All Star Weekend, Battle of Los Angeles, and Steen Wolf (PWG 2011)
Or, How Kevin Got His Groove Back
After their big blowoff match at Final Battle, Kevin and El Generico limp out of 2010 and into 2011 to find themselves on different paths for a while again. Generico works in Ring of Honor, but also works for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) in California, tours Europe, has a couple of dark matches for TNA, and goes on four different tours of Japan to work for DDT Pro, an offbeat promotion where he eventually crosses paths with Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, among others, and gets to wrestle in a kayak.
Kevin, exiled from Ring of Honor for what starts as six months, goes home exhausted and bitter. He wrestles in Quebec promotions and teaches wrestling seminars, but he chafes at being away from Ring of Honor, to the point where he thinks about quitting wrestling altogether. He’s saved by PWG, which is happy to book him in interesting matches with great wrestlers.
He and Generico only have five matches together during this year: two in a Quebec promotion, NSPW, of which no video seems to be available, and three in PWG. 2011 was a terrible year in a lot of ways for Kevin, and maybe it wasn’t great for Generico either (no one has ever asked him, so it’s impossible to say for sure), but it was a good year for Kevin & Generico matches: each of the three are distinctly different, sharp and polished, bright as diamonds and as valuable.
May 27: All Star Weekend 8
Kevin spends the first half of 2011 tagging a fair amount with Japanese wrestler Akira Tozawa. Tozawa is a big part of the reason Kevin is back in PWG; last December just before Final Battle, Kevin had a match against Tozawa, who’s a firecracker of a wrestler, scrappy and fearless and insanely over with the PWG crowd. It was their first match one on one, and they lit up the audience with a fast, crisp match in which it eventually took Kevin three package piledrivers to keep him down for the count. As the crowd chanted “you are awesome,” he helped Tozawa to his feet and said “I’m not awesome, I just happen to get to work with some of the best wrestlers in the world.”
He then asked them to play Tozawa’s music instead of his and left so that Tozawa could get the ovation of the audience, leaving badass berserker Tozawa wiping his eyes, overcome with emotion.
So when PWG suggests Kevin make a tag team with Tozawa in 2011, the Nightmare Violence connection is born. They make it to the finals of the March DDT4 tag team tournament before getting beaten by the Young Bucks, and so Kevin eventually comes to All Star Weekend in May and runs into El Generico, currently tagging with Ricochet.
“This is the first time Kevin and Generico have met up since Final Battle?” Chuck Taylor asks on commentary as the wrestlers come to the ring.
“Yep,” says PWG booker Excalibur.
“Did you… watch Final Battle?” Taylor says.
“Yep,” says Excalibur.
There’s a thoughtful pause, and then Taylor says, “Are you sure booking this match was a wise choice?”
Wise or not, any questions about how things stand between El Generico and Kevin are put to rest when Generico does his traditional olé salute, then pivots without any transition at all into punching Kevin, resulting in the two of them throwing frantic hands until their shaken tag team partners pull them apart.
Tozawa and Ricochet are both like “Look, we came here to beat people up and have some fun, okay? This is way too intense.” And that is part of the story of the match, that Ricochet and Tozawa just want a good/vicious match, relatively free of whatever agonizing baggage Generico and Kevin are lugging with them.
It turns out to be a good, vicious match, with one of the highlights being Kevin catching his tag partner out of the air and using him to batter his enemies:
He climbs up onto the turnbuckle in triumph and the crowd goes bonkers, and you can almost see how rejuvenating the Reseda crowd is to him, how their love for him reminds him of his love for wrestling. Even when he and Generico square off and things turn dark, as when Generico takes particular pleasure in kicking him until he releases a submission hold on Ricochet as Kevin literally spits defiance at him–even then, the match is fun. The stakes are low compared to the grinding, emotionally exhausting story of the year before, and the chemistry between all four is energizing. Kevin’s enjoying himself, teaming with and pitted against three of the best wrestlers in the world, in front of one of the best crowds in the world, and the match is full of a violent joie de vivre. Joie de lutter? Whatever it is, it’s clearly exactly what Kevin needs right now.
