When you want to talk about a deep rivalry, you don't need to look any further than Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, who have been intertwined for the last decade. These men have battled across (and teamed together in) multiple promotions, from PWG to CZW to Ring of Honor to NXT and now main roster WWE. It's a history so deep that remember it all is enough to make the head spin of even the most hardcore fan. Given such a deep past, you may feel that you need to get on the internet and read up on all of their history. (And if you want, you can start here.) But here's the thing: You don't have to. Because while these men have been feuding for ages, in another sense, this is a new new beginning to it all. It's a new starting point.
There's always been an idea floating around that if something didn't happen in WWE, then it doesn't matter. And quite frankly, that's BS. At least it's BS in the sense that past accomplishments, training, and championships are meaningless. But it's actually true in the sense that a good majority of people who consider themselves fans of professional wrestling, and that includes more "casual" fans, don't know about something that didn't happen on the WWE stage. This would include the lengthy history of Owens and Zayn.
When WWE recapped the history of these two men, they made sure to establish that they have been alternating between friends and enemies for a decade. It would be foolish to pretend they haven't. That type of history has an energy to it that can be felt by the audience.
But WWE glosses over most of their actual history, the history of when they were Kevin Steen and El Generico warring over the world. Of course some of that has to do with the fact that WWE doesn't have right to most of the footage. But another reason for starting the story with their NXT rivalry is that it's just too much. It doesn't service the story to get into intricacies of their feud from the past ten years but just to let the audience know the history is there. In essence, this is the beginning of the story, but told in medias res.
The crux of this story is the WWE. These men are fighting tomorrow night at Payback because each one thinks the other screwed him out of the chance to make it in the big time. In NXT, which is the gateway to the promised land of the main roster, Kevin Owens, bitter that his friend Sami made it to the WWE system years before him, decided to injury his good friend to take his spot. And take his spot he did. While Sami was injured for the better part of 2015, Kevin Owens got a full time Raw call up. It seems Sami had been lapped by his former brother.
When he was finally healthy, Sami decided to take his revenge by being the man to eliminate Owens from the Royal Rumble in a match that was for the WWE title, the richest prize in this promised land. The bad blood continued when Zayn returned prior to WrestleMania and was one of the men gunning for KO's Intercontinental title at the biggest show of the year. It could be argued that the damage they did to each other in the Intercontinental ladder match prevented both men from winning that match and lead to KO losing his title.
After a brief few months on the main roster together, Payback is when they first collide on the WWE main stage in a one on one match. While many reading this have likely seen a Zayn/Owens match before, at least in NXT, we're likely in the minority of the the people who will be watching this match Sunday. Many will be experiencing Owens/Zayn one on one for the first time and for the first time feel the magic that these two can produce in the ring. And it's a first for the competitors as well. Because even though they've wrestled each other numerous times, they've never battled on this large of stage in front of a crowd this big. And on this stage, the story is just starting and will play out for years to come.
Catch the match tomorrow night on WWE Payback, which starts at 8 eastern. Keep it here at Cageside Seats for all your Payback coverage.