Discover more from Ring the Bell
Nothing Without You
2013 and the end of Kevin and Generico's story (but also, the story is never over)
Wrestling exists in a constant state of tension between dependence and independence, with storylines that are constantly playing out that anxiety, running through the options over and over. When is it wise to rely on others and when is it smart to walk away on your own? Seth Rollins betrays his brothers to achieve the pinnacle of success, but later admits the victory is hollow. Even worse, there’s the nagging suspicion he only traded in one dependence for another, more corrosive dependence when he threw in his lot with the Authority. Only once he rejects Triple H and truly stands on his own can he begin to restore his bonds with Roman and Dean. Or in one of my favorite moments in wrestling, Bobby Heenan is talking about how Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty are inseparable: “See, one without the other isn’t any good,” he explains. In the literal middle of his gushing tribute to friendship, Michaels abruptly superkicks Jannetty through a stage window to dramatically end their partnership. Without a moment’s hesitation, Heenan immediately switches tacks: “I knew he was going to do that, I just knew it!” he crows. “He don’t need Jannetty!” That emotional whiplash lies at the heart of so much of wrestling, a constant lurking worry about dependence and isolation. Around and around we go in an endless wheel of betrayal and reconciliation, rejection and reunion, never to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Well, almost never.
On January 12, 2013, PWG holds the Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament (DDT4), their annual tag team tournament. El Generico starts off on the card, but has to withdraw due to injury. At the last minute, however, word comes out that he’s been signed with WWE. He’s allowed to fulfill any last contracts, and it’s announced that his appearance at DDT4 is on again—and that he’ll be teaming up with Kevin Steen.
So this is it: they’ve lifted each other to greater and greater heights for a decade, and now Generico is poised to make that final leap. Everyone knows this will be Kevin and Generico’s swan song—not because “Generico” will cease to exist, which people weren’t sure of; but because, hard as this may be for us in 2018 to believe, in 2013 the message boards and fan chatter were nearly unanimously certain that Kevin would never even be considered for WWE. But whatever the final reason, this will in fact be their last appearance together, and if there’s going to be an end to their story, it will have to be here. Their whole career together has been a long complicated tangle of teamwork and betrayal, a Gordian knot of emotions, seemingly impossible to untie. It seems possible they had plans for another decade’s worth of melodrama, but now they only have one day; three matches at the very best to reach a conclusion. It’s a huge challenge, but they’ve never shied away from a challenge before.
Go back in time with me even a little further for a moment, back to 2008, when Kevin and Generico were still a tag team, back to a Ring of Honor promo that sums up all of this tangle. Kevin has just won a match to become the number one contender for the world title. El Generico was not at ringside for the match, but shows up once it’s over to celebrate. Kevin throws his arms wide and announces, “El Generico! We did it!” and Generico hurls himself into the hug, sharing in the triumph.
Then Kevin abruptly seems to think better of his generosity: “Actually, I did it,” he points out, shoving Generico away into a comical roll.
And there’s that tension in two lines: how much can be we and how much must be me? How much can success be shared before we seem weak? Minutes later, Kevin starts in on a speech. As he begins it, you can see Generico realize that he’s in the camera frame and start to move back, out of the way, so that Kevin can have this moment alone. But Kevin notices his withdrawal: “Hey,” he barks, hobbling dramatically, “come here, I need a crutch.”
And with that plausible deniability—I’m just using him—Generico comes back over to prop him up so the promo can continue with the two of them sharing the spotlight.
There’s a lot of loud, brash talk in wrestling about not needing anyone. There’s a lot of lone wolves, a lot of lonely warriors. But of course, in wrestling there’s that second “secret” layer: in reality a wrestler’s physical safety is far more reliant on their opponent than on their tag team partner. Wrestlers don’t put their lives in their partner’s hands day in and day out the way they do their “enemies.” Wrestlers are always dependent on each other at some level, to keep injury minimal and make each other look tough and effective—those moments where we can see the relationship fail, through accident or malice, are shocking and memorable. But some section of the audience doesn’t like to think about that. That would mean their badass idols were always relying on other people, were constantly depending on others. And that would be… unnerving.