When it comes to an end, after Ricochet takes a brutal Steenalizer (Kevin’s rare indie finisher move where he hurls a wrestler backwards over his head into the turnbuckle–when he describes it to Chris Jericho on his podcast years later, you can hear Jericho audibly shudder), the four of them stand in the middle of the ring, and Tozawa offers Ricochet his hand. They shake, and Tozawa turns to Generico next as Kevin shakes Ricochet’s hand in turn. That leaves only Kevin and Generico, and they stare at each other for a long, painful time. A chant of “hug it out” starts up in the hopeful crowd, but neither wrestler reaches out, and it’s Generico that retreats cautiously, refusing to turn his back on Kevin.
Left in the ring with Tozawa, Kevin shakes his hand and then proceeds to startle his partner as he sinks to his knees. Tozawa tries to keep up–proper Japanese etiquette demands you get your head as low or lower than someone of higher status than you, and you can see Tozawa struggling to find the proper level with the older and more experienced wrestler. Kevin waves him to his feet, but halfway up fakes him out and drops into a dogeza, the deepest, most respectful form of bow.
As someone who’s lived in Japan for a couple of decades, I can tell you this is a Dick Move by Kevin. This is a Dick Move like agreeing to not exchange Christmas presents with a friend and then, at 11:45 PM on Christmas, pulling out the keys to a new car and handing it to him would be a Dick Move: it’s extravagant, lavishly over-the-top, totally unanswerable. Wrestlers will do this for a Japanese audience as they’re about to leave Japan, to thank every single one of them for years of support. As gestures go, this is extreme, this is hardcore, this is the barbed-wire-bat of gratitude, and you can see Tozawa clap his hands to his head in horror for a moment in response before Kevin takes pity on him and stands back up to hug him.
Years later, talking about this time, Kevin remembers his first match with Tozawa and what it and PWG did for him during that year:
“What’s going to keep my career alive,” he corrects himself, but that bow hints there might not be that much difference between the two in 2011.
Re-energized, Kevin spends the first half of the year training and getting in shape, losing 40 pounds in preparation for the Ring of Honor return in June that he made sure was written into his contract.
At the Best in the World PPV, Steve Corino and Jimmy Jacobs, repentant and recovering evil people, inform the crowd that there’s another person who hopes to ask for a second chance. As they wind up for the reveal, Kevin’s sitting in the balcony in a hoodie, waiting. It’s been six months since the Ring of Honor fans have seen him—an eternity in wrestling. And Jim Cornette has done his level best to make sure he’d be forgotten.
One thing that always astonishes me about wrestling is when wrestlers admit they get nervous just before a big return or debut, uneasy that the audience has forgotten about them and moved on. Over and over you’ll hear wrestlers admit to sudden qualms, a dread that maybe their huge reveal will get a tepid reaction. On their Table for 3 episode, both Finn Balor and the Hardys talk about being worried that maybe they’d come out after their absences to crickets and apathy. How could they not be sure? we who love them wonder, but surely a sliver of doubt is hard to avoid. One of my favorite moments from 2017 is when Adam Cole bursts into the Barclay Center to attack Drew McIntyre, then strolls up the ramp flanked by Fish and O’Reilly as a chant of his name slowly starts to build. He turns around at the top of the ramp, five minutes into his very first WWE appearance–and if you’ve seen him on the Kevin Steen Show, you know there’s a lot of evidence that this is the kind of person who looked out at the crowd and thought, “Oh boy, there’s a chance they’re not going to go along with my catchphrase here and I’ll just be yelling it alone, but I gotta start somewhere.”
He lifts his hands and it sounds like everyone in that building yells “ADAM COLE BAYBAY!” at the same time, and he lights up as though they’ve turned a spotlight on him. Finn comes out after his injury and throws his arms in the air, and a sea of hands goes up in support, and a peace settles into his face. The Hardys’ music hits at WrestleMania and a hundred thousand people start screaming, and they charge down the ramp beaming to win the titles.
In 2011, Steve Corino says Kevin’s name and Hammerstein Ballroom erupts into a roar of delight as he stands up and rips off his hoodie, throwing his arms wide as if to gather up every bit of their adulation.
