At a spot show in Montreal, Samoa Joe, already one of the best wrestlers in the world, met up with Kevin Steen, who had the somehow likable jerk persona down to a science from day one.
July 2, 2004
Marc LeGrizzly Presents
In 2004, Samoa Joe was the greatest-working world champion in the United States. It was quite the accomplishment in the year where WWE decided to coronate Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Whether Joe was a better worker than either of them is a matter of debate, but his understanding of what the champion should do and convey showed the understanding of a veteran, even with his career starting only four years earlier.
Joe was not taking on the world champion role in the literal sense in this match. He was outside of Ring of Honor, his home promotion, and working a spot show in Canada. Still, fans were hip to Joe as the indie scene was growing while he was the top guy in the most high-profile indie in North America, so it made sense for Joe to take on the role, even if it was only implicitly so, when he faced local star Kevin Steen.
The Kevin Steen of 2004 was not terribly different from the Kevin Owens of today -- his brashness and quick wit already front and center, as was his tendency to be wrestling’s most easy-to-like asshole. But if Steen was an asshole, he was Montreal’s asshole, which made him the sentimental favorite of the crowd even if they were more likely to cheer the action than any particular guy. Steen was still true to himself anytime he got cheered, flipping the bird to the parts of the crowd who wanted him to come to their side of the ring to deliver offense on the floor. Steen even dared to get into a striking contest with Joe, arguably the best striker on the continent by this time; he might have paid a price for that arrogance, but he earned it back in fan reputation, valuable currency for an indie wrestler. In fact, the more Joe beats the Hell out of Steen, the better Steen looks for withstanding the beating. Joe brutalized Steen with strikes, but the highlight was the release German suplex on the entrance ramp, which was as brutal a flat-back bump as it gets.
I’m not a fan of Franky the Mobster and Chase Ironside running in, which results in the ref throwing out the match and setting up an immediate impromptu tag where they faced Steen and Joe together. It wasn’t that the booking was bad, as I can see the merits of Steen earning Joe’s respect by always fighting back before they end up as unlikely partners, but that's a lot of long-term booking for what wasn't even a full-time wrestling promotion. The match overachieved in a way that it deserved a more decisive finish. Kevin Owens has since become a WWE headliner, but the contrast between the compassionate and caring family man and the sarcastic instigator shows that he never stopped being a walking character contradiction. Maybe the same is true for all of us, but claiming the gray area in a way that doesn’t undermine opponents or treat everything around it like a joke is impressive and rare in pro wrestling.