Case in point: as Kevin leans on Generico and cuts his promo, immediately—immediately—someone in the crowd yells out a homophobic slur. It’s the most amazing thing: this guy has just finished watching two hours of half-naked dudes rolling around in a ring together, but that was okay because they were pretending to hate each other. But one veiled hint of real support and real affection, and he’s just got to make his feelings clear on the matter. It would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. To their credit, Kevin and Generico both just blink at him for a second before continuing on, but it’s a weird, jarring moment.
in 2008 Kevin calls Generico a crutch; later while they’re feuding he’ll call him an “addiction”: both of them literal dependencies that need to be discarded or broken. Now it’s 2013, Reseda California, and they’re being forced to team together one more time. Can they work together? Can they—impossibly—rely on each other one last time, here at the end of all things for El Generico?
It doesn’t seem likely at first.
The first match of the tournament for Steen and Generico is against the Briscoe Brothers, one of their oldest nemeses. Kevin and the Briscoes come out first to their respective entrance songs, and Generico’s separate entrance is greeted with so many streamers that the start of the match is delayed. (PWG cuts off entrances and exits, so for that information I’m relying on accounts of people who were there, like this and this). Kevin waits in a corner, staring into space, refusing to look at anyone. Generico looks at him, not even responding to the ring announcer calling his name, and every line of his body expresses his hopelessness.
Generico holds out his hand, and the crowd calls for them to hug it out, but it can’t possibly be that easy. Kevin shoves Generico out of the ring to start the match, which features nine tags between them in eleven minutes, a nearly constant back-and-forth which is where the real story of the match is. They start with blind tags, made without each other’s consent, usually more angry slaps than proper tags:
They progress, slowly and reluctantly, to a tag that’s still blind but at least grudgingly allowed:
And then to Generico actually offering his hand, and Kevin tagging him—though not in a friendly way at all, refusing the hand-to-hand tag of a true team.
But it’s shortly after that something truly shifts for the first time: when Kevin is about to get leveled by Jay Brisco, Generico suddenly leaps forward, shoves him out of the way, and catches Jay in a drop toe hold.
It’s the opening of one of their traditional tag moves. It should be followed by Kevin’s somersault leg drop, a move they did hundreds of times together:
There’s an awful pause as they stare at each other: Generico lying on the mat, almost entirely vulnerable. Kevin could kick him in the head, could spit at him, could walk away.
Instead, he finishes the move.
The crowd cheers in delight, and shortly after cheers again when they make their first legit tag of the tournament, in which Kevin slaps Generico’s hand in a way which is… not aggressively UNfriendly, at least.
A man’s voice in the crowd calls out, “Are you friends again?” There’s laughter, but that’s what they want, what they’re hoping for. And when a few more not-unfriendly tags get made, they almost start to think maybe they’re going to get it.
Because while Kevin has Mark in a submission hold, Generico gets shoved into him and they both go sprawling. The audience groans, because they know how this goes: miscommunications, misunderstandings, and misery. Shortly after, Kevin grabs Jay Briscoe in a rear choke hold up against the turnbuckle; sensing an opportunity, Generico goes for his yakuza kick.
You can hear the Reseda crowd start yelling “No! No!” at him, knowing what’s coming. Jay gets out of the way, and Generico manages to pull up just in time to avoid kicking Kevin in the face, but the damage is done, the fragile detente is broken.
They start shoving each other and the crowd noise sinks into despair, then rises in panic as the Briscoes get Generico into position for their finishing move. But then abruptly, with no warning, Generico manages to roll one of the brothers up for the win! Generico holds out his hand, but Kevin spits at him in a fury and leaves him alone in the ring. The mood is grim, but as long as there’s another match, it’s not the end. There’s still some hope.
The second match of the night (Kevin and Generico wrestle three matches this night—and remember, Generico originally pulled out of this show because he was injured) is against Future Shock: Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly. Again, Kevin and Generico come out separately, to their own music. Again, Kevin will not meet Generico’s eyes. Again, Generico keeps looking at him—though he does manage to lift one arm in a half-hearted acknowledgement as his name is called this time.
The first match had a progression from hostile tags to neutral tags, nine tags in all. This match has only one tag in it, because Kevin has an intense grudge against Adam Cole, who took the world championship off him a month ago. As a result, he starts attacking Cole immediately, and won’t let up until he eventually gets in over his head: battered and bruised, he cannot get back to his corner where Generico waits, holding out his hand with increasing urgency. This leads to a long sequence where the eventual tag is thwarted over and over as Reseda’s desire for it grows—again and again Kevin’s lunges are interrupted, or Generico is yanked off the apron, or it’s just not quite enough to get there.
There’s even a moment where Kevin starts to crawl toward the wrong corner while the crowd screams, until finally he realizes where he is, turns around, and makes that hot tag at last.