He runs down to try and get in the ring, but Cornette blocks him. Kevin pleads with Cornette to listen to the fans and let him in, he clasps his hands and begs, but no, he’s turned away, to the crowd’s annoyance.
But wait! When Steve Corino gets defeated by Michael Elgin soon after, Kevin comes running in to save him and Jimmy Jacobs, then grabs the mic and announces that there’s something he’s really wanted to tell all of Ring of Honor: the fans, the wrestlers, everyone. He starts his statement in the confessional tone Steve Corino and Jimmy Jacobs have been using to try and recover from being evil:
Kevin says in more than one shoot interview that it comes from the heart, from six months of anger and gloom, and the crowd reacts as they almost always do to authentic cries from the heart by wrestlers: they love him. He lays Corino and Jacobs low to cheers and is eventually dragged out by security with his arms outstretched–”like Jesus,” he says happily later, if Jesus were prone to flipping people off with both hands as he passed:
This scene segues directly into El Generico winning his first solo title in Ring of Honor, the TV title off Christopher Daniels, in a match where he somehow manages to do a coast to coast senton onto Daniels in the tree of woe position:
He wins and is showered with streamers from the delighted fans as he kisses his title. It’s a glorious night, and if this were a movie, it would make a great triumphant ending. But the real world keeps smashing into the fictional in pro wrestling, the story always seems to get interrupted or derailed somehow. In this case, it’s random business maneuverings: Ring of Honor is in the middle of getting purchased, and this results in chaos for contracts, storylines and booking. Kevin was careful to make sure his contract specified he had to be brought back in June, but apparently failed to make explicit that he had to be kept on after that, and Jim Cornette uses this loophole to say he’s not going to be allowed to wrestle until December. Another six months of exile.
He thought he was done, but he’s only halfway there, and the first half was already hard enough. He goes home again in despair, angry and depressed, and consoles himself as he often has done when upset: he eats.
He gains back all the weight he lost almost immediately. This doesn’t slow him down in PWG, where he wins the world title off Claudio Castagnoli and beats Pac and the Young Bucks, but it’s demoralizing and he’s deeply frustrated at continuing to be away from Ring of Honor. Meanwhile, El Generico loses the RoH TV title in his first defense two months after winning it, and so they find themselves in the ring again in August, their first singles match in PWG together since 2007.
August 20: Battle of Los Angeles
If All Star Weekend 8 was about the joy of working with other wrestlers, the joy of tagging again and having fun, Battle of Los Angeles is about the joy of working the audience, about connecting with the crowd and all the crazy improvised chaos and satisfaction wrestling can hold.
BOLA is a tournament, and Kevin and Generico have made their way through the brackets to face each other in the finals, to the delirious anticipation of the audience. In earlier matches, you can catch glimpses of a small boy wearing a blue shirt in the audience. As the final match begins at midnight, the camera (and Kevin) spot him again–but now the child is on his father’s shoulders and has put on a Generico mask. The mask is sized for an adult, making the child look like an El Generico bobblehead. Kevin powerbombs Generico onto the apron and climbs onto a chair to confront the child, who watches him with wary dislike, leaning away as far as he can; not freaking out but clearly quite convinced that Kevin is a threat, even if his laughing father doesn’t quite seem to get it, for some reason.
The mask turns his gaze unblinking, solemn and owlish as Kevin prepares to hurt Generico again, demanding he observe the destruction of his hero:
Oh no! Why did Kevin demand this child watch so carefully? Now his humiliation at this unexpected turn of events is magnified a hundredfold at being witnessed by this pure-hearted child, this is a disaster. Even worse, everyone there and everyone who buys the DVD is going to see him being mortified in front of a small, solemn child; what a terrible and unforgettable tableau. Look at that kid’s involuntary delighted motion as Kevin gets his comeuppance, that’s amazing, that’s power. I have no idea what Generico thinks about that kind of power, but Sami Zayn has some opinions that might be relevant:
Not surprisingly, these two power-hungry maniacs then proceed to basically pitch most of the match to that corner and that kid. Most of the moves take place facing that direction: top rope moves happen from that turnbuckle; Kevin puts Generico in submissions facing the child so that Generico has to reach toward him to break the hold. Even when Generico powerslams Kevin it just so happens to be positioned so the moment of shock on Kevin’s face will be seen by that corner of the room, before Generico pins Kevin and points at the kid as if to dedicate his (almost) win to him:
After a move, Kevin immediately goes right to glaring at the child, as if the kid is his true enemy and Generico merely a conduit for his spirit right now:
(And in a lot of ways that’s what El Generico always is at his best: a transparent glass, a filament that channels the audience’s energy into light).
