WWE seemingly turned Kevin Owens babyface on the most recent episode of SmackDown Live, and wrestling fans should hope that this shift in character is maintained for a healthy period of time.
In 2018, WWE first teased turning Kevin Owens babyface over the summer when the veteran performer was putting on great matches on Raw or nearly killing himself by getting thrown off of ladders and cages by Braun Strowman. The audience was just dying to cheer Owens vociferously after despising him for so long, and it seemed like WWE was headed in that direction when they wrote Owens off of television by turning Bobby Lashley heel on him.
When Owens returned from his injury, he acted like a babyface. Owens stood up to Daniel Bryan and his in-character fatphobia, showed his support for No. 1 Contender Kofi Kingston despite receiving a title opportunity over him, and eventually even joined The New Day as “The Big O”.
But, alas, just as WWE fans were beginning to love babyface KO, he did what KO does. Owens stuck in the knife and twisted it into our hearts, turning on The New Day just as it seemed like he was turning a new leaf in his career.
That’s why Owens’s actions on the most recent episode of SmackDown Live have given WWE fans hope that he’s turned babyface for good. Raw’s explosions, controversial storylines, and AJ Styles heel turn signified a shift towards an edgier product, and this was all but solidified on Tuesday when WWE Champion Kofi Kingston flipped off Extreme Rules opponent Samoa Joe.
Owens didn’t have quite as poignant of a moment, but he found a way to be a huge part of the show, too. “The Prizefighter” kicked things off with an episode of “The Kevin Owens Show”, verbally eviscerating a whiny Dolph Ziggler, which the crowd wholly approved of. But later, Owens showed that more thoughtful side of his character, asking Ziggler to get on the same page in a tag team match that night.
Ziggler and Owens took on the upstart babyface tag team of Heavy Machinery. Early on, Owens made good on his word to work in tandem with Ziggler, protecting him from an Otis Dozovic dive to the outside.
Unfortunately for Owens, he and Ziggler were no match for the recent NXT call-ups, as KO fell to “The Compactor”. Immediately after being pinned, Owens was met by an irate Ziggler, who angrily pulled Owens up to his feet. Owens didn’t waste a second, kicking Ziggler in the stomach and nailing a perfect “Stunner” that was sold wonderfully by “The Show-Off”.
We’ve seen Owens use a Stunner multiple times in the past, including as a heel at Royal Rumble 2017 in a Universal Title match against Roman Reigns. But more recently, Owens has used the Stunner frequently when portraying an “Everyman” type of babyface character.
Owens has teased being a fun-loving babyface as a part of The New Day, and he has the comedic timing to pull that off. But the extra edge Owens has as a ruthless heel is often missed. Ideally, blending Owens’s “Everyman” qualities with his high pain tolerance and no-nonsense attitude would create a bad-ass, relatable babyface that would appeal to a wider audience.
In a sense, Owens can be the babyface response to Styles’s heel turn. Styles is set to be a selfish, arrogant heel and the leader of “The Club”, much like he was in 2016, albeit an even less PG version of his past self.
WWE should have strong heels that reflect this edgier product, but, well, they’ve never really had issues with booking heels; see Owens as an example. Their issues have largely lay with the babyfaces, but based on Owens’s quick wit, splicing insults at Ziggler, layered actions later that night, and fierce stunner, WWE may have found the formula with babyface KO.
This is an exciting next iteration of Owens’s character, and it’s almost an amalgam of every other character in WWE he’s either portrayed or teased. Combined with Kingston as a stoic, fearless champion, SmackDown Live may have quickly cemented two awesome babyface characters on Tuesday’s pivotal, seemingly regime-changing episode.
Owens has been one of WWE’s best all-around performers for years and is constantly looking to reinvent himself in order to bring the fans and the company the best version of himself. The bad-ass babyface Owens can hurt opponents with his words and his moves in the ring; he has his guiding principles but won’t hesitate to destroy those who slight his honor. Based on what we saw on SmackDown, KO looks like a babyface WWE’s new direction needs.