And that’s the only tag of the match, the only tag necessary. Generico finally comes in, to the joy of the audience, and eventually Kevin comes in to help him and gets Adam Cole wrapped up for a package piledriver. He looks over his shoulder and realizes Generico is in just the right position for their old team finishing move. Their eyes lock for a moment, and then (instead of venting his grudge on his own) Kevin chooses to work with Generico as a team. He piledrives Cole and passes him to Generico for what will turn out to be the very last Assembly Line. Generico pins him for the win as the crowd jumps up in delight.
Kevin and Generico have made it through a match without overt conflict. They’ve achieved a hot tag. They’ve even won with their old finishing move. They’ve basically moved, across two matches, from enemies to an actual tag team again. But when Generico holds out his hand again, Kevin rejects it once more and walks away. There’s only one match left: the final against the tag team champions, the Young Bucks.
The fucking Young Bucks, again? The team that Kevin and Generico fought just before Kevin turned on Generico? The team that attacked both of them at the end of their vicious match at Steen Wolf? The team that caused them, for a fleeting moment, to team up again a few months ago? The team that’s triggered so many of their most awful and hopeful moments?
Who better, I guess?
This time, when Kevin’s music hits, he doesn’t come out. It plays again, and still no Kevin. There’s a pause, and then Generico’s theme music starts, and they come out together. They come out as a team.
The crowd is delighted, ready to see them do their introductions together, maybe even to see them joke together as before. But the Young Bucks attack them before they even finish getting in the ring, because Nick and Matt Jackson are why we can’t have nice things. The brawl settles into Generico as the legal man at first. As in the previous match, there’s only one tag between them, a hot tag ten minutes in—there’s no need for any other tags, everything has already built to this and things are about as hot as they’re going to get.
The climax of the match revolves around three specific moments in the final five minutes after that hot tag, each of which shifts the final chapter of the story toward its ending. Here’s something no gif can truly capture: the sense of terrible urgency in each of these moments. It’s wrestling—there’s only one take, there’s only one chance, and each moment is clearly essential to the story. All four wrestlers execute every move as if it’s the most important thing they’ve ever done (even those cursed, flippy, devil-may-care Young Bucks), and the crowd is caught up in that urgency, hanging on every instant.
The first emotional beat occurs just after the hot tag, as Generico is collapsed on the floor outside the ring and Kevin struggles alone against the Bucks. He manages to knock them both onto the outside, but they yank his legs out from under him so that he crashes to his hands and knees.
Outnumbered, vulnerable, he yells, his voice cracking in desperation, “Help me, Generico! Help me, help me!”
Back in 2009, Kevin explained that he turned on Generico because he was an addiction, a crutch, a dependency that needed to be broken. Now in 2013, on his hands and knees Kevin begs the man he betrayed to help him. He begs the person he insisted was holding his career back and making him weak to come to his aid.
And El Generico, without hesitation, comes flying into the ring to save him.
He uses Kevin as support, to launch himself up, to soar one more time over the ropes of Reseda. He wipes out the Bucks, and the match continues. But something has shifted: in Kevin and between the two of them. Something’s different.
The second moment takes place when the Bucks have managed to get the upper hand once more. Generico has kicked out of More Bang for Your Buck, the Bucks’ finisher, and the ref has gotten knocked out. Kevin barely registers it: he’s crawling across the ring to Generico’s side.
I’ve watched this match a few times, and until re-watching to write this essay I’d always been so focused on the Bucks’ taunting menace that I didn’t really notice that Kevin and Generico are having a conversation in this moment. But they are, they’re talking to each other, too low for the camera to catch; we have no idea what it’s about, or if it’s in-character or not. But I’m going to assume it was in-character, and that it was important, because when Kevin stands up the Bucks point out that he should be happy they’ve destroyed Generico, and they suggest that he simply walk away and let them finish the job—or maybe even join them in the beatdown.
And Kevin responds by spitting in their faces, standing by Generico even though he can barely keep his footing, demanding they go through him first.
It’s another key moment: going from being a team to helping each other to actually being willing to suffer for each other. The progression is fast—I’m sure they would have preferred having five years more, to give each of these moments its own arc—but this tournament is what they have, and they’re not wasting a minute of it.
