2004: Olé! Kevin and Generico go International
(And teach California how to sing)
Usually one wouldn’t describe a severed artery as a “lucky break” for anyone. But this is wrestling, so sure, why not.
By mid-2004, the tireless work of IWS’s publicist, Michael Ryan, has gotten some IWS wrestlers spots in two East Coast promotions, Jersey All Pro and Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW). One of them, Sexxxy Eddy, slices his arm in the middle of a CZW hardcore match, hits an artery and ends up with a literal geyser of blood. Being a wrestler, he takes this in stride in spectacular fashion and drinks his own blood as if from a damn water fountain.
Of course, this makes Sexxxy Eddy an immediate CZW legend, which is good news for the other IWS wrestlers, because when CZW invites him back in September by popular demand, they say he might as well drive down with some other guys from IWS and make an IWS-only match of it.
So this is how a severed artery led to Kevin Steen and El Generico having their first match in the United States.
The CZW show is in Philadelphia–a doubleheader with an afternoon and night show. The afternoon show featured a four-way match with wrestlers from a young promotion in California, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.
Which they do! The match (between Sexxxy Eddy, Kevin, Generico, and eXceSs 69) is totally bonkers. They don’t so much grab the clichéd brass ring as they dismantle the entire merry-go-round and leave broken gears and bits of wooden horses strewn about the countryside. Each move is performed with breathtaking recklessness, like this over-the-top moonsault by Eddy that could have injured him in at least four or five different ways:
Or the sequence in which Generico hits Sexxxy Eddy with a brainbuster on the turnbuckle, then hurls eXeSs 69 into the ringpost as a bonus:
…and then, high as a kite on adrenaline in a way I can only imagine you get after nearly murdering your compatriots in front of a live audience, exhorts the crowd to cheer louder:
And they do. Oh boy, do they. The crowd loves these daredevil kids, and by the time Eddy pins Generico for the win, the deafening “CZW” chants have shifted, incredibly, into “IWS” chants. And while this is great for the IWS wrestlers, who hug in the ring (except Kevin, who spits in Eddy’s face, flips everyone off, and stomps away), it isn’t likely to endear them to either the promoter of CZW or the promoter of PWG, Super Dragon, who was in that afternoon four-way match the IWS wrestlers set out to top.
However, luckily for Kevin and Generico, Super Dragon was also wrestling the next week at a Jersey All Pro show they were at, against IWS guy Beef Wellington.
Fortunately for the world of wrestling, Super Dragon apparently found this hovering endearing rather than annoying, and they ended up IMing back and forth.
Hey, this seems like a good place to drop one of my favorite El Generico lines, from an email interview he did in 2004 for 411Mania just before that CZW match:
Super Dragon responds that it’s probably too expensive to fly them in and pay for them, and Generico wisely replies that they’ll gladly wrestle for free if PWG will pay for their flights. Super Dragon says “Well, in that case…” and Kevin and Generico end up booked as a tag team against two PWG regulars for the November show titled “Free Admission (Just Kidding).”
So it’s 2004 and Kevin and Generico are getting flown to California to wrestle. It’s Kevin’s second time ever on an airplane, and he’s pretty overwhelmed about the fact that someone was willing to pay money to fly them to another country to wrestle:
Even just recalling it, he lights up with the memory of his disbelieving joy:
When they arrive at the venue, there’s a new complication, which is that their opponents have not shown up for the show, leaving Kevin and Generico with no one to wrestle.
Oh no! Instead of a tag team match against two guys they don’t know well, they might have to have a singles match against each other! What a disaster! (Hahaha)
It’s a great match, of course; of all the singles matches Kevin and Generico had I’d say it’s near the top: it’s less dramatic and resonant than their later work, but beautifully simple, designed to be quickly accessible to a crowd of people who don’t know them well. The tone is set immediately, when the announcer explains that their opponents didn’t show, but he’s got an idea for how to continue:
Kevin sneak attacks Generico before the bell even rings, sure that if he just strikes quickly he’ll get an easy win over his “friend.” The match is the story of how he discovers that Generico is both more resilient and more talented than Kevin thought (basically a fifteen-minute miniature of their feud in Ring of Honor, still five years in the future).
Kevin’s in-ring patter is relentless in this match. He’s constantly demanding the audience’s attention–quite literally in some cases, as in here right after his first attack on Generico:
He yells insults at the audience, he calls for time outs, he berates the ref, he mockingly asks a crawling Generico if he’s okay before kicking him again. Over and over he says, either figuratively or very literally, look at us, check this out, don’t ignore this match.
