Sometimes friendship is a wild, wild ride. There’s going to be hang-ups, conflicts, and reunions. The differences of ideals and philosophies are hard inevitabilities and can leave a lasting sting. Few storylines in wrestling make it as compelling as Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
Sure, you’ve got Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa, Shawn Michaels and Triple H, Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus, Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly, and, loosely, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi. But Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are an entirely different beast.
Screw kayfabe, but Sami Zayn’s time as El Generico in Ring of Honor against the former Kevin Steen drew acclaim in the midst of tag team betrayals and ladder wars, and that managed to continue well into 2014 in WWE’s NXT, carrying the long-lasting friendship/rivalry.
Sami was the fiery babyface that kept crowds believing in him to succeed, despite falling again and again for the NXT Championship until he finally got it at NXT Takeover: R Evolution in 2014, where Kevin Owens celebrated with him after his debut earlier in the night, before powerbombing Sami on the apron.
What ensued next was eight hundred-thirty eight matches of storytelling full of humor, intensity, and heartache.
Their beef from the black-and-gold days of NXT crossed over into the main roster, as Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens feuded against each other, most notably against The Miz and Cesaro at TLC 2016 and Battleground 2016, the latter of which is considered a high point in their rivalry. The heat was palpable and audiences were hooked on the drama and rage between the two.
Sami Zayn was still that heart and soul while The Prizefighter in Kevin Owens demanded everyone to stay out of his way. He’d even tell Sami Zayn to stay down in the Battleground feud, or else he’d keep him down.
In 2017, however, the two would become a pair again, causing trouble for everyone, namely AJ Styles, Shane McMahon, and Daniel Bryan, the latter of which would emerge out of retirement to join Shane-O-Mac against Owens and Zayn, under the stipulation that if KO and Zayn lost, they’d be fired from the blue brand.
Following hiatuses from injury, the two would go their separate ways. Kevin Owens began trying to fight for what was right while still morally gray, while Sami Zayn began to perceive conspiracies around him. Management, wrestlers, and the fans were all on his list. Everyone was complicit as to why he didn’t feel as much of a force as he was before. That beloved babyface was almost gone, hidden beneath the jaded cynicism that it’s everyone else’s fault he’s not at the top like he thought he would be.
Kevin Owens meanwhile, was sick of everyone’s crap, from Shane McMahon’s thirst for power to Seth Rollins dropping the ball as a “locker room leader”. However, his old friend spiraling into paranoid lunacy was very much on Kevin’s radar, as they fought at WrestleMania to the audience of a Tampa, Florida crowd and Logan Paul, with glimmers of hope regarding change being on Sami’s face, but he had to continue finding himself.
The next year, the two would stay in separate paths, with Sami Zayn feuding with Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville while Kevin Owens would incur the wrath of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who proceeded to stomp a mudhole through the Canadian’s Texan-hating ass.
Now, however, we approach a high point in the story of Kevin and Sami – The Bloodline.
Kevin Owens had a rocky road, having fallen into dastardly tactics, but back to be better than he was before, evolving and knowing to make your own moments, to be better than the day before and knowing fully well that he’ll keep making mistakes – he’s only human.
Sami, on the other hand, won over Roman Reigns and The Bloodline, with some initial strife by Jey Uso, but still, he became an Honorary Uce. In a weird sort of way, he’s become so lovable in this role. His successes and love from The Bloodline keeps us rooting for him to do good in this role (or outright wishing he would see the light and fight away from them and find his own path, as Kevin did). His mistrials and mistakes that cause the ire of his new family, even if teased, have us on the edge of our seats. We don’t want them to turn on Sami. Our hearts will break as his will, and the worst part is it feels like a train wreck that we can only watch, never stopping as it roars loudly on the tracks. That same sort of feeling like when you try to talk your friend out of stupid decisions but they stubbornly go ahead with them anyways, that’s us and that’s Kevin Owens.
Sami can’t seem to shake this old friend, try as hard as he might. That’s what happens when people actually like you and believe in you, is that they don’t give up on you as easily, especially when they know you better than you know yourself. Again and again, Kevin tried, but of course, he needed help.
Survivor Series: WarGames was just the place, as Sami and The Bloodline had to stand against The Brawling Brutes, Drew McIntyre, and Kevin Owens. It was a hard-fought battle that ravaged all competing. However, the mixture of Wise Man Paul Heyman being a veteran of WarGames, coalesced with the power of the Samoans, and the cunning of Sami paved the way for dominance.
At the climax of the caged match, Owens nearly had The Tribal Chief defeated for the first time in his long reign, within fingertips of his fingerless gloves until Sami low-blowed his old friend and knocked him out of consciousness with a Helluva Kick, leading Jey Uso to pin Owens and get the pin. Sami Zayn had turned on his one true friend, and Kevin Owens was done with him. Not mad, not after him, just done.
But The Bloodline was still on notice. Even if it would inconvenience Sami, they were still on notice. There’s nothing else to lose, right? So much so did Kevin gain the ire of Roman Reigns that Reigns roped Sami in with a tag team match against Kevin Owens and John Cena, where Zayn would eat the pin. Fitting, as John Cena was strongly involved in all three men’s earlier WWE career, especially now the men are set on a new path, even if they don’t know it yet.
Tonight’s Smackdown sees Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn again after years of storytelling, as The Prizefighter has his rematch with Roman Reigns set at The Royal Rumble, unless Sami destroys him.
So much is riding on this. The friendship is over. Kevin needs to get a title and he needs to make his main roster debut mean something, without some old legend cutting the floor from beneath him, without his former friend getting in the way. If he has to get through his friend, then so be it. In his head, he repeats the mantra, Fight Owens, Fight.
For Sami, this is a second chance at the behest of Roman’s apology for acting out. Sami is given this opportunity to claim another name for The Bloodline. Should he fail, his new family will turn on him. Should he fail, his chance at relevancy and greatness is in peril. Would he have any friends then?
That is the magic on display tonight. The stakes are high, as the man who secretly doubts himself despite his boasts, stands unsure of himself despite how much he psyches himself up, against a man who knows who he is and what he must do, and if he has to make Sami come around, fine. But The Prizefighter needs a prize, and a belt would look nice over his shoulder or across his waist.
Such is the latest chapter in their destiny; Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are destined to fight forever. Side by side or across each other, fight forever.