The final moment in the match comes after Generico delivers his very last brainbuster off the top turnbuckle to Nick Jackson (who takes it beautifully, just look at this):
It’s a move almost no one has ever been able to kick out of, so when Generico goes for the pin Reseda goes wild—but there’s no ref, because the Bucks knocked him unconscious earlier. Referee Rick Knox eventually shows up to make the count, and once again a win looks certain—but Matt pulls Knox out of the ring to stop the count. Knox superkicks Matt and jumps back in the ring, but it’s too late, now Nick can and does kick out of the pin attempt.
Kevin seems almost to levitate with fury, like he cannot believe this bullshit. He stalks over to Generico and shakes him, then cuffs his face. The energy in Reseda falters into unease; at least three distinct voices cry out “No!” in anguish, as though Kevin has struck them instead of Generico. Are they going to fall apart again? Did we come so far only to find out that they can’t actually do it, that when it matters they can’t take the pressure?
Kevin screams at the disconsolate Generico: “LET’S KILL THESE MOTHERFUCKERS!”
Reseda erupts in joy again, and of all the moments in this tournament, somehow this is the one where I always tear up. There’s just something about the furious, anarchic glee of it, the commitment to ass-kicking together, the feeling of rightness and righteousness of trouncing these two flippy annoyances once and for all. In any fair fictional world, they should have gone on to win the PWG tag team titles one more time, even if it meant Generico would have to vacate it immediately. The crowd is hoping for it.
And it’s not that wrestling isn’t fair—at its base, no matter how often it messes it up, wrestling is all about fairness—but in this case the titles aren’t the point, so halfway through the Assembly Line, Matt Jackson somehow manages to roll up Generico while Kevin’s back is turned and get the pin to retain their titles.
The audience is horrified. Kevin is horrified. Rick Knox kicks the turnbuckles, furious at having to count out Generico for the last time. The Young Bucks evaporate like dew, gone almost without the camera even seeing them leave. And Generico—miserable, apologetic—holds out his hand to Kevin one last time.
El Generico has no real character arc in this tournament: he is what he is, here at the end of his existence. He’s held out his hand over and over, willing to work with Kevin. Not much has changed in Generico; all of the change has been in Kevin, and in how they relate to each other. This is the fourth time Generico has extended his hand this evening. The first time, the audience called for them to hug it out, but this time, after three rejections, no one is so presumptuous. They make an amazing, garbled, seething noise of desperation, and then a lone man’s voice cuts across the babble with a hollered “Shake, Steen, shake!” Reseda picks up the chant, begging Kevin to take Generico’s hand as an equal, just one more time. Kevin looks at Generico’s hand, and he clearly wants to, but then he shakes his head and turns away as the crowd noise wilts into heartbreak and boos.
Knox speaks with Generico, clearly trying to comfort him, as Kevin walks away–but then Kevin turns around suddenly and gets back into the ring. Above the sudden gasping babble, a woman screams once, the sound caught between hope and a horrible certainty that she is going to watch Generico die right here with her own eyes, as Kevin charges straight at him.
You know how in an action movie, the film will go utterly silent for a split-second just before a huge explosion? Reseda goes, for one heartbeat, that kind of completely still. I don’t think a soul there is breathing. If wild tigers were released into American Legion Post #308 in that moment, the audience would have patted their muzzles and shushed them, their eyes on the ring. If an angel of the Lord appeared above the ring, next to the mirrorball, and announced that this was the Rapture and all here were about to be accepted bodily into Paradise this very instant, they may well have asked for just one more minute, just sixty more seconds here in Reseda.
When Kevin throws his arms around Generico, knocking him back into the turnbuckle with the force of his hug, Reseda bursts into cheering as joyous as if they’ve witnessed a victory more precious than any title win.
They hug, the streamers—carefully saved across three matches by the very most hopeful of fans—fly, Kevin is openly weeping, and you realize that all of this night’s work, all of this urgent desperate work, was in part to give Kevin-the-character and Kevin-the-real-person a chance to fully inhabit the same space for a moment, so that both of them are feeling the same thing and none of it is false or untrue, to either the character or the man.
During their feud, in 2010, there’s a moment where Steve Corino is facing down Generico and barks into his face as Generico flinches in horror: “Kevin Steen was right: you will never be anything without him.”
That’s what both Generico and Kevin have feared, what they’ve beaten each other bloody to prove untrue, to make untrue. It’s the worst and most damning accusation.
In Reseda in 2013, Kevin takes the mic, points at Generico, and says, “Wherever you end up, wherever you’re going, whatever happens to you, please know: I would be nothing without you.”
