live events to the critique and advice I get from guys like Matt Bloom and Dusty Rhodes and Robbie Brookside and Billy Gunn and Norman Smiley and Triple H and Sara Del Rey.
Actually, all the names I just mentioned, [and] I didn't mention Terry Taylor, and I'd be remiss not to. He's my main trainer, and he's got an incredible mind that I was not aware of before. We'll watch matches and peoples' body of work, and his outlook on everything and the way to create emotion is fascinating. That's been probably the part where I've grown the most: learning to get the most out of everything I do. And that's definitely come from Terry. Communication is obviously very important in this industry, and Dusty Rhodes is the best at that, and I get to sit in with him every week and listen to his advice, so that's been huge as well.
Because Herzog probably didn't know what exactly Owens was going to be doing on Raw, the focus of their conversation kayfabe-wise was still on his title defense against Sami Zayn on tomorrow's TakeOver: Unstoppable show. The champ credits the level of interest in their long-running rivalry to both men being true to themselves, and while he has a lot of plans in NXT and the main roster, he sees their feud bringing the house down on Wednesday night, and running a long, long time:
I really think the story between us can be told at any point on any stage, but of course I'm looking forward to making moments and history with other people, whether on the main roster or at NXT. NXT is very special, and everybody who turns in for Unstoppable is gonna see that. Me and Sami bring the best out of each other, and we're gonna do that again.
Check out the whole interview at RollingStone.com for more on crafting his character, his Twitter game and other topics.
You might as well get to know Kevin Owens, because as you could tell on Raw, he's going to be in the middle of all your favorite stories for as long as he can be.