2005's Run-In With Destiny: Kevin and El Generico Become Allies
Because "it's all about you and me."
Run-ins are the bane of anyone trying to look back and re-assemble a story in wrestling. You could, for example, watch every single match between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in the WWE and never come across the first time they interacted on Raw–because it happened at the end of a match between Kevin and Neville, where Sami comes out and interrupts a post-match beatdown:
Lots of feuds and alliances are born in unrelated matches, and that means to be sure you’re getting the whole story you’d probably have to watch every single match either person ever had, and there is only so much time in the day between shows and promotions and vlogs and extra material all vying for our attention. It’s all a crazy jumbled pile of moments and scenes and glimpses, so when you’re researching a career and happen across an important run-in, it’s a vast relief, a missing piece that clicks nicely into place.
This is an example of a run-in with destiny.
It’s late 2005, and Kevin Steen and El Generico are doing a lot of traveling, ranging out from Montreal. Kevin is the current PWG champion and also the CZW Iron Man Champion while Generico holds one of the PWG tag team titles; the two of them recently had a dark match against each other at a Ring of Honor show, though not much will come of that for a couple more years. Generico’s been tagging here and there with his friend Beef Wellington, and like all wrestling promotions, early-2000s IWS is a complicated set of ever-shifting alliances that could put pre-WWI Europe to shame, but lately things have heated up between Beef and Kevin in particular, with Generico caught in the middle. There’s a lot of simmering tension about who’s more committed to IWS, and even more underlying tension about who’s going to make a run for the big leagues, and with whom.
At the September IWS show, Generico and Beef make their second attempt to win the IWS tag team titles, but fall short again. Kevin, meanwhile, has a grudge match with a wrestler named Damian. It’s a Last Man Standing match, with all the requisite brutality and chaos, including a sequence where the rowdy audience hurls a pile of chairs into the ring and the wrestlers improvise the match around the heap of randomly shifting debris:
Eventually it looks like Kevin’s got it won, but Beef runs in and interferes, costing him the match. Enraged, Kevin attacks him and is about to hit him with a chair when El Generico shows up to save his friend and stop Kevin’s rampage.
And that’s where things really get interesting, and a whole lot messier than that pile of chairs.
“It’s not about you and me!” Kevin yells as Generico shoves him into a corner. He leaves the ring briefly as Generico goes to check on Beef, but as the commentators are expressing relief at this positive ending to the show he charges back in, still trying to get at his enemy. Generico confronts him again, and Kevin furiously repeats that Generico has nothing to do with this feud: “It’s not between you and I!”
All Kevin’s saying is that Generico’s not involved in this conflict, but Generico reacts as if Kevin has slapped him across the face, or grabbed him, as if he’s said something horrible. He sways forward and away as though caught in a high wind, hands clenching and unclenching. Kevin yells it again, and Generico practically reels in disbelief.
Unlike other wrestlers, Generico doesn’t have words to express why he’s so shocked by Kevin’s statement. He only has actions to express himself, so he takes action:
It is the most simple and direct rejection of the unfathomable idea that there could be anything that was not about Kevin and Generico, that there could be anything in Kevin’s career that didn’t involve Generico. This is between us now, that kick says. Everything is between us. Like so much in this rivalry, it’s a threat and a promise at the same time. This is about you and me, because everything is about you and me. And it’s a promise (or threat) that is 100% followed through on:
Because if Generico decides it’s about you and him, not only will he hound you for the rest of his career to remind you of it, if he retires there’s a decent chance he will enlist a friend to take his place and keep hounding you forever and ever.
Back in Montreal in 2005, poor Beef is out cold, and the irate commentators declare their disgust and walk out, leaving the ring to Kevin and Generico, who turns to embrace his new partner:
And I love this moment because you can see in Kevin’s body language and Generico’s that Kevin’s starting up what will become one of his favorite themes, which is Kevin as the Corrupter. He loves playing the serpent in the garden, tempting decent people toward chaos and darkness. He does it in his title Ring of Honor title match against (then relatively good) Tyler Black, a viciously bloody affair with a fraught staredown at the end:
Which we find out later is some kind of psychological assault on Tyler’s morals in a post-match phone call to Kevin’s evil mentor Steve Corino:
Unfortunately for that storyline, Tyler leaves RoH two months later, and his “fall to the dark side” ends up being more because the fans found out he’d signed with WWE instead of anything Kevin did. Though now that I think about it, I think you could make a decent case that Kevin did manage to have a long-term corrupting influence on the soon-to-be Seth Rollins:
With Tyler gone, Kevin eventually turns his attention to Tyler’s tag partner and reformed-bad-person Jimmy Jacobs and has more success there, dragging him back down into blood and betrayal.
