It’s now official. After months of rumours and speculations, former Ring of Honor World champion Kevin Steen has signed a contract with WWE and is set to report to NXT in Orlando for the beginning of September. He spoke with SLAM! Wrestling a little about what to expect.
“It’s my life-long dream,” Steen said about his WWE deal. “It’s something that I’ve been waiting to do since I started my career 14 years ago. I was 16 years old when I first started, when I had my first match. Even at that point, in my first match when I was 16, in my head was, ‘I have to become a WWE superstar eventually.'”
WWE reported the news on its website today, and made Steen available to select media, including SLAM! Wrestling. This is the third big signing for WWE in recent months, as it has also confirmed via press releases the signing of Japan’s Kenta Kobayashi and Ireland’s Fergal Devitt.
Steen was invited by the company for a try-out on March 20 and 21. Although his cardio was questioned by many in the industry, it was never a problem there. His in-ring work got over and his promos especially were strong. Steen, one of the best talkers in the business, was said to have the best camp as far as mic skills.
There is a lot of appeal to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando for Steen beyond the wrestling. “They have a coach, Matt Wichlinski, and I got to work with him a little bit, just for one day when I went to visit the Performance Center last week; just from that one day, I could tell that this was going to be very good for me,” he said. “It’s probably the part that I’m looking forward to the most is getting to work with him on the strength conditioning part of it because I just feel like that’s going to make me just more complete, and it’s going to help me succeed here.”
After waiting nearly two months, he finally received the call he had been waiting for all his life. Like any new signee, nothing is really official before the company does a background check and makes sure the candidate passes the medicals. For a non-American, the process is a little longer because he also needs working papers.
He will now report to NXT, the developmental promotion for the WWE in Orlando. Many current WWE Superstars have gone through NXT, people like The Shield, Cesaro, Rusev and Paige. In the U.S., fans need the WWE Network to watch NXT; Steen’s Canadian fans will be eventually able to see him on Sportsnet 360 or the debuting WWE Network through Rogers. His television debut and the name he will use is still unknown at this point.
Steen, 30, started wrestling on his 16th birthday, May 7, 2000, for Jacques Rougeau’s promotion in Montreal. He wrestled there until the end of 2003 when he started working different indie promotions in the province of Quebec. Although Rougeau had promised him a dark match the next time WWE was in town, Steen never regretted his move.
In a 2005 interview with SLAM! Wrestling, Steen said he knew he had to work different promotions before reaching his goal.
“For sure I would like to make it to the WWE … but I also know that to make it to the top, my career will take me through other very interesting federations in North America and Japan too.”
Soon enough, every promoter in the province wanted to book him, especially when a more established indie wrestler was to town, and he wrestled stars like Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe and Steve Corino. In 2004, his U.S. indie career took off when he was booked in CZW, JAPW and PWG, a promotion he still wrestled for 10 years later. After a brief stint in 2005, he came back to ROH in 2007 this time in a tag team act with another Quebec native, Rami Sebei, the current NXT’s Sami Zayn and known on the indies as El Generico.
Steen had some very good moments in ROH.
On September 19, 2008, he and Generico won the ROH World tag team titles. In 2010, their feud against each other was named the best in all of wrestling in the annual Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards. On May 12, 2012, Steen won the ROH World title by defeating Davey Richards in Toronto, a title he held for nearly a year.
Because Steen and Zayn followed the same path both in Montreal and on the indies and because they teamed and feuded in recent years, they were always associated to one another. This time is no different, as fans are already talking about Steen and Zayn teaming or feuding in NXT.
On the phone, Steen initially about being unfamiliar with Zayn, but then admitted he was looking forward to seeing him again. “There’s a lot of great people in NXT,” he said, “but I think Sami Zayn stands out. I’m definitely looking forward to crossing paths with him again — who knows where it’ll take us, really.”
Steen’s last ROH match was on July 19 in Dearborn, Michigan, against long-time friend Steve Corino. After the match, Steen thanked Cary Silkin, without whom ROH would not exist, Christopher Daniels for making him more of a pro after the two met in Quebec City back in 2004, the Briscoes for simply making them (Generico and him), and Corino for helping him be a better father and a wrestler.
Married with a young son and an infant daughter, Steen and his family have moved to Florida. “My son’s excited, my wife’s excited, my parents saw me go through all I had to go through to get to this point — I’m very happy I got there for them as well because they put up with a lot for me to make it. I’m going to make it count,” he said. “It’s not easy to ask a seven-year-old to just move to another country and leave everything behind that he knows, but my son is actually really excited for me to be in WWE. That really helps a lot.”
It’s really the end of an era for the Quebec indie scene. For the past 10 years, Sebei and Steen have dominated the scene and the day when another Quebec wrestler makes it to WWE isn’t anywhere near.
In fact, Steen is only the fourth male grappler from Montreal to sign a contract with WWE after Zayn in 2012, Sylvain Grenier in 2003, and Pierre-Carl Ouellet in 1993.
“What made Steen and Generico different than most indy workers is when people kept telling them they were the best in the world, they didn’t believe it and they just kept on working hard and got even better,” said Bertrand Hebert, a booker and writer in Quebec (and occasional SLAM! Wrestling contributor). “The day you think you know everything is the day your career goes downhill.”
SLAM! Wrestling writer Yves Leroux has seen Steen from his early days in the business, and is not surprised at all by the news.
“I have known and written about Kevin Steen since his second match while he was training with Jacques Rougeau,” said Leroux. “His skills, dedication and perseverance were undeniable from the get go. But what makes him special is that even with his many titles with ROH and many other independent federations, Kevin has remained an awesome approachable person and has never let success get to him. I am so proud for him and have no doubt he’ll be successful.”
There’s also a support from Montreal oldtimers who have seen Steen wrestle over the course of his career.
“When I saw him wrestle for CPW in Gatineau about 10 yeas ago, I could see he was different than everybody else,” said former wrestler and promoter Gino Brito. “I told the promoter that he was the best kid he had. His timing was so much better than your normal guy. I’m happy to see another guy from Quebec making it to the big leagues. We need more!”
Ouellet is another one who holds Steen in high regard. He saw him very early in his career when both were working for Rougeau and is credited by Steen himself as one of his trainers.
“I knew he had the talent, the ring knowledge, the psychology and all the skills required to make it big,” said Ouellet when told the news. “It was always when and not if with Kevin. All the pieces of the puzzle needed to fall into place. I wish him a great career there and I hope this is only the beginning of this new adventure for him.”
Why so many accolades from the Montreal wrestling community?
The fact of the matter is that it was never a game for Steen, something he was just doing to kill time on weekends, and it showed. He believed in himself and was confident of his abilities. His mindset was always to get to WWE one day and he made that clear in that same SLAM! Wrestling interview from nine years ago — “What makes me different than other Quebec wrestlers is I know I will make it to the top. It isn’t a dream, it is a goal.”
Interviewed for the book Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs in 2009, Ouellet had prophetic words: “There was Dino Bravo and Rick Martel, Pierre-Carl Ouellet and Sylvain Grenier and one day there will be El Generico and Kevin Steen.”
That day has finally arrived.
- Kevin Steen and El Generico finish off a great ROH Final Battle
- Kevin Owens / Kevin Steen story archive
Pat Laprade has known Kevin Steen since 2004 and has been following his career ever since. He’s very proud to see another Quebec native making it to WWE. To know more about Steen and many other Quebecers, you can read Bertrand Hébert and Pat Laprade’s book, Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs, the Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped the World of Wrestling.