He runs his mouth endlessly–and in contrast, Generico is, as always, nearly silent. At this point in his career his vocabulary is limited pretty much to “uno,” “dos,” “tres,” “brainbuster” and, of course, “olé.” As such, he has no way to respond to Kevin’s insults, no way to shut him up besides winning–so the more annoying Kevin is, the more the audience wants Generico to win. When Kevin looms over Generico and slaps his face while counting in Spanish, the audience just yearns to see him silenced:
Kevin has a glib response to every insult the audience can throw at him, and it’s galling, especially when Kevin taunts them with their own helplessness, pointing out that they’re not doing enough to help Generico:
Generico suffers and fights back and suffers more in relative silence. He can almost get the better of Kevin, but he obviously needs some extra edge to get through this. And eventually, in the middle of a headlock and almost exactly halfway through the match, the audience figures it out:
One person starts singing Generico’s theme song, and everyone joins in, and it gives Generico the strength to fight out of the headlock, and leaves Kevin, for once, shaking his head in thwarted fury, silenced. It’s wrestling in its simplest and most pure form, where the passion and affection of the audience directly, immediately inspire the hero. Any one person heckling alone, Kevin has a response to. You’re never going to shut him up that way. Only by everyone working together and raising our voices in unison will good win the day.
(This is a good message, a message that applies to a lot more than wrestling. If you could only convince the world of one thing in your life, this wouldn’t be a bad choice).
That ridiculously simple chant follows Kevin everywhere through his career, to the point where he eventually blames his betrayal of poor Generico in part on how maddening it is to hear people singing that song instead of cheering him. He reminds the audience over and over through the years how much he hates it, how they are not to sing it, not ever, despite the indisputable fact that the more he tells them not to do it, the more fervently they sing. One would almost get the impression that he loves the song that binds him and Generico together, that it brings him joy to hear it.
For example, this moment in 2010, when Kevin is deep in the middle of his blood feud with Generico. About to face a young curly-headed Kenny Omega, he pauses to inform everyone that it would really, really bother him if they were to sing Generico’s song, so please don’t.
(In Tokyo, in 2016, we sing it as Kevin Owens comes to the ring to fight Shinsuke Nakamura. He stops in his tracks and tosses us a smile of bright, joyous malice. “So that’s how it’s gonna be? That’s how it’s gonna be, huh?” he announces, and turns around and leaves, disappearing backstage until a puzzled Nakamura has to go get ambushed to lure him back to the ring. We leave the arena that night knowing that for a moment we baffled evil, armed with nothing at all but a song).
Back in California, faced with a Generico who seems too beaten to even stand, Kevin turns to the audience and mockingly wonders if maybe that dumb chant might get him to his feet so Kevin can finally package piledriver him:
Which is the last thing he gets to say in that match, because the audience immediately does start singing again, and the song does eventually help Generico pull off a desperate brainbuster and a pin, and Kevin is beaten and silenced at last. So simple, so impossible, this small story of music saving the day.
Generico is delighted, the audience is delighted, the PWG promoters are delighted, and Steen and Generico are on their way to becoming regular fixtures in the PWG ring, where they will have some of their greatest moments, as well as their final moments in a wrestling ring together, and the end of their story.
But that’s still in the distant future. Right now they’re just twenty years old, and they’ve had their first singles match in America, and it was great.
There’s a photograph the WWE used to promote Kevin and Sami’s big match at Battleground in 2016, clearly taken long ago:
You might recognize the shark as Jaws from the Universal Studios theme park in California. Now, I have no way of knowing if this picture was taken at the same time as this first PWG match. Kevin and Generico went to California regularly after this and it could have been some other trip. But I’m going to assume it’s from that first trip in 2004, because–well, because it makes a better story! So yes, let’s just assume that. Let’s assume it’s November in 2004, and they’ve just had their first singles match in the United States, and it was the most fun they’ve ever had in their life. They’re at Universal Studios, a theme park dedicated to artifice and narrative magic, posing and goofing off. The picture is just ambiguous enough that it’s unclear whether Kevin is attempting to save his friend from the shark–or gleefully shoving him deeper into the maw of the monster. Kevin’s friend is suffering dramatically and laughing at the same time.
There they are, in California–the other end of the world!–living the dream, getting closer to their goal. They’ve made the East Coast and the West Coast sing now; can the rest of the world be far behind?
Up next: Kevin and Generico become allies
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