This time we do get more payoff, as Jimmy and his spike end up costing Generico the victory against Kevin in a later match:
But in 2005, Kevin’s just getting his corrupter-groove going and he has decided his first full-scale target will be El Generico. At a certain level, it seems inevitable: tag teams with people of vastly different alignments are hard to maintain for long, so it makes sense that Generico’s morality might have to give. But… Kevin. Oh Kevin. He’s made a terrible, terrible mistake. Because he doesn’t know it yet–to be fair, I’m not certain Generico knows it yet–but El Generico is not corruptible. Yes, at this age especially he’s a rude violent guttersnipe who’ll fight with all the viciousness and high moral standards of a rabid weasel when he has to, but there’s an unconquerable innocence at his heart. His unworldliness and lack of comprehension keep him apart from it all: the cruelties and crassness of the wrestling world seem to be things that he simply doesn’t quite know are wrong, as if all the low blows and spitting and snot-spraying are taken as the quaint and confusing customs of his friends. It doesn’t truly touch him, so it can’t corrode him. Even here, after attacking his tag team partner, when he’s trying to be evil, there’s a moment where he goes from defiantly flipping off the crowd to staring at his own hands with a hint of bewilderment, like “When I hold up these two fingers, everyone yells ‘Ole’ and cheers! But when I hold up these two fingers, everyone boos!”
He just doesn’t… quite… get it, and in the long run, that means he stays above it all. Teaming with Kevin doesn’t tarnish his spirit; it polishes it, like steel wool scours metal until it shines. And for a while, that’s what ends up making Kevin and Generico one of the most fascinating tag teams of all time: this weird crackling energy between a guy that’s unrepentantly awful and a guy that’s incorruptibly good, a buzzing dynamo of tension that–implausibly–keeps spinning for years. What Kevin will eventually discover is that you can certainly make El Generico sad, and you can even–with some dedicated work–make him mad. But you’re never, ever going to manage to make El Generico bad.
Even here, at his closest-to-evil, Generico doesn’t turn on Beef Wellington out of a love of violence or a lust for blood. He attacks Beef and leaves him lying in order to be with Kevin, to wrest the very fabric of reality into the pattern he’s chosen.
To jump ahead a decade, once Kevin Steen came to WWE and became Kevin Owens, the theme of him as the corrupter into blood and violence ceased to appear—which makes sense since there’s substantially less blood in WWE with which to tempt violence-addicts like Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black. He’s managed to corrupt exactly one person to the dark side, and that’s… Sami Zayn, in 2017. Ironically, he wasn’t even trying to win him over: the reason Sami was at ringside at hell in a Cell, the whole reason he was there to save Kevin and jettison his ideals for friendship, was that he had offered to help Shane McMahon and been rebuffed, “this isn’t about you and Kevin.”
You cannot tell El Generico, you cannot tell Sami Zayn, that something related to Kevin has nothing to do with him. It’s the intolerable goad that will, inevitably, force action from him, even if he has to tear down every value, every principle, every alliance he cherishes to do it.
Wow, look at all the virtual ink I’ve managed to spill over a five-minute run-in! Wrestling at its purest tells a story within a match, from bell to bell–but wrestling can also use all the social media exchanges, all the backstage segments, all the run-ins and ringside appearances and fleeting moments and ephemera, to make something complex and tangled in the best of ways. Like this run-in, which manages to trace the entire trajectory of Kevin and Generico’s alliance in miniature. Kevin just wants Generico to get out of his way. But that’s not how Generico works. He’ll fight Kevin, or he’ll join Kevin, sure! The one thing he won’t do is step aside. Kevin thinks he is an irresistible force, but Generico truly is, at his heart, an immovable object, and though Kevin will try and try to push him (aside, around, away), it just won’t work. In the end, it will be Kevin that breaks–not when he loses and has to leave Ring of Honor, but a year before then, when he finally gives up on moving Generico and settles for just destroying him.
But Kevin doesn’t know any of this yet. Young and full of evil confidence, Kevin is a novice mountain climber who has just laced up his brand new hiking boots and announced that he will be scaling Everest tomorrow; he’s an apprentice magician who watched a YouTube video on card tricks and wants us all to know that for his first feat, he will escape from a padlocked coffin submerged in an icy river while wearing a straitjacket! This isn’t going to end well, this isn’t going to end well at all.
(Spoiler: it’s going to end perfectly).
Let’s loop back to 2005, where Kevin Steen is reveling in his success in the Bar le Break in Montreal, and he doesn’t know any of this is ahead of him. He grabs the mic to cut a promo as the audience boos, then realizes some angry fans are making for the door. “Don’t leave yet,” he warns them—and maybe he does have a touch of foresight after all, because here’s what he says as he leans on the ropes and watches the path in front of them opening up into the future.
Link to a video of El Generico throwing in his lot with Kevin.
Thanks for reading Ring the Bell! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.