How a chance encounter with Steve Austin set Kevin Owens on a path to WWE

Written by on May 18, 2024

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin wrestled for the first time in 19 years at WrestleMania 38, defeating Kevin Owens in the main event of WWE’s 2022 showcase. It was a surreal moment for Owens, a lifelong fan who was a teenager when Austin retired after losing to The Rock at WrestleMania 19.

While it marked the only time Austin and Owens wrestled each other, their first encounter actually predates Owens’ WWE career.

Owens and fellow WWE superstar Sami Zayn are longtime friends who plied their craft on the independent professional wrestling scene. One particularly long travel day in their early years put them on a flight with a bonafide legend.

“We were about to board our third flight. We were really dead tired,” Owens said in a teaser for A&E’s upcoming “Biography: WWE Legends” about Austin’s last match, premiering on May 19. “I remember walking towards the water fountain, I looked to my left and my first thought was, ‘Oh, that guy looks like Steve Austin. Wait, that is Steve Austin.’”

A giddy Owens rushed to inform Zayn about his discovery. Zayn woke up in a daze, clueless as to why Owens was hurrying them away.

“I’m on the ground sleeping,” Zayn said. “I’m so out of it and I get woken up in a panic by Kevin. He says, ‘Dude, come on! We gotta go! Right now! We gotta go!’ I’m in such a haze that, for some reason, I’m of the understanding that he’s gotten into some kind of altercation and needs me as backup. I thought we were about to go have a fistfight.”

“As we’re walking towards Austin, [Zayn] goes, ‘Who are we fighting?’” Owens recalled. “I said, ‘What?!’ He thought I was asking him to come fight some guys. Which to his credit, he was coming … I said, ‘No, we’re going to see Steve Austin.’ Sami looks up, sees him and goes, ‘That’s not Steve A… Oh shit, it is!’ So, we approached him.”

Austin would be forgiven for not remembering one of his countless exchanges with wrestling fans and hopefuls, but his memory is sharp as he verifies Owens’ story: “I remember Kevin Owens coming up to him and Sami Zayn was there as well. Kevin started running off at the mouth about how nice it was to meet me. He was a longtime fan of mine.”

“We probably ended up talking to him for a good 10 minutes,” Owens said. “It was time to board. They called first class which, obviously, he was on and we weren’t. Right before he boarded, I said, ‘Hey before you go, if you have one piece of advice for us, what is it?’”

Austin imparted simple but crucial advice that reshaped Owens’ approach to pro wrestling. Owens doesn’t have a bombastic microphone presence like The Rock or Ric Flair. His charisma, instead, is exercised through quick-wittedness, comedic timing, improvised trash talk and an aggressive mean streak. Sharpening these skills were emphasized by the WWE Hall of Famer.

“I said, ‘Kid, you need to learn how to run your mouth,” Austin recalled. “Learn how to talk.”

“I took that advice to heart,” Owens said. “It’s an understatement when I say that advice probably helped me get to where I am today. For sure.”

It’s remarkable how much the careers of Owens and Austin have intertwined since that chance meeting. Owens had yet to debut in the WWE and Austin’s in-ring career had ended. Fast-forward to the present, and Owens has adopted the anti-authority persona that defined “Stone Cold” in the Attitude Era.

Every Owens match is a nod to Austin, from subtle personality traits to the legendary Stunner finishing move that Austin gifted Owens.

The post How a chance encounter with Steve Austin set Kevin Owens on a path to WWE first appeared on CBS Sports.

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