The crowd comes up with various laughing, ironic chants about this standoff between Kevin and the tiny Generico doppelganger, but there’s very little ironic or winking about this match, this small story, this struggle over the spirit of a child and whether it’s indomitable enough to be the force that lifts Generico to victory.
It takes three Helluva Kicks, a brainbuster, and then a fourth Helluva Kick/brainbuster combo on the apron, but Generico eventually defeats Kevin, and the child comes down from his father’s shoulders to pound the mat and then to be brought into the ring by Generico in triumph. Generico encourages him to flip off Kevin, who lashes out and smashes the trophy before retreating in sullen defeat, leaving Generico and his small copy to share the comically destroyed trophy and a hug. Generico then asks for the mic, apologizes for his “shit English,” then announces to the audience, “You are PWG! You are El Generico! You make this special!”
“You are El Generico”–I guess his English truly isn’t that good, to say something so odd, to imply he himself doesn’t exist except through the loving energy of the people watching and wanting him to win.
(Or his English may be perfect, in every sense of the word).
Through the summer and fall of 2011, Kevin continues to do brief run-ins in Ring of Honor, making life hell for the top brass, to the fans’ anarchic glee. He ends up in weird cheesy promos with lawyers which violate his aesthetic sense so violently it seems to cause him pain, but the audience doesn’t care, they just want him back. Eventually it comes out that at Final Battle 2011, one year after he lost to Generico, he’ll be fighting Steve Corino for the right to get his job back. But that’s in December; first he has a match in October against Generico in PWG.
October 22: Steen Wolf
This time it’s a ladder match for the PWG world title, so the stakes are as high as they can get. All Star Weekend was about the connections between two tag teams; Battle of Los Angeles was about the connections with the audience; Steen Wolf is pure concentrated focus on each other and the title. It’s a ferocious match, both emotionally and physically; crystal-sharp and lacerating, probably one of their greatest.
The match starts with referee Rick Knox calling for the bell and then getting the hell out of the ring as the champion Kevin and Generico glare at each other. Generico spits at Kevin, Kevin blows snot on Generico, they punch each other for a while and then Generico hurls himself over the ropes at Kevin with a desperate urgency.
“Whoever booked this is a dick,” Chuck Taylor says on commentary as they start pulling out ladders.
“We certainly hope nobody dies!” Excalibur (the aforementioned booker) adds cheerfully.
The match is brutal; watching it I discover there are more ways to use ladders to hit people or use people to smash into ladders than I had ever dreamed possible, including the “sarcastically delicate tip.”
Kevin batters and bruises and stands on Generico, and then (for my money) one of the worst fictional things I’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring happens. As his former tag team partner writhes in pain on the mat, Kevin wanders over to a corner. He stands there for a second, staring down at Generico, expressionless. And then he reaches out his hand as if for a tag.
Confused and dazed, Generico looks up and in that instant he sees Kevin, his friend Kevin, standing at the turnbuckle with his hand outstretched like so many times across so many years, and without thinking he tries to make that hot tag so Kevin can save him from the awful beating his monstrous opponent is giving him.
It’s a horrific moment, made worse by the fact that Generico immediately realizes his mistake and desperately scrambles to get away as Kevin follows him, hand still extended–not laughing or sadistic, it would almost be less painful if he were proud of having tricked Generico. Instead he just looks slightly mystified, like he’s staring through thick glass at emotions he vaguely remembers but can’t access anymore.
