Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Steen's whimsy and charisma will fit in perfectly in WWE
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Independent wrestling as a whole has seen some influential and important characters. Bryan Danielson set the bar in the ring, and CM Punk pushed the envelope the furthest outside of it. Chikara as a promotion may have done more to mold the image of storytelling in a promotion than any other company since the rise of the major independent in the wake of Extreme Championship Wrestling's folding. Samoa Joe, Chris Hero, Mickie Knuckles, Low Ki, Super Dragon, Sara del Rey, and scores of other wrestlers paved the way for the scene to have the primacy along with the nationally televised behemoths. However, among the hall of greats, two wrestlers always stood tallest to me - El Generico and Kevin Steen.

Perhaps their standing with me is a function of when I came into following indie wrestling. By the time 2009 rolled around, Joe and Punk were imbued in their respective mainstream companies. Danielson was coming down off his indie prime and getting ready to become Daniel Bryan. The spotlight had shifted to a radical interpretation of strong style within the "super" indies, one that I grew accustomed to disliking. But Generico and Steen felt different. Sure, they had big movesets, but they never executed on them in the rapid-fire, get-my-shit-in mentality that I had grown tired of watching from Davey Richards. Every match they wrestled made sense. When they had to be funny and lighten the mood, they were humorous in a non-embarrassing way. When the time came to draw blood, they brought intensity that may have been surprising given their natures. For the last five years, Steen was the only reason to tune into Ring of Honor some days, and both men made Pro Wrestling Guerrilla one of the most satisfying promotions in the history of wrestling.

Their talent as individual wrestlers and chemistry together were both undeniable, but only one had any kind of apparent upward mobility. WWE traditionally has been a company that was beholden to the iron will of Vince McMahon's view of what a sports entertainer should look like, and Steen's body type was not in that mold. Sure, WWE has had fat guy wrestlers before, but they have been few, far between, and heavily stereotyped, especially in recent history. Generico got the call and became Sami Zayn, unsurprisingly. Whether or not you may view this as an upgrade artistically is at your own discretion, but he was still one of two wrestlers who deserved a steady paycheck and national exposure for his work. Well, everyone deserves to get paid a living wage, which is the awful thing about the indies. But still, pretending that talent level was commensurate to payscale, he certainly deserved to be in the top percentile. The problem was that Steen, in many ways his soulmate, deserved it just as much, but for whatever reason, he didn't also get the call.

However, a funny thing happened within WWE over the last three or so years. Guys with atypical body frames started to get super over again. The skinny-fat Waffle House line cook Punk and the goat-faced vanilla midget Bryan became two of the most popular wrestlers on the main roster. Even more importantly, Bray Wyatt, a pear-shaped, bearded hillbilly with a metric fuckton of charisma overcame his slotted alignment and arguably gets the most positive reaction from the crowd nowadays. Just as the climate was in the territorial days, and just as it was in the Attitude Era, when Average Joe Steve Austin and slovenly Mick Foley went nuclear, people gravitated towards talent, not to bodily ideals. I'm not sure if those wrestlers proving the supposed body ideal wrong was the tipping point. Hell, I'm not even sure that Steen was prohibited strictly because of that supposed bias. I'm just going on track records lining up with said rumors. But for whatever reason, him being signed now is long overdue.

Of course, the money thing is a huge reason why I'm happy he's going to Full Sail after this weekend's PWG event, but much like Danielson in 2009, Steen really has nothing left to accomplish on the indies outside of putting people over. He became the franchise for PWG and had perhaps the best run with the ROH World Championship since I've been following the promotion. He dabbled with Chikara, helped put promotions in his native Quebec and neighboring Ontario on the map, and wrestled nearly big name who came across his path, from the ridiculous like Masato Tanaka to the sublime like Chris Sabin. Every show on which he was booked was better for him being on it because no matter where he went, he brought his entire repertoire.

So, with his final independent dates on the horizon, only one thing remains for me to say to Steen, and that is thank you. Thanks for putting your body on the line for my entertainment. Thanks for being the biggest and best reason to watch Ring of Honor. Thanks for commentating during your match at random ROH television tapings against enhancement talent and providing laughs while establishing a character. Thanks for getting Davey Richards to show some humor and play the drums in PWG. Thanks for coming to Chikara and lighting a fire under Eddie Kingston's ass. Thank you for the commentary that had me rolling on every PWG DVD. Thank you the social media hijinks and the zoo enthusiasm. And most of all, thank you for being one of the best and brightest performers in independent wrestling history. Now go on and join your buddy down in Orlando. You earned it.