His tearful voice cracks on the “nothing,” and then he gets out of the ring and joins the crowd pounding on the mat as Generico stands in the ring alone, clearly in tears himself.
And here we are, full circle. The first time we saw El Generico and Kevin in the same place, way back in 2003, Kevin was in the audience, throwing his hands up in delight at a spaceman moonsault, like any one of us. Now here he is again, standing outside the ring among the crowd to say goodbye, El Generico’s biggest fan at the beginning and at the end.
The locker room clears out and the ring fills with wrestlers, beaming and crying and cheering for Generico, on the way to achieving his goals and his dreams. The sharp-eyed viewer (or one who has watched this scene far too many times) will notice that a few wrestlers—B-Boy, Eddie Edwards, Roderick Strong—go over and give Kevin a hug, as if aware that he needs some extra support right now.
They lift Generico up on their shoulders, and Kevin retreats to a corner, mostly out of camera range, to watch.
It seems like everyone is there to send Generico off—and you know, if you still despise the Young Bucks, if you still resent them for their many undeniable crimes against physics and psychology, consider this some small measure of punishment: that at this moment of farewell, they are probably sitting in a locker room alone, because someone had to defeat El Generico one last time.
Generico gives a short speech, though the longest speech I have ever heard him give, his accent wavering wildly between Montreal and Tijuana, cracking under the strain of too many emotions at once. It has one of my favorite moments in it, but one which I’m saving until the next essay. For the purposes of this essay, the end is when he looks over at the corner Kevin is in and starts to say, “Wherever I go—”
He breaks off and says in distress, “Oh no,” and has to take a moment to compose himself before trying again, echoing Kevin’s speech to him earlier: “Wherever I go, whatever I do, this has been the best time in my life.” Reseda cheers, everyone cries, and they send him off to his orphanage, or to whatever else may await him.
So that’s the end of Kevin and Generico’s story, a decade-long story that grew out of random encounters and cobbled-together matches to become one of the greatest stories in wrestling. It’s a story about friendship and ambition, about the struggle to balance dependence and independence as human beings, about the hope that we can become better than what we are, and the fear that we won’t. In the end, I think it’s about how we’re stronger together, how it takes courage both to support and to allow ourselves to be supported. It’s a bittersweet moment in 2013, to have reached this point of acceptance only to lose Generico; but watching from 2018 we have the comfort of knowing that it’s not really over. We know there will be new stories to echo and build on and add to the old; stories that I believe, at their deepest heart, have the same message as this one:
If we are nothing without each other, that means that with each other, we can be anything.
In August 2016, on the Sam Roberts show, Kevin is asked how El Generico is doing. And as he always used to when asked about his former partner, he says with a sort of dry, sorrowful wryness, “Oh, he died.” In the wake of that, someone asks me on Twitter, in a tone about 60% joking and 60% serious (these proportions are possible in wrestling): “Is it true? Is Generico really dead?” And when I read that, I realize a couple of things at once:
First, I realize I know the answer, I know it in my very bones. I’m certain of it. And also…
“I’m picking a feud with Kevin Owens,” I say.
There’s a thoughtful silence across the room. “That’s interesting,” says Dan eventually. “Do you intend to inform him that he’s in a feud with you? I believe that’s considered common courtesy.”
“That seems kind of arrogant,” I say. “I think I’ll just start the feud and see how it goes.”
“What exactly do you intend to feud with Kevin about?”
“He said Generico was dead again.”
“And you know he’s alive, huh?”
I pause. “Not exactly. Sort of. It’s complicated.” I think about it for a while. “I know the answer, but I’ll need to lay some groundwork before I can write it up.”
“What kind of groundwork?”
“Everything.” I think about it some more. “Yeah. Everything.”
“This sounds like a long feud,” Dan says.
“It might take a year. Or two.”
“And you think you can make Kevin tap out.” Dan’s voice is extremely neutral.
“Oh, it won’t be just me,” I say. Of this I’m sure. “I’ll have all the people who love Generico helping me.” Which means Kevin will be helping me too, a paradox that I can’t quite untangle.
“And do you intend to inform them that you are dragging them into a feud with Kevin?”
“Uh. Maybe. Someday.” Someday is still so far away that I can’t imagine I’ll actually get there. A lot of things are going to happen before Someday. But almost two years later, here we are. There’s been a lot of changes since that moment in 2016, but my answer is the same as it ever was, and–if you’re willing, if you’re with me–we will answer it together in the next essay.
Because I’m going to need your help.
Next: The Life and Death and Life of El Generico.