That’s owed in part to the dirt sheets having long since tipped-off the name change, but it’s also long been common knowledge among Steen fans that he has a seven-year-old son, Owen, so named after the late Hart Family great. Mostly though, it’s testament to what a convincing transition KO (as his T-shirts dub him) has made from Ring of Honor et al to WWE. In little more than five months, the Canadian native – who possesses a Brock Lesnar-like hybrid of size, speed and strength – has made good on a 14-year journey by conquering fellow Canuck and old friend/foe Sami Zayn for the NXT championship. And in the process, he’s helped elevate their saga to new heights of performance and popular interest. That story culminates – for now – when the pair headline this Wednesday’s NXT Takeover: Unstoppable (WWE Network, 8 p.m. ET) and go to war one more time over the brand’s top singles title.
Two days removed from writing the latest chapter in NXT’s most personal feud to date – and mere hours before powerbombing John Cena to hell in a well-guarded debut Raw appearance (he neglected to mention it to us) – Owens talked about co-authoring a timeless rivalry, smacking down his peers on social media and being the mayor of “Chinlock City.”
How has the wear and tear of several months in NXT compared so far with the rigors of indie life?
One of the big advantages of NXT for me was I get to sleep in my own bed every night almost. For years, I was on the road with the indies two, three days a week, and it got to the point where I’d wake up not sure which town I was in. Which, honestly, I kind of liked. That’s part of being a wrestler. But when I signed with WWE and moved to Orlando, my wife and my two kids came with me. That’s been great. My daughter just turned one a couple of weeks ago, so I get to be there for a lot of the landmarks I didn’t necessarily get to see with my first kid. That said, I do look forward to getting back on the road when the time is right.
So there’s no trepidation about uprooting that time you have at home when you get called up to the main roster?
No, because my wife’s incredible. She’s the backbone of our family and, since the moment we met, knew how passionate I was about this. It’s all I can do. I wouldn’t be able to hold a nine-to-five. That’s no knock on anybody who does it. I just don’t think I’d be able to, so for her to be supportive is great. And obviously, the baby’s a little less aware of what’s going on, but my son’s seven now, and he’s very proud of everything. That’s a big part of why I always wanted to make it here. Once I had a family, the thought did cross my mind that maybe this wouldn’t happen for me. But when I saw he was into wrestling and WWE, I wanted to make it here for him so he could be proud of me, and he is, so that’s a great feeling.
In the wrestling business, family can provide both a conflict and your greatest motivation.
Yeah, it really does. Being away from the people you love is never easy, but it’s kind of an investment, really. If you’re successful at this, you can secure a future for your whole family. All it comes down to, really, is how supportive my wife is, because without her I wouldn’t be here. Back home, even when I was on the road with the independent scene, we had a great support system with her family and my parents. It’s actually a big team effort from everyone that allows me to be able to do this as a career.
When you signed on with the WWE family, was your immediate future with the company laid out for you?
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. [Laughs]
Has it been easy for you to adapt your persona from the indies to NXT?
I think so. I had a bit of a struggle at first with thinking, “Who do I want to be here? What part of myself do I want to tap into so I get on NXT television as quick as possible?” Then I realized what I’d been doing for 14 years had worked because it had gotten me here. So there were little tweaks, maybe clean up the language a little, but besides that I think I’ve been pretty true to myself. And I think that’s a big part of what helps me be successful. I’m genuine, and I think people can see that when they watch. I’m just gonna keep going that way and see where that takes me.