It’s a very similar moment to one that happens in Kevin’s last match against Sami Zayn just before Hell in a Cell and Sami’s turn back to friendship: in the middle of that match, Sami gets hurt and cries out, and Kevin abruptly comes over from the barricade, putting out his hand.
The referee waves him back, and Kevin looks at him blankly, more in confusion than anger, as if he isn’t even sure himself what he was coming over to do, as if he’s half-remembering something but isn’t sure what.
Both in 2011 and in 2017, Kevin reaches down and touches his former friend’s face, caught somewhere between viciousness and the ghost of affection, before the viciousness wins out again and the fight moves on from its eerie little interlude.
The match charges on with ladder spot after agonizing ladder spot, way too many to do justice to with gifs. They’re both hurled into ladders over and over until Generico’s bare back is criss-crossed with threads of scarlet and the white ties of his mask are dabbled with his own blood:
Kevin finally gives Generico a brainbuster on the turnbuckle and Generico tumbles to the outside to lie motionless. Kevin starts to make the climb up to grab his title back (“Please, get the belt and end this fucking match,” Chuck Taylor begs him from the commentary table) and it almost seems within reach when:
Again with the Young Bucks, because they seem to have a gift for superkicking their way into a story whenever Kevin needs an opponent or ally to remind him that wrestling can actually be fun. They pummel Kevin’s bad knee ruthlessly with chairs as the furious crowd yells “Fuck the Young Bucks” over and over, and then they disappear. Generico emerges from the floor to boggle at the carnage, then start to climb the ladder himself. When Kevin tries to stop him, he receives an amazingly horrible-looking sunset flip off the ladder onto other ladders:
He lies motionless as Generico climbs the ladder and pulls down the title–and the ventilation grate it was attached to, for good measure.
The Young Bucks show up again before Generico can celebrate and beat him up as well (just so they’re not playing favorites), then challenge Kevin to a match, mocking him for not having a partner. A couple of extremely optimistic souls try to start an olé chant, but before that can gain traction the lights go out and Super Dragon appears in the ring to attack the Bucks and become Kevin’s tag partner. They’ll go on to win the titles later that year, but for now he simply leaves the ring to Kevin and bewildered new champion Generico.
Kevin and Generico stare at each other for a long time, and after that match not one soul in Reseda calls for them to hug it out. Generico lifts the title between them, and Kevin gets the mic. “I may not be happy with the results, but I’ll tell you one thing: I knew,” he says, pointing to the destroyed ceiling, “we’d tear the fucking roof down.”
So Kevin finally makes it through this awful year with a lot of help. We see one kind of help at All Star Weekend: the connections with Tozawa and Ricochet, connections through the year with Chris Hero, with Claudio Castagnoli, with Super Dragon, with the Young Bucks, with the joy of working with other great wrestlers. At Battle of Los Angeles he’s helped by the Reseda crowd, by the alchemy of creating art with the audience, making their reactions and emotions part of the match. And always, always he’s helped by his connection to Generico and to the story they tell, in its purest and most ferociously concentrated form at Steen Wolf. That all comes together in December in Hammerstein Ballroom again, when he fights his old friend Steve Corino and special referee Jimmy Jacobs for the right to be admitted back to Ring of Honor. The crowd wants him back and they let him know it; Steve and Jimmy put up a good struggle but in the end Kevin is triumphant: Jimmy is forced to do the three-count that gives Kevin back his job. Magnanimous as always in victory, Kevin starts to take a measure of revenge on Jimmy and everyone else; Generico runs in to try and stop him, only to be met with a package piledriver through a table:
They lie there, ending yet another Final Battle together, battered and broken. Last time they finished the year with Generico waving goodbye. This time, bloody and laughing with delight, Kevin grabs Generico’s face and says something to him.
The crowd noise is deafening, the commentators are yelling, so it’s totally inaudible, and I’m no lip reader. But I think there’s a chance that what he says is: “Forever, and ever, and ever.”
Next: Showdown in the Sun, Kevin wins the RoH World title, and time starts to run out, 2012
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*adds another match to the "must see" matches*